|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Filled with Christ's Love|
|Text||Ephesians ch.3 v.19 |
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"And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3, 19).
I would like to ask you my dear friends today, if you could say about yourself that you know what it is to be filled with a fullness. If you were to describe your own state of mind just now, would it be true of you to say, as the Apostle here says, that you are familiar with this 'filling', this sense of wholeness which comes from God and from Jesus Christ.
We live in a day when there is not very much of this to be seen - I think you would agree. If one thing could be said about our poor fellow-citizens in this country it is that they are pretty empty. When all the money has been spent, which people are so busy earning; when all the pleasures are over: when the TV programmes have finished and the video stores shut down, and the pubs and clubs have closed their doors and people go home; I think we would have to say that people today are pretty empty.
There is one thing that God can do and He does it in the Gospel. It is right here in this verse. He can do something to those who trust in Christ that nothing and no one else can do: He can fill our life with a fullness and satisfaction that nothing can take away. I am not sure if you noticed this at the very beginning of this chapter, but the Apostle tells us that he is in prison. Notice his words: "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles..." (Ephesians 3, 1).
The Apostle Paul was not in some luxurious suite of rooms at the Vatican; he was not lolling on couches of ivory; he was languishing in a Roman prison. These places were notorious for there coldness, poor food and rough treatment. Their fellow-prisoners were not refined men: their language was not what we would call the Queen's English. Yet here, amidst all these difficulties, the Apostle Paul can speak about a 'fulness'. Even though he must have often been cold and hungry and saddened by the language of his fellow-prisoners which he heard, he doesn't refer to it. He doesn't tell us anything about himself in the sense of complaint. He doesn't weary us with the difficulties of his situation. He doesn't say a syllable about that side of it. However we must remember that he was in prison. He refers to it more than once. Look at this: "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord..." (Ephesians 4, 1). He was very conscious of his imprisonment, even though we tend to skip over that word. We can say it in a sentence and then pass on, but we mustn't do that. The Apostle was a Christian and a minister and he was in very trying and difficult circumstances. Yet, my very dear friends, he doesn't complain and he doesn't feel the emptiness that the rest of the world was feeling. He can talk about this 'fulness': 'filled' he says 'with all the fullness of God' (Ephesians 3, 19). What an expression! What a phrase! Did you ever come across a sentence which was more astonishing than that? It is what we call hyperbole: it is language which would be exaggerating were it not true. He does this more than once. You may have noticed: "able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge..." (v.18-19). There it is again: something that you can know which transcends knowledge: something that is beyond the possibility of knowing to completion but it is still there and we feel it. Therefore I ask you this question again, dear friend: Do you know what this fulness is? You may be in trying circumstances - you may have ill health of mind or body, you may have had trouble, disappointment and sadness in your own experience - but, God in the gospel can give to His people in such situations and in such circumstances, an experience which can only be described in terms of my text: "filled with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3, 19).
I put it to you that that is the explanation why the Apostle could be the man he was. This is not confined to him, of course. It is something which is available to all believers and all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. It is something which we feel and experience although our feelings and experience cannot tell the whole; the half is not something we can express, but we can feel something that the world knows nothing of: "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3, 19).
I want to speak then of these aspects of our theme. Let me open up the divisions to you. I shall say something first of all about the love of Christ in general. Second, I will speak of Christ's love for the Church. Thirdly, there is Christ's love for believers and fourthly, our knowledge as Christians of Christ's love. He is speaking of something that believers can know - "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3, 19).
