Love Beyond All Telling
A Sermon by Coty Pinckney, preached at Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 6/19/94
O.J. Simpson won the Heisman trophy the year I turned 13. As a subscriber to Sports Illustrated, I read about him again and again over the years, following his NFL career. His grace on the gridiron was a wonder to watch. In addition, O.J. shared my sport, track and field, having been on a world-record setting sprint relay team in the late 60's. After retiring from football he occasionally served as TV announcer for track meets, and did a credible job. O.J. seemed to be not only a skilled athlete but also a man with a good head on his shoulders, a man who had managed to succeed not only in sports but also in life as a whole.
So it was with considerable shock that I heard last Friday that he was driving down the freeway, suspected of double murder. How could this sports hero, this man with everything the world has to offer, how could this man commit such an act?
Strangest of all to me was the extraordinary farewell letter, an apparent suicide note that he left for his fans. The note contains much of interest, but today I want us to focus only on its closing phrase:
Peace and Love, OJ
A man possibly guilty of double murder tells us "peace and love."
What is love? Many of us toss around this word as easily as O.J. And we end up trivializing it. From the Barney theme song to tourism marketing slogans to the adulterer looking for an excuse, the word "love" is so misused and overused in our society that we hardly know what to think when someone says, "I love you."
Because of the importance of the topic and the extent of our culture's misunderstanding of the term, we will spend two weeks looking at this issue. Next week we will discuss our response to God's love, and some difficulties presented by God's love. But today, we will ask:
Let us, then, examine four characteristics of God's love.
(1) God's Love is Unconditional
In the world around us, people are loved on the basis of their performance. So O.J. excites us with his athletic prowess and we say, "We love you, O.J.!" When someone pleases us, when someone stimulates us, we appreciate what they do and use the term "love" to describe our response.
But God's love is not based on our performance! God's love, instead, is unconditional. Consider Romans 5:6-8:
6 ¶ You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Christ died for us when? Was he responding to something good in our performance? Was he saying, "Oh, that Coty Pinckney, he's such a fine man! Look at all he has accomplished! Because he has been so good, I will shower my love on him." No, not at all. These verses use the words "powerless," "ungodly," and "sinners" to describe us. Christ died for people like this, not for people who look like they have it all together.
So why did God love us? God's love is based only on his sovereign choice; God's love is based only on his mercy.
Consider two verses that highlight this point: Deuteronomy 7:7 and Ephesians 1:4:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your fathers.
He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.
Nothing made us attractive to God! On the contrary, we were despicable to God. But despite our problems it was God's pleasure, it was God's will to predestine us to be adopted as his sons.
So God's love is unconditional because it is the result of his sovereign choice. God's love has nothing to do with our goodness; God's love has nothing to do with our performance.
Now I don't know about you, but to me this truth is tremendously freeing. I don't have to look over my shoulder all the time, wondering if God is going to abandon me because I blew it. I don't have to worry that God might change his mind about me because of my poor performance. God already knows the worst about me -- and he chose to love me! God's love is unconditional -- delight in that statement.
(2) God's Love is from Everlasting to Everlasting
In a moment of intense feeling, we say, "I will love you forever!" -- yet within years, or months, or even weeks, those feelings change, and we so often renege on our promises. O.J. promised Nicole his love and faithfulness, but within a few years of their marriage he was guilty of domestic violence and, now, may be guilty of much worse.
What about God's love?
Consider these verses from Psalm 103:
15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.
The Psalmist compares our lives to flowers that dry up and are gone. Human love is like that too; love that we promise to last forever may disappear in a very short time. But God's love is "from everlasting to everlasting." What does this mean?
"From everlasting to everlasting" can mean "from the beginning of time to time without end." As the verse in Ephesians puts it, God showed his love for us by choosing us "before the creation of the world." So from the very beginning of time, God has loved you. And this will continue for all eternity, as we share in His glory, in His beauty, praising Him in His presence for ages and ages. Think about this: there never was a time when God did not love you; there will never be a time when God does not love you.
Yet "from everlasting to everlasting" can refer not only to the time dimension but also to the relational dimension. He is, after all, your creator, the one who formed you, the one who knit you together in your mother's womb. He loved you when you were the product of the joining together of a sperm and an egg, and he has nurtured and cultivated this relationship with you until now. And on and on into eternity, he will continue to nurture and cultivate this relationship, so that you will know Him better and better, so that you will see Him face to face, so that this love relationship will flourish and bear fruit in unimagined ways. God's love is from everlasting to everlasting.
So God's love is unconditional, and from everlasting to everlasting. But in between the beginning of time and our joining him in his heavenly kingdom, could His love fail?
