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TEXT: I John 4:16

SUBJECT: Baxter on Love #3: (Love the Godly)

Tonight brings us to the third sermon in our study of Richard Baxter on Christian Love. Baxter was a Puritan pastor who lived from 1615 to 1691. Not everything he wrote is of the highest quality, but his advice for Christian living is the best I've seen outside the Bible.

Thus far, we've studied him on Loving your enemies and on Loving your neighbor. Now we come to Loving the godly.

This--you'd think--would be easy. But if you read the Bible and are honest with yourself, you'll know better. It is "Good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity". But it's not easy. Baxter can help us on this one.

First, he tells us what "love" is. It is two things: approval and benevolence. We're bound to recognize the good in others and to admire it. We're also obliged to be good to others--even if they don't deserve it. This is what Baxter means by "love".

Should we love other believers? Baxter takes it for granted. Of course we should. The Bible says so: "Love the brotherhood" says I Peter 2:17; "Let brotherly love continue" adds Hebrews 13:1; "May the Lord make you increase and abound in love one for another" says I Thessalonians 3:12.

WHO ARE THE GODLY?

If we're to love the godly, we first have to know who they are. Baxter tells us:

"All those who profess to be such and whom you cannot disprove".

This means you're to give others the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assuming they're hypocrites, you're to assume they're truly saved, unless you have strong evidence to the contrary. A good rule of thumb: Judge others with the same charity you'd judge yourself.

And so, "the godly" Baxter says, are people who profess faith in Christ and demonstrate some grace in their lives. Don't demand perfection; don't demand maturity. Think the best you can of others. Don't be blind or foolish. Be generous.

WHY SHOULD YOU LOVE THE GODLY?

To this question, Baxter offers ten answers. You ought to love the godly because:

1.They are the children of God.

"They are not only His creatures, but His adopted children. And are they not honorable and amiable who are so near to God?"

Believers are the children of God. We all know this theologically. But how often do we apply it to our everyday lives? If you would remember, "That annoying woman is the daughter of God", I bet she wouldn't seem half as annoying to you. No! You'd treat her like a Princess. Because, as child of the King, she is one.

2.They are the brothers of Jesus Christ, His fellow heirs, and members of His body.

Again, we know these things as doctrine. But how often do we practice them? If a man is a member of Christ's body, then abusing him is abusing Christ. If that man is our Lord's brother, then we can't dislike him without displeasing his Big Brother. And if he is a fellow heir of Christ, how can we treat him as worthless?

3.They are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

God's Spirit makes the believer's body into His temple. If the old Temple was loved by devout Jews, how can we ignore or mistreat today's Temple of the Holy Spirit?

4.They are redeemed by a very high price.

"Think of the precious price that was paid for their redemption. If you estimate things by their price, how highly must you value them!"

5.They are loved by God.

"And should we not dearly love them who are so dearly beloved of God?"

6.They are our own brethren.

This was a powerful argument in Baxter's day. In his society, members of the family were loved--because they were members of the family. Let a man be the worst scoundrel, yet if he was in the family, he was loved and cared for. In those days, families felt a loyalty rarely known today.

But whatever we think of our brothers and sisters in the flesh, let us highly esteem our family in Christ.

7.They are our colleagues.

"They are our companions in labor; they are our fellow soldiers".

You don't have to be best friends with everyone at work. But you've got to get along. For the sake of the work. Fighting carpenters aren't driving many nails. Quarrelling secretaries aren't typing many letters. If you don't love Christians because of who they are, then love them for the sake of the work you have to do! This is doubly true of soldiers. Men in the army needn't be best friends, but they must work together. Or lose the war and die.

8.They are useful to God and to His Church.

Believers are "equipped for every good work". This work glorifies God and does His people good. If you can't admire others for who they are, at least recognize the good they can do. If--that is--they're encouraged to do it by your love.

9.They will soon be perfect.

"All of their graces will shortly be perfected and all their infirmities done away".

You see something you don't like in a brother. You tell him about it--and he doesn't change. You pray for him--and he doesn't change. You wait for him--and he doesn't change. This is very frustrating. It hinders love. Until you remember, his faults are very, very short-lived! So what if you have to put up with him for fifty years? What's that compared to eternity? You're brother is only a child now. Even if he's eighty years old! When he comes to maturity in heaven, he'll be just the kind of person God wants Him to be. Forever.

10.They will go to heaven.

"They shall see the glory of God and live forever in His presence. They shall be employed in His perfect love and praise; and you shall be their companion. And those that must sing hallelujahs to God in such a harmonious and blessed choir, should be dear to each other [in this life]".

These are ten reasons to love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Did you notice the one theme running through the ten items? It is God. They're His children and His heirs; they're loved by Him and have His gifts; He'll perfect them one day and receive their praise forever.

This means you're to love your brethren for God's sake. Not for something in them, but for something in Him. Loving and esteeming God means loving and esteeming His people, I John 4:20.

