Filled With the Love of Christ

Ephesians 3:17-19

Audio version (Please let me know if the link works: keep in mind that it may be a few hours before it is available)

A certain medieval monk announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on “The Love of God.” As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First of all, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say. What is the shape of God’s love to us? What is the height, depth, breadth, and width of the love of God? Surely it is the shape of the cross. James Montgomery Boice uses this illustration to say the same thing: “In the last century, when Napoleon’s armies opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition they found the remains of a prisoner who had been incarcerated for his faith. The dungeon was underground. The body had long since decayed. Only a chain fastened around an anklebone cried out his confinement. But this prisoner, long since dead, had left a witness. On the wall of his small, dismal cell this faithful soldier of Christ had scratched a rough cross with four words surrounding it in Spanish. Above the cross was the Spanish word for ‘height.’ Below it was the word for ‘depth.’ To the left the word ‘width.’ To the right, the word ‘length.’ Clearly this prisoner wanted to testify to the surpassing greatness of the love of Christ, perceived even in his suffering.” Paul wants us to know this incredible love of God, and to have that love fill us to the brim, and also he prays for our capacity to be improved, that we may experience more love from God.

Paul is in the middle of a prayer. We must remember that as we make our way through this passage. Paul has been saying that he is praying that the glory of God would be given to the believers at Ephesus. That glory is clear in Paul’s sufferings, which are the glory of the Ephesians. But we might ask this question, “If God does all things for His glory, doesn’t that seem rather selfish? How is it possible for God’s glory to be of any use to us?” The answer to that is here in the passage: God’s glory is shown to its greatest extent in God’s love for us. God’s glory is therefore far from being hurtful to us. Rather, God’s glory is our greatest good, since it involves the infinite, eternal, unchangeable love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for sinners like us. How is this manifested?

Well, Paul prays for Christ to indwell the believer. This is a very interesting word that Paul uses here. Many scholars have noticed that this is a word meaning “settle down for good.” In other words, when Christ takes up residence in a believer’s heart, it is not a temporary sojourning. Christ takes permanent possession of the house of your soul.

Paul gives us two metaphors that help us to understand the relationship between our faith and God’s love. He says that our faith is rooted in God’s love. You know, there are so many people out there who feel rootless. They feel that there is no starting point for them. They feel that they are cast adrift on the waters of life, with no fixed point that they can call home. Christianity offers an alternative to that kind of rootlessness. We can be rooted in God’s love, shown to us in Christ’s person and work. The metaphor is fairly easy to understand. Faith is like a plant, or a seed, which is planted in the soil of love. Our faith grows as God loves us by giving us nourishment. All the means of grace are in that soil. We are fed from God’s word in that soil. We feed spiritually upon Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. That’s part of the soil. Baptism is part of that soil, symbolizing the cleansing of our sins by the washing that happens by Christ’s blood. The fellowship of other plants is also important. Just as one plant is sometimes needed to cross-pollinate with another plant, so also we need the fellowship of other believers. So our faith grows in the soil of God’s amazing love for us.

The next metaphor that helps us understand God’s love comes from the realm of building. Many among us have built homes or barns. We know that a good foundation is essential to a long-lasting building that will hold up under wind and precipitation. That foundation for our faith is love. Knowing that there is a place where you can find bedrock: that is encouraging. Your faith is not rootless, and it is not groundless. There are many people out there today who will say that you need to take a blind leap of faith. God never asks us to do that: He shows us His love. He is saying to us that we can trust Him, because we have a firm bedrock on which our faith can rely: the love of God in Christ Jesus.

But then the question becomes this: just how good a foundation is it? How solid is it? What are its dimensions? Will it be able to hold up my poor, shaky faith? The answer is a resounding yes. God’s love is wide, long, high and deep. We are not exactly sure what these dimensions are supposed to describe. We can say that these are in one sense the measurements of the cross, since it is there that Christ’s love for us is made clear. But there is certainly more that we can say. John Stott tells us that “the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles the theme of these chapters), ‘long’ enough to last for eternity,’ ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven.” This is all the work of Jesus Christ in His person and work. He came to earth to save sinners. That was His purpose in life. So none of can think that we are too far gone for God to save us, or too far gone for God to use us. The love of God can reach down to the lowest, most despicable person on earth, and change that person forever. Do you know this love?

