In this introductory sermon to the “Cross Examination” series, Greg lays out the all-important challenge to live in love in the way that is defined by Christ on the cross. This sermon also details how this mandate to love goes against the grain of our culture which is dominated by divisiveness and judgment.
This sermon introduces our new series entitled “Cross Examination,” which explores the call to live in love, a central teaching that Woodland has emphasized over the last two decades. While some might find this repetitive, we can never actually outgrow or move beyond it. The call to live in love is absolutely central to the life of the Christian, and because it is so important, we need to be saturated in this teaching repeatedly.
This topic is crucial in our current setting, which is characterized by toxic divisiveness. Our culture is devoid of love and jammed-packed with judgments—the very kind of judgments Jesus forbids. There hasn’t been this level of hostility and division among Americans since the Civil War, and tragically, the church has been caught up in these polarizing judgments. Everything depends on our learning to love others, including our worst enemies. To love like this we must become aware that we are deluged with messages and powers to keep us from loving.
In addition to seeing how our culture is operating in a way that is antithetical to love, we also must ascertain what love actually means. Because the English language uses the word “love” in so many ways, it is important that we understand the love that looks like God. The Bible is very specific about this. In 1 John 3:16 we read: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Love is ascribing worth to another at cost to oneself. It means that we are agreeing with God that a person has unsurpassable worth, and was worth Jesus dying for, regardless of how they treat others or what they think. This is cruciform love and it is our central mandate.
Paul writes, “Be imitators of God… live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:2) and “Above all, clothe yourselves with love…” (Colossians 3:14). The most important thing that we can do is to love others. Love is the mark of a Christ follower.
The opposite of love is judgement, which is highlighted in the focus scripture quoted above. We cannot love and judge others at the same time. It is not our calling to judge others. We are only called to love them and entrust all judgment to God.
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10 thoughts on “Our Central Mandate”
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This is a brilliant message. Thanks Greg. I get and embrace our central mandate as Christians. That said, I cannot help but continue to struggle with how to deal with other Christians who by their very words and actions, in my opinion, are dangerous to a free and democratic society. While I must love them as Christ does, I might also be called to be, in an activist sense, very much against them. One cannot deny that in America right now there is a fight going on for the very soul and fabric of the nation. This fight is also being played out in a very real and direct way within the general Christian community. How on earth can I lovingly embrace my Christian brother or sister as Christ does while at the same time feeling the abolute need to stand against all that they stand for politically and socially and even theologically? How can I rationally talk to people and find solutions with these same people who live in a parallel universe of epic proportions? Love is the central mandate, yes indeed, but the practical on the ground reality seems much, much different. Lord have mercy.
Hi Matthew! Response from Greg:
Thanks for the compliment and for your question. If I’m hearing you correctly, it seems you sense a conflict between a) the call to love your fellow Christians (as well as everyone else) and b) the “absolute need” you feel to “stand against all that they stand for politically and socially and even theologically.” Is that about right?
Assuming this is the issue you’re wrestling with, the first thing I would say to you is that, if there is indeed a conflict between “a” and “b,” then Jesus and the NT make it perfectly clear that you must make sure that you follow “a,” even if it means abandoning “b.” You heard the scripture I read yesterday (which is just a tip of the biblical iceberg): “ABOVE ALL, cloth yourself in love.” This is THE most important thing – even more important than saving democracy! So too, Jesus says, “love your enemies and bless those who persecute you, THAT YOU MAY BE CHILDREN OF YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN” (Mt 5:44-45). Loving like the Father loves is THE criteria that makes it evident that we are children of our Father! What could be more important.
Also, bear in mind that when Jesus mentions “enemies” to his first century Jewish audience, the first thing that would pop into everyone’s mind would be “The ROMANS.” The Romans ruled by terrorizing people. They were enemy #1 to Jews. I dare say that Rome was a far worse enemy of first century Jews than your politically-misguided fellow Christians are to you, or to America. If there is a conflict between “a” and “b”, then the only biblical response can be to chose “a.”
