This is a sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago at Free Christian Church in Andover, MA. Oftentimes, I have taken sermons and other things I have written for church and repackaged them as posts. This is an example of the reverse. Some of you who have been readers for a while may recognize some of this, but the focus has changed from the original post. It is a sermon about living out the values of God’s kingdom, which is summarized in love.
The audio of the message is included below, followed by the text of the message. I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to your comments.
We own an Xbox One. My kids love Minecraft. I don’t play very much myself. Part of that is because I am very picky about the games I play. I like hero games. I want to be the good guy. That limits my choices. One of those choices is Batman: Arkham Knight, which came out a little over a year ago.
The ad campaign for that game was intense; in part because someone came up with a near perfect marketing tag line: Be the Batman.
Now you could be the Batman. That is what this game promised. Every preview of the game showed Batman in thrilling cinematic action: fighting villains, driving the bat mobile, gliding through Gotham City, and using all his gadgets. And every trailer ended with that tag line: Be the Batman.
The apex of the marketing campaign was a live-action TV spot titled (you guessed it), “Be the Batman.” Apparently they were serious! They did not want you simply to play the Batman. They want you to be the Batman.
Be selfless (like a fireman going into a burning building to save a person trapped inside).
Be determined (keep going and striving, even when it hurts).
Be courageous (stand up for the weak and the helpless).
Be feared (by fighting back against the thugs in the alley).
Be the Batman.
It struck me after I saw it that basically the commercial is inviting you to become disciples of the Batman. In each of the four scenarios in the commercial, the people who exemplified selflessness, determination, courage, and being feared, are held up as role models because they have become like the Batman. They were like him, they owned his mission, shared his vision, and lived his values; and because of that, his image was clearly seen by those around them.
The message I came away with was that: I would be a better person if I was the Batman. The world would be better if I was the Batman. Who doesn’t want to be better? Who doesn’t want to make the world a better place? Be the Batman, and you can be that better person. Be the Batman, and the world will be better for it! Get this game (for only $59.95) and learn how to be the Batman and in so doing improve yourself and the world (or at least the city in which you live).
Now, if you think I am going to advocate stealing this campaign and rebranding it for Christianity you are mistaken. I don’t want to see any loud and obnoxious “Christian” t-shirts with a comic-book-muscled Jesus clearing the temple, or on the cross, or coming out of the tomb with the tag line “Be the Jesus” prominently splashed across the image. That would be lame.
The Church doesn’t need any more gimmicks! It doesn’t need any more team t-shirts, ball caps, or WWJD bracelets. We have way too many of those…and they have not really done much good.
What it needs is for you and me to be real, intentional, and committed disciples of Jesus; people who do more than just wear the shirts, sport the bumper stickers, and know the talking points; people whose lives backs up their profession; people who when we speak or act leave behind the unmistakable impression, “that person is like Jesus.”
To be a disciple of Jesus you need to own His mission, share His vision, and live His values. Jesus’ mission is the Great Commission: we are to be making disciples wherever we find ourselves and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded. What did Jesus command? That is summed up in the Great Commandment, and that is Jesus’ vision, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. A disciple is someone who is learning to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. A disciple of Jesus is someone who is learning to love God, love others, and helping others do the same.
Popular Christianity has pretty much reduced discipleship to knowing Scripture, attending church, and taking part in “Christian” activities. It has complicated what it means to be a disciple by creating expectations and levels that need to be achieved before certain things can happen. When you bring up the subject of discipling other people you often hear responses like:
- I’m not qualified.
- I’m too busy.
- I don’t know my bible well enough.
- I’m not comfortable sharing my faith.
- I have way too many problems.
- I’m not a teacher.
- I don’t have the gift of evangelism.
- I don’t know anybody.
All these questions imply that we have made discipleship small and complicated.
Small: it is something you have to have time to do, it is optional, it only happens at certain times or in certain places, or with certain people.
Complicated: you need have attained a high degree of knowledge, you need certain gifts, you need to “have it all together.”
