Christ’s Immeasurable Love for Us
Ephesians Lesson #102
April 25, 2021
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Father, we are so thankful we have Your Word. When we look at the history of Your Word, we realize that throughout much of the Church Age the vast majority of believers did not have access to a copy of Your Word, much less a copy of Your Word that was in their language, and that was easily accessible.
“For this we are so grateful. But we are concerned because with the easy access to Your Word, there are so many who could care less. Yet it is Your Word that is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.
“It is the ultimate source of guidance, direction, wisdom, truth, and the basis on which all of our thinking should be built. Yet so frequently believers, as well as unbelievers are so casual to the fact that we have something so precious.
“Father as we open Your Word today, may we put our attention upon it, focus upon it, hold it near to our hearts, because without it we would be in vast darkness.
“We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
Open your Bibles to Ephesians 3:18–19, our focal point, where we will focus upon Christ’s immeasurable love for us. And some verses that are often misunderstood and have frequently been misinterpreted in some of the most unusual ways you can imagine down through the history of Christianity. Hopefully we will have a little greater understanding of what is going on.
Let’s look at the context in terms of why Paul is praying in this passage. He is praying to the Father; we learned that all prayer is to be directed to the Father.
When prayers are identified as being directed to one member of the Trinity, it is always to the Father. We do not find prayers addressed to Jesus or to the Holy Spirit because you do not pray to the Intercessor, you pray to the Father.
His stated purpose for this prayer in Ephesians 3:16 is that God the Father would use the Holy Spirit to strengthen them. The application is that God would strengthen us. We should be praying the same thing, that God the Father would, through the Holy Spirit, strengthen us in the inner man.
Looking at this passage you often find people think there are three or four equal things that are being prayed for. There’s a logical structure here. He’s praying that we would be strengthened in the inner man with the result that Christ would make His home in our life. But that’s not the end game.
Why is he praying that Christ would make His home in our life? So that we can begin to comprehend the immensity of God’s love for us, Ephesians 3:18–19. The ultimate result would be that we might be spiritually mature, reflecting the love of Christ for us in our relations with others. So, it reveals a staircase to spiritual maturity.
Previously we looked at what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the believer.
It is very interesting how Ephesians 3:16 is structured, that we are “to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”
And that this is accomplished by means of the Spirit—through the Spirit; He is the Agent. We are to walk by the Spirit. We’re going to connect back to that at the end of the message, that you have these different commands. John talks about walking in the light, walking in the truth. He relates Jesus’ language in John 15 that we are to abide in Christ.
This is the basis for fruit being produced in our life. That helps us to understand that these terms are roughly synonymous, just emphasizing different facets of our spiritual life and our spiritual growth.
We have seen the structures in this slide, that the first result is Christ making His home in us. This isn’t talking about the indwelling of Christ, which is true for every single believer. Every one of us is indwelt by Christ from the instant that we are saved.
But this uses language that intensifies that to the idea of Christ making His home with us. That’s the picture of fellowship. It’s the picture of that partnership that walking together that we have emphasized in these other passages.
The result of our walk with the Lord, the result of our spiritual growth is that in turn that has another purpose, and that is that we may begin to comprehend. We will never fully comprehend it.
It’s not incomprehensible in the sense that we can’t understand Christ’s love for us, because we certainly have a lot of images and a lot of verses that teach us about Christ’s love for us. But it is infinite, so we can never fully comprehend it; we can never exhaustively comprehend it. But we can understand it to the degree that God has revealed it to us.
That’s the sense of KATOIKEO, which intensifies the root verb OIKEO, meaning to dwell or to live in, to settle down in something.
This intermediary purpose—that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—he expresses through the next phrase, “that you.”
At this point, we have to make sure we understand the best way to translate this, because as is so often the case—sometimes I think it’s good and sometimes I think it’s bad—but translators vaguely translate participles.
Because a participle doesn’t have an objective marker on it that says this is causative, or this is a participle of means, or this is a participle of manner, or this is conditional. You have to get that from the context.
