Well, we’re talking about love today, and we just had Valentine’s Day, yet again proving that no one in America knows truly what love is. So, when it comes to words that are misunderstood and misused, I would submit “love” is a candidate for the most misunderstood, misused word in the entire English language. We tend not to know what love is, what love does, where love comes from, or where it is going.
And so today, as we study the Scriptures, I want to start in a very broad, Google-Earth big picture for you. I thought I knew what love was. When I first met Grace, we were seventeen years of age, and I met her and I thought, “That’s it, I love her.” I told her that two weeks into the relationship. I said, “I love you, and I’m going to marry you,” which is either a guy with a plan, or a stalker, or a stalker with a plan. And I thought I loved her, and I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I wanted her to love me in return.
We were dating for a little while as high school students, and then Grace gave me a gift. It was actually a Bible. It was this Bible. It was the first Bible—big, nice Bible—I ever had like that. And this one has a different cover on it. Originally, she had my name engraved on it, but I wore that one out, so I had to get a new cover put on it, I read it so much.
When she first gave me the Bible, however, I didn’t read it. I assumed I knew what it said: “Mark, you’re pretty fantastic, and God loves fantastic people. Congratulations, nothing to worry about.” That’s what I thought the Bible said, so I put it on the shelf—this Bible, the Bible that Grace gave me—and didn’t read it for a long time.
Then I started reading it and realized it said something very different from I was anticipating. “Mark, you’re a really bad guy, and God’s angry at you, and you’re in danger.” I was like, “Whoa, that can’t be what it meant.”
So all of a sudden, I was confronted with my sin and God’s holiness, and then I started to learn about, from the Bible, real love, true love, God’s love. And all of a sudden, God’s love started to fascinate, captivate, and transform me. It’s something I’m still learning and will be learning for the rest of eternity, I suppose, but one of the things I was most convicted of is that my love for others, particularly the person that I loved the most, is that my love was selfish; it wasn’t selfless. It was about what benefited me, or what benefited us, not just what benefited them. And it certainly wasn’t a love, initially and originally, that included God and was operating in a way that was loving toward God as God would see and understand love.
And so, as we jump into the Bible today, I know that some of you are not Christian. Some of you don’t have any familiarity with the Bible. Some of you grew up in religious homes and you had a Bible, but you still don’t know what it means or understand how to study it.
When it comes to the Bible, the truth is it can easily become a little overwhelming, if not confusing. It’s actually a library, 66 books written over the course of a few thousand years by some 40 authors in 3 languages—the Old Testament, primarily in Hebrew, New Testament, primarily in Greek, a few portions, as well, in Aramaic—and it has over 700,000 words.
If you’ve ever picked up the Bible, maybe for the first time, as I did, you had a hard time trying to figure out, in all of this overwhelming amount of information, like, “Who’s most important? What’s most important in this enormous, overwhelming library?” Jesus Christ is the most important person in the Scriptures, and I would submit that, perhaps—you want to be careful with these things—the most important theme of the whole Bible is love.
In some regards, this is really a love story of God’s love for his people through Jesus Christ. And so when the Bible speaks of love, it sometimes does so with analogies that we can emotionally relate to.
GOD LOVES HIS PEOPLE LIKE THAT
It says that God loves his people like a husband loves his wife.
Next time you meet a guy who’s fallen in love and met his dream girl, God loves his people like that.
When you see a couple that is dating and the man really loves the woman, or you see them on their wedding day and you see that look on his face when the doors open and his bride is unveiled, God loves his people like that.
When you see a couple holding hands and are still friends many years into the marriage, God loves his people like that.
When you see, as I did recently, a very elderly couple at the airport, walking very slowly together, holding hands, God loves his people like that.
The Bible says that God loves his people like a husband loves his wife, and the Bible says that God loves his people like a father loves his children.
Next time you see a man who’s married and looking forward to the birth of his child through the womb of his pregnant wife, how excited he is, God loves his people like that.
When you see a dad holding a newborn baby, protecting them because he adores and cherishes them, God loves his people like that.
When you see a dad holding the hand of a toddler, helping them to walk safely, God loves his people like that.
When you see a kid getting a piggy-back ride from their dad, God loves his people like that.
LOVE IS BIBLICAL
The Bible is ultimately about God’s love, and before it talks to us about our love, it talks to us about God’s love. And this is really important, otherwise the Bible becomes a series of principles to live by instead of a person to live for, like Pastor Dave often says. Before the Bible is a series of principles to live by, it’s a person to live for, a person named Jesus Christ who is, shows, and does the love of God.
