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Trinity 11


Delivered on August 11, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church. Lebanon, NH

Let us pray. O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Please be seated.

In the passage from John’s gospel we are considering today, there is, as usual, a lot going on. Jesus speaks of the love to which He is calling his disciples. It is a very high calling, given that Christians are to love even to the point of giving up their lives for God and their brethren. You find this thought expressed in the greatest philosophers of Greece and in the Old Testament. But Jesus is preparing to die for His enemies as well. This is a truly tall order. As Gregory the Great says, 'The unique, the highest proof of love is this, to love the person who is against us. This is why Truth himself bore the suffering of the cross and yet bestowed his love on his persecutors, saying, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Why should wonder that his living disciples loved their enemies, when their dying master love his?" (Forty Gospel Homilies, 27)

He is calling them to love and serve God without reservation. Here he is restating what is found in the Torah. Devout Jews all repeated the shema daily: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut. 6: 4) This is no innovation on Jesus’s part. But then he elevates those who follow Him to the status of friends. This still has quite a strange ring to us, as it must have to His first disciples. The Lord of the Universe considers his followers friends? This seems to go too far. Such a status seems quite beyond what humans could ever reasonably expect.

Jesus also continues the metaphor of fruitfulness which He began at the beginning of chapter 15. This has always been quite an evocative image. He is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. It is important to keep this in the front of our minds as we consider the Church and how she can function. We must abide in the Lord; otherwise we can do nothing.

There is also here a short but powerful statement of the grace of God. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…" This undermines any ground for boasting on the part of Christians.

At the end of the passage for today, there is also a verse held dear by the Eastern Church which argues against the statement in the Nicene Creed where the Holy Ghost is said to proceed from the Father and the Son. This is the so-called filoque clause ("and the Son"). The Orthodox consider this clause to be an unwarranted innovation by the Western Church and it was one of the chief causes of the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity in the 11th century. We are certainly not going to tackle this today, but it is something to be aware of.

So there is indeed a lot in this short passage. But for a few minutes, we will focus on what Jesus says about the world.

The Greek word that is translated by "world" here is Kosmos. It has a long history and had several meanings. One of the earlier meanings is "ornament," "adornment," or "orderly arrangement." This usage gave birth to our word "cosmetic." It is only used this way once in the New Testament. (1 Pt. 3:3) There are three main ways it is used in the rest of the New Testament.

It could mean an orderly arrangement of the heavens or the earth and all things in their complex order and composition as created by God. It suggests perfect order and being subject to the laws God established to govern its operation. This is its use in Paul’s speech at the Areopagus when he says that "[t]he God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man…" (Acts 17: 24) Here the connotation is positive and carries forward the classical Greek understanding.

The word kosmos may also refer to the world in its arrangement of the inhabitants of the earth into tribes or nations or peoples. It is used this way in John 3:16 : "God so loved the world…" It is also used this way in John’s first letter when he says that Jesus "is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 Jn 2:2)

But the most important usage for our purposes is the rather negative one that appears many times in the New Testament. It still carries a sense of system and arrangement, but now it is a system or organization that is under the control of satanic forces. This system is promoted by Satan, conformed to his ideals, aims, methods, and character and stands perpetually in opposition to God and the cause of Christ. It is a world system used to seduce humans away from God and the Person of Christ. It is not merely the empirical world which we take in with our senses; it is also a spiritual reality or force which attracts men to the sensory, the ephemeral, the transitory, and the ultimately fruitless.

This is the use we see in James when he exhorts a follower of Christ "to keep [him]self unstained from the world." (1:27) The world in this case refers to the reality under which most humans live who are alienated from the life of God and reject His rule. Further on in James’s letter he says that "[d]o you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?" (4:4) This strikes many of us as rather extreme. Doesn't indifference to God really describe most people’s attitude? Are humans left to their own devices really enemies of God? Why do the Scriptures not allow for that middle ground between loving God and hating God? Why does it always speak in such extremes? Isn't it the case that most people are at least open to the idea of some "higher power" and don’t see themselves necessarily in violent opposition to it?

But these qualms really betray our own self-deception and our un-godly desire to maintain our independence from God. We want a deistic God, one who will "keep the universe running smoothly", but who will not interfere in our pursuits or challenge our priorities. We want to be our own moral center and determiner of right and wrong. We don’t want our aims, loves, and desires called into question. We want to establish our own security and to be our own masters. We want to be self-sufficient and not acknowledge our dependence on God. In our fallen state, we chafe at the idea of a holy God and His demands. That is why we must demote Him from Lord of all, to, at best, the Great Facilitator.

And in doing this, we show that we, without God’s grace, are really God-haters. We reject His rule over us. This is the principle by which our fallen world runs. So yes, the choice as the Bible presents it is clear and without nuance: either serve the Lord, or serve Satan. As Bob Dylan sang many years ago, "You've got to serve somebody."

Jesus is quite clear that if you serve the God He has revealed, you will be hated by the world. Those who stand against the worldly desire to define and authorize what is real and what is of worth will incur the world’s wrath. Why would a community characterized by the love Jesus has just spoken of be hated by the world? Because such a community will not bend its knee to the sinful system that demands our allegiance. This system claims to give us what we truly want and will brook no competitors. It claims to be humane, but is ultimately anti-humanity. It claims to be able to heal our world, but it cannot do this apart from God. It claims to have freedom as its goal, but in fact only brings enslavement. It claims to bring peace, but really only maintains fear. In fact, fear cannot be removed from that which is ruled by Satan, because fear always will accompany a life built on the insecure, which is to say, a life that is not built on God. That is one way to define worldliness; the attempt to base one’s happiness and security on that which is ultimately insecure.

Humans without Christ are in the business of building up hedges to protect our sense of worth and significance and security. We want desperately to hold on to what we have. To the extent men rely on what is ephemeral for their happiness and security, to that degree fear of losing them produces a sort of bondage that the devil is quick to exploit. As long as he can divert us from God by worries about what we can lose, then he has won. This is one of the chief ways that Satan maintains his power. He diverts us from seeing the truth about how the world under Satan really works. The truth is that this world-system is indifferent to us and what we truly need. It wants to lead us away from what will truly fulfill us. It entices by promises of security, well-being, happiness, and significance. But it ultimately cannot deliver on these things.

This is why the world hates the followers of Christ. They are an affront to its self-congratulatory view of itself. They expose it for the sham it really is. They expose as vanity the world’s sense of its own self-justification. They challenge its sense of self-sufficiency by denying Satan’s lie that "You shall be as God…"

Robert Philp

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