18th Sunday After Pentecost September 30, 2012
2, 395(1-6), 412, 46
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also. Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
In the name of the Lord our God who identifies Himself as love, dear fellow-redeemed:
It is really quite amazing how many questions in the fabric of our conversations have to do with the topic of “love.” These questions may verbalized or just running through our heads. For example: Am I in love? How do I know if I am in love? If you love me, you would do this. Does she still love me? It doesn’t seem that way. How can I show love to my children? How do I want them to show love to me? And the list goes on. There are so many ways we crave love from others and seek to show love to others; and yet, so many questions abound about what it is, what it means, and how it plays out in our lives.
God also is very interested in love. His love for us moved Him to send His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior at a time when we were completely unlovable because of our sins. He has also given us the command to love one another. In today’s Scripture readings we heard how God feels about pride and arrogance, so while commanded to love one another we understand that humility is also an attitude which God desires in us.
Today, we wish to consider God’s direction to each of us to pursue a humble love. While considering this pursuit we will see I. The role of Law and Gospel, and we will also consider II. Applications to daily life.
God summarized the entire Law—His entire Law for us—with two Bible passages. We typically refer to these as the two “tables” of the Law: I. Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and II. Love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mark 12:30-31). Every commandment is part of one or the other of these two tables of the Law.
The writer to the Hebrews closes out his letter focusing primarily on the second table of the Law—love for others. Love for others comes from a love for God. If we would love God perfectly with our whole heart, soul, and mind, we would likewise love each other perfectly, because loving God perfectly produces perfect love for others.
To understand God’s command to love, we need to go to God’s Law and understand what God means by “love.” Jesus, for example, said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). That seems really impossible to do when someone is so cruel to us. Perhaps you don’t refer to anyone as an enemy and have no one in your life of whom you would say, “This is an enemy,” perhaps you do. We certainly have enemies of our country, but God says, “Love your enemies.” That’s a command. That’s the Law of God. He says, “Love your enemies; love your neighbor as yourself—whether friend or foe.”
What kind of love is this? It’s impossible for us to love our enemies in the sense of “I’m going to be best pals with you; I’m going to be friends with you; I am going to “hang out” with you, because I like being around you and love you so much.” We couldn’t do it, nor is that the kind of love Jesus directs us to have toward our enemies.
The love Jesus commands is a purposeful (agape), self-sacrificing love that isn’t at all concerned about oneself, but is concerned about the object of that love. “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). God was concerned with us—the objects of His love, thus He sacrificed His Son. Jesus loved us—the object of His love—and did not let the pain and suffering which He would experience sway Him from His course. He was not loving Himself, but rather, was concerned about the object of His love, namely all sinners.
Jesus lay down His life in sacrifice for sinners, His enemies. That is the love we are to pursue. That love—that really isn’t about me—prompts activities that are not thinking about what’s in it for me, but how can I benefit you, even to the point of sacrificing myself for you (the object of my love) and for your benefit. This can still be hard to do with enemies—those for whom we don’t have the emotional feeling—but we can still emulate Christ, follow His example, and look to exercise that kind of love while praying for them and not seeking their harm.
Now we turn the light of God’s Law to our ability and our activity of loving in that way. We can see quickly how we fall short. The writer to the Hebrews begins in our text, “Let brotherly love continue.” [v.1] He has to give us that direction echoing the Law of God, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” because we sinners are prone to not let it continue. Pride rises up and as soon as prides rises up, I’m going to seek my own and I really can’t love you when I am looking only to please myself. If I’m only looking to myself to please myself, I’m not looking out for your best interest. They might agree—I might be able to pursue selfish self-interest and still have it be a benefit to you as well, but in reality I’m not thinking about you at all. That’s not love for our neighbor. That’s not love for God, and that’s not humble love.
Love that looks out for the benefit and blessing of others—that seeks to be a blessing to the object of love—really can’t involve sinful pride or arrogance at all. So when we say pursue “humble love,” it’s a little bit redundant, because genuine love is always with humility.
Think of how the apostle Paul describes this love in 1 Corinthians 13. As you hear this description again, you know there is no room for pride or arrogance in this. "Love suffers long and is kind. Love does not envy. Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
How “enduring of all things” are you when you are proud? How patient are you with others when you are frustrated because they are messing up your schedule? Or they just don’t get it—they’re so irritating to me! Where’s the love? If you are frustrated, angry, hating because of how it plays out for you, that’s not humility and that’s not love.
