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Sermon Message

"Loving Jesus"

1 Peter 1:8-9
Theme: The greatest motivation for living the Christian life is to be found in our love for Jesus and His love for us.

(Delivered Sunday, October 6, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church.  All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)  


... Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9; NKJV).

I recently had the privilege of meeting an expert in motivation - a businesswoman who was so successful that her name has become a house-hold word. She had just written an book on how she learned to motivate her employees; and I chatted with her at a book-signing. She had, indeed, learned to rally together a great team of employees and motivate them toward a tremendous business success; and in talking with her about the principles in her book, she repeatedly told me, "Remember, no matter what kind of work you're in, people are all motivated in the same ways."

I learned a lot from my brief chat with her and from reading her book. And I would certainly find it hard to argue with her statement that all people - even people involved in the greatest enterprise of all time; that is, the church of Jesus Christ - are motivated in many of the same basic ways. But in thinking the matter over, I've come to believe that the fundamental principle of motivation for the believer is something that is higher and more powerful than anything the business world knows about.

The greatest, most powerful, most life-transforming 'motivational force' a man or woman could ever be driven by is an authentic, heart-felt sense of love for Jesus Christ. That 'motivational force' of love for Jesus is what Peter speaks of in this morning's passage.

* * * * * * * * * *

At the time that Peter wrote these words, "motivation" in the Christian life was an important issue. He penned these words to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. They were, as he calls them at the beginning of the letter, "pilgrims of the Dispersion"; or, as another translation has it, "aliens" or "strangers in the world, scattered". These were Jewish believers who had never seen Jesus in His earthly ministry; but after hearing the Gospel, they believed on Him. As a result of their faith in Jesus as the Christ, they received opposition from their own countrymen, and had been forced to leave their homeland, their loved-ones, and their businesses. If you carefully read Peter's letter, you'll find references to such things as the "harm" these Christians were "suffering for righteousness sake" (3:13-14); or to the "fiery trial which is to try" them, as they "partake of the Christ's sufferings" (4:12-13); or to the "suffering" that they must suffer for "a while" (5:10).

And yet, in spite of their suffering, Peter greeted them by calling them "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus" (1:2). They had been graciously chosen by God for redemption from their lost condition, marvelously saved from their sins by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and washed thoroughly clean before God by Jesus' shed blood. What's more, Peter reminded them of why they had reason to be overwhelmingly joyful with respect to the future:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ..." (vv. 3-7).

Now, think carefully about the situation of these Jewish Christians. There they were, undergoing painful suffering, and experiencing severe persecution and personal sacrifice - and all for someone they'd never seen! Why would they do this? Similarly, you and I are asked to give our lives over to service and sacrifice for someone we have never seen. Why should we do such a thing? Peter gives the answer:

... Whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls (vv. 8-9).

"Whom having not seen you love ..." Those words by Peter present us with one of the most basic and wonderful truths about the Christian life: The greatest motivation for living the Christian life is to be found in our love for Jesus and His love for us. Becoming captivated by a deep, passionate and personal love for Jesus - and becoming gripped with a sense of His infinite, personal love for us - is what will motivate any believing man or woman to give up all they are and have for Him, and suffer anything for Him that He calls them to suffer.

* * * * * * * * * *

Perhaps you can look back upon some significant "steps forward" in your Christian life - definite periods of substantial and permanent growth and maturing in your faith. In all honesty, I hope that you are like me, and that you can look back to where you were just a few years ago, and feel a sense of personal shame over how immature you were then. And, again if you're like me, experience has taught you to expect that in a few short years - if by God's grace you're still here - you'll be looking back to where you are now and feel gratitude to God that He's brought you even further along than you are today.

Next summer, I praise God that I will be celebrating my thirtieth anniversary of having trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. And because of that, I'm very much aware of the milestones of growth in my Christian life. Some of them were periods that I can even pin-point on the calender. Some of those milestones were characterized by a new commitment to live sacrificially for Jesus that I didn't have before. Some occurred because God gave me a new, fresh hunger for the Scriptures than I previously had. Some were marked by a new resolve to put aside some sinful habits in my life that hadn't bothered me prior to that point. Some involved a new passion for prayer, or for evangelism, or for fellowship with other believers, that I hadn't enjoyed or even sought before.

