This morning we return to our study of the anatomy of the church. We have interrupted, quite at length, I might add, our study of 2 Corinthians, and we will get back to that 11th chapter and finish those final three sometime soon. But the Lord has really pressed it upon my heart to go back to discussing the anatomy of the church. This because through the years the Lord has brought so many of you new to our church, and it’s imperative that you understand the nature and character of the church, and why we do what we do the way we do it. So we’re addressing this whole matter of how the church functions, and we’ve had just a wonderful, wonderful time doing it.
Borrowing from the biblical metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, it’s a rich and wonderful identity that incorporates great treasures of truth for our edification and our application. We have compared the church to a body, Christ to the head, as the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians and Colossians. And as we have been doing that, we’ve been looking a little more deeply, kind of extending the metaphor, and talking about the anatomy of the church. I might just point you to one scripture, if I may, to begin with. Ephesians, chapter 4, if you’ll turn to it, verse 11 and following. Paul writes: “He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
This is profound and rich material, and we could spend a lot of time going through all of the nuances of the words of Paul here, but just to point you to one thing as a starting point, and it is this. That the building up of the body of Christ – which is obviously what we are engaged in doing – has as its end or its goal the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. In other words, we want the body of Christ to be as much like Christ as is possible. That’s why Paul, in Galatians 4:19, said that he was in pain and agony until Christ was fully formed in you. We are to be Christlike. Not just as individuals, but corporately. We are to come to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.
And that involves the unity of the faith. That involves a deep knowledge of the Son of God; we have to know what He’s like before we can be like Him. We are to bear His characteristics, we are to manifest His virtues, so that the church is not a religious organization, it is not a group of somewhat loosely connected people, but a living organism that possesses the very life of God; people in organic unity, spiritually organic unity, moving toward Christlikeness. It was, you remember, in Antioch that the pagans first identified believers as Christians, which means “little Christs.” So the idea of the growth of the church, the idea of the spiritual body of Christ, is that it grows, and matures, and takes on the character of Christ. That it becomes virtuous, so that it manifests the very things that mark the character of its Lord and its head.
Now, we’re focusing, then, on this process; the church identified as the body of Christ, not static, but growing, and developing into Christlikeness. We started, you remember, with the skeleton, and we suggested several things that were important as structural, foundational, that give the church its form, its rigidity, non-negotiables, bottom line things. We went through those carefully for a number of weeks. And then we’ve come, secondly, to the internal systems. A body, of course, is incomplete as a skeleton. On that skeleton, you have to hang all of the internal systems which carry the life, which make it a living body and not just a skeleton. So we’ve been looking at what are the internal systems that make the church the body of Christ, that make it what God wants it to be.
We started with faith, and we said the starting place, of course, is to believe God, to trust God, to know Him well enough to trust Him in every issue of life. We were reminded of Habakkuk 2:4: “The just shall live by faith.” And 2 Corinthians 5:7: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” We reminded ourselves, of course, as well to take on the shield of faith, and be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And then the second internal system is obedience, running right as a parallel with faith, the companion to it is a submission to all that the Lord asks of us, to “do all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” We who were once slaves to sin have now become slaves to righteousness, it says in Romans 6:17, and obedience to the Word of God and the will of God characterizes us.
Thirdly, we talked about humility, that most noble of Christian virtues, a true recognition of one’s sin and unworthiness. Humility, we noted, is not a matter of weakness. It’s certainly not equal to sinfulness. It’s not equal to ignorance. It’s not equal to fear. Sometimes sinful, weak, fearful people are assumed to be humble. But rather, humility is a true understanding of one’s own sin, and a true understanding of God’s grace in Christ; a true understanding of what God can use us to do when we submit to him. Now, that brings us to a fourth internal system, a fourth component, a fourth spiritual attitude, we’ve called them, a fourth spiritual motive. And it’s one that you hear very much about, but a very, very essential one, none other than love – love. And it’s that that I want to talk to you about this morning.
