This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
We’re going to continue now with our examination of the words of Jesus, “You shall be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” We saw in the previous session that God has a program or a process by which we can move from our initial faith in Jesus into what the Bible represents as perfection. The actual passage where this is found is in the 2nd epistle of Peter where Peter says, first of all, that it all stems from God’s grace. And if we begin from any other point of view we’ll fail hopelessly. If we rely on our own cleverness or ability or righteousness, we will come far short of God’s standards. So it’s important that this teaching begins with that key word grace.
And then he speaks about a life of multiplication and he points out to us that God’s power has given us all that we’ll ever need for life and godliness. And, that this provision of God is in the promises, thank you. Let’s say that again.
“The provision is in the promises.”
Turn to your neighbor and say that to them. All right?
“The provision is in the promises.”
Okay. Now we know where the provision is. It’s in the promises. And that as we avail ourselves of these promises, as we believe them and obey them, we become progressively partakers of the divine nature. And as we progressively become partakers of the divine nature we escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Then Peter comes down to the details in verse 5 and he talks about a process of adding. We begin with the only starting point where we can begin in the Christian life—with faith. I’ve represented faith in this rather inexpert diagram as a kind of foundation on which we are going to build successive levels or stories. And we’ve seen the first two levels. We’ll go back and just briefly recapitulate.
In 2 Peter 1:5:
“...add to your faith [this translation says] virtue...”
I chose the word excellence. I deliberately wanted to get away from a religious or moral sounding word because I personally believe that it’s expected by God of every true believer that whatever area he’s working in, it may be very humble, nevertheless, he should bring forth excellence.
I’m reminded of something that happened in West Germany some years back through the ministry of a pastor who is a friend of mine. He was able to lead to the Lord a young man who had been very heavily into drugs and his mind was more or less, what would I say, it was just not functioning. But he had real faith in Jesus. So this pastor took him into his home and began to kind of show him the elements of Christian living and discipline. After a while he was able to find a firm that would employ him in the most humble capacity, you know, emptying the wastepaper baskets and that sort of thing. And he said to this young man, “Now, I just want to tell you two things. First of all, trust in Jesus, ask His help. And secondly, be faithful.” And so, he faithfully emptied the wastepaper baskets. And after a while they gave him a slightly more advanced position and he did that faithfully, always praying. And he continued until he had a moderately responsible position.
Well, in Germany most people feel they need a certificate or some form of educational attainment so he decided that he was going to get some special kind of training and that he would enroll in some kind of school. So he went to see his boss to explain that he was leaving and to thank him for the help he’d received. So when he told his boss that he was planning to leave—this is a true story—the boss said to him, “You can’t go. You’re the only man in this firm I can trust. Stay and I’ll train you to take over my job.”
But you see, the key was faithfulness, that was it. And you know what Solomon said? A faithful man, who can find? Solomon was the master of a large empire. He had all the choice men of Israel at his disposal but even he had trouble in finding someone whom he could trust. So, if you can’t do anything else, be trustworthy, be faithful. Jesus said he that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. But he who is unfaithful in least will be unfaithful also in much. I’ve met many people whose attitude is well, this job is too trifling, it’s not worth my attention. If you give me a more important job I’ll really show you what I can do. For my part, I will never give that person such a job because it’s contrary to the principles of scripture. Jesus said try him out in the smallest things. The one who is faithful in the small things you can trust for the bigger things.
So you see, excellence is not something that’s out of the reach of anybody who believes and is sincere—and who’s willing to be humble.
The next building block after excellence is knowledge. I pointed out that it’s not scientific knowledge, although that can be very useful and very helpful, but it’s primarily the knowledge of God, of His word and of His will. You really cannot be an effective and successful Christian without understanding the will of God. The primary place that reveals the will of God is the word of God. We looked at some of the examples of ignorance that the apostles were striving against. It would be quite interesting sometime to go through the New Testament and find out how many places you get a phrase like, “Brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Do not be ignorant of this. Do not forget this.” I just gave five examples of areas of ignorance which the apostles had to deal with. First of all, the mystery of Israel, God’s program for Israel. And every Christian needs to know that. We’re not completely independent of Israel. God’s purposes cannot come to their full consummation until Israel is included in them.