Paul wants us all to desire and know this love of God. Now, it is important here to say that we are talking about knowing things about God. That isn’t all that we are talking about, but it does include that. You cannot know and love someone about whom you know nothing. It is impossible. In fact, the more you know about God, the more you can love Him. However, our text here clearly states that the love of God is beyond human knowledge. We cannot ever come to the bottom of it. When Paul tells us that we should know the length, breadth, height, and depth of God’s love, he is not saying that we can actually understand all of it. Indeed, as the benediction shows us in verses 20-21, God is doing more than we can ask or imagine. Again, James Boice helps us here by noticing that the apostle Paul includes himself among those who cannot fully grasp the depth of God’s love. Karl Barth, a famous theologian, was once asked what the most profound thought in the entire world was. His answer was this: “Jesus loves me, this I know: for the Bible tells me so.” Indeed, as the apostle John tells us, God is love. So the height, depth, width, and length of God’s love is the same height, depth, width, and length of God Himself. That is what Paul is getting at in the last part of verse 19 when he prays that we may be filled with the fullness of God. To be filled with God’s fullness is to be filled with the love of God. God’s love is infinite, in other words. This is an amazing prayer of Paul’s! He literally prays that we should be filled with all the fullness of God! But aren’t we finite creatures? How is this going to happen? I think it looks something like this: we can think of ourselves as a container to hold sand. Right now, our container is of a certain size. As we progress in the Christian life, and as we progress throughout eternity, our bucket keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And God keeps pouring in more love. Of course, we can never exhaust God’s love. We can see more and more of it as it is poured into our lives. We will never see all of it, since it is infinite. And yet, we can catch a glimpse of it in the shape of the cross.

One of our biggest problems in the Christian life is our inability to grasp the love of God. We are not able. If we were, Paul would not have to pray that we would be able. Our buckets are leaky. Our memories are faulty. We forget about the love of God. Where are the holes in your bucket? Despair, depression, materialism, hedonism, and other idolatries are all holes in your bucket. You need to fix those holes by careful attention to the means of grace.

When you do that, of course, your bucket will actually overflow. There is no way that a fully functioning bucket can confine the infinity of God’s love. It will inevitable spill over into other people’s lives. Is God’s love doing that not only in your life, but also in the lives of the people you touch? Are you encouraging other people’s faith to be rooted in Christ’s love? Or are you trying to tear up their faith by the roots? I am referring here to the grumpy version of Christianity, where we make sure that no ray of sunshine ever penetrates our gloomy, cloudy faces, lest anyone actually think that Christianity might be, you know, joyful, or anything like that. Sometimes we seem to make it our business to take all the joy out of other people’s Christian walk. How dare we! In the face of this amazing love of God, how can we do such a thing?

So as we look at Christ’s love, and stare into His marvelous face, let the things of earth grow strangely dim. Let the light of God’s love radiate in your life as you become rooted and grounded in love, and your faith expands to hold more of the love of God. The poet really says it best: “Could we with ink the oceans fill And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill And every man a scribe by trade- To write the love of god above Would drain the oceans dry; Nor could the scroll contain the whole Though stretched from sky to sky.” Amen.

A Novel Experience

This is a novel experience for me, I must admit, to be called gullible and boorish. Does he assume that I haven’t read the books? (I’ve actually read the first four). Is this sour grapes, since his 30 reasons failed to convince much of anyone? Or does he really think that Rowling constitutes the apex of literary achievement? I really wonder. These are honest-to-goodness questions I have for Rev. Meyers. Maybe he would be so good as to clarify his statements for us.

And does he think that Rowlings is a Christian because of her belief in God? The Bible would say that if that is all she has, then her faith has risen to the level of demons. Most people in the world believe in God.