Alfred Place Baptist Church

12:28-34 The Most Important Commandments (ii)

Mark 12:28-34 “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’ ‘Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”

A teacher of the law came to the Lord Jesus Christ in the temple in Jerusalem during the last few days of Jesus’ life. He had heard our Lord brilliantly answering the provocative and mischievous questions which his opponents brought him, and he was emboldened to approach Jesus and ask his own question which was this; “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The Saviour told him that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your being, but then our Lord added to it this additional commandment, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'” (v.31). It was our own William Wiliams, Pantycelyn, who said, “Love is the greatest thing in religion, and without it religion is nothing.”

The first commandment is to love God our Creator, the one who gave us life and has sustained it these many years, the God in whom we live and move and have our being, shouldn’t men love their God? The Author of every good and perfect gift, our great Benefactor, shouldn’t there be some spark of gratitude in our hearts for all his astonishing divine favours towards us? The God who sent his Son into the world, Christ Jesus himself, who came and preached the Sermon on the Mount and went about doing good, who, most wonderfully of all, became the Lamb of God who died for sins that we had done, who groaned upon the tree for me, shouldn’t we love such a God who so loved us that he spared not his Son that we might be redeemed?

We who know God are to love him so that we hate any sin that separates us from him. The psalmist says, “I hate every false way.” We are to love him so that we’ll tell any who’ll hear us about him; we can’t keep quiet about Jesus Christ the Son of God. We are to love him so that we’ll endure for him any pain, any embarrassment, the loss of friendships, hatred from our own parents, the loss of life itself – “I am ready to be offered up,” said Paul. God’s love demands our souls, our lives and our all, and we are made willing to give that up for him. “It is all that I can do,” we say.

These same men are also those who do the most for their fellow men. They have been criticised as being so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. That is never true! Those to whom the world of eternity is the great reality are the most anxious to count for God while they are in this world. Think of David Livingstone giving his life for the good of Africa, deeply hating the slave trade. Think of David Brainerd giving his weak and dying body month after month to help the despised American Indians. Think of the life of William Carey going to India and never returning to England again so that the people of that great nation might hear of the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of Barnado and George Mueller spending their lives rescuing orphans from being street children. Think of the work of Salvationist William Booth for the poor and lost of London. Think of Gladys Aylward setting off by herself to help the babies of China whose feet were being bound tight and deformed, taking them under her roof and giving them a home where the name of Jesus Christ was loved. We could mention hundreds more, these outstanding Christians who had been saved by the grace of God and so came to love him with all their hearts. How they worked in this world for him and the creatures he had made.

However, Jesus spells out their duties in bringing into second place this commandment; “Love your neighbour as yourself,” (v.31) he says. Here he is quoting exactly the Old Testament scripture in Leviticus 19:18. Don’t be deceived by that lie that says that the Old Testament is full of law and the New Testament is full of love. In the heart of the laws of the puzzling book of Leviticus you will find this commandment to love your neighbour as yourself. Who is our neighbour? The word ‘neighbour’ comes from two Anglo Saxon words ‘neah’ – from which we get our word ‘near’ – and ‘boor’ a farmer, or a man with a smallholding. Your ‘neighbour’ was originally the man whose field was next to your field. Remember how the Lord Jesus answered the question “Who is my neighbour?” with the story of the good Samaritan who came across a Jew who had been beaten up and left half dead at the side of the road. Immediately that dying man becomes the Samaritan’s neighbour. This maligned Samaritan does for him what the religious men refused to do when they passed by on the other side. Let no sociologists find any support for their atheism in this. Many of them would have been just as useless, looking at the half-dead man and saying to one another, “The guy who did that needs a lot of help.” The religious duo who passed by on the other side of the road could have easily quoted Leviticus 19:18 – absolutely word perfect, but that verse is not in the Bible to be remembered and quoted in some University Challenge quiz. It is there to be our spur and guide to action. My neighbour is the person to whom Providence leads me, or a person of whom Providence tells me about. “Love your neighbour as yourself;” that massive little commandment which is found seven times in the New Testament.