This is exactly what Jesus said. And he’s many things. He’s Lord, God, Savior, King, and Christ. He’s also teacher. They called Jesus “rabbi,” which means “teacher.” And there was a big debate in his day among various scholars, “What’s the big idea? What’s the big idea of God’s Word?”
So Jesus, in Matthew 22:37–40, enters into the conversation and he teaches us that love is biblical. And so Rabbi Jesus, looking back on the totality of the Old Testament, he says, “Here’s really what it’s all about.” And he’s going to quote for us two things that are called laws. And the Bible includes a lot of laws, “Do this, and don’t do that.”
The first five books of the Old Testament penned by Moses are often called the Books of the Law because they contain no less than 613 laws. And so they’re debating, “Which ones should be at the front of the line? What are the big ideas? What’s most important?” And here’s what Jesus has to say in Matthew 22:37–40, saying that love is biblical. “And he”—that is Jesus—“said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. That is the great and first commandment.’” Here, he’s quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.
How many of you have heard that before and never really thought about it? Think about it for a moment: “Love the Lord.” Not just yourself, the Lord. Not just self-love, the Lord. The Lord. “With your heart.” How much of your heart? All. Any of you convicted by that? You’re like, “I love the Lord with my heart.” All your heart? “No, there’s some stuff in there that’s not good. I feel bad about that. Some days I want the Lord, some days I want the Lord plus some other stuff, some days I want the Lord not for a while, I’d like to just have the other stuff.” “Your soul.”
How much of your soul? All. Whole-hearted, full-throated devotion to the Lord, right? Passion, all of your affections pouring out of you. You say, “Yeah, I couldn’t put that on my résumé. I haven’t loved the Lord with all my soul.” “With all your mind.” “Every thought captive to Christ.” That’s what Paul says. “Every though captive.” “I’m thinking God’s thoughts after him as an act of worship. What God says, that’s what I think, and there’s no variation. I don’t disagree with the Lord. I don’t argue with the Lord. I don’t doubt the Lord. I think God’s thoughts after him. I love God with all my mind.”
How many of you couldn’t say that? It’s impossible. I want you to feel the weight of that. The worst Bible teachers in the world are the Bible teachers that get up and say, “OK, the Bible says it. Do it.” A real Bible teacher gets up and says, “The Bible says it. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.” You’re like, “What?” You’re going to need some help. You’re going to need God. He then continues, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He quotes Leviticus 19:18.
Our culture thinks that love is almost exclusively self-love. “Yes, people should love me. I think I’m pretty lovable, maybe even lovely. You’re right, people haven’t loved me well. Thanks, Pastor Mark, for talking about the sermon on love because I’ve not felt very loved and I brought someone with me who’s not loved me very well. I’m very glad they are here to hear the sermon about loving me. Hi.”
It doesn’t talk about self-love at all. Love of God, love of neighbor. You hear people say this all the time, “I just have a hard time loving myself.” No, you don’t. No, you don’t. You love yourself. “No, I don’t.” Yes, you do. That’s why you’re still thinking about it, OK? That’s how much you love yourself. We become very selfish, we love ourselves, we think that others should love us, and that God should love us, and we should be the center of the universe, and everything should proceed toward us for our well-being.
God says, “Let’s reorient this. Love me, love people.” Don’t go in, go out. Don’t go in, go out. And it starts with the love of God. God does love you. And because he loves you, he pours his love into you so that his love can be poured through you.
This is what Paul says to the Romans: “God poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” We’re in the middle of winter. When spring comes, the snow will melt and it will flow downstream. God’s love is like that. Love starts upstream with God and it flows through his people back in worship to him and in help to others. And he says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
ROWING BOTH OARS TOGETHER IN UNISON
That’s their nomenclature for the entire Old Testament, those books that Jesus read growing up as a little boy. You go to the Bible and you’re like, “There is a lot in here. It’s a little overwhelming. Am I supposed to memorize the list of 613 things in the first 5 books?” Probably, we should, but Jesus says, “Let me make this really easy. And if you do two things, you’ll actually do everything else.” Love God, love people. Do those two things and everything else will fall into place.
When I was a little boy, my aunt and uncle lived on a lake and I loved the summertime, I loved the sunshine, I loved being outside. And they were generous to us, said, “Come over whenever you want, and you know, go swimming in the lake.” Well, as kids, one of the first thing we tried to figure out is how to row a boat. You ever tried that? As a kid, you’re like, “I’m gonna grab an oar and I’m gonna row.” Next thing you realize, “I am dizzy and not making any progress.” So, you grab the other oar and you realize, “I am just doing it in the other direction, still not making any progress and equally dizzy.”