And then the various warnings for the church from the experiences of Israel on their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan. And remember that one whole generation perished in the wilderness. Jude says God saved them out of Egypt and afterward destroyed those who did not believe. Paul says this is a warning to us.
And then Paul says don’t be ignorant of spiritual gifts and don’t be ignorant of God’s plan for believers who die, what follows after death and what is the ultimate destiny of those believers. Let me say to you a lot of Christians think that heaven is the goal. It’s not. Heaven is a stage, a blessed stage, a wonderful stage. But the goal is what? Resurrection, that’s right. Paul said if that by any means I may attain not to heaven but to the resurrection of the dead. Again, this is an area in which many Christians are lacking in understanding.
And then there’s also ignorance about God’s measurement of time. Time is different for God from what is it for us.
Now I want to go on with the successive stages of this process. The third building block which we find in 2 Peter 1:6:
“...to knowledge we add self-control...”
Now, I find that some people baptized in the Spirit have got the attitude the Spirit is going to do it all. But one of the ninefold fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control. So, the Holy Spirit isn’t going to do it all. He imparts self-control to us and we have to control ourselves. If we will exercise our will and make the decision, the Holy Spirit will empower us and enable us. But, He will not make the decision for us.
The New Testament generally uses various pictures to illustrate the need for self-control. When we get here, the next one after this is endurance. I won’t put it up yet. And self-control and endurance together I see as a kind of bottleneck. And if you can’t get through them you can make no further progress. You cannot switch the order, you have to go according to the biblical order. So, after knowledge comes self-control. When you know all you ought to do, that’s good but it isn’t the same as being able to do it. And being able to do it and doing it effectively depends on being able to control yourself.
Let’s look at one of the most vivid pictures that Paul uses of an athlete in 1 Corinthians 9. I’m always humbled when I preach on this theme because I’m continually asking myself how far have I come myself. But I’m not going to go into that question here this evening. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24:
“Do you not know...”
Notice that again. Another blow at ignorance, do you not know.
“...that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize. Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
And notice we are not competing with our fellow Christians. We’re competing with the forces that would oppose us and keep us from obtaining the prize. And then he goes on:
“Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things...”
Temperate, better self-control. Paul is thinking about the Olympic games in the ancient world which are the pattern of the Olympic games of today. And all that he says about the Olympic games then is no less true about the Olympic games today. It’s really one of the most vivid examples of the need for self-control. I’ll go on reading and then I’ll apply it.
“Now they [that’s these athletes] do it to obtain a perishable crown...”
The gold medal in the Olympic games was a laurel wreath which was placed on the brow of the winner. And, of course, it withered after a while. But it still was a mark of tremendous honor. Paul goes on to say:
“Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown [or wreath], but we for an imperishable crown.”
What they’re working for, he says, what they’re striving for is just going to wither. But there is before us the possibility of a crown, a gold medal, that is eternal.
Then he applies it to his own life:
“Therefore, I run thus, not with uncertainty...”
In other words, I know the mark to which I’m running.
“...and I do not swerve to the right or the left, I go on straight toward the mark.”
I’ve often said to people if you aim at nothing you’re sure to hit it. And one of the great tragedies in Christian living is aimlessness. Every believer should have an aim, every believer should have a goal. If you just become somebody that follows a religious routine and goes to church every Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday evenings and maybe the home group some other night—it’s all good but in the long run you’ll wither spiritually unless you have an aim.
Then Paul says:
“Thus I fight not as one who beats the air...”
It’s a picture of a boxer whose just lashing out but he doesn’t know what he’s hitting at. And you know, a lot of us are like that in our prayer life. We know we’re fighting something but we don’t know what it is. And I’ve learned over the years that really our prayers only become fully effective when we know what we’re dealing with. And that’s where we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit because the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, discerning of spirits, will enable us to know what we’re dealing with.
