“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, 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.” (Saint Paul, Ephesians 3:17-19)
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me! The Bible tells me so.”
Some thoughts came into my head as I listened to this morning’s sermon by Pastor Steve on one of Paul’s great prayers. In this prayer, Ephesians 3:14-19, the apostle tells the Ephesian church how he prays that God may strengthen their hearts and how they may allow Christ to dwell inside them in faith. But above all, in light of their being founded in love, he prays that they will begin to fully grasp how deep God’s love is for them in Jesus Christ. And that they know this love is not head knowledge but is experiential love as well. It’s more than the old nursery rhyme’s, “the Bible tells me so.” Which the Bible certainly does. But there is an element of experience here. It’s also, “I feel it so.” It’s head and heart and hands, to mirror the Salvation Army.
It’s worth noting that in the very next chapter Paul will tell the Ephesians to love one another, mirroring the words of Jesus in John 13. In light of God’s love, we are to love one another. But let’s get things right: God loved us first. Here’s the apostle John: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10-11).” We see the deep, deep love of God in the person and work (and words) of Jesus Christ. Read the Gospels. They show how Jesus loved those around Him in His day. But it’s not just the 1st Century crowd Jesus loved. In His prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus also prayed for you and me. He said of those who believe because of the disciples’ witness: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” God loves us — the “us” of this day and age! It’s not a case of, “Well, he loved them but he doesn’t know who I am.” He knows. And he loves you.
But “the Bible tells me so” is not enough to convince most of us of God’s love in Christ. It’s just not. One flaw that the Bible church movement had in the 1970s and 1980s was its emphasis on head knowledge as the key to spiritual growth and happiness. Study Ephesians, Galatians and Romans and you’ll be set for life! But head knowledge is just one part of being human — and being a spiritual person. Heart knowledge is another part. And we gain heart knowledge through experience. Ingesting experience and knowledge in balance is important to living the spiritual life. A third factor is hand knowledge — rolling up your sleeves and serving.
The community of faith is a great place to experience the love of God in Christ. Just like last week when I wrote that it is important to be around other Christians when you’re experiencing the silence of God, it is also important to be around the Body of Christ to experience His love. We bless one another in His name all the time! Sometimes it is as simple as a hug or a sincere question, “how’s life?” Sometimes it is a dollar bill during financial crisis and sometimes it is a word of encouragement. No matter what the form, the love of Christ is communicated through His Body. It doesn’t have to be a big gathering, like Sunday morning, but can be a one-on-one lunch.
I personally have been floored by the love of God in Christ when I’m around believers. Last fall I went to Haiti with a small team of guys (and a gal) and I’ll never forget how incredibly accepted and loved I was by the rural church we went to visit. They had little, I had a lot. They spoke Creole, I spoke a Texan-Creole hybrid at the best of times. But they knew they were loved by God and that we were, too, so they loved on us lavishly.
Yes, God loves us and He has told us this repeatedly in His word. But He also demonstrates that through His children. God loved us, so we love one another. In doing so, His love is made complete (1 John 4:12).