Pretty soon, you learn, “I need to row both oars together in unison, and if I do that, I’ll make forward progress. I’ll get somewhere.” What Jesus is saying, surveying the whole Old Testament, is, “If you want to get anywhere, you need both oars rowing together. Love God, love people, love God, love people, love God, love people.” How many of you are “Love God”? You pray, you sing, you worship, you journal, but you’re really not very loving to other people.
How many you are very loving to other people, but you really don’t get a lot of time and energy in your relationship with the Lord? It tends to suffer because you’re so busy loving people, you don’t have time for the most important person, Jesus. Jesus says, “Everything will make progress in your life and the Scriptures will start to make sense when you know that I love you, and then you respond by loving me and loving others.”
We’ve just covered the whole Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus, and now we’re going to jump to the instruction of Jesus’ little brother, a guy named James. He was the pastor of the church at Jerusalem and he writes a book of the Bible bearing his name.
LOVE IS SACRIFICIAL
Today, we’re in James 2:8-13, and we’re looking at Jesus’ love and your love. And what James is going to do is he is going to quote his brother Jesus who is also quoting the Old Testament Scriptures. So, here’s what James has to say regarding love. He is going to tell us that love is sacrificial. James 2:8, so our theme today is love. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”
So, Jesus and James grew up studying the Old Testament together. Jesus studied it, understood it, knew it, taught it. James learned it, in large part, from his big brother Jesus. Jesus, at this point, has died for our sin and he’s risen from death. He’s ascended and returned to heaven where he’s ruling and reigning as King of kings, Lord of lords.
James says, “Let me pick up something that my brother taught that we tend to overlook, that love is sacrificial.” And he says three things about love. He speaks of it in regards to Scripture, selflessness, and sacrifice. So, let’s look at those in succession.
So he says, first of all, that love is really understood according to the Scriptures.
This is important. There is no right understanding of love apart from the love of God, the God of love, which is only to be found in the Word of God. Our world has no understanding of love. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. To understand love, we don’t begin with ourselves, we begin with the Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal to us who God is and how God loves.
I can’t overstate this because there are two things that are customary for people in our culture. One is to live in a way that is autonomous, so under their own autonomy, and to think that all authority is to be found internally, meaning, “I’m an individual. I’m an independent person. I live my own life my own way. And when it comes to what I think is right or wrong, loving or unloving, what should be done or not be done, I don’t go externally, I go internally. What do I want? What do I think? What do I need? How do I feel? How do I see this? What are my inclinations, my preferences, my proclivities?”
The Bible sets up an antithetical worldview, that we don’t live in a way that is autonomous or live autonomously, we live under God’s sovereignty, that God rules over us.
That’s exactly what he is referring to, speaking of the royal law, that Jesus is a King; that today’s he’s seated on a throne; that he is high and exalted and he’s ruling and reigning; that we don’t live our life autonomously on our own, we live it under his sovereignty, OK; and that law, for us, is not to be found internally, but externally; that it is to be found in the Scriptures. And so we live under the rule of King Jesus and we live under his royal law.
Now in that day, the highest authority was the king. We live in a day when the rule of law is sovereign, but in that day, the king was sovereign. The king was the law. If the king made a decree, you were bound to it, or judged by it, or punished for your failure to submit to it. So, if the king said something, that was it. There’s no court of appeals. There’s no process of due law, not at all. The king was the sovereign, the king made the laws.
Jesus is King. Now, he’s a good King. That’s a good thing, but he’s King. And so he rules over us in sovereignty, and he has Scripture to be our authority. That’s how we understand what the love of God is, is by living under his rule according to his Word.
Number two, he says that love is also something that is selfless. “You shall love your”—what’s it say? “Neighbor.” When we think of love, we think, “Yes, I’ve not been well-loved. People haven’t loved me, or they loved me and stopped loving me, or they loved me and then they abandoned me, or they betrayed me, or they sinned against me, or they abused me, or they hurt me, or they failed me.”
All of a sudden, what awakens in us when we think of love is all the ways we’ve not been loved, we don’t tend to think of all the ways we’ve not been loving. We tend to think of all the people that have failed us and not all the people we have failed. We tend to think of all the love that we believe we should still have coming rather than all of the love that we should be giving.
