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Loving by the Spirit

Loving by the Spirit

Text: Acts 3:1-10

Introduction

    1. As followers of Christ, we love because we should.
    2. As followers of Christ we love because we can.
    3. As followers of Christ we love whenever we can.
    4. As followers of Christ we love however we can.

Three results from loving our neighbors:

  1. Loving your neighbors brings blessing to them (See Acts 3:8).
  2. Loving your neighbors brings praise to God (See Acts 3:8).
  3. Loving your neighbors brings wonder to others (Acts 3:9-10).

Application:

  1. The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to take the Gospel to the world.
  2. God has given all believers His Spirit including every believer since the day of Pentecost.
  3. Whenever people with needs showed up, Jesus took care of them.
  4. As Christians we are but managers or stewards of all the gifts God has given us.

Summary:

We love our neighbors because we should, because we can, whenever we can, however we can

Introduction: This past April 30-year-old Tommy Larkin began searching for his long-lost biological brother. He didn’t know how far he’d have to travel from his home in Newfoundland, Canada but he thought it was about time he reached out and make the connection. So he contacted the agency that arranged adoptions for both boys when they were toddlers. A short while later, a case worker called with the name and address of his brother. It turned out he was one, Stephen Goosney, age 29. Amazingly, he lived right across the street. “I said . . . ‘I am looking at the house right now!’” recalls Larkin. With that he walked out his front door and nervously made his way to the home of his neighbor and brother less than fifty yards away. Well, things went well and both men were open to getting to know each other. Now they spend time together nearly every day. “We both have families,” his brother said, “but this is as close as it gets.”  Larkin’s story is larger than life—his long lost brother was a neighbor he’d simply never taken the time to get to know. You never know what you’ll discover about your neighbor just by walking across the street.

Last week we began a preaching series called “Neighboring 101.” We recognized that to be a good neighbor demands that we get to know people by moving toward them in an attempt to establish meaningful relationships. Our deepest motive for doing so is love and our highest hope in these relationships is faith in Christ! We started by looking at God’s command to the Jews to do this very thing in Leviticus 19:18 (…you shall love your neighbor as yourself). Unfortunately most of the Israelites to whom He gave His law understood this to refer only to their fellow Hebrews. They took this position in spite of the fact that in the same set of verses they were told to love the foreigner living in the land as themselves (See Leviticus 19:33-34). It was because of this narrow application of the law that Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He challenged a Jewish lawyer, who thought he was putting Jesus to the test, to rethink his own legalistic interpretation. Our Lord wanted him to recognize that a “neighbor” is any person we come in contact with who possesses a legitimate need that we are able to meet (See Luke 10:25-37). Just by way of a brief reminder, we made four observations about loving our neighbor from the parable. We said love feels something (the Samaritan felt compassion for the man — likely a Jew — who was laying on the side of the road unconscious while the priest and the Levite did not), does something (he stopped and provided care for the stranger), costs something (he took him to an inn and paid the innkeeper enough money to cover a three week stay and then promised to cover any additional expenses) and reveals something (the person who really knows God loves others in the same way that He loves us).

Now in this morning’s message, I want us to look at a story in Acts 3 with the thought of gaining more insight into the nature of God’s love and how it transforms our relationships to others. Sometime after Peter preached his sermon on the Day of Pentecost with the results that 3,000 people believed, he and the Apostle John were following their daily routine in going up to the temple to pray. As they went up the steps leading from the outer courts (i.e. the court of the Gentiles) to the inner courts (an area made up of the court of the women, the court of Israel and the court of the priests), they found a lame man at the Beautiful Gate who had been carried there by his friends so that he could beg for alms. Beggars in Palestine, we know, favored three locations: (1) the homes of the wealthy (Luke 14:1-2 — One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy); (2) Main highways (Mark 10:46 — And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside); and (3) the temple. Of them, the last was the best site because people who came there to offer sacrifices would have seen the opportunity to help the man as a way to gain favor with God. From this story and the example of Peter and John we are given more principles to apply to our lives regarding loving our neighbors.

