Coming Home to Love: Using Our Words with Care

Ephesians 4:29-32 & John 17:1-5

We’re focusing on the importance of how we speak to and with one another. “Speaking the Truth in Love” is not a license to say whatever is on our minds. Instead, we should always consider how our words will affect, serve, and help others.

This morning we are continuing our sermon series “Coming Home for Christmas”. And our focus is using our words with love and care. But when it comes to love, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? This was a difficult sermon to write, in part because love is so personal to each of us—and in part because we mostly think we know everything (or, at least, enough) about love already. Dut and Mary already read for us from one of the apostle John’s letter to the churches, where he says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. … since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” John tells us about what we celebrate at Christmas—“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus, then, is our perfect example of God’s love.

If you have been in a church before, even once, I expects you have heard that Jesus died for your sins—but it is not only the actions of Jesus that are central to the Christian life—it is Jesus himself who is central to our lives. In other words, Christians not only celebrate what Jesus has done, but also we celebrate who Jesus is! Yes, Jesus’ actions are important—dying on the cross and being raised to new life. But also Jesus’ teachings! Yes, Jesus’ miracles, healings, and signs; but also Jesus’ relationships. Today, for a few minutes, we are going to reflect on how Jesus’ words show his heart of love for God and for humanity. And we are going to be challenged to follow Jesus’ example!

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: 

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. 

John 17:1-5

The Quality of Jesus’ Love

Consider Jesus’ words of love for his Father here: Glorify me, that I may glorify you! (v.1). And Eternal life means knowing you, God—being connected to you always! (v.3). What beautiful words Jesus says to his father. But consider also the cost of those words: Jesus knows that he will be glorified only through his suffering and death. And Jesus knows that will bring the Father’s eternal life through giving up his own life. There is a great cost to his love for his Father. But because Jesus receives so much from his father and love him so much in return, Jesus is willing to pay any price.

Jesus’ love for the Father is rooted in the glory of God from the beginning. What is glory? One theological dictionary defines it this way: “the term connotes honor and fame as coming from a social status that includes greatness, wealth, or power, and the acknowledgment of others.” In other words, glory is greatness. God is great and powerful. God is not only good, but also the source of all good in creation. He is not only in charge of the world, he made everything that exists, so he knows us intimately. God’s glory is tied up with all of these realities. What’s more, Jesus understands that his love for his Father (and the Father’s love for him) is so great that there is room for more people to experience glory together with the Triune God!

In his prayer to the Father, Jesus makes clear that he does not have glory for his own sake. In other words, he does not have and does not hold his honour, his status, his greatness and wealth and power for his own sake! His glory exists for the sake of others. How many times in Jesus’ ministry did we see this! He drove out demons, he healed this sick. When an unclean woman touched him, he did not become unclean—he shared his purity with her so that she became clean too! What amazing love that is! Likewise, when people on the edge of society came to him, he always helped them! Jesus’ words of love here about people are backed up by a lifetime of loving actions—and more than that, a heart of perfect love for others. But Jesus’ heart of love is always filled up by his heavenly Father. Time and time again in the gospels, Jesus “returns home” to be with his Father and experience his Father’s love and care once again. He is often interrupted and distracted, but craves time with the Father all the more!

We may think that the acts of Jesus are what are most important—but is not the character of Jesus? We would say, in human terms, the heart behind the actions? What we find time and time again, not only in the Bible but also in our own lives is that it is not enough simply to do the right thing. We must do the right thing at the right time and for the right reason! James and John want to be great in the kingdom of God—and that, certainly, is a good thing! But they do not want it for the right reason or at the right time—they want to be great because they are Jesus’ cousins—and they want to be great on earth so that they can overthrow the Romans! Truly good actions—truly loving actions—come from a heart that is completely devoted to God because it has been filled up by God. Then we can do the right things at the right times and for the right reasons. What are these right things?

29 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. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:29-32. NIV.