I remember when I was pastoring in Bayswater in the early 1950s we got most of our congregation off of the street, from street meetings. They were not always the most respectable people. We had lots of people with demons but I had no idea of how to deal with demons. And sometimes we followed the old method of just shouting loud and long and hoping that something would happen. But I tell you one thing, demons are not deaf! It’s not necessary to shout at them. But you need to know what you’re dealing with. I do remember one situation where we had a success not by our cleverness but by the grace of God. My first wife Lydia and I had helped two Russian Jewesses to come to Britain from the Soviet Union by way of Israel. They had had a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus one night when they were planning to commit suicide. I can’t go into the story, it’s a lengthy one. Anyhow, they would meet with us and we would pray together in our home. One afternoon they and we were praying and they said to us, “We’re Baptists but in Russia the Baptists are much noisier than the Pentecostals in this country.” And when they prayed they weren’t embarrassed about what the neighbors might think, nothing, they just took off. So we were in the middle of this and there was a ring at the door and I went down and it was one of my lady parishioners and she had in tow her husband. I didn’t know up to that time she had a husband. She said this is my husband, he’s just come out of prison, he has a demon. Well, it was not good news for me at all. I thought what am I going to do with this man? But I let him up and we just went on praying because we didn’t know what else to do.
So, after these Russians had been praying rather loud for about twenty minutes this man sidled up to me and he said I’m going, there’s too much noise. God gave me a marvelous answer. I mean, I give all the glory to Him. I said, listen, it’s the devil that doesn’t like the noise because we’re praising Jesus. And you’ve got two options. If you go now the devil will go with you. If you stay, the devil will go without you. So we went on praying and about ten minutes later he came up to me and said it just left, I felt it leave my throat.
But generally speaking, we wasted hours fighting the air because we didn’t know what we were dealing with and we didn’t know how to deal with it. Every now and then we had a success but our successes were not nearly as numerous as our failures. So, Paul said when we fight we have to know what we’re dealing with, be specific, identify it and know how to deal with it.
But the whole lesson is self-control. And so he ends the chapter with these words:
“...but I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified.”
So the picture is of an athlete who wants to win the gold medal. And that’s his ambition and his vision. And in order to do that he puts himself under the most rigorous discipline. Why does he submit to the discipline? Because he has a goal. He has a vision. He sees himself running faster, jumping higher or throwing the javelin further than anybody else has ever done it. It’s his vision that motivates him.
You see, in Proverbs 29:18 the writer says:
“Where there is no vision, people cast off restraint.”
It’s vision that enables us to discipline ourselves. Don’t put your hand up but how many of you have ever tried to slim? And how many of you have succeeded? Now, let’s keep this very private. But you know the problem with most people is they don’t have a sufficiently clear vision of themselves the way they want to be. If you have a real vision—and it’s a practical one, it’s no good being romantic or a dreamer—if you see yourself weighing thirteen stone, eight stone, who knows what; and you see your muscles responding and your skin glowing with health, if that vision is clear enough you make the sacrifices that are necessary. But if you have a blurred vision it will not motivate you to sacrifice.
See, I was friendly for years with a lady whom I will not name but I consider her to be the most successful ballerina of this century. I knew her when she was only sixteen years old and I followed her career for some years. I’m not surprised at her success because I know her motivation. Everything in her life was subordinate to dancing. The books she read, the food she ate, the exercise she took. All of them were directed toward being able to excel in dancing. And she did. At the time, I was a rather aimless student but when I became a Christian many, many times I thought about that lady and I thought if only Christians were sufficiently motivated, if they had a vision of what they could be, they wouldn’t drift, they wouldn’t be carried along by the tide.
Now, if you will look in the word of God, gaze into it, you’ll get a vision. The Bible says that we look into the word of God and we see the glory of God and we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. I hope I won’t offend you but most of you spend too much time in front of the television and too little time in front of an open Bible. And so much of what you’re looking at doesn’t motivate you the right way. It’s impossible to be a Christian without making some sacrifices. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve got to lay down our lives or sacrifice large sums of money; we just may have to sacrifice some trivial, unedifying ways of spending time that don’t make us more like Jesus.
