Ephesians 3: 17&18 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long, and high and deep is the love of Christ,”
The word ‘love’ is found three times in this verse and the following verse, and yet without any definition, as if the church in Ephesus had heard hundreds of sermons on this theme from the apostle Paul, and had experienced Christian love in close-up enfleshed in Paul’s daily life, so he didn’t need to explain it but to exhort them afresh to do it. We are not so favoured, and so if we are going to be encouraged by our Lord to be rooted and established in love we must begin by grasping afresh the importance of love. There is no greater requirement for Christianity in Wales than to set a commitment to love at the centre of every Christian’s life, and at the heart of all our churches. The context of the words of our text is the need for believers to be strengthened by the power of God’s Spirit. That power will show that it’s there not by tongue-speaking but by Christian love. Some orthodox congregations with many marks of being true churches are yet weak, and one reason is the absence of love.
How serious is the sin of lovelessness? It is this serious, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (I Jn. 4:8). All over the country churches are being torn in half, and the basic reason for many splits is the absence of love. A lack of love for God, a lack of love for our Lord and Saviour, a lack of love for the Holy Spirit of love, and a lack of love for one another – what a sterile environment. Such people do not know God, the apostle John would judge. How serious is an absence of love for the Lord Jesus Christ? It is this serious; “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him by anathema maranatha” (I Cor. 16:22). God’s supreme love is focused on his beloved Son. There was never a more loved person than Jesus Christ. Do you think it is possible for the delight of the Father to rest upon those who have no delight in God’s beloved one? In the face of Jesus Christ the glory of God shines most brightly, and so that glorious face becomes the test of each human heart as to who reigns supremely there. If Christ does not claim our deepest love it is because glorifying and enjoying God is not chief end.
1. UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE AND NATURE OF LOVE.
Consider that period at the end of his ministry when our Lord was facing the cross and the grave and the ascension. He was going to leave his disciples, and so he exhorts them about the crucial importance of loving one another. Love is the most important Christian grace by far; it is always listed in first place in the New Testament, and our Lord tells them that it is love that is going to give the greatest credibility to evangelism. Nobody is going to be saved without love. This is what the Lord Jesus says, “My children, I will be with you a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:33&34). This is the distinguishing mark of the Christian, however old or young he is, in whatever century he is living, or whatever part of the globe. There is this universal necessity for Christian affection. This is an eternal requirement; until the Lord returns this is to characterise every child of God, and then for evermore because heaven is a world of love. Of course there is also a faith we have to guard and contend for, but faith and love are inseparable friends. The faith, without affection, is no living gospel. Affection alone, without the faith, is no message of salvation. So you find the two exhortations at the end of Jesus’ ministry, firstly, for them to teach men – and the teaching is to consist of whatsoever they’ve been taught by him, and then, secondly, that they are to love men – as he has loved them. Teach! Love! Loving teaching; an educated love. That’s biblical evangelism; that is how the church is to grow. It is no secret. There is no need for expensively hired church growth experts to explain successful evangelism to us. Teach and love, and love and teach.
Do I do what my Lord says? Do I love him? Then I will keep his commandments and one of them is to love my fellow Christians as Jesus loves them. Isn’t this what my Lord commands me to do? If I’m not doing that, then why not? Isn’t it a great sin to disobey Jesus Christ? You say, “Well . . . it’s hard to love like Jesus.” So we can obey the easy commandments that suit our personalities, but are free to ignore the tough ones? Is that the Christian life? Are there any easy commandments? Reading the Sermon on the Mount there seems to me to be none at all. It is all about being perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. It is not for, “Try for 90%.” Did our Lord say that the Christian life would ever be easy? Loving others is never easy and this is why we are strengthened by the might of God’s Spirit in our inner beings, in order to love like that. God’s resources are provided to fulfil God’s commandments, so we can’t plead the difficulty of loving because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
There are yet other exhortations to love which are just as awesome, perhaps more so. We are to love sinners as God the Father loved the world when he gave his only begotten Son for it. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I Jn. 4:10&11). When I see a group of noisy half drunk men sitting on a bench in the middle of town, and they’re passing a bottle around, what is my initial reaction? Is it one of love for them? If it’s sniffy disapproval of them then I am exactly like the people of the world who’ve never known the mercy of God. Do I rather think, “There but for the grace of God go I”? Do I say a silent prayer for them, and is there a sadness in my heart? Do I think to myself “What can I do?” Even when people are smelly, even when they are hurtful, we are to love them in such a way that no sacrifice is too great and no kindness is too extravagant. I’m not talking about giving them money; something far more challenging, loving those people who will live for ever. Young Christians are a rebuke to us in the way some of them love street people. Anyone who has tried it knows the frustration and disappointment of such affection. But we are not being tested concerning our failures but that we never tried.
