Basics – Love ~ 20120122 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
01/22 Basics - Love
We are looking at the basics of the Christian faith. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus. I asked the question “if you were to choose just three words that would most accurately sum up what it means to be a Christian, what would they be and why?” This question could be answered many different ways, but the three words I chose were believe, worship and love.
I started with the word 'believe', because that is what we must do to become a Christian. We are told 'believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' (Acts 16:31) and 'whoever believes in the Son has eternal life' (Jn.3:36; cf. Jn.6:47). Jesus said:
Believing or having faith or trusting, we defined as entrusting yourself into the care of another. Believing is the door through which we enter the Christian life, and it is also the air we breathe as believers in Christ.
The second word I chose was 'worship', because worship defines what we were created to do. 'whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God' (1Cor.10:31). As image-bearers of God, we were designed to put on display the greatness and awesomeness and majesty and beauty and attractiveness and sheer worthiness of God. He is the only being in the universe whose mere existence demands our undivided affection. In fact, the more we get to know this great God, the deeper we grow in relationship with him, more we are impelled to adore him. For the Christian, eating and drinking and all of life becomes an act of worship, bringing glory to the only one who is truly worthy.
The final word I chose, and the subject of our attention today, is love. I chose the word 'love' because this is the content of the greatest commandments according to Jesus. He was asked:
Love God and love neighbor. Everything depends on these two loves. Love is what Jesus points to as the evidence of genuine Christianity.
Love is also the evidence to ourselves that we are his.
In fact, John goes so far as to say:
Love is essential to Christianity. The first and greatest command is to love God with your whole being. The evidence of being a genuine follower of Jesus is this kind of love. Lack of love demonstrates a lack of relationship with God, because God is love.
The way I want to go about tackling the monumental subject of love today is to spend the majority of our time looking at God and his love for us, and then allow that to define for us what love is and what our love should look like. This, I think is a biblical approach, because God's love is given to us as the definition of what love is.
And God's love is prior to our love.
So we will look to God's love to define for us what love is, but before we do, I want to ask a question: When I say the word 'love', what other words or ideas come to mind? What are some synonyms you identify with love? Emotion, affection, passion, intimacy, romance...
When we are talking about God's love for us, and the biblical concept of love, don't throw all those ideas out and think this is a completely different thing. God's love is richer and higher and deeper and wider and purer, but it includes those things. Our hearts retain an echo and a longing, although often distorted and not well articulated, of what it means to love and to be loved.
God Loves You!
We will begin with this overwhelming fact: God loves you!!! Hear the heart of God toward you today!
Throughout the Old Testament God is seen as one who abounds in steadfast love (Ex.34:6;Neh.9:17;Ps.5:7;86:5,15;103:8;145:8). His people praise him for his steadfast love (1Chr.16:34,41;Ezr.3:11; Ps.63:3; 107:1; 118:1; 136:1;138:2), sing of his steadfast love (Ps.89:1;101:1), think on his steadfast love (Ps.48:9;107:43), hope in his steadfast love (Ps.33:18;147:11), trust in his steadfast love (Ps.13:5; 52:8), rejoice in his steadfast love (Ps.31:7), take refuge in his steadfast love (Ps.17:7; 36:7;59:16-17;144:2), call on his steadfast love (Ps.6:4; 25:6-7; 31:16; 36:10; 44:26; 51:1; 69:13,16; 109:26:119:41,76,88,124,149), are satisfied by his steadfast love (Ps.90:14).
Believers, God's love defines you! Paul addresses his letter:
We are told;
In Romans 8, we are told of the permanence and security of God's love for us.
In 2 Thessalonians, Paul prays:
It is essential that we know and embrace God's love for us
Knowing God's love for us gives us strength.
The love of Christ for you surpasses knowledge! You need God's Holy Spirit power to be able to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge!
Lord God, we ask you today to give us each the strength and ability to perceive your love for us, to believe your love for us, to allow you to love us, to know your love for us as we hear you tell us how you love us in your word. Amen
God is love. We know what love is by seeing God's love for us. Let's look together at what God's word says about God's love, so that we can see what love should look like.
God's Love is Undeserved Love
First, we need to clear up a misconception. We often love because we find someone who is lovely, loveable, desirable, irresistible, someone that excites our affections. We 'fall in love'; it's 'love at first sight'. This is not how it is with God. The bible paints a very different picture of God's love for us.