Now, when we talk about self-control everybody thinks about fleshly desires. And I’d have to say most of us have some problems. It’s kind of tragic that in the western world most people are trying to lose weight or at least avoid putting on weight and in other parts of the world people don’t have enough to eat. It’s a tragedy. I don’t think we’re altogether to blame for it although we have to be careful not to be selfish. But there are lots of other things that we need to control apart from our appetites. Our moods. See, we are not free to indulge in anger or resentment or bitterness or self-pity or depression. Don’t yield to them. They’re more deadly than the fleshly appetites. Don’t be moody. There’s something wrong with a moody person. I think they’re spiritually off center.
Later after the incident that I shared recently, God plunged me into dealing with people who needed deliverance from demons. And I learned that there are certain demons that are door openers, they get in and they open the door for others. And two of the main door openers are resentment and self-pity. Do not yield to them. You can make your mind up, switch it off, start praising God instead of feeling sorry for yourself. Start quoting the promises of God.
I have certain mental habits. I’m probably the only person here that does but let me just be honest about myself. I mean, I know we all have. Certain patterns of thinking that go back long before I was saved and they still return to my mind. But I have developed a discipline and I’ll share it with you because it might help some of you. It’s based on 2 Corinthians 5:17:
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away, all things have become new, and all things are of God.”
So every time these aimless or negative or unedifying thought patterns reassert themselves, I stop and I say, “I am in Christ. Therefore, I am a new creation. The old things have passed away, all things have become new, and all things are of God.” And you know, it doesn’t pay the devil to tempt me that way now because every time he tempts me I go deeper into the word of God. You see? But if I just let him play with my mind he’d go on doing it.
So, the whole area of self-control is something that many of us need to give careful attention to. See, there has been a kind of attitude with, let’s say, Pentecostals, Charismatics—well, the old Pentecostal doctrine was I’m saved, baptized in water, baptized in the Spirit, speak in tongues, I have no more problems. But it isn’t true. I know because it wasn’t true of me and I know because I pastored Pentecostals. And believe me, their problems do not end the first time they speak in tongues. We need to take an attitude towards ourselves of self-discipline, not giving way to moods and attitudes and desires. If you have a vision you’ll be able to do it. Without a vision you’ll cast off restraint. See?
Ruth is looking at me because both of us struggle ourselves. We’re not perfect by any means. But I think we’re going upward, not downward.
Let’s go on to the next one. 2 Peter 1. We’ve talked about self-control.
“...to self-control we add perseverance [or patience or endurance]...”
They’re just related words.
Now you see, without self-control you will never be able to persevere. Because, every time the test comes you’ll yield. That’s why I call these two together the bottleneck because until you can get through that bottleneck you can’t come to five, six and seven.
Ruth and I have been through a period of well over two years of what I told Ruth, it’s not a battle, it’s a war. The war isn’t over yet but we’ve won a lot of battles. And some time ago we kind of sat down and said what has God been aiming at in our lives? The conclusion we came to was that in Ruth’s life He was aiming at endurance. In my life he was aiming at patience. See, it’s not easy for an active strong willed person to make allowance for the weak. All my life I’ve pressed ahead, which I don’t regret. I’m glad I did. But you can’t ignore the weak. Ruth has been weak physically, in many other ways she’s been extremely strong. But God has been working this in us by what we’ve passed through. We’ve come to one conclusion, there’s only one way to learn endurance, that is to endure. Don’t imagine you can learn it any other way. You say why do I have to go through this, Lord? Because I’m teaching you endurance. Isn’t there any other way, God? No other way. That’s the only way.
So if you are going through some kind of struggle like that right now, don’t get discouraged. God is still on the throne. He’s working something out in you. See, God has eternity in view. I’ve come to this conclusion, God will not sacrifice one of the tiniest fragments of eternity for all of time. He’s always working for the eternal.