As followers of Christ, we love because we should. This is what Jesus said to the twelve disciples while He was still walking upon the earth (John 13:34-35 — “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another). Knowing that He would soon be leaving them, Jesus laid out His expectations for His followers. Note two things about what He said: (1) He gave them a new standard for loving others — “as I have loved you.” Jesus laid down His life for us and now calls us to love others in the same way; (2) He gave them a new reason for loving others — “By this all men will know that you are my disciples…”  More than anything, Christians have long been known as people who love because we serve a Savior who loves. While the primary thought behind these verses in John 13 is Christians loving one another, certainly this is not meant to be to the exclusion of everyone else. When we read about believers in the 1st and 2nd century we discover that they took the words of Christ quite literally. Listen to what one of the church fathers, a man named Tertullian, wrote about the early church: It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See,” they say,how they love one another,” while they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. They recognize that we “are ready even to die for one another!”… No  tragedy causes trouble in our brotherhood, [and] the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among (them), create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives. Another, Clement of Rome, wrote about the care given to those outside the church: When a devastating plague swept across the ancient world in the third century, Christians were the only ones who cared for the sick, which they did at the risk of contracting the plague themselves. Meanwhile, pagans were throwing infected members of their own families into the streets even before they died, in order to protect themselves from the disease. If the early church is any kind of example to us, we cannot say that we follow Christ and yet fail to love the people He brings into our lives. We love because that’s what people who have been born of God do! WE LOVE BECASUE WE SHOULD.

As followers of Christ we love because we can. Let’s go to our text in Acts 3:1-5 now. It says, “Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour (about 3pm).  And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms…” (these were charitable gifts given to the poor in response to verses like Deuteronomy 15:11 — There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land). And so with this thought in mind “Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.” Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts, recorded at the end of chapter two that when the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers permanently and to provide Christ’s followers with the power to be His witnesses, the result was that, ‘Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:43).” This story here in Acts 3 is, of course, leading up to one of these miraculous signs. Peter and John (as well as the other apostles) knew that they had been given authority by Christ over the things that brought suffering to man. In fact, they had previously gained some experience with this kind of ministry (Luke 9:1-2 — And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal). Only this time, because the Spirit came to indwell them on a permanent basis, the power was theirs to wield from then on for the glory of the Lord. That’s why they stopped to offer their help. Prior to Pentecost, they went to the temple and most likely passed by the very same man, but did nothing. On this occasion, however, it was different. For the first time since Christ had ascended to heaven, Peter and John had something better to offer to the lame man…the ability to walk on his own two feet. Application: The Book of Acts is the account of the formation and life of the early church. It documents how the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to take the Gospel to the world, giving of themselves whenever the opportunity arose as a way of demonstrating Christ-like love to their neighbors. And so we read not only of Peter and John, but of Paul as he restored the sight of a blind man in Acts 9, healed a man crippled in his feet in Acts 14, cast an evil spirit out of a woman in Acts 16, healed those suffering from sickness and disease in Acts 19; and in Acts 20 raised a man from the dead. All these acts of love were performed by the apostles because they could…because they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and given authority to perform signs and wonders by God. Application: This is good news for us as well, because God has given all believers His Spirit including every believer since the day of Pentecost. And while this is no guarantee that we may be able to perform signs and wonders like the apostles, it is clear that as we submit to the Holy Spirit, we possess the love of God in amounts great enough to keep giving it away to others. Illustration: We all have various Christmas traditions. Few of us probably have a tradition quite like the Robynson family’s. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan shares their story: This family of five, with three kids under the age of ten, chooses to celebrate the birth of Christ each yearin a unique way. On Christmas mornings, instead of focusing on the presents under the tree, they make pancakes, brew an urn of coffee, and head downtown. Once there, they load the coffee and food into the back of a red wagon. Then, with the eager help of their youngest, they pull the wagon around the mostly empty streets in search of homeless folks to offer a warm and filling breakfast on Christmas morning. All three of the Robynson kids look forward to this time of giving a little bit of tangible love to people who otherwise would have been cold and probably gone without breakfast. Can you think of a better way to start the holiday that celebrates God’s sacrificial love in sending of His Son to a sinful and perishing world in desperate need of redemption? AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST WE LOVE BECAUSE WE CAN.