Just a moment ago I said that truly good actions—truly loving actions—come from a heart that is completely devoted to God because it has been filled up by God. Then we can do the right things at the right times and for the right reasons. So let me remind you again that it is not enough to go through the motions; nor just to make it look like we are doing the right thing. 

The Quality of Our Love

I learned this in Colorado. I was on a text group with about six friends when one of us was going through a difficult time—there was a period of about a month or two when he needed a lot of help. He would text the group and ask for some help a few days in advance: will you watch my kids? Will you give me a ride? Will you help with some work around my house? Others in the group would respond quickly and offer help, advice, encouragement, or prayer! After his need was addressed, I would pipe in (at the last minute) offering to help as well. I knew it was probably too late, but thought it would be nice to chime in. After doing this a few times in a row, another of my friends called me out—he said, “Stop it! You only want to look good and look kind, but you never actually help out! So either offer to help in a timely way or don’t speak up at all.” My friend’s words caused me to take a long hard look at my heart of love.

Economist Thomas Friedman wrote a book in 2016 called Thank You For Being Late. The book was a “Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations”. When he talked about communities that love and care for one another in the midst of our very busy world, this is what he writes:

“When my dad died suddenly, my widowed mom couldn’t afford my college tuition, so Morrie and his friend Jake Garber, my dad’s boss, and my aunt and uncle, all pitched in. Morrie was the driving force behind it all, though. I did not come to him for help. He just came to me one day and said, “You can’t afford this,” and that he would make it happen. It was a powerful lesson in community for me: When you are in a real one, never, ever say to someone in need: ‘Call me if you need help.’ If you want to help someone, just do it.”  

Thomas Friedman. Thank You For Being Late. 2016.

Have you ever considered whether your words—even your kind words—are actually loving? When the community is working, we follow Jesus’ perfect example of love: Jesus does not hold his honour, his status, his greatness and wealth and power for his own sake! His glory exists for the sake of others. So when we speak to one another—are we saying the things that we are convinced we have a right to say? Are we saying the things that make us feel good or prove ourselves right in our own eyes? If so, we are using our position (or at least our words) for our own sake. Instead, we should consider how we might use our position, our opportunities, our gifts, and our words to build others up! This is not a moral responsibility; it becomes a naturally outflow of our obedience to Christ when we are following him. 

It may seem that we do not need a moral lesson on something so small as our words, when there are such big things going on in our world; but “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). This is why Paul command us, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”! To grieve the Holy Spirit is to ignore the Spirit’s testimony, witness, and work—to go our own way and work for our own glory, our own good name, or our own vindication! This is not the example of Christ. Instead, we listen to God. We follow Jesus’ example and the examples of other faithful Christians. Again, as Paul writes, we speak “to benefit all who listen” because we follow Jesus’ example. When we come home to love, we are careful with our words because our hearts are opening in self-sacrifice—first to those closest to us, then also to those further from us.

Jesus gave every part of himself to the glory of the Father and in love for God and for humanity. Likewise, the call to follow Jesus carries a high cost for us. God calls us to give everything we do and everything we are to God! This of course, is much more than just our words. But our words are our first gauge or “check” to see how (if) our hearts are being transformed by Christ. We cannot control our initial feelings in a given situation, but we can direct our thoughts and our words.

So as we close, I encourage you to take time to check in with yourself about the quality of your love. I had the opportunity to “check in” this past week at Shalem Senior Community Living—when sat in a circle and had a celebration of life for George Van Dyk. I read Psalm 23, about God’s love, which includes the words, “my cup overflows.” And I realized that if and when the quality of my love is weak, it is not within my power to fix or improve. Like Jesus, I can and must go back to the Father in order to be filled up once again. And what a joy, church, that he always fills us up to overflowing! Will you see it too? You cannot love enough on your own. Come home, with Jesus, to the Father. Receive his love, which fills you up to overflowing.

Let’s Pray.

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