Free to love
FREE TO LOVE (Acts 15:19-35)
The practical ethical implications of the Spirit’s leading can be summed up in one word – LOVE.
1: The obligation to love
2: The law of love
3: The freedom of love
For the last few weeks we’ve been looking at Acts 15. Acts 15 is the central chapter in the book. It deals with one of the most important counsels in church history and settles 2 central doctrines in theology: 1) The nature of salvation and 2) the nature of the church. 1) How does someone get saved 2) How does someone coming into membership in the church.
The answer is, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
· Keeping the law doesn’t save anyone, we can’t earn our way to heaven, we must trust in Christ and what He has done for us in his life, death and resurrection, rather than trust in anything we have, or can, or will do for Him.
· Circumcision of the flesh is no longer the sign of coming into a covenant relationship with God and being the people of God. One comes into membership in the church by grace through faith in Christ. Lineage, or ancestry, or some physical ritual which I do, cannot and does not qualify me to be a part of God’s people, instead it is what God has done for me in Christ, how He has circumcised my heart by faith and adopted me into His church.
· These two doctrines have implications, not just for how we get saved and come into the church, but for how we live out our Christian lives personally and corporately.
· Last week I spend some time looking at how our justification effects our sanctification, or how the grace of the gospel effects our growth.
We looked primarily at Rom 6-8 at the implications of the gospel and the main heading was Freedom.
· By grace through faith I have been freed from the punishment for sin – but I have also been freed from the tyrannical power of the sinful nature.
· I’ve been freed from the condemnation of the law – but I have also been freed from the law as a system of rules designed to regulate my behaviour.
· Instead I’ve been given a new heart, a new nature and Christ’s Spirit leads me on toward righteous living.
So we looked at what I’ve been freed from, but we also looked at what I’ve been freed for.
I’ve been freed for Christ.
· The Spirit leading in my life doesn’t primarily direct me toward rules and regulations – He helps me to see the glory and goodness of Christ, He directs me back to the gospel and all that God has done for me by grace. The unearned, unmerited favour I enjoy with God despite my performance. It’s as I contemplate the gospel and focus on who Christ is and what He is done, that I am increasingly transformed into His image.
· So the Spirit directs me toward Christ- centred, gospel-centred living.
· So I’ve been freed from sin and the law 1)f or Christ and 2) for love. We didn’t get to this last week, so that is the main theme of this mornings message. The practical ethical implications of the Spirit’s leading can be summed up in one word – LOVE.
I’ve entitled this message, “Free to love.”
1: The obligation to love
2: The law of love
3: The freedom of love
So let’s start with our text in Acts 15. Acts 15:19-35
1: The Obligations of Love (19-21)
Let’s focus for a moment on the resolution that this counsel passed.
· We should not trouble the Gentiles who turn to God. We should not burden them with having to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses as was suggested by this erroneous faction in vs 5. We should not put the yolk of the law back on their necks as Peter put it in vs 10.
· Look carefully at vs 28. They are not burdening them with the obligation to keep the law, but they are laying down these 4 things as requirements. NASB says “these essentials.” NKJ = “These necessary things.”
· Though believers are free from the Mosaic law, we are not free from obligation.
So what’s happening here? Are they freeing them from the Law of Moses only to establish a new set of laws? Abandon the 10 commandments of Moses and place them under the 4 commandments of James?
Some take these 4 instructions as moral or ethical and interpret them as a summary of the 10 commandments.
· Things polluted by idols = idolatry in its various forms, which is covered by the first 3 commandments.
· Sexual immorality
· From what has been strangled and from blood, they interpret as a reference to murder, which covers not only murder, but also the envy and coveting which leads to it.
So they see in these 4 instructions, a summary of the 10 commandments and therefore understand James to be freeing them from the specific regulations of the Mosaic Law, but not its moral essence.
The problem with this interpretation is that it contradicts the clear conclusion of the counsel, which is that the Gentiles are not to be burdened with keeping the Mosaic Law. And it stretches the language beyond what it can bear.
· The restriction to refrain from what has been strangled and from blood, clearly refers to dietry restrictions. To makes them a reference to murder is a bit of a stretch. And to see them as an adequate summary of all 10 commandments is even more of a stretch.
These instructions seem to relate more closely with those given in Lev 17-18 than to the 10 commandments given in Ex 20.
· In Lev 17-18 God instructs Israel how to keep themselves pure and distinct while being surrounded by pagan nations.
· He gives them specific instructions about 4 things – pagan sacrifices offered to idols, consumption of blood, how animals are killed and consumed, and laws relating to sexual purity. Those are exactly the 4 issues which James addresses using a summary phrase for each.
· That’s too much of a co-incidence to be ignored and it gives us some insight into the issue James is trying to deal with – the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. How were Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians going to relate to one another in one body without offending each other culturally, or imposing their culture on the other?