Sometimes that involves a certain level—the word I’m going to use, but not using it negatively—of subjectivity on the part of the interpreter. He looks at it, and some of these overlap, or sometimes either nuance can make sense.
Manner or means can be very close to one another, and it could be causative, it could also be understood as means. They get the main idea across, but there’s about nine different ways that you can interpret a participle.
When I teach students how to do this, I tell them it’s a process of elimination. You just reword the sentence and probably 4 out of 5 of them will not make sense. You look at them and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense. It can’t be causative.”
“No, that doesn’t make sense; it can’t be conditional.” Then you’ll say, “Well, this is by means of. Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” Or the English word “through,” and that makes sense.
That’s how you work your way through the translation on these things, but as several have pointed out, the role of the translator is to translate, not to interpret. It is a major problem in many translations today, that the translators interpret something.
The NIV is egregious in this behavior, which is one reason I don’t care for it too much, because I don’t agree with the translators’ interpretation of the passage.
For example, in the NIV in 1 Corinthians 3 the phrase talking about these Corinthians as being worldly. Yes, they were worldly, but that’s not what the Greek says. The Greek says they were fleshly, which is the word SARX. “World” is the word related to KOSMOS.
“Worldly” has a different sense than SARX. Yes, they’re related, but “fleshly” is usually translated “carnal,” and we get a completely different sense of the passage. So, the translator translates it according to his theology, which isn’t probably very correct, and yet it passed muster.
There are many different examples of this. The argument is it should be translated in a way to leave the interpretation up to the pastor in the pulpit. That is a view of Dr. Bob Thomas who went to be with the Lord a couple years ago. But he had some incredible material on literal, grammatical, historical interpretation. Probably one of the foremost writers and speakers on that particular topic.
Ephesians 3:17, “being.” What sense does that have?
It’s best, I think, to translate this as two causal participles. They are in the perfect tense, which always means something that happened completely in the past. It is action completed in the past with results that continue.
So either you’re emphasizing the significance of the current results of that completed past action, or you’re emphasizing the completeness of the past action.
In this sense it is expressing a cause that should be translated “that you, because you have already been rooted and grounded in love.” That’s the basis for this statement of this purpose clause, “that you.”
Why is this purpose necessary? There’s the indwelling or Christ making His home in us for the next stage, for the purpose, “that you—and then he’s reminding them—because you have already been rooted and grounded in love.”
Whose love is it? It’s best to understand this as God’s love. At the cross when we trusted Christ as Savior, we responded to God’s love. Passages like John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 emphasize the fact that it is God’s love that is behind His plan of salvation,
“He demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That is a picture for us, an example of the extent of God’s love, how He demonstrated it.
That’s what John 3:16 is actually saying when it’s correctly translated, “For God loved the world in this manner—or in this way, as if it’s giving an example—that He sent His Only Unique Son, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
When we receive the gospel, when we trust in Christ as our Savior, and when we just form it in our minds, we hear the gospel and say, “Yea, I believe that.” We don’t have to pray a prayer.
God is omniscient. He knows what we’re trusting the instant, the nano second, when we form that thought in our minds, “Yea, I believe that. That’s true.” At that instant we’re saved. We don’t have to do anything overtly in order to be saved.
Some of you have been with organizations where when you got saved, they have people pray “the Sinners Prayer” or some other thing, but that has nothing to do with your salvation. A lot of times they just want to make sure that you have understood the gospel, something of that nature.
We’re rooted and grounded in that love that was demonstrated to us at the cross.
We could translate Ephesians 3:17–18, “With the result that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith for the purpose that you, because you have already been rooted and grounded in God’s love, may be able to …”
That takes us to the next level: the result of being strengthened by the Holy Spirit is that Christ may be at home in our souls through faith. That has a next purpose that “because you have already been rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend …”
First, Christ makes Himself at home with us. Then because we have been rooted and grounded in God’s love, we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints the immensity of God’s love.” I’m just summarizing that figure.
