One of the most famous intellectuals in the church in the last 100 years was Karl Barth. Near the end of his life, he was lecturing at the University of Chicago Divinity School. When Dr. Barth completed the lecture, the school president noted that Dr. Barth was exhausted, so that rather than allowing students to ask lots of questions, the president asked one on behalf of all: “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider the greatest?”
Here was a man who had written tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated philosophy ever put on paper. The students sat poised to record the premier insight of the greatest theologian of their time. Barth closed his eyes and paused, deep in though. Then he smiled, opened his eyes, and said: “The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!” All study, all theology, all ministry culminates there; there is nothing deeper.
That is why the Apostle Paul, when praying for the believers in Ephesus, asks the Father that they might comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and the depth, and know the love of Jesus Christ. This love changes lives; this love overcomes fear; this love overwhelms uncertainty. The love of Christ converts doubting Thomases into courageous martyrs; the love of Christ propels missionaries into the Muslim world; the love of Christ presses a husband into self-sacrificial and single-hearted service to his wife and children; the love of Christ pushes fearful church members out as faithful witnesses into their communities.
All that being said, I’m surprised that Paul prays for us to have “strength to comprehend” the love of Jesus (verse 18). Why do I need special strength to comprehend love? Here is the most simple and fundamental gospel teaching, yet Paul falls to his knees to plead with God for our help here. Saying that we need a special work of the Holy Spirit in order to understand Christ’s love is almost insulting!
But listen to 1 Corinthians 2.14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Here is an important, and for some a shocking, insight: the more simple and fundamental the truth, the more spiritual strength is needed to accept and believe. There are Biblical truths that are of import to us but that sit on the periphery of our spiritual life; that is they do not readily strike at our self-sufficiency. The great truths, those at the very core of the gospel, these offend us as they demand we place our whole hope and trust in Christ alone. Because they are vital, God makes them simple; yet, because they are challenging, they are hard – if not impossible to accept apart from the Spirit.
Paul uses two word pictures to show how the love of Jesus affects us. First, we must be “rooted in love.”
Not far from where I grew up was one of several L. A. County “tree depots,” for want of a better term. Healthy, full-grown trees are expensive so, whenever the city did a road project that involved removing trees, they wouldn’t just bulldoze them and haul the debris to a landfill. They would take the time to dig down deep around them and then wrap the ball of roots tightly in a burlap bag. Then they would either replant them or take them to the tree depot and put them in a large potting container until they could be replanted. For those trees to survive, they must quickly get their roots working again. Once they are placed into the ground, their roots must immediately begin to absorb water and nutrients (actually sucking life into itself) from the soil in which it is placed. Paul uses that same image to describes us. Our spiritual life and vitality depends on our roots drawing life from Christ’s love.
I like the way Michael Card explains giving:
We show a love for the world in our lives
by worshiping goods we possess
Jesus says lay all our treasures aside
“love God above all the rest”
‘Cause when we say ‘no’
to the things of the world
we open our hearts
to the love of the Lord and
its hard to imagine
the freedom we find
from the things we leave behind.
Where are your roots? Have your roots been planted in fear? Performance? Duty? This passage offers us the freedom from those life-controlling idols by rooting ourselves in Jesus’ love.
The second word picture is equally powerful: we are to be grounded in the love of Jesus Christ.
Growing up in southern California, during the rainy season we would regularly see news reports of beachfront properties being washed away. Every once in a while, far less often then you would have thought, the helicopter video would show a single home still standing while all those around it were crashing down. If they stayed with the camera long enough you could see why. That single beach house had been built on pilings that had been pounded through the sand and into the bedrock. It is an expensive process, which is why it isn’t always done. But it is far less expensive than watching sections of your dream home float out to sea.
Are your life’s pilings driven into the rock of Christ’s love? Or better yet, Do you know your own self well enough to be aware of the ‘shifting sands’ which control your emotions, moods and attitudes?
Circumstances move and sway; one day a business meeting goes well, and we are happy and a blessing to friends and family. But the next day is liable to bring a fender-bender, an angry customer, a surely coworker, a bad cough, a report of cancer, a problem here and a disaster there. Then we are no longer happy – now we are a terror to spouse and child, an enemy to our friends, and, quite honestly, you do not even want to be around yourself. That describes a life grounded only the shifting sand of circumstances.
God wants to ground us in the love of Christ! A love which is safe and secure and sure and solid, regardless of circumstances. A love which sustains through temptations and turmoil and troubles.
Listen and be encouraged by the unstoppable love of Jesus which Paul describes in Romans 8: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8.38-39).
