Steadfast Love ~ 20160214 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
02/14 Steadfast Love; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20160214_steadfast-love.mp3
We are looking at the character and nature of God in order to know him, to know him as he is, to increase our affection for God, to love him as we ought, to enjoy his greatness and worth, to admire him, to worship him, to stand in awe of his greatness and majesty.
We have been looking at the goodness of God, his inclination to deal well and bountifully with his creatures. We defined mercy as God's goodness toward those in misery and distress; grace as God's goodness toward those who deserve only punishment, and today we will look at God's love, which is his special favor toward his people (Bavinck, p.206).
Paul prays for the Ephesian church:
Paul prays for the saints to be rooted and grounded in love, to be anchored, to stand fast in God's love. He prays for the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen them to be able to comprehend the love of God. Today we will endeavor to look at God's love for his people. God's love for us is so big, so abundant, so beyond what we can humanly grasp that we are utterly incapable of comprehending it. This is a supernatural task and we need supernatural help. May this be our prayer today, that we would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
One reason we need outside help to understand God's love is that the concept of love carries so much preconceived baggage that we assume we know what it means, and we try to impose our understanding and experiences and expectations on to the concept of God's love. As has been true with our whole study of the nature of God, we need to dump our preconceived notions and allow God to define for us what he is like through his word. It may feel like we are giving up ground and letting go of something we treasure, but we will find, if we are willing, that the truth of God's love for us is so much richer and deeper and stronger and greater than what we could possibly have imagined.
Romans 5:5 tells us
God's love has been poured out, spilled, dumped over, gushed, into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We experience the overwhelming overflowing love of God through the work of the Spirit of God in us.
How We Know What Love Is
By this we know love. We are only able to know what love is because God has shown love to us. We know what love is because of the love God has extended to us.
Love is from God. Real love is evidence that we know God, that we have been born of God, that we belong to him. Although we see traces of love reflected in the world, even sacrificial love, the love of a mother for her child, the highest love is a result of being born of God, a result of God's love in the gospel taking root and bearing fruit in our lives. 1 John 4 tells us that unbelievers cannot love in the same way that those who have been transformed by the gospel are equipped to love. God is love, and this kind of love comes from God. Love is produced in us as an overflow of experiencing God's love for us in the gospel.
We must come to know the love God has for us. We must believe the unbelievable love God has for us.
We can only love because we have been loved.
As Moses rehearses the ten commandments to the generation about to enter the land, he gives the reason for loving God above all else, having no other gods or no images:
God's love is steadfast love, and he shows it to thousands. Back in Exodus 34, the passage we have looked at for the past few weeks where God displays his goodness, God says he is 'abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.' God's love is abundant. He abounds, he overflows with steadfast love. But God's love is not for everyone. Notice, this love is extended to 'those who love me and keep my commandments'. God's love is a discriminating love. In fact, this verse states that God is jealous and will punish those who hate him. God's love is not indiscriminate. He chooses to love. He is free to love whom he will. God insists on establishing his own freedom to love. His love does not come from duty or obligation. He does not love because he ought to love, but because he wants to love, he freely chooses to love. He says in Exodus 33:19 “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy”
We established last time, when we looked at God's mercy and grace, that God is inclined to show mercy and grace to all his creatures, but God is in no way obligated to show mercy or grace to any of his creatures. He would be just and right and good to punish all evil and give to every person exactly what they deserve. But instead he gives to everyone better than they deserve.
God's love is not an impersonal force like electricity, when the breaker is on, the juice is flowing to whatever is out there, whether it be a light bulb or a computer downloading porn, a hair dryer or a child's finger in the light socket. God's love is a distinguishing love, treating different individuals differently.
The Reason For Love
What we want to know is how does God distinguish? How does he choose? On what basis does God choose to set his love on someone?
In Deuteronomy 7, Moses warns the people when God brings them in to the promised land, not to make a covenant with the people of the land, not to show mercy to them, not to intermarry with them, because they will turn your hearts away from the Lord to serve other gods. He gives the reason:
Out of all the peoples on the earth, God chose you to be his treasured possession. Why? Why did God choose to set his love on this people? Not because of anything in them. It is simply because the Lord your God loves you. God chose to set his love on you because he loves you.