First of all then I speak of Christ's love in general. The Lord Jesus Christ, first of all, loves God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This love is a special, unique and peculiar love. It is the love of the three divine Persons of the Godhead for one another. There is no love comparable to that in all its immensity and glory. We must never think that God is lonely. We know that God is one and that there is no other God than the one God. However we are not to think of God in some way as a lonely Person. Sometimes preachers, I'm afraid, do give that impression. I remember very vividly when I was a young Christian hearing a certain Church of England minister - a very dear and good man. He put it like this: God created the world because He was lonely and He wanted someone to love Him. He also wanted people or beings to love. I was ever so young at the time and with very little knowledge, but it did strike me as a very suspect thing to say. I have since come to see that it was an entirely wrong and erroneous statement to make. That dear good man was misrepresenting God. I'm sure he didn't mean to but he did. God is self-sufficient; God needs nothing. He is not lacking in any way. God has an infinite fullness in His own Being. He is not lonely, not least because the one God, as we well understand, is a God in three Persons. Each of these Persons loves the other two: the Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son loves the Spirit and the Father. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. It is very beautiful when you read the Bible to see how these three holy, divine Persons refer to one another. You notice in their references to one another the honour and respect with which they always speak of one another. I will give an example to show what I mean. The Father speaks likes this at the baptism of Christ and the transfiguration: "This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased." When you come to listen to Jesus Christ the Son of God refer to His Father He says, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14, 28). When Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit He says: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven" (Matthew 12, 31). The Holy Spirit we are told, does not bear witness to Himself but to the Son. You see how each of these Persons points to the other in love and honour. That is how God is - filled with love, each Person towards the other. Filled with a sense of respect and giving honour to one another. That is how God is the perfect ideal of how we should be in our thoughts of one another. In our references to one another there should be the same divine quality of love, admiration and affection as far as that is possible. It doesn't mean of course that we should call black white or make false statements which we don't genuinely believe to be true. But as far as we can, we should make kind and generous references to one another and towards all.
Within the Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ has eternally dwelt in the place of greatest honour before His Father. The Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1, 1). The word 'with' in that sentence - "with God"- the word really means face-to-face. The Son and the Father have been face-to-face from all eternity in their love and delight in one another. Another expression we have in the same portion of Scripture, which is of course the prologue to John's gospel, is that the Son dwelt "in the bosom of the Father" (John 1, 18). That phrase indicates supreme love, supreme affection, nearness, intimacy, a peculiar relationship. That is how we must begin. The Lord Jesus Christ has this love for the Father and love from the Father.
Christ also has loved the Church; that is to say, all those whom God the Father has given Him from before the foundation of the world. These are His special people. They are His flock. They are His sheep and He has taken upon Himself the responsibility to bring them from a state of sin to a state of grace and to bring them from a state of grace to a state of glory. This responsibility has been laid upon Him and we call it Christ's peculiar love for His Church: the whole number of God's chosen people; all those who are to be brought to glory. Let us understand that Christ loved us within the Church before we loved Him. We must never think of it like this: that Christ loves us because we love Him. No, no! the reverse is true. We love Him because He first loved us. It is His love which brought us to love Him. It is the same usually in marriage - the initiative is with the man. The man says to the lady, "I offer you my hand in marriage." The man has the initiative; that is the way God has constituted our human society. There may be unusual exceptions but that is the normal pattern. So it is with heavenly things - Christ and the Church. It is the love of Christ which has wooed and won the Church to Himself. He took the initiative and His love is therefore primary. This love is free in Christ; it is not constrained by any obligation on His part. There is no reason whatsoever why Christ should love the Church or the people of God, except it was in Himself to do so. We therefore marvel at the freeness of it. We can not earn Christ's love. We cannot merit Christ's love. This is what is wrong with the whole theory of sacramentarianism; that is to say, if we do our bit by going to take the Lord's Supper every day or every week, we are gaining on Christ's affections, we are earning a place in His heart. No, no! it doesn't work like that. We don't think of gaining or earning Christ's love. His love is entirely free; He bestows it where He sees fit to bestow it. If we have received it insofar as we have come to faith, then there is the guarantee that His love will be permanent. There is nothing fickle or changeable about Christ's love; where He loves someone, He will do so all through their life. Not like human love, even sadly in some royal families. There are big weddings one day and few years later we hear rumblings of discontent. Soon after that we hear the marriage has broken down and they are going their separate ways. No, not the love of Christ; there will never be such a time when He will break off His affection for His people. This is love that passes knowledge in length and breadth and depth and height - infinite love bestowed upon all those whom the Father has given to Him. It is at the same time a love which is unchangeable and perfect. Nothing is wanting in His love towards His people. That is absolutely beyond our experience in this world. We may have a delightful friend, we may have an excellent husband, we may have a wonderful wife, son, daughter, or parent; but there is a limitation to their love. At times they crack under strain, at times their patience gives way, at times they betray the fragility of their love; but never Christ - He loves His people with an everlasting love. Therefore we area reassured here that there is in this love perfection; it is love beyond all compare - glorious, great, high and holy.