And as I've been looking back to these life-changing periods of growth in my walk with Christ, I've tried to understand what it was that served as their immediate cause. I've wondered what the common element was that characterized them all and made them happen. After thinking about it much, I believe I now know what the common element is - although I think it was in the back of my mind all along. Those turning points in my spiritual growth were products of entering into a deeper level of personal love for and gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior from sin. I fell in love with Jesus in a deeper, more profound, and more personal way. As I came to understand how much He really loves me, and how much He gave for me at the cross, and how much He continues to do for me, and how much He has promised to do for me in the future and throughout eternity - I grew to love Him just that much more. And as a result of that awakened sense of love, I became greatly motivated to give myself to Him more devotedly and to follow after Him more obediently.

I, in no way, mean to say in all this that I think I've "arrived" in the spiritual life. In fact, the more I believe I've been gripped by the love of Jesus for me, the less I feel as though I'm where I ought be. But I believe that it's this one great thing - a deepening experience of a personal love for Jesus, and of His love for me - that is the common motivational element in all the significant "steps forward" in my Christian walk. I wanted to move forward - I wanted to grow - because Jesus loved me, and I loved Him in return. "... Whom having not seen I love."

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, I shouldn't have been surprised at this discovery. There's nothing really new about it at all. The Bible has told us all along that a sense of love and gratitude to Jesus was to be the great motivating force in our Christian life. One story in the earthly ministry of Jesus illustrates this point to us very powerfully. Luke tells us that ...

One of the Pharisees asked [Jesus] to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil (Luke 7:36).

This was a sinful woman. She apparently had a reputation as an immoral person; and was most likely a prostitute. She certainly would have been shy to enter into a Pharisee's house. But something quite dramatic had happened to her. We're not told the details of her personal story; but consider the ways she was giving herself over - in unmistakable acts of humble gratitude and deepest affection - to Jesus for whatever it was that had happened to her. She boldly sought Him out. She wept at His feet. She washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kissed His feet. And perhaps most remarkable of all, she anointed His feet with an expensive bottle of fragrant oil that, no doubt, would have represented a significant personal sacrifice on her part. The Pharisee's were shocked; but Jesus did nothing to stop her lavish displays of love and affection toward Him.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying"This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." So he said, "Teacher, say it." "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to pay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?" Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more." And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but his woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (vv. 37-47).

The Pharisee demonstrated nothing in the way of love and gratitude to Jesus. He didn't see himself as a sinner who was in need of anything from Him. But by contrast, this poor woman knew that she was a sinner, and was convinced that she had been forgiven much by Jesus. And the great motivation for her visible expressions of sacrifice and the humble surrender to Jesus was her love and gratitude to Him for having forgiven her.

Everyone knew that she was a notorious sinner; but everyone could also tell at a glance by her overwhelming love and gratitude that she'd been forgiven. You could tell because her actions showed that she "loved much".

* * * * * * * * * *

Let me ask a question of you that I keep asking myself whenever I read that story: What does your behavior toward the Savior tell the world about your love for Him? Can people tell by your zeal for Jesus - your personal sacrifice for Him, your delight in His word, your obedience to His commands, your devotion to His worship, your faithfulness to fellowship with His family - that you are deeply and passionately in love with Him? If they can't tell that you love Jesus by your life-style and conduct before Him, then by what can they tell? If they don't see by your behavior that you love Him, what does your behavior tell them that you love instead of Him?

As the pastor of a church, I have found that there are two kinds of professing Christians. There are those that you have to keep struggling to motivate to serve in the cause of Christ, and there are the others that are so motivated already that you can't seem to give them enough to do! There are the professing believers who can't seem to find the time to study their Bibles; and there are the others that are barely interested in taking up their time with anything else but studying their Bibles! There are the professing believers that have to be persuaded into coming to God's house for worship on Sunday; and there are the others who would say, with King David,

One thing have I desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple (Psalm 27:4).

