Outreach – “Being Each Other’s (One Another’s) Keepers” sermon from 7/4/10
1 John 3:11-24 & 4:7-12
Vision Statment: “The Wellsburg Reformed Church will ignite a passion for Christ through active worship, education, fellowship, and outreach in our community and surrounding area, resulting in a vibrant church family who will openly love, care, and serve.”
Special Music – “This Is How We Know” by Matt Redman
So, this morning we again continue forward in our current sermon series here at Wellsburg Reformed Church. We have been engaging our newly developed vision statement, which was formed by you before I came here. I have been helping us to engage this by using a background passage of Acts 2:42-47 and then jumping off of that into a more specific passage for each Sunday’s series topic in accordance with our vision statement. As another quick recap, we began this series by engaging the prophet Isaiah’s call story where he encountered God in all His holiness, was overcome with humility, then cleansed, and in turn offered himself in worship & service to God. Secondly, we moved on from there and talked about education in the form of love it, teach it, live it in regards to loving God & loving neighbor. Thirdly we talked about our active worship as a body as being the offering of each of ourselves sacrificially in view of God’s great mercy, for that is our spiritual act of worship. Last week then we moved into the topic of fellowship as we engaged how Paul called the Colossian church to live together in such ways that build unity in the body of Christ against ways that dispel unity. Today we enter into our fifth and final specific topic of this series as we talk about outreach, and next week I then hope to wrap everything together to close out the series. As we start, let’s again take out our bulletins and read together our vision statement located there… Let’s then move to Acts 2:42-47 and read and reflect on that briefly before engaging our other Scripture passage for this morning…
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
So our last topic of interest that we want to talk about in relation to our vision statement and also the early church is outreach. What did this early church do in terms of outreach? Well, the main verse that sticks out to me here is, “they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (vs. 45).” In this sense then, outreach is the action of providing for one another’s needs as a community. As I think about this, I am reminded of the gospel story where Jesus is approached by a wealthy man asking, “How do I inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-31)?” Jesus’ reply to this man is, “You know the commandments… and He then proceeds to list some of the 10 commandments. The man almost appears to stop Jesus as he speaks (since Jesus only gets through 5 of the commandments) to say, “I have kept all these since my youth.” As Jesus hears this he replies, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Upon hearing this, the man goes away in great grief in his heart because of his many possessions.
So, what happened here? Jesus cut him to the heart. The gospel passage says that Jesus looked at him and loved him and then said, there is still one thing lacking. Jesus looked deep into his heart and as the man heard Jesus’ instruction he was grieved for he felt the weight of Jesus’ command to give of everything he had and then follow Him. So what was the difference between this man and those of the early church who in Acts 2 seem to give of their possessions so easily and freely? If you recall, they too were cut to the heart. I brought this up in our initial message of this series when I talked about having a passion ignited by God for Christ and the gospel. Isaiah in his call story was cut to the heart in sight of God’s holiness and God responded by cleansing him to which Isaiah then responded by offering himself in worship and service. The people of the early church had just heard Peter give a rousing speech indicating exactly who Jesus was and the peoples’ part in crucifying Him. They realized what Jesus had done on their behalf in giving all of Himself for them and they were cut to the heart because they had all played a part in crucifying Him.
Upon hearing Peter’s message, Acts 2:37 says that the people were cut to the heart and they then asked, what shall we do? Peter responded to this that they should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ so that [their] sins may be forgiven; and [they would] receive the Holy Spirit. And later in vs. 41 it says that those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized, about three thousand of them were added to the church. This is what we need today! We need to realize the grace and love of God the Father in Jesus Christ in our hearts and then respond in repentance, receiving the Holy Spirit. For when we experience Christ’s love in His dying on the cross and our repentance as we are forgiven and cleansed and welcomed into the body, we cannot help but give of ourselves away for the one who gave Himself away for us. Being cut to the heart and renewed in the forgiveness and cleansing of Christ changes everything! That’s what the man who approached Jesus needed to know and experience, the grace & love of God and the forgiveness & cleansing of Jesus Christ. Know that these are yours this day. Embrace them! And may our hearts be changed to give of ourselves as Jesus did for us!
