God’s Unbreakable Love

A couple of years ago I posted a message I had preached on the love of God, a message I had entitled “God’s Love Is.” in that examination of John 3:16 and the characteristics of God’s love, I ended with the point that God’s love is unbreakable. I said that there is nothing…absolutely nothing…that can separate us from God’s love. I drew this from the closing phrase of John 3:16, which says, “whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life.” There is no question, there is no condition, there is no fine print or exception, there is no “hope so” when it comes to the eternal life God has promised to those who accept His Son as Savior.

To reinforce this point I also looked briefly at Romans 8:38-39, and I want to unpack that verse a bit more here as a follow up. As you read this text, ponder carefully the words:

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.

Now read it again from The Living Bible, because hearing or reading it a different way can sometimes reinforce a point or reveal something you did not notice the first time.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are—high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean—nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.

Depending on your translation, verse 38 begins with “I am persuaded,” “I am convinced,” “I am sure.” This word meant, in the original language, a strong and unwavering confidence or certainty. So Paul is saying, in other words, “I have no doubt whatsoever—I am 100%, absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, sure that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

At the risk of bringing you crashing down from that spiritual mountaintop, let me give you two important points before I unpack these verses a bit more, because they are full of such profound truth that we cannot miss it. First, you must always remember that the unbreakableness (if that’s a word) of God’s love has nothing to do with you and everything to do with God. You and I are not expected to maintain our connection to God’s love, nor can we. We are fallen sinners and, even after salvation, we continue to sin. That we are still loved by God is not because we are so wonderful, certainly not because we deserve it, but because God chooses to love us.

Finally, the fact that God’s love is unbreakable and nothing we can do can separate us from that love is not permission to sin. The fact that we could never mess up so badly that God would stop loving us does not mean that what we think and how we act does not matter. Galatians 6:9 says that we are not to grow weary in doing good. James 2:26 says that faith without works is dead. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Ephesians 2:19 reads, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I think it is also worth noting that just a few verses earlier, in verse 28, Paul said “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” In verse 35 Paul rattles off another list of things that his readers might think could separate them from the love of God–or be evidence of their separation from the love of God. He writes this: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Then in verse 37, the verse immediately preceding the two verses we looked at last time and began with here, Paul answers that question like this: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Now, did Paul know a thing or two about suffering and persecution during his lifetime? Absolutely. We know, from Scripture, that Paul was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten with rods three times. Five times he received thirty-nine lashes with a whip. That was the maximum number allowed by Roman law, and it was so violent and severe that there are many instances of people dying from those whippings. Paul was attacked by an angry mob. He had to be lowered over a wall in a basket in an order to save his life. He was shipwrecked and floated at sea for hours. He was bitten by a poisonous viper. He was under house arrest for two years without ever facing a trial. So Paul knows that of which he speaks!

John Calvin commented on this passage this way: “He is now carried away into hyperbolic expressions, that he might confirm us more fully in those things which are to be experienced. Whatever, he says, there is in life or in death, which seems capable of tearing us away from God, shall effect nothing….”

Alexander MacLaren, a 19th century Irish minister, had this to say about Paul’s list:

The Apostle begins his fervid catalogue of vanquished foes by a pair of opposites which might seem to cover the whole ground-’neither death nor life.’ What more can be said? Surely, these two include everything. From one point of view they do. But yet, as we shall see, there is more to be said. And the special reason for beginning with this pair of possible enemies is probably to be found by remembering that they are a pair, that between them they do cover the whole ground and represent the extremes of change which can befall us. The one stands at the one pole, the other at the other. If these two stations, so far from each other, are equally near to God’s love, then no intermediate point can be far from it. If the most violent change which we can experience does not in the least matter to the grasp which the love of God has on us, or to the grasp which we may have on it, then no less violent a change can be of any consequence.

Rev. Rodney Kleyn addressed this passage in a sermon by recounting a story he had heard that made abundantly clear to him the power of God’s love, and I think it bears repeating since it could indeed help to grasp just how comprehensive the love of God is:

I heard an illustration in a sermon preached on this verse from one of our older ministers. That was ten years ago. It stuck in my mind. So I am going to use that illustration now so that, I hope and pray, it sticks also in your mind. This is like a child who has to sleep at night and it is dark in his room. He is crying to his parents: “I can’t sleep. I think there is a bogeyman in the closet.” And so his father comes into the room and says, “Son, there isn’t. Let me show you.” And he turns the light on. And he opens the closet door to show his son that there is no one there. And then he says to his son, “Just to make sure you know, let’s look in every part of this room.” They look in all the drawers, and they empty out the toy box—and there is no one there. Then he says to his son, “But just in case you still wonder, let me take you through the house.” He takes his son by the hand and takes him into every room in the house. They look in every closet, in every drawer, in every trash can. They go into the basement. They look in the utility room. They dig through the garage. And he says to his son, “See, you can sleep. There’s no bogeyman.”

