Jesus commanded us to love one another amid disagreements. Why? Because He first loved us.
August 18, 2023
Speaker: Daniel Sokolowski
Passage: Romans 16:16-18
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word. Romans 16:16 through 18 is where we’re going to be today.
“Greet each other with a sacred kiss. All the churches of Christ send you their greetings. And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord. They are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words. They deceive innocent people.”
You may be seated.
I’d like to start this morning with verse 17 and discuss what’s happening in the church that Paul is addressing. Historically, we know that what was likely driving division was disagreements as to whether circumcision was required and whether or not ritual acts of the law, such as Sabbath observance and the holidays of Judaism, were to be practiced.
We can understand this tension probably because we’ve heard many times throughout our walk with the Lord that to be right with God, you need to participate in various things. Delving a bit more into how we can become divided, I want to look at the phrase “smooth talk and glowing words.”
The term Paul uses for glowing words is eulogias, which is where we draw the term “eulogy” from, and it most literally means good words. If you’ve ever been to a memorial service of someone you have known intimately, I’m certain that some of the glowing words stated about that person can bring flashbacks of moments that might not have been as glowing.
Can you imagine a eulogy that went something like this? Today we are gathered together to celebrate the life of Daniel. He was a prideful, arrogant, impatient man who found little time to spend with his surviving wife and children and was liked by only a few. He overcompensated with his large truck, laughed seldom, clung tightly to what he had, and he loved little. May he rest in peace.
Of course, that wouldn’t be our choice. With the same expectation, we shouldn’t be surprised that division and disagreement don’t usually start with something alarming or upsetting. Rather, these things that separate us from one another often sound nice and flattering. They seem like they’re the best of both worlds. This is the area that Paul asks us to watch out for.
When Paul was writing this letter, there were two primary viewpoints, that of the Jews and that of the Gentiles, which made the division more obvious. But today we have hundreds of viewpoints available to us in just a short period of time. With this, the enemy doesn’t have to work very hard to present us with slight variations or sly exposures to other truths that eventually dilute, adding or subtracting to His Word.
As examples, in the course of my life, here are some of the subtle mistruths that I’ve heard from other believers:
We need to understand that in all these things, and in many more, when people bring to us the things that seem convincing and may be true, we must filter through that. We must compare it to the Scriptures. We must consult the Holy Spirit before we choose to adopt it.
Before I circle back to verse 16, I want to take a few minutes to share my story of how I got here and how I became a pastor. Honestly, I don’t know how I became a pastor. But I can go into how I got here pretty readily.
The previous church we came from presented many opportunities to serve and partner with them in accomplishing what the Lord had said before them. Katie and I were both newly married and new parents. I felt the calling to serve in whatever capacity I could and press in in a way I had never done before.
Consistently, I woke up early to help set up the church, and shortly thereafter started playing and singing on their worship team. We dedicated the vast majority of Sundays to serving and trying to create relationships. However, we began to see that over almost two years my family and I spent there, we were never going to find community.
Here we put our foot on the gas in almost every area and we trusted in the Lord’s provision, especially through giving, which at the time, we definitely couldn’t afford to do. So much sacrifice and input halted in a quiet goodbye where almost no one reached out or checked in to see if we were okay.
We did what we felt the Lord was calling us to do, and it resulted in something unexpected. It hurt in many ways I wasn’t even aware of it until writing this teaching. I hadn’t really processed it.
In search of another community, we started attending Vintage, and I began serving in whatever area was needed most, which ended up launching into what we call the Life Safety team today. Shout out to those guys.
From this point, I took every opportunity that I was asked to step into, and I also proactively went after other things that needed to be done. The journey has been a wild ride.
As I stand in front of you today, I can’t help but think about what would have happened if we stuck it out in the place we knew the Lord wasn’t leading us to stay in. Sure, we might not have experienced the deep wounding that we did when we left. We could have allowed our hurt to prevent us from setting deep roots into the body here at Vintage.
But if we would have done either of those things, we would have missed out on the incredible adventure of faith and the fulfillment of so many of God’s promises that he’s brought us here.
Heading into verse 16. “Greet each other with a sacred kiss. All the churches of Christ send you their greetings.” As Pastor Dustin stated last week, the word greet — aspazomai — is a command to welcome, embrace, honor, or acclaim others to oneself. More than anything else in this first, I want to focus on this phrase, “greet.”
I couldn’t help thinking this sounds a lot like our modern-day term for love. As a verb, love means to hold dear, cherish, feel passion, devotion, or tenderness for, to like, or desire actively.