There are so many ways to approach this, but maybe I can approach it somewhat from the world in which we live, somewhat from the context of the culture around us, which has redefined that term in a very tragic way. In order to do that, at least to find a starting point, look at Ephesians, chapter 5 – Ephesians, chapter 5, and this is a good starting point for us. Obviously, the subject of love is a huge subject, and is covered in numerous places in the Word of God, but I’m going to try to summarize things, and just find a point of entry here in Ephesians, chapter 5. Verse 1: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Now what does it mean to be imitators of God?
Here it comes, verse 2: “And walk in love.” If you want to imitate God, walk in love, because, as John tells us, God is love. If you want to be a true child of God, if you want to manifest His character, if you want to imitate God, then walk in love, because that is characteristic of God. God so loved the world, as John 3:16 reminds us. As 1 John says, “God is love.”
And he defines the extent of God’s love, in verse 2, as Christ loving us and giving Himself up for us. There is the clearest and most precise definition of love given anywhere in Scripture, and it is this: love is ultimately self-sacrificing. It is not primarily defined as an emotion. It is not primarily defined as a feeling.
It is an act of self-giving. It is an act of self- sacrifice. When you look at God, and you recognize that God loves you, you recognize it by virtue of the sacrifice which He made. So the simple flow of the text is imitate God. How do you do that? Walk in love. How is love defined? It is defined by Christ, who loved us, and gave Himself up for us. In other words, the simple characteristic of love is that it gives and gives and gives magnanimously. It gives in extreme measures. It gives unselfishly, with no concern for itself. It is self-sacrificing. And may I also add for you that love is the product of humility. That’s why I put these together. Nobody can love like this who is self-centered. Nobody is going to give up his life or her life; nobody is going to make the ultimate sacrifice.
To put it in Jesus’ words, “Greater love hath no man than this, than that a man would lay down his” – what – “his life for his friends.” You want to define love? It is sacrificial. It is selfless. It is self-giving. It is unselfish. And that’s to exist or to be only in the life of one who is humble, one who is committed, as Philippians 2 says, “Not to his own things, but the things of others.” One who considers others better than himself can make that sacrifice. That’s biblical love. And only humble people can exercise it, because only humble people will give themselves away for someone else. Humility is not a personality trait.
It is not to be equated with being poor or quiet. It is not to be equated with speaking softly and gently. It is to be equated with selfless sacrifice, where someone abandons themselves for others. That is the love that flows from humility. And where there is no humility, there will be no love. Now, humility, remember, is the result of a true understanding of who you are, who God is. That is humbling. That’s why Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 12, “I don’t compare myself with others.” We’re not like those who compare ourselves with ourselves, he said, because that yields the wrong result. When you compare yourself with other people, you can always find reason for self-aggrandizement and elevation.
When you compare yourself with God, you are abased and humiliated. And out of that self-emptying, which Jesus demonstrated in His incarnation, as Philippians 2 tells us, can come love. God so loved that He became incarnate and gave His life. He humbled Himself to that love. Now, our world, frankly, knows absolutely nothing about this, in the main. I want you to follow this text, and I’ll point out what it says and then show you in the culture how it is being manifest. Notice verse 3; very interesting. In this conversation about love, he immediately says, “Do not let immorality, or any impurity.” Immorality, by the way, is porneia, sexual sin; fornication is usually how it’s translated.
“Or any impurity,” and that word simply means every other form of sexual sin. “Or greed,” which is what’s behind sexual sin, and he’s not talking about monetary greed here; he’s talking about that lusting after this kind of evil. “Let none of that even be named among you, as is proper among saints.”
Now, why does he bring this up? Why is he, in verses 1 and 2, in this lofty discussion about love, this wonderful demonstration of love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma, from the lofty glory of the self-emptying humility of Christ, and the expression of love in submission to God’s purpose on the cross to redeem sinners, He descends to the muck of porneia and every other form of sexual sin, and the lust that drives it. Why?
