Do you remember learning the 10 Commandments when you were in Sunday School? Do you remember them all? The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.34-46) reduces them down to two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and your neighbour as yourself. The love that Jesus speaks of, is more than a friendly affection you might have for a person you like, it is a commitment of devotion that is directed by the will and can be commanded as a duty towards neighbour. John’s Gospel takes it one further. Jesus said “A new command I give to you: love one another as I has loved you” and “By this (sign) all will know you (the Church) by your love (agapaos), one for another.” According to John there is only one command to love as we have been loved by Christ.
That means we are invited to come to him and to surrender and die with him that others might rise. I had a professor in theological College who would repeatedly remind us, you need to participate in Christ every day – which means you must learn to die and to rise with him.
That is different from dealing with hot button debates and trying to grow congregations with one method or another. When I consider the life of the early Church and the ways in which they grew there were some simple common elements: preaching Christ and him crucified, willingness to love and serve, and the power of the Holy Spirit among them, in terms of sings and wonders. There maybe others, but these traits come through loud and clear. The ancient world wanted to hear what Christ had to say. It was not because they agreed with the message necessarily, but because it was important stuff and they needed to hear it. Some people responded while others rejected the message for various reasons.
Our society today will listen when the Gospel is preached, everyone will react in the same manner. The problem for the Church is that we often compromise the message in some way because we do not what to be offensive. Consequently, we come of sounding wimpy and like we are participating in the culture but are sounding worse than the culture. Therefore, the world is not paying attention to the Church most of the time – because we have little to nothing to say to them.
So maybe it is time that we started seeing people around us as Jesus sees them – with heavenly eyes. Are we willing to seek, see and serve Christ in their lives so that they can see Christ in us? So often we have been hung up on being popular in the community and having great clergy who run great programs so that we can be impressive to other Christians. It has never been about being popular. In fact, the Church grows best when it is unpopular and is persecuted - as the Book of Acts and others in the New Testament witness to. We are called to be faithful to the message of the Gospel (repent and believe because the kingdom of God is coming near to them) and to see and love people as God does.
How do we do that? We go and try to serve them first, and then come to God in prayer – so that we can be enabled to pray correctly for them and then go back and serve them so more. We can only be the people of God when we allow ourselves to be conformed to the word of God and allow for God the Holy Spirit to transform us by his love. We are only competent for ministry after we have been in Christ’s presence and had our feet washed by him. People will respond to the message when they have experience the love of Christ in us. But this means that we are going to have to get up close and personal. We are going to have to work to have an impact on people that will open the possibilities of drawing them into the fellowship that is the Church.
Take the chance this week to genuinely love someone as Jesus does and see what happens.