A Call to Love — and to Death

Love is patient, love kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Two weeks ago I believe the Lord gave me a word for us from John 12:24–26.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant also be; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

We saw that there were four great promises and four life-shaking demands.

  • Your life will bear fruit, if it falls like a seed into the ground and dies.
  • You will keep your life for eternal life, if you hate your life in this world.
  • You will be with Jesus where he is, if you follow him — to Calvary.
  • God the Father will honor you, if you serve Jesus.

And so we closed last time with the question “How then must I die as a father and husband and pastor in order that I might bear fruit?” “How must we die as a church in order that we might bear fruit?” We are praying for revival — for a great awakening in our church and our city and in the whole Christian movement. But we have seen that if we would be revived with fruit-bearing power, dying will have to precede reviving. If we are to see Christ and show Christ this summer, we must also die with Christ.

Does John 12:25 Contradict John 3:16?

Now someone might hear the words of Jesus in John 12:24–26 and ask: Is this a contradiction of salvation by grace through faith?

  • Die to bear fruit.
  • Hate your life in this world to have eternal life.
  • Follow Jesus to be where he is in glory.
  • Serve him to be honored by his Father.
“You cannot earn or merit anything from God who already owns you and everything you have.”

What became of John 3:16?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But now Jesus says in John 12:25, “He who hates his life in this world shall keep it to eternal life.” So do we have eternal life by believing on Jesus, or by hating our lives in this world? Does John 12:25 contradict John 3:16?

The answer is No, John 12:25 defines John 3:16. What Jesus means by “believe on Jesus” is something much deeper and more life-changing than we often realize. One of the great passions of my life is to discover what true saving faith is and learn how to live by it. When Jesus says that we have eternal life as a gift by believing, and then says that we have eternal life if we hate our lives in this world, he is not nullifying faith, he is clarifying faith. When he says

  • that we must die like seed in the ground,
  • and that we must hate our lives in this world,
  • and that we must take up our cross and follow him on the Calvary road,
  • and that we must serve him instead of money (since no one can serve two masters),

he is describing the way faith lives.

That’s why he can attach the same promises to this way of life that he attaches to faith. “Believe on Jesus and you will not perish but have eternal life,” and, “Hate your life in this world, and you will keep it for eternal life.” First, the promise of eternal life is given to the act of believing. Then, the promise of eternal life is given to the act of hating your life in this world. The reason both are true is that hating your life in this world is what faith always does. It’s the way faith lives. It’s the evidence that faith is alive and real. Faith treasures Christ so deeply that competing treasures die to us and we die to them. This death to the world (as Paul calls it in Galatians 6:14) results in decisions that often look to the world as if you hate your life.

But this dying to the world is not an earning or meriting of eternal life through the rigors of asceticism or through the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. You cannot earn or merit anything from God who already owns you and everything you have. Salvation is by grace through faith. And all these other things are the evidences and credentials of true faith.

Hating Our Lives, Loving Each Other

Now the question today is “What does this dying like a seed and this hating of your life in this world have to do with loving each other?” We began the series on love back on March 12 by reading 1 Corinthians 13 — the great love chapter. I will end the series today in the same chapter — even though virtually all sermons from the Bible are sermons on love — its foundation, or its empowerment, or its nature, or its forms, or its incentives, or its goals. Everything is related to love. So we are not leaving it.

I invite you to turn to 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Paul gives 15 descriptions of what love is. And what struck me was how virtually all of them involve what Jesus called a dying or a hating of your life in this world.

  1. Love is patient,
  2. love is kind, and
  3. is not jealous;
  4. love does not brag and
  5. is not arrogant,
  6. does not act unbecomingly;
  7. it does not seek its own,
  8. is not provoked,
  9. does not take into account a wrong suffered,
  10. does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but
  11. rejoices with the truth;
  12. bears all things,
  13. believes all things,
  14. hopes all things,
  15. endures all things.

We are praying for revival. It will have to look like this when it comes or it will not be of the Holy Spirit — love is the fruit he bears. So if we are on the right track — that there must be a dying before there is a reviving — then it is not surprising to see that before there can be love, there must be death, or that love is a form of death.

Let’s take a few examples so you can see this in the text.

‘Love Is Patient’ and ‘Love Is Not Provoked’

Take from verse 4 the description, “Love is patient,” and from verse 5, “Love is not provoked.” More literally, verse 4 says, “Love suffers long.” The phrase in verse 5 is also rendered, “Love is not easily angered” (NIV), or, “Love is not irritable” (RSV). So you can see that these two descriptions of love are different sides of the same coin: “not easily provoked, irritated, or angered” is the flip side of “suffers long and is patient.”

Now by nature, none of us likes to be interrupted when things are going well. We do not like delays in our plans. We all have a strong craving for a trouble-free life and we tend to get irritated when our best-laid plans go awry. We don’t like traffic tie-ups on the freeway when we have an appointment. We don’t like overheated cars on vacation. We don’t like for babies to cry through the night. We don’t like checks to get lost in the mail. We like it when life flows according to plan and pleasure. And when it doesn’t, our nature is be provoked and to complain and grumble and murmur and be angry and critical.

Now Paul says, “Love suffers long . . . and is not [easily] provoked.” So what becomes of this whole side of us that suffers short — has a short fuse — and that is easily provoked and easily complains and easily grumbles and easily gets angry and easily criticizes? The answer is: it must die. To love like this is to die. If I am to be like this, something in me must die. My strong craving for a trouble-free life must die. My need for an uninterrupted schedule must die. My demand that frustrations and interference get out of my way must die. We simply cannot love the way Paul describes until we die.

