There is no theme more enjoyed, more extolled, more relished in the NT than the love of God displayed through Christ. It is the theme, the anthem of the gospel: God loves sinners! There is good reason why John 3:16 is the most well-known verse in the world:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
But, even though this love may be one of the most trumpet sounds of the Christian world, it is woefully misunderstood. Let us reclaim the sacred ground, push back the fuzzy sentimentalism that has been poured into the term "love," and reclaim what truly is the love of God. Here is our text:
Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
I want us to see five things today:
I. God's Mercy is a Long-Suffering Mercy II. God's Love is an Superior Love III. God's Love is a Unique Love IV. God's Love is a Gracious Love V. God's Love is a Life-Changing Love
I. God's Mercy is a Long-Suffering Mercy
being rich in mercy
Mercy is withholding of judgment, a compassionate pity towards one who is guilty. God is a merciful God; He is not an overeager, calculating, rigid God of rules. The LORD GOD is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth" (Exodus 34:6). He is long-suffering, patient, kind. He would much rather that the wicked man turn from his ways than die! "Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18).
I want to use an old word to describe God's mercy: forbearance. It means to be patient, to restrain or refrain oneself. God forbears our sin, resisting His righteous desire to crush our sin.
First picture of God's forbearance: God didn't destroy our ancestors. God planned redemption planned from before time began (Ephesians 1:5). That means that He has been withholding the final culmination of His wrath delayed since Adam's sin — six thousand years plus of waiting — not bringing about ultimate justice, even as the world to become more and more hostile. He did not blot our unbelieving ancestors, and continued to forbear their sin, generation after generation, pagan life after pagan life, up to this very moment, today to us, that we might have the opportunity to hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. God could have ended the world 2000 years ago, 1000 years ago, 100 years ago. If God had decided to bring the world to an end even 10 years ago, we would all be in hell. But no, He waits. He forbears. He displays His long-suffering, patient mercy.
Second picture of God's forbearance: God hasn't destroyed us! In our sin, we rebel against the King of the universe. We walk up to the throne of God and tell Him, boldfaced, that He is wrong, cruel, and untrustworthy. We despise His law, rejects His commands, throw off His authority and declare ourselves the rightful rulers of our lives, our bodies, our minds. And, with a scoff, we spit in His face, turn our backs on Him, and then proceed to ignore the Creator of the universe, all the while stealing every one of His good gifts. Life, health, food, joy, friends, opportunities, future, our very breaths — all are blessed gifts from Him, and yet we thank Him not. Such a criminal deserves swift and absolute judgment. And yet, God has not yet struck us down from heaven. He waits. He forbears. He displays His long-suffering, patient mercy.
God has displayed mercy to ever sinner who has ever lived or died. There is no sinner too wicked, for God is rich in mercies. But, if God were merciful only, and only forbore our sin, it would not be enough to save us. So He loved us.
II. God's Love is a Superior Love because of His great love
If we have had any exposure to the church, we know this is true: God loves us. But, have you ever stopped to think, "What kind of 'love' does God have?" Well, the verse says it is "great." "Great" literally much or many, speaks of the quantity of God's love.
But what about the quality of His love? Is it the kind of love I have for pizza? Or the kind of love we have for our pets? How about the love we have for our friends, our siblings, or our parents? Or better yet, is it the love our parents has for us? Or, is it the love we have for our significant others? Is it that warm fuzzy feeling I get, the heartbeat quickening, the romance on TV — that kind of love? Or is it the love of a wife for a husband, the husband for a wife that lasts all their days? What is it?
None. All human "loves" do not give an accurate picture of divine love. Why? Because God doesn't love like humans do. He loves like God does. Human love is selfish. It seeks to take, to manipulate, to gain. Sure, human love may be capable of great sacrifice, accomplishment, passion, and may even be noteworthy. But all of it falls short of divine love. Divine love is selfless, seeks to give, to bless, to grow. It is other-oriented, covenantal, unbreakable, unending, unfathomable, incomparable, unquestionably superior.
God's love is transcendent — higher, purer, wider, deeper, everlasting, redemptive, unchanging. The Hebrew word is hesed, translated "lovingkindness" and has the combined meaning of covenant faithful love. The Greek word is agape, translated "love" and has the meaning of sacrificial, other-centered, love. This is the child's equivalent: "Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love" (The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones).
And this love, this divine love of God, transcendent as it is, is a love that we cannot earn. How could we, by anything, earn a love so lofty? We don't deserve it at all.
But not only is this divine love a love that we do not deserve, it is a love that we have done everything possible to not deserve. By our deeds, our sins, we have even done everything possible to prove to this Divine Lover, this Gift-Giver, this God of glory, that we do not deserve His love.
Romans 5:6-9 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
Look at verse 8. God demonstrates His own love toward us. How? Christ died for us. That brings us to the third point. God's love is a particular love.
III. God's Love is a Particular Love
Now, again we are seeking to rescue the word "love" from the fuzzy sentimentalism that is so common these days. Love, especially divine hesed, divine agape, love, is not an emotion. God isn't writhing helplessness in heaven gushing about how much He loves us. This is not a mushy, formless love.
Divine love is a love that acts.