Jesus saw it big and kept it simple. Jesus saw it big: being a disciple meant loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and doing that meant loving your neighbor as yourself. That is big. It was simple, you love God and love your neighbor, and help them do the same for others; and neighbor had no small print. The Great Commission means living out the Great Commandment and helping others do the same.
The mission is to make disciples.
The vision is to make disciples everywhere who knew and lived God’s commands.
The values of Jesus’ mission is summed up in loving one another as Jesus loves us. What that love looks like is unpacked for us by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Jesus was patient with His disciples.
He was kind to them.
He did not envy anyone.
He never boasted about Himself, or used His divinity to get His way.
He was never rude, malicious, or dishonoring of anyone.
His love was not self-seeking. It was about sacrificing Himself, not getting for Himself.
Jesus dealt with a lot frustration and disappointment, but rarely got angry; and He never stayed angry.
He did not keep a list of sins over their heads.
He never delighted in the bad things that happened to people.
But He always rejoiced when the truth won out.
He always protected His disciples.
He always trusted them.
He put His hope in them.
And His love for them always persevered.
Not because they earned it, deserved it, or because they brought something to the table, but because He chose to. He loved them that way in spite of the fact that they had not earned it, or deserved it, and would not add to his credibility. That’s the love He loved them with, the same love He loves us with, and is the same love He wants us to have for one another.
“Mission” is where you are going. “Vision” is what things will look like when you get there. “Values” defines how you are going to act and relate and lead in order to get there. The value of Christ’s kingdom, and therefore of your vision statement, is love. Love for God, and love for others.
Being a disciple first and foremost means loving God. Love is primarily a thing of the heart. I believe that is why heart is the first thing that is mentioned in the Great Commandment. Love necessarily involves your soul and your mind, but love is primarily a matter of the heart. When you love someone you are always thinking about them, they are always on your mind. They have your devotion, your trust, attention, and your desire. Being with them makes you happy. Serving them brings you joy. You are willing to sacrifice for the person you love. The same is true with loving God. When we are loving God He has our devotion, our trust, attention, and our desire. We are willing to sacrifice for Him. The first part of the Great Commandment is about loving God so completely, that our whole life is marked by that love.
Second, being a disciple means loving others. As the Father’s love was incarnated in Jesus to His disciples, and Jesus’ love was incarnated in the life of His disciples to their disciples, Jesus wants to see His love incarnated through you and me to one another and to our disciples. Love for God always leads to loving our neighbor as ourselves. God’s love is not a pool, but a spring. Loving God naturally leads to loving your neighbor because God’s love naturally flows outward. Therefore, being a disciple also means loving others.
Loving God and loving others are not two different commands, they are two parts of one command. They are so related in fact that you really can’t separate one from the other. You can’t do one without doing the other. This is what John was teaching in 1 John 4:20-21 (NIV),
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
In other words, if we are experiencing trouble in loving others, the trouble can be traced back to a problem with loving God and/or accepting His love of us, because it is love for God that enables us to love others as He loves us. When love for God is strong and healthy it will show in incarnating that same love we have received to the people around us. Loving others is the fruit of loving God.
Discipleship is learning Jesus’ way of life to become like Him. But it doesn’t stop there. Discipleship includes helping others learn Jesus’ way of life so they can also become like Jesus. The disciple makes new disciples. If the most important thing we can be doing is loving God and loving others, then one of the best ways we can show love is by helping others learn to love God and love others. Incarnation naturally moves to impartation. Following the Great Commandment leads to living the Great Commission. To live the Great Commission, you need to be living the Great Commandment. One leads to and is implied by the other.
Love is the value of the kingdom. The question we need to be asking ourselves—not the person sitting next to you, but yourself—is this: does my life show that I am living by the value of love? Am I living out the Great Commandment? The best way to answer that is to ask some people in your life how loving you are, because loving others well is what naturally happens when we love God well. Loving God always leads to loving others.
Let me put it like this: There is a difference between a suit and a costume. A costume is for dressing up as something you are not. A suit is for dressing up as something you are. A fireman does not wear a costume, he wears a suit.
