“Walking in the Way of Love”
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love,
just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us . . . (Ephesians 5:1-2).
What does real love look like? Paul here summarizes what the rest of the NT affirms: real love looks like the sacrificial love of Jesus. Just as he loved he calls us to love. Love is a verb. It is the way of the cross. It is a daily decision. And it is the way to our finding the life that is truly life.
As Jesus put it:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.
Forwhoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it (Luke 9:23-24).
As someone has said: When pondering what to say or do, consider what love would ask of you.
What might walking in the way of love look like in our lives: in our families, at our places of work, in our church, in our neighborhoods, in our nation?
As a community of faith, let’s listen together in the coming weeks to what love might be asking of us.
April 11, 2021
“From Fear to Fellowship”
John 20:19-20; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-4
Three readings are before us this morning. In the first, from John’s gospel account, we see the followers of Jesus cowering in fear behind locked doors on the evening of the day of resurrection. In our second reading, from the book of Acts, we are given a picture of the vibrant, early church as it proclaimed resurrection and lived out new, unheard of social and economic relationships. Our third reading, from John’s first letter, begins a call of encouragement to a group of churches to stand fast in the fellowship they had come to experience and not fall away from the life that leads to joy. It’s an encouragement and exhortation that we’d to well to hear in these days. Let’s listen and then explore this encouragement further.
A. It’s helpful to notice that the primary emotion of the followers of Jesus on that first Easter day was not joy! Instead, it was bewilderment. It was confusion. It was fear. By the end of that day, the disciples had gathered together and locked themselves in a room. The following questions would have been swirling in their minds: Would the Jewish leaders, in concert with the Roman authorities, begin to come after them? Would family and friends begin to ridicule them for following what seemed to be a grand failure of a Messiah? How were they to explain an empty tomb, anyway? And, if reports from the women among them were true, and Jesus somehow was alive, would he be mad at them for failing to stick with him until the bitter end? How could they ever face him?
B. Before going on, it is worth pausing here and asking: Where might bewilderment or confusion or fear be moving you to try and hide in some way right now? Where might those emotions have caused a wall to be erected between you and Jesus, or have locked the door of your heart? Where might you be afraid that Jesus might scold you, or ask you to do something you consider too difficult? Where might the heavy burden of guilt - the should-have beens and might-have beens - be shutting out the invitation of Jesus to live as a resurrection person?
Those first followers of Jesus had lots of reasons to be bewildered, confused, and afraid, and not filled with joy on that first Easter day. They had lots of reasons to lock the door and throw away the key!
C. Fortunately, Jesus didn’t allow them to do that. He didn’t leave them there, lost in their confusion and mired in their fear. Instead, he came to them and stood among them. Jesus didn’t need a key to that room because he has a way of unlocking the doors of our hearts and passing through the walls of our objections and doubts and fears. When he did in this case, he didn’t chew them out for being chumps who had deserted him. Nor did he rub it in with a well-deserved “I told you so.” Instead, he brought them grace, his undeserved favor. He did so by pronouncing his peace, shalom, well-being, harmony, upon them, and then went on to commission them for his purposes: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
D. Notice, then, the foundation of our faith. It is not based upon our emotions, or our wishes, or some insight we might come up with. Nor is faith a projection of our longings. Rather, faith is based on an incredible act of God – resurrection – which moves us from fear to fellowship with God and on into fellowship with one another. For we see in Acts that as the act of resurrection was declared and witnessed to, in the power of the Holy Spirit following Pentecost, the church took root. Importantly, it took root not as a group of like people with like interests, but as a group of unlike people who had discovered a Savior unlike any other, a Savior who is both with us and beyond us. That is what fellowship is all about – having Jesus, the Son of God, the rescuer we need to enjoy the life that is truly life, in common. What else would possess a group of people to continue to testify to the resurrection of Jesus in the midst of persecution for doing so, or to begin selling property to meet the needs of the needy among them? The best evidence of the resurrection of Jesus is not an empty and freaky tomb, but a full and thriving church where people are walking in love, caring for one another just as Jesus has cared for them! There is no better evidence for the resurrection than the appearance of the church.
A. Enter, then, the letters of John and the fact that, a few decades later, some had begun to fall away from this beautiful Savior and his beautiful fellowship. John, the writer of these letters, was likely the John of the 12 apostles of Jesus and one of the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem. At the end of his life, after the Romans overran the holy city, John settled in Ephesus (modern day Turkey). There, he became a kind of pastor to the pastors of the local churches in the area. The first letter he wrote is a circular letter to those congregations, encouraging them not to fall away from their fellowship but to fall toward it.
B. How had some fallen away? As we read through the letter, the major issues that surface have do to with Christology – what is true about Jesus, and ethics – how one lives as a follower of Jesus. The splinter group, those who fell away from the fellowship, did not hold that Jesus was the Son of God—that in him God had come in the flesh, or that his death was necessary for dealing with sin and living a new life. Further, in living their life, this group did not heed the teachings of Jesus or seek to model their life after his.
C. Above all, this broke John’s heart! How could they live in this way and claim to follow Jesus? How could they reject the way of love that he had lived and modeled for them? When we read that John wrote this letter to “make our joy complete,” he certainly was thinking of wanting to reach out and include those who didn’t yet know Jesus. When you’ve experienced something amazing you want to run over to your friend’s house or give them a call or sent them a text or tweet in order to share the news. Until we share that joy it remains “incomplete” in some way. But John also wanted to help those who were probably being tempted by this splinter group to follow, as Paul put it to the Galatian church, a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6-10), to be lured into a version of the good news that wasn’t really good news at all because it didn’t lead to the life that is truly life.
D. So, John began with Jesus, with what he had experienced and therefore knew. If people were going to live together in and as the church, if they were going to walk in the light (v. 7), John’s way of saying “walk in the way of love”), if they were to grow in faith, hope, and love, they needed to make sure that the foundation of their fellowship was the real deal, the real Jesus, the Savior unlike any other. In this sense, Christian fellowship is triangular: my life in fellowship with Jesus, your life in fellowship with Jesus and our lives in fellowship with each other. If it’s a different Jesus that we’re pursuing, then we begin to miss one another and even God himself.
E. In the introduction to his first letter, John calls this Jesus the “Word of life.” It takes us back to the opening paragraphs of his gospel in which John referred to Jesus as the Word made flesh that came to make his dwelling among us:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. – Jn. 1:1, 14
There was no mistake about this, John now writes in his first letter. I and those with me, were eyewitnesses of all that he did and all that he was. We saw him, we heard him, and we touched him. Therefore, we now proclaim him, we bear witness to him as the one who came from God, who has existed from the beginning, from all eternity. He is the Son of God, who embodies what life is to be all about. If the God of the psalmist is the one who makes known the path of life (16:11), then part of making that path known is coming in his Son and walking among us and revealing more of that path to us.
F. We’ll be thinking as we work our way through this letter about the road signs along the way that John gives us to help us follow this path. As he begins, he simply wants his readers to know that he knows what he is talking about, that he was an eyewitness to the historical and physical reality of Jesus’ life on earth. He also wants them to know that staying on this path is vitally important. It is the way to true fellowship with God, and it is the way to true fellowship with one another, a fellowship that begins now and extends on into forever.
So may his words be both an encouragement, and an exhortation to us as we think in these weeks of Easter of how the life of Jesus, from his birth to his death and resurrection, informs and brings life, both to our fellowship with God as individuals, and to our fellowship with one another as the church, as we seek to live as resurrection people.