Thursday, September 20, 2012

Our Deepest Need


I’ve been a teacher all of my adult life.  I love to learn; I love to teach.  One of the questions that good teachers always ask themselves is whether or not the student has really learned.  “If no one has learned, have you really taught anything?”

There are some really smart people who never spent a day in a college classroom.  And, believe it or not, there are plenty of folks with graduate degrees who can’t do some of the simplest things. 

One of my most challenging assignments as a college professor was to teach a class on worship technology.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not a techie.  Don’t let the PowerPoint presentations fool you.  I know just enough to be dangerous.  Ask me to teach piano improvisation from chord sheets and I’m your guy.  Teaching students to conceptualize and craft a worship service?  It’s one of the joys of my life.  But when it came to teaching sound systems and, worse yet, lighting systems, I was more than just a little uncomfortable.  The thing that saved me was having students that I trusted to assist me.  I set the classroom objectives and boundaries while my trusted and mature students helped those with less experience in technical operations.

Why was that so hard for me?  Certainly, there are people who are more wired, so to speak, for electronic expertise.  I’m not one of them.  But the other critical piece of knowledge that I was missing was hands-on experience.  I’ve done some sound, but generally, I was on the other side of the microphone.  I read the books on sound and lighting systems, but until I spent real time operating the equipment, I wasn’t really going to know it.  It was the same with Spanish.  Growing up in the Southwest, I had eight years of Spanish from the third through tenth grades.  I can read and understand quite a bit but I can’t hold a conversation in the language.  I was never immersed in a place where I had to actually speak Spanish.  I haven’t really experienced it.  I know about Spanish, but I don’t really know it.

I’m sure you’ve had that experience as well.  Perhaps it was a skill you needed to learn for your job.  Until you actually do it, you really don’t know it.  What about marriage?  We have wonderful romantic notions about another person, but until we actually live a while with them, we don’t really know them.  We read about climbing Mt. Everest, sailing around the world, or exploring some exotic region..  But until we actually experience what we’ve read about it, our knowledge is incomplete.

There is one concept that is vital to everyone in the human race to know, and to know by experience.  Our deepest need is to know and fully experience love.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be loved.  I’m richly blessed because I have always known that I was loved.  Sure, there have been times when I’ve felt isolated and lonely.  But I always knew that some other person loved me.  To not know that kind of love must be devastating.

I’m afraid there are a lot of devastated people in this world.  When people do not feel loved they cannot help but act out.  And those actions, which are generally negative behaviors, are a cry from the depths of their souls for love. 

In our text, we will explore our deepest need.

Ephesians 3:14-19

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Paul writes, For this reason I kneel before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

We have now reached the mid-point of the epistle to the Ephesians.  The Apostle, in glowing language has set forth God’s program for his people.  Paul has prayed that they might fully realize all that they have in Christ.  He reminded them that they were dead in their trespasses and sins, but that God, who is rich in mercy and because of his great love for us, raised us up with Christ Jesus.  Through Christ, God has made both Jews and Gentiles into one people.  Finally, Paul reflects on the incredible privilege of his calling to proclaim the Gospel to them. 

Overwhelmed by the greatness of all he has written, the Apostle drops to his knees in prayer for the Ephesian church.  And his prayer here is a pivotal point in the epistle.  Paul has laid out tremendous truths about the Church and the work of Christ.  It is doctrine to be tasted, chewed on, digested and fully embraced.  We could (but we won’t) spend fifty years of sermons plumbing the depths of what we’ve discussed in the last five weeks and never come near exhausting the riches of what Paul has written. 

But exploring the depths of doctrinal concepts is not enough. 

It has to be lived.  Or we don’t really know it.  My friend, Pastor Roger Fredrickson, says of the book of Ephesians:  “The indicative implies the imperative.”  Preachers love alliteration!   What he means is that the truths declared at the beginning of the book require that we live accordingly.  Next week, I’ve asked Pastor Salem to preach on the first six verses of chapter four.  At the beginning of that passage, the Apostle challenges the Ephesian believers, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”  It’s on our banner in the narthex.  “Walking worthy of our calling.”  It’s not enough to know spiritual truth in our head.  It needs walking shoes.  We have to experience it to really know it.

Paul continues…

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Here, in the beginning of his prayer, we hear echoes of earlier verses:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength  he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…  (1:18-20)

[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…  (2:5-6)

Christ’s resurrection power, the power by which he has raised us up is made available to us through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  We’ve rehearsed that together before:  we needn’t be bound by besetting sin, bitterness, or worry.  According to the Scriptures, they are dead to us.  We’ve been raised to newness of life with Christ.

Paul prays that we might be strengthened “with power through his Spirit in your inner being…”  I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s wonderful book of reflection on Ephesians called Practice Resurrection.  Citing another theologian, Peterson points out that the phrase “inner being” is better translated “inner man.”  In fact, a strong case can be made that Paul was actually referring to the indwelling person of Christ in us through the phrase, “inner man.”  I like that.  So often in our spiritual journey we get obsessed with ourselves.  But understanding that it is Christ within us keeps us centered on him rather than drifting off into some sort of subjective spirituality. 