Really, the beginning of Ephesians 3:18–19 goes back to the earlier phrase, that “you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—then the next level, “to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This takes us back to an understanding of what I talked about last week in terms of the fact that Christ making His home is home with us is related to that concept in John 15.
First, I want to review: Jesus said in John 15:2, “Every branch in Me—He’s talking about believers. A lot of preachers will say, when He uses the phrase “in Me,” “That’s related to Paul’s term ‘in Christ.’ ” That is sort of a sophomoric error in exegesis because different writers use similar phrases, but they use them in different ways.
When Jesus says, “In Me,” He’s not saying the same thing as when Paul says, “in Christ.” When Paul says “in Christ,” he is talking about our legal position: the fact that we have been united together in one body in Christ, that we are identified with Christ at the instant of salvation.
We’re identified with His death, burial, and His resurrection, so that we are a new creature in Christ. That is our legal position before God, something that never happened before the Day of Pentecost when the Church began in Acts 2.
At this point Jesus is talking about a personal relationship with Him in terms of walking by the Spirit. Often people use the term “have a personal relationship with Christ.”
The Bible never really talks about it that way, except maybe you could, like I just did, squeeze it into abiding in Him, because that’s talking about our walk with Him that is more intimate.
But the Bible always uses the phrase “believe in Him,” and we have so many ways in which the gospel is wrongly presented. Thank heavens God is a God of grace, and we don’t have to pass a theology exam in order to get saved.
But the word is “believe.” It is not invite Jesus into your dirty, filthy, evil, wicked heart. The word is “trust in Christ,” “believe in Him.”
Then He tells His disciples who are already believers in John 15:2, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.”
I looked at that last time and this Greek word that’s translated “lift up” can mean either “lift up” or “remove.” When it is translated as “remove,” people get the idea of either some kind of divine discipline, or a loss of salvation. But the idea is lifting up.
A classmate of mine at Dallas Seminary named Gary Derickson, who’s taught at the college level and graduate level for many years since he graduated from seminary and published several works on this, got his masters in viticulture at Texas A & M.
He went back and studied how they actually took care of the grapevines in a vineyard. He pointed out that at the end of the first year if a new branch has not produced fruit they tie the branch up, so it gets more sunlight and air, so that the next season, it can produce fruit.
That’s the idea here, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He lifts it up.” Why? So that it will bear fruit the next year. He says, “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes.”
After the end of the season where this branch has produced fruit, then it will be pruned, so that more energy of the plant will go into the fruit and not into just the growth of leaves and branches.
If you grow tomatoes, you do the same kind of thing. You want most of the energy to go into fruit production and not leaf production. I tend to get a lot of leaf production.
That’s the idea in John 15:2, “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” You have different levels of fruit production. It can produce fruit, it can produce more fruit, and later we will see that it produces much more fruit.
I want to point out in the John 15 passage that the command is to “abide in Me.” What’s the result of abiding in Christ? That’s on the right side of the chart. You either produce fruit, more fruit or much fruit. What is the sole condition mentioned in John 15 for producing fruit? It is abiding in Christ.
In John 15:16–26, the command—on the bottom left of the chart—is to “walk by means of the Spirit.” That’s the sole and necessary condition. The result is the fruit of the Spirit.
In John 15, Jesus says, “Abide in Me.” That’s the condition for producing fruit.
In Galatians 5, Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit.” That’s the sole condition for producing fruit.
What that tells you is “walking by the Spirit” and “abiding in Christ” are very similar and very close to one another, because when you just have one condition, and they’re just expressed different ways, then those are synonymous.
In passages like Ephesians 5, you also have “walk by means of truth …” There’s a textual problem there; some manuscripts say, “walk by the Spirit,” others, “walk in the light” or “walk by the truth.”
The result is it bears the fruit of—some manuscripts say Spirit, and some say righteousness. The fruit that’s produced is based on that sole condition of walking by means of the truth, so this language is all very, very similar.