We have friends, he’s a young man, young by my standards, a very successful leader of a growing work in the United States. He reminded me recently that when his little son was born I happened to be there in the home shortly afterwards and I prayed over this little boy and dedicated him to the Lord. Well, as he grew up it became apparent that he had crossed eyes. I mean, I can’t give you the medical terms. The eye specialist said there was no remedy for it, there was nothing they could do. He’d have to wear glasses all his life. But the Lord gave them a scripture which is in Psalm 87 if I’m not mistaken, “We go from strength to strength in Zion.” Not from weakness to weakness but from strength to strength. And for seven years continually they claimed this promise of God from strength to strength. Psalm 84:5. We don’t need to turn there. What I want to point out is he is now perfectly healed. The doctor says he needs no more glasses. But it took seven years.
So you go to a healing meeting and you’re prayed for and you say I didn’t get healed, maybe you started to get healed. Maybe to receive your healing you’re going to have to endure. How long? Only God knows. Not all healings are instantaneous. Many healings are progressive. But if you don’t endure you lose it.
I personally believe that everybody upon whom elders lay hands in faith and anointing according to the scripture begins to get healed because that’s what the word of God says. But many don’t receive a final or permanent healing because they didn’t endure. When I pray for people and I see God has touched them physically I say, “Now God’s power is at work in your body. Just keep the plug in the power outlet and you’ll be healed.” They say how do I keep the plug in? I say by thanking God. Just go on thanking Him, thanking Him, thanking Him.
When I first met Ruth in l977 she was an invalid with a ruptured disc in her spine. And as a work of mercy I went and prayed for her, little knowing what else I was getting into! And I did pray for her in June of that year and I saw God had touched her. So I said God has touched you, keep the plug in. And she’s one of my examples. She kept the plug in until November. Every day just thanking God that His healing miracle working power was at work in her body. In November in a meeting she was instantly and permanently healed. But she had kept the plug in for how many months? June, July, August, September, about five months. A lot of people would have pulled the plug out. Well, I didn’t get healed. When you say I didn’t get healed you’ve pulled the plug out. You see? You’ve cut off the power.
We come to this that self-control and perseverance or endurance are the bottleneck. Till you can get through them you can’t advance any further. But let’s go on with the next step. Well, perhaps we should look at the scriptures herein our outline first briefly. Hebrews 6:11 and following:
“And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end...”
Notice that word diligent. And there is the phrase “until the end.” Don’t stop short.
“...that you do not become sluggish...”
Now my margin says lazy.
“...but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
It’s not enough to have faith, you need faith and patience, that’s right.
“For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, SURELY BLESSING I WILL BLESS YOU AND MULTIPLYING I WILL MULTIPLY YOU. And so, after Abraham had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.”
Okay. How long did it take him? Twenty-five years. Think of the endless times that he must have been tempted to doubt or to say it’s not going to work. And God let him get to be ninety-nine years old before he had the promised son. That’s patience. And remember, Abraham is the father of all who believe. We are the children of Abraham if we walk in steps of the faith of our father Abraham. What were his steps? Faith and patience.
There’s a lot about this in Hebrews. Let’s look in Hebrews 10:36.
“For you have need of endurance so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise.”
There’s a gap between doing the will of God and receiving the promise. In that gap you can do two things. You can keep the plug in or pull the plug out. If you pull the plug out you get nothing. If you keep the plug in you get everything. What’s God testing? Your perseverance.
And then in Hebrews 12:1:
“Therefore, we also since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
The Christian life is not a sprint. It’s not a dash. I think you could say it’s a marathon. And the great requirement is endurance. Lots of people who start off very fast never get past the finishing tape.
Let’s go back to 2 Peter 1 and look at the next requirement.
“...to perseverance we add godliness...”
How many of us ever hear that word today? It’s almost dropped out of our vocabulary. One reason is because there’s very little of it in the world. My personal definition of godliness would be that godliness in a person means that when that person is in the room or with you, he makes you think of God. The presence of God is with such a person.
