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LOVE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, January 9, 2011

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).


Please keep your Bible open to this place. The Passover meal had ended. But Jesus paused before He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He took a towel, filled a basin with water, and began to wash the Disciples’ feet. He washed and dried them all, including the feet of Judas, the one who would betray Him. Then He said,

“I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

What did He mean? It was a symbolic act which showed, like a picture, the meaning of our text,

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

Christ said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.” What was new about His commandment? The Old Testament, in Leviticus 19:18, said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” How is this, then, a new commandment? The old commandment said to love your neighbor “as thyself.” The new commandment is, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you.” Spurgeon said, “That [the old commandment] is the love of benevolence [or kindness], but this [new commandment] is a love of affinity [of connection] and close relationship” (C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ’s New Commandment,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, number 2,936, volume 51, p. 242). Furthermore Christ’s “new” commandment refers not to being kind to others in general, but “That ye love one another.” It refers to Christians loving each other in the local church.

After all, were not these 12 Disciples the very heart of the first New Testament church? Of course they were! And, so, Christ’s “new” commandment tells Christians in a local church to “love one another; as I have loved you.” The brothers and sisters in a local congregation are told by Christ to love each other in the same way Christ loved the Disciples. Christ's love for His Disciples was not just a passing emotion. It was real. He shared Himself with them. He cared for them. He even washed their feet. He gave up His life for them. And He says that we are to “love one another; as I have loved you.”

We work and pray for our local church to obey Christ’s new commandment. We try with all our hearts to share ourselves with each other, to care for each other, to serve each other.

A new young person comes in and gets saved. We should embrace him as a brother. He should be treasured and cared for, and loved deeply.

Many of you gave me such generous offerings and presents two weeks ago, on Christmas Eve. It was good for you to show your love to me that night in church. But it will also be good and right for me to take time to write a brief note of thanks to each and every one who showed their love to me. It is right for me to tell each of you how much you mean to me, even if it takes two or three days to write those notes.

I was very pleased to see so many of you come to the evangelistic meetings at Dr. Waldrip's church. Night after night you came and prayed for the lost and for the sick, right after Christmas. You could have stayed home and rested. But you showed your love for others by being there, night after night, praying for others. These expressions of Christian love go far in fulfilling Christ’s new commandment, “That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”

But these expressions of Christian love in the local church have an effect on the lost which is quite profound. Here are three of the effects of love in the local church upon unbelievers, unconverted people who have been brought into our midst by evangelism.

I. First, Christian love in the local church is a sign to the unbelieving world that we are Christ’s disciples.

Look at verse 35 of the text. Stand and read it aloud.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

You may be seated. This love we have to each other is the greatest sign the world will ever see that we are the disciples and followers of Jesus.

We can preach doctrinal sermons, sermons that are perfectly orthodox and perfectly sound, and strongly evangelistic, but if those lost people who come into our services do not experience a profound outpouring of Christian love in our church, they will not see in us anything unusual, they will not think that there is anything very important going on here. But when they come into the services and fellowship times and actually see us loving each other – then will they be impressed to say, “These are the people of God. These are the people who know Jesus and follow Him.”

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Spurgeon said, “No sermon can be so [well heard by] the world as a true manifestation of the love of Christ; and when God restores to His church genuine, hearty, and sincere love…then shall the world be more impressed by the gospel than it is at present” (ibid., pp. 249-250). Let it be our goal as a church to so greatly love each other that,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, [because] ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

John Peter Lange, the great German theologian, pointed out that in the early days of Christianity, “The heathen [often] exclaimed with astonishment: ‘Behold how these Christians love one another, and how ready to die for one another.’” [Even] Lucian [a heathen writer] sneeringly remarked, “Their law-giver [Christ] has persuaded them that they are all [brothers and sisters]” (Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, John, p. 427).

Even today, in the Third World, in China, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and in Muslim lands, we see this love of Christians for each other many times – in rather remarkable ways – often in very difficult circumstances. This should put most Western Christians to shame. May God help our church to be like the early Christians and the Christians in the Third World. Let us remember the words of Christ,

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Christians loving each other in a local church is a powerful sign to the unbelieving world that we are the true followers of Jesus Christ!

II. Second, Christian love and unity in the local church are a great proof to the unbelieving world that our faith is real.

Please turn to John 17:21. Please stand and read that verse aloud.

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).

You may be seated.

This takes us a step farther. In John 13:35 Jesus said the world would know we are Christ’s disciples if we “have love one to another.” But here, in John 17:21, Christ goes deeper. He goes beyond impressing the world by our love to each other. As He left the upper room and went toward the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed to the Father, “That they may also be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).