There are those professing believers who can't find a prayer in their heart; and there are the others whose hearts are so crammed full of prayers and praises to God that they can't find enough words to utter them! There are professing believers that you can't seem get interested in the things of God unless you hold out the promise that you'll somehow keep them entertained; and there are the others that are so motivated in the things of God that they're wonderfully interesting and entertaining just to be around and watch!

And in the final analysis, the difference between these two types of professing believers isn't in their backgrounds, their up-bringing, their personality features, their capabilities, their education, their social standing, or in any other natural or external quality. The only difference between them is what is summed up in Peter's words, "Whom having not seen you love ..." At the rock-bottom, the one type of believer simply loves Jesus more, and is more grateful to Him, than the other.

I hope you'll allow me to share one of my favorite quotes from the great Puritan preacher, Thomas Vincent. He wrote an entire book on the motivating power of the love of Jesus. His words powerfully express why such a love for Jesus is so motivating in the Christian life. He wrote:

"The life of Christianity consists very much in our love to Christ. Without love to Christ, we are as much without spiritual life as a carcass when the soul is fled from it is without natural life. Faith without love to Christ is a dead faith, and a Christian without love to Christ is a dead Christian, dead in sins and trespasses. Without love to Christ we may have the name of Christians, but we are wholly without the nature. We may have the form of godliness, but we are wholly without the power. Give me thine heart is the language of God to all the children of men, Proverbs 23:26; and "Give me thy love" is the language of Christ to all His disciples.

"Christ knows the command and influence which love to Him, in the truth and strength of it, has; how it will engage all the other affections of His disciples for Him; that if He has their love, their desires will be chiefly after Him. Their delights will be chiefly in Him; their hopes and expectations will be chiefly from Him; their hatred, fear, grief, anger, will be carried forth chiefly unto sin as it is offensive unto Him. He knows that love will engage and employ for Him all the powers and faculties of their souls; their thoughts will be brought into captivity and obedience unto Him; their understandings will be employed in seeking and finding out His truths; their memories will be receptacles to retain them; their consciences will be ready to accuse and excuse as His faithful deputies; their wills will choose and refuse, according to His direction and revealed pleasure.

"All their senses and the members of their bodies will be His servants. Their eyes will see for Him, their ears will hear for Him, their tongues will speak for Him, their hands will work for Him, their feet will walk for Him. All their gifts and talents will be at His devotion and service. If He has their love, they will be ready to do for Him what He requires. They will suffer for Him whatever He calls them to. If they have much love to Him, they will not think much of denying themselves, taking up His cross, and following Him wherever He leads them."1

The great motivational power in the lives of the Christians to whom Peter wrote was this kind of love for Jesus. They were willing to give themselves over utterly, and to suffer the loss of all things completely, for someone they'd never seen - because they loved Him.

The motivating power of their love for Jesus Christ wasn't found in their having "loved" Him once when they first place our trust in Him - and then having little more to do with Him after that. Sadly, that's the sort of "love" for Jesus that many merely "religious" people display. They pray a prayer of faith, and profess a trust in Jesus as their Savior at a point in time; and then, for all practical purposes, that's the last they feel that they need from Him. Such people may be able to say that they "loved" Jesus (past tense); but the fact is, they don't "love" Him (present tense) as the ever-present, guiding passion of their lives. It's the "present tense" sort of love that becomes the great motivation for the Christian life. The "past tense" sort of love for Jesus isn't a motivating love. And worse, it may be, in reality, nothing else but the false hope of a self-deceived sinner still unwittingly lost in his or her sins.

The grammatic construction of Peter's words - "whom having not seen you love" - as they're found in the original Greek, is very informative on this point. When Peter speaks of their "not having seen" Jesus, he uses a form of the verb that points to a past reality that is still true even to the time of his writing. They were people who had not seen Jesus at all. And yet, when he speaks of their love for Jesus, he uses a different tense of the verb that indicates, not a "past", but a "present", continuous, ongoing reality. They were believers that were always, continually, progressively "loving" this Jesus whom they'd never seen. They had something in common with us in this respect - that is, they've never seen Jesus in His bodily presence on earth, as the apostles had. But they loved Him with an ever-present, ever-increasing, ever-fresh love as a continual dynamic in their daily lives. That "ever-present" love for Jesus transformed every other priority in their lives.