Ephesians 3:18, “[with the result that you, because you have already been rooted—an agricultural term—and grounded—also an architectural term. Both of those metaphors indicate an establishment that has taken place at the instant of salvation—in God’s love] may be able to comprehend...”
“May be able” is an interesting word that only occurs in this one spot in the New Testament, EXISCHUO. I-S-C-H: a noun for strength that that’s related to, and that will be important.
“That you may be able” means, that you may be strong enough, that you may be empowered. Not just “you may be able,” but it’s a much stronger word than that, “that you may be strengthened or strong or empowered.”
Then it completes the thought with this infinitive, “to comprehend,” the Greek KATALAMBANO. The root LAMBANO means to receive, and has different senses to it. In this sense, when it’s in this form, it has the idea of grasping something with your mind, comprehending it, or understanding its meaning.
This tells us that we as believers have the capacity to understand and comprehend everything that’s written in God’s Word. Now some things are more difficult to comprehend than others.
That’s true in every area of intellectual activity. You first have to learn your basics, then you learn your more significant basics, and then you go on to intermediate level, and then to an advanced level.
This emphasizes the idea that spiritual truth is grasped or comprehended with the mind. It’s not grasped by emotion; it is grasped intellectually. There has to be thinking involved. The word that is often used in the Old Testament that relates to this is the idea of meditation. Meditation is a practice that we should all have.
It’s not the meditation of the New Age Movement or Eastern Hinduism or Buddhism where the practice is to basically empty your mind. It is to fill your mind with the Word of God. It’s just the opposite of paganism.
We’re to fill our thinking with the Word of God. You might ask, “Well, how do I do that? How do I meditate on God’s Word?”
The first step in meditating on God’s Word is to just read the Word, read the Bible. That’s why we encourage people to have some sort of plan to follow, and read your Bible through once a year. It’s amazing how many times people will confess that, “Well, I’ve never read my Bible all the way through.”
I’ve heard that from several pastors. “Every year I try to read it through in a year, and I get distracted, and this comes up and that comes up, and I just never quite make it through.” It doesn’t mean that at some point or other they haven’t read it all the way through, but they just never managed to maybe get it all read in a year.
I can understand that as a pastor. I think I’m about four weeks behind right now on my plan, because I’m reading so many other things and spending so much time in other passages of the Word. That typically happens, and then things will slow down, and I’ll get caught up at some point. But it begins with just reading the Bible.
That means you need to set aside a time every day that’s going to be a protected time when you are going to read your Bible, that you are going to sit down and maybe have a spiral notebook or a pad or maybe if you’re doing it with your computer, typing your notes, whatever works the best for you.
You write down the things that you see, the questions that you have—what does this mean; what does that mean, and various observations. That’s the first step in Bible study, and that’s why I have a series called “Bible Study Methods” that’s up on the website.
If you want to develop basic skills, that’s what it’s designed for. Not just for somebody who’s going to be a Sunday School teacher, a pastor or something like that. It’s designed to enhance our Bible reading all the time.
The next step after reading the text is to memorize Scripture. When you memorize Scripture, you go over it and over it and over it again in your mind. You just keep repeating it until you get the wording down right and you understand it.
When you do that, because your minds engaged, all of sudden you realize, “Wait a minute! What does that word mean? How does that relate to this other word?” You start to see things that you didn’t see the first 20 times you recited the verse to yourself. That’s just the process of learning and growth.
I was in a conversation this last week. Somebody said, “As many times as I’ve read through Joshua or read through Judges or read through some other book, I still read things I don’t remember ever reading before.” That’s the way it’s going to be all through our life. That’s why we need to read it over and over and over again.
If you get to the point where you kind of anticipate what it’s going to say and your mind will disengage, then shift to a different translation. That way it’s worded freshly. It’s not going to lead you astray, don’t worry about that. It’s helpful. I try to read through different English translations all the time.