Loving the world as God loves is not some utterly impossible ideal for preachers to speak about, but is the practical obedience of faith; these are not counsels of perfection to be admired only. I cannot believe that God who knows us far better than we know ourselves has given us an unreasonable and incredible commandment to love. What is the context in the previous verses for this exhortation about loving? See what it says! God out of the glorious riches of his own divine love is strengthening our hearts with power through his Spirit in order that we can love. Christ himself is dwelling in our hearts and that is in order that we can love.
There is an even higher standard set forth in Scripture, and that is that we are to love as God the Father loves the God the Son. Before love ever existed in mankind it existed in God, in the love of the Father for the Son and the love of them both for the Holy Spirit. We are to love our fellow Christians with the same divine love. Where in the New Testament are Christians told to love like that? It is found in the prayer of our great High Priest Jesus Christ; he says to his Father “that the love you have for me may be in them” (Jn. 17:26). That is even more searching. Do I love other Aberystwyth believers the way God the Father loves God the Son? If not why not? If God out of his great fulness has poured into me his own love – and he has done that to every Christian – then why am I not loving with that same love?
This divine love is what Paul is talking about here, but let us examine the most comprehensive definition of love to be found in the New Testament in I Corinthians chapter 13. The chapter begins with Paul saying that love is more excellent than the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and that all that can be done or suffered – for example, what a suicide bomber does – it is utterly vain without love. Then he begins to define love in the fourth verse; “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Cors. 13:4-7). No one is going to hear those words and say, “Right on . . . OK . . . we do that . . . so now what?” That person loves very little who is sure how much he loves. Francis Schaeffer says, “We can just say, ‘I see! I see’, and then we can make a little flag and write on it, ‘WE LOVE ALL CHRISTIANS.’ You can see us trudging along together, each with our little flag, all wrapped up, ‘WE LOVE ALL CHRISTIANS,’ and at the appropriate moment we take off all the rubber bands and unfurl them waving them and chanting as we march along, ‘WE LOVE ALL CHRISTIANS.’ How ugly! It can be that exceedingly ugly thing, as ugly as anything anyone could imagine, or this love can be something profound, as profound as anyone could imagine, and if it is to be the latter, it’s going to take a great deal of time, a great deal of conscious talking and writing about it, a great deal of thinking and praying about it on the part of Bible-believing Christians. The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture” (Francis Schaeffer, “The Church At the End of the Twentieth Century,” Norfolk Press, 1970, London, pp.165&166).
You understand what Schaeffer is saying? We hear these exhortations to love our fellow Christians as Christ loves them, and love men as the Father loves the Son. Then we further read I Corinthians and we are being profoundly challenged as to what kind of Christians we are, “Am I taking this seriously, with Judgement Day honesty, my obligation before God to love in this way? Has the need to love become an obsession to me?” We pick up a book and read something challenging on this theme, for example, Jonathan Edwards’ “Charity and its Fruits,” and we talk in our families and after-church informal conversations about the demands of Christian love to one another. Then I stir things more by preaching about love, and you listen intently as you always do, and we pray about loving. All this happens with one aim, for us all to do it better, in other words, to love effectively and growingly. We want to serve God not only with our lips but with our lives. We want to count for Christ, and what matters to us more than love? We feel like starting a new movement to encourage Christians to love, a crusade to stir up Christians to love, a convention to inspire love, a website . . . to love, a publishing house . . . to love, a magazine . . . to love, a television network . . . to love. Such things have been started in order to encourage revival, or to study the second coming, or to evangelise, or to publish the Puritans, or to stir up interest in the gifts of the Spirit. Don’t they all seem so secondary in comparison to this, to help Christians to spend their lives loving with the love of God?