Something like that here. Paul transports us from our experience in our life to all the expanses of the universe—past, present, and future. He takes the doubting and the fearful and the questioning child of God who is looking at his own life, and he says, “Come with me, let me show you.” Not death, not life, not angels, not principalities or powers, nothing in the present, nothing in the future, not height, not depth, and in case I missed it, no other creature, no other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of Christ. Why so? Because there is a love stronger, greater, than any creature. What a wonderful comfort that is for the child of God.

Everyone has fears. Everyone is afraid of something. For us as adults it probably is not the bogeyman. For us in America it probably is not persecution for our faith. But we still have very real fears that we face. Taking some of those fears from Chapman University’s 2015 Survey of American Fears, and adding some others that I know many people fear and think about, let me offer you a rewording of Romans 8:38-39 in very contemporary vernacular:

I am certain that neither terrorism nor nuclear attack, nor global warming nor overpopulation, nor Democrats nor Republicans, nor government corruption nor Obamacare, nor earthquakes nor tornadoes, nor unemployment nor bankruptcy, nor artificial intelligence nor identity theft, nor cancer nor heart attack, nor anything else ever created nor yet-to-be-created shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 118:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

God’s love truly is unbreakable.

Love Wins

Unless you live under a rock you have been already been inundated by news stories, blog posts, Facebook status updates and tweets about the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday making homosexual marriage legal in the United States.I could comment at length on the decision itself, and perhaps at some point I will. In reality, most of what I would say has already been shared in this space before in my warnings about the slippery slope we are on and where that will lead once we step onto it. With Friday’s ruling I believe we have stepped fully onto that slope–not gingerly or cautiously, but jumped on with both feet. As we slide down that slope we will pick up momentum and there is, sadly, no telling what kind of condition we will be in when we come to a crashing stop at the bottom.

Perhaps the most common hashtag over the past few days has been this one: #LoveWins. I have no idea how many times it has been tweeted or otherwise posted around social media but I suspect it would be in the millions. President Obama and Vice President Biden both tweeted it. Hillary Clinton tweeted it with instructions on how to get a free bumper sticker from her presidential campaign that features the word HISTORY in the ubiquitous rainbow color scheme of the homosexual movement. Above the bumper sticker was the headline “All love is equal.” STOP-Homophobia.com tweeted “It’s only a matter of time before #LoveWins worldwide.” Coca-Cola was one of many companies quick to embrace the ruling and be sure everyone knows that they celebrate the decision, and Facebook made it possible for uses to place a rainbow-colored overlay over their profile pictures in a show of support.

The problems here are almost innumerable, so I am not going to get into many of them. Let me just say this briefly. The definition of marriage, and the redefinition of marriage by SCOTUS, has nothing to do really with love. Love is both an emotion and a decision, and it is something that many people feel and have toward many other people. Whether or not someone loves someone else is not the only necessary ingredient for marriage. (Indeed, one could argue whether or not it even is a necessary ingredient, but that is a completely different conversation). That “love” seems to be what everyone is celebrating with this decision is part of that momentum with which we are hurtling down the slippery slope toward a high velocity collision at the bottom. If marriage will be based and defined solely on whether or not people love each other than we have–as I have warned repeatedly before–obliterated any grounds on which we could now restrict marriage to a man and a woman, two men or two women. How could we now say that if a man and three women love each other they cannot be married? How can we say that if an adult and child love each other they cannot be married? If someone claimed to be in love with a dog, how could we not allow that person to marry that dog? Anyway, enough on that; it is not really my point here today.

What troubles me most of all about the #LoveWins mess is that it distorts what love really is. I will not delve too deeply into that right now either, though. Instead, I want to focus on the fact the love won a long, long time ago. Actually, Love won, and God is Love. In the beginning, God created humans with a free will. If I were God, I would have seriously considered nixing that idea I think, particularly since God’s omniscience means He was well aware of what we would do with that free will. That free will led to Eve yielding to Satan’s temptation, Adam following her lead, and the sin nature that each of us is now born with. That free will God gave us paved the way for every sin we have ever committed, every decision we (collectively) have made to reject God completely or to reject His instructions and guidelines periodically or consistently. It was because God loves us that He gave us a free will; He would rather be loved by those who have chosen to love and follow Him than by legions of human robots who have no choice but to love and obey.