I meet my neighbour and I am under an obligation to love him, and love him as I love myself. We are never told to love him as we love God. We never elevate our spouses or our parents or our children to that place that belongs uniquely to the Lord. We don’t adore anyone as we adore God. We don’t give anyone the affection that belongs to God, in fact Jesus has told us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Lk.14:26). So we live our lives within this tension; we both love our neighbours and we hate our neighbours. That is, if our neighbours threaten to become soul-robbers to steal from us our chief love for God then we pour contempt on our loving submission to those neighbours. What is the idol they would make our god? Our love for them could destroy us. That love is taking us away from our God! There is a devotion that we give to God alone. Nothing can steal or share in that devotion. There is no one in the world that may come between us and the Lord. So neighbour love has to become neighbour hate if it results in love for our glorious God and Saviour being diminished. Haven’t we all, sadly, come across that? A Christian girl who once sat in this congregation worshipping God hasn’t darkened the doors of a place of worship for years. What happened? She fell in love with an atheist and he started to demolish her love for God. Christ spoke to her urgently; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate [her boy friend] – yes, even her own life – she cannot be my disciple,” but she ignored the words of Jesus. She continued to love what she should have hated. Not he the man in God’s image, but he who serves another god and seeks to make others serve him too. We hate them with a perfect hatred. What an immensely stringent ethic is the Christian ethic.

So if you put on one side of the scales all our neighbours then we are to give them that same true and constant love with which we love ourselves. What a weight of love! But then on the other side of the scales there is God; we are to love him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. What a universe of love the true and living God merits!

1. LOVING OUR NEIGHBOUR IS A MATTER OF KNOWLEDGE.

Sincerity alone is no reliable guide to loving our neighbour. When I lived in Philadelphia I met in the Welsh Presbyterian Church a Welsh vet. He told me that he had been called in to Philadelphia Sea World that week to try to discover why their prize exhibit, a killer whale, had died, and he soon found out what had happened. As the sea water in the whale’s tank evaporated the authorities had pumped in good fresh sea water. They had done this utterly sincerely, but one consequence was that the saline density of the water climbed higher and higher and eventually that growingly concentrated sodium chloride killed the whale. The staff at Sea World didn’t have the knowledge of the chemicals in that tank; their love for the great whale and their sincerity in wanting to keep it alive wasn’t enough. They also needed knowledge if life was going to be preserved.

So it is with us, God has given to us information as to how we love our neighbour as ourselves, how best we can meet the physical and psychological and spiritual needs of our neighbours. That information is found in God’s word, in his commandments, the rules he has given to us telling us how we should live. How necessary are they? They are indispensable. I watched Nicky Gumble on video talking about taking his son to play soccer in the park on a Saturday morning. The boys and their fathers stood around for a while waiting for the referee to turn up, but he failed to make an appearance. So the boys pleaded with Vicar Gumble to ref the game. He pleaded his ignorance of soccer and of the rule book, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and so he started the game. He loved his son and his friends, but that was not enough in the tensions of a game of football. It soon became absolute chaos. Each team cried to the other team, “Off-side!” or “Foul!” or “Hand-ball!” and protested to the referee and sulked. Instead of a cheerful game there was bitterness because there were no rules. Tempers frayed, and as the Vicar Gumble didn’t know the soccer code he was useless in keeping the game going. Then at 11 a.m., an hour late, the referee rode up on his bicycle, chained it to a fence, took out his whistle and started the game, and all was well. Do the rules of a game destroy the game? No, they make the game!

Let’s think of a referee for a moment. What does he need? Four things; firstly he needs to familiarize himself with the rules and the proper way of interpreting them. So it is with us and our neighbours. The Bible gives us a whole range of obligations that God requires us to meet. Husbands love your wives like this. Wives love your husbands like this. Behave in this way to your children. Love your enemies like this; love your bosses in this way, love your parents in this way. Without such basic divine guidelines loving your neighbour wisely and helpfully is impossible.