God's love is undeserved love. What we deserve is God's wrath. That is why Jesus died. We were enemies of God, weak, ungodly, sinners. Jesus rescues us from God's wrath, justifies us by his blood, and reconciles us to God by his death. That is God's love for us. There was nothing in us that was lovely or attractive. This is humbling, but it is freeing. We want to be loved because we are loveable. The bible tells us that we were offensive to God, and fully deserving of his wrath. That doesn't make me feel very good about myself, but the bible does not intend to make me feel good about myself. The bible intends to make me see God for who he is in all the perfections of his beauty, and worship him. Our God is a God who loves the unlovely. There is nothing surprising when someone loves one who is desirable. But we are stirred to admiration of this one who chooses to love the unlovable. I say it is humbling but it is freeing. It is humbling because it shows me that there is nothing good in me. It is freeing because, if there is nothing in me that earns God's love, then I can do nothing to lose God's love. God has seen me at my worst, and has chosen to set his love on me. I will never deserve God's love, but he loves me because he is love. I am secure.
God's Love is a Giving Love
God's love is a costly love, a giving love.
This is an astonishing statement. Throughout his writings, John uses the word 'world' to stand for all that is against God, opposed to God, hating God, sinful, evil, in darkness, ruled by Satan, and in need of saving. John tells us in his first letter:
We are not to love the world, to embrace the world system and participate in its evil. John 3:16 stands over against this. God loved the world, but he loved it in this way – not by embracing the world as it is, but by giving the one thing that would overcome the evil and opposition in the world. God loved the world in this way – he gave his only Son. God's love is a costly, self-sacrificial giving love. The only thing that would conquer my rebellious heart is God the Son, become human, crucified for me, as my substitute. God loved, so God gave.
God overcame the obstacle to his love for us by sending his only Son to be the propitiation for our sins – to satisfy justice and pay the debt of honor by the ultimate sacrifice. But this was no unwilling sacrifice. There was divine cooperation within the trinity to love us.
This is personal.
God so loved wicked rebellious me that he became sin for me and was nailed to a cross to absorb God's wrath against me.
God's Love is a Transforming Love
Here we need to clear up another misconception about God's love. When we think of the ideal love relationship, we often think of someone who is compatible. We might take a compatibility test to grade how similar we are to one another. We are looking for someone who shares the same interests we have, enjoys the same things we enjoy, has the same goals we have, shares common expectations, hopes, and dreams. We are looking for the perfect fit. We are hoping to find someone who will take us as we are and won't want to change us. The problem with this is that we need changing. We are not who we ought to be. We are not who we were created to be. If God's love for us meant that he accepted us just as we are, then it would not be love. It would be condemnation to remain in a state far short of what we were meant to be. God's love is a transforming love. Make no mistake, God will take you as you are, but God will not leave you as you are. God fully intends to change you. In a passage addressing the marriage relationship, we are given God's purpose to change us.
The intent of Christ's love is sanctifying, cleansing, washing, removing every spot and wrinkle and blemish. The intent is splendor, holiness. God's love intends to make us what we are not. God's love is a rigorous, abrasive, purging, purifying, refining love. God takes rebels and makes us his friends. God takes the ungodly and sets us apart for his use. God takes sinners and transforms our desires. This is not a comfortable process. The metaphors used make us wince. Here the picture is laundry. Harsh chemicals to remove stains, vigorous scrubbing, prolonged submerging. A 'fuller' is an old word to describe one who treads or beats cloth to cleanse or thicken it (online etymology dictionary), scouring and pressing and shrinking. Malachi combines the metaphor of the fuller with that of the refiner.
The refining process applied intense heat to a precious metal until it became liquid, when all the impurities would float to the surface to be scraped away. The process is painful, but the intended result is beautiful and creates value. God loves us and intends to sanctify us, to cleanse us, to make us holy, to present us to himself in splendor.
There is so much more to say about God's love, but let's come back around to our original question and give some brief application. How does the word 'love' sum up what it means to be a Christian? A Christian is one who is experiencing God's love. A Christian must first be a recipient of God's love. I must embrace the fact that I am unlovable and undeserving of God's love, and humbly receive the infinitely costly gift of God's love for me in the person of God the Son crucified in my place as my substitute. A Christian is one who is experiencing God's transforming love as God daily addresses the sin in my life, cleansing and purifying and refining. Our hearts begin to be transformed so that we do begin to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and we begin to extend God's love to our neighbor. We love because he first loved us. And as we have learned, this is not a mushy-gooshy feeling toward them, but if it is God's love flowing through us, it is undeserved, extended especially to the unlovable, it is a costly, giving, self-sacrificial love, and it is a transforming sanctifying purifying love, painful at times, but meant for the good.