I get questions all the time from people, “Well, what you think about this translation or that translation?” Each one has weaknesses and each one has strengths, so they’re usually just about equal in all of those. But most pastors I know will have a certain reaction to one translation or another.
I was talking somebody the other day about the ESV, a well-educated pastor friend, who said, “Well, I don’t like it because they have a non-messianic interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks in Daniel 9.” I thought, “I don’t think I’ve read them on Daniel 9, so I will have to pay attention to that.” I think he’s right.
Everybody has their little sections or passages they’ve done a little in-depth work on, and they recognize that it is more a wrong theological interpretation than a right one. Reading through, sometimes you are going to ask those questions.
We live in an age with the basic stuff. “Logos” has some basic tools that you can get for almost nothing, put it on your iPad or iPhone or whatever you have. There is Accordance; I like the way it structures some things.
We have many different tools that you can get, and you don’t have to know the original languages or even read the Hebrew or Greek alphabet because everything’s transliterated and explained, but you just probe a little more deeply.
After you have read the text or you’re memorizing the text, you think, “Well, where else would I find this kind of information?” If you have a study Bible, there is a column in the middle with cross references; that’s just a very rudimentary place to go.
There is a tool, the New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Here is an example from their entry on Ephesians 3:18, with key words like “able,” “saints, “what,” “depth,” “height,” in bold (as it appears in the text, not here). Then it lists parallel passages that use that language or word, so you can start doing some cross reference work.
Another tool, which we used to give to pastors when they got ordained is Spiros Zodhiates’ original language—Hebrew and Greek—The Complete Word Study Old and New Testament Dictionary.
It’s tied to the Strong’s Concordance, assigned a number to every Greek word. Some of you have looked at the old Strong’s Concordance when you had a King James Bible, but it’s been updated for New American Standard and NIV
It had a rudimentary Greek dictionary and Hebrew dictionary. They numbered every word from the first word in (A) all the way to the last word. It just assigned a number, then it puts that number in the text next to the word, so that you can see what that word is.
For example, KATALAMBANO is 2638 in the Strong’s Concordance. It gives you the Greek and the English transliteration. These aren’t the meanings of the word; this just reflects the way in which it’s translated. So don’t confuse this with what you would get in a more sophisticated Greek lexicon.
This means it’s translated “attained” one time; “caught” two times; “comprehend” two times; “found” one time—in the New American Standard. If you look at the NIV, it’s going to have a different set of words.
In the word study dictionary that comes with that Study Bible, it lists three meanings. It says that figuratively it means to seize something with the mind. The root meaning is to apprehend or obtain something, but it is used figuratively for seizing something with the mind.
“To comprehend,” John 1:5, where the darkness did not receive the light is the same word, meaning that the darkness didn’t comprehend the light, the light being Jesus. Jesus was incomprehensible to the darkness.
“In the middle voice of the verb, it means to comprehend for oneself, perceive or find.” That’s the sense here. When you’re reading and studying a text these tools can enhance your reading and your own study of God’s Word, and you can get a little more insight.
Keep a notebook handy, write down your questions, your notes, your observations, which helps you to understand promises that you’re memorizing a little better, and understanding different verses. To comprehend it, you have to think, you have to learn how to study; you need to learn how to read.
When I went to Dallas [Theological] Seminary, they had a requirement to read a book called “How to Read.” It was written by one of the editors of the Great Books of the Western World, which was a Britannica publication.
I had purchased a set of “Great Books …” some years before, had “How to Read,” and had already read it a couple times. I’ve recommended this from the pulpit many times.
If you’ve got a high school or junior high school kid, you need to take them through that as a summer project, so they can learn how to read. It’s fundamental to being able to grasp things, and also, speed reading classes are good.
Ephesians 3:18, “with the result that you, because you’ve already been rooted and grounded in God’s love] may be able to comprehend—comprehend what?—with all the saints.”
This word translated “with” means in accompaniment with others. I don’t think as some people have observed, this shows the fact that you need to be involved with other members of the body of Christ. It is Paul expressing his desire. It’s not just for the Ephesian believers, but for all the saints.
