I Am Loved
I think it was 1999. I was living in Washington DC, working for the Air Force in, and taking seminary classes through extension. I remember trying to take a nap one Saturday afternoon, but I couldn’t sleep. I just laid there pleading with God:
“Lord, I don’t understand this love thing. I get the theology thing. But I don’t have the emotions. I’m neither giddy like a boy whose fallen in love nor in awe like a mom holding a newborn. But you’ve said that this love thing is important, so you’ve got to fix me.”
And you know what? No fireworks. Nothing really changed—not for a long time.
If you have your Bibles or Bible Apps, please turn to Ephesians 3; I’m going to be talking about comprehending God’s love today because Paul prays that we’ll really get it.
Ephesians 3:14–21, ESV
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The Great Principle
Think about your own prayer life for a moment. What do you pray about most? External things or internal things?
The majority of us probably lean towards external problems. We want circumstances changed, or solutions for our finances, health, relationships. Does this describe you, or are you praying to know God more, to enjoy God more? What’s the big thing you’re praying for?
I want you to really take note of the one thing that Paul prays for in our text today, because it’s a best thing, the greatest thing. He doesn’t pray for the material condition of his readers; he prays for the spiritual condition. He prays that his readers will comprehending the dimensions of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” that they would really experience Jesus’ love.
Paul’s prayer is following the great principle: Put first things first.
C.S. Lewis once said: “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.” But Lewis wasn’t original in that thought for in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is quotes as saying: “Seek the kingdom of God first and all of these [second] things will be added unto you” (6:33).
This great principle isn’t cold or unsympathetic to the things that cause us anxiety; it is, rather, deep, insightful. Behind it is the understand that when your inner being is strong and secure, you can sail both calm and stormy waters without distress. When your inner being is strong and secure you can rejoice in plenty or in want. When your inner being is strong and secure you can say with David: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (Psa 23:1).
And since “it is through many tribulations that we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22) the question isn’t how to remove difficulties—they just aren’t going to go away. The question is how to get through difficulties.
Every difficulty that you are going to face in this world is due either to your sin or the sin of someone else—that’s just the hard truth of the matter. And all of those difficulties that get you down and depressed are like, if I can use a simile, germs that are constantly attacking us.
Think about it… There are actually billions of germs and microbes in the room right now. They are inside and outside our bodies. But for the most part we don’t see or feel them because our bodies are resisting there attacks. But take away the immense system and a person is will get sick and die pretty darn quick.
So, we want to have a strong immune system and there different perspectives on how to do that. Some say exercise; some say the right foods; some say vaccines; some say exposure to germs; some answer “E”, all of the above. And still others don’t want any of that, preferring to use drugs to take the fight to the enemy on an open field of battle.
I’m not giving you medical advice. I’m just saying people do different things, yet we all want to resist those germs.
You want to deal with the trials, troubles, and tribulations of life, right? Then, the great principle is advising: build up your spiritual immune system. Be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in your inner being.
“But how?” we ask.
Well, Paul tells us in our text today: “Know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” know it in your soul, rest in it. Do you know why he says that? He says that because he knows that the heart is the center of your being that controls everything. Our discouragement, our depression, or difficulties in this life aren’t primarily due to the trials, temptations, and troubles that swirl around us like a tornado. Our issues arise out of our heart that faces those things. It’s why the proverb says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov 4:23).
When you have something preying on your mind, it doesn’t matter how healthy you are. If you are full of anxiety, you’re going to find it hard to do you work. If there is something gnawing at your heart, you might even feel physically weak. But the physically weak person can sometimes really surprised you. When they are suddenly filled with joy they feel refreshed and full of energy. This is just how we work.
Now, I can’t control if you experience of the love of God or not. But maybe for the remainder of this message I can tell you a few things that will help you comprehend it.
The Love of God is Reckless
We will never really understand God’s love until we understand how much we need to be loved.
I think that was my problem years ago. I was a good kid, for the most part. I was too afraid of my parents to do anything really bad. My own righteousness blinded me from seeing my need to be loved. And my personal experience with rejection made me hesitant. I was stiff.
A friend of mine got some insight into this once when a woman barged into his office without knocking. He was reading a book and looked up and asked her if he could help.
“No,” she said, grinning, “I’m going to help you, pastor. I have something that you will use in a sermon sometime. Last night I went to a Bible study, and the Bible teacher said something that you will like. She said, ‘It’s hard to hug a stiff kid.’”
Remembering how hard it was to hug his own teenage daughters especially when they were angry or sullen, my friend, “That’s good.” It’s kinda like hugging a telephone pole.