· Notice Acts 15:21, James gives the reason for the instructions, in every city Jews have been scattered and synagogues have been established. So he assumes that in every place where the gospel is preached, Jews and Gentiles will come into contact with each other. Those who come to faith in Christ will have to find a way to get along.
· Outside the church they have nothing to do with each other, but in the church they have been brought into one body – how are these 2 groups, with such different cultural and religious backgrounds going to come together and enjoy table fellowship?
· The Jews couldn’t impose the specific regulations of the Mosaic law on the Gentiles and require them to follow all those practices which would make them look just like Jews.
· But neither could Gentiles freedoms be imposed on Jewish believers. Gentiles couldn’t ignore how some of their cultural practices were an offence to the Jews. How could Jews come into their home and enjoy a meal with them if they were going to serve pork?
In other words, I don’t think we should understand these instructions as imposing an absolute ethic, but an ethic of how Jew and Gentile are to relate to each other in lovd
· The Jews shouldn’t impose their Jewishness on the Gentiles in the form of circumcision and other specific practices which are defined in the Mosaic Law.
· But neither should the Gentiles be inconsiderate of Jewish scruples and flaunt their freedom. Out of love for their Jewish brethren they should avoid those things which are most offensive to Jews.
Justification by grace alone through faith alone frees us from obligation to specific Mosaic laws, but not free to live without love for others. Out of love, we will sometimes limit our freedoms.
Examples from Acts (16:1-5; 21:17-28)
· Still very much in the context of this letter with instructions on how Jews and Gentiles are to relate – here we have Timothy who has a Jewish mother and Gentile father. Though the counsel has just ruled that the Gentile converts should not be required to be circumcised, yet Paul has Timothy circumcised. Why? Because he’s considering the Jews. Paul doesn’t want to put any stumbling block in the way of the Jews who knew that Timothy has a Gentile father. He goes out of his way to makes sure the Jews wouldn’t have any reason to shun or ignore Timothy as they went about their ministry.
· Paul and his ministry companion take another trip up to Jerusalem after the third missionary journey. They report all that God had been doing.
o 20-21. They rejoice over what is being done among the Gentiles, but note the criticism that is coming from many believers who of Jewish background… This is a discussion among believers, Jews who have come to faith in Christ. Paul is instructing the Jews to forsake their Jewishness. “You teach all the Jews among the Gentiles to forsake Moses.”
o 22-24 Do this, so that they will know that you yourself live according to the Law of Moses. This will assure them that you are not teaching Jews to forsake the law but yourself live according to the Law.
o 25-26 This is not about imposing Jewish law on the Gentiles, but about assuring the Jews that we are not requiring fellow Jews to forsake their customs.
o 27-28: This is exactly the accusation they bring – that Paul is teaching against Judaism.
So I think it would be amis to take Acts 15 as laying down specific, abiding ethical laws for Gentiles going forward. Instead they are taking cognisance of the fact that in every place Jews and Gentiles need to live together at peace.
Though they have been freed from the law, they are not free to live without love and love considers how my actions impact others.
· They are being taught how to apply Rom 12:16 and to live in harmony with one another.
· They are doing what Paul instructs in Tit 2:10 adorn the gospel of God and not give either Jew or Gentile cause to be offended.
They are free from obligation to Moses, but they are not free from the obligation to love by considering others and not being an offense.
2: the Law of love (Rom 14; 1 Cor 9)
Let’s have a look at 2 new testament passages which expand on this issue to see how Paul applies these regulations as he teaches the Gentiles churches.
· Rom 13:8-10. Love is the principle which underlies the whole law.
· There are absolute rights and wrongs when it comes to love. But what happens when it comes to specific cultural practices and we are not sure what is right or wrong?
· Rom 14:1 talking about quarrelling over opinions.
· 14:5 differences with regard observing certain holy days or sabbaths, and eating certain foods.
· 14:6 it depends on our own conscience and motives – not what we eat but why we eat or don’t eat. So vs 12 – we will each give an account to God and should not judge one another.
· But we pick up now in vs 13
· 13 We shouldn’t judge another’s free choices, but neither should we be a stumbling block to another
· 14 This issue is not sin in and of itself, it depends on motives, context and conscience.
· 15 – we need to consider the impact that my freedoms, my choices are having on others. Even if I can do this thing with a free conscience, I should consider how it will effect my brother in Christ.
· 16 – we should’n’t allow others to impose their rules on our freedoms, but neither should our freedoms become a cause of stumbling or offence to another.
· 19 – loving others, considering others, pursuing peace is the overarching principle, the goal I should be aiming for in all my choices.
· 20-23 summarizes the whole argument.
This is called the law or principle of love. We have been freed from the Mosaic Laws, but are bound by the Law or principle of love.