More importantly, God’s love is so great that when sin did separate us from Him He decided to send His only Son to pay a penalty we could never pay–a perfect, sinless blood sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. When Jesus Christ was crucified, paying for your sins and mine, when He was buried and rose again, conquering sin, death, hell and Satan, love won. Satan cannot win. He still fights on with dogged determination but even knows how the story ends. Our understanding of love from a human perspective is distorted, perverted and skewed by selfish desires and the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. God IS Love, and His love is unfathomable. We can understand it enough to appreciate it and accept it, but the realities of its scope and depth and breadth are incredible. I have addressed this here before as well, and it would be easier for to you just read God’s Love Is than for me to restate what I think has already been well articulated. What I want to leave with here is this: Yes, Love Won, but not on Friday when five people in black robes decided to redefine marriage. Love Won over two thousand years ago when Jesus Christ died, was buried and rose again. Love Won from the moment God spoke the universe into existence. The approval of a redefinition of marriage to allow homosexuals to marry is not evidence of love; rather, it is evidence of the workings of Satan and of man’s desire to remake truth to fit his own wants and whims. Despite our best efforts to ignore, change or destroy His Truth, God’s Truth and God’s Love are the same today as they have always been and as they will always be. Not because of the SCOTUS decision, but in spite of it, Love Wins.

God’s Love Is

I don’t believe I have ever done this before, but it seems fitting today. Below is a slightly-edited transcript of a message I preached last Sunday, entitled God’s Love Is.

British evangelist, pastor and Bible scholar G. Campbell Morgan said,

There is a text that I have never attempted to preach on, though I have gone around it and around it—John 3:16. It is too big. When I have read it, there is nothing else to say. If we only knew how to read it, so as to produce a sense of it in the ears of people, there would be nothing to preach about.

David Jeremiah, in his book God Loves You, writes this:

John 3:16 has long been regard as our greatest, most direct, and most concise statement of the Gospel. With almost miraculous precision, it places the good news of the love of God in the smallest of packages. When you say “John 3:16,” even many unbelievers either know what it means or know the verse itself. It is the most famous chapter-verse reference in the entire Bible. You’ll see it on a banner at a sporting event, emblazoned on a t-shirt, or scrawled in graffiti on an underpass. It’s a shorthand way of saying, “God loves us all.”

Throughout history millions of words have been written about John 3:16. Yet none of them are necessary to grasp the meaning of the verse. God communicated the heart and meaning of the Gospel—the most profound, far-reaching message of all time—in only twenty-five simple words of English text. When translated into any language, this verse is supremely easy to understand.

Yet Jeremiah goes on, just a few paragraphs later, to say that John 3:16 is “a statement of the Gospel so simple that a child can understand it and so profound that a scholar could never fathom its depths.”

Max Lucado, in 3:16—The Numbers of Hope, writes, “If you know nothing of the Bible, start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here. We all need the reminder. The heart of the human problem is the heart of the human. And God’s treatment is prescribed in John 3:16. He loves. He gave. We believe. We live.”

It’s simple, yet profound. Everyone knows it, but no one completely understands it. I am neither arrogant enough nor stupid enough to suggest to you that in the next few minutes I am going to accomplish what G. Campbell Morgan never attempted or that I am going to somehow gift to you a full and complete understanding of this most famous of verses. I cannot. However, on this Sunday before Valentine’s Day, I think it is fitting that we take a look at what some have called God’s Valentine.

You can see from your outline that I am going to make six points. Don’t panic, I will endeavor to make them relatively quick. In fact, you can be grateful that I pared the list back a bit, because as I was preparing I generated a list of at least a dozen points. What I want to do this morning is provide us a glimpse into the incredible love of God. The six points I will make are six adjectives of God’s love, each of which, I trust, will enlighten us on a facet of that love.

John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

First, God’s love is Unspeakable. This word means “exceeding the power of speech; indescribable.” The love of God defies words. There are no words we could come up with that would adequately describe God’s love. Frederick Lehman in 1917 used to words to describe just how insufficient words are to describe God’s love. His classic hymn, entitled “The Love of God,” begins this way: “The love of God is greater far/Than tongue or pen can ever tell.” Lehman wrote the first two stanzas of that great hymn, but the third stanza, the one that is perhaps the most poetic and descriptive of the depths of God’s love, apparently has its origins in a Jewish poem written in 1050 AD. The original poem, called the Haddamut, was concerned with the liberty of man rather than the love of God. Later, the words were found scrawled on the wall of a cell in an insane asylum. Whether it was the asylum inmate or Frederick Lehman who changed the words to describe God’s love I don’t know, but I do know that it is a beautiful lyric, one I am sure you have heard:

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.