This is a broad statement, but sometimes counseling in a therapeutic culture that has no understanding of King Jesus or the royal decree of God’s Word, it just feeds the problem. It’s like serving drinks for an alcoholic. “I love myself. I always love myself. I’m consumed with myself. I think about myself. I want others to think about me more. I want others to be more devoted to me. I want others to be more focused on me. I want others to be more committed to me. I need more love.”
You need more love like an alcoholic needs more drinks. That’s the problem, not the solution, that when we put ourselves as the center of the universe, and the object and the source of love, we’re miserable because that’s not who we are and that’s not what we were created for.
So, God here is doing something incredibly loving. He’s saying, “Neighbor, neighbor, neighbor.” Other people live on the earth. Other people are having a hard time. Other people are feeling lonely and hurting. God wants you to have his heart for others.
This is profoundly, tremendously, deeply convicting if we’re honest. All right, we wake up in the morning thinking about ourselves. We spend our day consumed by ourselves. We go to bed at night anxious regarding things that are only regarding us. And God said, “Let me put somebody else on the horizon: neighbor.” In Jesus’ day, they came to him and they said, “Who’s our neighbor?” and they were trying to whittle the list down. Jesus said, “Anybody’s your neighbor.” I’m paraphrasing. Anybody’s your neighbor. That love is sacrificial, and we see this in the Scriptures.
Secondly, it is to be selfless. Does God love you? Yes. Am I saying you should hate yourself? No, but I’m saying since you already do love yourself, you can check that off your bucket list and go find somebody else to love. The Bible assumes that we do love ourselves and the Bible assumes that we often fail to love others.
Thirdly, sacrifice, as yourself. Think about that. What have you done for yourself recently? Have you spoiled yourself? Have you encouraged yourself? Have you provided for yourself? Have you fed yourself? Have you done anything nice for yourself? You did. You have clothes on. You did something. Thank you, right?
The Bible gets really practical and says, “Do for others as you do for yourself.” You feed yourself, feed somebody else. You clothe yourself, clothe somebody else. You pray for yourself, pray for somebody else. You help yourself, help somebody else. It doesn’t say hate yourself, it doesn’t say destroy yourself. It just says add other people to the list of people who get treated the way you treat yourself.
Anyone feeling convicted? I am. And this is God’s love because the way we’ve been living’s not working, and so God is going to teach us how he loves, and he’s going to invite us to love with the love that he has. And I love the fact that he calls this the royal law. And he says we can fulfill the royal law. That language, “fulfill,” is very important. You’ll do yourself a great disservice as you study the book of James if you don’t begin with Jesus. You can’t just start in James. James’ big brother is Jesus. He heard him teach, he saw him die, he saw him rise. James learned from Jesus.
What he’s dealing with is a bunch of religious people that have been in church for quite a long time, and they know a lot of the Old Testament, and most of them are Jewish, and they grew up reading all of the Scriptures, and they know them very well. And they’ve heard all of Jesus’ teaching, and they know what Jesus said, and they know what Jesus did, but they’re not acting, they’re not obeying. For them, it’s become information, not transformation. For them, they have studied to pass a test, not to live a life.
So James is pressing them toward the practical application of the theological instruction. But you can hear in James the echo of Jesus, and you do so right here. James 2 is going to echo a lot of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. One of them we find here. “If you really fulfill the royal law.” Fulfilling the law, well, that’s what Jesus said he came to do. He said in Matthew 5:17–18, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets,” the Old Testament, “I’ve come to fulfill them.” Jesus is saying, “The whole Bible’s about me and I’m here to fulfill everything that was prophesied and promised.”
THE ROYAL LAW
So here’s what’s amazing. The King gets off his throne, and he comes down, and he lives under his own law. You know what kings didn’t do in that day? Live by their own law.
How many of you don’t live by your own law? Let’s just be honest. Some of you say, “Yeah, people should be generous.” OK, show me your bank statement. “Oh hey, come on, that’s personal.” Well, no, that’s hypocritical. That’s why I wanted to see it. “Well, people should love each other.” OK, let me bring in all your enemies, everybody you’ve hurt, everybody who’s been grieved by you, frustrated by you, and let’s let them testify. “Well, come on, man, that’s not loving.” Right? We make laws, we judge others by our laws, and we don’t live by our own laws.
Jesus does. He gives us the royal law. And the king didn’t have to abide by the law, I already told you, because the king was the law. So, if you made a law, and you broke the law, who’s going to arrest you? You’re the king, and you could just change the law. All the king’s laws were in pencil. Jesus gives us his royal law in the Scriptures, and then the king gets off his throne, enters into human history, and lives by his own laws. Boy, there’s no king like that. And he lives in such a way to fulfill the royal law. That’s why he said he came.