And I don’t think Peterson is far off, if at all.  Paul says specifically, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  But even more, the NIV doesn’t fully capture the sense that the Apostle was trying to communicate.  If you were to fully explore the meaning of the Greek text, it might read something like this, “…that the Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts through your faith.” (Wuest)

Is Christ settled in your heart?  Do you think he feels at home?  Great questions to ponder!  Only when we live by faith. 

Our Deepest Need

Paul then goes on to pray for the church:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

One would think preaching on the love of God would be one of the easier tasks of a minister.  Not so.  I can’t wrap my head around it.  God’s love is too vast.  It is too immense and overwhelming.  The nature of God’s love flows from his own attributes:

·         God’s love is pure and holy.  There is no unrighteousness or selfish motive in it.
·         Because God is eternal, his love is without beginning and without end.
·         Because he is infinite, his love has no limit.
·         Because he is transcendent, it is incomprehensible.
·         Because he is omnipresent, there is nowhere we can go where God’s love is not there for us.
·         Because he is omniscient, his love is merciful. 

Has God ever overwhelmed you with a revelation about himself?  I remember clearly – I could take you to the lounge chair by the pool in that old apartment complex on Rosecrans Avenue in La Mirada, California where the knowledge of God’s love poured over and overwhelmed me.  Have you ever considered that God knows everything about you – everything – your good qualities, but especially your most heinous sins – and yet he still loves you without reservation?  God’s love is like that.
A.W. Tozer wrote in 1961:
“His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.”  Knowledge of the Holy (98)

Three Things About God’s Love
While we kneel in awe and wonder of God’s love, it is knowable.  Love, even God’s love, requires an object.  You and I are the objects of his love.
God’s love manifests – shows – itself as his goodwill towards us.  One of the most profound scenes in the movie Martin Luther is when the monk is struggling with pleasing God.  He is at his wit’s end, in tears and near madness in his quest to please God through his own efforts.  Luther’s mentor asks him, “What is it that you seek, Martin?”  His words are memorable:  “I seek a friendly God.” 
Jesus said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves…but I have called you friends”  (John 15:15).  Abraham was called the friend of God.  It’s amazing that the God of the universe would call us his friends, but that is the case.  And this friendship – this goodwill that God extends to us dispels any feelings of fear like what Luther felt.  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18).
I recall another moment when God spoke to me concerning his love.  I was nearing the end of my college career and I burned with passion for God to use me in his Kingdom.  Because I so earnestly sought to be used by him and I understood that God tests and tries those he uses for his Kingdom, I embraced and perhaps even sought suffering.  I deluded myself into believing that God desired to inflict pain into my life.  It is true that God will test his servants.  But unknowingly, I had crossed a line in understanding the nature of God.  God does not willingly inflict pain on his people even though he sometimes allows it.  For he does not afflict willingly, or grieve the sons of men (Lamentations 3:33).  He is a God of goodwill.  I remember clearly his rebuke to me as if it were yesterday.  It was eight simple words and I could almost hear them audibly, “Bob, you don’t believe that I am good.”  God was right, of course, and I repented.  I’ve never since doubted the goodness of God.  God’s intentions towards us are always good.  Never question that.
God’s love is expressed as goodwill but it is also a covenant love.  By covenant, I mean that God has bound himself to us by his promise.  A covenant is only as good as the character of the one who makes it.  God is the initiator and the keeper of his covenant of love with us.  His love is eternal, without beginning and without end.  His love can never fail.  The Hebrews knew this very well as expressed in Psalm136.  In that psalm, the writer rehearses the mighty acts of God towards his people and the congregation responds 26 times:  “His love endures forever!”  Talk about repetition in worship! 
God has bound himself to us in covenant love.
Paul wrote to the church at Rome:

 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39)
God’s love is expressed as his goodwill towards us and it will never fail because it is a covenant love.  But that’s still not enough.  God’s love must be experienced. 
Our text read,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.

The full sense of this passage might be better rendered,

“…and to know experientially the love of the Christ which surpasses experiential knowledge in order that you may be filled up to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Wuest)

It is human nature to feel unlovely to God.  Our conscious condemns us.  But our tyrannical conscience only magnifies the richness – the width, the length, the height and the depth of God’s love for us.  “But God, who is so rich in mercy and because of his great love for us, while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, raised us up with Christ Jesus.”

Christians of all stripes have been writing words trying to describe the fullness of God’s love in poetry and song. One of the best, in recent times, has written:

The  love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean 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 ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
 

Fredrick Martin Lehman (1868-1953)
Tozer wrote:

“The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests.  But it is a personal, intimate thing, too.  God does not love populations, He loves people.  He loves not masses, but men.  He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.”  The Knowledge of the Holy (102)

Friends, our deepest need is to not only know, but to feel loved by God.  I don’t know how to tell you how to really experience it.  Scripture gives us some clues.  Paul told us that Christ makes his home in our hearts by the exercise of our faith.  The Scriptures tell us over and over about God’s love.  You have to release control of your life.  Even in human relationships, you have to be willing to be loved in order to fully experience it.  And unlike some human relationships, God has no self-serving or ulterior motives.  His love is holy and pure.  In the end, you will feel God’s love as you open yourself to him and His Spirit speaks to you even as he did to me as I’ve related in this message.  His love is free - without cost. 

Is anyone thirsty?
Come and drink—
even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
You will enjoy the finest food.

Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.

Isaiah 55:1-3 (NLT)
Benediction

 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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