I’ll relate a brief incident that happened when I was still in the British Army. I don’t want to hold myself up as an example of godliness but this is just an illustration. I got saved and spent the next four and a half years in the army. And the army is not the hardest place to be a Christian in but it certainly isn’t an easy place. I never abandoned my testimony. I never compromised with the world. Shortly before I was discharged in Jerusalem I was in charge of the hospital reception office on the Mount of Olives. If any of you have ever been in Jerusalem, what is now a Lutheran hospital was Number 16 British General Hospital. I had a young soldier—I was a corporal, I think he was a lance corporal under me. I had never said anything to him about the Lord or about the gospel and one day there were three or four people in the office and he swore. He used a dirty word. And he looked at me and he blushed and he said, “I’m sorry, Corporal Prince, I didn’t know you were here.” I had not said a thing to him, you see, neither before or after that time. But my presence made him aware that there was a God that had certain standards. I think that, in a sense, is what God means by godliness.
In 1 Timothy 4:7–8 Paul gives these instructions to Timothy.
“But reject profane and old wive’s fables, and exercise yourself rather to godliness; for bodily exercise profits for a little while [as long as we’re in this body], but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.”
I just want to point out to you that Paul indicated to Timothy that godliness required exercise. He said exercise yourself to godliness. I think we all have a concept of what exercise is. You get up in the morning and you do your exercises. You go through a certain routine. Many different routines. Some of you don’t do anything. In due course it will catch up with you, let me tell you that. Speaking from an age that’s greater than most of you here, you neglect your body and sooner or later it serves notice on you. What I’m trying to say is that godliness is something you achieve by exercise.
There are muscles of godliness that can be strengthened by exercise. There are postures that you can achieve of godliness you cannot achieve without exercise. What are the exercise that will bring forth godliness? I’ve just made a little list.
Prayer. Prayer is an exercise that can yield godliness.
Scripture memorization. Let me recommend that to you. It’s one of the greatest sources of strength that you can ever acquire. We read a book recently on the situation in China, especially under the cultural revolution. It was called The Church in China by Carl Lawrence, I believe. A very vivid book. And he said this. Under the most intense persecution under the cultural revolution where everybody’s Bibles were taken, they were thrown into prison, tortured, put to death, he said the only Christians who survived were those who memorized scripture. Others either denied the faith, betrayed their fellow believers or went mad or committed suicide. But the only ones that had the stamina to stand were those who had memorized scripture.
Suppose you were in prison tomorrow for twenty years. You didn’t have a Bible with you. How much would you have at the end of the first year? And who knows when you and I might be exposed to the same kind of pressures. Don’t imagine it could never happen here because it can.
After memorization I usually refer to meditation. Go through the scriptures sometimes and see all the promises to those who meditate in the word of God. But you can’t meditate on something you haven’t memorized. It has to be in your mind.
And then there’s another form of discipline which I believe is scriptural, it’s fasting. I’m not going to preach on fasting but let me just point out that Jesus didn’t say to His disciples if you fast, He said when you fast. He assumed they would do it. My personal conclusion from scripture and experience is there are certain things in the Christian life that are in the will of God but you will never attain to them without fasting. I could stop now and preach a sermon on fasting but I wouldn’t get to the end of this.
Let me just read that list of exercises to godliness. Prayer, Bible study, memorization, meditation, self-denial, fasting.
And when it comes to the period in which we are living, the scripture warns us of a special extra need for godliness in 2 Peter 3:11–12.
“Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved [that’s the world as we know it] what manner of persons ought you to be holy conduct and godliness...”
On the other hand, in the epistle of Jude, verses 14–15. We get a picture of the other side, the people of this world in the last time.
“Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, Behold, the Lord comes with thousands of saints to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in ungodly ways, and of all the harsh words which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”
What is the word that occurs four times? Ungodly. What is the distinctive feature of the close of this age? Ungodliness. How many of you have lived long enough in this nation to see a tremendous increase of ungodliness in your lifetime? Would you raise your hand if you can say that. That’s many of you and I put my hand up, too. In the midst of ungodliness we have to cultivate godliness. We have to be different. And it takes exercise.
I must go on. The sixth if you look is brotherly love. What does that mean? Who are our brothers? Our fellow believers. In other words, it means love for our fellow Christians.