“But that’s not all. Last night after the Bible study, I went to baby-sit a two-year-old boy. He had been playing in the dirt all day and was the dirtiest kid I’ve ever seen. When I went into his room, he lifted up his arms to be hugged. Do you know what I learned?” she asked.
“What?” he said.
“That it is easier to hug a dirty kid than it is to hug a stiff kid.” (Steve Brown, Approaching God, 24–25).
God is reckless; he hugs dirty people.
Some of us are perfectionists and moralists, and it’s really hard for us to see that our bondage to perfectionism and moralism makes our hearts lifeless and stiff like a telephone pole. And all of that perfectionism and moralism also makes us self-righteous—and friends, I am the most self-righteous person I know, and it took me a long time to see it—but what this means is, if this also describes you, that we’re just as dirty as the promiscuous ones, the angry ones, the insolent ones, the addicted one, the homosexual ones, the image-obsessed ones who think they’ve emptied the grace-keg last Friday night and now there’s no point in even praying.
God hugs the dirty, because all there is is dirty people.
There’s a parable that Jesus told that shows just how reckless God is. It’s the parable of the great banquet. It goes as follows…
There was once a man who gave a great banquet and sent out his servant to invite many. But those he invited all had excuses. So the man became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame,’ go get the losers. And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:21–23).
I hope you know that idea is crazy! If you invite in the riffraff, vagabonds, throw-aways, if you invited in the bedraggled and the beat-up folks who are covered in blood, then you’re house is going to be filled with folks who don’t have good table manners. And what is more, you’re liable to find your place settings, napkins, and table clothes missing as the party breaks up. So that’s a reckless idea.
But God does it anyway. Why? Because all of us are wounded scalawags—you know it’s true. You have your moments when you’re narrow-minded, unforgiving, critical, and unloving, and so do I. But God is reckless because he knows that only the wounded scalawags realize the truth: they are the losers who need a good meal.
The Love of God is Pervasive
A friend of mine has been on nation radio for years and he’s old. And when you’ve doing something as long as he has you stop caring what other people think. So, when folks called into his radio station he’d give them “three free sins,” six if they called on a cell phone.
On one occasion a woman called, irate about his policy of giving free sins. After several people had complained his producer got fed up and said on air, “Are you guys crazy? Steve can’t give free sins. Only God does that. It’s a joke. Lighten up!” (Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom, 86)
It was a joke, but it had a serious point: “Our sin isn’t our problem, so much as our stiffness” (Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom, 86).
Jesus took care of sin. He paid for your past sins, your present sins, and your future sins. There isn’t a sin he didn’t pay for. So in that sense, all of your sins are free. And this means God’s love is pervasive, it’s all-encompassing.
Now let me say two things about this, because people love to screw up this idea of love…
1. God’s Love Doesn’t Avoid Discipline.
When I say that God’s love is pervasive, I don’t mean he’s flushed discipline down the drain.
A loving father isn’t aloof; he doesn’t bless everything stupid thing his kids do; he doesn’t throw up his hands and let them terrorize the neighborhood. A loving father guides, and trains, and corrects, and disciplines as needed. Because he loves, he engages … as the Bible says, “Those who love their children care enough to discipline them” (13:24).
This is true precisely because God’s love is all-encompassing. God’s love covers the whole and the goal of our life.
If you screw up—and I have—don’t expect God to keep you from the natural consequences of your blunder. If you don’t put oil in your car, don’t expect God’s love to save you from having to replace your engine. If you’re cruel to you spouse, don’t expect God’s love to save you from a divorce. Hitting live’s pot holes of doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you. It simply means you’re a lousy driver, and you need training.
2. God’s Love Isn’t Cheap Grace.
The other thing I want to say, is when many hear about God’s radical love and grace they get angry. They say, “If you don’t have to do anything and God just loves you like that, then that’s cheap grace!”
Friends, nothing about God’s love is cheap; it cost Jesus everything. If grace cost you anything—commitment, obedience, religious actions, or anything—it would remain on the store shelf. The love of a holy God love isn’t affordable.
God’s love can’t be earned. God’s love can’t be paid back. Like I’ve told you before, all you can do is rest in it.
The folks who are angry about God’s radical love haven’t really thought this through. So you think about it… Ask yourself this question: If you really believed that you were forgiven, accepted, and loved completely without reservation what would you do? How would it change your life?
My friend with the radio show that gave away the free sins suggested that if we really believed that we were loved without reservation, then we’d be less obsessive about ourselves, we’d get a life, and who knows, we might even sin a little bit less (Steve Brown, A Scandalous Freedom, 88).