Here’s what this means: Jesus never sinned. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”—check. “Soul”—check. “Mind”—check. Internal, external, continual. Perfect, sinless. And Jesus did that for us. So then, Jesus fulfills the law for us, and he does a work in us so that we now love the royal law, and we love the King, and we want to obey the King, and we want to serve the King, and we want to become more like the King.
So, the royal law is fulfilled for us in Jesus, it’s fulfilled in us through Jesus, and it’s fulfilled through us by Jesus so that our desires start to change. One of the ways you know you’ve become a Christian is your desires start to change. You’re like, “I want to live under Jesus’ rule, not apart from it. I want to live in obedience to the Scriptures, not in disobedience to them. I want to become more like Jesus and less like who I am apart from him.”
Then, as the royal law starts to be fulfilled through us, we start loving God, we start loving people. It shows up in intensely practical ways like friendship, generosity, gift-giving, encouragement, forbearance, patience, and endurance because that’s what our King is like, and he wants us to be like him. And if we belong to him, we want to be more like him.
He goes on, then, to say that in addition to love being biblical and sacrificial, love is also merciful. But, we’re talking about love. But, something can really get in the way of love. He calls it partiality. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin.” You’re disobeying the royal law. “And are convicted by the law as transgressors.” You’re going to hear a lot of language. James here turns up the thermostat in the text. Law, sin, transgressors, guilty. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for it all.”
PERFECT OR IMPERFECT
Let’s unpack that, OK? If you’re not feeling bad yet, I’ll fix that in just a moment, OK? My daughter is getting ready to take the SAT. Imagine if she took the SAT and got one question wrong, and they gave her a zero. God’s law is like that. God’s law is not on a curve.
Some of us tend to think that God’s law is on a curve. “I did 60% of the stuff. C’s graduate, I’m going to heaven,” right? “C’s graduate, I’m going to heaven.” God’s law is not like that. God’s law is all or nothing, OK? He’s going to talk here about murder and adultery.
Let me say this: murder and adultery, all or nothing. Did you murder them? “Oh, a little bit.” No, you did or you didn’t. There’s not, like, a 60% murder, right? Adultery. Did you commit adultery? “Only 72%,” or, “Only 28%.” No, it’s all or nothing. And here—let me get you, OK? Because some of you are like little attorneys for the devil, OK? You’re like that. And immediately, you’ll be building a case, right? “Well, hey, I’m not totally guilty. I’m partially—” Guilty. Guilty. And you know it when someone sins against you, and you fight it when you sin against them, OK?
So, let’s say you murdered somebody. You would not want to be convicted because you would want to be exonerated. But let’s say somebody murdered someone that you loved. You would want them to be convicted and not exonerated. You would say, “No, no, no, it’s murder” or “It’s not murder.” There’s not degrees or variations in the middle. See, the guilty people always want to negotiate. Those who’ve been sinned against want justice.
How about adultery? I shouldn’t say this—maybe we’ll edit it—but let’s say you’re married, you walk in on your spouse, and they’re with somebody else. And they look at you, they’re like, “It’s only 27% adultery.” Would that help? You would say, “No.” We have two categories, adultery and non-adultery, betrayal, non-betrayal. God’s law is like that. God’s law is like that. It’s all or nothing.
Some of you like to pick parts of the law that we’re good at and emphasize those, and parts of the law that we’re not good at and to ignore those or to say, “You know what? I was a good person and a bad person, but it’s OK because it works itself out. You know, karma.” Not in the Bible, right? Or, “I’ll have my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds.” No. “Well, I’ll die and reincarnate, and then I’ll pay off my bad deeds.”
No. Two categories: perfect, imperfect. Jesus says it this way—we’ll mine again back in Matthew 5, I think it’s Matthew 5:48—“Be ‘blank’ as your heavenly father is ‘blank.’” What’s the blank? Perfect. You hear people say all the time, “I’m a pretty good person.” Don’t change the subject. We’re not talking about good people, we’re talking about perfect people, and guilty people change the subject. “I’m a good person.”
Then we compare ourselves to someone else, usually someone we find more pathetic, right? Some of you, that’s how you got your friends. I hate to tell you, friends who were brought to church today, but that’s why you’re here, OK? Your friend was looking for a person more pathetic than them so they could look good in comparison, all right? “You’re sure mean.” “Not like Tom. Let me tell you what Tom did. Thanks for being here, Tom,” right? We’re not supposed to compare ourselves to people; we’re supposed to compare ourselves to one person—Jesus Christ, the only one who’s fulfilled the royal law.