When troubles come (as they certainly will), do we begin with, “Why me?” or “What have I done wrong?” or have we the strength to comprehend this: “Even in this trouble, I am a conqueror through Jesus who loves me”? So how do we become grounded and rooted in such life-giving love?
Many answers are proposed as to how we might know and experience the love of Jesus. Some say it is by joining the correct church. Others suggest it is only by taking Communion or being baptized in a certain way. Some have said that you can really only know the love of Jesus through the experience of speaking in tongues. All of those may have a place; but none is the key to knowing Jesus’ love. Paul’s key to living the Christian life is this: Christ dwells in your heart through faith.
By believing Jesus; by believing His promises and His proof of love (His self-sacrifice on the cross); by believing His word, which teaches His love; by believing in His acts of compassionate love – by believing all that is true of the Christ, this is how you become rooted and grounded in love. Nothing more; nothing less: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
If that is not your experience this morning, or if you would like to increase your experience of his love, here are 3 simple steps.
1) Ask Jesus to give you new life and the knowledge of His love for you, personally. Not simply knowing about God and Jesus and religion. It is like the difference between jumping into Lake Michigan and jumping in this large body of water in Etosha National Park in Namibia. One will be a cool, refreshing plunge; the other will be a sudden jolt into a sandy desert. You see that picture is on an actual mirage taken on the Etosha salt pan – which is part of the Kalahari Desert.
You may have much religion and church, but do you know Jesus personally? I know it is humbling to have to pray and ask Jesus to give you life. But please do not allow pride to keep you from this amazing love!
2) Read the Bible as God’s personal letter to you. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Are you hearing Jesus through his word?
3) Commit to a group of believers who are passionately seeking to know the love of Jesus. It does not have to be this church. But know this: the experience of the love of Christ is not found in solitude. Paul prays that we might comprehend, “with all the saints,” the love of Jesus. God’s indescribably powerful love is something we can only try to grasp together, in community with our sisters and brothers.
Finally, Paul speaks of the measure of God’s love. What is the breadth of the love of Jesus? It is a wideness of love that embraces the entire world! All people, in all places, in all times, can know the love of Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). You are not beyond the grasp of the love of Christ. His arms are sufficiently broad to hug and hold you. It does not matter your sin; what matters is your faith. Will you believe that Christ’s love is broad enough to encompass you?
Not only is it broad, but it is also a long love. What is the length of the love of Jesus? A love which stretches into eternity. The love of Christ does not save you today so that you can earn his favor and kindness tomorrow. The love of Jesus holds you forever and ever. How long is the love of Jesus? Too long for you to outlive; too long for you to exhaust; too long for you to drain dry; so long that you will never come to its end.
Not only is it broad and long, but it is also high. What is the height of the love of Jesus? It is a love which reaches all the way to heaven. A love which carries sinners into the very presence of God! A love high enough to reach from the hell we deserve to the heaven we long for in the depth of our hearts.
Not only is it broad and long and high, but it is also deep. What is the depth of the love of Jesus? It is a depth which loves all the way into the darkest recesses of your soul. Remember those areas you are afraid will one day come to light? The sins and attitudes and motives which embarrass you and make you fearful of ever knowing God’s favor? His love is deep enough to cover them.
Broad, long, high and deep – this is the love of Jesus!
This prayer at the end of Ephesians 3 is a sort of hinge point in the letter. Many readers have noticed throughout the centuries that the first three chapters of Ephesians are primarily about what God has lovingly done for us, and the last three chapters are about how we should live in response to that love. Immediately following this prayer (and beginning with next week’s sermon) we read some very challenging calls to discipleship. God wants each of us to know that love, so that we will be filled with the fullness of God and be able to share that love with others since His love requires action.
It’s awful easy nowadays to say the words, “I love you” but what do those words really mean if you don’t put them into action? I might say, “I love chocolate”, but I’m not going to shell out $12 bucks for a tiny little box of Godiva! I don’t love it that much! I might say, “I love my neighbor,” but I’m not going to go out of my way to share the good news with him . . . I’d hate for him to think I’m some religious nut. I might say, “I love my brother”, but I’m not going to admit that I was wrong or to work out my differences with her; let her come to me. I might say, “I love you” to my wife or husband . . . and then think nothing of telling that embarrassing and not at all funny story about them in front of others. Words are easy to say, but action takes COMMITMENT! God’s love, always takes action and always shows commitment!
In the Old Testament, the Jewish people knew that they were God’s chosen people NOT just because He had told them, but because He had showed them! God’s fullness comes to us, not by church membership, officer ordination or preaching of sermons, but by the love of Jesus shown most clearly on the cross. The only way we can hope to live up to such a call is through the power of God, explored and embraced in community with our fellow disciples.