Here is the theme, loving God the Father, loving Jesus Christ – we say to him, “There’s none upon the earth that I desire beside thee” – and loving the Holy Spirit. Here is the matter before us; we are talking about loving the Bible and all the great teachings of God’s marvellous grace revealed to us in Scripture. This is what we are thinking about, loving the gospel of Jesus Christ and loving sermons full of the gospel, and loving all who faithfully proclaim it. This is the subject which in the providence of God we’ve been drawn together to consider today, loving every one of our brothers and sisters in the family of faith of which grace has made us members, loving them with pure hearts, fervently, loving them as God loves his Son, and as God loves them. We are not to hurry on to another subject in Ephesians because at this moment God is asking us to stop dead. Cease from everything else you are doing. Don’t let one single thought wander at this moment and consider this crucial subject of love, your eternity hangs on it, the credibility of your profession to know the salvation of God depends on it.
There was a Korean Christian who had memorised many passages of Scripture. Someone said to him, “That’s great, but the important thing is to obey what the words say.” “Oh, that’s the way I discovered I could learn them,” he said, “I tried to learn a Scripture without applying it to my life and it wouldn’t stick, but when I did what the Bible says I had no trouble memorising these verses.” We are exhorted to be doers of the word not just hearers because then we’ll deceive ourselves, a doer of this word to love fellow Christians as Jesus Christ loves them; the same love, the divine love that comes through us to them.
It is vitally important. If your faith is strong enough to move mountains but you don’t have love then you’re zero – nothing at all. If you can speak in tongues, yes angels’ tongues, but you fail to have love then you are like a big noisy gong. If you give your body to be burned in some terrible protest outside an embassy but you don’t have this love, so what? You have gained nothing by your suicide except some black part of hell. That is what the inspired apostle says in the opening verses of first Corinthians thirteen. Those are the words of the Holy Spirit to us, so that hearing them we respond, “The Holy Ghost spoke to me and he said . . .” and then we quote this chapter verse by verse.
To understand the demands and potential of Christian love we have to appreciate God’s love. Everything in the Christian religion begins with this extraordinary fact that the Creator of the Universe loves. We simply take it for granted, but for millions in the world this is breathtaking. There is a testimony of a Japanese girl called Mariko Matsumoto in the current August “Grace” magazine. When she arrived in England two years ago she met a number of Christians on her language course; “They liked to tell me about God and Jesus Christ. When they told me that God created the world, it was quite a shock for me. I’d never thought who created the world. Another thing that surprised me is that God loves me. I’d never thought of God’s love. There are loads of gods in Japan, but they are just there. One day my Christian friend said that Jesus Christ is always with her so she had never been lonely. That word struck me.”
The challenge is for the love of God to strike us afresh. B.B.Warfield exhorts us, “When we pronounce the word ‘God’ we must see to it that our minds are flooded with some wondering sense of God’s infinitude, of His majesty, of His ineffable exaltation; of His holiness, of His righteousness, of His flaming purity and stainless perfection. This is the Lord God Almighty whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, to whom the earth is less than the small dust on the balance. He has no need of anything, nor can His unsullied blessedness be in any way affected – whether by way of increase or decrease – by any act of the creatures of His hands. What we call infinite space is but a speck on the horizon of His contemplation: what we call infinite time is in His sight but as yesterday when it is past. Serene in His unapproachable glory, appareled in majesty and girded with strength, righteousness and judgment, are the foundations of His throne. He sits in the heavens and does whatsoever He pleases. It is this God, a God of whom to say that He is the Lord of all the earth is to say so little that it is to say nothing at all, of whom Scripture speaks.
This God loved the whole world, this speck in the universe, floating like some particle in his eternal vision. But does that affection for this world increase our understanding of the love of God? Do you praise the brawn of the blacksmith, Warfield asks, by saying, “he can bear the weight of an acorn in his outstretched hand”? The standard of God loving this entire planet is too small to magnify God’s love. Rather think of the world in moral terms, the humbling biblical definition of it, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, if you want to be amazed at God’s love. Warfield points out that the ‘world,’ in the New Testament “is just the synonym of all that is evil and noisome and disgusting. There is nothing in it that can attract God’s love – nay, that can justify the love of any good man. It is a thing not to be dallied with, or acquiesced in: they that are of it, are by that very fact not of God, and what the Christian has to do with it is just to overcome it; for everything that is begotten of God manifests that great fact precisely by this – that he overcomes the world. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’ is John’s insistent exhortation. And the reason for it he states very pungently : because ‘if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’ God and the world, then, are precise contradictions. ‘Nothing that is in the world is of the Father,’ we are told; or, as it is put elsewhere in direct positive form: ‘The whole world lieth in the evil one.’ ‘The world, the flesh and the devil’ – this is the pregnant combination in which we have learned from Scripture to express the baleful forces that war against the soul” (B.B.Warfield, “The Saviour of the World,” Banner of Truth reprint, 1991, pp.116 & 118). It is all that is ungodly, and yet God loved it! He loved it so much that he sent his Son to live and die in the closest contact with all of that (and yet without ever being contaminated by it) in order to redeem the creation and save such sinners. God . . . loved . . . the world. That extraordinary fact is the basic inspiration for all Christian love.
