Episode 1. Lay Down Your Life
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Love … love lies at the heart of who God is and why He sent Jesus to this earth. And one of the things that Jesus said … and demonstrated through what He did – was that we should love one …
Love lies at the heart of who God is and why He sent Jesus to this earth. And one of the things that Jesus said … and demonstrated through what He did – was that we should love one another – in particular to love our friends. Hmmm. Easier said than done. Question is: how should we love them?
As we kick off on the program again this week, continuing on our theme of friendship, I’ve called this series of messages “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed”. I really want to take a look at the heart of friendship – what friendship’s all about – because I wonder if in this disposable world in which we live, we’re only too prepared to trash friends who just don’t suit us: people who don’t always tell us what we want to hear; people who don’t pander to our whims.
Now don’t get me wrong. I believe that there are some people that we all know that we shouldn’t have as close friends because they will do us more harm than good. We talked about them last week on the program.
But we live increasingly in a world where there are so many other distractions. Well, if our friends are a little too difficult to get on with, we can ditch them and immerse ourselves in a rapidly growing range of entertainment options. And that, in fact, is what a lot of people are doing. They’re kind of cocooning themselves in the things that please them and in so doing they are withdrawing, step by step from deeper relationships and friendships. It works for a while, but my, what a lonely place that ends up being.
I wonder where you are right now in your life when it comes to the friendship stakes.
When some young lawyer, skilled in the Old Testament – the Law of Moses which is what lawyers in the 1st Century Israel relied on – when this lawyer asks Jesus in effect, of all the Commandments in the Law (and there were about 613 of them, scholars tell us) which ones are the most important. And Jesus was quick to answer. Matthew Chapter 12 beginning at verse 29:
The first is, Hear O Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord our God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Then the Scribe said to Him, ‘You are right teacher, you have truly said that He is One and besides Him there is no other, and to love Him with all our heart and with all our understanding and with all our strength and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. This is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.’
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to Him, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’. After that no one dared to ask Him any questions.
The thing that really leaps out of this passage for me is not so much that bit about loving God, as absolutely vital as that is, you’d expect the Son of God to say that. The bit that leaps out of it for me is that we should also love our neighbours as ourselves. And the Scribe, the lawyer said, “You are right Rabboni, in fact, loving God and loving others, well, those are so much more important that any religious ritual you care to name. Loving our neighbours, making friends, serving them with all that we are, is more important than going to Church and singing the songs or listening to the sermon, as important as all those things are.’
The word used here for “love” is “agape” – unconditional love, sacrificial love; and the word used for “neighbour” is “friend”. You shall love your friends with all that you are, unconditionally without reservation, sacrificially. This is precisely what Jesus is saying here. And it follows right on from loving God with all that we have and all that we are. It’s kind of like the flip side of the coin if you will. And if we should love our friends as we love ourselves, then let’s stop and think a minute. How is it that we love ourselves?
Do we care for ourselves, do we provide ourselves, do we protect ourselves and nurture ourselves? By and large we do all those things. And if we didn’t have a roof over our heads we’d do everything we could to get one, wouldn’t we? If we didn’t have food to eat, we’d do everything we could do to get food. If we were drowning we would do everything we possibly could to get air and survive.
It turns out that not only do we have a strong survival instinct, we have rather a strong provision instinct as well. We want to survive and to thrive, and we do what we need to do to make those things happen.
So right here Jesus is saying, “That’s how you love “you”, now love your friends in exactly the same way. Do you see the power of what He’s saying here? “Take this survive-and-thrive love that you have for yourself and exactly the same way that you apply it to yourself”, Jesus is saying to you and to me, “apply it to your friends, your neighbours.”
Now when it comes to doing the whole survive-and-thrive love for ourselves, by and large that’s not too much of a sacrifice is it? Looking after ourselves, looking after our family, providing for ourselves, we’re kind of hardwired to do those things naturally, making sure I’m safe and I’m and I’m well and I’m provided for.
Okay, I have to get up each morning and go to work and earn a crust to make that happen. I can’t lounge around all day in front of the TV. But it’s not a sacrifice, it’s just what I do for me and for my family. And yet when we take the love we have for ourselves and start doing with it what Jesus is saying, “Loving our friends the same way that we love ourselves” all of a sudden it can seem like such a huge sacrifice.
Can I tell you something, love is always a sacrifice, and this unconditional love that Jesus is calling each one of us to have for our friends can be a huge sacrifice. Unconditional love, agape love, comes at a price because it’s unconditional. And Jesus is calling us to follow Him into loving our friends with that sort of love. And He does that, He makes it abundantly clear, that it’s going to cost us something. Matthew Chapter 16 verse 24:
Jesus said to His Disciples, ‘Look, if any of you want to become one of my followers, it’s not just about sitting around and talking about it, it’s not just about listening to sermons. You’ve got to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Me’.
That picture of the cross is the picture of crucifixion, the picture of suffering. It’s the picture of being nailed to a cross and dying. Loving friends, loving them in the way God means for us to love them, loving them in the way is so much important than any religious ritual under the sun is about laying down our lives for them. It’s about putting their needs before our needs. It’s about sacrificing what we want for them.
Do you see how radically different God’s take on friendship is from the one that the world puts forward. In the world we have a disposable view of friendship. Many people have friends because of what they can get out of the friend – companionship, maybe money or a business deal or a good time – and then when they’re no longer of any use, we just toss them on the scrap heap; done with them. No good to me any more. It’s time to move on.
And yet the people whom we choose as our friends, we’re meant to love them with all the drive that we have to survive and thrive; with all the instinct we have to provide for and look after ourselves. We’re meant to take that drive and that instinct and love our friends with that, unconditionally, in the same way that we love ourselves, dying of self to sacrifice for our friends. You see in God’s scheme of things this comes second only to loving God Himself with all that we are.
Being a friend means laying down our lives. Being a friend means being there for someone no matter how badly how they’re acting up right now; no matter what they’ve said to us; no matter they’ve hurt us; no matter how badly they’ve performed. It’s about denying ourselves and taking up that grizzly, brutal cross of sacrifice and following Jesus into a relationship.
Let me blunt. Let me ask you, are you prepared to be that sort of a friend? Are you prepared to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and your soul and your mind and your strength and by doing that, to sacrifice and love your neighbour in the same way with the same energy and enthusiasm and sacrifice, as you love yourself?