So, I’ve already said a lot this morning, but I want to take us to another passage yet, and that is I John 3:11-24 & 4:7-12. Turn with me in your Bibles and let’s see what this passage has to say to us…
11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us…
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
So, I take you here to the first epistle ascribed to the Apostle (and disciple) John to talk about outreach. It’s somewhat of a long section of Scripture and it seems pretty straight forward. The message in it is to love one another. This is what I believe outreach is all about; being vessels of God’s love in our love for one another. And when I say one another I don’t just mean those of us here, but really everyone we might come into contact with, for God’s love extends, or reaches out, to all (go over to the cross and extend arms out wide, symbolizing the outreach of God’s love in Christ’s outstretched arms).
Being Each Others’ Keepers in Contrast to Cain’s Action Towards his Brother, Abel (“Am I my brother’s keeper?—Gen 4:9):
So, what does the Apostle John say about loving one another? Well, first he takes us back; back to Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. If you recall the story, both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord. Abel’s offering was highly regarded of by the Lord and Cain’s wasn’t, for Abel had brought the first-fruits of his flock. At this Cain becomes angry, his face falls downcast, and he gives into sin and kills his brother, Abel. The next part of the story is what links it to John’s message in his letter. God comes to Cain and asks, “Where is your brother, Abel?” To which Cain responds, “I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?” That’s it! Did you hear it? Cain responds, “am I my brother’s keeper?” and while he felt justified in his sin, the answer to his question is actually, yes! We are to LOVE one another! Think about it in this way, how many times have you looked at a brother or sister in need and yet refused to help? You may feel justified in your refusal because you may be unaware of what you could do, or the person(s) may have done something foolish that has landed them in their present predicament. But John says here, we are each others’ keepers! Moreover, when we love one another the passage says, we pass from death to life. In Jesus’ death He conquered death and rose to life. Loving one another tends to have a contagious effect. In giving of ourselves for another we both receive life. If we do nothing, nothing is gained by anyone. Therefore, brothers & sisters, we must love one another for we have been undeservedly loved by the Father who loved us first in Jesus Christ His Son! Or in John’s words, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
Love in Truth & Action:
John goes on from this concept of being each others’ keepers and says this, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Now this sentence hits me pretty hard, for what am I doing right now? I am loving you in word and speech. And I have to ask myself, is that the only way I am loving you, or are my actions following suit as well? I think this is the question we all must ask of ourselves; how are we loving one another? It’s easy to say I love you, but to act in love, that requires something more. I can tell my wife and daughter I love them, but when my actions also proclaim my love they give a truer witness to my love. Now this reminds me of a love song I know of from sometime in the 80’s called “More Than Words” by the band Extreme. Is anyone else here familiar with this song?… I actually own it on a Monster Ballads CD. I am not sure I should have just admitted that I was an 80’s big-hair band fan (oh well)… But the song has the right idea. It says, “More than words, is all you have to do to make it real. Then you wouldn’t have to say, that you love me, cause I’d already know.” When we love one another with more than words we make it real. Jesus loved with more than just words. He was the Word of God incarnate, but He also loved in truth & action as He sacrificed Himself for us on the cross.
John goes onto say then, “And by this (loving in truth & action) we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before Him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything.” What John is saying here is that, our loving in truth and action gives testimony of our love for one another, and therefore when we might be in doubt about our love for each other our loving in truth and action gives testimony that our love is real.
John then goes and makes a pretty bold claim in light of our testimony of love to one another as he says, “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask, because we obey His commandments and do what pleases Him.” In our love for one another out of our faith in Jesus Christ we can have full confidence in God for we will be obeying His commandments which are “that we should believe in the name of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ and love one another (vs. 23-24).” In this we abide in God and He in us, and we know this by His Spirit in us.
Why We Should Love One Another in the First Place; because God First Loved Us (vs. 7-12):
So, our last set of verses from 4:7-12 sums it up. Let us love one another, because love is from God & God is love. Our testimony of God is in our love. In a moment, Sue is going to share a song with us entitled “This Is How We Know” that is by the Christian contemporary artist Matt Redman (the words are on an insert in your bulletins so can follow along). The opening lines of the song say, “This is how we know what love is, just one look at your cross. And this is where we see how love works, for you surrendered your all. This is how we know that God loved us first, and it is where we choose to love Him in return.” Brothers & sisters, because God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another! And verse 12 is important too, because as we love, God’s love is perfected in us, and people see God.