1 John 3:16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; …
God loves us primarily in this very particular way: Christ died for us. This is the apex of the gospel, the very point to the truth, the centerpiece upon which everything else turns. Christ died for us. "Christ died" is a historical fact. But Christ didn't just die. He died for us. "For us" is theological truth. Christ died for us. His death for us is what allows God to maintain His justice (for He must punish sin) and His love for sinners (for He is a God of love). By His death and resurrection, Christ purchases for us salvation, forgiveness, righteousness, adoption, spiritual life, blessing, glory. He purchases for us what the rest of Ephesians 2 describes in detail: spiritual regeneration, promise of glory, God's surpassing riches of His grace.
Again, let's look at Romans 5:8. What were we when God loved us? Sinners. How can God love sinners?
IV. God's Love is a Gracious Love with which He loved us
Gracious here does not mean that courteous, or according to cultural norms. It means free, unmerited favor to those who do not deserve such love. Remember, God loves those who rebel against Him. Do they deserve it? No! It is grace.
Now, today people talk often of God's love, but they do not speak of it in the proper manner. Churches and preachers make it seem as if God loves us because we are lovable. No! That is not what the Scripture says! It says God, because He was rich in mercy, because He has a great love. He is the initiator, not our assumed worthiness.
Let me say it again. We're not good. We're not cute. We're not lovable. Rather, God is good. God is glorious. And God is love. That is why He loves us.
1 John 4:8-10 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God is good. God is glorious. And God is love. That is why He loves us. Now, if God's love is rooted in His own goodness, what could take us away from it? If God loved us when He knew full well our sin and evil, why would He ever love us less? How could He? Before we were born, He saw all our sin and knew what it would cost to crush His Son for our sake (Ephesians 1:5). Do you get it? For those of us in Christ, there is nothing we could say, do , or think will ever diminish God's love for us.
[Now of course, sin hurts the relationship between the believer and his Father. A good analogy is this: The closer to the sun a celestial body, the more of its light it sees and its heat it feels. But bring yourself away from that sun, and you see less light and feel less heat. Do you perceive and feel less power because the sun shines dimmer and burns cooler? No! It is because you have gone away from the source. So is the effect of sin in the life of the believer. Nothing can diminish the light and fire of God's love for us. But if by our sin we go far from Him, we will perceive and feel much less of Him.]
Again, this is divine love, not human love. So much of the reason why we fear people is that we fear they would know the "real" us. We are afraid if they really knew the sinner we are — the insecure and afraid and broken person too proud to let others see our weakness — they would cease to love us. And, such an evaluation may be true.
But God, He sees all, sees deeper, and comprehends more than any human mind could. He saw we were helpless, ungodly, sinners, evil, rebels. And yet, God loves better, fuller, stronger, than any human love ever could, would, or will. Why? Because His is a divine love. Because His love is rooted not in the loveable-ness of the one He loves, but in the unchanging character of God. Why does He love? Because He is love. And because His love is a gracious love, His love will not diminish because He sees the "real" you, the sinner. We are more sinful than we could ever fathom, but certainly not so sinful that God cannot fathom! And yet, He loves us still.
God's love is the kind that will run to greet the prodigal son. It's like the love that will prompt a shepherd to seek and save his single lost sheep. It's like the love of a friend who forgives seventy-times seven, the love of a friend who would lay down his life for you. The love of God is the love of the Savior who went to the cross, bore the suffering, despised the shame, drank wrath, endured the mocking, took the torment — to free humanity, even you, from sin. This is how great the love of God goes, how deep the river flows. All human comparisons fail; none are gracious like this.
God will not love you more if you sin less. While you were dead in sin He loved you! If He will love a dirty sinner, why would we try to hide from Him, clean ourselves, and delay coming to Him in broken hearted repentance? O why would a sinner, who knows their sin, push off this great love, delay in being welcomed home by their only Savior, the One compassionate to save? Come to Him; all that comes to Him He will certainly not cast out.
Titus 3:37 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
And when you come, and you must, God's love will change you.
V. God's Love is a Life-Changing Love
A love this great cannot go unnoticed. Here are some effects of knowing you are loved by God. There are certainly more, but there are not less:
- You love God in return. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
- You love being in His presence through the Word and prayer. The Word is how God speaks to us, and prayer is how we speak to God. How can you know of His love unless He tells you, and how can you say you love Him if you never speak to Him?
- You obey God's commands. You take every directive as coming from His kind and loving hand. "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
- You find your worth in the fact that God loves You in Christ, and in this alone. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)
- You love His approval rather than the approval of men. You believe what God says about you more than what any other would say or think about you, including yourself. "… but the one who examines me is the Lord." (1 Corinthians 4:4)
- You love His people, who are also loved by Him. "and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." (1 John 3:16)
- You seek all others to know this great love through Jesus Christ. Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (Acts 26:28-29)
- You love the things that God loves. You are interested in what God is interested in. "O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." (Psalm 119:97)
- You give up ever lesser thing to know God and His love more fully. "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ," (Philippians 3:7-8 f.)
- You are happy in God, and know that you can trust in Him for all things. "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
- You look forward to heaven, in seeing the One who loved You and gave up His life for you. "He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." (Revelation 22:20)
I hope that these are true of you. You must know the love of God. You must! This is my prayer; my the Lord answer as He pleases:
Ephesians 3 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.