Of course, this is the nation of Israel, chosen to be God's people, to be the ones through whom the Messiah would come, and ultimately to be a blessing to all peoples. But what about us?
Paul speaks to individual believers in the church in 1 Corinthians 1.
God's calling, God's choosing is designed to eliminate boasting. God chose to set his love on unlikely candidates so that no one could ever take credit for something within them that was the reason God chose them. Whatever the reason for God setting his love on a person, it has nothing to do with some foreseen good in that person. In fact, Ephesians 2 describes us as dead, walking in sins, following Satan, doing what pleases us with total disregard to what pleases God.
Again, the goal is to eliminate boasting. God saved us because of the great love with which he loved us. And this was not because of something he saw in us; all that was in us was distasteful, displeasing, detestable to him. It was to display the immeasurable riches of his grace – being good to those who deserve only punishment.
In Ephesians 1, we are told that
He adopted us because he loved us. Why? It was according to the purpose of his will. And it served to bring praise to his glorious grace - highlighting his goodness to those who did nothing to deserve it. We struggle to understand this because our love tends to be called out by something we see in the one we love. Something catches our eye. We are attracted in some way. There is something that stirs up our affections. A character trait, a quality, unrealized potential. Our love is a reaction, a response awakened by something in the one we are attracted to. God's love is not like that. God's love is free. God initiates. There is nothing we could do to attract his love, and we have already done everything we could do to repel him and make ourselves unlovable. Romans 5 says:
God poured out his love on us while we were weak, ungodly, sinners, his enemies. His love is not dependent on something in us.
It could go without saying, but we must say it, that God's love is a costly love. For God to give us exactly what we deserve would cost him nothing. But to choose to set his love on his enemies, that is an infinitely expensive venture for a righteous God. For God to show his love to sinners meant the death of his only Son.
The wages of our sin is death, and by choosing to love us, he chose to pay the price himself.
God is love. God's love was shown to us by his sending his only Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. Jesus came to lay down his life for his wayward sheep. He came to drink the cup of the wrath of almighty God against rebels who abused his good gifts and spat in his face. He came to die so that we might live. Colossians (2:14) tells us that the record of debt that stood against us was nailed to his cross. God liberally, generously, freely pours out his love on us, but it was deeply costly to him.
The word [חֵסֵד] checed (kheh'-sed) which appears well over 200 times in the Hebrew Bible is most often translated 'steadfast love'. This term appears frequently in the context of a covenant relationship. God of his own free will entered into a binding relationship with his people. This is also closely tied to the concept of faithfulness. God commits himself to a relationship, and he will not go back on his word. God's steadfast love is a ground for many prayers.
The Psalmist calls on God to forgive because of his steadfast love. God's covenant keeping love is also the basis for much praise.
God's steadfast covenant keeping faithful love is a frequent ground for worship in the Psalms. “For his steadfast love endures forever” is the refrain repeated 26 times in Psalm 136 alone.
Listen to Galatians 2:20.
Can you say this? The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me? This is individual, this is personal. It is one thing to say 'God so loved the world' or even to talk about 'the great love with which he loved us'. But it is another thing altogether to say that 'the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me'. This brings the love of God home. Can you say that when Christ hung on that cross, that he had me specifically, personally in mind? Did you know that he knows you by name? This, I believe, is what it means to 'know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.' He took my place. His death was an expression of the love of God for me.
This love of God, this costly, self-sacrificial, freely given covenant keeping love, this intimately personal love expressed by Christ to us, when we get it, when we are given capacity by the Spirit to see it, when we begin to grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, it changes us. When the good news of God's love penetrates down into the hardened soil of our hearts, it will germinate and grow and begin to break up the rocky ground and burst out and overflow with life and fruit, hope and peace and joy.
God is love. Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. The gospel has taken root and is bearing fruit.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org