* * * * * * * * * *

Consider for a moment what Jesus Himself taught concerning motivational power that our love for Him would have in our lives. He told His disciples, for example "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). He didn't say, "If you fear Me, keep My commandments"; or "If you want what will be best in your lives, keep My commandments;" or, "If you want to earn My favor, keep My commandments." He placed the great motivation for keeping His commandments on our love for Him.

Consider what else He said about this. He said that a keeping of His word was the identifying mark of those who loved Him:

If anyone 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. He who does not love Me does not keep My words ... (John 14:23-24).

Jesus speaks here of a cause-and-effect relationship. The "effect" is that someone would keep His word; and the "cause" is that they love Him. I believe you can safely say from this that if you see someone who sincerely, faithfully and whole-heartedly seeks to keep Jesus' word as a regular pattern of their life, you're looking at someone who truly loves Him; because the great motive for the Christian life is love for Jesus.

Jesus exemplified this same love-motive in relation to His Father:

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love (John 15:9-10).

When He was asked which of the commandments was the greatest - which of the commandments summed up all the rest - He answered; "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). Love is not only the principle behind the law; it's also the motive for keeping it.

Shortly after Jesus' resurrection, as He stood in the midst of the disciples, He turned to Peter and three times asked, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" And when Peter said he did, Jesus said, "Feed My lambs." "Tend My sheep." "Feed My sheep" (John 21:15-17). If Peter loved Jesus, then he was to feed His sheep. Love for Jesus was to be the motivation for Peter's ministry.

The apostle John also spoke to the motivational power of love for Jesus when he wrote, "... This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3). In other words, this is how our love toward God is to be defined and displayed - in obedience to His commandments; just as Jesus had said.

The apostle Paul testified to the same thing with respect to his own life. He wrote, "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14-15). He affirmed, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Perhaps Paul's greatest testimony to the motivating power of love for Jesus in his life is found in Philippians 3. Even though he doesn't directly mention his all-consuming love for Jesus, it's very apparent that such love was the great motivation in his life. He wrote about the things that he used to do in an attempt to 'earn' God's favor for him. And he said,

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:7-14).

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I could try to persuade you that you ought to devote yourselves energetically and sacrificially to live the Christian life. I could work hard to convince you through logic - appeal to your sense of pride and moral dignity - perhaps even manipulate you through guilt - into a daily reading your Bibles, a dedication of your time to prayer, a commitment to regular church attendance, a sacrificially giving of your financial resources, a faithful sharing of your faith, and all the other things that characterize the faithful Christian life. I could try to manipulate you through such means, even though such attempts to motivate have been tried before - and would only have to be tried over and over and over again.

But let's face it: Such tactics don't permanently and powerfully motivate me; and I'm pretty sure they don't motivate you either. And what's more, I'm very certain that, even if I could convince you through such means to live the Christian life, the results would be neither pleasing nor desirable to the Lord Jesus. The fact is, He isn't even interested in your service if He doesn't have your love first (Rev. 2:2-4).

There's a much better way. If the Holy Spirit would see fit to grant you a good, long, hard look at who Jesus is in the perfection of His beauty and in the majesty of His holiness - if the Spirit would cause you to come to grips with the depth of Jesus' condescending love for you in His death on the cross - if the Spirit would point your attention to what Jesus has done for you, what He's doing for you even right now, and what He's committed Himself to do for you in the future - in short, if the Spirit of God would see fit to answer the apostle Paul's prayer with respect to you; that you, "being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge" (Eph. 3:17-19) - then you'd never have to be persuade to live the Christian life again! You will become motivated to make your whole life one great "thank you" to Jesus!

You'll want to live with all your heart for this wonderful Jesus who loves you so very much, "... Whom having not seen you love."

1Thomas Vincent, The True Christian's Love to The Unseen Christ (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), pp. 2-3.

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