The passage we are looking at this morning deals with what is perhaps the greatest of all the themes of the Bible. It is the theme of God’s love.
When you read the Bible, I believe this subject sticks out more than any other. Certainly, a lot of passages talk about God’s wrath and how he can become inflamed with anger. We read many passages dealing with his holiness too. As you turn the pages of Scripture, you can’t help but see that quite clearly. However, these themes pale in comparison to the theme of God’s love. This thesis presides over all the others. For in the Bible you cannot help but see how God pursues his wayward people tenaciously and passionately.
Perhaps this topic is so prevalent in Scripture because so many are prone to doubt it. I believe that it needs to be at the forefront of the Scriptures because it is so necessary for us to understand. When we come to be persuaded that God really loves, then we are more ready to love him in return. Trusting him follows right on the heals of having the assurance of his great love for us.
This last week my daughter and I went for a walk in the woods. It is something we do somewhat frequently, but this time was a little different. It was at night. As we marched through the trails in the darkness, I thought about how much my daughter trusted me. She was not afraid in the slightest bit to be out there in that creepy place. She was not afraid that I would do anything to her while we were out there. She had full confidence that she could follow me anywhere because she knew that I loved her.
The Lord wants us to have this sort of confidence: that we can trust him through anything and follow him anywhere. So in this passage our Lord confirms his love. He shows us just how great his love for us so that we may sweetly rest in it.
In order to reassure us of his love the Lord talks first about the sheer extravagance of it. The first mention of God’s love is found in the last half of verse 5, and it says that God’s love has been “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I. Its profuse extravagance
You might not notice it at first glance, but we understand how profuse God’s love is by those words “poured out.” This word literally means “to spill” or “to run out greedily.”
Now you can spill something and it is not all that big of a deal. If you are almost done with your soda and you accidently knock it over, that’s not going to be much to worry about. But if that soda “runs out greedily” then that is something completely different. You get the idea that it is the jumbo size that you ordered and you haven’t even had the chance to take a sip of it yet. Now it is all over your lap, running down your legs onto the seat and creating a huge puddle on the floor.
This is the same word used in the book of Acts when it talks about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. You know when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles it wasn’t as if God was using a dropper. The Spirit is described as coming down in an overflowing manner, much like a torrent and it filled the room where the disciples were. The funny thing about that passage is that the disciples were gathered in the upper room when the Spirit was poured out. Then without any sort of transition the disciples are outside preaching to all the people who were gathered in Jerusalem. It is almost as if the title wave of the Spirit came gushing down from heaven in such incredible deluge that they disciples were carried outside by the overflow of it. You might have seen in pictures of a flood where a car is hit with a wall of water and then carried down the street by the overwhelming volume of water. That’s what seems to be described in Acts chapter 2.
And that is exactly the same way God’s love is described here in this passage. There is no shortage of God’s love. God is not holding anything back. His love comes down into our hearts in a lavish overwhelming manner! The extravagance almost sounds sloppy because it reminds you of a child with the garden hose. He just lets it all come gushing out.
I’m glad that God’s word describes His love like this here because a lot of people don’t have that kind of view of it. Some people (maybe you are one?) tend to think that God is up in heaven with a clip board taking an inventory of our lives and then rewarding with a pinch or two. Or maybe we compare it to our own lives and how we always have a tendency to be a little stingy. I know how we guys are. When we want to show our wife how much we love her, we will go and buy her some flowers. And we can’t wait to walk in that door and overwhelm her with a nice bouquet of flowers. But what do we do when we get to the store? We look for the cheapest arrangement. We look and say, “$15 for a dozen measly roses? That’s ridiculous!” So you go over and start looking at the carnations.
God doesn’t operate like that. His love is never stingy, but always excessive.
Tim Keller is a PCA pastor in New York, and he has recently written a book based on the parable of the prodigal son. The title of his book is Prodigal God. The term prodigal means reckless, wasteful and absorbed with excess. And it is characteristic of the first son who takes his inheritance and goes and spends everything in a wildly extravagant lifestyle. Keller makes the point though that the father figure in that parable is just as excessive with his love. He spends his days looking for the son, waiting for him to come back. Then when he sees him far off in the distance he runs to him. He does one of the most undignified things, hiking up his garments and sprints through the village thoroughway, right where everyone could see him. Upon reaching the debauched child he showers him with kisses. He lavishes his love, and puts a ring on his finger and a robe on his back. Then he calls for the fattened calf to be killed and prepared. The party he puts together on behalf of this child is almost wasteful in and of itself because he spares no expense.
He is the Prodigal God, and he wants you to know just how profuse his love for you is.
I’m sure you will agree that if we stopped here you would have sufficient evidence of how great God’s love is. But, if the truth be told, we are not even scratching the surface yet. We can’t know the depth of his love until we consider who exactly he loves! And if you look at what this passage says, you see that it has some of the most unlikely objects.
II. Its unlikely objects
This passage uses 4 words to describe us, and the picture it paints is not a pretty one. You’ve all heard the expression, “He’s got a face that only a mother could love.” Well, when you consider what this passage says about us, you wonder, “How could anyone love us, let alone God.”
The first word that we come across is the word “weak.” The KJV is perhaps a little more accurate as it describes us as being “without strength.” The idea is that of being impotent. The word is typically used to describe sick people, or people who are infirm. In Acts 4 it is used to describe a man who is paralyzed! These are all people who are so weak they can’t do anything.
What does it mean that we are weak? For what do we not have any strength? What is in view is our moral inability. When it comes to pleasing God we do not have any power to do anything that pleases Him. We are completely impotent—we are like an ethical paralytic!
The Bible uses this language to describe how depraved we are in a number of places. The best reference is in Jeremiah 7:9. In my version it says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick.” Some other versions say, desperately wicked. The New International version says beyond cure. In other words, there is no remedy because the illness is so far gone. Today we might say it is stage 4 cancer, the deadliest and most severe.
If we think we are good, or have some goodness deep down inside somewhere, we are only kidding ourselves. That’s why Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things. We lie to ourselves and make ourselves out to be more upright than we are and say that we can please God, at least to some degree.
That’s not what the bible says though. When it comes to pleasing God we are completely impotent.
The next word that the Bible uses to describe those God loves is ungodly.
Rob and I have been going through Jerry Bridges book, Respectable Sins, a book that deals with the sins we find acceptable. Before getting into the different sins though, Bridges talks about ungodliness. He says that we typically think ungodly people are people who extreme sinners. You know, the kind who are murderers and rapists; people who are open blasphemers and God deniers. Bridges says that is not necessarily so. He says a person can be a nice, respectable citizen and still be an ungodly person.
Ungodliness has to do with living your life with little or no thought of God, his will, his glory, or of your constant dependence upon him. That’s how we were (and are!). Tell me, how often is God on your mind? How often do you think about him or pray to him? I’m sure that the thought of being in his constant presence is relatively rare.
It is funny if you think about it. God loves the ungodly. God loves those who are facing the complete opposite direction.
The next word that is mentioned is found in verse 8. It is the word sinners. What is descriptive here? It is that we are chiefly characterized by that which God finds most offensive. We have a corrupt nature that we have inherited from Adam. So we are slaves to sin and under the dominion of sin. The power of sin is constantly at work so that everything we do is tainted with sin.
It is a lot like one of those old smokestacks that you would find on an old factory. It is black within and without. And all that comes billowing out of it is nothing but the darkest, most putrid smoke. You look at that smokestack and find it repulsive. You don’t want to go anywhere near it, let alone have a loving, personal relationship with it.
That’s what God does though. He loves impotent, ungodly sinners. The last word that he uses is the word enemies.
The idea here is that of open hostility. It is not just a rejection of God (what might be seen in the word sinner). An enemy does more than reject his opponent. He does more than despise him. He attacks him.
This is perhaps the ugliest of all the terms used so far. You could say He goes and saves the worst for last. The think is that most people don’t see it this way. To put our relationship with God in these terms, will make a lot of people object. Nobody thinks that they are God’s enemy. Everybody thinks the world of God, don’t they? He’s the big guy in the sky. If you ask them everybody is always on good terms with God.
The truth of the matter is that the exact opposite is true. If we could get our hands on God, we’d kill him. It is as simple as that. All you have to do is look at what we did to Jesus when he came to earth. What did we do with him? We attacked him. We whipped and beat him. We crucified him. We killed him. We proved that we were God’s enemies.
You see. God doesn’t love the lovely. If he did, he wouldn’t love any of us. He might love the angels and the creation, but he would not even lay an eye on us. Yet, the love that he loves us with is that grand.
You might say that the test of true love is what you are willing to love. I said earlier, mothers are able to love a lot more than most people, aren’t they? You could be as ugly as sin, and the only person who would love you would be your mother.
Well, the Bible says that we are as ugly as sin. And if our mother could see us as God does, she wouldn’t love us. But God sees us just how ugly we are and he still loves us.
Hopefully by now you are beginning to see something of how great God’s love for you is. His love is extravagant and it comes to the most unlikely people. But we will not really understand how much God loves us if we do not consider the cross. For the cross is the ultimate proof of his love for us.
III. Its proof
In verse 8 it says, ‘God demonstrates (or proves) his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What the Lord shows us here is that his love is not just talk. His love is more than words.
A woman may question whether or not her husband lovers her. She might ask him, “Do you love me?” He can talk about how much he loves her all he wants. He can describe it in the most eloquent ways, but if he doesn’t ever get out of his Lazyboy and show her that he loves her, what he has is not real love. We all know that talk is cheap. If he never proves his love, be it by helping with the dishes or going out and getting a job, she will know that he doesn’t really love her.
We all know that dying for someone is the highest expression of love. As a matter of fact, Jesus says in the gospel of John, no greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friend. It doesn’t matter if it is the guy in the fox hole who dives on a grenade or the father who takes the place of his child in an execution, those are the chief expressions of love.
The difference here though is that Christ died for those who were unlovable by nature. Verse 7 points this out. It says, “Romans 5:7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” In other words, people don’t usually have this kind of love where they are willing to give up their lives for someone. What’s more is that even in those rare occasions where someone does die for someone else, it is typically for someone who is close to them and it is someone who is worth dying for. They are outwardly what you might call a “good person.” They aren’t a profligate of some kind.
Christ’s death is the ultimate expression of love because he died to save those who were in no way appealing to him. The fact of the matter is, he died to make them appealing! That’s what it means that Christ died “for us.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying He gave his life as an atoning sacrifice. And the rest of the passage fleshes that out: He died that we might be “saved”. He died that we might be “reconciled.” He died that we may be “justified.” All of these words are pointing to the fact that his death was for the purpose of cleaning up the unclean.
But can you imagine dying for someone Osama bin Laden? How about a serial rapist? Would you say to the executioner who is ready to administer the lethal injection, “Wait! Don’t put the needle in him. I want to take his place. I want you to inject the serum into my veins instead.”
I could go on and make the illustration more graphic. But I would assume even the thought of giving your life for such a person is repulsive to you. Yet, that is exactly what God did for you. Christ went to the cross and died in your place.
Surely, the expanse of God’s love could not have been shown in any greater way. And when we behold all that is said of God’s love in this passage, we can’t help but confess that it most certainly is an amazing love.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.