As we do, we realize it’s not about good people and bad people. There are two categories in all of human history: sinners and Jesus. And as we compare ourselves to Jesus, we see our sin. He’s loving; I’m not loving. He’s generous; I’m not generous. He’s patient; I’m not patient. He tells the truth; I don’t tell the truth. He loves people; I use people. He serves people; I take advantage of people. Yeah, I’m not like Jesus.
Friends, you’re a sinner. Me, too. There’s only one person in the perfect category. There’s only one guy who never said, “Hey, I’m not perfect.” Jesus couldn’t have said that. In fact, he said the opposite. Looking at a crowd, he said, “Which one of you can point out any sin in my whole life?” He continues.
SHOWING PARTIALITY IS SIN
In the next section here, James says this, “But.” Let’s read it and jump forward. “If you show partiality, and are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If”—you got a decision to make, friend—“you do not commit adultery but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” You do one thing wrong, you make one mistake, you commit one sin, you violate one Scripture, the Scripture you don’t even know. That’s how the law works, right? You can’t commit murder, show up in court, and say, “I didn’t know that law.” Still guilty.
“So speak and act”—that’s where our sin comes in, and what we say, and what we do—“as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”
Some of you believers are like, “I won’t be judged. I’m a believer. I’m not going to be judged.” You won’t be condemned, but you will be judged. Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
This is really clear in Revelation: we’ll all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and our lives will be judged. And we’ll be judged not for our salvation or damnation, but for our rewards in eternity. Your life matters. It really does count. Everything you’re doing will be judged. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” God is perfect. Heaven is perfect. God’s royal law is perfect, and it perfectly condemns, judges everyone as a transgressor, as a rebel, as a law-breaker. He has transitioned from love to justice.
THE WRATH OF GOD
You’ve all been lied to. All religions don’t save. God doesn’t love everyone forever. You don’t just die and go to a better place. Some people die, and they go to hell, and they live eternally under the conscious eternal torment of the wrath of God.
The wrath of God, friends, the wrath of God—hear me in this—it is mentioned in the Bible more often than the love of God. More often than the love of God. The Bible does say that God is love, but more often than the love of God is mentioned the holiness of God. The most common attribute of God mentioned in the whole Bible. The bedrock of it all. God is holy, God is good, God is right, God is altogether only and always without sin. Clean, pure, undefiled, and uncompromised.
You’ve all been lied to. Not all gods are the same, not all religions are the same, not all saviors save, and there’s not one good person among us. We’re all guilty under the law of our good King. And the Bible speaks of the wrath of God with some 20 words on some 600 occasions.
Some of you say, “Not Jesus. He’s very loving.” Jesus talks about hell more than anyone in the whole Bible. Jesus rules over hell. Jesus decides who goes to hell. Jesus decides what the sentence is in hell. You will live forever. The only difference is where. And you can’t look at someone who’s in line behind you and say, “I’m better than them.” All that means is they will burn a little hotter than you, but you’ll both burn together forever. The Bible says that hell was built for Satan and demons, but there’s room for you too.
Many of you are living in the path of the wrath of God, and you’re living under therapeutic, moralistic, spiritual nonsense, like, “I just need to love myself.” That’s insanity. Who are you? You don’t sit on a throne. You’re not a royal king. You’re not the law. You’re not the judge. You’re not the executioner. You’re a guilty transgressor. That’s what you are. Stop believing the nonsense—“I’m a good person with a good heart who’s lived a good life”—because that’s a damnable lie. It’s a damnable lie. You cannot save yourself. You cannot change yourself. You cannot vindicate yourself. You’re in danger, friend. You’re in dire danger.
Some of you are living with a gun at your head, waiting for the day when the trigger is pulled, and it’s nothing but what Jesus calls grinding of teeth forever in torment. It’s my job to tell the truth; it’s your job to make a decision. And then he uses another word, “mercy.” God loves us. We’re damnable and in grave danger. And because he loves us, he gives mercy.
GOD’S HOLINESS AND LOVE INTERSECT AT THE CROSS
How many of you, as I was screaming at you, were hoping there was a remedy for your condition, a hope for your salvation? How many of you were hoping I didn’t just end the sermon there and walk away? Now that we’ve stacked up all the kindling, my job is done, and you’re the kindling.
