The Test of Authenticity in a New Sanctuary
If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by me Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me."
Today's message is the converse of the one two weeks ago.
In that message I said that trying to work for God without worshiping God results in joyless legalism. Work minus worship magnifies your will power not God's worth. If you try to do things for God without delighting in God, you bring dishonor upon God. Serving God without savoring God is lifeless and unreal.
Today's message turns it around and says, savoring God without serving God is phony. Worshiping the worth of God without walking in the will of God is self-deception. The test of authentic worship in a new sanctuary is obedience to God outside the sanctuary.
My heart's desire for our worship in this new building is that the worth of God really be magnified, that there be no self-deception, no joyless legalism, no contests of religious will power, but rather free, heartfelt, vital, authentic savoring of the living God and his Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And this morning I want us to see the test of that authenticity and to understand it and how it should motivate us and help us make this building what God means it to be.
Four times our text says that the test of authentic love to Jesus is keeping his commandments:
- Verse 15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
- Verse 21, "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is
who loves me."
- Verse 23, "Jesus answered him, 'If a man loves me,
he will keep my word.'"
- Verse 24, "He who does not love me does not keep my words."
If repetition is one way of stressing importance, then this is a very important point to Jesus. The test of authentic love to Jesus is whether you keep his commandments or his word. That sends a clear message to us about the authenticity of worship. If worship is the release of love to Jesus in song and prayer and music and meditation, then the authenticity of worship is whether the worshipers keep the commandments of Jesus. What happens in this room cannot be separated from what happens outside during the week. God sees them both together and he judges the reality of what happens here by what he sees out there.
Therefore, dedicating a building to God for worship must also be the dedicating of our lives to God for obedience.
Two Things the Text Does Not Mean
But now let's dig for a few minutes into this text. It is liable to terrible misunderstandings. Let's start by showing two things that the text does not mean.
1. Love Is Commandment-Keeping
When Jesus says in verse 15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments," he does not mean that love and commandment-keeping are the same thing. Some people say that keeping the commandments of Jesus is the definition of loving Jesus. But consider a similar sentence: "If you take this medicine, you will get well." Is taking the medicine the same as getting well? No. Getting well is one thing and taking the medicine is another thing. The one leads to the other, and in fact brings about the other.
That's the way it is here: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Loving Jesus and keeping his commandments are not the same thing. And the point is that if you will do the one, it will bring about the other. The point is not that they are the same, but that they are connected as root and fruit. Loving Jesus is what brings about keeping the commandments. And so keeping the commandments is the test of authenticity of whether a person really loves Jesus.
That's the first thing the text does not mean, namely, that loving Jesus is no more than keeping his word.
2. Our Love Earns Jesus' Love for Us
The other thing that the text does not mean is that keeping the commandments of Jesus earns the love of Jesus. It does not mean that he loved us because we first loved him.
One could easily take verses 21 and 23 to mean that. Verse 21: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." So Jesus says that he and his Father in heaven will love us in response to our obedience.
Similarly, in verse 23 Jesus answers a question, "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Again Jesus promises that he and his Father will respond to our obedience with love.
So the least we can say is that there is a love from God the Father and a love from God the Son that is a response to our keeping the word of Jesus. But what I said was that this does not mean that he loved us because we first loved him and that our love somehow earns his love for us.
Now why do I say that?
Because there are texts in John's gospel that say the opposite. For example, John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life." This means clearly that God's love for the world caused him to give his Son before anyone loved or obeyed the Son. God loved first. Paul says the same thing in Romans 5:8, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." God's love for us goes before any of our love for him, and without it there would be no relationship at all.
Or consider John 13:34. Jesus said to his disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." Now think for a moment. If keeping the commandments of Jesus is the way we get Jesus to love us in the first place, then this text does not make sense, because it says that one of his main commandments is to love the way he has already loved us. "Love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." So there is a love of Jesus that goes before commandment-keeping and serves as a model for it and a power for it (cf. John 15:12).
Look at one other text that shows our commandment-keeping is not what initiates our relationship with Jesus or earns his love. In John 15:9–10 Jesus says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept the Father's commandments and abide in his love."
Notice two things. First, Jesus speaks of having already loved them: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." Second, notice that our commandment-keeping is described not as earning Jesus' love but as abiding in it: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love." That means that the love was there before and obedience shows that we are living and abiding and resting in it, like a branch in the vine.
So I conclude that our text does not mean that we initiate the relationship with Jesus and begin a kind of trade arrangement where we produce commandment-keeping and he pays up with love.
What the Text Does Mean
Well, then, what does it mean?
What does it mean when it says that the love of Jesus and his Father are in some sense a response to our commandment-keeping? What does it mean in verse 21b when Jesus says, "He who loves me will be loved by my Father [not just has been loved, but will be loved by my Father], and I will love him [not just have loved him] and manifest myself to him"? And what does it mean in verse 23: "If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him"?
Which is it? Does Jesus love us first and then command us to love like he loves? Or does he respond to our love for him by loving us in return with his self-manifestation and making his home with us? And the answer is that it is not either-or. Both are clearly taught in God's Word, they don't rule each other out, and so both are true.