Secondly, a referee needs to always be in the best position throughout the game to make a decision. So it is with us; loving our neighbours means we get into the best position we can be for decision-making. Get as much relevant information about actual causes and possible consequences as you can before you make your pronouncements about people. There is a minimum of information that you need first of all or you are unqualified to speak. I remember to my shame my wrong reaction in seeing a middle aged religious couple, a lecturer and his wife, having high on the windscreen of their car their first names in large white letters – DON AND JEANNIE. It looked so out of character and self-advertising. I dismissed them as lacking in judgment – mutton parading as lamb. What did they think they were doing? That was strictly for teenagers and bobbysoxers! I didn’t have much information did I? I later discovered that their dear young daughter had had this sign made and given it to them for a birthday present, and they couldn’t disappoint her by refusing to put ‘DON AND JEANNIE’ on their windscreen. Hugely embarrassed yet motivated by their love for her they stuck on their names, and as soon as they judicially could they removed it. I should have deeply admired them for loving their neighbour – who was their own young daughter – as they did. I failed miserably in loving them because I didn’t have all the information.

Thirdly, a referee, in order to get his facts straight, sometimes, if he isn’t placed well for a decision, will consult with one of the touch judges, or he’ll ask the opinion of the video referee. So it is with us, if we are to love our neighbours truly we will turn to those who are better qualified to suggest what our response should be. I will call a friend, and pastors will write to me or will E-mail me from all over the country or from overseas with their questions about moral and ethical issues. “What should I do in these circumstances?” They want to love their neighbour as themselves but need information as to how. They are hearing noises coming from people who are passionate but not well informed. The crowd are shouting, “Send him off . . . off . . . off . . . off!” What should the pastor do? He certainly asks for advice.

Fourthly, a referee will, when appropriate, invoke the difficult advantage rule so that the game can keep going even though an infringement has occurred – if it’s to the advantage of the wronged person. I think there is an advantage rule with Christians. We don’t jeopardize a greater good through needless inquiries into doubtful details. There are personal private matters into which I don’t want to probe. Let me give you an example from the New Testament of what I mean. In Corinth there were some weak Christian who were offended in eating meat that had come from a temple butcher. This is what Paul says, “Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience . . . If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake – the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours” (I Cor. 10:25-29).

Christians are to avoid any social activities in which sacrifices to pagan gods form a part. But if they are invited out for a meal in a non-Christian home they needn’t ask, or bother their heads, whether the food offered to them there has been offered to idols first. But if a ‘weak’ brother sitting next to them opens his eyes with horror and whispers to them, “This meat comes from an animal sacrificed to the idol!” they will then reach for another dish of food on offer and decline the meat. They will practice abstinence for the sake of the conscience of the weak Christian. Otherwise the question of eating such meat should be allowed to lie dormant. It’s not necessary to spurn a pagan’s hospitality in the interests of witnessing against a pagan’s beliefs. Waive the idolatry issue; play your own advantage rule.

Of course we can invoke the advantage rule inappropriately. Referees make mistakes – like I did over condemning Don and Jeannie when they were acting out of love. It is a humbling experience, but we live by the forgiveness of our sins, so it is not the unforgivable sin when we fail, and in humility will learn from our mistakes.

The point I am emphasising is this, that neighbour love needs information. Love needs to be an educated love. You need to know the rule book; you need to know what other wise Christians think; you need as much understanding of the situation as you can get. There is a little poem that says it right:

“I keep six honest serving men,
They taught me all I knew;
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.”

I am saying that the emotion of love alone is not enough. Human society is so complex; medical science particularly is so clever, love alone can’t be the only norm for how we act. Imagine for a moment this earth coming into a state of millennial perfection – paradise on earth – would we still need traffic regulations and flight controllers? Yes. Would we still need time-tables? Yes. Imagine a world without rules in which in every relationship and every circumstance people had to start from scratch! How exhausting! Imagine a court of law without laws! I’m saying to you that we constantly meet similar situations in which the same laws apply. They are the boundaries within which we place this case. God the Creator has given his creatures general rules that tell men and women how to love their neighbours. Love is the compass, but the law of Christ is the map. Love is like yeast; the commandments are like bread. Let the commandments be full of love. Love doesn’t swallow up the law; love does justice to the law! So loving our neighbour is a matter of knowledge.