Mercy. Mercy is where you deserve something bad and you don’t get it. You get something wonderful instead of something awful. Every time the Bible speaks of God’s love, it’s pointing to Jesus’ cross. James knew this. He watched his brother get crucified, and then after Jesus rose from the dead, he would have explained to James why he died so that God could still be a good King with a royal law and love guilty transgressors without losing his holiness or his love.
So the holiness of God and the love of God intersect at the cross of Jesus, and he calls that mercy. That’s where they kiss. And so there’s no understanding of love, there’s no demonstration of love, there’s no reception of love apart from the cross of Jesus.
I’ll prove it to you. Romans 5:8, “God shows his love.” Love has to be shown. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If you wonder, “Where’s love? What does love look like? What does love do?” close your eyes and think of the King, getting off his throne, coming down to obey his own royal law, and to go to the cross, and to suffer and to die in the place of his enemies to make them his friends. Think of Jesus with his arms stretched out, inviting you to embrace him like a husband welcomes his wife, like a father welcomes his children. 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love.”
Let me say, apart from this, we don’t know love. The Valentine’s nonsense, the sentimental greeting cards, the inanity and insanity that poses itself as love. “Why did you commit adultery?” “Well, I fell out of love with them, and I fell in love with them.” Gibberish, nonsense, folly. “By this we know love.” We don’t start internal; we start external. We don’t start with ourselves; we start with God. “That he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 4:9–10, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us.”
God sends us his written Word. He also sends us his Son as the living Word so that we can hear about the love of God, but we could also see the love of God. “God sent his only Son into the world, that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we’ve loved God.” It doesn’t begin with you. It doesn’t begin with me. It doesn’t begin with us. We’re not seeking God. We’re not looking for God. We’re not longing for God. There’s not a God-shaped hole in each of us just waiting to be filled. Not true. Not true.
It begins with God seeking us, God loving us, God pursuing us before we have a sense of need, before we have a desire or longing because we’re spiritually dead and our desires are corrupted. “Not that we loved God.”
Dear friend, know this: Christianity begins with God’s love for you. Before God asks you to love him or love anyone, he loves you first, and he gives you his love to love him back and to love others. “Not that we have loved God but that he loved us.” He loves us. Once I tell you how evil we are, doesn’t that make his love more astonishing? It’s one thing to love your beloved. It’s another to love your enemy and make them your beloved. “He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
King Jesus got off his throne, lived under his own law, went to the cross, suffered and died in our place, paying our penalty for all of our sin. Jesus said that he would fulfill, Matthew 5:17-18, the totality of the law. “Every i would be dotted and every t would be crossed,” is the language that he uses, and he fulfills all of the law. He is perfect and without sin. And he goes to the cross, and he who is sinless substitutes himself for those who are sinful. He who is in every way obedient substitutes himself for those who are rebellious.
This is how bad you are: God had to die for you. So, self-help, self-love is self-delusion. We’re so bad that God had to die for us. We’re worse than we feared and more loved than we hoped. We’re worse than we feared and more loved than we hoped. And all of this is made possible through Jesus. It’s only made possible through Jesus.
Jesus became our neighbor and he loved us. God came into human history, went to the cross, and he loved us. And James is saying, “If you’ll allow my brother to be your neighbor and your Savior, you need to be willing to be a good neighbor and to love others.”
TOLERANCE AND TRANSFORMATION
See, in our day, when the conversation of love comes about, usually it gets into a dumb ditch, and the dumb ditch is this: “Love equals tolerance. You’ll agree with me, you’ll support me, you’ll stand by me. You’ll in every way be my advocate and you’ll just take me as I am. Don’t call me to repentance and change.”
God’s love begins with tolerance, so come as you are. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, however you’ve failed, whatever laws you have broken from King Jesus, come as you are. Broken, needy, rebellious, self-righteous, proud, religious, clenched fist, or tear-filled eyes, come as you are.
God is tolerant. He welcomes through Jesus Christ everyone and anyone. Whatever religion, whatever race, whatever sexuality, whatever income level, whatever proclivity, whatever activity, he welcomes you. But love quickly moves from tolerance to transformation. You can’t receive the love of Jesus and not become more like Jesus. You can’t receive the love of Jesus and not start loving what Jesus loves. God loves us so much that he doesn’t just tolerate us, he transforms us. The truth is, we want to become like those we love the most, and if Jesus has loved us the most and we love him the most, we want to become like him. I was thinking of it today.
