If you have kids, or have been connected with a school in any way, you probably know what a recorder is. In an exercise to teach parents the need for the fruits of the Spirit, schools have kids learn how to “play” the recorder, typically somewhere between the 2nd and 4th grade.
I am sure a skilled musician may be able to do something with the recorder, but I don’t know too many 2nd graders who can.
Parents praise their kids as they make noises with this instrument that sound more like torture than a sweet sound, and when you put a bunch of kids together playing them, it is often just noise. And I say this having been “blessed” to have had three children learn to play it.
How many of you would want to go to a concert where you found out that everyone decided to give up their regular instruments and all play recorders? How about going to a concert where the musicians forgot how to play their instruments?
Music can be peaceful and relaxing, or it can be nerve-racking.
I think this can be seen in the church. If you have ever been to a loving church, there is something special there. Here I am talking about biblical love, not spouting the world’s new definition of love which states that if you love me you will let me do or be anything I desire.
But what happens when a church forgets how to love?
Even if they know and are correct on the major theological issues of doctrine (what we have called through this series the “non-negotiables” of our faith), the sound that comes out of it will not be pleasant.
I fear that for too many we have become so concerned with our views that love is an afterthought. Now, I am not saying that our views are not important. We’ve just spent over 2 months digging into them. What I am saying is that if our beliefs bring us to a place where we cease to love as Jesus loves, then we are in trouble.
When I was in full-time youth ministry, which seems like a lifetime ago, we had someone who was going to donate some space for us to do youth outreach. The members of the youth committee got together and started working on a list of things that they didn’t want to see in this youth center. They had their list of language, clothing, tattoos and piercings, and by the time they were through, there were very few youth who would be eligible to be there.
So I asked them if this was only for committed Christians from strong Christian families. They said no, but the list as it was set up excluded everyone else. It wasn’t an outreach, it was a safe haven, a bubble to give their kids someplace to hang out where they wouldn’t come in contact with the outside “non-Christian” world.
This wasn’t a loving place for people to come meet Jesus. After much discussion, most of the things on the list were removed. A few of the people chose to keep their kids away from it, but we had amazing opportunities to minister and show the love of Jesus to those who didn’t know what His love looked like.
The hope in passing along this series on the non-negotiables of our faith was for people to know where our church stands. I know that there was at least one person who felt one of the messages was intolerant. Who are we to say that the Bible is the inspired Word of God? Who are we to say that people are inherently sinful and in need of a loving Savior who came and died for us?
We tried to share the truths, and explain why they are truths. We tried to do it in a loving way, even if some didn’t receive it that way.
These are truths that we require everyone to agree with if they desire to become members. And for those who are wondering, becoming a member really is more of a responsibility than a privilege. Nobody gets anything special by being a member, but there are expectations for those God has called to help bear the burden of ministry here.
As I mentioned, not everyone has been in agreement. Some of those who have disagreed with me are people I care deeply about. And many of the pastors that we are united with in Churches Unite have different theological stances, but we are all in agreement on the non-negotiables that were a part of the series).
Theology (or the study of God) is important, but so is love… by studying God’s Word we learn that nothing is more important than love.
Listen to what Jesus had to say about it:
“Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matt. 22:37-40 NIV
What command is most important? Love. Love God and love others. Not the authority of scripture or other things… love is the most important command.
It is said this way in Colossians:
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Col. 3:12-14 NIV
This is a wonderful list for how we should live as Christians, but notice that it is love that binds them together.
And what about people who call themselves Christians or churches that seem to have everything right but don’t love? We see the results in 1 Cor. 13:1-3.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Cor. 13:1-3 NIV
This is the start of what is called the “Love Chapter.” It is read at most weddings that include scripture.
Here’s another way to look at it…
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels (speaking in tongues), but have not love… I am just a noisemaker.
If I have the gift of prophecy, if I am smart (even if I think I know everything), and even if I have great faith, if I don’t have love – I am nothing!
And if I do all the spiritual disciplines, give my money away, attend church every day, and allow my life to be hard… I gain nothing by doing these things if I don’t love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 is not saying these things aren’t worthwhile… in fact, he spent time before this talking about some of these same topics and their importance. It is just that they become unimportant (at least for the person) if they aren’t accompanied by love.
I like how Stephen Um puts it in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (p. 229-30):
“The Corinthian Christians had the religious thing down. They did what Christians do every week (they went to church, they prayed, sang, listened to a sermon, and even shared meals together). But in all the coming and going, in all their churchly activity… they struggled to keep love at the center of their lives… Paul steps into this setting — and into our setting today — and says., ‘I know you love your excellence, but let me show you an even more excellent way.”
You need to do more than love your excellence, you need to actually love.
He points out that at the heart of these three verses, we look at what someone says, thinks, and does. But without love, none of it matters.
If you miss out on the call to love, you have really missed out.
Try focusing and listening to the truth (or anything) when you have distractions… it’s really hard!
Then he explains what Godly love looks like in 1 Cor. 13:4-8a.
Love… love… love! We are told in 1 John 4 that God is love. We are told in John chapter 13 that we will be known as His followers, as His disciples, if we love.
Love is what should define us.
We want to have good theology. We want to have the basics down, but if our theology and basics in doctrine aren’t rooted and based in God’s Word, and our actions aren’t based in love, then what good are they?
This topic is so important that it was the focus of our leadership retreat this year. Our last leadership retreat was in 2016. There are so many things we could have focused on, but looking at where we are as a church, and the state of Christianity in America, this seemed like the best place to go.
For those who would like to learn more about the retreat, or have access to the sessions, please let me know.
So theology is important, the non-negotiables of the faith are important, but they need to be paired with love.
Here are other verses to think about regarding the call to love:
-Eph. 5:1-2 (live a life of love; as He loves us, so we are to love)
-Rom. 12:9-10 (love is to be sincere… in other words, we are to really love others)
-Eph. 4:11-16 (speaking the truth in love keeps us from being blown around by deceitful scheming and builds us up and helps us to become mature)
For those of you here who have heard all of the dont’s regarding the way you need to live without knowing the loving reasons Jesus guides us the way He does, I am sorry.
God has ways for us to live, but they are always for our benefit. As we seek to share the truth here at the Elm Street Community Church, I pray you receive it with the love that is given with it. Not love as the world implies, but love as the Word of God shares it.
If you have given your lives to Jesus, but are unsure of why we have the non-negotiables that we have, then please feel free to ask. But know that what we share we share in love, and we will continue to love you even if we don’t agree with you.
And for those who are a part of this church, I implore you to make love the foundation of all you say, think, and do. If love is the foundation that everything is to stand on, then may it be said of us that we are people of love.
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