2. LOVING OUR NEIGHBOUR IS A MATTER OF DETERMINATION.

Everybody here today is confronted with a great choice. You are either going to say, “I shall live my life according to my feeling,” or you are going to say, “I shall live my life as Jesus Christ says.” Adam had the choice of living by the word of God or living by his own self. Loving your neighbour according to your feelings is a great hindrance to godliness. It is one of Satan’s devices. He tempts men to think that they can’t possibly do what God says because they don’t feel like doing it: “We can only do what we feel like doing, and so we can’t help ourselves if we don’t feel like loving our neighbours.” Jay Adams is so helpful on this point. This is what he says to a couple of Christians whom he is counselling:

Imagine this husband and wife saying, “We feel there is nothing left to our marriage – no love – no feeling – nothing,” and thereby they hope that the Christian will concede that a divorce is allowable on other than scriptural grounds. If they can get him to agree to this, they hope that their bad consciences (over what they’ve already determined to do) may be salved . . . But, instead, the counselor replies: “I am sorry to hear that. Then I guess you will have to confess your sin and learn how to love one another.” Their reaction to this usually is sheer astonishment.

“But,” they protest, “we told you that we don’t feel anything for each other any more.” “I understand, but that’s irrelevant; God says that you must love one another. When you learn to do so, the feelings of love will follow. Love is not feeling first of all; it begins with obedient living.” “What? Do you mean to say that we must try to love one another contrary to all of our feelings?” “Exactly!” “But wouldn’t that be hypocrisy?” “No, that would be obedience to God, who has commanded: ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25). Joe, God says that you are responsible to love Suzee; love begins with the husband, whose love must reflect the love of Jesus Christ (I John 4:19).”

“Oh, I couldn’t love her that way!” “Well, then, start at a lower level. Christ commanded: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39). As Paul observed, she is your closest neighbor; you have to live with her (Ephesians 5:28-31).” “I don’t think I could do that either.” “All right, then, we’ll begin at the lowest level of all: ‘Love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:44)! You see, there is no escape; God commands love, even toward an enemy. The two of you must repent of your sin and by the help of God learn to love each other, even if you begin by loving as enemies.”

“But how can I love an enemy?” “As I said, love is not feeling first. Hollywood and the TV have taught us that fallacious doctrine. Christians must reject it. Love is not getting but rather is giving: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’ (John 3:16); ‘He loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20); and remember also Ephesians 5:25 that I just quoted, “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” When you learn to give of yourself – your time, your money, your interest – you will eventually feel what you now want. But that feeling, to be enduring, must be the fruit, not the root of love. When you invest enough of yourself in another, you will feel what you wish for him: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21). The ‘heart’ speaks of the whole man, including his feelings.

“Well . . . perhaps; but, it still seems hypocritical.” “No, it is never hypocritical to obey God. You have fallen into a trap of the devil in thinking that it is. Every morning – contrary to my feelings (all of which encourage me to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep) – I get up. Does that make me a hypocrite?” “No, I guess not.” “What would make me a hypocrite, then?” “Well, I suppose if you went about bragging that you enjoyed getting up in the morning.” “Precisely! Now, if, as the Scriptures command, you give to your enemy in very concrete ways (a ‘cup of cold water’ or ‘something to eat’ when he is hungry or thirsty); i.e., if you care for his needs, even though at first you don’t feel like it, does that make you a hypocrite?” “Well . . . I guess not.” “What would?” “If you said that you felt like doing it.” “Right again. So, you see, it is not hypocrisy to work at love at all. That is the lie of Satan, who wants you to rationalize your desires not to give of yourselves to one another by excusing your failure with the protest that obedience to God without feeling is hypocrisy” (Jay E Adams, “The Christian Counsellor’s Manual,” P&R Publishing Company, 1973, pp. 119&120)

So my task, week after week, is to exhort you all to love each one of your neighbours as you love own self. That is certainly not a cliche. I am not presenting to you a sweet option. This is God’s great commandment to you, and if you are disobeying that command then it is your own great sin that you will take to the throne of judgment. God will put you in hell for the heresy of lovelessness. I am never to grow weary of telling you in scores of different ways of your responsibility to love one another.