So with this view, how does embrace or love translate to us as believers in the family of God? I want to explore three questions that I believe the Lord put on my heart:
So the first question is, why do we love one another? I believe it’s the model that Jesus established. First, John 4:19 through 20 says, “We love each other because He loved us first. If someone says I love God but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar. For if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God whom we cannot see?”
We must understand that there’s no room for claiming to love God if we haven’t made room for and pursued the love of our fellow believers.
The second reason we love one another: it’s a command. Matthew 19:17 through 19 says, “‘Why ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only one who is good. But to answer your question, if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ the man asked. And Jesus replied, ‘You must not murder, you must not commit adultery, you must not steal, you must not testify falsely, honor your father and your mother, love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Of course, from this passage, we have to realize that we failed on all accounts here, especially in the area of loving our neighbor. As we see in John 13, the calling for fellow believers is an even higher standard than this one for loving our neighbor. Our only hope in meeting this standard is to rely on the Holy Spirit, which I’ll get into here in a bit.
The last reason I believe we love one another is because we desire to see transformation in their lives. Galatians 5:13 through 14 says this, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one commandment, love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we truly love our neighbor as ourselves — our fellow believers — our goal should be for people to come into this building, walk into our homes, meet us in the marketplace, and encounter something that only the Holy Spirit can truly bring. Love.
The second question. How? How do we love one another? We are present. As Pastor Dustin said last week, we need to understand that we need to be present with the body to draw in and to love. We need to be here. Could we possibly love our spouse well or our children if we are not present? Does saying we love, without any action bear any truth at all?
My wife and I have been blessed with four wonderful daughters. We have a baby due in December. So if you know a bus guy, I’m asking for a friend. My almost six-year-old Sophia is a lover of nature, an expert roly poly finder, and one of the deepest feelers I’ve ever met.
The other night I came home from work, and it was pretty late. The girls were about to go to bed, and she ran up to me, embraced me, looked me in my eyes, and said, Daddy, how come you always have time for work but never any time for me?
I failed her in love, and just the same, by making other things a priority over coming together as believers, we make a statement that we don’t really love one another.
Paul tells the Jews in Hebrews 10:25, “And Let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.”
The second part of how we love is we invest time. Devoting time to know one another is a necessary part of loving one another. In his address to the community in Thessalonica, we see that Paul urges believers to know those who labor among them. “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance.”
While we know in context, he’s speaking to the body about church leadership. If we are now all royal priests, are we not to be leading in labor ourselves? How can we know those who labor among us if we ourselves are not laboring? If we are all followers of Christ and royal priests, are we not to be present to give spiritual guidance to our fellow brothers and sisters?
If we fail to show up and invest time, we aren’t in a place where we can encourage, we aren’t in a place where we can labor amongst other believers, we aren’t in a place where we can provide spiritual guidance.
If you’ve been to a Connect Dinner, you’re familiar with this passage in Acts, where believers formed a community in this way. Acts 2:42 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, and to sharing and meals, including the Lord’s Supper and to prayer.”
In addition to studying the apostles’ teaching, we see there’s this emphasis on fellowship, sharing meals together, and prayer. In modern-day, what does this look like? Well, it means fellowship, sharing in meals together, and prayer.
Joking aside, how frequently do we take time out of our busy lives to create space for fellowship with believers? Has church become a place where we rush in and rush out? Or do we spend time making intentional decisions to develop a relationship with those the Lord has placed around us? Do we invite fellow believers to our homes to share meals? Do we spend time each day praying for our fellow believers?
Of course, we all have busy seasons in life, but have we allowed those to become the norm? Have we become comfortable with being busy and made it a priority over love?
I typically cringe at discussing the events of 2020 and what followed, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t stop for even a second to reflect on how that season has changed our practices in life, our approach to human connection, or the isolation that we’ve slipped into and still so comfortably soak in.
In what ways do we put on a mask when we walk through the doors and say I just don’t have it in me to love today? Where do we take opportunities in the body to be joined to one another?
I know from all accounts of many, and even have my own story as a believer, a significant portion of people in this room have been hurt by a fellow believer or hurt by the church. I also know from my own experience that the enemy has used these circumstances to isolate you, encouraging you to keep your guard up and never let people in again or never let the church be something that you call family again.