But the second thing I would say in response to your question is that I don’t believe there is any inherent conflict between the command to love unconditionally, on the one hand, and the need for us to sometimes resist a person or group intent on harming others. Jesus was pretty strong in his resistance and rebuke of the religious authorities of his day, yet, as the very Incarnation of divine love, we can have no doubt that Jesus loved these authorities. Indeed, he later gave his life for them! So, there is a time when we must resist, but we must do so not only out of love for those who might be harmed by a person or group, but also out of love for this person or group.
Now, in Matthew 5:39 (I believe) Jesus says, “do not resist an evil-doer, but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well.” It may sound like Jesus is simply saying, “Let evil doers have their way,” but the Greek word for “do not resist” is antistemi and it has the connotation of “resist with force” or “resist in kind.” So Jesus is saying, “don’t respond to a push with a push.” Rather, the WAY we resist them must reflect our conviction that these people have unsurpassable worth. WHATEVER we do, it must be done in love (1 Cor 16:14). We can get in the way of evil and try to interrupt it, but we can note hate or harm.
In short, it’s okay for you to believe your political views are right and that those of your fellow Christians are wrong and maybe even dangerous. But you must communicate to these people – these “enemies” — your profound love FOR THEM, which is why you want to see them set from (what you believe to be) their bondage to lies. But this means doing I Corinthians 13 to them. Spend time getting to personally know some of these people. Try to understand the world from their perspective. Patiently and careful listen to their concerns. And when you respond, always be kind, gentle, humble, and empathetic. That is just what love does.
For the cause of Christ,
Thanks so much Greg for the comprehensive response. I so appreciate the work you and all the others do at Woodland Hills Church. Now I have to go have a think about all this.
While I have my suspicions, an interesting thing is I don’t know for sure which of the two main political tribes you’d identify with and and which you’d find problematic by your (appropriately) distanced wording in your question! I certainly personally have friends you could slot on either side, all with thorough arguments as to why they’re right and why the Other hastens the nation’s perdition. And forced to enlist myself, I can’t say it would be difficult to discern which camp I’d gravitate towards either!
But may I point out the similarities between how the tribes behave as well. With the tilt of a Kingdom perspective both are fighting for the same throne of power over the other. And the more intense the fight gets, the more both seem to embrace more and more top-down authoritarian measures – of course self-justified as necessary because just look at what the other side wants to do! – which, to me, is increasingly opposite of the bottom-up self-sacrificial orientation Christ modeled and perfected.
Finally, may I gently caution against the danger of letting any human political system become sacrosanct – even democracy! Not that I mean to advocate for any other system – perhaps democracy is indeed the best of the bunch – but if you’ll permit some not-so-serious exegesis of Romans 3:23 I’ll quite liberally apply that to human political systems even more so than humans ourselves!
Thanks so much Vigya. Your word of caution is well taken. While I much prefer living in a democracy rather than any other political system, it´s clear that no system is absolutely perfect and that the church in some sense suffers even in very free societies. I suppose at the end of the day I am trying to distance myself from politics and party agendas (right or left), but it´s hard when you live in a democracy and are asked to participate both in the discussion and the process.
