Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series
During the month of January we preached, taught, discussed and listened to five sermons on how a local church can love each other even when it is hard. And it is hard to love one another because we live in a broken world of broken people – people who are prone to wander away from God into sin.
Here are summaries for the five sermons:
- Sermon 1: Jesus commanded (Matthew chapters 5-7) and did hard things (the cross). If we truly love Jesus, we will obey all He commands (John 14:15 and Matthew 28:19-20), because we understand that He is trying to protect us and do good to us (Matthew 7:24-27). Love is wanting and doing what is best for others according to God’s word, and Jesus did hard love the best. If we love Him, then hard love we will do.
- Sermon 2: Hard love is not just the job of the Elders and Deacons, but is the privilege and responsibility of every member of a local church (Philippians 1:1 and 4:1-3).
- Sermon 3: Hard love is first and foremost an encouraging arm around the neck, not a just a pointing finger. The culture of our local church should be one of ongoing, informal, loving discipline so that we can be honest about the sin in our lives without excusing it (Galatians 6:1-3).
- Sermon 4: There may come a time when one brother or sister has to start a formal process of church discipline if another brother or sister refuses to repent of their sin. After several steps of intervention, the so-called brother or sister may have to be treated as an unbeliever by the entire local church (Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). This is hard, but it is better to sternly rebuke a straying sheep than to let them be self-deceived (1 Corinthians 5:5). If they repent, we should restore them gently (Galatians 6:1-2).
- Sermon 5: For hard love to work, we have to discipline ourselves to be in close relationship with other Christians so they can encourage us day after day. If we are not willing to be relationally vulnerable then how will others know how to speak truth-filled encouragement into our lives (Hebrew 3:12-14; 10:23-25)?
Reflections on the Hard Love Sermon Series:
- We are striving to be a high-commitment church. I don’t mean this in a boastful way, or to be demeaning to other churches. But through the process of membership, we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to His people in accountable relationships under the authority of God’s Spirit-inspired word. We do this because Jesus demands it for our own good (Colossians 3:15-16 and Hebrews 3:12-14). Jesus declares, without apology, that if any person wants to come after Him and have Jesus save their life, they must be willing to surrender their whole life to the One who gave His life for them (Mark 8:33-38). The way to gain your life is to deny yourself and be willing to give it all to Christ, and when you give your life to Christ, you become a part of His body through One Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). How can a person be be committed to Christ if they are neglecting the very body they are a part of? I think you know the answer. It is right and loving that we call people to be committed to Christ by being committed to a visible local church. I don’t know how you obey all that Jesus commanded without calling people to a formal commitment (See Matthew 18:15-17).
- Our faith family embraced these hard love truths. Now the truth is, we will find out how much we trust and love Jesus when we have to actually do what we have He has commanded (John 14:15 and James 1:22). But the affirmation we have received from so many has been truly encouraging. There are many reasons this is such a hard pill for many professing Christians to swallow. For example, maybe some have been in church all their lives and never seen it done. Maybe others have seen it done really poorly. By the way, it could be done well and still not go well. Sin complicates things. Additionally, this whole idea of calling people to repent goes against the deeply entrenched belief that no one has the right to judge anyone else. Of course, if someone claims this, they haven’t thought much about their conclusion, because they have just made a very real judgment about how it is wrong to judge. We can’t live without making judgments, but we can strive to judge righteously (Matthew 7:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
- It took us eight years to explicitly teach on this, but maybe that is for the best. I say eight years because that is how long I have been a pastor of Eagle Heights. I have been convicted for a long time that we need to involve the church if we were going to fully obey Jesus – provided it had to come to the final step of church involvement of putting someone out (Matthew 18:17). But as one of my seminary teachers used to tell us: “You need to teach before you reform.” Having said that, on several occasions the Elders have done most of Matthew 18:15-17, and as I told the church in sermon four, we once almost brought a guy to the church, but praise God, he repented. That instance and a few others made the Elders realize that we had to involve the church and explain that we must be willing to obey all Jesus commanded. It took us a while to get to this point, but now it has been explained and we need the whole church to be willing to pursue straying church members – if that is what it must be done.
- I don’t ever want it to come to Matthew 18:17, but I trust Jesus’ words more than I trust the words of anyone else. None of our Elders enjoy wading into the entanglement of confronting a stray sheep and unrepentant brother or sister, but we have seen that there is sanctification in it and we have seen the joy of seeing a professing Christian repent.
- I hope and pray more local churches will begin to pursue obedience to Jesus by practicing informal and formal church discipline. All that we do must be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), but we cannot love God and wink at the very sin that sent Jesus to the cross. It is not loving to let people run headlong toward the destruction of sin. Yes, we must be careful not breed a culture of self-righteousness that nit-picks at every faith-fail and misstep, but we must call the church to the unrelenting pursuit gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered holiness. The church must be in the world, but not of the world. The church must be distinct in our love for the things that God loves, if we are to be attractive witnesses to the world. I remember distinctly an instance when a woman was telling another Elder and I the story of how her husband abandoned her and how she begged the leaders of their church to do church discipline on her straying husband so that he might bear fruit in keeping with repentance. I remember how she wept over the fact that they did not act and pursue him. That has stuck with me. I can’t shake that conversation. We may botch the Matthew 18:15-17 commands of Jesus, but it is better to have tried to obey Jesus and failed than to have failed by never trusting enough to try. We can’t live in paralysis because of the fear that something might go wrong. If someone is sinning unrepentantly, then something is already going wrong. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We must trust and obey our perfect God and King who died for His imperfect body.
I thank God through Jesus that our church was teachable and willing to receive this. May we always be willing to hear the word of God and trust Him, no matter what hard thing He calls us to do.