Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:1-5
Sermon Text: 2 Corinthians 5:10-11
WHERE LOVE IS SHOWN
For Easthaven Baptist Church in Houston, Texas
January 19, 1997
This morning when I got up the first thing I did was to walk up to a mirror and look at myself. Well, I really didn’t look at myself. I looked at the stubble of a beard that had grown overnight on my chin and my cheeks. There was a time when I was proud of that beard and loved to let it grow. That was before the hairs started turning gray. Now I don’t want to see it at all. In fact, I only need to open one eye about half way to be able to put on the cream before I shave it off. It’s only after I’ve shaved and showered that I can stand to look myself in the face any more. On the other side of the house it is a different story. Teenagers love standing in front of mirrors. They must love it. They spend hours looking in mirrors making sure that every hair is in place (I could spend as much time just looking for a hair to put in place!) I’m not even going to talk about what else teenagers do in front of mirrors, nor would I mention all the time that Kylene spends in front of a mirror -- if there is any place where love is shown, it is where people can still look each other in the eye after they have seen what they look like when they get out of bed and after they know what they do to make themselves presentable to others.
This morning I want to talk about the places where love is shown. The places I will speak about are not physical locations. I will be talking about relational spaces. Relational spaces are places that provide a mirror for your soul. When you appear in the mirrors in these places you see yourself through the eyes of others. One of those places is your family. Every person’s sense of self first comes to him through his family. If we live in a family where love is shown, we have a head start on developing a healthy sense of our value, worth and self-esteem. But, not everyone lives in a family where love is shown, and, increasingly in our society of absent fathers and broken homes, many of us are beginning life with a handicap in developing a healthy sense of who we are. Too many of our family mirrors are broken. The same is true of the other mirrors for our souls. Relationships with friends should be a place where love is shown and church family should be a place where love is shown. But, that depends on how careful or how fortunate you are at picking friends and churches. A lot of friends and a lot of churches are like broken mirrors. They twist and distort the image they are supposed to reflect to you. And, lets face it, even the best friends and the best churches fall short. Until the end of time, every family, every friend and every church is going to produce some distortion and fall short of showing love.
Where do we go if we want to get a good look at our souls? We go to the Bible. When we read its pages with an open heart and an inquiring mind, the Holy Spirit holds up a mirror to our souls. We see reflections of ourselves in the stories of Adam and Eve, of Cain and Abel, of Mary and Martha, of Peter and John, and of Paul and Timothy. We get a glimpse of what we were created to be, we get a portrait of what we have become, and we get a vision of what we will be. When you really want a good look at yourself, you need to read the Bible. That is why it is important to read it devotionally every day. It is more important than shaving and combing your hair in the morning.
This morning I want to read from the scriptures and hope that they will become a mirror to our souls. It is a passage that describes three places where love is shown:
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences."
( 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 NASB)
This is the first in a series of sermons that will focus on the role of conscience in the Christian’s life. Conscience is your soul looking at itself. It is looking at yourself in your imagination through the eyes of another person. That is where love will be seen and made manifest. That is where love either appears or disappears.
The place love appears clearly and without distortion is before Christ. Paul tells us that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” The judgment seat of Christ is the only true and perfect mirror for our souls. When we stand before him we clearly see what God intends for us to be. Christ is the standard by which everything we have said and done is measured. He will judge whether what we have done is good or bad and he will determine our destiny.
When we stand before Christ we stand alone. Our family, our friends, our pastor, and our church will not be there. They cannot excuse us before Him and we cannot use them as an excuse for our failing to measure up to the standard. We stand radically alone before Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can fill the space between us and Christ.
The Holy Spirit is like the light between our physical eyes and physical mirrors. When there is no light we cannot see our reflection in a mirror. When the light shines brightly we can see clearly. The Holy Spirit gives light to the eyes of our souls. By the light of the Holy Spirit we can see how sin has distorted the image that God created in us. By the light of the Holy Spirit we can see the wounds and scars that our sin inflicted on Christ. By the light of the Holy Spirit we can see the forgiveness that Christ offers to us and the love that can transform us. By the light of the Holy Spirit we can see that the judgment seat of Christ is also a mercy seat.