This verse is misapplied today by those in the “ecumenical movement.” It is ridiculous to apply this to ecumenicism, and say that it means all the denominations, many of them full of heresies and unbelieving members, must come together. Christ was praying for no such thing! He said, “That they also may be one.” Who was He praying for? He was praying for the nucleus of that first local church! When a local church has oneness, and is full of love and unity, then the world will “believe that thou hast sent me.”

But Christ went even farther in verse 23. Please stand and read it aloud.

“I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:23).

You may be seated.

In John 13:35 Jesus said the world would know we are His followers “if we have love one to another.” In John 17:21, He said that our unity and love would persuade the world that God had sent Him to die for their sins and rise from the dead to give them life. The unity and love of Christians in the local church would persuade unbelievers of these doctrines.

Belief in doctrines alone does not save. And so, once again, in John 17:23, Christ goes back to unity and love in the local church, this time as a means of the lost world knowing the gospel for themselves. Listen carefully again,

“That they [the Christians] may be made perfect [complete] in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them…” (John 17:23).

We can preach until our throats are sore. We can evangelize until our shoes are worn out. But if the lost do not see Christian love and unity when they come into our local church they will not “know” that the gospel is true. They will not know that Christ “hast loved them.”

If, on the other hand, a lost person comes into our church and sees our oneness and love for each other, they will “know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them…” (John 17:23).

I do not usually care for the writings of John R. W. Stott. But I was struck by something he once wrote, which I believe is profoundly and Scripturally true. Dr. Stott said,

The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian [church], if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a [church full of love]. I believe that evangelism is specially through the local church, through [its] community, rather than through the individual [alone], that the church should be an alternate society, a visible sign of the kingdom (Dr. John R. W. Stott, Christianity Today, October 2006, pp. 97-98).

Dr. Stott said that lost people cannot see God. They wonder if there is a God. But when Christian people in “the local church” [his word] love each other so intensely that they become “an alternate society,” the lost will want to be part of that society – and they will sense the love and reality of God in and through the local church. He is an Anglican – but he certainly sounded like an old-fashioned Baptist on this – and I for one think he was exactly right!

Let us, therefore, do all we can to love each other, to be at one with each other – to pray for and help each other. Then, when someone is brought into our church, they will say, “These are Christ’s followers! God must have sent Jesus or these people would not be so loving!” And, after hearing me preach, and being in our love-filled church, they will at last say, “I know God sent Jesus. I know Jesus loves me.”

III. Third, yet the absence of Christian love in a local church will not prevent the elect from coming to Christ.

Turn back to John 13:27. Look at what it says about Judas.

“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27).

Drop down to John 13:30. Stand and read it aloud.

“He [Judas] then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night” (John 13:30).

You may be seated. This is the original church split. It happened right after Christ washed their feet and gave them the Lord’s Supper. Did this church split stop the rest of the Disciples from loving one another? Yes, it did for a short time, but not for long. They quickly figured out that Judas was simply an evil unbeliever in their midst. After he was gone, they went right back to loving each other, and bringing lost people into the warmth and loving fellowship of that local church.

Now, I end this sermon with a warning to young people who have grown up in the church. You have seen people like Judas cause trouble and leave the church. It happens in every church. You have seen them leave the church. You have seen them betray Christ. Don’t let that stop you from becoming a Christian! For every betrayer like Judas, there are others who are faithful Christians in the church, and the church goes right on in loving fellowship without the Judas! Do not let the trouble some Judas caused be a life-long hindrance to you becoming a Christian. Make sure you are not like that. Make sure you don’t hold back when you are asked to come to Christ. Judas did that – and he is a bad example. Don’t be like Judas. Look around at these wonderful Christians in our church. Feel their love for God – and for you. Listen to their prayers and exhortations to you. Come to Christ quickly. Press into the kingdom without further delay. Strive to enter in to Christ. And come and help us make this church what Dr. John R. W. Stott called “an alternate society,” a church full of love in a dying city, a lighthouse set on the hill in a disintegrating civilization! God bless you! Amen!

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 17:20-23.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Make Me a Channel of Blessing" (by Harper G. Smyth, 1873-1945).


THE OUTLINE OF

LOVE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

(John 13:15; Leviticus 19:18)

I.   First, Christian love in the local church is a sign to the
unbelieving world that we are Christ’s disciples, John 13:35.

II.  Second, Christian love and unity in the local church are a
great proof to the unbelieving world that our faith is real,
John 17:21, 23.

III. Third, yet the absence of Christian love in a local church will
not prevent the elect from coming to Christ, John 13:27, 30.