Let me remind you, what’s the context of Ephesians 2:11–21? That is what he is referring to when he starts off saying, “for this reason.” What’s that talking about? This new entity that has been created in the Church Age, where Jew and Gentile are now united together as one new man, one new body, one new household, one new temple.
“… with all the saints:” contextually he is saying with Jew and Gentile now united together in one new body. This is a prayer for every single believer, Jew and Gentile. Nobody is in a position of advantage or superiority in the body of Christ.
We’re to meditate on what the Word of God says about Christ’s love for us, described in the next phrase, “what is the width and length and depth and height.”
You may be using New American Standard or ESV or NIV or some other translation, and there’s a word switch. It doesn’t mean anything. The manuscripts are about split. Some say width length, height, depth. Some say width length, depth, height. It’s doesn’t matter.
It is a figure of speech describing the dimensions of Christ’s love for us, which is infinite, so it is a hyperbolic statement, an exaggeration to emphasize the immensity of the love of Christ. It is not incomprehensible, because we can comprehend certain things about Christ’s love for us.
We will just never be able to comprehend it in its fullness. We’re never going to be able to exhaustively comprehend the love of Christ because even in eternity, we will still have finite minds and finite knowledge.
We can understand it in a way that’s much greater than we can now, but we will never fully be able to understand it, which means that we’re constantly going to be learning.
For folks who don’t like to learn and don’t like to study and don’t like to reflect, I hate to tell you, but in eaven when thousands and thousands of years have gone by, like the hymn “Amazing Grace,” it’ll be just like the beginning.
And in 10,000 × 10,000 centuries we’re still going to be learning; we will never exhaust the omniscience of God in terms of our learning. Isn’t that incredible?
We are to comprehend. We need to meditate on God’s Word, so that along with all of the saints, we can come to a better understanding of the immensity of Christ’s love.
Interestingly, if you go through commentaries throughout church history, there are a lot of different interpretations. I bet most of you here could probably write down at least two or three that you’ve heard from different pastors.
For example, in the period after the Reformation, Theodore Beza, who was Calvin’s successor, and Hugo Grotius, who as an Arminian was on the opposite end of the spectrum, both agreed that this was pointing to the quarters of the heavens, the four corners of the heavens, and related it back to where the priest would offer the heave offering to the four points of the compass. That’s a very creative interpretation.
Others have held the view that it refers to the four endpoints of the cross—I thought that was creative—significant names like Jerome and Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas.
Others think that it referred to God’s plan for redemption. Others have held it to refer to the future Christian temple, whatever that may be, or they’re referring it back to the last verse of the previous chapter.
Gnostics had the idea that it was Christ’s crucified body which fills the earth. Others are closer to the mark, thinking it refers to the wisdom of God, the power of God. But I think that it best for the context, that it refers to the love of Christ for the believer.
Ephesians 3:19 goes on to say, “… to know the love of Christ—that is, the love from Christ—which passes knowledge.”
This is HUPERBALLO in the Greek. BALLO means to cast something or to throw something, and HUPER is “beyond.” So it’s throwing something beyond the distance. That’s like when you see a quarterback throw the football beyond the end zone. That would be HUPERBALLO. This has the idea of something that exceeds something else, or goes far beyond it, and that is the love of Christ.
I want to take us back to that passage in the Upper Room Discourse, John 13:34–35. Earlier in John 13 Jesus is having the Seder meal with the disciples. He takes off His robe, wraps a towel around Him, and He washes their feet. This was teaching the importance of cleansing.
He said, “All of you have been cleansed,” indicating they were all saved, then He said, “Except one,” remember? The one exception was Judas. After that He tells Judas to go and do what he has to do, so Judas leaves. From that point on all of them have been cleansed.
The emphasis there is on forgiveness of sin. That’s what cleansing represents, and that’s why Jesus told Peter, “If you don’t let Me do this,” do what? If you don’t let Me continue to forgive your sins, then you won’t have a part with Me.