John 3:16 begins “God so loved the world…” We use “so” in the English language when we do not know how else to indicate the extreme level of something. When there are literally no words capable of expressing the depth or level of what we are trying to communicate we find the closest word to it and stick “so” in front of it.

When my daughter was just an infant I made up a little song that I would sing to her. I still sing it to her once in a while but now that she is 10 years old apparently it is not very cool for your dad to sing to you, and I am sure she would not approve at all were I to sing it for you today…so I won’t. But the words are simple. It ends like this—“that’s how much I love you/so much.”

2 Corinthians 9:15 in the KJV says, “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” The ESV says “inexpressible” gift. The Living Bible puts it this way: “Thank God for His Son—His gift too wonderful for words.”

God’s love is indeed unspeakable.

Second, God’s love is Unearned. John 3:16 says “God so loved the world that He gave…” God gave His Son. It was a gift. There was nothing that I did, nothing that you did to earn it. There is no way that we could ever deserve God’s love or the gift of His Son. His love, His unspeakable love, is so deep, so powerful that it motivated Him to give His Son on our behalf.

Romans 6:23 presents this clearly; it reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I like to give gifts. My wife says it is my love language. We all like to receive gifts. But the very idea of a gift is that it is unearned and undeserved. If, when payday comes around, the boss says, “Hey I have a gift for you,” and he hands you a paycheck for the amount of money that you earned, you don’t consider that a gift do you? Of course not. When we receive what we have earned no one is giving us anything. We have not earned God’s love; we cannot earn it.

Third, God’s love is Unimaginable. God’s unspeakable love motivated Him to give us something unearned, and what was that? His Son. His only begotten Son. His one and only Son. There is no greater gift God could have given. There is no way to imagine a love so awesome that He would give His own Son to die in our place so that we would not have to. I am not God, not by a long shot, and for that, by the way, we can all be exceedingly grateful! But I have one son. He is my only begotten son. And I can tell you right now in all honesty and sincerity that there is not one person on the face of the earth that I love so much that I would give my son to die in their place. That is because my love is limited.

God’s love, however, is Unlimited, and that’s the fourth point. There is no limit on God’s love. He gave His one and only Son; there was nothing more He could have given. Unlimited means, at least in one aspect of its definition, that there could never be more. Why? Because the existence of more necessitates a limit. It is very difficult for us to fully comprehend the idea of “unlimited” because everything that we know, everything in this life, has a limit. There is a finite amount to everything. There is an end to everything, eventually. But not to God’s love. There is no more than Jesus Christ. There was nothing more that God could have given.

God’s love is unlimited in another aspect, too, of course. John 3:16 says “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him…” Now I am not going to get into the finer points of Calvinism here; we are not going to talk about limited versus unlimited atonement; if that’s a conversation you want to have I’d be happy to talk to you about it later. The verse says “whoever” and the beautiful thing about whoever is that it has no limit. There is no one not included in whoever. Now the verse does present a condition, right—it says whoever believes in Jesus—but within that condition there is no limit.

Max Lucado puts it like this:

Whoever invites the world to God. Jesus could have so easily narrowed the scope, changing whoever to whatever. “Whatever Jew believes” or “Whatever woman follows Me.” But he used no qualifier. The pronoun is wonderfully indefinite. After all, who isn’t a whoever?

The word sledgehammers racial fences and dynamites social classes. It bypasses gender borders and surpasses ancient traditions. Whoever makes it clear: God exports His grace worldwide. For those who attempt to restrict it, Jesus has a word: Whoever.

I mentioned a few minutes ago that we can all be exceedingly grateful that I am not God, and here is a really good reason why—if I were God, there’s no way there would be a whoever option. Those eligible for my love, my grace, my mercy, my gift, my heaven—that would be a very exclusive list. But not God’s love. His love is unlimited.

Fifth, God’s love is Unfair. At first that no doubt sounds wrong; it does not seem to fit at all with what I have been saying. That’s because we tend to think of unfair as a bad thing. But in our case it is a really, really good thing! We mentioned earlier that God’s love is unearned. That goes right along with it being unfair. After all, if God’s love was fair what would we get? Death. Romans 6:23, remember, says that the wages of sin is death. Death is what we deserve. If God was fair, death is what we would get.

