Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Works of Faith’ & the ‘Royal Law’ as Elements of ‘The Great Commission’
© September 18, 2016 by Steve Mickelson
Based on a Message Shared at BLCF on April 28, 2013
Announcements & Call to Worship: Responsive Reading 622; Prayer
Opening Hymn #484: It Only Takes a Spark, Choruses
Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers
Today’s Scriptures: Matthew 25:31-46; 5:43-48; 16:27; 1 John 4:11-12
Let us pray…
Good morning and what a glorious demonstration of the awareness God’s love and His presence is expressed in our opening hymn, ‘It Only Takes a Spark’. The author was inspired by verse from 1 John 4:11-12 (ESV):
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Both the verse and hymn reveal important aspects of the believer’s faith walk. Verse 11 of 1 John 4 implores Christians to love one another in the same manner as God loves us. Remember for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for our salvation, even though we are unworthy of such an expression of love. Verse 12 reminds us that though God remains unseen, by loving one another, we receive God’s presence by way of the Holy Spirit. And the love of God is perfectly expressed in us when we share that love with others and God. Remember that Jesus taught us that the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses for the people of Israel, our Lord indicated may be expressed as two simple commandments: one is love to God, the second being love to one another. Together, these two commandments often referred to as the Royal Law as we read in Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV):
37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Note that we are not instructed to just love our family, to love only friends or to express our love solely to other believers. There is a common expression of someone who is ‘preaching to the choir’, in other words restricting the expression of our love and ministry solely to other believers. That is not what Jesus had in mind when he issued the Great Commission, just before ascending to Heaven, Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV):
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
You may recall that Jesus taught his disciples not only by his Holy Words but by his example. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples to teach the disciples humility and awareness that we are messengers of God, and we must teach others as servants of God. This falls in line with how our Lord ministered to those who were considered outcasts not even permitted to worship in the temple: a prostitute, a blind man, a cripple and even the criminal crucified beside Jesus. Associating with any of these outcasts was not permitted by Jewish laws. Note that neither the Ten Commandments nor the Royal Law from Jesus, instruct believers to shun or to avoid associating with non-believers or those judged to be sinful because of an affliction or criminal past. In fact, by avoiding non-believers, how can one make disciples of all nations, not just the nation of Israel and not just to make disciples other believers in Christ? The Christian Way was not intended to be an exclusive club or organization, The Way describes an inclusive faith that is to be made available to everyone throughout our world. We are to preach and teach the Way of Jesus both by action and in word to all whom we encounter.
The Lord’s Commission issued before his Ascension will be subject to a Final Judgement by Jesus on His return, as we read in Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV) entitled: The Final Judgment:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
This judgment, also known as the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, expresses the Lord’s warning that it is not enough just to confess sins and say that Jesus is your savior, to be judged righteous by Him. It is our attitude towards those whom we may tend to avoid: the homeless, the sick, the destitute, criminals, and strangers than counts. We are instructed not only to associate with them but to care for them. For by caring for the least of these, we demonstrate our love of God, by following Jesus’ example. If we shun them, even though we may claim our behavior righteous, we will suffer the same judgment as will the devil and the fallen angels: eternal fire as a punishment. This verse indicates that faith is more than solely performing acts of charity. Faith is how we express our love to our Lord, by loving those whom many of society may despise.
This attitude expression of Christian faith is reinforced in James 2, where the Lord views holding a negative bias towards others as a sin as we see in James 2:1-13 (ESV) The Sin of Partiality:
1My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
By judging others to be not worthy of our attention or love, we bring the same judgment down upon ourselves.
So, if I volunteer to help out at BLCF Cafe Community Dinner, so that I may brag about it others or because I believe that I am better than some or all of the guests or other volunteers, I am committing the sin of partiality over others and defying God’s will and purpose for His followers.
It may surprise some that by expressing just a biased or partial attitude against another; we have broken God’s law and are subject suffer the same judgment given if we had murdered another person. We cannot twist God’s rules to suit our desires, Adam and Eve already made that mistake.
But one may argue, isn’t faith just a belief and as such expressed in prayers, blessings, and good words to others? That is all we need to do to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, right? We find the answer in the rest of James 2:14-26 (ESV) entitled Faith Without Works Is Dead:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
While salvation is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. This does not mean that a believer’s faith cannot be without an expression of works. The so-called believers who gave God’s blessing, only, to those in need when they can give more, will be judged the same as if they have rejected God, just as Satan had rebelled against His authority.
The third verse teaches that that Christians should embrace others outside the faith, that is to show the love of Christ to those who are not brothers and sisters in Christ is found in Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV) entitled Love Your Enemies:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What these verses allude to, is the danger of performing actions of faith with a design to promote ourselves or from a motivation of fear of punishment, rather than out of love and respect for God and others. After all, this was the mistake of Adam and Eve, who sinned seeking to elevate themselves to the same level as God, by eating the forbidden fruit. A prideful disregard of God’s instructions had very bad consequences for them. Acts of selfless love to strangers, our enemies and the undeserving, as Christ did for each of us on Cross at Calvary, is the only way to assure our own forgiveness and salvation. This is as much a change in attitude, as it is behavior that is needed in order for us to become righteous in the Lord’s eyes. And we know that judgment will come. Matthew 16:27 (ESV):
27For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
Therefore as followers and believers in the Resurrected Christ, it is good to reflect upon what we do and say, and why? Are our words and deeds done out of a desire to demonstrate the love of Christ to all we meet? Or are we motivated by a need to promote ourselves above others, perhaps to the same level of God, as did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Our answer to each of these questions will indicate what judgment we may expect from the Lord on that final day and demonstrate how much we have allowed the Holy Spirit to transform ourselves in our faith walk.
Fortunately, if our actions are selfish rather than selfless, it is not too late to change our ways and seek to demonstrate His love to others, especially to those whom we dislike or despise. For if God loved us to sacrifice His son for us. who have offended Him through sin, surely we can demonstrate Christ-like love and forgiveness to those who offend us. Let us seek a revival in our own personal faith walk, by walking in the footsteps of Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray…
Closing Hymn #358: We Praise Thee, O God
Benediction (Romans 15:5-7): May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
You’re Invited: BLCF Church Potluck Picnic, following this Service at St. Helen’s