1 Cor 8
· 1 Cor 8:1; 4-13 – Paul is expanding on the instructions given by James about eating food sacrificed to idols. It is clear that this is not absolutely wrong as long as its not a part of pagan worship. If it happened to be sacrificed to an idol – so be it, as long as you are not eating it as part of pagan worship to an idol and as long as your eating doesn’t cause your brother to stumble into sin. Have to consider the impact of my freedoms on others.
1 Cor 9:19-23
· He is free, but willing has become a slave to all.
· The way he lives out his freedom changes based on how his behaviour will impact others for Christ.
· He has been freed to love, to consider others and what would be most beneficial to them and particularly to their response and growth in the gospel.
· This is the Law of Christ or the Law of love which Christ left us as Christians.
Illustration: driving past school kids
If I am really concerned about the wellbeing and safety of some school kids who are playing next to the road – I will slow down and make sure that my driving won’t do them any harm because I care about their safety. If that’s the case, I am not doing it because there is a sign telling me to slow down and I’m afraid that if I don’t I’ll get a hefty fine. In both cases I reduce speed – but the one is motivated by fear, the other by love.
But the obligation to love becomes an inner obligation rather than one guided by a set of external laws.
LOVE IS AN INNER OBLIGATION
· When we love our wife and buy her flowers as an expression of our love – that’s something totally different from being required to buy her flowers by some marital contract.
· When your wife tells you – you better buy me flowers or else – you’ve just lost the freedom to buy her flowers as an expression of love. Grace frees us for love.
· When you love your children, you don’t need to be obligated to give them money each month. You definitely don’t go around asking other parents whether you should give them 10% of your gross of net income. Yet that is the question I am asked more than any other when it comes to tithing.
WE DON’T SPEND ENOUGH TIME THINKING HOW TO MOST LOVE OTHERS OUT OF LOVE FOR CHRIST.
How would this course of action be loving or unloving? How is adultery, or gossip, or bribery contrary to love? How is giving and serving and forgiving an expression of love?
God doesn’t just want us to be obeying commands, but consciously and purposefully and lavishly loving others – because we ourselves have been so greatly loved.
So we’ve looked at the obligations of love, the law of love. Finally the Freedom of Love
3: The freedom of Love (Gal 5)
Let’s not confuse love with feelings. When I say we are free to love, I don’t mean we are free to do whatever we feel like doing. True love is not directed by feelings but directs our feelings and our wills. True love obligates us, love constrains us – a couple who really love each other will obligate themselves in the covenant of marriage – to love each other no matter what. But this is a willing obligation which is grounded in love rather than the external obligation of law.
Out love for Christ and for others – we freely give of ourselves and our time and our money and our resources. We freely lay down our lives for Christ and for others – and in so doing – we more than fulfil the legal stipulations of the law.
Lets look at how Gal 5 brings these all together – hopefully this chapter will make a whole lot more sense to you now….
· 5:1-2 salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone changes the way we must live – it frees us from slavery to live by grace.
· 3-6 we are free from the obligation to the law – vs 6 free to live by faith working through love.
· 7-14 we have been set free – not to go back and serve the flesh. We’ve been set free from the controlling power of the flesh to love Christ and others and vs 14 love is the underlying principle of the law – true love leads us to fulfil the law.
· 15-18 We have been freed from the Law as the means for restraining the flesh. The Spirit is the agent who subdues the remnants of the flesh and leads us toward true righteouness.
· 19-25 He sets the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in contrast. The fruit of the Spirit is the righteousness that He produces which is contrary to the misdeeds which the flesh produces.
· Note the contrast – in contrast to immorality, impurity enmity strife, jealousy – you have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness – the Spirit leads me to be able to love others rather than bite and devour them and use them for selfish gain.
· Look at vs 23 against such things there is no law. The fruit of the Spirit is not against the law but fulfils the law.
· 24 Those who belong to Christ have had their flesh crucified with Christ and by grace freed from its controlling power and by grace given the Spirit to lead them to righteousness and given the propensity to love, to truly love Christ and others…
· 6:1-2 – to bear one another’s burdens, to help one another – is to fuflill the law of Christ which is the law of love.
1: The obligation of love – love has very real ethical obligations, it is not merely governed by feelings. But those obligations are primarily internal rather than external.
2: The law of love – the Spirit doesn’t lead us back to laws to regulate our behaviour, He leads us back to Christ and to the grace we have in the gospel and that leads us to live willingly and freely under the law of Christ which is the law of love.
3: The freedom to love – By grace we have been freed from the tyranny of the sinful nature and the Spirit produces Christ’s fruit in us and His fruit is love.
As we come to know and understand God’s love for us, we are full of God’s fullness and God’s own glory and character is put on display.
Therefore we must walk in love….and love becomes the sign and seal of those who belong to Christ – they will know we are Christians by our love – a love which is selfless and sacrificial and supernatural, a love which puts God’s own love on display.