In 2011, esteemed actor Robert Downey, Jr. was given the American Cinemathetic Award. Though most recently known for his roles in the Iron Man and Avengers movies, Downey received a bad reputation during the 1990s because of his consistent problems with drug and alcohol addiction. As a precursor to this award, Downey was asked whom he would like to have present the award to him. He asked for Mel Gibson.
Gibson has had a long and illustrious career, but of late, his off-the-screen antics have left him on Hollywood’s blacklist. So for many in the industry, to have Gibson present this award was a rather risky professional move. In his acceptance speech, Downey said:
“Actually, I asked Mel to present this award to me for a reason, because when I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope, and he urged me to find my faith. It didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of the movie that was actually developed for him. And he kept a roof over my head, and he kept food on the table. And most importantly, he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings, if I embraced that part of my soul that was ugly - ”Hugging the cactus” as he calls it. He said if I have “hugged the cactus” long enough, I become a man of some humility that my life would take on new meaning. And I did, and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I would help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume that at that time he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him or that someday was tonight. So anyway, on this special occasion I humbly ask that you join me, unless your completely without sin (In which case to pick the wrong… industry), in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you offered me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough.”
It’s amazing to me to think that a place as sinful as Hollywood, would have the wherewithal to demonstrate this kind of unconditional love and forgiveness. I still vividly remember how my emotions began to well up within me when I first read this quote in the book One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian, who is the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian church. To think that even in Hollywood God’s unconditional love and forgiveness could be demonstrated. And to think that his love in the same way was poured out for you and me through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross.
In fact, on the night before Jesus was crucified he made the first of what has become many ”One another” statements or commands that we find in the New Testament. As you read through the New Testament, you’ll find a variety of instances where there is some command followed by “one another.” Beginning in the Gospel of John to the book of Revelation, you’ll find some 59 “one another” statements. These statements span some 23 categories, including:
• Welcome one another (Rom. 15:7)
• Greet one another (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pt. 5:14)
• Bear with one another (Gal. 6:2; Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13)
• Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10; cf Phil. 2:3; 1 Pt. 2:17)
• Comfort one another (2 Cor. 13:11)
• Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; Heb. 3:13 (exhort))
• Wait for one another (1 Cor. 11:33)
• Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
• Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pt. 4:10)…
Just to name a few.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to take some time to look at some of these “one another” statements. We won’t hit all of them, but we will look at several.
As we begin this series, we’re going to start by looking at the most popular of the “one another” statements – “love one another.” It shows up some 17 times. Not only is this the most frequent of the “one another” commands, but it’s the first.
If you have your Bibles, let’s begin by reading John 15:9-17 (this includes what was read earlier). As you read, take your pencil or pen and circle “love” or “have loved” and underline the word “command” or “commandment.” If you use a digital Bible you can probably use some of the highlighting features to delineate these differences.
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another." (John 15:9-17 ESV)
Before we dive into the bulk of what I want to talk about, let’s look briefly at a little bit of the context that we find this passage in. This passage is part of a larger section of the book of John that some people refer to as the “Farewell Discourse.” Much of chapters 13-16 happened the night before Jesus was crucified. In fact in chapter 13, John gives us insight, stating that “when Jesus knew that his hour had come” (John 13:1 ESV). Jesus knew that this was virtually the end of His earthly ministry with the disciples. As you read through the chapters, you’ll notice that most of it seems to take place around the table of the last supper.
So consider this with me. Jesus and his disciples are at the table getting ready to have what we now call ”the last supper.” In a moment when he realized that he needed to give the disciples an object lesson, Jesus steps back from the table takes off his outer garment wraps a towel around his waist and begins washing the disciples feet. And then, after some conversation with Peter about taking a bath, and Judas about his betrayal, Jesus makes his first statement about this new command in John 13:34-35 when he says…
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
They continue their conversation. Jesus talks about where he is going and about the fact that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 13:34-25)
Then in verse John 14:31, he says, “Rise, let us go from here” indicating that they got up from the table and began to walk toward the Mount of Olives. This may be a reason why He began using the “vine” imagery in chapter 15, because they were walking past a vineyard.
I wanted us to look a little bit at the context of this passage because it is important to see that this statement doesn’t standalone. As we saw, Jesus demonstrated what he was about to tell the disciples by washing the their feet. Then he gives them the command in chapter 13:34-35 to love one another. Then as they continue their conversation he comes back to that command because he wants them to remember that this is an ultimately important command.
So with the context in mind, let’s look at some things that we can pull out from this command.
First of all…
Agape love is loving as Jesus Loves
As you may know, in the New Testament there are three different Greek words that are translated into our English word love. There is one, eros, which refers to a romantic love. There is another, phileo, which refers to brotherly or friendship love. Then finally, there is agape, which is unconditional love. This is the love that we see from God. This love is a sacrificial love.
Jesus is not asking us to do anything that He had not done. He gave the disciples a demonstration of that by washing their feet. So what exactly did Jesus do? First of all
1. He Gave up His Glory
Throughout the New Testament we see examples of places where Jesus laid aside his glory for humanity.
o Phil. 2:7 - Paul writes that Jesus “emptied himself”
o 2 Cor. 8:9 – Jesus became poor for our sake – that we might become rich
o 2 Cor. 5:21 – Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.
You see in our context, there will be times when we have to be willing to give up whatever rights we think we deserve in order to demonstrate unconditional love to people around us. Time and again Jesus demonstrated what servant leadership really looks like. And if ultimately we are going to lead our friends and family and neighbors and coworkers to Christ we will need to be willing to serve them, to love them unconditionally. In the same way, we need to be willing to lay down whatever rights or privileges we think we have as brothers and sisters in Christ out of deference for each other. We don’t have regular foot washing ceremonies, but there are many ways that we can give up our “glory” in order to show love to people around us.