The technical word for “part” indicates the inheritance portion of a will. He’s not saying Peter’s going to lose his salvation. He says Peter won’t have rewards in Heaven.
Remember, there are two classifications of people at the Judgment Seat of Christ: those that get rewards; and those that are saved, yet as through fire. They have no rewards, but they are saved and they do have eternal life.
He’s telling Peter, “If you don’t let Me forgive you, you won’t have an inheritance, a share, in the kingdom when I come.”
He goes on to tell the disciples, “You don’t understand this now; you’ll understand this in the future, but you need to do this for one another.” What’s He saying? He’s saying you need to forgive one another. You can’t truly love people unless you’re willing to forgive them.
The passage goes on as Jesus is talking to them initially about the importance of forgiving one another. Then He gets to the main point in John 13:34–35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another …”
That’s related to everything that’s gone before. Everything hangs together. He’s just developing this idea of loving one another, and it is predicated on having our sins forgiven and also forgiving others when they have offended us.
“I give this new commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The interesting thing is when you look at the Old Testament, the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 is to love your neighbor as yourself. The comparison is to how you love yourself.
Everybody loves themselves. I don’t care what all the psychologists in the world say! “Oh, you’ve got a bad self-image, you don’t like yourself.” No, the problem is you love yourself and you’re disappointed about some aspect of the way you look or the way you act or the way you feel, so you feel like you hate yourself.
But the only reason you hate yourself is because more deeply, you love yourself. Everybody is self-absorbed; that’s the orientation of the sin nature. Nobody really has a bad self-image; everybody has a corrupt self-image that thinks too highly of themselves.
In the Old Testament, though, Jesus is using that as a point of comparison, to love your neighbor like you love yourself. But in the New Testament He ratchets the metric up a good bit. We’re not to love as we love ourselves, but we are to love one another as Christ loved us.
If you’re going come to understand what it means to love one another, and that includes love in marriage, love in friendship, then we need to all spend a lot more time thinking about what it means that Christ loved us.
Because that’s the measuring rod, that’s the point of comparison. We’re to love one another as Christ loved us. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
This is a metric that cannot be counterfeited. You can’t love as Christ loved just from your own corrupt sin nature. It can’t happen. It has to be a work of God the Holy Spirit.
Still in the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus, having already talked to them about the importance of abiding in Him, says in John 15:9, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you—than the command—abide in His love.”
That means that we can abide in His love or not, and a lot of believers don’t abide in Christ’s love because they’re walking according to their own sin nature, and are just as self-absorbed and self-indulgent as they can be.
John 15:10, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.”
John 14:15, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.”
The way you know if you love Jesus is not how warm and fuzzy you feel when you sing songs about, “Oh, How I love Jesus.” How you feel is irrelevant. It’s what we do that’s important. Again and again, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, we have this comparison that if you love God, you obey God.
If you love Jesus, you obey Jesus. If you don’t obey Jesus, then you don’t love Him. It has to do with actions, it has to do with how we think. So constantly, here and in 1 John, it’s not legalism because keeping the commandments is the result of abiding in Him or walking by the Spirit.
And that ability to obey God is produced in us when we are walking in fellowship, walking in harmony with God, applying His words.
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”
John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may abide in you.”
The translator shifts to a different English word, and you lose the point, but it’s the same word. His joy abides in us; it’s related to fellowship and spiritual growth. His joy abides in us, “that your joy may be full.”
Joy is not just being an upbeat person. I had a seminary professor I invited down to speak at my first church. He was a missions professor; they had a missions conference every year. He was just one of these really hyperactive, upbeat personalities.
You have the same kind of personality in unbelievers. He was just always very optimistic and upbeat and always encouraged people. I heard one guy say, “Boy, you can sure tell he’s got the fruit of the Spirit!” I thought, that’s just his personality; that’s not the fruit of the Spirit.