There is another way in which God’s love is unfair. In the first 16 verses of Matthew 20 Jesus tells a parable about the laborers in the vineyard. You probably know the story; the estate owner went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard and he agreed to pay them $1 a day for their labor. We went back out at 9:00 a.m. and hired some more laborers. He did it again at noon and at three o’clock in the afternoon and at five o’clock in the afternoon, not long before quitting time. And when it was time to stop working the laborers presented themselves to receive their wage—what they had earned—and the owner gave the ones who started first thing in the morning one dollar and he gave the ones who he hired at 5:00 one dollar too—and everyone in between. Our immediate human reaction to that parable is summed up in three words: “That’s not fair!” That was the reaction of those guys who worked hard all day, too. And if you want to get hung up on fairness, you’re right…it’s not fair. The owner at the end of Jesus’ parable says, in essence, “I can do whatever I want with my money. I hired you guys at the crack of dawn for a dollar and you willingly came to work. I hired these guys at 9 and these at noon and these at three and these at 5 and I promised them all one dollar. There is nothing unfair in the way I dealt with you…you just don’t like the conditions.”

And the reality is some of us don’t like those conditions, either. I got saved when I was five years old. Someone else could get saved five minutes before they died at age 95 and we would both receive the same grace—we would both be spared from hell and would receive eternal life. That doesn’t seem fair, perhaps, but it’s God’s prerogative and He can dispense His grace and mercy and love as He sees fit.

One last way in which God’s love in unfair. God gave His Son to die in my place and your place. God placed the sins of the world upon His Son, His perfect, sinless Son. Jesus did not deserve that. There was nothing fair about that. One of the greatest promises of the Bible, one of the first ones we turn to in our times of need, is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And yet when Jesus was hanging on the cross, suffering excruciating pain because of our sin, Scripture says He called out with a loud voice… Jesus Christ was forsaken by God. Only temporarily, granted…but He was forsaken nonetheless. That’s not fair.

Finally, God’s love is Unbreakable. John 3:16 says that “whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have everlasting life.” There is no question, there is no condition, there is no fine print or exception, there is no hope so when it comes to the eternal life God has promised to those who accept His Son as Savior.

Paul makes this very clear in Romans 8:38-39:

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.

There is nothing…absolutely nothing…that can separate is from God’s love. It is truly unbreakable. And if you want to discuss eternal security or the preservation of the saints, we can have that discussion later, too.

So…God’s love is Unspeakable, Unearned, Unimaginable, Unlimited, Unfair and Unbreakable. We could go on, but those six adjectives give us an incredible glimpse into the awesome love of God.

Lastly, in closing, notice this. God’s Love Is. It just is. God’s love exists because God exists. There was never a time when it wasn’t and there will never be a time when it will not be. The apostle John, the same one who wrote John 3:16, also wrote 1 John 4:16:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love….

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

God’s Valentine

Today is Valentine’s Day. Depending on your age and/or your relationship status Valentine’s Day may have more or less meaning for you. After all, I know some people who look forward to it like no other day of the year, and go all out celebrating. I know others who think it is a ridiculous holiday made up by florists, greeting card companies and candy makers. And then I have other acquaintances who prefer to call Valentine’s Day something like “Single’s Awareness Day” or even “Let’s Make it Painfully Obvious You are STILL Single Day.”

Regardless of how you feel about it or whether or not you celebrate it, though, Valentine’s Day is, traditionally, a time when cards and/or gifts are given to express affection and love. And the truth is, God sent the world a Valentine more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Remember the simple little Valentine cards you would get by the box to exchange with all of your friends in elementary school? When I was in school I think G.I. Joe and the Transformers were popular among the guys. Now my children get cards with Disney’s Cars or princesses. But those simple little cards–often no bigger than half of a 3×5 card, could be counted on to contain a brief message, and space to write in who the card was “to” and “from.”

John 3:16 is God’s Valentine to the world. The verse tells us who it is “to” when it says “the world,” and who it is from when it says “God so loved.” It also tells us how God demonstrated, or showed, the world His love–“He gave His only Son” (ESV). God is the Giver, the world is the recipient, and His Son, Jesus, is the Gift.

Of course, a Valentine with my name on it only becomes mine when I accept it. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God desires that all should be saved, and His Son has paid the price of our salvation through His death on the cross…but only those who accept God’s Valentine will know salvation.

So, regardless of whether or not you have a significant other to celebrate Valentine’s Day with today, regardless of whether you wore every red article of clothing you own or you intentionally boycotted the color for today, remember the ultimate Valentine. Remember God’s gift, remember Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and remember that it all happened because “God so loved the world.”