WHY DON'T YOU LOVE THE GODLY

On loving the godly, some of us are better "hearers of the Word...than doers". You recognize the duty, but you don't do it. You resolve to do it, but you don't do it. You pray about doing it, but still, you don't do it. Why don't you love the godly? Or love them more? Baxter has several "enemies" to loving the brotherhood.

1."The first enemy of Christian love is the inward unregeneracy and carnality of the mind".

This is not something we like to hear. But hear it, we must: Many professed Christians don't love their brethren because they are Christians in name only. If the Bible teaches anything at all, it teaches that believers love each other. Not perfectly, of course; no one does that. But with all our inconsistencies, we do love each other.

"We know we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death" (I John 3:14).

2."Another enemy to Christian love is selfishness or inordinate self-love".

Let's go back to our definitions of love. Love
1. admires the good in others and
2. does others good. But what if you admire yourself way too much? What's likely to happen? You're likely to look down on others. And what if you're always and excessively taking care of yourself? Answer: You won't be taking care of others! Oprah is wrong! We don't need higher self-esteem. We need higher esteem for others, Philippians 2:3:

"Let each esteem others better than himself".

3."Christian love is often diminished and marred by degenerating into a carnal sort of love".

This is very insightful. You start off loving someone for Christ's sake. But soon you find other things to love him for--like a mutual interest in sports or movies or cars, and so on. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. But, what if his interests change? Or conflict with yours? What if no longer goes to the movies? What if he now thinks Ford is better than GM? Then what? Then you lose interest in him. Why? Because you didn't love him for Christ's sake, but for the sake of something else.

4."Passions and impatience are great enemies to Christian love".

The best friends disagree once in a while. When handled well, this doesn't lessen their love for each other at all. But what if it isn't handled so well? What if it leads to angry words? Or "the cold shoulder"? Or a punch in the nose? Then what? Love is lost because of passion.

5."Self-ignorance and partiality are great hindrances to love".

What does this mean? Baxter makes it clear:

"When it makes men overlook or extenuate all their faults, which in others they take for wicked crimes. And when they lack compassion for others because they do not know how bad they are themselves".

This is very sharp. When I don't notice my own sins, I'm sure to spot all of yours. When I forget what a sinner I am, I won't feel compassion for other sinners. Pride! What an obstacle to brotherly love!

6."Censoriousness is an enemy to brotherly love".

That's an old fashioned word. It means an eagerness to find fault. Finding fault is like picking at a sore. It never makes the sore better, but can only inflame it and spread the infection. Be very careful about this! Don't give in to moodiness; don't be easily provoked; when you're just dying to same something negative, say nothing at all.

7."Factions and parties are [some] of the greatest enemies of Christian love".

When we love others because they belong to the same church or because they agree with us on some point of doctrine or practice, we're not practicing brotherly love. We're doing no more than the publicans who "Greet those who greet them and love those who love them".

I don't see why church membership or Calvinism or Baptist distinctives or a view of the Millennium can unite us when Christ cannot!

8."Conversing with malicious, wicked, or [critical] persons is a great hindrance to brotherly love".

Gossips have a way of "Separating chief friends". If you want to love others more--rather than less--stay away from people who are negative and critical of other people.

9."Too high expectations are great enemies of love".

When you expect the brethren to be angels, we're soon disappointed. And this has a way of making us resent them, rather than love them.

"It is better to trust the LORD than to put confidence in man".

10."The placing of man's goodness in lesser matters in which it does not consist is also a common enemy of love".

All believers are holy to some degree. We ought to find their holiness, love them for it, and don't become distracted over incidental matters. If they're not friendly, so what? If they don't have the best manners? What's the big deal? The important thing is holiness. If a brother or sister has that, be content.

HOW DO YOU LOVE THE GODLY MORE THAN YOU DO?

1."Get the love of God, Christ, and His Spirit in you, and you cannot but love His people".

This cannot be overemphasized. The number one reason we don't love believers very much is we don't love God very much. If you were filled with His love, it would be much easier to love those He died to save.

2."Observe their graces more than their infirmities".

Earlier, Baxter urged us to be slow to find fault. Here, he wants us to be swift at finding grace in our brethren. The newest believer has many good traits. Find them. And concentrate on them.

3."Do not be tempters or provokers of them to any sin".

This, I think, is the best point Baxter makes in the chapter. What do you find most offensive in your brethren? It is their sin. Now, if you don't want them to sin, quit provoking them to do it. That's an easy one! If I don't like your temper, why am I speaking "harsh words that stir anger"?

4."Stir up their graces and converse with them in the exercises of grace".

In other words, if you want to see them holy, stimulate them to it by a good example and godly conversation.

5."See the perfection of their graces in their beginning".

If you love fruit, you won't curse the blossoms. You'll see them as promises of the delicious fruit they will one day become.

6."Frequently think of the everlasting union which you must have with them forever in heaven".

The people you now look down upon will, one day, shine brighter than the sun. The people who seem so in-and-out today will soon be "Forever with the Lord".

In short: When looking at your brother or sister, don't look at what is--it's a mess. Look at what will be. That's lovable.

"Beloved, it does not yet appear what we shall be; But we know that, when He shall appear, We shall be like Him. For we shall see Him as He is".

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