This is the fruit of the Spirit: something that can’t be manufactured on our own! This kind of joy is a stability no matter what’s happening around us: no matter how much chaos there is, no matter who gets elected at the various elections, no matter if you get fired, no matter what else happens, your joy can be full because it’s focused on the cross and on Jesus and not on yourself.
Jesus reminds them in John 15:12–13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, then to lay down his life for his friend.” That indicates what characterizes this love is a willingness to lose your life to save others, metaphorically or literally.
This takes us back to Galatians 5; notice the context. I often talk about Galatians 5:16, which is the core commandment here, “Walk by means of the Spirit, and you will not—and in the Greek it’s an unusual construction that means “it will be impossible for you to”—fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
If you’re walking by the Spirit. You have to stop walking by the Spirit then default to your sin nature, and then you’re in trouble.
He started this section in Galatians 5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this—quoted from Leviticus 19:18— ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
But that’s the mandate to Israel; that’s not the mandate for the Church. The mandate for the Church is to love one another as Christ loved us.
He uses the example because they have problems with personality conflicts in the congregation, in Galatians 5:15, “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
He gives the solution in Galatians 5:16, “Walk by means of the Spirit.”
In the next couple of verses, he talks about this conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature. Then he gives you the characteristics of the sin nature.
In Galatians 5:22–23, he gives you the fruit or the results of walking by the Spirit. What are the first two things he mentions? Love and joy. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against which there is no law.”
I was pointing out earlier that the command in John 15 is to abide in Christ. The result is that we will learn to love one another as Christ loved us.
In Galatians 5:16, the command is to walk by the Spirit—we don’t “gin” it up on our own. What the Spirit produces in us is that kind of love and joy and peace and long-suffering that is part of the character of Christ that we can’t counterfeit from our own sin nature, although we try.
This is a challenge; this is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 3, that we are to know the love Christ has for us that we may be filled with the fullness of God. The term “fullness of God” relates to His character.
In Colossians 1 it says that in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead—the fullness of deity—bodily. That tells us that “the fullness of God” relates to His character.
That’s exactly what Romans 8:28–30 is talking about: when we encounter trials, when things aren’t going well, we’re to recognize “that all things work together for good to those who love Christ, to those who are called according to His purpose …” “… whom He called, He justified, those He justified, these He also glorified …”
Romans 8:29, He is “conforming us to the image of His Son.” That means He’s creating in us the character of Christ, described by the fruit of the Spirit.
Next time we will unpack that a little more, and go from that into understanding this great benediction that he gives in the last two verses of Ephesians 3.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word, to be challenged with the importance that we are to focus on every single day walking by the Spirit, abiding in Christ, walking in the light of Your Word, which means we have to reflect upon Your Word.
“We have to meditate on Your Word. We have to think about Your Word. We have to study Your Word. It’s not just listening to somebody else study, but we have to meditate on Your Word, memorize and hide Your Word in our heart. All of these things are so vital and so important, if we are going to have any measure of spiritual growth.
“Father, we’re just thankful that Your Word tells us that we are saved, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but it’s all due to Your mercy. You sent Your son to die on the cross for our sins.
“We’re not saved by obedience in some legalistic way, we are saved only by trusting in Christ. And at that instant we are clothed with His righteousness—declared righteous—because of what You have given us. You have given us Your righteousness, and on that basis we’re declared righteous.
“We are still the same horrible, corrupt sinners we were before, but now we have been declared righteous, and so we have to learn to live as members of Your family, live as those who have been regenerated, and live in such a way that we reflect the character of Christ. That is our mission, and the result of that is that we will be a testimony, a witness to others and to the angels of Your grace.
“We pray for any who may be listening to this message, that if they are unsure or uncertain of their eternal destiny, that they would put their trust in Christ alone. By trusting in Him is the only way that we can be saved and be confident and have the assurance that we will spend eternity with You.
“Father, we pray that You would open the eyes of those that are unsaved to the truth of the gospel, and Father, we just pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”