Here is the gospel motivation for our love for one another with this divine love of sympathy, and the love of encouragement, and the love that always protects, and the love that always trusts, and the love that always hopes, and the love that always perseveres. We are saying that when this love grips a Christian it affects his whole life, the money in his pocket, his bank account and how he spends it, and how he supports those in need and how large is the cheque he’ll write in times of crises. It is going to affect what he’s prepared to abandon and cut out of his life entirely, because of loving.
“How can I, Lord, withhold
Life’s brightest hour
From Thee; or gathered gold,
Or any power?
Why should I keep one precious thing from Thee,
When Thou hast given Thine own dear self for me?” (Charles E. Mudie, 1818-1890).
Love is practical. Love rolls up its sleeves. It never asks, ‘How much must I do?’, but rather ‘How much can I do?’ Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.
God has gathered us here now to consider how we are doing in this area of our affections at this very moment in our lives – and today will never be repeated. We are not in the flames of hell, and neither are we slouched in front of television sets like sacks of cement, but rather God has gathered us together to hear his word on this crucial subject of our love. This love, we are told, will pardon sin on seventy times seven occasions. Love can be terribly simple to define can’t it? Love gives and forgives. That’s it. Love turns the other cheek. Love goes the second mile. Love overcomes evil with good. Love bears with other awkward Christians, and then when it’s our turn to act awkwardly love will enable them to bear with us. Love will carry the burdens of others, and will cleave to them through thick and thin, and have a fellow-feeling for them in all conditions.
That love for one another is what we are concentrating upon. We are talking about loving the pastor of the flock, and loving the elders, not demeaning them; not describing them as the ‘in-group’ or the ‘yes-men’ but loving them highly for their work and their walk. This subject embraces the elderly but also the younger members, all of whom have much to offer, yet they all have peculiar difficulties. It embraces the fringe members of the congregation and also those who have little discernment or little assurance. It takes in the backslider and the Christian who is walking disorderly.
This kind of Christian loving is under attack today as ever. Satan wants to destroy love among the brethren. He wants to scatter and to pull down. If he could divide the church and get the preacher out of the pulpit and leave the congregation as a sullen, bitter, arguing people, totally polarised and suspicious of one another, then Beelzebub would rejoice. That would be the triumph of the devil. Satan wants to sow the seeds of strife, to turn the people against one another, one family against another family, members against the pastor and the pastor against members. He will seek to kill love by gossip, and by rumours with no foundation in truth, and by jealousy.
Love is going to come under attack in other ways, by marital
unfaithfulness, and all manner of immorality which is dressed up in the name of love. An unwillingness to agree to differ on secondary issues is going to hurt love. An openness to new heresies because the people that spread them have shiny faces and are obviously sincere men – that too will kill love. Paul warns the Ephesian elders that from amongst themselves apostles of error are going to emerge. They will pass around cassettes and books and videos without seeking permission to do so. That is not the loving way. The home-schooling group will love the non-home-schooling group and they will even love the anti-home-schooling group, and vice versa. The Authorised Version men will love the non-Authorised Version men and vice versa. The Baptism of the Spirit men will love the non-Baptism of the Spirit men and vice versa.