Some of us may feel like because we’ve been here for a long time, that we deserve to have “x” (a certain kind of pastor, a certain position, etc.). Maybe stepping back to let others lead is the right move.
Or maybe it’s the thought that because we have one position or another in the church that we should have more say. If we follow the way of Jesus fully, then the greatest will be the servant of all.
While we could brainstorm about examples, the truth is, we need to be willing to set aside whatever “glory” or honor that we think we’re due, for the sake of the body.
In addition to giving up His glory…
2. Jesus laid down his life.
By taking on the role of the servant, Jesus visibly demonstrated laying down his life for the disciples. In John 15:13, right after Jesus reiterates his commandment to love one another, adding “as I have love you,” Jesus says ”greater love has no one than this, someone laid down his life for his friends.” This was just the day before Jesus was to be crucified and yet the disciples had no context to realize exactly what Jesus was going to do. Sure they had seen him demonstrate love for them. They had seen him demonstrate love for other people. They even seen him get on his knees and wash their feet in a way only a servant should do. And yet they have not yet fully seen what agape love could totally do. Last weekend, one of the reasons that Danielle and I weren’t here was because I was officiating the wedding ceremony of my cousin and his new bride. As in almost every ceremony we have the giving away, exchanging of vows and rings, people dressed up and more. One of the things that I like to include when I do weddings is a declaration of intent. Essentially these become ”I will” statements – a promise of what the bride, groom, and the attendance promise to do. I challenged my cousin to consider what Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 5 where he said “husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her.” I challenged Brett by saying that he may not ever have to give up his life for his wife, but he will have to give up some of his wants and desires for the benefit of her and their family. In the same way for us I think we need to be willing to give up some things that we might want for the benefit of this family for the benefit of the body of Christ here at First Baptist Rockville.
In addition to loving as Jesus loves, when we demonstrate agape love to each other, we are…
I believe that loving intentionally involves both giving and receiving love intentionally.
- Giving -when we give love intentionally it may not be convenient and may not be emotional. So often we look at love in our culture and we see the way that the word has been usurped and stolen and used in so many different ways. We talk about the way that we love this team or that team, we talk about the way that we love this food or that food, or we love that actor or that musician. We love all these different things in yet what kind of love is this really. We see it in Robert Downey Junior when he demonstrated love for his friend Mel Gibson: it was an intentional act. Sure it was in response to something that Gibson had done before, but it was still loving intentionally. It was planned. It was purposeful. It wasn’t driven by emotion.
We need to recognize that when we are called to love people intentionally it won’t be convenient it won’t always fit into our schedule. There are so many times when we may want to just sit back and do what we want to do and yet the Spirit of God may say “no I need you to love this person in this way at this time.” Loving intentionally involves giving. But it also involves…
- Receiving – there maybe times in our life together here as a body, as a church family, that people may say things that will hurt your feelings. People may do things unintentionally that will cause you emotional harm. I believe the loving intentionally also means looking past offenses. It means looking beyond things that might cause us to get our feathers ruffled. Even Jesus Christ, painted a beautiful picture of this when he was on the cross and he looked at his crucifiers and said don’t hold this against them, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” In receiving their beating, in receiving their punishment, Jesus demonstrated unconditional love for them. He did not seek retribution. He did not get angry. He did not try to defend Himself. He simply let his unconditional love pour out even as he was being crucified on the cross.
Consider how you are responding to disappointment and misspoken words with unconditional love.
As the body of Christ here in Rockville, I don’t need to tell you that we are entering a time of strangeness, a time of difficulty, a time of great hope. With Pastor and Janice moving onto Indonesia it leaves us in that strange season as a church. Pastor Schmidt served here for a long time. In much the same way, not to equate Pastor Schmidt with Jesus, the disciples were left in a very strange time as well and yet the thing that Jesus seemed to want them to remember was this command to love one another. Over the next several weeks where to look at several other “one another” statements in Scripture. But I wanted us to begin with this one because I think it’s important for us to consider what it really means for us to love one another unconditionally. I think it’s important for us to consider that we represent part of the body of Christ here in Rockville. We are a family. We are a unit. We are a church that is led by the Holy Spirit, that has the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of each other and in the community around us. When Jesus first spoke the command in John 13: 34-35 that people will know that you’re my disciples by the way do you have love for one another, Jesus communicated that there would be a result from our love. In closing, I want to read a quote from a man who became a follower of Christ because of the way the God’s people lived out this “one another” love. David Stern, is a messianic Jew. He wrote a commentary on the New Testament from the Jewish perspective, helping people understand how Jews or how Messianic Jews might look at Scripture. And in his commentary on John 13:35 he writes,
”I personally bear witness to the truth of this statement. I became willing to investigate the truth claims of the New Testament, not because I was overwhelmed by irrefutable arguments, but because I’ve met believers whose love for each other went beyond what I had experienced. It was not even their love toward me which impressed me (although they treated me well), but their self-sacrificing and cheerful willingness to give themselves fully for each other without any trace of self-serving motivation. This is what those who claim to be trusting Yeshua are called to do and can expect God’s power to enable them to do. God can be counted on to fulfill his promise that the world will recognize such people as true disciples of Yeshua.”
Jesus gave this command to his disciples I believe because He knew what kind of impact it would have not only to them as they entered the beginning of the church, but what kind of impact it would have to the world around them. As we live church life together we need to love each other. Rockville and Montgomery County need us to demonstrate agape love for one another so that they can see the agape love that Jesus Christ has for them.