Because typically, that is the world’s view of love. That is the world’s perversion. That is the world’s definition. Verses 4 and 5 even goes further: “There must be no filthiness,” that’s actually a word that means obscenity, “silly talk,” which has to do with coarse talk of sexual things, coarse jesting, both are very similar in meaning. “Which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” In other words, we’re talking about love, and all of a sudden we descend to this terrible counterfeit that the world exercises in the category of its sexual preoccupation. That is the world’s substitute for love.
When you say “love” in the world today, what are you really talking about?
When a guy says he loves a girl, what is that love asking for? If you’re married, and you fall in love, that justifies sexual sin. If you’re single, and you fall in love, that justifies sexual sin. If you’re a man, and you fall in love or you have a love relationship with another man, that justifies homosexuality. If you’re a woman, and you say you have a love for this other woman, that justifies lesbianism. It is the world’s perversion. And all these love songs endlessly, and all these television programs and films, and all the stuff that keeps defining love purely in sexual terms, demonstrates that this is the world’s corruption of the real thing.
Let me take it a step further, and just kind of pique your thinking about where our culture is. The abortion battle, for example – to show you how steeped we are in this false love, how steeped we are in the sexual definition of relationships, let me talk about abortion for a moment. The abortion battle is not over babies. The abortion battle is not a battle about whether we ought to kill babies just for the sake of killing babies. Nobody is going to vote to legalize killing babies just for the sake of killing babies. The only reason people want to kill these babies is because the issue is not babies, it is sex. That’s the issue. If abortion had nothing to do with sex, it would never be legalized.
Now, when I was a little kid, I first heard that storks brought babies. I’ll tell you this, if storks brought babies, nobody would legalize abortion. Nobody would legalize the murder of those babies if storks brought babies. But, you see, sex is the issue. People demand to have sex. And a conceived child may be an unfortunate consequence to that sex, so the issue is not stop the sex, the issue is what – kill the child. What are they trying to say? It’s not that they hate babies – it’s not even that they hate fetuses. It’s not that they love murder. It’s that they want their sex to that degree. We are willing in our society to murder the most innocent among us, willing to murder the most defenseless.
Willing to do that – follow this one – willing to do that in the face of the strongest instinct to protect, which is motherhood. When a society can convince the mother to execute her child, that society has a powerful influence, because motherhood is instinctively protective. It is a miracle of black magic, satanic magic. It is a stunning success, this abortion. It is not a success for those who hate babies, that’s not the issue. It is a success for those who want sex without any implications. Free sex means we have to accept fornication; nothing wrong with that. Free sex means we have to accept adultery. It means we have to accept homosexuality. All of those things have to be redefined as honorable and loving expressions. As long as there’s love, we hear, it’s okay.
And I just want you to understand, folks, everything is for sex, everything; and it has corrupted our culture to the core. The family, the home, the place where unselfish love is learned is a disaster of sexual promiscuity on every front. We have a whole society geared to take whatever they want, with no heart to give. Take your sexual fulfillment; if you don’t like the consequences, kill it. Take, and if you get AIDS, elevate your punishment to a symbol of courage, become a hero. Take your sexual activity, and when you’re tired of the one you’re taking from, discard that one and go take from another one. Our society is absolute obsessed with sex, and with it is the death of any normal, reasonable understanding of love.
I’m not sure we really always recognize these things. I think you can go back to, as Augustine put it, the war between the city of God and the city of man; there’s a massive cultural war, a massive cultural conflict, and the war is raging today. And let me tell you something, folks, the war that rages between the city of God – that would be biblical Christianity – and the city of man – that’s the satanic world system – let me tell you this, it surrounds basically one single area, and that is sex. Within the moral realm in our society, the conflict is almost exclusively about sex. That one thing sums up all the most violent areas of battle between Christians and the world. Abortion, fornication, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, even feminism, those are all sexual issues. And they are all an outright assault on love.
Satan has kind of a seven-step plan; maybe it goes a little like this. Step one: the ultimate end for Satan is to win souls to his cause. Step two: a powerful means to this end is the corruption of society. This works especially well in a society of conformists, of other-directed people. After all, a good society is simply one that makes it easy to be good. The satanic corollary is also true: a bad society makes it easy to be bad. In other words, what this means is that where you have a society of conformists, who all tend to follow each other, where you have some singular controlling influences, such as the media and all of that, you can control the whole culture. So all Satan has to do is make a bad society a place where doing bad is easy, and that’s how it is in America. It’s easy to be bad because we have a bad society.
