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Love Like That: Being Grace-Full

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Today we are going to continue our series Love Like That looking at how we can learn how to love more like Jesus. The last two weeks we talked about the idea of being mindful and approachable and looked at examples in accounts such as that of Zacchaeus to see what we can learn from Jesus’ interactions with people during his earthly ministry.
We are going to spend today talking about what we can learn about relationships and loving others from the example of Jesus and how he was grace-full. First, I want to remind us of our theme passage for this series, Ephesians 5:1-2 from The Message paraphrase of this passage.
Ephesians 5:1–2 The Message
1 Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. 2 Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Let’s also remember as we dig in today that loving like Jesus is possible, but only through the help of the Spirit in our lives as we are continually transformed and growing in our relationship with Christ.
Have you ever been heard someone say something to the effect of “don’t judge me.” We do not like the idea of being judged as human beings, particularly in western culture. We like to do what we do and not be judged or feel like we are being judged. Have you ever had someone extend grace to you? Giving you something that you do not deserve or could not have earned? We much prefer that. So my question to us as we get started this morning is why do we tend to judge someone or form such set first imprecations without extending grace to someone first, unconditionally?
Today we are going to look at what it looks like to be grace-full. That’s two words or another way to say it is full of grace to the point that it is our natural reaction with others. Being grace-full is vital to loving like Jesus.
The first thing we need to realize is:
1. HOW GRACE AND JUDGMENT ARE CONNECTED
Matthew 7:1–2 NIV
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
The word judging has a negative connotation, even though it literally means “to form an opinion or conclusion about something.” That doesn’t sound too bad. So, what’s the big deal? Well, it’s how we form our opinions matters. Matthew 7:12 tells us:
Matthew 7:12 NIV
12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
This verse reminds us of a direct connection between how you form your opinion of others and how God forms an opinion about you.
Matthew 7:3–4 NIV
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
That passage seems to identify a classic definition of a hypocrite: you accurately form an opinion of others but DON'T form an accurate opinion of yourself. This is something I hear over and over from people that they see a bunch of hypocrites in the church and that is part of why some want nothing to do with the church.
Let’s consider for a moment these definitions for three key theological terms that we are going to reference this morning:
JUSTICE - getting what you deserve
MERCY - not getting what you do deserve
GRACE - getting what you could never earn or deserve
As author Max Lucado puts it, “Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace gave him a feast.”
We can all seem to much more easily see a speck in another’s eye while being oblivious to the tree in our own. We struggle because grace is a gift - unconditional - and it can’t be earned or achieved. It comes from a heart that requires nothing in return.
The second thing for us to takeaway this morning is that:
2. GRACE IS UNFAIR
Grace is by definition, unfair. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s the point. If you want to love like Jesus, you can’t limit your love to people who deserve it. Turn with me to John chapter 8 as we look at an example of how Jesus shows mercy that would have been considered totally unfair and unlawful at the time.
John 8:2–9 NIV
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
We see this woman caught in adultery brought before Jesus. She wasn’t just accused, but caught in the act. The religious leaders had been looking for a way to trap Jesus, and this was sure to be it. The Jewish law said she should be stoned, while Roman law prevented them from carrying out executions. so this was the perfect opportunity. They even quote the Jewish law related to adultery from Leviticus to Jesus.
But this is where we see a different way again from Jesus. Instead of outright answering their question, he turns it around by saying whoever is without sin to throw the stone. We see the crowd begin to go away until there was no one left. Why did they leave? They had truth on their side, they had a Bible verse to back it up. Why didn’t they just point to the verse and step into the role of jury, judge, prosecutor, and executioner? What stopped them?
You see, the same truth that brought them to a place where they thought they had the right to attack what others have done wrong in their lives, also stopped them dead in their tracks. While Jesus acknowledged that what they said is true, He also acknowledges another bigger truth. He basically communicates… if those are the rules you want to play by, we can play by those rules. But are you sure you want to do that?
We can use truth to destroy her, but when we’re done with her, you’re next. That’s truth. Everyone gets what they deserve. Anybody want to play by those rules? Where the whole crowd gets what they deserve? Nope, I’m out, and the whole crowd dropped their stones and went home. They wanted to condemn her with truth, but once they realized that truth didn’t just condemn her, it also condemned them, they were out.
And here’s the problem, we conveniently stop reading the story here. We are happy with the take away is that nobody is perfect, so don’t throw stones. We all make mistakes so don’t judge. But Jesus isn’t done at this point, he continues on.
The crowd is now gone, and it’s just Jesus and the woman standing there. and this is what Jesus says: Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)
This is important. Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you.” The one person in the crowd that is qualified to condemn her didn’t. He could have. He could have picked up that stone and done it. He could have, but he didn’t.
That’s called grace. Grace is getting what you do not deserve. Jesus could have condemned her and watched them stone her, but instead he does something different. He doesn’t give her what she deserves, but what she needs. She needed restoration and forgiveness, not a death sentence. Aren’t you glad that Jesus continues to treat each of us this way when we do not deserve it?????
Jesus offered this women grace. And He offers us grace today too. Paul makes it clear in 2 Corinthians 12 that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how bad our sin is, that God’s grace is big enough to cover it. Jesus’ grace covers you. But grace is not permission to keep on sinning.
So, let me ask you… are you accepting God’s grace in your life to cover your mistakes? Or are you trying to fix them yourself? Are you listening to God’s truth in your life? Or are you using grace to get away with something? How about this… when you encounter someone that is caught up in something wrong, how do you interact with them? Do you offer them grace?
Let’s look at another example at the end of Jesus’ days on earth.