There has to be much diversity in the church because the church is like the parts of a living human body; it is not like a box of Lego bricks. The Father is different from the Son and the Son is different from the Spirit. Each is a different person in the Godhead. Each has a unique quality which gives him his personal identity. If the congregation is to reflect the life of the Trinity then it has to do justice to that diversity. It is not enough to say that all Christians are different. We are to insist that they must be so. They are all alike in their loving and in their display of the fruit of the Spirit, but in every other way they are enormously different. Look at the history of the church and think of the men and women who God has given to his church over 4000 years. Think of Samson! Think of Solomon! Think of Simon Peter! Extraordinarily different men. We are to rejoice in that diversity. We are to say when we speak about one brother, “God broke the mould when he made him,” and laugh together at how different that brother is from the rest of us, and we all glory in that. Some of us have travelled widely and met the church in different places and we have discovered a vast range of nationalities, and intelligence, and culture, and insights, and temperaments, and aptitudes and experiences in them all.
So God requires love in the midst of this diversity. He does not want our love to destroy our diversity because that would mean we have changed into a cult. Our love comes out from what we are, and we are all unique. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of this;
i] You think of the way the apostles identified themselves when they wrote to the early churches saying who they were. None of them said, “This is an apostle speaking.” Peter said, “This is Peter speaking.” Paul said, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” and James tell us who he is, and so does Jude. But then John decides to leave a trail of hints, while the writer to the Hebrews gives no hint and determines on being anonymous, though many of us guess it was Paul. How different they all were and yet all of them were deeply affectionate men, each of them devoting a whole life to God, a sacrifice which eloquently but unconsciously expresses what the love of God has done to their heredity, their education, their environment and their temperaments.
ii] Consider the way Paul tells the churches to deal with Christians who condemned eating meat that had been sacrificed in pagan temples. He doesn’t tell the elders to preach a couple of sermons on this and exhort the congregation to eat such meat. He respects the dilemma of a converted idolater and that man’s conscience which forbids him to eat it. Be careful not to make your freedom a stumbling block to such men. Both have to live together in one congregation. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? he asks the Roman congregation. Don’t destroy the work of God for food. Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. All these strands of Christian conviction must be found within one congregation.
God weaves us all together in love, and our own personalities give colour to the tapestry of life which God is making in this fellowship today. What destroys Christian unity is not lack of uniformity – thank God we are so different – but the absence of what we may call the ‘unifying power’ of love for God, love for each other and shared love for the world. If we lack that then we’ll fall upon one another and devour one another like the loveless animals.
2. BE ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN THIS LOVE.
This the is Paul’s supreme concern for the church in Ephesus, if they are going to survive, or make any impact on their city it is going to be by the strength of their love. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love” (v.17); when Paul kneels down he cries to God that their love will be a mighty growing reality. Dr.. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has one sermon on each of these images, ‘rooted,’ that is a biological metaphor, and ‘grounded,’ that is an architectural metaphor. What the two have in common is the idea of depth and firmness, of permanence and durability. Let’s consider each of them;
i] The Christian is to be rooted in love.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones helps us when he says, “We mustn’t think of a sapling that would be blown down if a slight gale should happen to rise, but rather of a majestic oak tree whose roots go down into the depths of the earth, spreading in many directions and taking a firm hold of earth and rocks. We must think of a great tree of considerable age and girth, that looks as if it is going to stand for ever” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1979, p.182). The tree is buffeted by a gale; back and fore it is blown and yet is stands secure because its great network of roots have tunneled deep into the ground and grip it fast. “We will not let go!” they taunt the storm.
That is what the apostle prays for us that our lives go down deep into the love of God. You think of that blessed man described in the first psalm, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psa. 1:3). He hears the counsel of the ungodly but he is not tempted because his roots go down deep into God; he stands for a moment in the way of sinners, but no, he wont walk with them, for his roots go into the love of Jesus; he listens to those who sit and mock but they make no impression upon him at all because he is rooted in divine love. What can explain David Brainerd continuing with such unpromising congregations, speaking to the Indians of Pennsylvania when sometimes his interpreter had had too much to drink? Through the winter’s snows and heat of summer without a wife to encourage and support him on and on he continued. What was his secret? He was rooted in the love of Christ. Listen to this illustration of Dr.. Lloyd-Jones;
“I remember once staying in Weston-Super-Mare with a man who was an expert in growing sweet-peas. He had won the first prize and the challenge cup several years in succession at the shows of the Royal Horticultural Society. I happened to be staying with him at the very time when the sweet-peas were in full bloom. I was much impressed by their beauty and aroma and I asked him the obvious question: Was there any one secret above all others which explained success in winning such a coveted prize year after year? And particularly, what was the secret of their remarkable height? He told me that it was quite a simple principle; if you want great height you must dig deeply. The height above the earth, he said, must correspond to the depth below the earth. To ensure any particular height the roots must be as deep as the height you require; that was the secret principle. In the same way there must be a correspondence between the height and the weight of a building and the foundation on which it rests.” (Dr. Lloyd-Jones, op cit, p.195).
That is the principle Paul is enunciating here, that it is not enough to be acquainted with the love of God, or able to define it with a high degree of redemptive historical and systematic theological acumen, but you yourself must live on the love of God. Your life at home, your relationships with family and friends, your fellowship with the whole range of church members can only be fruitful if you are earthed in the love of Jesus Christ day after day. Instinctively you find yourself raising up your heart to God, seeking his help, thanking him and blessing him for the hundred ways he undertakes for you every single hour of the day. You see parents caring for children with learning difficulties so beautifully, you meet a wife with an unconverted husband and she is wise and loving and caring in that home; you meet teenage children showing a surprising maturity when their parents scorn their faith; you talk to pastors some of whose elders give them heartache as uncooperative grumbling men, and yet they keep going preaching and pastoring in the teeth of that disdain. The explanation is the same; they are people who are earthed in the love of God. They know what sinners they are and how mighty has been the grace of God to them and that grace is sufficient for them in those circumstances. The love of God falls upon them and refreshes them.
Think of the Saviour looking on the crowd as sheep without a shepherd, and how frequently the word ‘compassion’ is used to describe him, his deeds of kindness, his love for the leper, and a blind man, and for some hurting sorrowing sisters who have lost their dear brother. Jesus had this life of love and from that came his energy and motivation; it was the power that led him on. We are to follow in his steps, but more than that we are to be rooted into that same love so that something of his affection and abundance of good works is found in us.
ii] The Christian is to be grounded in love.
Here we meet an architectural metaphor. It was the great Temple in Jerusalem which supplied that architectural image and wrote it indelibly on every Jewish mind. You think of the pages of description of Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament, its dimensions, its materials and builders, and its final opening, the exquisite prayer and the glory of God filling the place. Then the Lord uses the picture of two men building houses, and he also refers to a man seeking to build a tower without sufficient foresight, and the collapse of the tower of Siloam, and then the apostles Paul and Peter in their letters refer to the people of God as stones in a living temple. So this is a popular metaphor. Let us see again how Dr.. Lloyd-Jones approaches this;
“A number of obvious principles emerge from this particular picture. The first is, the importance of making sure that the foundation is well and truly laid. The Apostle speaks of himself as a ‘wise master-builder’ -not merely a master-builder, but a ‘wise’ one (I Cor 3: 10). The hallmark of a wise master-builder is that he pays great attention to the foundation. He does not rush to set up a building; he wants one which will be durable and lasting; he wants a solid building in which he will be able to dwell for a lifetime, and others after him. So as a wise master-builder he will pay very great attention to the foundation, he will take time over it, and go to a great deal of trouble concerning it. A wise master-builder never takes anything for granted in the matter of foundations. He wants to know exactly the kind of soil he is dealing with, whether there is too much clay or sand, and the possibility of a shifting and a sliding later on. He goes into these matters with meticulous care. The wise master-builder does not do this work hurriedly, for he realises that this matter cannot be rushed. The character of the building, is in a sense, going to depend upon it, so the foundation must be well and truly laid.
“This is particularly true if the proposal is to put up a very large or a very high building. The larger and higher the building, the more importance attaches to the foundation. If you intend to erect a very light building, a mere wooden shack, a temporary structure, you need not be over-particular about the foundation. But if you intend to set up a massive building, a ‘skyscraper’, an edifice of great weight, which will have a tremendous number of rooms, then a very firm and solid foundation is an absolute essential, and the more careful you will have to be that it is adequate to stand up to the stresses and strains to which the building will become subject.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit, pp. 193&194).