And what do I mean by that? We tolerate wickedness. We not only tolerate it, we elevate it to a freedom status. Third step: the most powerful means to destroy society is to destroy one fundamental building block, and that is the family, where sacrificial love is learned. The only institution where we can learn unselfishness on an everyday basis – just shatter it to ribbons. Step four: the family is destroyed by destroying marriage. Five: marriage is destroyed by loosening its glue, sexual fidelity. Six: fidelity is destroyed by the sexual revolution. That’s just the way it all works out. The sexual revolution will quite possibly prove to be the most destructive revolution in history; far worse than any revolution I know of.
Far more than any political revolution, far more than any military revolution, the sexual revolution has destroyed this nation. We were worried all the time about Russia, we were worried all the time about the Iron Curtain world, we were worried all the time about arming ourselves – Star Wars, military might, armament, nuclear weapons, the H-bomb. We were worried all about that. And we were having a revolution here that has destroyed our society in a way that no bombs could, because it has destroyed the wellsprings of life. We have been brought to moral relativism. And sex has carried the day. The sexual revolution is a demand that we be free to do whatever we want sexually. That is the compelling issue in the city of man in our culture.
The extent to which that satanic system will go for freedom to commit sexual sin is nowhere better seen than in abortions. We read about murders and we read about killings all the time, but just remember this: ninety-nine percent of all murders in the U.S. are abortions. That’s how much we want our sexual freedom. People are willing to murder to maintain it. As one writer put it, “Abortion is the willingness to kill for the sake of the willingness to copulate.” That’s it. So here we are in this society, redefining love in connection with its sexual demands and sexual freedoms, and nothing could be further from a proper understanding. In fact, it’s exactly what Ephesians 5 expects; that instead of the real thing, the world is going to come along and substitute immorality, impurity, driving lust, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting, all the dirty talk that goes with a sexually-oriented, promiscuous culture.
Now, the question comes to us, this selfish sexual society desperately needs to see true love, where they going to see it? Well, there’s only one place they’re going to see it, and that’s in us. Let’s go to John 13. That was just an introduction. John 13 is really what we need to talk about. I probably spent too long on that, but I want you to understand where this society is. And this is one of those great passages. I still remember the Sunday that I preached on this passage, probably – I don’t know – twenty-two or twenty-three years ago. I’ve only preached on it once since I came here. It was over in the chapel. It had a profound effect on me. It had a profound effect upon our church.
And it had even a profound effect beyond the walls of our church, as the message sort of went beyond the church, and I was asked to go various places and preach on this very same chapter. It is a profound insight into this most needful of spiritual motives, love. This most essential of spiritual attitudes, which our Lord addresses here. Let’s start in verse 1, “Now before the feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end,” or to the limit, to the max, to perfection. Jesus is on the edge right now of a very, very terrible experience. They are gathered together, these disciples, in the upper room.
This is that final evening when Judas did his terrible treachery against the Lord and went out to betray Him – that all comes out in this chapter. These block-headed, self-centered disciples are having an argument about which of them will be the greatest in the kingdom. And in the midst of the treachery of Judas, and in the midst of the dissimilation of these disciples away from the Lord toward their own selfish purposes and goals – here is Judas who is about to betray Him, here are the disciples in this ugly debate about which of them will be the greatest – and all of them certainly having no consideration for what the Lord is about to go through, even though He has told them just before this that He’s going to have to die like a grain of wheat that falls into the ground.
They’re indifferent to that, and preoccupied with their own course. It is in that very environment – which would find them as distasteful as possible to any normal human feelings – where it says, “He loved His own who were in the world and He loved them to the max.” The love of Jesus toward His own is not conditional; He loves them to the max in the moment of their ugliest indifference. In verse 2, this begins to unfold the demonstration of this love. It’s as if verse 1 identifies the subject of the chapter, the subject is how Jesus loved, and here’s the story. “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot” – that means from the town of Kerioth – “the son of Simon, to betray Him.”