When we seek to pursue this genuine humble love, we need the Law of God. We need the Law of God as a mirror to show us where we fail. Every sin…every sin, is in some way a lack of love. Writing to the Romans Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments: you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9).
Every sin—every non-fulfillment of the Law—is in some fashion a lack of love. Think about that. When you evaluate your life and you go about confessing your sins today, think about how those sins you are identifying and confessing are a lack of love. It’s a little scary. We might be able to rather matter-of-factly identify sins and genuinely repent of them, but when you stop and ask yourself, “How did I show a lack of love? How did I show hatred in those words?” Then all of a sudden our hearts are cut to the core. We realize just how sinful we are. We realize just how unloving our nature is, how we utterly fail in pursuing this humble love.
As we pursue humble love, we need the Law as a mirror to show us our sin. After repentance and turning to Christ for forgiveness, the Law also provides direction for us as children of God: “How may I continue to show love in a more Christ-like and profitable way?”
In this pursuit of humble love we also need the Gospel. We need the knowledge and assurance that Jesus forgives us our sins. That is what motivates us to love others as well as Him. That Gospel comes out in the final verse of today’s text: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” [v.8]
As I go about my life and interact with you and others, I seek to pursue a humble love. Why in the world would I do that? From a very selfish, sinful standpoint there’s no apparent advantage to me. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever—that means the Jesus who loved me continues to love me with that love with which He loved me before the world began. He is the same. Stop and think about that! God loved you before the world began, chose you in Christ to be His own. He loved you and sent Jesus to die for you.
Each of us can confess that it is an amazing love that sins would be so forgiven! It is amazing love that the very Son of God would lay down His life for someone such as me. That amazing love that I celebrate at Christmas because God sent His newborn Son—that amazing love that I celebrate at Easter because the Son rose victoriously from the grave is the same love—yesterday, today, and forever. It’s the same love when I’m grumbling with my spouse or fighting with my classmates. Jesus hasn’t changed. If I can celebrate that amazing love on Christmas and Easter and when I’m feeling excited about that love—Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever—there’s every reason to celebrate that love when things aren’t going so well.
When your are struggling in the pursuit of humble love, remember Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. That loving Savior—who moves me to love—is still the same. This person who I’m arguing with, the person whom I’m hitting, this person whom I’m struggling with, this person to whom I’m showing a lack of love is a redeemed soul by the same love of the same Savior.
We run to that Savior for forgiveness. That same Savior who forgave me yesterday when I thought I was doing pretty well in showing forth His love is the same today when I don’t feel so successful. He is the same tomorrow when I meet tomorrow’s challenges. It is joy, comfort and encouragement that in all the ups and downs of life—physical, spiritual, emotional—in all the roller-coasting-riding that I do from day-to-day-to-day, Jesus is that steady, constant, secure line: the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therein I find my comfort, my encouragement, my motivation to love as He has loved me.
Pursue a humble love remembering your Savior who is unchanging even as you repent of what the Law exposes in you sins.
We seek then to apply this to a few situations in our day-to-day life. The writer to the Hebrews covers several of the commandments that deal with the second table of the Law—loving our neighbor as ourselves. He says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” [vv.2-3]
The entertaining of strangers and unwittingly entertaining angels is most likely a reference to Abraham when he very hospitably entertained two angels and the Son of God Himself as they were on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to bring destruction upon it (cf. Genesis 18).
Whether or not you actually entertain angels unwittingly, the truth is—the direction is—don’t forget to entertain strangers, remember the prisoners, show love to your neighbors in their need and circumstance, and thereby fulfill the Law of love, and specifically the fifth commandment.
In the fifth commandment God commands against murdering and other harm done to our neighbor’s body or earthly well-being. Pursue a humble love, looking out for ways to help others, whether in prison, whether they’re sick, whether in some kind of aid and you have been blessed with the resources to give that aid. Whatever the circumstance, the needs of others—of our neighbors—is opportunity for us to pursue a humble love.
Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man came to Jesus asking, “Who is my neighbor?” After Jesus told the parable, He asked the man who was a neighbor to the man who was beaten up by thieves. The man replied, “The one who helped him.” (cf. Luke 10). Pursue a humble love with eyes open for needs of your neighbor. If you are not able to help them physically, you can always pray. It costs nothing. Your bank account could be zero, your resources could be none, but you can still help that neighbor in need in ways that no unbeliever can even with a million dollars. Pursue a humble love, looking out for ways to help in physical needs.
The text goes on: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” [v.4] Now application turns to the 6th commandment namely, God’s command preserving the sanctity of marriage, preserving His definition of marriage, preserving faithfulness within marriage and sexual purity both in and outside of marriage.
Marriage is designed by God, given by God, and intended by Him as a distinct blessing. Anything that adulterates or corrupts marriage as created by God changes it and pollutes it. Any infraction is not love at all—it is not love toward the institution of marriage, is not love toward God, is not love toward others, and is not fulfilling the Law.
Pursue a humble love toward God, toward your spouse if you are married, toward your future spouse if not married, toward marriage and the testimony it gives if God’s design for you is never to marry. For each one of us there is opportunity to pursue love in regard to marriage. It means not bringing marriage “down” through filthy talking of a sexual nature, not making jokes out of what God has called pure, not degrading those gifts that God gives within marriage as if they were some play-thing of sinful mankind; but rather, honoring and treasuring the spouse that God has given, preserving and reserving one’s affection of a spouse given by God at a future time. Whatever we do to honor marriage—which God has made honorable among all—shows love. Pursue a humble love.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [v.5] The pursuit of love also applies to the 9th and 10th commandments forbidding coveting and by extension the 7th commandment which forbids stealing.
Let your conduct be without covetousness—without a sinful desire for what is not yours, or what you rightfully cannot have. That sinful covetousness sometimes only lurks within, sometimes spills out in activity; it can be coveting things, it can be coveting status; it can be coveting people. Our nature desires so much in terms of earthly things and material blessings that covetousness comes so easily. From covetousness comes discontent, hatred manifesting itself in many ways, unhappiness, and arguing with God: “Why didn’t He give me this?”
Let your conduct be without covetousness. How can you pursue life without covetousness? Remember Jesus Christ (the same yesterday, today, and forever) promises you: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” If you know that the very Son of God, who lay down His life for you, will not leave you or forsake you; if you know that the almighty God who made heaven and earth will not leave you or forsake you, why worry about what you don’t have? Why covet what someone else has? It doesn’t matter. You have God on your side. The writer to the Hebrews continues: “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” [v.6]
The Lord is my helper—I will not fear, even though I’m hungry and lost my money. The Lord is my helper—I will not fear, though my body aches and is dying from disease. The Lord is my helper—I will not fear, though somebody has so much more than I. It doesn’t matter. Let your conduct be without covetousness. Pursue a humble love, trusting in God who promises to be with you.
The final application is this, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. [v.7] This touches the 4th commandment and the honoring of those whom God has placed in authority and leadership over us. This begins primarily and particularly at home, but extends to government and other leaders as well.
Remember those who rule over you. Parents, Sunday School teachers, Christian Day School teachers, pastors, other church leaders are called by God to their roles and then entrusted with Christ-redeemed souls to lead, guide, and direct. When you are the one being led, remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you. When you are the one leading, remember the responsibility.
Later on in this same chapter of Hebrews we read, “Obey those who rule over you, be submissive, for they watch out for your soul” (Hebrews 13:17). Parents, teachers, other leaders, you are in a position to take heed and pursue a humble love recalling why you are doing this. For what purpose are you teaching these young souls? To bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord leading to eternal life (cf. Ephesians 6:4).
Children or others under authority what are we doing? Do we sometimes chaff against the rules and authority? Do we sometimes disagree? Remember those who rule over you and why they are there. Remember that God has placed them in authority over you for His purpose and blessing. Pursue a humble love, submitting to the authorities that God places over you for your blessing and for His direction to accomplish His will.
The list of applications could go on. Apply a humble love to your life circumstances, calling, and responsibilities. Pursue a humble love. Use the Law of God to identify what is love and what is not love in your life and repent. Remember your constant Savior Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Pursue that humble love seeking to glorify Him and give testimony to Him in all that you do.
May the love of Christ so motivate us to live to the glory of His name. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.