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OCTOBER 16 2016 LOVING GOD

Loving God

 

Coal was once the main source of heating for American homes. I remember when I was a young boy that our first house had a coal room that still had coal dust on the floor, even though the house was heated with natural gas when we moved in. A little boy declared to others that he loved his mother “with all his strength.” He was asked to explain what he meant by “with all his strength.” He said: “Well, I’ll tell you. You see, we live on the fourth floor of this tenement; and there’s no elevator, and the coal is kept down in the basement. Mother is busy all the time, and she isn’t very strong; so I see to it that the coal hold is never empty. I lug the coal up four flights of stairs all by myself. And it’s a pretty big hold. It takes all my strength to get it up here. Now, isn’t that loving my mother with all my strength?”

 

The boy loved his mother. So, it was a small thing for him to work hard for her. Love makes labor easy. Loving God is the key for living for God. It is also necessary for enjoying God. If we do not love God greatly then we will not live for him greatly. If we do not love God greatly then we will not enjoy him greatly. Therefore, unless we are already living for him perfectly and enjoying him abundantly, we must love him more.

 

Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3); therefore, to love Jesus is to love God. The transposition is also true. To love God is to love Jesus.  Hence, to live for Jesus and to enjoy him in a greater way, we must love him more than we do.

 

            When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

(John 21:15-19 ESV)

 

This conversation is after Jesus’ resurrection. He had already appeared to them two other times and this incident is by the Sea of Galilee after they had caught some fish with the Lord’s help. They had not caught any fish and he appeared on the shore, telling them to cast their net on the right side of their boat and they did so. While they were fishing Jesus prepared a fire and cooked fish for them. (Jesus serves after his resurrection just as he did before!) They ate breakfast. Although our passage here is not clear whether Jesus ate with them, in Luke chapter 24 we see that Jesus did eat fish in his glorified, resurrection body. Isn’t that interesting? We will still be able to eat in our resurrected bodies! Whether we will need to eat or not is another question (probably not,) but we will be able to! This means the pleasure of food will continue in the ages to come. I am certain we will not abuse food as we do now, eating too much of it because of our sinful lack of self-control or eating junk food instead of healthy food. But we will be able to eat. That makes me happy!

 

Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” What or who are the “these?” Is Jesus asking if Peter loves him more than these fish? In other words, “Do you love me more than your profession of fisherman?” This is a problem in the world. Some people love their profession more than they love Jesus. Or, is Jesus asking if he loves him more than he loves the men that were with him. We are to love Jesus more than our friends, more even than our family. Either of those are possibilities.

 

In order to understand who the “these” are we should remember what Peter had said to the Lord on the eve of his betrayal. He said that he would not give up the Lord even though all the other disciples would betray him (Matt. 26:33). By saying this, Peter made himself different from the other disciples. Yes, he was different from them  - in his weakness, not in his strength. He had really said, “I love you more than the other disciples.” When Peter denied Jesus he was standing by a fire (John 18:25). Now here he is again by the fire and the Lord asked him, “Do you love me more than these?” The Lord reminded Peter of what he had said and what he was. He was a man who was self-confident and who thought that his love for Jesus was more than it really was.

 

We are very much like Peter. It is so easy to think we love the Lord more than we really do.

 

After Jesus asks him if he loves him more than these, Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” If you were Peter how would you have answered? You knew that you were already wrong when you implied that you loved Jesus more than the others and you would probably be ashamed at how you denied the Lord. There is no way that you could say, “Yes, Lord, I do love you more than these.” You do not even know the level of your own love, let alone how much others love him. But, wouldn’t it also be difficult to simply say, “Lord, I love you.” because you were wrong. Peter wasn’t sure what to say. So, he said, “Lord, you know that I love you.” He knew that Jesus knew all things so he safely answers the question by saying that Jesus already knows.

 

Jesus then responds by charging him to feed his lambs. He then asks him again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter answers him in the same way, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus answers the second time, “Tend my sheep” or “Care for my sheep.”

 

When Jesus asks him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was understandably grieved. Not only is Jesus asking him the same question or nearly the same question three times, but he was using Peter’s original name before Jesus changed it. Each time, he personalized his question, using his name every time. This surely must have struck his heart.  What if I were to ask you the same question and each time I began by using your name? You would surely feel uncomfortable.  Then Jesus gives his final charge, “Feed my sheep.”

 

Peter thought he loved the Lord. Jesus said that, “if you love me you will feed my lambs.” We are very much like Peter. It is so easy to think we love the Lord more than we really do.

 

[I] If we think we love the Lord then we must feed his lambs. This is not just a charge for apostles or church leaders. It is particularly cogent for them but it is for every believer.  We feed the lambs, the new believers, by speaking to them the words of God. Peter, in his first letter, reveals this.

 

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11)

 

Some have the gift of speaking. That is not just the Elders. Many have this gift. I recall one time I was in the hardware store and I was not even attending this particular church. I had visited a few times. In the aisle of the hardware store I ran into one of the men from that church. He recognized me, said hello, and then shared with me what he was enjoying out of the Bible that day. I cannot remember what it was that he said but I recall that it was very encouraging and lifegiving. I told him how grateful I was that he had shared that with me and then we went on our ways. That brother shared with me the oracles of God.