The devil had already done his work, and captivated the unconverted heart of Judas, and set it up for the betrayal. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God” – this is very important. In the midst of all of this, there really was never any fear on Jesus’ part. The betrayal had to come, the execution had to come, but Jesus knew, in the end, that He had come from the Father, and He was going back there, in spite of all of this. Certainly, in the garden He agonized over the reality that He would have to be separated from the Father and bear the weight of guilt for sin, all of that creating sweat which, as it were, was great drops of blood.
There’s no question about the agony, but there was no fear about how it would turn out. Jesus knew how it would turn out. He had come from God in His incarnation and He would go back. And, of course, He prays to that end so magnificently in the seventeenth chapter. “He rose” – verse 4 says – “from supper, and laid aside His garments.” He took off His outer cloak, and was probably stripped down to the waist, with just the garments that were discreet and modest worn around the waist. His legs, perhaps, bare, and His upper body bare, as He stooped down, took a towel, it says, and girded Himself about. He put a towel around His waist. “He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
This is one of the great scenes in the life of our Lord.
Something you need to know. It was customary, it was traditional, but more than that, it was necessary to have a foot-washing before you had a banquet, because in those days the people wore sandals, and sometimes were nothing but bare feet. And when you came to a banquet, it would only be appropriate that you would wash your feet, because either they were dusty, if it was dry, or they were muddy, if it was wet. And since folks had prolonged dinners, which went on well through the evening, it would be a terrible, terrible lack of thoughtfulness to approach such an occasion without having your feet clean. It was also customary to recline at dinner.
In other words, they sort of lounged a bit, and that could be exceedingly distressful if your head was near the next guy’s feet. It was therefore appropriate in ancient times for a foot washing to occur, and whoever was the lowest slave on the social ladder got that job. Obviously, that wasn’t one job that you lined up for. That wasn’t the most popular job, but it was a job for the lowest slave on the totem pole. Apparently, in this upper room which the Lord and His disciples had rented or borrowed for the evening to have their Passover supper in Jerusalem, there was no such servant available, and none of the disciples, in an argument about who is the greatest in the kingdom, is going to do that.
None of them wants to put himself in some kind of humble light for fear he might lose out on the argument. So nobody does it, and so the Lord does it. He’s waiting, and nobody does it. He takes off His outer tunic, and then puts a towel around His waist, pours water into a basin, and washes the disciples’ feet. As He begins, He comes to Simon Peter, and Peter says things of note, whether he should or not, and you have to keep in mind that Peter spoke not only for himself, but was really the spokesman for the rest. And when he spoke, he may not have been speaking unilaterally, but sort of articulating a consensus. So “He came to Simon Peter.” There must have been somewhat of silence as He started this process – the king of glory doing this most dirty and menial of tasks.
He comes to Peter, and Peter said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” And I’m sure he spoke for the rest, “You shouldn’t be doing this.” “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you shall understand hereafter.’” What does He mean? Peter still didn’t understand the condescension. He still didn’t understand the self-emptying of Philippians 2. He still didn’t understand how low Jesus would come. “You think this is something? You don’t understand anything yet. Wait till you see what I do just a few days from now, when I go to the cross and rise again, when I’m buried in an ignominious death, in a common grave, for you. You don’t understand My humiliation, but you’re going to understand.”
“Peter said to Him” – Peter was not averse to even commanding God, you’ll notice here. “Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet.’” Boy, he was a bold character, wasn’t he? He’s talking to the creator of the universe – sovereign Lord. “Never shall You wash my feet.” And there’s a part of it that is admirable; I mean he just said, “It’s not right. You’re the perfect, sinless one, You’re the Lord and Master; this isn’t right. I’m not going to let You do this.” And “Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’” And Jesus is speaking spiritually here, and He’s saying, “Listen, Peter, don’t tell Me not to wash your feet, because spiritually, if I didn’t wash you, you wouldn’t have any relationship to Me. This is a symbol of that washing. If I don’t wash you, you have no part with Me.”
