Loving One Another in the Body
We find ourselves once again entering what I like to call the month of love. Of course, I also realize that in many peoples’ minds February means Super Bowl time. We just can’t escape the spectacle this gridiron classic has become. Then, too, for many, many, years February has also been the month of the presidents, most notably George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays we celebrate. But, at least, commercially, all is overridden by Valentine’s Day with its emphasis upon showering one another with expressions of love in the form of flowers, candy, cards and gifts.
I’m sure unbeknown to most people, though, the February calendar is also chocked full of days appointed for the remembrance of a whole host of Christian saints. The most well-known, of course, is St. Valentine. However, there are days recognizing the patriarch Jacob; the apostles, Peter, Paul, and Matthias; fellow workers with the apostles, Silas, Pricilla, Aquila, Apollos, Philemon, and Onesimus; the early church father Polycarp of Smyrna and even from the time of the 16th century Reformation; the doctors of theology, Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther.
The commemoration of the lives of these believers actually goes well with the February theme of love. After all, each one in his/her way have exemplified true Christ-like love, giving of their lives in service to the Lord and His Church. It serves us all well to reflect upon such love. St. Paul himself writes in his Epistle to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited” (Romans 12:1-16).
Notice that the Lord’s apostle does not say, “Present your spirits as a living sacrifice.” Rather, he says, “Present your bodies…” The spirit might always be willing, but as Jesus says, “the body is weak.” We can say to someone who could benefit from our love for them, “I feel your pain brother” or “I’m so sorry for your difficult situation” and truly mean it. However, our expressed sympathy does not remove their pain, heal their broken heart, or in any way bring them relief. Such love does not benefit them. As the apostle James writes: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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?” (James 2:15-16).
Now, if our love for another manifests itself in a tangible way; that is, physically with the giving of our touch, our presence with them, a helping hand, or by providing them the clothing, the shelter, the medicine, the helping hand they need, well then, our love has truly benefited them.
Such love involves genuine bodily sacrifice on our part. Now, I realize we tend to associate death with sacrifice. We think of that dead lamb sacrificed on some Jewish altar. But dead bodily sacrifices actually do not accomplish anything. In His love for us Jesus offered Himself for us while He was alive. He did not purchase us from sin, death and the devil, with His dead body but with His life-giving blood. His life was given under the wrath of God for our life. So, too, for our love to be of benefit to others it must manifest itself in our giving of our living bodies for the sake of others. Anything other than this is a dead love.
The pattern of this world is being dead to others. It’s living for ourselves, putting our needs above that of others, offering others platitudes and sentiments, but not the sacrifice of our time, our abilities, our material possessions, and our bodily service. As far as their needs are concerned we might as well be dead in body. They wouldn’t feel any difference.
The pattern of Christ’s love, however, is loving to give to another not loving to get from another. It is offering our bodies as living sacrifices not the offering of dead sentiments and platitudes so we can feel good about ourselves, thinking we really helped someone else.
Now, before we begin thinking about all those ways we can be of loving service to those around us, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a way of giving of our bodies as living sacrifices that would be of great assistance to the body of Christ in our midst; that is, our congregation. After all, I’m afraid this body is showing signs of sickness. Some might even say it is already on life support. When it comes to our love for the body and each other as members of that body, there is a lot of lip service, but I’m afraid the living, bodily, service leaves much to be desired. The body is suffering accordingly.
This is clearly visible in our corporate worship life. As you might or might not be aware, right now our congregation is seriously considering offering only one Sunday morning service instead of the two we have become accustom. The reason for this is that our worship attendance has dropped significantly from those days years ago when it was necessary to have two services to accommodate everyone. Oh, we still have close to 400 souls listed on our membership rolls living in our area. However, on any given Sunday only 20 - 25% of us are in attendance. Our average combined attendance from both services has consistently been hovering between 80 to 100 persons and this includes visitors. Our sanctuary can comfortably seat 250. This has left many questioning the purpose of having two services. For those in attendance the low numbers and empty pews are truly dispiriting. The singing has become lackluster and the vibrancy of the fellowship within the body that a full sanctuary offers is all but gone. This is not healthy for the body nor for the individual members of the body.
Setting aside the fact that attending corporate worship is a direct command of God, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy,” and the fact that it is through the Word of God preached and proclaimed and the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood administered that the Lord imparts to us the essential gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation which nurtures the growth of the Body (see Acts 2:42-47), truly loving one another makes being present with our brothers and sisters essential. How do we share one another’s sorrows and rejoice in one another’s joys or uplift and encourage each member when we are absent from the assembly? How do we even recognize who our fellow members are if we never worship our Lord together with them? Are we still a member of the body?
The Holy Writer to the Hebrews states: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). Sure, attending Sunday worship regularly is not always easy or convenient. It’s not meant to be. It’s not meant to be for personal gratification. It’s meant to be an act of faith toward God and an act of love for the brother in Christ. Regular attendance is an offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice. To be sure, we need what God graciously desires to give us through His Means of Grace distributed in the assembly, but our brothers and sisters need the encouragement, help, and fellowship our loving presence provides for them also. The apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:21, 25-26).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in challenging times, even perilous times for the church and our own souls. Retreating from the assembly and isolating ourselves from one another will only serve to weaken the body and endanger our fellow members even more, not to mention our own soul. Instead, we need to “Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection.” Love for Christ and love for one another compels us at this time more than ever to give of our bodies as living sacrifices. Christ Jesus has already won the victory for us. What are we saving ourselves for?
In the love of Christ,
Witnesses to Christ: People from His Passion
John tells us why he wrote his Gospel: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). Life! When we believe that Jesus is the Christ, God gives us life—abundant life, forgiven life, and eternal life.
Historically, the Fourth Gospel is likened to an eagle—an image that suggests John soars to heights of glory and grandeur. That’s because the evangelist paints a stunning portrait of Jesus, who is the bread of life, the resurrection and the life, and the way, the truth, and the life. Life in Jesus. That’s God’s gift to you!
This Lent, our life in Christ will be strengthened as we hear the witness of those in John’s Gospel who journeyed to the cross. Along the way, we’ll meet villains, such as Barabbas and Pontius Pilate, as well as sinners, such as Peter (who denied Jesus three times), Mary Magdalene (who was possessed by seven demons), and Judas Iscariot (who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver).
Please join us for worship as we hear the witness of these people in John’s Gospel:
Ash Wednesday – March 2: John the Baptist, John 1:29–34
Midweek of Lent 1 – March 9: Mary, the Sister of Lazarus and Martha, John 12:1–11
Midweek of Lent 2 – March 16: Malchus, John 18:1–11
Midweek of Lent 3 – March 23: Peter, John 18:12–27
Midweek of Lent 4 – March 30: Barabbas, John 18:33–40
Midweek of Lent 5 – April 6: Pontius Pilate, John 19:1–16
Maundy (Holy) Thursday – April 14: Judas Iscariot, John 13:21–30
Good Friday – April 15: John, the Gospel Writer, John 19:25–37
The Resurrection of Our Lord – April 17: Mary Magdalene, John 20:1–18