Luke 23:39–43 NIV
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Did you catch that Jesus was showing grace even hanging on the cross?!?!?! This thief recognized who Jesus was in his final moments, and we see Jesus extend grace that was not deserved. You see, that thief deserved his sentence, Jesus did not. Jesus could have handled this so differently, but he continued to extend grace, even during his crucifixion. It is only by God’s grace that the thief was saved that day. He realized what was missing and who Jesus was. He received grace that day and hope - even if it was only briefly on this earth.
Jesus answered the thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus gives the thief far more than he asks for. The thief asked to be remembered in the Kingdom; Jesus tells him he will enter paradise. The thief was asking about the future; Jesus speaks of the present, "today." The thief asks Jesus to remember him; Jesus says, "you will be with me.” And that is what makes life after death paradise: it is life with Christ! Jesus did not say, "Today you will be in Paradise." He said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Let’s offer people grace when they screw up. Then let’s tell people the truth, not to condemn, but out of love because we want the best for them. We cannot shy away from truth and we cannot be stingy with our grace. We must be full of grace AND truth.
The third thing for us to realize this morning is:
3. WHAT JESUS TAUGHT ABOUT GRACE
Jesus often taught in parables. Remember that a parable is a made-up story, with usually only one point to the story. Jesus used them to teach and impact His listeners. The rich and poor, the politically connected and the everyday common man, male and female could all relate to his stories. Jesus would often get the crowd all agreeing early on in the parable, then He would give a “punch line.” The parable from Matthew 20 illustrates this:
Matthew 20:1–16 NIV
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
This parable touches on two primary areas:
a. Jesus wants a lot of people working in His vineyard.
b. Jesus shares His grace extravagantly.
First, the owner goes to the marketplace five different times to get workers for his field. Like today, he’s looking for day laborers. Probably a real mix of humanity: the unemployed, the underemployed, those that needed more money because of a financial loss perhaps, maybe those needing extra money for taxes. I’m sure they were a mix.
And just like the land owner who went out to get anyone and everyone, Jesus is an “includer” not an “excluder.” He wants everyone to be loved on, rescued, and restored.
Secondly, those who had worked the longest thought they should receive a little more than those who had not worked as long. They felt they should get an extra bonus in their paycheck. They had endured longer. They had picked more grapes. They were tired, dirty, and hungry. But instead of doing that, he does something entirely different and gives us a schooling on grace. He graciously rewards everyone the same. The same AGREED AMOUNT OF WAGE.
It's hard not to sympathize with the guys hired at the first hour. In fact, we feel for them. We can almost hear their complaint echoing in our own minds. To our American ways of thinking, it doesn't seem fair. It strikes against our sense of equal pay for equal work. If modern unions had existed in ancient Israel, there would have been protests. A strike would have been called against the landowner, and none of the grapes would have been harvested in time.
Like many of Jesus’ parables, this rubs us the wrong way. Jesus’ way often offends. These are the scandalous mathematics of grace. It’s not what we deserve. It’s what we need. It’s not 2+2=4. God is not bad at math. We have switched the price tags on everything in a subconscious movement away from grace. We’ve taken the things that are of great value and worth, and we’ve swapped them for pennies on the dollar. We’ve traded in eternal glory for dollar store trinkets that will break before we even get home. We’ve pawned our marriages, our children, our values, our character, our integrity to buy a few cheap thrills and fleeting amusements.
To love like Jesus means to see things in a new way. His teaching stretches our minds and our hearts. He wants us to weigh things on the scales of heavenly worth instead of earthly value.
Despite the offense taken by the first hour workers, they were paid a just and sufficient wage. It was the commonly accepted wage. It was the wage for which they had agreed to work, and it was a sufficient wage to supply their needs and provide for their families. He paid them what they needed to be paid. However, he also gave the other workers what they needed also. Not what they deserved, but what they needed. Anything less and they would not have been able to feed their families. Imagine the guy hired at the last hour, trying to make do with only 1/12th of a living wage. The landowner, because he was so generous, gave him what he needed.
It's the same with us. God doesn't give us what we deserve. He gives us what we need. No matter how little we deserve it. No matter how insufficient our effort, God gives us what we need. Salvation isn't about what we deserve, it's about what God gives. We can never hope to earn our salvation. Our only hope is for God to give us what we need. God is like the generous landowner. He gives all who come to Him what they need.
The fourth thing for us this morning is for us to realize:
4. HOW TO BE A BETTER GRACE-GIVER
In these stories, Jesus perfectly displays that He is full of grace and truth. And here’s the application for us today. We need that too. We’ve got to be full of grace AND truth. Curiosity about why a person does what they do creates a space for grace. How? Almost every evaluation we make of others arises from incomplete information. We fill in the gaps of what we don’t know with preconceived judgments. Curiosity, however, keeps our judgments at bay. It opens our mind to the possibility that there is something about the situation we don’t fully understand.
Picture this: you’re riding on a crowded bus going through the city. Minding your own business, you notice a dad and his two small children board the bus and sit down. The kids are a nightmare. Jumping up on people, making loud noises, and the dad seems totally oblivious. After a while, you can take it no longer and say, “Sir, will you please attend to your kids? They are out of control.” Dad then seems to come out of his oblivion and says to you, “I’m so sorry, I just didn’t notice. You see, we came from the hospital and my wife, their mom, just passed away. I guess I’m kind of numb.” What just happened? You just went from judgmental, to compassion. Why? You just got all the information.
When you see someone that you think is acting insane, stupid, or worse, this is the question: “I wonder what’s going on with that person that I don’t know about?”
SO WHAT? (CONCLUSION/APPLICATION)
1. Determine to get “the rest of the story” before acting impulsively or judgmentally.
2. Talk with God about areas in your life where you react in judgment and not grace.
3. Make a list of three grace-filled actions you will implement this week.
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