I don’t know that Peter really understand that. It was a statement of great spiritual significance, that Peter had to have his heart washed by Christ, or he wouldn’t have any relationship with God at all. I don’t know that Peter grasped that. I’m not sure Peter knew what He meant, but He says, “If I don’t wash you, you’re not going to have any part with Me.” And I love Peter’s about-face, verse 9: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.’” “I want a relationship with You, give me a bath.” Again, this just points up the fact that the disciples were unclear; they were still trying to sort out what in the world was going on.
They had come to the conviction that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; Peter had said that. They knew He was the Lord. They knew the record of His being born of virgin. They knew His power seen in miracles. They were there when He walked on the water and stilled the storm. They knew He was the creator God. They knew that. He told them He had to die. He told them He would rise in three days. He told them like a corn of wheat He would fall into the ground, and die, and bear fruit. He told them He would lose His life to gain it again. He told them all that. They knew He had come for a saving purpose. They knew the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. They knew He came as a sacrificial lamb. They knew He was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.
They knew all of that, but somehow it didn’t all work together. And they still weren’t able to accept the execution of Christ on the cross. And so in the simplicity of what Peter may or may not have understood, the Lord says, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with Me.” And he said, “Then wash me; I want a part with You.” But “Jesus said to him” – and here’s the further spiritual teaching – “‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’” What is He saying? “Peter, I don’t need to wash you from head to toe, I’ve done that.” What do you mean? “You’re saved, Peter.” That’s the spiritual implication. “I don’t need to rewash you; you don’t need a bath, you just need your feet cleaned.”
This is a very marvelous spiritual truth. As a Christian, you have one washing and a lot of feet cleaning, right? There’s one time when you’re cleansed head to toe, when you’re saved, when you experience the washing of regeneration, as Paul calls it. There’s one time when you’re fully cleansed, but as you walk through the world, you need that constant washing of those feet, that collect the dust and the dirt of this fallen society. Peter, you don’t need another bath. This affirms that Peter was genuinely converted, genuinely regenerated, genuinely cleansed and washed of his sin. But he just needed constant foot cleansing. That’s a beautiful analogy.
We who come to Christ are washed from head to toe, as it were spiritually. We are totally cleansed, our sins are completely washed away, but as we walk through the world, we need the constant confession and repentance and cleansing, day to day, that keeps our feet clean, so that we can continue to have part with the advancement of Christ in His glorious kingdom. Then in verse 11: “For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’” There was one in that group that wasn’t clean. There was one unconverted disciple. There was one unsaved disciple. Who was it? Judas. Jesus said of him, “One of you is a devil.” He was never a believer. He was never converted. He was never real.
“Peter,” He says, “You’re clean; not all of you are clean,” because there was one who would betray Him. So in verse 12, “When He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again” – He got done with all the feet, 24 of them. I can’t imagine what the disciple would feel as the Lord did that, looking down at Him, and having Him look up into his face. When He was all done, He put back His tunic, put the sash on, sat down at the table, and said to them – here it is: “Do you know what I have done to you?” Do you understand this? “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you’re right, so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to” – what; to what – “wash one another’s feet, for I gave you an example that you should do as I did to you.”
You see, verse 16 says, “Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master. Neither is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Now listen, let me pull this together. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the max. How did He demonstrate that love to them? He demonstrated that love to them by humbling Himself. He demonstrated that love to them by humbling Himself to the most base, to the dirtiest, to the most undesirable task of washing the filthy feet of self-centered disciples. And He would even go beyond that and die on the cross, bearing their sins, including the sins of indifference and selfishness.
He had given them a profound object lesson in how love acts. He loved them to the end, to the max. And what’s the max? Selfless sacrifice, humiliation, meeting needs at the lowest level, even giving your life for your friends. Now, the application of this great lesson comes down in verses 34 and 35. “A new commandment I give you,” He says to them. Judas is gone by now. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” This is the new commandment. And somebody says, “But how?” “Even as I have loved you.” How had He just loved them? By what? Washing their feet. And again I remind you, love is not some kind of emotional impulse, it’s not some kind of feeling, it’s not some kind of earthly attraction.