‘Love Does Not Brag and Is Not Arrogant’

Or take the descriptions of love in the middle of verse 4: “Love does not brag and is not arrogant.” We all love to be made much of. We like to be admired. We like it when people notice our successes and miss our failures. We like it when we hear people say nice things about us. But we don’t like it when people make fun of us or criticize us or laugh at us or humiliate us.

So we have developed strategies for minimizing our failures and maximizing our successes. We tend to draw attention to the one and cover over the other. There are crude ways of doing this like overt bragging and boasting and developing a certain cocky swagger or talking with a kind of devil-may-care conceit or an in-your-face kind of arrogance. In fact, in America, we have turned the vice of bragging into a virtue of entertainment.

“If I am to love like Jesus loved, my ravenous craving for a trouble-free life must die.”

But there are also more subtle, refined, acceptable ways of expressing our pride — like bringing the conversation back again and again to ourselves and what we’ve done, or even more subtly by constantly talking about our woundedness or our sadness, and about how badly things have gone for us. Self-pity and boasting are both forms of pride: one is pride in the heart of the weak, and the other is pride in the heart of the strong.

Now Paul says, “Love does not brag and is not arrogant.” That is, it does not speak much about itself and is not puffed up with its achievements or too concerned about its hurts. Love is other-directed, not self-consumed. Which means that a massive craving in our hearts must die, if we are going to love. We’re not puffed up because we decide to be. We are puffed up by fallen sinful human nature. This comes from deep within who we are as corrupt human beings. If love is humble and other-directed, love is death. The glory-loving, self-exalting, attention-seeking, whining, pouting, self-pitying me has to die.

This is why Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and die it remains alone” — alone in its self-absorbed, self-asserting, self-enhancing prison — “but if it dies, it bears much fruit” — the fruit of love and all the people that will see Christ in that love.

‘Love Does Not Seek Its Own’

Or take the key phrase in verse 5: “Love does not seek its own.” I don’t think this means that it is wrong to want to be happy. Because in verse 3 Paul argues that if you don’t love, it profits you nothing. So it’s not wrong to want the right kind of profit. What he’s saying is that love does not seek its own personal, private preference without reference to what may be good for other people. Love seeks its joy and its profit in the good of others, not just in private gratification.

When Paul says, “Love seeks not its own,” he is not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for your own convictions — he died for his convictions. He is saying that you must be sure that the strength of your conviction is in proportion to the conviction being God’s not just yours. To the degree that your preference is yours and not compellingly found in God’s word, to that degree should you be slow to seek it, and slow to get angry when others don’t share it. “Love seeks not its own.” It seeks the good of the many, not just the comfort of self.

So if we are going to love, we are going to have to die to “our own.” Love seeks not its own. What does it do? It dies to its own. “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it remains alone, but if it dies [to its own] it bears much fruit.”

A Practical Application

Let’s take our worship life as an example of this. This is real. This is no hypothetical thing among us. We are worshiping differently during the summer than we do during the school year. And the biggest issue is not music and form, but love. How will we respond to each other in this season of difference? The change of the summer is intentional. It’s not the decision of the Master Planning Team, but of the staff and elders. There are several reasons. I’ll mention one.

Before this year is over, a task force, spun off from the Master Planning Team, will have been formed and will have fleshed out how the new Vision Statement will affect our worship life together. This, in turn, will shape whom we call to be our music and worship leader. By worshiping differently during the summer, we give that task force, as well as the rest of us, a real chance to see what it is like to engage with God this way on Sunday morning. For fifteen years we have gone hard after God in fairly uniform way on Sunday morning. Now for about twelve weeks, we will go hard after God in another way. Neither is perfect. We who lead certainly are not perfect. But when the summer is over, the task force will have much better insight into how Bethlehem can meet God most powerfully — for his glory and for our joy.

The greatest issue before us is not our worship form, but our love. “Love seeks not its own.” Love dies to its own. There are hundreds among us who are joyful, some to the point tears, that we are approaching and lingering in the presence of the Lord the way we are for the first thirty minutes of these summer services. It fits them. It helps them. It releases affections for the Lord. It heals and edifies and empowers. But most of all it helps them focus on God and engage with God and commune with God. Many of these people have “not sought their own way” for years. They have submitted to another way. They have yielded to what others saw as good and helpful.

Now, this summer, the shoe is on the other foot, and the test is whether those who prefer the other way will be patient and will yield, at least for a season, in love. “Love suffers long and is kind . . . Love is not easily provoked . . . Love seeks not its own.”

We began this series on love with a quote from Francis Schaeffer to the effect that when Christians differ, there is a golden opportunity to show the world how we love each other. Differences are not the end of love, they are the occasion for love. Which means an occasion for death. One of the reasons it’s so easy to walk away from a difference instead of working it out is that you don’t have to die.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

But what we have seen for two weeks is that before there will be revival, there will be a dying in each of us; and before we see a great resurgence of love we will have to die.

A Call to Love — and to Death

  • Being long-suffering means dying to the desire for an untroubled life.

  • Having no jealousy means dying to the desire for unshared affection.

  • Not boasting means dying to the desire to call attention to our successes.

  • Not acting unbecomingly means dying to the desire to express our freedom offensively.

  • Not seeking our own way means dying to the dominance of our own preferences.

  • Not being easily provoked means dying to the need for no frustrations.

  • Not taking account of wrongs means dying to the desire for revenge.

  • Bearing all things and enduring all things means dying to the desire to run away from the pain of obedience.

So the call of the Lord on our lives in these weeks and in this summer, and as we gather tonight in earnest pursuit of awakening and all the fullness of God, is: are we willing to pay the price of love? Love at home, love at the office, love in the neighborhood, love in the body of believers? Are we willing to die? If we are this satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ, then the promises will surely come true: we will bear much fruit, we will live forever, we will be with the Lord, and the Father will honor us.

“When Jesus calls a man,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “he bids him come and die” Come. Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to love.