We must pause and ask if this is so the most important thing in the Christian life is that we also should love Him. If His love has a fullness to it and a perfection; if He has loved us before Genesis 1 was ever read or thought about or conceived; if He will go on loving us after Revelation 22 is finished and the world comes to an end, then - I owe Him everything! I must devote my entire life to Him. For me to live must be Christ and I must study to please Him in all things; there is no other way, we are to construe His love. That is why the Bible shows us that the very first thing that God is looking at in your heart and mine is this: do we love Him? Granted that we believe in Him, granted that we somewhat obey Him - though very poorly, but do we love God? Do we love Him in a sense that He is more than everything to us? Isn't is interesting what Jesus said to Simon Peter when Simon had three times denied Him: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" (John 21, 15). "Lovest thou me?" Peter was grieved for the third time when the Lord said, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" He was grieved because to have our love challenged by someone we love is in a sense hurtful. But Christ will almost hurt His people in challenging their love because it means so much to Him. We are astonished at this; we think, "Lord, you are the Son of God, you are eternal; you have the love of the Father, the love of angels, you don't need my poor beggarly love! I am like a beggar in the gutter. Who am I that thou shouldest want my love?" But He does! He desires and demands and wishes for the love of all our hearts because He Himself has this most wonderful and perfect love.
I would say something now about the love of Christ for, not the Church in general, but for believers. My dear Christina friends we must make it clear to ourselves that the Lord Jesus Christ loves His people now! The love which made Him suffer for us and die for us, those two thousand years ago, is the love which He still feels for us. We sometimes forget this don't we? At least I do, perhaps you don't. We tend to look at it like this. We think that when Jesus was on earth all those years ago, He loved us then and gave evidence of it by His sufferings and by His death. But then He went back to heaven - and we won't know anything of this until we ourselves get there. Here we are in the dark, we are in war situation. We have the devil, the world and flesh to contend with, so we have a siege mentality. We put our heads down and we get on with the task of fighting. That is all very well and true as far as it goes but, my friends, we must remind ourselves Christ loves us in the gospel and He loves us as much today as ever He did. He thinks about us every day, just as we think about one another. Say someone in the congregation is sick, or has to go into hospital, or are away from home - we think about them and we pray for them. They are in our minds all the time. If one of the Lord's people goes through trials or sufferings or bereavement, we all go through it with them because that is the way love is - it binds people together. We don't live our lives unto ourselves but unto one another. What hurts them hurts us. What makes them rejoice makes us all rejoice. That is the nature of the Christian's heart and the nature of the Christian's love. We are in a fellowship of union one with another. The Christian is part of a great family. How much more is that true with Christ. There is nothing hurts the Lord's people but it attacks Him; He feels it in His human nature. Our Lord's human nature is an all true, though glorified, human nature. In His human nature He feels for His people below. He is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4, 15). Whatever hurts us hurts Him. Whatever makes us rejoice gives Him joy. That is the way that it is. It is because of the sympathy of His great High Priestly office and ministry. Because that is so there is such a thing as the enjoyment of the love of Christ right now.