Batman does not wear a costume. He wears a suit. Like a guy in a Batman costume who would rather sip his Mocha Frappuccino than stop the guy robbing the register shows himself to be the furthest thing from Batman there is, the Christian who is unloving, shows himself to only be in the costume of Christianity, no matter how accurate and detailed the costume may be. Christians do not need to dress up, they need to suit up. They need to love others.
Jesus did not say the world would know we are His disciples by our profession, doctrine, political affiliation, prominent display of your Bible, church attendance, or our religious lifestyle. If we live and act like that is where the rubber meets the road, we are giving about as accurate a portrayal of Jesus and the gospel as a coward in a Batman suit does of the real Batman.
Jesus said they would know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). If we are not committed to learning to live the values of the kingdom of God, we are not going to be able to complete our mission or realize our vision. Let me state that again but in a positive way: We need to be committed to learning to live the values of the kingdom of God, so we can complete our mission and realize our vision.
We need to be learning to live that value of love together. What does that look like? Let’s look back at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
When a Christian is living that out, this is what it will look like when you see it:
He will be patient. He will not lose his cool. He will put up with a lot without buckling. He is willing to suffer long, to be wronged, and to be committed for the long haul.
She will be kind. She will seek to do good to everyone she can, not only to her friends, but to strangers, and even to her enemies. Their good is what she wants for them, and is what she strives to give them.
He does not envy the success, position, blessing, or possession of anyone, rather he is happy in seeing how others are blessed, even if it is far beyond his own blessing.
She does not boast about her own success, position, blessings, or possessions; nor does she think that she is better than those who have less. Rather, she is humble in seeing how God has blessed her, and is eager to share her blessings with those who have less, even if she will get nothing back for doing so.
He is not proud. He is humble, meek, and gentle. He knows that he is most in need of grace and mercy. He knows he brings no benefit to God. If God were to withhold His grace from him, he would be done.
She does not dishonor others. She is not rude, spiteful, or mean. She does not belittle others or speak down to them. What she says and does, is done with honor and respect for the person or persons she is relating to.
He is not self-seeking. He does not insist on getting his own way. Nor is he guided by selfish, self-serving, or self-promoting motives. His happiness is not confined to himself, but is connected to the needs of others. Putting the needs of others before himself is what brings him happiness.
She is not easily angered. She will be content to let many offenses pass under her love. When she is angry, it will be quick and short lived, because anger is not her nature.
He keeps no record of wrongs. He does not hold grudges. He does not hold offenses over the heads of those who commit them. Rather, he is quick to forgive, to be gracious and merciful…even with his enemies, and even with the greatest offenses.
She does not delight in evil. She avoids offending and hurting people. Gossip, slander, backbiting, and whatever other evil behavior there is, is offensive to her, and she does not take part in it. Neither does she rejoice when bad things happen to people, even to her enemies. Rather she mourns for it.
He rejoices with the truth. He loves justice, righteousness, and in doing all the good that he can. He is happy when he finds others doing good and when others experience it, even his enemies.
She always protects. She is there to defend not only her own, but the poor, the lonely, the downcast, and the broken. Nothing will sway her from doing all in her power to protect these from evil, whether they love her back or not.
He always trusts. He always bears up. He knows that while he is never enough, Jesus is always enough. Though his faith is tried and tested, and he suffers greatly in his circumstances for his faith, it will stand because Christ is able to make him stand.
She always hopes. Be her circumstances ever so bleak, her opponents so set against her, and those she loves be ever so lost, yet she will not give up hope. The night may be dark, cold, and long, but she has the sure hope that the sun will break over the horizon.
He always perseveres. His love for God and neighbor does not go out, but burns on through all that is thrown against him.
Her love never fails. It endures. It is a rock. Not because she is a rock, but because she is vitally connected to The Rock, who is Love. Nothing can stop her from loving, for in Jesus her supply is limitless.
The Church needs men and women who are working towards that, who are striving with everything they have to have that character, to have that effect. Half the criticism of the Church and Christianity would cease if even a tenth of those who claim to be Christian were able to be so described more often than not.