This sermon was pure 🔥
Thanks, Greg, for this. I couldn’t agree more with everything you just said. I wanted to share in return a few thoughts I had as I was listening to your sermon. The first was actually more of a vision. I pictured two people fiercely tugging on the opposite ends of a rope, each trying desperately to pull the other over to their position. Then I saw Jesus come grab the rope right in the middle and pull both combatants in a third direction, just in time too. For had they continued to fight against each other, whilst standing on the road, they would have been crushed by the oncoming truck which they never noticed was headed their way. I believe Jesus wants Christians to pull the various debates and culture wars in an entirely new direction, and we do this by prioritizing loving one another above all other causes, no matter how important they may be. The second thought was actually a reminder of something I’ve been thinking about recently, which is that loving others is not just our calling, it is also the only tool we really have which works if our desire truly is to make the world a better place. In other words, I think there is a pragmatic argument to be made in favour of this mandate. Consider climate change. Right now there is a near unanimous consensus among scientists that if we humans do not radically change our patterns of behaviour, the planet we live on will become increasingly unliveable for humans (and many, many other animals and plant species as well). Understandably, bringing about these changes is an extremely important matter. However, here’s the catch, it seems like the more people press for these changes, the more others dig in and vow never to change or allow their freedoms to be taken away. So, if changing behaviour is extremely important, but the methods currently being used are only serving to increase polarization, then it follows that we need a new method. Enter selfless love. I truly believe that the only way to change the behavioural patterns which need to change is to first change the hearts and minds of those who deny the importance or even reality of climate change. In turn, I further believe that hearts and minds will only change after folks stop treating each other as evil, as inhuman, as stupid, as enemies. We can only change the hearts and minds, on the scale required to save our planet, by loving one another as we love ourselves. In sum, the only way, I believe, to actually achieve our secondary aim of saving our planet is to strive towards our primary aim of loving others as ourselves. (By the way, I think the same goes for political, proactive pacifism, but that’s for another time, perhaps 😉
Anyways, thanks again for this timely and timeless message. I appreciate you brother!
Thanks so much Charles.
This is so good! Thank you. Greg Boyd’s scholarship, preaching and example re-vitalized my Jesus-following from a great distance over many travels. As a former socially approved verbal aggressor (trial lawyer), retired now in the SW, sometimes in my career I acted as a part-time judge (pro tempore) and it was my secular job to judge and enact penalty. Circumstances, and other creative choices, replaced that polarizing career, which helped, but the Woodland Hills lens on cross-and-Christ-centered love has filled in the gaps.
In my experience it’s far from easy, even as Jesus followers, mentally to source “love one another” despite people’s behavior. But well worth the effort. And, even if grudgingly realized, exactly what we’re called to do. Merely the increased peace of mind and knowing God’s love ever more deeply would make it worthwhile, and other spiritual gifts from the practice come forward in consciousness as the flip side of the sacrificial love required to love those God does (everybody).
Consciously now, away from the judgmental norms of my professional career, I pray daily: To love and not judge; to forgive others as I ask to be forgiven; to be of service where I can; and also to detach lovingly from enabling anybody else’s self-destruction as from addiction (in that I’m not God and cannot fix what’s inherently a spiritual problem), but I can still pray and provide tangible resources in equal measure if asked, as to an inebriated barefoot woman on the sidewalk who requested a couple of things I had in my car — a pair of thick socks and a granola bar — to make it down the street to a social services outpost. Lately I carry food and supplies in the car as more and more people are in need, street panhandling, and may fear “the system.” These small actions change me from the inside out, because at any time in our lives we might find ourselves among “the least of these” among all of God’s children equally loved, and the small actions are not judgment but a method of learning how to love.
So I’m learning, despite my old “programming,” and for example, recently expressed my concerns and then walked away from local political conflict — our City council and hedge-fund-owned electric utility did not inform neighborhoods/citizens in advance of potentially dangerous aspects of high voltage “development” — and left it in God’s hands. I pray now for everyone’s physical safety under the infinite ever-present touch of the Holy Spirit to heal and comfort us, and with a calmer sense researched that there was no definitive evidence of harm from the electric company and the City requirements of advance notice were a bit ambiguous. As importantly, the fight and “being right” no longer provides personal pleasure. There’s so much more to do under God’s reign and rule than constantly swing at the windmills of man’s vast social, political, environmental and economic changes playing out around the globe. And it leads to inner peace to let go/let God and love those in secular power who make decisions I don’t like. For any chance of meaningful change, it will be through the love of God and the cruciform Word of Jesus Christ, not through the infighting of humans scrapping for the last secular words.
Glory be, we have a wonderful God! God’s timing and all that, but still: Come Jesus.