You know the name of the great Covenanter and Puritan, Samuel Rutherford. You know that he was one of the greatest Christians who ever lived. A beloved Scotsman from the south of the country who was a great example in every way of what a Christian ought to be: a great preacher, a great man of God, a great man of prayer, always preaching, always writing, always visiting, always doing His Master's work. He wrote those wonderful letters which are called the Letters of Samuel Rutherford. They are bound together - three hundred and sixty-five of them. They are a great source of spiritual refreshment. They are full of this subject of the love of Christ. I mention this because I want to quote to you some words of Samuel Rutherford on this very subject of the love of Christ in the fullness and enjoyment which a Christian can have. This is Rutherford's point. Rutherford said when he was a younger Christian he used to think that the only enjoyment of the love of Christ was to be had in heaven. It didn't occur to him as a young Christian that there is great deal of the love of Christ to be enjoyed right now in this life. As he matured and meditated and grew in grace and knowledge, he came to see that the sons of God, right now in this life, can know a lot of this length and breadth and depth and height of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and this fullness of God in joy and love and comfort. The reason why he got it was that he was confined to Aberdeen, which was a very dry and dead place spiritually speaking. He was driven out of and taken away from his own parish of Anwoth in the south west which was full of spiritual life and he was put in Aberdeen, which at that time, in the 17th century, was a pretty dead and dull place spiritually. Here he was away from his congregation and friends but Christ came and thrilled his heart with heavenly joy. It was as though he was in a palace of gold and of love. Here he was inspire to write these wonderful, and I might even say glorious, letters concerning the love of Christ which he felt. Let me give you a little of this quotation. "Since I came to this prison I have conceived a new and extraordinary opinion of Christ which I did not have before. For I perceive we postpone all our joys of Christ till He and we be in our own house above [he means heaven]. I though Christ would give us nothing here but tears and sadness and crosses. And that we should never fell the smell of the flowers of that high garden above till we come there. Nay but I find that it is possible to find young glory and a young green paradise of joy even here. I know that Christ's kisses will cast a more strong and refreshing smell of incomparable glory and joy in heaven than they do here." He means we can have an abundant earnest of this joy and love right here in this life.
You see how related this is to the subject. Paul also like the beloved Rutherford was in a prison. Rutherford's prison wasn't a literal one I don't believe; he was just confined to that area of Scotland. He wasn't permitted to have freedom to preach as he loved to do. But see again the apostle Paul - his whole life was Christ; his whole desire was to preach to travel, to plant churches, to spread the gospel. You see it in the Acts of the Apostles, you see it in his letters but he couldn't do that here - at least he couldn't do it on the same scale. He was confined to prison, probably at Rome. Did he complain and say, "Here am I, frustrated; my life wasted and disappointed. I am a preacher that can't preach. I am an apostle that can't travel. I am a church planter and my hands are tied." No! There was something more than churches, something more than travel that he had to enjoy; he had Christ's love in his heart. His prayer for us today and for all Christians every day is in these words: that you "may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Ephesians 3, 18-19). I am speaking to wise men and women and I am perfectly certain there have been times in your experience, probably much more so with you than with me, times when you have risen up from prayer and your heart is overflowing and you are weak with a sense of the love of Christ within your heart and soul. That is young glory begun below as Rutherford would tell us. It is glory begun - green glory. This immature heaven, this immature paradise that we have here is nonetheless a real substantial enjoyment of the same love that we are destined through grace to enjoy in that better world forever.
Let me ask you then, if you haven't had it don't you realise how great is your loss? If your life simply consists of the routines of ordinary human duty; if all you think about are things of this life; if religion is nothing more than coming and sitting and going home and coming again next time - if that's all there is in it, then you are missing the secret of it, you are missing the mystery of it. There is a Christ in heaven who can do this for you. Let me put it in a homely illustration; even the children can follow this. Some years ago I had a very dear friend who preached the gospel in a church down in Ayrshire. He was a lovely man, recently gone to America. In those days he was in a small Baptist church in Ayrshire. He was a very faithful man. In to the congregation came a man and his wife. The wife was a terrible drunkard. She had a calliper on her leg. To try and stop her from drinking her husband hid the calliper so she couldn't find it. But the brave lady got a broomstick if you please. She tied string round her leg to the broomstick and hobbled off to the public house. One day, under invitation from church friends, she came to church. She supposed she would go once in her lifetime and that would be it. She sat down with her husband. When the benediction had been said people began to rise up and walk out. Her husband turned to her and said, "Well my dear, the service is over, let's go home." "I don't want to leave," she said. "I felt something in this place I haven't felt anywhere else." It was the love of Christ. My friends, that is what we have got to feel. We've got to fell this love of Christ. She didn't become a painted angel overnight. She had a lot of sins to get rid of but she was on the way - she had tasted this love of Christ that passes knowledge.
