Read Matthew 8:5-12.

One of the hardest, most demanding challenges in life is to love another person. Love opposes selfishness, arrogance, pride, and self-centered existence. Love champions kindness, placing self second, valuing someone else more the you value yourself, and service. We Americans often find love extremely challenging.

The more an adult child differs from Mom or Dad's values, the more obvious the demands of love become. Quickly we learn we can love the child and reject the values.

One of the hardest, most demanding challenges among Christians is to love another Christian who differs from you. Among Christians, love makes our personal selfishness very evident. Love makes our personal arrogance very evident. Love makes our personal pride very evident. Love makes our personal self-centered existence very evident. When we need to be kind, caring, encouraging, and to value a Christian with whom we disagree, love becomes extremely challenging.

The more Christians differ with each other, the more the demands of love become evident. Quickly we learn (or need to learn!) that we can disagree significantly, but still love each other.

As a companion reading to Matthew 8:5-12 that we read at the opening of our assembly, I want us to read together John 10:7-16.
So Jesus said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd."

  1. Several times Jesus declared plainly that simply being an Israelite was not enough to make a person a part of God's kingdom.
    1. Often those statements slide by us because we are not first century Jews.
      1. I seriously doubt that Jesus' statements slide by his Jewish audiences.
      2. On several occasions, like the limited commission in Matthew 10, he referred to the first century Jewish people as "the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
      3. In the two readings we shared this evening, Jesus said:
        1. A gentile Roman solder demonstrated more faith than he has seen in anyone in Israel.
        2. Non-Jews would come from all over the world to share the eternal feast (their understanding of what we refer to as heaven) with the Jewish forefathers while those Jewish people would be rejected.
        3. He had sheep who were not Israelites that he would bring to himself.
    2. If you would like to get a "taste" of what Jesus said, consider this.
      1. That is like Jesus saying to us that he has seen more faith in a Muslim than in any member of the Church of Christ he has met.
      2. That is like Jesus saying to us that people from denominations will enter heaven, but the Church of Christ will be rejected.
      3. That is like Jesus saying that he has disciples who never heard of the Church of Christ that he will bring to himself.
    3. Do you think statements like that would slip by you?
      1. Absolutely not--that would get our attention fast!
      2. Those statements got Israel's attention fast, also.
      3. How would you like for Jesus to refer to us as the lost people or say he found more faith among the people that we say have questionable spirituality than he ever found in us?
      4. Those Israelites were not stupid!

  2. When Jesus made statements like that, the statements either infuriated prominent people or confused many people.
    1. We should not have any problem understanding that!
      1. Those Jews could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, "God used His strong arm to deliver our forefathers from slavery in Egypt."
      2. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, "God sustained our forefathers in the wilderness."
      3. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture say, "God gave our forefathers this land."
      4. They could say (and likely did), does not scripture call this nation the people of God?
    2. In Jesus' declarations what he said in these matters simply did not make sense to them.
      1. Israel was synonymous with spirituality!
        1. God delivered them!
        2. God gave them the written scripture!
        3. God sent them the prophets!
        4. God called them the people of God!
        5. They were the people God promised Abraham!
        6. Surely some of their forefathers made horrible mistakes, but they had corrected the mistakes.
        7. They knew the right God!
        8. They belonged to the living God!
      2. God is going to take people who are not Jews into heaven and leave first century Israel out?
        1. That cannot be right!
        2. In fact, that idea is just plain stupid!
        3. Jesus simply does not know what he is talking about in these matters!

  3. It was the unquestioned understanding, "God loves us best! God loves us too much to save people who are not Jews! God could never reject us! Look who we are! Look at our history!"
    1. They had thought for so long that they were God's people that they could not think any other way.
      1. Yet, what Jesus told them was the truth.
      2. However, they were certain it was not the truth.
    2. Their problem: they placed their confidence in "who we are" and in their ancestry, not in the fact they followed God's will and purposes.
    3. If we are not extremely careful, we can duplicate their problem: we can place our trust in our identity and our association with the American restoration movement.

  4. I hope you can see clearly one of the mistakes first century Israel made, and see how they were out-of-step with God's purposes first promised to Abraham, "And in you all families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3)
    1. I want to challenge you to think with me.
      1. I have been preaching and teaching for over 50 years.
      2. In that time I have seen and experienced a lot of changes in the church.
        1. Most of these changes have been neither good nor bad.
        2. They have just been changes.
        3. Without doubt one of the biggest challenges I have faced in all the changes is learning that there are many different ways to learn, many different ways to spiritually develop--not everyone learns and grows in the same way!
        4. For example, when I began preaching, in my area most church buildings were just one room.
          1. There was no education department.
          2. There were no class rooms.
          3. There were no youth furnishings.
          4. In my home congregation, for a long time we divided everyone into three groups: adults up front, grades 1 through 6 in one back corner, and grades 7 through 12 in the other back corner.
        5. In contrast, it took me 3 months to learn my way around this building, and I may not have been to every room yet.
      3. With all that has changed, what is the goal?
        1. Why do we have class rooms? Youth programs? Teaching aids? Classes for age groups?
        2. Is it just to have them? Or to have a sizable building? Or to keep up with other religious groups? No!
        3. The purpose is spiritual growth.
        4. If a 7th grader was in a 1st grade class, he would be and should be bored.
        5. If a 1st grader was in a 7th graders class, he would be and should be mystified.
        6. No matter what the age, the goal is the same--spiritual growth and development.

  5. We are a congregation with lots of diversity.
    1. We have people with all kinds of religious and social backgrounds.
      1. We face all kinds of challenges each week.
      2. We face all kinds of temptations each week.
      3. Some by necessity work in environments that pretty well beat them up every week.
    2. When we assemble on Wednesday nights, several things occur simultaneously.
      1. In the Family Life Center, "Peak of the Week" meets--it is a singing, praying, discussion-oriented group.
      2. A large class meets in this room--it is a text centered class that is mostly lecture with some interaction.
      3. Typically there is an adult class upstairs--I think Gary Brown is leading that class this quarter on the Holy Spirit; it usually is a subject study.
      4. The youth group meets to address the challenges of teenagers today.
      5. The college group meets to address the challenges of the college student today.
    3. And it is all okay--we just want teens and adults to be somewhere that encourages them to grow and spiritually develop.

  6. We want the same thing to happen on Sunday evening.
    1. For the summer months, some of the small groups will combine here at the building and continue their discussion study until the fall.
    2. We will continue here in the auditorium to have a lecture focused on the text.
    3. Kids for Christ will continue to meet upstairs.
    4. The youth group will continue its classes and focus.
    5. The college group will continue its classes and focus.
    6. And it is okay--because the objective is spiritual development.
      1. Where people go is their choice.
      2. We just want everyone to go somewhere!
      3. It is not a matter of acceptance or rejection--it is a matter of growth!
      4. It is not a matter of faithfulness or unfaithfulness--it is a matter of spiritual development.
      5. Do not measure people by your personal preferences; encourage everyone to grow.
    7. Being diverse is okay! Encourage! Accept the challenge to love!

I want to issue a challenge to all of us. When we conclude on Sunday evening, do not rush off. Do not see how quickly you can leave. Circulate! Meet and talk in the foyer and halls. Meet and talk in the family life center! Make it your goal to help everyone feel loved, appreciated, and a part!

As we see people growing closer to God, rejoice! If you are growing closer to God, I am not going to complain!

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 22 May 2005

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell