“Loving Jesus Christ”
March 10, 2002
v.22 Verses 21-22 provide the longest section of exact correspondence between Ephesians and Colossians, 32 words in verbatim agreement. [O’Brien, Com., 491] Remember, we said at the outset of our studies in Ephesians that the two letters were probably written at about the same time and, possibly, were carried at the same time by Tychicus to groups of Christians living in the Roman province of Asia, what is now southwestern Turkey.
v.24 Verse 23 begins with “peace” and verse 24 begins with “grace”; terms also found in the salutation of the letter at 1:2. It is characteristic of Paul to begin and end his letters with “grace” and “peace” to those to whom he is writing.
“Love with faith from God” should be taken as God’s love for us, known by faith, not our love for God. That appears from its being listed with peace and grace, clearly God’s gifts to us. As Paul wants the peace and grace of God for these brethren, so he wants a greater measure of God’s love and their knowledge of it. Remember, in 3:14-19 he prayed precisely that, that these believers would come to know the height and depth, the breadth and length of the love of God in Christ Jesus.
There is an interesting difference from Paul’s normal style in v. 24. Usually he would say, “grace to you” or “grace be with your spirit.” Here, however, he speaks in a different way. He moves from the second person to the third and says, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ…” That third person benediction is unique among the letters of Paul. He may have spoken in this way because, as we suggested at the beginning, Ephesians was a circular letter and would be read to churches Paul had never met. For whatever reason, this way of speaking throws a special emphasis on the believers’ love for Christ.
In the letter to this point Paul has spoken of God’s love for his people, and of Christ’s love for them, of the believers’ love for one another, of believing husbands’ love for their wives, and of believers’ love in general, but this is the only place in the letter where the believers’ love for Christ is explicitly mentioned. So, the letter closes with a new emphasis on our relationship with Jesus Christ and our love and commitment to him personally. [Lincoln, WBC]
We are well used, of course, to defining a Christian as someone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is certainly true and perhaps the Bible’s most common way of describing what it means to be a Christian. But we read here and elsewhere in the Bible that a Christian is also and just as much someone who loves the Lord Jesus. If you love the Lord Jesus you are a Christian – that is to say, you are saved – if you do not, you are not. Paul says this explicitly at the end of 1 Corinthians: “If anyone does not love the Lord, a curse be on him.” Jesus once characterized the unbelievers in the church of his day as people “who do not have the love of God in their hearts” [John 5:42] Time and time again in the OT the people of God were told to “love the Lord their God” and that love was the condition of their salvation. “Faith works through love,” Paul says in Galatians and so reminds us that faith and love are really very similar things. It is impossible for there to be living faith without true love and it is impossible for there to be true love without living faith.
Here is John Owen in his ponderous 17th century English.
“They know nothing of the life and power of the Gospel, nothing of the reality of the grace of God, nor do they believe aright one article of the Christian faith, whose hearts are not sensible of the love of Christ therein. Nor is he sensible of the love of Christ, whose affections are not therein drawn out unto [Christ]. I say, they make a pageant of religion…whose hearts are not really affected with the love of Christ…so as to have real and spiritually sensible affections for him.” [Works, i, 166-167]
The unmistakable evidence of true and living faith, the proof that someone is in fact a Christian, is this love that he or she has for Jesus Christ, love for him, strong feeling for him, delight in him as our Savior, our King, our Brother, our Friend. To be sure, many claim to love the Lord who do not. Remember when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, a devout man, went north to help Ahab, king of Israel, one of the most wicked of all Israel’s kings. When Ahab was killed in battle, Jehoshaphat returned home and, on his way, was met by the prophet Jehu. Jehu said to Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” Now Ahab wouldn’t have said that he hated the Lord. He would have claimed to love the Lord. But the things he did and the things he did not do told a different tale. “If you love me,” Jesus said, “you will keep my commandments.” There are a great many in this world and, alas, many in the church herself, who do not love Jesus Christ.
Read Christian history and read Christian biography and you will find, as I have, that the distinguishing mark of real godliness in this world is not faith, in the first place. I don’t deny that faith comes first. But faith is harder to see. The distinguishing mark is love. Time and time again you will find some historian or biographer saying about some Christian what Alexander Smellie said about Robert Murray McCheyne:
“Love to Christ was the great secret of all his devotion and consistency; and, since the days of Samuel Rutherford, I question if the church of Scotland has contained a more seraphic mind, one that was in such a constant flame of love and adoration toward Him that liveth and was dead.” [Smellie, R.M. McCheyne, 173]
We, of course, have no problem understanding this. It is not a difficulty for us that the Apostle Paul should sum up everything in the Christian life by saying simply, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” When the great William Williams of the Welsh Great Awakening wrote that “Love is the greatest thing in religion, and if that is forgotten nothing can take its place,” we know precisely what he meant. When C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every Christian would agree that a man’s spiritual health is exactly proportional to his love for God,” we understand him exactly.
If I am a sinner justly deserving God’s wrath and punishment, if Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then love for him on my part, great love, strong love, is not only right, it is inevitable. And, of course, that is precisely what Paul has been demonstrating in this great letter of Ephesians. He has reminded us of how God loved us before the foundation of the world, however unlovely we were in ourselves. He has described the bondage that held us fast and would have held us forever were it not for the love of God. He has set forth Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin and death. And he has told these Christians that among all the things he prays for on their behalf, chief among them is just that they might better grasp how surpassingly wonderful God’s love for us actually is.
Now, there is surely a challenge for us here, brothers and sisters. A reminder of how much love must be the operating principle of our daily lives, and, supremely, love for Jesus Christ himself. We are to think and speak and act out of that love and for that love and as an expression of that love that we have for Jesus. Paul has written his final sentence in this great letter to stir our thinking. Do we love the Lord Jesus? If we do, how do we love him?
This church is well familiar with the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, one of the 20th centuries most influential spokesmen for historic Christianity. Schaeffer began his ministry as a pastor in the United States. He belonged to our own separatist Presbyterian movement. He had himself been shaped by the struggle in the Northern Presbyterian Church in the 1920s and 30s that had led to the exodus of a small number of people who could not stomach the old church’s toleration of downright unbelief in her ministry. Schaeffer aligned himself with the separatists, those standing for a fully orthodox and historically biblical Christianity, and, after seminary, pastored a church in that new small denomination. After the Second World War, the Schaeffers went to Europe as evangelists.
It was shortly after they got there that Schaeffer went through the great crisis of his life. Schaeffer had been converted during his high school years out of an agnostic background. His parents were not Christians. After his becoming a Christian, the years of college and seminary had passed, so also some ten years in the pastorate back home and a few years in Europe. But now it was 1951 and doubts were beginning to rise in his mind. The problem he felt was a lack of reality. Among many of those Christians with whom he had lived and worked in the separatist fundamentalist movement he detected a lack of reality. Among many of those who had stood staunchly for historic Christian orthodoxy in churches that were going over to liberal unbelief he did not see those things that ought to result from Christian faith, and among those things, love especially. But, it was not only a lack he saw in others. He realized that there was not the same fire in himself that he once had as a Christian, not the same zeal, not the same love. There was a dearth of reality!
He felt that he had no choice but to rethink his entire position; to go back to the beginning and start all over again. He had to find out if what he had believed were true? Was Christianity true or had he been duped? This was his Slough of Despond, that time of doubt so memorably depicted in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Edith, his wife, describes those days in her book, The Tapestry, as days of great worry and fear for her. She was a convinced Christian from a long line of Christians. She did not doubt her faith and could not help but worry whether her husband would still be a Christian when he was finished thinking through his faith. Schaeffer himself describes that experience, not only a central experience in his life but the foundation of his later ministry, in the short preface to his work, True Spirituality.
“We were living in Champery at that time, and I told Edith that
for the sake of honesty I had to go all the way back to my agnos-ticism and think through the whole matter. I’m sure that this was a difficult time for her, and I’m sure that she prayed much for me in those days. I walked in the mountains when it was clear, and when it was rainy I walked backward and forward in the hayloft of the old chalet in which we lived. I walked, prayed, and thought through what the Scriptures taught, as well as reviewing my own reasons for being a Christian.
As I rethought my reasons for being a Christian, I saw again that there were totally sufficient reasons to know that the infinite-
Personal God does exist and that Christianity is true. … Gradually the sun came out and the song came. Interestingly enough, although I had written no poetry for many years, in that time of joy and song I found poetry beginning to flow again – poetry of certainty, an affirmation of life, thanksgiving, and praise. Admittedly, as poetry it is very poor, but it expressed a song in my heart which was wonderful to me.”
That experience, as many of you know, became the basis of the Schaeffer’s ministry at L’abri, a ministry the Lord made unusually powerful and effective in restating the case for Christianity to a culture which had thought the case could no longer be made.
What Schaeffer had rediscovered, he said in effect, was the personal element in Christianity, the presence of Christ now with his people, his transforming power in them through the Holy Spirit, and their love for him and confidence in him. A song in his heart! That is what Paul means here when he speaks of our love for Jesus Christ.
You might say: how could such things ever be lost. But, the fact is, they are lost all the time. Without our even knowing it, real Christians, like many of you, like me certainly, can slip into a way of thinking and living that, in effect, reduces Christianity to a life-style, a particular code of conduct, a set of beliefs and a set of rules for living. No real Christian would ever admit to doing such a thing on purpose, never admit to intending to refashion Christianity into something else than a personal relationship with Christ lived out each day in communication, dependence, obedience, and love. But, our hearts take us there without our knowing it and the Devil is always tempting us to forget a present Christ and live as everyone else in the world lives, according to a particular code of conduct, relying on our own strength and our own wits. Everything unique about Christianity, everything glorious about it is thus lost and it becomes, like all other religions and philosophies, simply human effort. Among all the Devil’s schemes to which Paul made reference in v. 11, this is among the deadliest and the most subtle.
This is what false forms of Christianity always are: Christianity transformed into a religious code of conduct and ritual, without the living relationship of love between the individual Christian and a present Jesus Christ. Offended as they are to hear us say it, this is precisely the charge we make against both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy on the one hand, and liberal Protestantism on the other. They have replaced the personal element, the love for Christ, the walking with him, with creed, ritual, and moral code. They would bitterly object and say they have done nothing of the kind; and, to be sure, no doubt there are those in those churches who do have the very love for Christ that Paul is describing here as the distinguishing mark of a Christian. But, we have observed too many of the practitioners of those churches to be persuaded by heated denials. We consider the particular form and practices of those churches tailor made to strengthen an already powerful tendency to de-personalize the Christian faith. And, what is more, we know it is so because we know that same tendency lies in every heart and every church, including every Christian heart, including our own hearts and church, and if powerful forces are not brought in to check it, it will always prevail, sooner or later in an individual heart or in a Christian church.
But, our interest is not in pointing out the problems others have with this Pauline emphasis on the genuine Christian life as a life of personal love for Christ. Our interest is in summoning ourselves back to this loving Jesus himself and to increasing that love and making it more and more the very principle of our daily lives.
The way that Paul has reserved this statement for the very last in his letter points the way forward. What has come before, what he has said so far, the entire argument of the letter is the way in which he has summoned us to love for Christ and the way in which we, following him, must summon ourselves.
It is the constant keeping of a sense of God’s great love for us on our souls; the application to our own hearts of Christ’s death for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins; the daily remembrance of his promises to us, the keeping of which cost him so dearly; these are what induce in us a strong love for Jesus Christ. It is even in remembering the argument of chapters 4-6, the ethical section of the letter, shot through as it is with arguments for a Christian’s obedience that rest on the reality of Christ’s redemption, his love, his presence with his people. It is remembering all that Paul has said and taking it to heart that keeps fresh the believer’s love for Jesus. Say, with Bernard of Clairvaux, “The lower he humbled himself for me, the dearer he shall be to me.” [“Quanto pro me vilior, tanto mihi charior.”]
We know what love can do and we know what it is like. Most of us have experienced the thrill and the passion and inexpressible tenderness and fierce longing that are felt together in the soul that is deeply in love. We have, many of us, had experiences of ecstasy in the love of another human being and experiences of an even purer, higher ecstasy in the love of Christ, our hearts being so full of delight and longing that we scarcely knew how to contain ourselves.
I have always remembered a magnificent passage in Malcolm Muggeridge’s Memoirs where he relates a time when his wife, Kitty, fell seriously ill, indeed was not expected to live.
“It was a cruelly anxious time from every point of view. Each day, arranging for someone to be with the children, I went and sat with her. She was fighting to live, her face pared down to a skull, her body a yellow skeleton. Whilst I was there, the doctor came in and said that in the night she had lost a lot of blood, and desperately needed a blood-transfusion – it was before the days of bottled plasma. Wouldn’t I do for a donor? I asked, with a sudden access of hope. My blood-count was taken, and to my infinite relief proved satisfactory; and there and then, by a procedure that would seem grotesquely primitive nowadays, I was joined to her by a tube with a pump in the middle, so that I could actually watch the blood being pumped out of me into her. ‘Don’t stint yourself for blood,’ I said to the pathologist, a man named Barlow, perhaps partly to be theatrical, but also feeling it. Never in all our life together, had I so completely and perfectly and joyously experienced love’s fulfilment as on that moment…. for the first time I truly understood what love meant.” [Chronicles of Wasted Time, 343]
You know, the very interesting thing is that that picture of giving up one’s blood for another is almost the identical one that Bunyan uses to describe the depth of his feeling of love for Christ at a moment early in his Christian life. He was so overwhelmed with thoughts of Christ’s love for him that he thought to himself that if he had a thousand gallons of blood in his veins, he would gladly spill it all at the command and for the sake of his Redeemer. There is the idea: love that is a personal passion seeking deeper and greater communion and love that flows back to Christ in response to his great love for us.
To be sure, no one can expect the full flood of passion all the time. No believer in the history of Christian faith has ever enjoyed that, not even the Son of God enjoyed that! Not in this world, not with our still so sinful and selfish hearts, not with the Devil prowling around us to draw our attention away from Jesus at every opportunity.
But, whether we enjoy a flood of passion or not, love for Jesus is the standard we must set and expect of ourselves, love for Jesus the way in which we measure our Christian living day by day, and love for Jesus that state of mind and heart from which we expect to derive our happiness, our fruitfulness, and our holiness as Christian people. Believe me, if you think about this, you will immediately know that this and this alone is the way forward for you: more love for Christ, loving him better and more sincerely and more intentionally.
And here is one further encouragement to draw out your love for the Lord Jesus. He desires it from you, he longs for it from you. Nothing would please him more than to have your love!
Listen to this from Alexander Whyte. He is commenting on the Lord’s famous statement: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“Now I feel quite sure that some of you are saying to yourselves that if you had been a householder in Galilee or in Jewry your Saviour would not have need to repeat his proverb about birds, and foxes, and homeless prophets, at any rate in your town. He would not have lacked where to lay his head as long as you had a house to call your own. And I fully believe you; but, at the same time, you must clearly understand him, and must in nothing mistake him. You must distinctly understand that it was not his head that was without a pillow so much as his heart. I do not suppose that our Lord, at his worst, had often to sleep in the open air and on the bare ground. But, for all that, he was in reality as lonely and as homeless as his plainest-spoken proverb said he was. Take his proverb home to yourself. …what he really complained about in Israel, and still complains about among us, is the very few who, with any warmth, entertain his truth in their mind and himself in their heart. The Lord of Glory does not any more hunger and thirst for your meat and your drink. But he hungers and thirsts more than ever for your faith and for you love. He is such that he will never be satisfied short of your… whole love…and your whole heart.” [The Walk, Character, and Conversation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 207-208]
This is the deeply, intensely personal and emotional and moral vision that lies at the heart of the Christian faith: a human being head over heels in love with the Son of God who loved him and gave himself for him; who loved her and gave himself for her. As love grows, faith recedes until, at last in heaven, it is all love and no faith at all, for we shall see him as he is.
Do you ever stop to think that this is what places you above the angels themselves. They will never know the love that believing human beings have for Jesus Christ, because he never died for them, he never rescued them from sin and death, he never loved them in defiance of their ill-desert and unworthiness, he never remained faithful to them in the teeth of all of their unfaithfulness to him. No, this love, this passion, this longing, this drive to draw as near as we possibly can to the Son of God, this is the ultimate glory and privilege of being a human being!
And so I tell you this, pray for this love of Jesus in your heart, summon it up with recollection and argument as Paul has done in this great letter, fix your heart and mind on Jesus whom to see and to know is to love, and you will do greater things in this world than you ever imagined. What a man thinks to do, what a woman plans to do, is not to be compared with what a man or woman does who acts under the compulsion of a great love.
When those Moravian missionaries in South Africa entered Leper Colonies to preach the gospel knowing full well they would not be permitted ever to leave them, when others in the West Indies sold themselves into slavery as the only way to bring the knowledge of Christ to the slaves on those great estates, it was not love for lepers or for slaves that inspired them to make such terrible and wonderful sacrifices, it was love for Jesus Christ, a passion to serve him, to please him, to honor him, a delight in him that filled up their hearts.
It is that spirit, that reality we need today more than we need anything else. You need it; I need it. The church will regain her old heroism the moment she regains the passion of love for Jesus Christ. She will once again have the power to conquer the world when the love of Christ constrains her.
And what a remarkable and happy thought. When you have loved the Lord Jesus as much as it is possible for a human being to love him, you will not have begun to love him as he deserves to be loved or to delight in him as much as it is possible to delight in him. And so in heaven there will still be more love to come, much, much more.