Commitment In The Church

Introduction Isn't it amazing how some people give up time to help in the Sunday School or the sidesmen's team or the tea and coffee rota, and others don't? Some people hardly ever miss a home group meeting, music group, missionary prayer meeting or something that they are down on a rota to do, and other people are unreliable, unavailable or unwilling. How can this be? Is it just that there are certain personality types that do such things, in Myers-Briggs terms, more stabilizers than negotiators? Or maybe the unreliable ones are actually on to something about the importance of all these activities? We're going to be thinking about the issues of commitment in the church. Much of it could be applied to commitment to a CU meeting, but primarily we'll be thinking of a local church like this one. First, GOD'S LOVE TO US (v 9) There is one big mistake that you might make, that might be mis-heard about the theme of the sermon. Some people could already think that the sermon is about how people should help in the church more. I'm not talking about commitment to the church as if it were the most important thing there could be. You could say as a married man that I am committed to my mother-in-law, but that is only a factor that comes because of my commitment to her daughter. To say "I am committed to the church" is actually only a subset of being committed to Christ. What we need to think about first is commitment to Christ. That's why the first point is not about us at all. It is about God's love. It is about what comes from God. What pours out from God. We're in John's gospel chapter 15 verse 9:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Jesus is talking to his disciples, that group of people who follow him. Just before this verse he has spoken to them using the imagery of the vine. He is the vine they are the branches. He supports and feeds them. Now Jesus spells out the meaning of the picture language in plain terms. Believers are the object of love. Whose love in particular? Jesus' love. To what degree is this love? It is as the love the Father has for the Son. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you". We are not talking only about the relationship of love that God had for the man Jesus of Nazareth, who was born in Bethlehem and was executed in his early thirties outside Jerusalem. The way the Father loved the Son refers even more, to their timeless unending relationship. This book of the Bible opens with the statement "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God", it goes on "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". That Word who always existed took flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, but the relationship of love existed long before and long after. The way the Father loved the Son is part of his nature and essential being. It is almost too much to contemplate, that that degree of love is the model for the type of love Jesus has for his disciples. It was love like that which sent him from the Father to obscurity and to take on human life. That life to Jesus meant as much as it does to any human. Yet he laid it down in agony on the cross. Humanly a failure, without property, or family of his own. Without the benefits of life that we might value. He laid down his life in love for us. That was why he was sent. Much goes wrong in Christian people's lives when they forget that they are the object of Jesus' love. When we forget God's love, we don't pray, we don't praise, we fall in temptation more, we are idle, we make the wrong decisions. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." Jesus couldn't tell his disciples to remain in something if it was unsteady or uncertain. We can remain in Jesus' love because it is secure. We can rest in it because it continues. His love continues through the ages for all who follow him. You might be the most committed Christian person there is here tonight, or you might be a person who it seems is as weak as water, whoever we are, we need to remain in the constant, essential, forceful love of Jesus. When it comes to commitment in the church, there can be people who continue to do all the outward signs of commitment. They go along to home group. They do their duties. They take their turns. But there is no heart in it. God's love is not the motivating energy to life. That isn't really the point is it? To become a Christian to fulfil certain roles in the church, to keep an institution going? When that is the case we need to hear again of the love of Jesus for us. His love is why we meet as a church, not to care for teenagers or tidy up pews, not to become experts on the Bible, or to be reliable people who help others. Commitment in the church must depend on Jesus's love for us. It is Jesus' love that makes the church different from any other sort of social gathering. Are we remaining in that love? Are we losing the sense of being loved? We can pray even as we sit here that God would make us aware again of his love. We can pray silently as we are in our seats, for the people who are sitting around us, that they would know that Jesus loves them. He knows us through and through but he loves us. I don't know whether God loves believers more than unbelievers. There is something of an intensity and intimacy about Jesus' love here. But elsewhere it says: "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life". All are loved, but believers respond to his love. Maybe you can remember the experience of someone falling in love with you, or you with someone else, and the love being unwelcome. You didn't know how to respond. Most of the time people who are not Christians don't realize that God loves them. One day something may make an impression on them so that they begin to see that they are loved. Then they can turn from that love and try to reject it, or they can respond to it. I take it that something like that happened to many of us. There was a time when we were not aware of God's love. Something, perhaps we read it in the Bible, or heard it from a friend or had a spiritual experience of some sort, made us think that, surprisingly, God loved us. Our hearts responded to that love with gratitude, with a desire to give something back. That is what we turn to now, "Our love to God". Secondly, OUR LOVE TO GOD (vv 10-11) If you have ever been "in love", you will know that there is barely anything that you would not do for that person. Yet human love, for all the powerful sacrificial emotions, is primarily self-seeking. Human love makes another person into an idol which dominates every other thought and action, and it wants to have and possess that idol. The sort of love that Jesus gives is not exclusive, because it is for all the branches on the vine, and it is not primarily emotional but active. Look what is says in verses 10 and 11:

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Jesus is loved by the Father, but he does not just bask in that love, the apple of his Father's eye. Some people can drink in love and never give anything back. Jesus remains in his Father's love by his obedience to his Father. We have a fallen-world view of obedience. So often for us obedience conjures up something unpleasant, that we would rather not do. But the idea of Christian obedience is doing something that is at the deepest level good to do, even if it involves suffering and hardship. We think of "remaining" in something as needing no work. But in almost anything you can think of, to remain, to stay the same, does involve activity. God's love is constant, but we are not. To continue taking in God's love is like trimming the sails in the wind, or maintaining the pressure on the accelerator. There is a certain activity to remaining in God's love. We can remain in it, or we can take ourselves from it. God's love is there, wanting us to do certain actions. For Jesus, God's love was there in his giving his life for our sins. Jesus remained in God's love by his obedience. We remain in Jesus' love by our obedience. God is a God who gives commands. For instance if we are husbands we are commanded to love our wife. If we are parents we are commanded to bring our children up to be obedient. If we are workers we are commanded to work hard and not to steal. We will be loving each other in the church, we will be seeking to help the lost, lending without expecting anything back and so on. When we are not keeping his commands we are taking ourselves from remaining in God's love. More than that, when we are not keeping his commands we are taking ourselves from the fullness of joy that Jesus gives. This verse says that our deepest joy comes from times when we obey Christ with complete commitment. It certainly puts on its head our ideas of joy. I thought being joyful was to do with singing in the shower or knowing all the words to the songs at an informal service. So how can we be joyful? If we are students we will be working 'as unto Jesus', we will be honouring our parents, we will be seeking to save the lost, we will be sharing with others, we will be putting to death our sinful nature. It doesn't say the joy comes when we are doing these things perfectly, the joy comes in doing them at all. So our daily life as Christians is actually about love for Jesus and growing in joy. We may think that intimacy with Jesus is shown by how radiant our eyes are, or felt by how strongly we are affected in singing praise. But intimate love for Jesus is actually shown by obedience to his commands. Look at it again, verse 10:

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Our love to God is a matter of obedience. Do you love God? The response could be: Well yesterday I didn't love him very well, but today I'm really trying! Tomorrow, God willing, I will love him by even better obedience. We can't say we love God when we are disobedient to him. There are no commands in the bible about serving on the creche rota, or doing the student suppers, or being in the music group. Maybe being obedient to Jesus would actually go the other way. It would be possible for our commitment in the church to be hiding disobedience. There could be people who are neglecting their children or wife, so that they can be at church meetings. There could be people who are neglecting their lost friends and colleagues because all their time is taken up in Christian meetings and activities. There could be people who never give their parents respect, or who don't put work into their studies, who use up their time in ways that seem so good and godly. God's love to us puts our church commitments in context - without God's love they are pointless. Our love to God checks our church commitments, we need to ask how they measure up to us keeping the commands of Jesus. In the next verse Jesus makes a command that is very relevant to commitment in the church. Thirdly, OUR LOVE TO EACH OTHER (v 12)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Ah well, we think, Jesus also said love your enemies. For him love was a fixed attitude to other people. He must have meant just things like "don't be unpleasant, be kind, be truthful." That would be some kind of start in regard to enemies, but when we look at a passage like tonight's and other parts of John's writings, we can see that something more than that is demanded of love between followers of Jesus:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13.34-5).

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (John 13. 14-15).

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (1 John 3.16-7)

What struck outsiders forcefully in the early years of the church, was how Christians loved each other. The great racial, national and social barriers were being dismantled. I don't think it was a message I heard often in my days in a Christian Union, despite the number of times we sang "A New Commandment". I don't think it occupies enough space in Christian books or bookshops today. I don't think we preach about it enough here. We declare that the church is part of God's purposes, that he didn't just save isolated individuals. We say that the church is meant to be God's people under God's rule, not quite yet in God's place, but on the way. We can't make these high claims unless we are prepared to work at loving each other. How do we do that in a great big place like this? The audience that John was writing to was very different. To be a Christian in the Roman world might well cut you off from your family, or from gainful employment. Those in material need were destitute. They didn't have a welfare state to provide a safety net. They hadn't had centuries of Christianity influencing their society. Christian love is not quite as distinctively different from society as it was at the beginning, because Christianity has changed society. But if we want to know about how to love each other, we can learn from the way we love ourselves. We're not cool or rude to ourselves. We don't look down on ourselves. We feed ourselves. We look after ourselves. We make sure we have all we need. Occasionally we are wildly generous to ourselves. Loving each other sounds pretty costly! In John's day churches were usually small house gatherings. There you knew one another, newcomers were quickly known and welcomed. Today, so many come here that no one can be certain whether you are a new-comer or not. No-one can be certain whether you were away last week or not. Maybe you have hardly ever been to the house of any other person here tonight. I suppose that is one reason why it's a good idea to be in a home-group if you can, or some small CU group. Churches didn't start out big, with their own special buildings. A church isn't meant to be a place where you can be on your own, unknown, like at the cinema. It would be possible to talk for hours and hours on loving one another and how to do it better, but I want to draw out some of the implications of loving one another for commitment in the church. We have already seen that commitment in the church belongs in the context of knowing Jesus' love, and also requires obedience to the commands of Jesus, with higher rank given to those commands that apply particularly to us. All Christians are to love each other, but only I and my siblings are to honour our particular parents as parents. All Christians are to love each other, but only my wife must I love as a husband. The commands that only I can keep are the ones that I should aim to do first of all. They are my first order commitments. So for instance if bringing my children up properly means that I am not able to do some job in the church, then I am doing the right thing in not doing that job. If attending a home group means that I can't do my job properly, I shouldn't be in a home group. But many of us will find that we have some time available that we do not need to do the other things the Lord has commanded us. According to the gifts that God has given us, we will teach the children of other Christians when we could be sleeping in on a Sunday morning. Or sit in the gallery operating the video camera so others can see. Or be in the music group so others can sing the song more confidently. We will attend the home group or the hall group because we want to give our love to the other people there. We will do these things as part of our love for one another. Conclusion In conclusion, please don't feel a burden to be doing some job, or in some group. Being a Christian is not about keeping an institution going. But it is about lovingly and joyfully obeying God's commands in our particular situation. Examine how you feel about "commitment". Do you need to go back to basics, and rediscover God's love for you? Has your response to that love become dry, or are you limiting the use to which he can put you? What new way can you show your love for your brother or sister in Christ?

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