I put boots on. I almost always put boots on. I’ve always worn boots. One of the reasons I wear boots is—my dad’s here. My dad was a construction worker. My dad always wore boots. My Grandpa George, whom I loved with my whole heart—my mom’s here, it was her dad—he wore boots. They both wore boots. Dad was a construction worker. Grandpa was a diesel mechanic. So as a little boy, I’m wearing boots. I still wear boots. We become like the people we love the most because their love compels us to imitate them. And what James here is saying is, “My brother has loved you, and he accepts you, and his love will change you so that you will love God and love neighbor, not just yourself.”
He says, “What gets in the way of this kind of love that my brother demonstrates and makes possible is partiality.” “Jesus, I know you love all races, but there’s certain races that I prefer more than others.” We call that racism. “Jesus, I know you love men and women, but I prefer one or the other, so I have feminism or chauvinism.” That’s partiality.
“Jesus, I know you welcome people from every life stage, but I’m in school and I like students,” or “I’m single and I like singles,” or “I’m married, so we only like married couples,” or “We have kids and we don’t have time for anybody who doesn’t have kids.” That’s ageism. “Jesus, I know you love all the nations, and you save people from all the nations, but I prefer my nation.” It’s nationalism. “Jesus, I know you love and save rich and poor, but I’m poor so I don’t like rich people,” or “I’m rich so I don’t like poor people.” Classism.
JESUS LOVES YOU
The answer to all the problems is always the same. It’s the love of Jesus. And if I could be your pastor for a moment and make this very practical, what he’s saying is it’s hypocritical to receive mercy from Jesus and extend law to someone else. When we are guilty, we want mercy. When they are guilty, we want law, right? “Jesus, I know you forgive people who have done what they have done to me, but they have hurt me so deeply, they have wounded me so significantly, they have disappointed me so painfully that I cannot forgive them.” And Jesus would say, “I forgive you, and if you receive my forgiveness, it’s a gift I’m asking you to share.” “But Jesus, what they did is so awful.”
Jesus would say, “I know. It’s worse than you think. I had to die for that. If you feel that you’re hurting, I assure you, I sympathize.” “But Jesus, I won’t let them get away with it.” Maybe you should call the police if a crime was committed, but Jesus would tell you, “I dealt with sin at the cross, and no one got away with anything because I paid for everything.” God loves you, and he loves your neighbor.
Though it seems impossible, if you will love your neighbor, God’s love will be free to change you to become more like Jesus, who loves you the most. Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to let go of? What do you need to move on from? How do you need to love those whom you find it most difficult to love?
To get there, you’ve got to answer this question: how has Jesus loved you, and how can you share that love? I love you. I love you with Jesus’ love. I’ve been teaching this book here for 18 years, and I don’t think I’ve said that enough, so I ask your forgiveness for that. And some of you have been hurt by me, and it might even be hard for you to hear this word from me, and I ask your forgiveness for that. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I want to be like him. And the more I become like him, the happier I am and the more grieved I am by who I am apart from him. And because he loves you and because I love you, I invite you to receive Jesus’ love and to take it as the greatest gift you have to share it with anyone you can.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO RESPOND
In a moment, we’re going to take Communion, and as we do, we remember Jesus’ love at the cross. We’ll partake together because God loves us and not just you. Right now, we’ll collect our tithes and offerings. And as we do, we’re showing that we love Jesus and our neighbor. And before you go, I want you to do something with me. We’re going to pray together. Would that be OK? We’re going to go to 1 Corinthians 13, I think it’s verses 4-7. Paul gives a definition of love. So, James has already told us, “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves; do what it says.”
I want to read God’s Word to you, and then I want you to respond, and I want you to respond verbally. So, you will read the sections marked “All.”
“Love is patient and kind.” And you can follow me. Jesus, help me to be patient and kind.
“Love does not envy or boast.” Jesus, help me to not envy or boast.
“Love is not arrogant or rude.” Jesus, help me to not be arrogant or rude.
“Love does not insist on its own way.” Jesus, help me to not insist on my own way.
“Love is not irritable or resentful.” Jesus, help me to not be irritable or resentful.
“Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” Jesus, help me to not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth.
“And love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Jesus help me to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things.
Father God, I pray for your people and I pray for your church. Lord Jesus, I thank you that you are a good, glorious King. And we receive today this law of liberty. It is freeing, it is liberating, it gets us out of captivity and slavery to unforgiveness, to past hurts, to bitterness, to self-righteousness, to blame-shifting, to denying, to excuse-making, to comparing, to judgment under the holy wrath of God and an eternally doomed fate.
Lord Jesus, your love is the key that unlocks this life of liberty through the law of liberty. We thank you for it, we receive it, and we ask for the grace to share it. In Jesus’ good name, amen.
Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.