 

Even though some have this gift and some do not, we can all share some portion of what we ourselves have received with others to feed them. It is akin to the gift of giving. Some have the gift of giving. The Lord has blessed them with the means and favor of receiving money as well as the heart to give for the work of God on earth and for assistance to the less blessed in that area. Though some have the gift of giving and some do not, all are to give something according to the Scriptures.

 

Similarly, some have the gift of speaking and sharing riches from God’s word but all can share something of what they have been blessed with in order to feed others, especially the new believers. We should all be speaking the oracles of God!

 

The second charge to Peter is “Care for my sheep.” Not only are we to feed the new ones but we are to care for the sheep. We all are sheep and we all need care. If we think we love the Lord we will care for one another.

 

Finally, Jesus charges Peter to feed the sheep. It is not just the new ones who need feeding, we all do! When I was in that hardware store I was already a mature disciple. Yet I was fed by that brother!

 

If we think we love the Lord then we must feed and care for the brothers and sisters.

But, let me ask, how can we feed others unless we ourselves are supplied with something from his word?

 

[II] If we think we love the Lord then we must spend time with him. The very last words that Peter penned in life are found in the last verse of his second letter.

 

            But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:18 ESV)

 

To whom be glory now and in eternity? To Jesus! This shows that Jesus is God for God does not give his glory to another. Peter commands his readers to grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. To grow in grace means to experience the favor of God and to grow in knowledge means to apprehend all that he is. When we experience his favor and receive what he is we spontaneously love him. Here is the most important part: we cannot grow in grace and knowledge without spending time with him. It’s impossible.

 

The apostles were with Jesus 24/7 for three years. That was why they came to love him. They came to see what he was really like and their hearts were drawn to him forever. They were in the presence of God in the flesh. They spent time with God! Jesus is no longer physically here. But he is here in spirit as the Spirit. The way we spend time with God now is through meditating upon his word and through prayer.

 

You think you love God. What is your measurement? Love is more than a feeling. If your feelings are your measurement then your yardstick is not straight.  Feelings can be notoriously wrong. How much time you spend with the Lord is a true measurement of your love for him. “Preacher, I’m in trouble then. I must love the Lord less than I thought I did.” That may be true. We are very much like Peter. But I have good news! Love and time are two-way streets. The more we love the Lord the more we spend time with him. But it is also true that, the more we spend time with him, we will discover that we love him more.

 

There are many times that I do not want to go to the gym. There are other things that my fleshly weakness would rather do. But, if I can get myself there and just do the first exercise, I find that I can finish and that I am so glad that I went. My blood is circulating and I feel better. Exercise, of course, has been proven to keep one healthier and adds longevity. It is the same way with spiritual exercise. There are many times that I do not want to open my Bible or pray. There are other things that my flesh would rather do. But, if I can just open my Bible and read one paragraph, or if I can begin praying, I am so glad that I did. My spirit is moving and I feel better.

 

Not only does our love for the Lord grow when we spend time with him, but we are supplied to feed his lambs and his sheep.

 

[III] If we think we love the Lord, we will keep his commandments. Jesus said this explicitly more than once.

 

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)

 

Many say they love the Lord, but how carefully do they keep his commandments? Our obedience measures our love for a person. Wives who obey their husbands love their husbands. Children who obey their parents love their parents. Christians who obey Jesus love Jesus. Love is more than a feeling. Love has an emotional component but it is deeper than emotion.

 

Those who struggle with sin may think, “I do not love Jesus as much as I thought I did.” That may be true. We are very much like Peter. But I have good news! Love and obedience are two-way streets. The more we love the Lord the more we obey him. But it is also true that, the more we obey him, we will discover that we love him more.

 

            If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

 

Abiding in Christ’s love means that we experience his love and we love him in return.

 

[IV. Conclusion and Application] The Lord convicted Peter with his questions. He convicted him because he loved him and he desired to see Peter follow in his steps, by loving Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved the Father. Peter thought that he loved the Lord greatly but he did not love the Lord as much as he thought he did.

 

We are very much like Peter. It is so easy to think we love the Lord more than we really do. If we think we love the Lord then:

 

  • We must feed and care for the brothers and sisters
  • We must spend time with the Lord
  • We must obey his commands.

 

Each of these matters has one thing in common: abiding in God’s word!

 

  • In order for us to feed and care for the sheep, we must ourselves be supplied out of the Scriptures.
  • In order to spend time with the Lord, we must meditate upon his word and prayer.
  • In order to obey his commands we must know what they are. We learn what they are through the Scriptures. More, God’s word will encourage us to obey.

 

God’s word is so precious! Do not neglect it. The Holy Spirit will do all the “heavy lifting.” He will grant understanding. He will grant desire. All we must do is set aside the time and begin to do it!

 

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. Like that boy who loved his mother strongly we too can love God strongly. As we love God strongly we will live for him strongly. And, as we love God strongly we will enjoy him abundantly.

 

Set aside, I mean schedule, a time each day when you will read his word and commune with him. If you do not schedule it, it will most likely not occur. As we daily spend time with him we will discover our love for him growing.

 

“Lord, we love your word. Help us to abide in it so that we may love you in a stronger way. Amen.”