One of the barriers that is preventing some of you loving other people is a perverted self-estimation, in other words, you consider yourself to have a hard and unloving personality. “I would like to be able to love in that way, but I can’t,” you say, because you think don’t have a loving personality. You . . . didn’t come from a happy home; you’ve had some bad experiences in your life, and so on . . . I want to emphasise this, that when God looks at a human personality he does not see it as something rigid like your brow. Your personality is fluid. You are not stuck at any point in your life with a certain personality. Becoming a Christian is all about changing your personality. It is a sin to have a certain personality. You might have a lazy personality, or a violent personality, or a selfish personality, or a deceiving personality, or a lustful personality. All that has to change, and that is why you come here week after week, not to have your prejudices rearranged or confirmed, but through the powerful means of grace to become more full of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, self-control, kindness and so on, changing your personalities.

You determine to yourself, “I shall go to church on Sunday; I am not going to miss, and I will listen to what God says in his word, and I will obey all I understand, as the Holy Spirit helps me. I really will put it into practice.” There is a great word that Paul uses especially in his letters to Timothy and Titus. It is the word ‘pursue!’ Pursue after love, as zealously as you can. Jerry Bridges has picked this exhortation up and made it the title of one of his consistently helpful books, but this one is his best seller. It is called, “The Pursuit of Holiness.” You learn about loving your neighbour, and then you pursue it. How do you do it?

i] You bring your lovelessness to God. It may be a certain relationship; it may be a certain disposition and you unburden that on God. You cast that particular care on God. You thank God for pointing this out to you and you tell him you are going to deal with it. Discovering you do not love aright is the first step to recovery. I preach and you think, “I’ve not been as loving as I should.” That is like seeing a light flashing on the car dashboard. What do you do? Do you stick a plaster over it? Do you get a hammer out and smash it? No. Please don’t ignore it, and don’t smash the preacher. You deal with the warning light by lifting the bonnet and going to the engine and dealing with what’s wrong. When God speaks to us in his word we start to see danger lights flashing and we go to God with our sin. It is a great sin not to love your neighbour as yourself. So you confess your lovelessness to God.

ii] Then you repackage your mind with proper thoughts and loving concerns. It is not enough to cast your lovelessness at the feet of Christ. If your heart is left empty then other desires and fancies will fill it. You must fill your mind with Scripture. I mean that quite literally. You must start to memorise Scripture. Begin with Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount and memorise the beatitudes. Memorise the opening verses of John 14 and Romans 8. Write them on pieces of card and keep them in your pocket and look at them and learn them. Buy some CDs of hymn-singing – the great hymns – and listen and learn. Begin to read some good simple books; read the books by Jerry Bridges and Sinclair Ferguson. Read the Evangelical Times or the Banner of Truth or Grace magazines each month. Listen to Christians as they talk and ask questions. That is what helped John Bunyan as a young man when he was de-mobbed from the army after the English Civil War. He was hard; he did not love his neighbour as himself, but God was dealing with him and he would sit and listen to some women talking of their pastor and the sermons they were hearing. He began to repackage his mind to make it a different mind, a loving mind.

iii] We are to do what God tells us to do about the problems we all bring with us into the Christian church. There are bad relationships, and wrong attitudes, and sinful desires, and false understanding and we are to deal with them in the way Scripture prescribes. Listen to what we are told to do in a typical part of apostolic exhortation: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephs. 4:25-32). Remember there is an evening service every Sunday at 6.00 as well as a morning service and in a few weeks’ time I will be drawing your attention to those very words. If you want to love your neighbour as yourself then you will get help from the evening service.