God loved us first. Jesus loved us first before we kept any commandment. 1 John 4:19 says it as plain as the sun at clear noon: "We love, because he first loved us." So our love for him is the response of his love for us, and seeing our love for him, he goes on loving us and loving us more and more in response to our response to him. In other words our love for God is folded around by God's love for us from the front and from the back. From the back his love for us brings about our love for him, and from the front he rewards that very love that he brought about with more love and more and more manifestations of himself.
Sunday's Worship Tested by Monday's Life
Now back to the main point. Verse 15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." If you savor me, you will serve me. If you worship my worth, you follow my will. It's not a matter of earning anything. It's simply a matter of being what we are if we abide in the love of God. Are we really loving Jesus, resting in him, feasting on him? He said, "I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger." That's why loving him keeps us in his will. Because loving him means being satisfied with him and all that he is for us and all that he promises to us. How could a sinful enticement lure us away if we are satisfied with all that Jesus is for us?
The test of authenticity in this new sanctuary of whether we really worship Jesus, love Jesus, savor Jesus, abide in the love of Jesus, exalt Jesus as our everything—the test of the authenticity our worship on Sunday is whether we are a radically Christ-like people on Monday.
Let's get very practical in closing. Two stories.
1. Business Practices
First from an experience this week about business practices. It seems plain to me that worshiping Jesus, loving Jesus, is the most relevant reality in the business community in Minneapolis. The love of Jesus would revolutionize ten thousand business practices in this city because it would lead to keeping his commandments, for example, to tell the truth and not to be covetous or greedy.
My son Benjamin got his driver's license Thursday. Now I have two under-21 sons on my auto insurance policy. So I called the agent to ask how much more this is going to cost me. The secretary said it would cost $782 dollars more per year. Or if he has the good student discount, $456 more. So if you can get the school counselor to sign the form, you can save $326 dollars next year, she said. The catch is: the small print on the form says that the good student discount only applies to 11th graders and above, and Ben is in the 10th grade. She suggested that they probably would not read the small print.
I wonder if you see now what that has to do with authentic worship and this new sanctuary? Jesus said, "Take heed of every form of covetousness, for a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). And: do not bear false witness (Matthew 19:18). And: "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5).
Now, knowing all that, what if I had taken the suggestion of that secretary and rationalized: the school doesn't care; the agent doesn't care; there would be $326 more to use to pay for this building; and so I filled it out and sent it in, saying Benjamin is in the 11th grade? And then I had walked into this new sanctuary this morning and lifted my voice in worship and said, "I love you, Jesus; I stand in awe of you; I trust in you; you mean more to me than anything; I love your ways; I love your words; I love your promises and provisions; I love everything about you; I worship you"?
I think Jesus would shake his head in heaven and say: no, John Piper, that is not real. That is not acceptable. It's a sham. It's inauthentic. If I were your everything, you would not rationalize a lie to save $326. You are making your new sanctuary into a place of empty religious noise. The test of authenticity in a new sanctuary on Sunday is obedience on Monday—joyful, free, radical, Christlike obedience.
2. Deciding to Build the New Sanctuary
The other story comes from three and a half years ago. I was eating at Pizza Hut under the television with Dan Chalmers, one of our missionaries to the Philippines. It was just before the fund raising campaign to build this building. The campaign was called SPAN the Nineties—Spreading Praise to All Nations.
I was struggling with the implications of spending three and a half million dollars on buildings here when thousands of people groups all over the world have not even heard the good news of the love of Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life in a way they can understand. I said to Dan, "I want my life and this church to be on the cutting edge of finishing the Great Commission in these last years of our century. Do you think this new sanctuary is a good investment in that cause?"
Dan opened his missionary wallet, pulled out this $20 bill and threw it on the table and said, "John, go for it!" So I wrote across the bill, "Go for it. Dan Chalmers. May 3, 1988." And I held it up before the church the next Sunday and said, at least one missionary who knows our vision believes that authentic worship in a new sanctuary will prove itself in obedience to the Great Commission in spreading praise to all nations.
Then to show you that God has a wonderful sense of humor in the midst of really serious things, I learned that morning that defacing a $20 bill is against the law. And of all the mornings in my ministry there was in the congregation that morning an agent from the FBI. He stopped at the door after the service and said, "You know it is against the law to do that, don't you?" I said, "Really?" And then he pulled out his card and gave it to me. And on the back was written, "This is an official pardon for writing on the $20 bill. Go For It!"
And so with the endorsement of a missions visionary and the FBI and, I believe, the Lord Jesus himself, we went for it. And here it is, by his grace and for his glory.
And so my closing plea is that as we dedicate this sanctuary to the authentic worship of the Lord Jesus, we dedicate ourselves afresh to radical integrity and honesty and loving obedience to Jesus in our everyday lives, and to renewed zeal for world evangelization and the completion of the Great Commission.
And may we never forget that keeping the commandments of Jesus comes from loving Jesus, and loving Jesus comes from being loved by Jesus. And this is the heart of his love for us—that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, and our only hope through imperfect obedience is what happened on the cross.