Dig deep, we are being told. How different the cults. It is all so easy, and so quick. People start to attend their meetings. They go off for a weekend and when they return they have been ‘filled with the Holy Spirit.’ No need for any preparation or foundation. The good has driven out the best. Without being grounded in love we have no hope of knowing the life-transforming experiences of the Christian life. You cannot make demands on God: “What do we want?” “Revival!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Revival is given in God’s way and at God’s time. God’s way it by his people being rooted and ground in love. We all know what it is like to have occasional spasms of Christian love. Teenagers and students are particularly prone to that. Camps and conferences and special meetings that play on the emotions can create religious feelings, and people who have them are then told that those feelings mean that that is the Holy Spirit they are now Christians. We all know what it is to have occasional flashes of love to God or for our Lord, but then Christians let us down, and we meet a series of troubles and our love dies and our feelings vanish. It is like a series of boyfriends and girlfriends that students have.
We are to be grounded in the love of God, how wonderful that he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world; how wonderful that he sent his own dearly beloved one to the cross to suffer and die for us – what love; how wonderful that in time in his providence he brought us to a knowledge of our sin and his own vast mercy; how wonderful that he has preserved us in his love over many years and that we are today found gripped by a love that will not let us go; how wonderful that one day we shall enter that world of love never to leave his presence again. Love never fails! It stands up to heartache, and survives ill health and grief. Such experiences come; they must come, but if our love is grounded in the love of God then we survive before God. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him,” said Job (Job 13:15); in heavenly love abiding! Edward Mote spoke of it in these familiar words,
“When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.”
3. GRASP THE DIMENSIONS OF CHRIST’S LOVE.
“And I pray that you . . . may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (v.18). This was Paul’s prayer, “May they and every Christian grasp Christ’s love for them.” But you see how he expresses it? “Empower them to grasp this,” he prays. In other words, it is only by an action of God that anyone can grasp this truth. Men can grasp languages, and Icelandic myths, and nuclear physics, and anthropology, and brain surgery, all by themselves, but they lack any ability to grasp the love of the Son of God. The power that made the universe is needed. We know this on a practical level. We see young people raised in Christians homes who have been told of the wonderful love of Jesus all their lives, but they have never grasped it for themselves. We don’t give up. We pray for them, that they might be given power to grasp the immensity of the love of God, and then one day it happens. “I suddenly saw it,” they say. What happened? God opened their hearts and they grasped it!
In February this year old Henry Bouma died. He was 75 years of age and the pastor at Old Paths Chapel in Choteau, Montana, that vast empty state in the USA. This is what he wrote about such an experience of being given power to grasp the love of Christ: “One time in the 1960s I became very exercised with the polluted state of my sins, that I was born in sin, a stench in God’s holy nostrils. One afternoon, John 4.29 spoke powerfully to my soul: ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?’ I saw a wonderful pleading ground, looking to God in Christ for forgiveness of sin: ‘who told me all things that ever I did.’ I believe it was then that I could behold a holy God through Christ, and God could look upon a vile sinner like me in Christ. I saw what He had done to pay for my filth, carrying my sins to Calvary, and I had faith given to believe that He was in my stead, granting forgiveness for such a wretch like me. Amazing grace!” Henry, after much backsliding, had been given power to grasp the love of Christ.
The love of Christ is an immense subject, shallow enough for a child to paddle in;
“Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so.”
But deep enough for giants to wade in: “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ!” I like what John Stott writes, “the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to compass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven. Or, as Leslie Mitten expresses it, finding a parallel to Romans 8:37-39: ‘Whether you go forward or backward, up to the heights or down to the depths, nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.’ Ancient commentators went further. They saw these dimensions illustrated on the cross. For its upright pole reached down into the earth and pointed up to heaven, while its crossbar carried the arms of Jesus, stretched out as if to invite and welcome the whole world.” (John R.W. Stott, “The Message of Ephesians,” IVP, Leicester, 1979, p. 137).
Think of the love of Christ that brought him down all the way from heaven to the stable in Bethlehem. Think of the highest point of heaven which is now Christ’s by sovereign right and where he is going to elevate all his people. Think of the length of Christ’s love that clothed our first parents when they fell and is still providing a robe of righteousness for repentant sinners today. Think of the breadth of Christ’s love that sent his disciples out from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth, even to our land. It is the love of God the Son; it is the love that did not turn away from Golgotha; it is the love that bears with us and forgives all our sins. It is the love that keeps Christ interceding for us and saving us to the uttermost. That love will have you sinner. Receive it, O sinner, receive it. Receive the love of God in Jesus Christ.
1st August 2004 GEOFF THOMAS