And if that happened… I bet we’d be unstoppable, because God’s love is unstoppable and we’d start smelling like him.
The Love of God is Unstoppable
In the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was challenged by a religious professional. Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbor.” This self-righteous fella said, “Oh yeah, whose neighbor?” So, Jesus explained with the following story…
There was a man walking downhill from Jerusalem to Jericho. He started at 2500 feet above the Mediterranean Sea and descended to an elevation 825 feet below it. But what is more he descended to even new depths as he was beat up and left to die.
A priest preoccupied with his own purity passed the man by. Then a temple assistant came down the road and kept on truck’n. Neither of these religionists really saw the loser. They thought of themselves as winners. So, there was no point in allowing their lives or their spiritual, moral, or physical plans for the season to be ruined by giving attention to this bloody outcast.
Then, Jesus throws a despised half-Jew, a Samaritan, into the story who empties his pockets and his plans, and personally pays for man’s healthcare.
For two thousand years folks have thought that this story is saying: “If you wanna get to heaven, then you’ve got to be a good neighbor like your State Farm agent. You can really earned something by a sensible, if slightly heroic, career of selfless care-giving.”
But that line of thinking obliterates the very idea of divine grace. Moreover, trying to earn anything shoots the notion of “selflessness” dead before breakfast. Neither the Samaritan nor Jesus is an example of the saving truth of human niceness—not at all!
There is something radically different going on here.
“Okay, then,” you ask, “What’s going on in Jesus’ story if it has nothing to do with lifting ourselves up to by our own bootstraps after considering a few good examples?”
The parable is calling us to something, but “what” exactly is beyond your wildest dreams. We aren’t being called to a salvation that comes out of human effort, but one that comes out of the complete shipwreck of human effort.
I know this is deep, but stay with me here; I promise this is going somewhere. Here’s a few markers to help us sort this parable out…
First, the man-who-got-beat-up is the central figure, not the Samaritan. All of characters in the story get defined as a neighbor or a non-neighbor in relation to the man-who-got-beat-up.
Second, the man-who-got-beat-up, who is lying there in his blood, lostness, and proximity to death is the closest thing to a Christ-figure in the story.
Third, by getting involved with the man-who-got-beat-up the Samaritan went bankrupt. To enter into the loser’s suffering he gives up his life, gives up his comfort, gives up his livelihood. And in all of that dying to self we find Jesus’ dark and depressing invitation: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). In other words, come and die, it’s a great way to live!
And what happens? Think about this… The two guys that passed by were dead to the loser on the side of the road, and that left him for dead. But the Samaritan’s dies to himself and the effect of that is that from his side of things, he keeps the potential for a relationship with the man-who-got-beat-up alive.
It’s like a cute little story I came across this week about a boy whose sister had a rare blood type and needed a transfusion. Her brother had the same blood type and had even recovered from the same disease two years earlier, making the chances of success even greater. The doctor carefully explained all this to little Jonny, pointing out that without the transfusion his sister would die.
“Would you be brave and give your blood to your sister?” the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip began to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.” The two children were wheeled into the hospital room—Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. He smiled at his sister, then watched as the blood traveled out of his body, down the clear plastic tube. Johnny’s smile faded, and as he lay there feeling weak he looked up at the doctor and said, “Doctor, when do I die?’
Johnny thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life; and in a sense it did. Yet because of his great love for her he was prepared to pay the price.
That’s love. That’s what love does. Love takes on death to keep a relationship alive, from getting stopped. If you’re having relational issues, you might think of trying this…
But what I really want you to know is that Jesus’ love is unstoppable. Not even death can’t stop it, for it’s through death that it lives: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Now, think about what I’m telling you… Jesus tells this parable and so it’s Jesus who is saying, “Come, get involved with my death; take it upon yourself. If you try to hang on to your life through all of your schemes of good works and bootstrap pulling, you’ll lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, if you come to realize that all of your efforts are shipwrecked; that you too are loser, not a winner, that you desperately need me, then you’ll save it” (Matt 16:25).
Why does it work that way? Because from God’s side of things, Jesus’ death has kept the possibility of a relationship with you alive. God’s love is unstoppable.
The love of God can’t be shrunk down to logo on a coffee cup, not really. The love of God isn’t fickle, moody, or affordable. The love of God is reckless, pervasive, and unstoppable.
It’s my prayer that you’d leave here today thinking, “Yeah, I am loved.” And if you’d trust and remember, that would be a bonus. But I think you’d find that it would make a really big difference. Amen.