(3) God's Love Never Fails
Human love fails. Even in the best of relationships, we let our loved ones down. Indeed, today many couples plan on their love failing, by signing pre-nuptial agreements concerning the disposition of assets in the case of divorce.
Does God's love fail?
Admit it: Sometimes we feel like God's love fails. Certainly O.J.'s children must wonder about the love of God, having lost their mother to death and their father to the courts. Certainly the people of Rwanda must wonder about the love of God, when ten per cent or more of the country has been brutally murdered.
In these terrible times of tragedy, is God there?
Consider these verses from Isaiah:
54:10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
43:1 ¶ But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
God promises us that even in the most violent cataclysm, even if Mt Greylock were to be picked up and thrown into New York, God's love will endure. We belong to Him, and He will stay right with us -- forever.
Now look at the verses from Isaiah 43 carefully. Does God promise to keep us from troubles? Does God say, "I love you so much, I will give you an easy and comfortable life?" No, not at all. Rather, God promises to be there in the midst of our troubles. God says, "The path you must take may be through the rivers, but you will not drown; the path may be through the fire, but you will not be consumed in the flames."
God's love does not imply that He want to make you comfortable. God uses these trials for our good, in ways we can never understand while we suffer. But He promises us that He will always be there with us, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the way things may look to us. God's unconditional, eternal love never fails.
(4) God's Love is Both Individual and Corporate
Have you ever felt, "God loves Christians as a group, but not me individually." "God doesn't really love me!"
When circumstances seem to conspire against us, when we can't understand what God is doing, when we don't feel his presence while passing through the fire, we have a tendency to question God's love for us, we have a tendency to feel self-pity.
Humanly, this type of love -- a love for the group but no love for the individual -- is prevalent: O.J.'s gives "peace and love" to the general public, but something else to his wife; a philanthropist may give money and/or time to help humanity but then treat individual men and women like dirt, loving mankind but not liking men.
Charles Dickens paints a picture of such a person in Mrs. Jellyby, one of his memorable characters in Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby is working on starting a philanthropic project at "Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger." And this engages her attention to the extent that, in her first scene in the book, one of her children gets his head caught in a railing and another tumbles down the stairs -- yet she never notices. Dickens says her eyes seem "to look a long way off. As if . . . they could see nothing nearer than Africa!" She loves the idea of serving mankind corporately, but she fails to serve even her own children individually.
But God's love is both corporate and individual. Think of the biblical phrases that express God's love for a group:
Paul expresses this beautifully in Ephesians, using body, building, and marital images to show how we all together are becoming what God intends us to be, his perfect bride, his well-functioning body, his superb piece of architecture.
But God also loves us as individuals. The images of him as our father and we as his children, as those adopted into his family show his love for each of us. God is not Mrs Jellyby, loving us as a whole but neglecting our individual needs. God is the father who knows his individual children, who cares about their bruises and scrapes, who tenderly holds them in His arms when they need comfort.
Furthermore, He tells us (as we saw in Isaiah 43) that we are summoned by name, that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. His love for us is not a love that looks to the good of all but neglects the good of individuals; his eyes are not looking at the common good so much that they can't see the good for each one of us. No! God is indeed building His church, and we are a part of that great work; He is summing up all things in Christ, and we are part of that summation. But God is so great that he never loses the individual trees by looking at the forest as a whole. He is tending and cultivating each individual tree, even while he manages the whole forest in such a way that both tree and forest are perfected.
So, yes, God loves the bride of Christ, and is perfecting the church as a whole. But God also loves you individually, you, Wendy, you, Dave, you, Doug, you Phyllis. God loves each of us individually, he cares about each of us individually.
We have only touched on the wonders of God's love, this love that is:
So, Christians: Have you allowed the world's view of love to color your vision of God?
Have you been struggling, fearing that your poor performance as a Christian will cause God to quit loving you?
Have you been fearing that God's love will change, or have you felt that the difficulty of your circumstances show that God does not love you?
Have personal trials and tragedies made you doubt God's love, strength, and faithfulness?
Consider the verses on God's love; meditate on this list, pray over it.
As the Psalmist says:
Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord. (Psalm 107:43)
Be wise. Heed these things. Consider God's great love.
Or is all this foreign to you? Do you not know the love of Christ?
John 3:16 says
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
The invitation is open to you. Believe in Him, ask Him to be your Savior and Lord, repent and turn to Him, and He will welcome you into His loving arms.
Consider the great love of the Lord -- and respond.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 6/19/94.
Copyright © 1998, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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