As followers of Christ we love whenever we can. The opportunity to help meet a need for a neighbor doesn’t always come at the most convenient times. For Peter and John it occurred on their way to prayer at about 3PM in the afternoon. They could have offered an excuse that most people would have readily accepted: “We’d like to help but God must come first! If you’re still here when we get back, then we’ll see what we can do.” They seemed to know, however, that to delay would have been contrary to God’s will. So the two apostles stopped what they were doing and ministered to the lame man because that’s what was required of them in order to ‘love their neighbor’ in this particular circumstance. Our Lord modeled this for the disciples and for us in Matthew 14:6-14. Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded to fulfill a public promise made to the daughter of Herodias his wife, who danced before Herod’s guests at a great banquet. When Jesus learned of the news from His disciples, the Bible says he took them and withdrew to a lonely place. I suspect he did this for a couple of reasons: (1) He knew the time of His departure had not yet come and so took action to keep Herod from seeking to have Him killed. (2) Being in a lonely place away from the crowds allowed our Lord to reflect on the loss of his cousin and dear friend, John the Baptist. The only problem was that the people in the crowds saw Jesus and the disciples get into the boats and so they simply followed Him on foot. When he finally came to shore, there they were…hoping that He would minister to their needs. Had I been in Christ’s place, I’m quite confident I would have begged off and asked for the people to give me some space. But Jesus refused. The Bible tells us in verse 14 that He “had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Application: I can only assume our Lord did so because the opportunity presented itself. You look it up, but to my knowledge the Gospels do not record Jesus ever turning anyone away when they came to him with their needs. Whenever they showed up, He took care of them. It seems that the apostles took the same approach to ministry in the book of Acts. THEY LOVED WHENEVER THEY COULD. it was always at the most convenient of times, but that didn’t seem to matter to them. Given the example of our Lord and His disciples, should we dare do anything less?

As followers of Christ we love however we can (Acts 3:6-8 — But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God). Peter and John did not have any money to give to the lame man in response to his request for alms. I suspect that if they did and it would have been the best possible way to meet the need, they would gladly have given it. After all it was a mark of the early church that when they became aware of a financial need, they often were quick to help meet it (Acts 2:45 — And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need). Whether it was by choice that they had no funds (Matthew 10:9-10 — the first time Jesus sent out the disciples, He said to them — Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.  Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food) or by chance, they knew that they had something much better to offer. They had Holy Spirit power to bring physical healing to the lame man and they weren’t going to withhold it from him. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk,” said Peter. Much later in his life, the Apostle Peter compared the value of perishable things (silver or gold) with the precious blood of Christ that truly redeems us and found the latter to be far superior (1 Peter 1:18-19 — Conduct yourselves … knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot). Application: As Christians we are but managers or stewards of all the gifts God has given us. The Bible tells us that it is very important that we be found faithful in our use of each one (See 1 Corinthians 4:2). With this thought in mind then, we must be prepared to demonstrate love to our neighbors however we can, even if it means giving. (Summary: We love our neighbors because we should, because we can, whenever we can, however we can)

3 results from loving our neighbors: Acts 3:9-10 —  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

  • Loving your neighbors brings blessing to them (See Acts 3:8).
  • Loving your neighbors brings praise to God (See Acts 3:8).
  • Loving your neighbors brings wonder to others (Acts 3:9-10 — ). Why? For two reasons I suspect: (1) Because Isaiah 35:6 tells us that at the coming of the Messiah, the lame will leap like a deer. (2) Because self-sacrificing love is not that common. When an unbeliever encounters it first-hand, the impact upon him is often profound.

Conclusion: A man who had no interest in spiritual matters related casually to the Christian who lived next door—they talked over the back fence, borrowed lawn mowers, stuff like that. Then the non-Christian’s wife was stricken with cancer, and she died three months later. Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward: I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I didn’t walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He didn’t speak; he didn’t even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.” I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life. May we demonstrate the same kind of love for our neighbors by giving because we should, we can, whenever we can and whatever we can.