Once the eyes of our souls have been opened, we either choose to live in the light or we prefer the darkness and turn away from it. Those who choose to live in the light are called to become mirrors of Christ. They live with a constant awareness of the love that has appeared in Christ. They consciously and conscientiously try to give a true reflection of the love that stands before them.
Another place that love appears is before the Father. Paul says, “we are made manifest to God.” God created us in his image. The image we were created to reflect is one of holy love. The God of the Bible reveals himself through the triune unity and harmony of loving relation between Father, Son and Spirit. We were created to participate in and share God’s love. But we have twisted and distorted our love. Instead of serving others to produce a fellowship of unity and harmony, our love is self-serving. Our love produces divisions and conflict in all our relations. That is why our consciences are uneasy. We know that the way we live -- what we say and what we do -- is not right. We know that there is something wrong with us. That is why we wrestle inwardly with guilt and shame. And that, in the end, can lead us to know “the fear the Lord.”
Everyone must appear before the Father. Whenever a soul looks at itself through the eyes of another person, the first look usually comes through the eyes of our fathers. Fathers are the ones who lay down the law. They are the ones who hold us accountable and expect us to be responsible. They are the ones who punish us and make us pay whenever we fall short of what is expected. It is not always fathers who teach us moral responsibility and hold us accountable. Sometimes it’s our mothers, sometimes it’s our teachers, sometime’s its a coach, or a police officer, or a pastor, or a deacon, or a Sunday School teacher, or a friend, or a group of friends. The human role of the father is filled by whoever loves us enough to take the time to correct us when we are wrong and hold us accountable for our actions. Over time, most of us develop a healthy fear and respect for our fathers or for those who fill this role in our lives. It is healthy because all these father figures are reflections of our heavenly Father who loves us enough to correct us and hold us accountable for our actions. They all assist God in developing our conscience. It is healthy and wise to develop respect for the law and fear God. “Knowing the fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom.
“The fear of the Lord” is what prompted Paul to preach. He knew the full weight of the guilt that came from trying to please God by keeping the law. He knew that it was an impossible burden. He learned that “by works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” (Romans 3:20) Paul discovered that God’s grace and forgiveness was man’s only hope for having a clear conscience. I use the word “discovered” deliberately. Philological research shows that the Apostle Paul was the first person to speak about a conscience that gives a good report. The Hebrews did not have a word for conscience. The closest they came to the idea was in passages that talk about a clean or pure heart. The Greeks and Romans had words for conscience, but before Paul everyone who used the word only spoke about a bad or guilty conscience. The Apostle Paul is the first person on record to talk about a “good” (Acts 23:1) or “blameless” (Acts 24:16) conscience. He did that as he stood trial before the Sanhedrin and then Felix. Paul had a “good” and “blameless” conscience because he knew that we are justified by faith instead of by works. When you receive God’s forgiveness and are filled with his Spirit, your conscience is cleared. No longer does it have to be an inner voice of accusation. Now it becomes a guide for life. That is “good news” and that is the gospel that Paul preached.
When Paul preached, he appealed to the consciences of those who heard him. His hope was that love would be “made manifest” in their “consciences.” The conscience of others is another place that love appears. Paul was putting his love in action. He did not love merely in word or in tongue. He loved in deed and in truth. He put his life at risk to tell people the “good news.” He hoped that others would recognize his love -- that his love would appear to them as Christ’s love. Ultimately, he hoped that they would see a reflection of God’s love in his actions.
Ultimately that is what every Christian desires. Our lives are to be as devoted to putting love in action as was Paul’s. We need to be willing to take some risks to tell other people the good news. We need to be willing to take some risks to show Christ’s love to others. We have no guarantees that our love will appear to others as love. Like Paul, we “hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences." All we can do is do our best to be faithful in reflecting God’s love to others. Our hope is that whenever our love appears in the conscience of others, that it will point them to the love of the Father and the Son. When that happens we will have been both faithful to our calling and effective in our service.
Our lives are filled with mirrors. As soon as we leave this place most of us will be looking in rear view mirrors and side mirrors. It is fairly certain that not one of us will get through the rest of this day without looking in a mirror at least once. Let it be our prayer that today and every day when we look in a mirror that it is Christ’s love that we want to see reflected.
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