The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
May 17, 2020
Marguerite Provost was folding laundry while across the room her three-year-old granddaughter Beverly was playing with her toys. Grammy noticed Beverly’s shirt was dirty and told her to come over to get a clean one. Beverly made no response. Grammy repeated herself. Beverly still made no response. So Grammy gave her the full three-name business: “Beverly Elizabeth Provost, did you hear me?” She replied, “O, Grams. My ears did but, I guess, my legs didn’t.”
And Jesus sometimes wonders, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?”
It is a wise, long-established practice to understand scripture in light of scripture. So let me talk about one other scripture before talking about today’s.
In his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul clarifies the terms of salvation. At one point he says, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love” – a brief and powerful summation of a major theme of the letter, but one that can only be rightly understood if one bears in the mind the major theme of the letter’s theme: namely, that we are saved, not by our works, nor by our faith, but by God’s grace alone – by God’s gratuitous and extravagant goodness that is so out of proportion to the worthiness of our “faith working through love”
Our faithfulness in believing and behaving does not save us. It is simply the means by which we make this unearned gift of unmerited generosity our own. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Of course, faith, if genuine, never remains alone; it always produces works of love that, even if not very impressive, confirm the authenticity of a person’s believing. For salvation by grace alone is such a spectacularly wonderful gift that, if truly appreciated, it cannot help but elicit a growing love of Jesus and of people.
In today’s scripture, Jesus is continuing His last message to His disciples before His crucifixion. In these seven verses, Jesus repeats the same message three different ways. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me…Those who love me will keep my word.” To love Jesus is to obey Jesus!
As we come to know Jesus, we come to trust Him in faith; and, as we come to trust Him in faith, we come to know Him still better. To come to know Him still better is to come to love Him still more. And to come to love Him still more is to come to obey Him still more – maybe never with perfect motivation, consistency or abandonment, but always with developing thoroughness in a developing relationship with Him. It’s all about the relationship; it’s all about the love.
For Tom, one date with Kathy was all it took to make him aware he couldn’t get enough of the girl. He looked for every opportunity to spend time with her. So he did his homework, and asked her friends what she liked to do. As a result, while he had never had much of a taste for artsy foreign movies with subtitles, he started to go to them with her because she loved doing that and he just loved being with her. (Oh, for those who are curious, Tom did eventually develop a taste for such movies, but not for the foo-foo coffees over which she wanted to discuss them afterward.)
Once we come to realize that we can’t get enough of Jesus, we come to love doing what He loves to do just to spend time with Him. What He loves to do is obey the Father and carry out His works of love. Our “faith working through love” is the best way to be with Him and to grow closer to Him.
Moreover, as we love Him by obeying His command to love people, we come to know Him better than before. For in our obedience we come to enjoy more and more the gift of the Holy Spirit, here called the Advocate, who enables us to “see” the truth of Jesus with greater clarity; the gift of being readied to receive deeper revelation of Jesus’ loving heart; and the gift of God’s making a home with us. By our keeping in close and continuous contact with Jesus though obedience to His commandments, we change, and take on some of His character and conduct.
My friend Bill White, who pastors City Church in north Long Beach, tells the story of Craig C. During years of alcoholism and selfishness, Craig lost everything he had, including his wife and son. His life began to change, however, when he turned to Jesus; but Craig still regularly fell back into old habits. It didn’t help he could find no work but in a grocery store that was well stocked with his favorite liquor. After a long stretch of going back and forth between Jesus and the bottle, Craig finally cut the ties; and, out of obedience, quit his job.
That precipitated a crisis for Craig, for it rendered him penniless. Desperate for employment, he interviewed for a job with a sheet metal company. He prayed, “Lord, if you give me this job, I’ll give you the first paycheck.” Much to his surprise, he was hired.
Craig will always remember the day he received that paycheck. With stacks of bills to pay but with a Lord to obey, he immediately endorsed it over to his church and walked it over to the church office before he lost his nerve. That was the moment, he says, when he finally gave Jesus the chance to change his life decisively.
Today, a quarter of a century later, Craig is still sober, manages that sheet metal company, serves as an elder in his church, and continues to love and obey Jesus more fully. Let us emulate Craig and keep loving our Lord by keeping His commandments!