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TEXT: I John 4:16
SUBJECT: Baxter on Love #2 (Neighbor)
Tonight, with the Lord's blessing, we'll continue our study of Richard Baxter on Love. Baxter was a Puritan pastor who lived from 1615 to 1691. On theology, he was mixed up sometimes, but on matters of practical living for Christ, nobody wrote better than he.
Last time, we studied him on Loving enemies. At the end, I urged you to name an enemy and do something about loving him this week. How many of you have done that? Have you apologized to people you offended? Have you called someone you "feel funny about"? Have you prayed for someone who hates your guts? If you have--God bless you! But if you haven't, I want to remind you: "It is not hearers of the law who are justified, but doers of the law".
Remember that! This is not an academic exercise. This is real life. If the Lord commands us to "Love our enemies", we're bound to do it--and not just talk about it!
God help us.
Now we come to Loving neighbors.
DEFINITIONS AND ORIGIN
What is "love"? According to Baxter, it is two things:
(1) Admiring what is good in others. Everyone is made in the Image of God, and therefore, has some good in him--which we're bound to recognize and approve of.
(2) Benevolence or doing others good whether they deserve it or not. That's what we mean by "love".
Who is my neighbor? Everyone. The family who live next door to you are your neighbors. The people you work with are your neighbors. The kids you go to school with are your neighbors. The old ladies who drive 30 mph. down the freeway are your neighbors! Everyone is a neighbor. We're obliged to love them all.
Who says so? Richard Baxter says so. But he didn't make it up. It is our Lord Jesus Christ who says to "Love your neighbor as yourself".
Does He think it's important? He does. Next to "Loving the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and mind", it is the most important thing you'll ever do. This is no fine point on church government or the millennium. It's a big one.
WHY DON'T WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS?
We know the Lord wants us to love others. But how often do we obey Him? Or how well? I don't very often or well. Maybe you don't either. Why don't we? That's Baxter's first question.
Here are my excuses: "I'm too shy; I don't know my neighbors; I don't have time; It's dangerous". What are yours? I bet you've got some some. And I bet they're as phony as mine.
Richard Baxter tells us precisely why we don't love our neighbors:
"The plain truth is...selfishness [is] the opposite of love for others".
It's not "society"; it's not "California"; it's not "city life"; it's not "the modern world"; it's not "busy-ness". It's selfishness that keeps us from loving our neighbors!
What do we do about this self-centeredness? Baxter says five things:
"Understand well the nature and malignity of the sin".
In other words, recognize it for what it is--a sin. And not a little trifling sin, but one of the most serious. About it, Baxter says,
1."It is the radical sin of the soul...the cause of all sin in the world...the corruption of all the faculties of the soul...the commonest sin...and the hardest sin to overcome".
2."Consider how [lovable] man would be, what a blessed condition the world and all society would be in, if selfishness were but overcome".
3.Judge good and evil by sober reason and not by brutish sense [or feelings]".
4."Make out by earnest prayer for sanctification".
5."Study much the self-denying example and precepts of your Savior".
Let's not mince words: We don't love our neighbors very much because we love ourselves too much.
What do we do about it? That brings us to Baxter's third question.
HOW DO WE LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS?
Under this heading he gives some practical advice on how to do it. If you know you ought to, here's where to start.
1."Fall out with no man; or if you do, be speedily reconciled; for passions and [quarrels] are the extinguishers of love".
This means don't be sensitive; don't take every little thing as a personal insult. "Overlook transgressions" when you can; forgive them when you can't. Learn how to laugh at silly things. Remember you've done a lot of offensive things too. Do you want to be called on every one? If not, let others slide too. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".
If a falling out occurs, make up as soon as possible. If you're in the wrong--even a teensy, tiny bit--apologize for it. Forgive others even if they don't repent.
Keep in mind: Your ego is a bigger enemy to love than the person who offended you.
One more thing: Remember we live in a Fallen World. And things can't always be worked out. When they can't be, forgive, forget, and move on with your life.
2."Love God truly and you will easily love your neighbor, for you will see God's Image on him or interest in him, and feel all His precepts and mercies obliging you thereunto".
These few words are packed with substance. Baxter says:
1. If you truly love God, you'll love His Image in others--which is there, if you look hard enough!
2. If you love God, you'll care for those He cares for--and that's everyone.
3. If you love God, you'll keep His commandments--which tell you to "Love your neighbor as yourself".
3."Let Christ be your continual study. He is the full revelation of God's love".
It's hard to get a handle on God's love. Until we see it in our Lord Jesus! Did any Man ever "love his neighbor" as Christ did? Think of the little things: The time He took for strangers; the attention He paid them; the concern He felt for them; the help He provided them. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus..."
4."Abhor and beware of an [ugly] disposition which magnifies men's faults, villifies their virtues, and makes them seem worse than they really are".
This means: Don't be moody; don't be prejudiced; don't be self-righteous; don't nitpick. You hate these things in other people. Now hate them in yourself!
5."Avoid the company of backbiters".
Proverbs 13:20. If you get together with complainers and gossips, and so on, you'll be like them.
If you do these things, you'll be a lot more loving than you are. Now do them.
WHY SHOULD YOU LOVE YOUR NEIGHBORS?
Baxter finishes the chapter with a list of motives. They tell us why we should love others.
Some of these he's covered before. I'll be quick with them and spend more time on more original ideas.
1."Consider well the Image of God in man. The worst man is His creature, and you should love the work for the workman's sake".
You know, my dad built a lot of our house and the things in it. His workmanship is first-rate, of course. But I love them for another reason: He made them. I have a quilt my grandmother made back in the sixties. It's nice, but not great. If you gave me a better one, though, I'd still prefer hers. Because it is hers! It's a reminder of her love.
If we looked at other people this way--as the work of our Heavenly Father--we'd love them more than we do.
2."Consider well God's own love to man. He hates their sins more than we do, yet He loves them".
If God doesn't ignore anyone, why should we? If He cares for them, why don't we? Are we holier than God in being good to sinners? More selective than He is in our associates?
3."Think often of Christ's love for mankind".
4."Consider our unity of nature with all men...Even birds and beasts love their kind".
If "birds of a feather flock together" why must we fly apart?
5."Love is the principle of doing good to others".
If you want to do others good, you've got to love them. Nothing else will make you kind or forgiving or patient or generous, or anything else.
6."Love is the bond of society, family, kingdom, and church. The soul of society is gone when love is gone".
7."Loving others is in your own interest"
This is a good point. Though you shouldn't be selfish, there's nothing wrong with being good to yourself. "The merciful man does good to his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh" (Proverbs 11:17).
No one is unhappier than the selfish person. Nothing pleases him, for example. He's suspicious of everyone. He cuts off people who try to love him. He has a bad conscience. If he doesn't repent, he goes to hell. Loving others is good for others. And good for you too!
8."Loving others pleases God".
In this life, that's a good thing. In the life to come, it's even better: "Well done! Good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord".
If we want to be doers of the Word and not just hearers--or preachers--we've got to act on the Word. And there's no better time to do that than "as soon as possible". What I want you to do is to love some neighbor this week. Go out of your way to befriend somebody or help somebody or say a good word to somebody. Now, everyone can do that! Nobody here is locked in solitary confinement! We all see people. Now, let's do more than that: Let's love them in some practical way this week.
May the Love of God go before us. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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