Have you heard of Count Zinzendorf? He did a great deal of wonderful work in the eighteenth century on the continent of Europe. This was his experience. He wasn't a Christian at the time and he was looking at paintings at the time. He came to a painting of Christ on the cross. I don't approve of that, I don't believe we should have paintings of Christ on the cross but God can use even things when men are ignorant. Count Zinzendorf saw Christ on the cross and he looked and looked again. Then he saw some writing on the bottom of the picture which the artist had put on: "All this I did for thee; what hast thou done for me?" Zinzendorf's heart was smitten. He had never done anything for the Lord Jesus Christ. He wasn't long before he was doing all he could for Christ. He spent his long and fruitful life doing all the good he could to many hundreds and probably thousands of people as one of the German pietists, promoting Christ's gospel for all he was worth. That is how Christianity operates in men's lives dear friends. It is not simply that we have a whole list of duties that we tick off: on a Monday we do this, on a Saturday that, on a Sunday something else. No. These things have there place. Duty is part of the life of a Christian of course but the motivation is love for the One who has loved us with an everlasting love. You know the story of the young woman who was a housekeeper to a very rich man. The lady discovered he was a very difficult master. He would go round the house when she had dusted and check her work - complaining as he went. She thought he was a dreadfully severe and hard man and she wanted to find another job. I suppose she was applying and looking round for another job so she could clear out of this demanding situation. Until one day he came down stairs and said, "My dear, I have fallen in love with you. Will you take my hand in marriage?" She did and she did all these jobs then but stingingly because she loved him. You see the difference - the motive was different. The jobs were the same, the demands were the same but now she loved him and that made all the difference: the expulsive power of a new affection! 'The love of Christ which passeth knowledge in length and breadth and depth and height and to be filled with all the fulness of God' - who can understand those words?
I want close by pointing out three things which happen to us whenever we enjoy this love of Christ.
The first thing I mention is that it makes us very, very humble. Look at verse eight: "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given..." (Ephesians 3, 8). You can tell is a person has tasted the love of Christ - they suddenly become very, very humble. Not like most of the people you meet in this world - they ride so high and mighty you feel it would insult them just to breathe the air round about them. Most people go about with a macho image of someone who is going to smash the world when it is done. When you have tasted the love of Christ you come down from the high pinnacle of pride. There wasn't a genius like this man. The apostle Paul - the greatest preacher and theologian. What did he think of himself? Paul, what is your judgement of yourself? "I'm not worthy to be called a Christian," he said, "I'm the poorest minister on the face of the earth." You see, the love of Christ does that, it brings you down.
What else does it do? Secondly, it makes you content. In whatsoever state you are, you are content - even though it's a Roman dungeon. You can sing the praises of God as Paul and Silas did at Philippi, with your feet in the stocks. How did our Reformed martyrs go to the grave so readily? How did they go to the fires where they were burned to death? Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart and all the rest - why did they die so happily? Because they felt this love of Christ in their hearts. Stephen felt it too, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7, 59) he said.
Thirdly and lastly, it makes us hopeful for the future. It makes us hopeful of heaven. Look at the way he ends this marvellous chapter: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3, 20). What words these are! Shakespeare himself couldn't write like this my friends. What words - "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think". God can and will do it. What does he mean? The resurrection of the body; He'll take us to heaven; He'll fill us in heaven with the glory which we have but tasted here below. The love of Christ in heaven will overwhelm us. Heaven will be one eternal enjoyment of Christ's love, ever getting better as the time goes by.
That's what it is to be a Christian. Let us therefore go forth into the world and let us feed upon Christ by faith in our hearts.
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