In other words this path to loving your neighbour as yourself is not some magical mystical tour and at the end of it, to your surprise, you discover – without any effort – you have become a loving man. That might be the Yellow Brick Road theology of sanctification but it is not the narrow way of the Sermon on the Mount. No. Loving lies in the path of understanding the Bible and obeying it. There is no other route. You will be offered short cuts; you will be told that singing in tongues or ‘Holy Spirit baptism’ can enable you to love your neighbour as yourself ‘right away!’ Would that it were so! It is by these clear cut and practical ways – pursuing these biblical precepts – that love for your neighbour will grow. It is a matter of determination.

3. LOVING OUR NEIGHBOUR IS A MATTER OF THE AFFECTIONS.

Jesus is not telling us to have a correct relationship with our neighbours, nor to be polite, nor to be civil. He is telling us to love them. I cannot believe that we’ve loved them only when we have obeyed God’s laws in our relationship to them. It is that, but love is certainly much more than being correct and moral. I know we are all suspicious of touchy-feely religion because it can last about as long as the hug itself, and it may be just as superficial, but true religion always centres on the affections. Christians are told to lay down their lives for their brethren; and that takes an enormous act of love. Christians are told to love one another with a pure heart fervently (I Pet. 1:22). Now the world knows about fervour, and the world knows about purity, but only the person in whom the spirit of grace rests can love both purely and fervently. The Christian whose first step is loving more fervently his lovely brothers and sisters in Christ is helped by that to go on to love the people at the office, or in your classroom. We will be more than ‘correct’ with them. Our affections will be drawn in.

A pastor told me about his remarkable mother, just how loving she could be. As they prepared themselves for school in the mornings she was in prayer – for a long time. They took that for granted that that is how every Christian mother was. They had a neighbour who hated them, and showed it at any and every opportunity. He ignored them, never returned their greetings, shouted at the children for every little infringement. His mother loved this man; any time she saw him she would make a beeline to him and talk to him. If he turned his back on her she would walk around to the other side and look up at him so sincerely and kindly. My friend and his brothers would look in wonder at her. They couldn’t stand the man, but God’s grace in their remarkable mother energised her to love as she loved herself.

This love is God’s creation indwelling us. Love of heaven to earth come down. Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God shouldst die for me? How prodigal and passionate is his love. It is like the love of a husband for his wife; one who takes all her liabilities and sheds his blood to save her. It is the fruit of the Spirit of God in us, and the first of these fruit is love. It is first in importance; first in godlikeness; first in usefulness. What kind of love is it? The rest of the fruit of Galatians 5:22 define it! A joyful love; a peaceful love; a patient love; a kind love; a good love; a faithful love; a gentle love; a self-controlled love. It is that affection which we are to show to our neighbour. When you meet him your presence is like a beam of sun on a dark day. You enter his room and you light it up with your love. When you speak to your neighbour on the telephone his face begins involuntarily to smile on the other end as he recognises your voice. When he sees a letter from you on the mat he picks it up with anticipation. When you sit under his ministry you are conscious of light and love coming to you from the pulpit. The pulpit is always establishing and defining the structures and relationships in which this love is encouraged to grow. You know that I am not talking about mawkish sentiment. I’m not talking about some silly preacher whose mother told him to smile at the congregation all the time. I am talking about the holy affections that are the inevitable fruit of regeneration by the Holy Ghost.

I am talking about I Corinthians 13. Here is the great definition of how we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. We are to act like this: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. Love never fails.” (I Cor. 13:4-8). What sort of love is this neighbour love? A constantly protecting love, a trusting love, a hopeful love, a persevering love. That is what we’re to ask God for, and never stop.

Let me tell you what you have to do. You must plead before God the words of Paul to the congregation of Romans in 5:5, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” “Our hearts,” says Paul. He stands in solidarity with the whole congregation at Rome. There were slaves and children and illiterates and members of Caesar’s household, and Jews, and soldiers, and diplomats, but God had poured his love into their hearts as much as he had into the heart of the apostle Paul. “Pour your love into my heart,” you must pray, and that will be one of your prayers that you’ll never stop praying throughout your earthly pilgrimage. It is a prayer which will be constantly answered, but perfectly answered only when we meet at Jesus’ feet.

14th November 2004 GEOFF THOMAS