Can I please lovingly encourage you that these wounds can be deep and only by the power of the Holy Spirit can they be healed? Serving on teams, participating in community groups, and partnering with ministry events aren’t just an exercise in doing another thing. They are opportunities for us to love, serve, and embrace one another. This is where I found my healing.
These are opportunities for us time and time again to say to the Lord, “I want to be healed, and I’m taking this step of faith once more to press back in.” Of course, drawing away feel so much safer. So if you aren’t taking part in these things, I want to encourage you to embrace your family in this way. Don’t go another day or week without attaching yourself to those you are called to love.
Don’t wait another day to commit to serving in this body, alongside this body, alongside our community, and our family of believers. What Paul and Luke are encouraging us into here is the intentional drawing in. For some of us, it’s a fight or a struggle to do that. But it is one that Paul is emphasizing, even commanding, that we as believers participate in.
The final piece of how we are to love one another is we look to the Holy Spirit. I believe this is the most essential.
How do we fight against the power of the enemy? How do we show up when we don’t want to? We must look to the greater power, the greatest power. How do we serve when we’re burnt out or it seems like we have nothing left to offer? We must rely on the Holy Spirit to accomplish this love. Because for many of us, it isn’t natural. It’s impossible. We’re powerless, but God granted us the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:6-8 says, “So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking Him, ‘Lord Has the time come for You to free Israel and restore our kingdom?’ He replied, ‘The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses telling people about Me everywhere in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'”
Ephesians 3:23-21 says, “Now all glory to God who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church, and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
From these verses, we understand that we have received the power of the Holy Spirit. In our time of need and lack of energy or desire, we must cry out to the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit, would you give me the strength? Holy Spirit, would you subdue my pride? Holy Spirit, would you help me to love my spouse and my children? Holy Spirit, would you grant me patience in my trial?
We have access to the power that created and continues to sustain the universe. We must take a priority of relying on Him. We must not lose hope. Romans 5:5 says, “And this hope will not lead to disappointment for we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”
What happens when we love one another? This is the final question. Recapping Acts 2:42, we’re told again that the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching to fellowship, to sharing in meals, and to prayer. From this, we begin to see the outworking of embrace or love when we pick back up in verse 46 and verse 47.
“They worshiped together at the temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. All the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”
So what’s the result? Each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. The Great Commission is the call for us to go forth and make disciples of all nations. I believe that starts in this church family. I believe it starts with us loving our fellow believers.
How can we possibly be effective in our pursuit of the nations if we neglect to love our fellow believers in these walls? John 13:34 says, “So now I’m giving you a new commandment. Love each other just as I have loved you. You should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
How are we judged? We’re judged by our love. This morning we’ve looked at division and the subtle tactics of the enemy. We understand that in all things, we must bring them under His Word and subject them to the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we discovered that love is the counter to division. Why do we love? We love because it’s the model that Jesus Christ established. It’s a command, and we desire to see transformation in the lives of others. How do we love? We’re present. We invest time. And we look to the Holy Spirit for power. What happens when we love? Souls are won for eternity.
Many of us express that we desire to see revival — the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this church, in this city in this region. I believe that starts with you and me committing to love one another.
I’m going to invite the prayer team to come forward. If you haven’t yet committed your life to the Lord and you desire to receive the power of the Holy Spirit necessary to accomplish this work of love, I invite you to come forward and make a declaration that today Jesus Christ is Lord.
If you’re looking for areas to study God’s Word and join in community, we have Men’s and Women’s Ministry tables in the west hallway. Go out there, sign up, start participating in these studies, and start building community.
If you’ve been attending Vintage, and you have not committed to serving alongside your fellow believers, would you head over to the Connect TV before you leave, and commit to fellowship and service to one another?
Lastly, if you’re not committed to giving, would you consider that the Lord is calling you to fiscally partner with what He’s doing here? We see that church in Acts as one of the first that joins together and pools their resources, and what happens? All of the needs of the community are met.
These resources that we share don’t just go toward the building. They’re used to accomplish the work of bringing us as a body together. They go towards missions, both here and abroad. They go towards ministering to the marginalized. They go towards serving the widow and the orphan and partnering with mothers of the unborn to see those lives saved. They go towards bringing love to the nations, starting with our youngest generations and ending in eternity.
Would we not wait to press in to pursue love? It’s hard. It’s time-consuming. It requires intentionality. It requires sacrifice. Left to ourselves, it would be impossible. But God granted us the Holy Spirit.
Would you stand with me for the benediction? May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Amen. Would we go in love this week? We’ll see you next Sunday.
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