The Mantle

The Mantle

Before I begin my sermon, I'd like to take a moment to answer some criticisms about last week's message. At least one person thought that I was saying we ought to improve our own inner beauty in order to glorify the Lord. And he's absolutely right. That's what I was saying. And after due consideration, I've concluded that I was quite right in saying that. It behooves us all to strive to be the best us we can be and to strive for that true inner beauty which Peter and Paul urged us to obtain. It is true that we cannot be righteous without Christ. I never said we could be. But that doesn't excuse us from trying, and because we are with Christ, we have the power to grow in Him and obtain ever increasing levels of goodness and spiritual maturity. Consider this passage from First Peter chapter one.

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

I love verse three. These words are also a wonderful song by the gospel group Acapella. We don't have to strive to be righteous independently of God. He is the one who has empowered us. He has given everything we need for life and Godliness, so that we may partake of His own divine nature! He makes it possible to grow into His likeness. But let's read on...

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;
7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There's a Star Trek series called New Frontier, in which there is a religious cult called the Redeemers. They believe that it is impossible to be good until they are created anew by their god, Xant, so they don't even try. As a result, they are such incredible ***holes that nobody wants to be like them. If adding virtues to your character keeps you from being effective for Christ, would that not mean that NOT doing so will result in an epic fail? We all know at least one person who fails to practice these things, and even though they claim to serve the Lord, they disgrace Him by using His name. Peter is telling us that we must not be like that! It is our duty to honor our master by being all that we can be. As Paul puts it, we are to run our race so as to be the one who wins the victor's crown.

As for the notion that there is nothing in any of us but evil, I'd like to remind you what God observed when He was finished with creation. He beheld His work, and it was good! God doesn't only love you, my friend, He LIKES you! He doesn't want to replace you with another Jesus, He wants to turn you into the you that you were meant to be. That means being LIKE Jesus. It means being holy, righteous, pure and spiritually mature. It doesn't mean you stop being you.

Now going back to verse seven in the First Peter one, Peter caps off the list of virtues with love, and this is important. Love is what binds everything else together.

Today's sermon is titled "The Mantle of Love". I was surprised, however, to find that when I went to look up the phrase "mantle of love", it wasn't in the bible. I was certain I'd read it in the bible. I made it part of Vic Torious' super-suit. I've heard the phrase used many, many times. What's more, I'd already started writing the sermon. So I wondered if there would be anything wrong with going ahead and adding this piece to the armor of God. The more I thought the more I realized that it has to be part of the armor. We are, after all, talking about the most powerful suit of armor ever divised. It renders the wearer immortal, and has sufficient offensive and defensive capabilities to prevail against the gates of Hell itself. Why, if they were real, you could put Mephisto, Cthulu, Malbolger, Lanancuris, Anubis and the Chornebog on one team, along with all the other horrific devils you could come up with, and they still wouldn't be a match for one saint decked in the armor of God. The real devil doesn't stand a chance. Yet armor this powerful has to have a battery. I imagine the first thing you think of is the Spirit, and indeed, He is part of it. The Spirit is the energy which flows through the armor. But energy cannot flow if it has no way into the circuitry, can it? This concept is what makes light switches work. How many of you have seen the movie Iron man? You know that Iron Man's armor is powered by a reactor that resides in Tony Stark's chest and powers his heart. Without that reactor, the suit is just so much clanging metal. Likewise, the armor of God is nothing without love.

What use is faith without love? What use is truth? What use is preparing the gospel of peace? Those ornaments of a peaceful spirit and good deeds are worthless. They won't even shine. The sword hangs limp because there is nothing to fight for. The shoes have nowhere to take you. The shield and the breastplate have no reason to protect anyone. Salvation remains, but only just. The one who has no love may be saved, but only as one saved from a fire. He won't even have the clothes on his back. We call this type of Christian a rainbarrel Christian, because they have no treasures stored up in Heaven, not even a pair of underwear. They'll be walking around wearing rainbarrels on suspenders. But then, if there is no love, there's got to be a reason for it. Remember First John four: seven and eight. If you know the song, go ahead and sing it with me.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another. First John four: seven and eight"

What would you think of someone who never blinks? Unless he's a snake or fish or some such thing, a person is going to blink. Living creatures blink. Is blinking necessary for life? No. But if someone doesn't blink, he's probably dead, because the living blink. Perhaps love is not necessary for salvation, but because it is not possible to separate God and love, it is unlikely that the one who has no love is even saved.

In the Greek, there are five words for love. We use the word "love" mainly in three senses. There is Eros, which is romantic love, Phileo, which is commeraderie, and there is the purest form of love, Agape. Agape means the best for you, regardless of the cost to me. The NIV translates Agape as love. The King James translates it as charity. Today, we think of charity as good deeds. But are they really separate ideas? Love is the motivation for works and works are the outward manifestation of love. Salvation is not by works, but works are a natural consequence of salvation.

Now I've said a lot about love, but I haven't said much about mantles. What is a mantle? The word actually has several definitions. The classic mantle is like a shawl. It is a garment worn over the shouldres. However, there are other types of mantle. One type includes a hood. The white bit that Sir Fluren wears around his neck is a type of mantle. A cape can also be called a mantle. But the one I'm thinking of is more like the one worn by the musketeers. It's a garment that drapes over the front and back almost like a sandwich board. On the back and on the chest are a huge insignia which proclaim to the world what this man's mission is and whom he serves. Over your armor, you wear (or really should be wearing) a mantle of love with God's insignia on it. I know, I've said that a lot of things bear God's insignia. Your helmet, your shield, your breastplate... but the mantle is the most important. A mantle is meant expressly for that purpose. When you put on love, you are covering yourself with the very NATURE of God.

So... what have we learned in this series? Let's sum up.
Salvation is the keystone to everything else that is to follow.
Righteousness is the main body of the Christian's armor.
Faith is like a door. It keeps Satan's darts out, but it also let's God's power in.
The preparation of the gospel is essential for accomplishing our work.
The word of God is a powerful weapon, and needs to be studied to be used effectively.
Truth binds it all together.
A meek and good spirit is beautiful to God and to our neighbors.
Without love, the armor of God is rattling tin.

My challenge to those who do not know Jesus as Lord is the same as it always is. It all starts with the helmet. If you want to be the one wearing this awesome, powerful and beautiful armor, you first need to be the friend of the one who owns it. That means asking Jesus to be your personal Lord and savior.

To my Christian family, well, this is a pretty impressive suit of armor. We need to make sure that we are taking care of it and using it properly. The best way I can think of to do that is to follow the instructions in 1 Peter 1. I'll read them again because they always bear repeating.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;
7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today's reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.