Love is simply, regardless of feelings, emotions, attraction, love is simply meeting someone’s need to the point of self-sacrifice. It is humiliating oneself for an expression that meets a need. So “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” We’re to love the same way. Listen, beloved, it’s that simple, it’s all about being unselfish. And I’m telling you, this is against the grain of every single thing in our society, isn’t it? It’s against the grain of all of it. This is the most selfish culture on the face of the earth, maybe the most selfish culture ever, totally absorbed with itself, talking about love and understanding nothing about it.
Seeing love as taking, taking, taking, taking, and defining it predominantly as sex; how are they ever going to see the reality? Verse 35: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” If we are the body of Christ, and we are, if we are to manifest the virtue and characteristic of Christ, and come to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ, if we are to demonstrate the full knowledge of the Son of God, if we are to be conformed to His image, if we are to be like Him, then we must demonstrate the love that He loved with. And that means we have to sacrifice ourselves for each other, and that might mean the washing of feet, and it might mean the giving of life, and I don’t necessarily mean the giving of a life in death; it might mean the giving of a life in life.
Do you love? Do you love to the degree where you are eager to humble yourself as fast as you can to meet somebody else’s real need? Where you are willing to sacrifice what you have, what you are, your plans, your time, your money, for someone else’s need? Do you love like that? Do you love to the point of the washing of feet? Do you love to the point of that greater love that no man has than laying down your life for your friends? One of the most, I think, encouraging letters I ever received – it must be on the list of the memorable ones because I remember it so vividly – came from a girl who was a student at USC, and she was teaching here in a Sunday-School class. She wrote me this letter, and she said, “I have a class of junior age girls.”
And she said, “I kept telling myself I loved them, I loved their little curls, and I loved their little smiles, and I loved their pretty dresses, and I just loved the fact that they were sweet little girls. And then one day,” she said, all of this in a letter, “I came to the realization that I was spending about ten minutes preparing my lesson, and I realized that I didn’t love them at all, because I made no sacrifice to bring them the greatest gift that I could bring them, which was the truth of God’s Word.” And she said, “I got on my knees before God and confessed my unloving attitude. I had emotional feelings for those sweet little girls. I didn’t love them.” She said, “Love means preparing diligently to give them my best, even if it meant I couldn’t go to the football game, or some other campus activity.”
Well, now you’re in the category of the real stuff. That’s exactly it. Biblical love is not chemistry, it’s not common interest, it’s not impulse, it’s not emotion. It is self- sacrifice. And when you love like that, and I love like that, the church will be Christlike, and the world will know that we belong to God. Dear ones, let me tell you, we have to demonstrate an alternative. We can’t follow the same course they’re following. We can’t transfer love into the sexual category and obliterate it all together. We can’t destroy the family, destroy marriages, and all of that, and hope to pass on the true reality of what love is. Love is self-sacrifice. Maybe your life, and your marriage, and your home isn’t everything that you in some fantasy world would like it to be, but it is the place where you will practice, and you will teach, unselfish love.
Closing – more to say but no time – 1 John 3, just summing up. Let’s go from John’s gospel to John’s epistle. First John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” That’s how we can demonstrate that we’ve been saved, that’s how, as John 13:35 said, we demonstrate that we belong to God through love, “because we love the brethren, and he who doesn’t love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” And what does that mean? I mean does that mean to kill myself?
No, how about this, verse 17: “Whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” It’s as simple as meeting a need, with time, and possessions, and money, and spiritual instruction, and insight, and prayer, and whatever. “Little children” – verse 18 – “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” Love – an essential spiritual motivating attitude in the system of the body of Christ. Well, let’s pray; Father, thank You this morning again for the richness of Your truth. Lord, we thank You for one great reality, Romans 5:5, that the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts. How wonderful to know that this love required of us is in us, and only needs to be manifest. To that end, we pray in each life that You might be glorified, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.