I want to say something but I don’t want to say it in the wrong way. I believe that the further up we go, in a sense, the harder it gets. It’s such a relief to me to realize that it isn’t easy to have brotherly love. We assume we all love our fellow Christians. The truth of the matter is it isn’t always that way. Is that right? And you see, I want to warn you if you’re a fairly new believer, probably one of the most severe tests you’ll have in your Christian walk is the way you’re treated by your fellow Christians. Because you think they’re all going to love you and treat you right and be fair to you and never speak against you behind your back. It ain’t so. It’s very different. We still have to love them. But let’s be realistic, it isn’t always easy. In fact, let me read the words of David in Psalm 55. I think it’s David, I’m not sure. It’s a psalm. I feel impressed to say this because I think there are young people or young believers who are either here or will be hearing this message in due course who are struggling with the way they’ve been treated by older Christians. But you still have to love them. See that? That’s the test. Listen to the experience of David in Psalm 55:12–14.
“For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has magnified himself against me, then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked in the house of God in the throng.”
You’re the one who’s betrayed me. You’re the one who has spoken against me behind my back. You’re the one who’s let me down. That’s what hurts. And don’t tell me it doesn’t hurt. It does. But we still have to love them.
And God has made it possible through the new birth. Go to 1 Peter for a moment, chapter 1, verse 22:
“Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren...”
And notice love comes through obedience. Do you remember what we said?
“...love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible through the word of God.”
It’s the new birth which makes it possible for us to love our fellow believers. If we hadn’t been born again it wouldn’t be possible. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy but it is possible.
And let’s bear in mind if we’re interested in evangelization that the greatest method of evangelizing the world is for Christians to love one another. There is no way of evangelizing that exceeds that. In John 13:34–35, Jesus says this:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
Notice love is not a recommendation, it’s a commandment. If we don’t do it we are disobedient, that’s right. And then He says this:
“By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”
What will speak to all the world is the spectacle of Christians loving one another. It’s the one testimony that will reach the whole world.
So, let’s not talk about evangelization and reaching the lost if we’re not prepared to love our fellow believers. I think most of you would agree that when you speak to the unconverted about becoming Christians, one of the first things we will talk about is the divisions in the church.
I remember talking to a Jewish person once about the claims of Jesus. He said if I join the church, which church will I join? If you want to know division, at least this was true until recently, Jerusalem is probably the center of division. Now thank God there’s been a wonderful change in the last few years but for years every Christian group in Jerusalem was at war with every other one. And in the church of the Holy Sepulcher there are two groups, the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic that contend for the right to control it. And the Israeli army has to keep them from fighting one another. So how are the Israelis going to believe in the love of Christians?
We must go on. We come to the last. Guess what the word is in Greek? How many of you know? Agape, that’s right. Mind you, that’s not the right way to pronounce it but let’s not get involved with that. Notice that’s the pinnacle. That’s not what you start with, it’s what you end with. Can you heave a sigh of relief? You haven’t yet maybe totally achieved it but there is a way to it. There are steps up to it.
Now, what is love? It’s the love of God that we’re talking about and it’s described for us in one beautiful passage in Romans 5, and we’ll read verses 6–10. We’re going to have to stop pretty soon after this.
“For while we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. [verse 8] But God demonstrates His own love toward us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [verse 10] For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...”
Notice what we were when Christ died for us. We were without strength, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. And that’s the love of God. You see, that’s what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 5 where we started. If you only love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you only do good to those who do good to you, what makes you different from other people? Even sinners treat sinners like that. What’s the mark of the Christian? Loving our enemies. Doing good to those who do bad to us. Loving those who hate us. Blessing those who curse us. That is to be perfect. It’s to be right in your dealings and your relationship with every person. It’s to be like God Himself who sends His sun on the just and the unjust, the rain likewise.
Paul said at the end of the 12th chapter of Romans:
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.”
And I want to tell you that evil is so powerful there is only one power that will overcome it, and that’s good. So unless we achieve what this teaches, we will be overcome by evil.
There’s a dear brother in the Lord who is very precious to me, Loren Cunningham. And his teaching is respond in the opposite spirit. When you meet hate, respond with love. When you meet criticism, respond with praise. When you meet bitterness, respond with kindness. That’s the way to overcome. Overcome evil by good.