5.10 The Love Of Christ
God has more spiritual culture, for
want of a better way of putting it, than to describe the love of Christ
just with a string of superlative adjectives. Paul prayed that his Ephesians
would be strengthened by the Spirit's working in the inner man, so that
they would "be strong to apprehend with all saints what is the breadth
and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which
passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:18,19 RV). There is a paradox here; to
know something that can't be known, that passes knowledge. We can only
know that love by God working on our inner man, so that we realize the
experience we have of the love of Christ, and by seeing it manifested
in others. Yet we are helped in this by the way the Bible brings before
us men who reached such a high level of love that it to some extent typified
the love of Christ. If we appreciate that what they manifested was a poor
shadow of His love, we start to see something of this length and depth
and height which we fain would "be strong to apprehend".
The Love Of Moses
Take Moses. Israel hated him, they thrust him from them (Acts 7:39);
due to their provocation he failed to enter the land. He had done so much
for them, yet they bitterly rejected him- "this Moses", as they
called him (Ex. 32:1,23 cp. Acts 7:35). But when God wanted to destroy
them and make of Moses a great nation, he pleaded for them with such intensity
that he achieved what few prayerful men have: a change (not just a delay
in outworking) in God's categorically stated intention. And especially,
consider that time when Israel had sinned with the golden calf. Moses
said that he would climb that mighty mountain yet again, and "I will
make an atonement for your sin" (Ex. 32:30). He knew well enough
that no atonement was possible without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11;
Heb. 9:22; and see the similarity with Phinehas making an atonement for
Israel’s forgiveness through the slaying of Zimri and Cozbi in Num.
25:8,13). And yet he hoped ("peradventure") that God would accept
him as an atonement: "I will make an atonement". He intended
to offer his own life as an atonement for them- for that people who hated
him, who pushed him from them and in their hearts returned to Egypt. He
climbed that mountain (nearly a day's work), and at the top he made an
even finer and altogether higher offer to the Angel: "If thou wilt
forgive their sin...blot me, I pray thee (notice the earnestness of his
desire) out of thy book" (Ex. 32:32) (1). And he begged Yahweh to
accept this for 40 days and nights, fasting without food or water (Dt.
9:17; 10:10). It wasn’t just a once off, emotional outburst of a
moment. Omission of the name from God's book is a clear reference to a
believer losing his part in God's Kingdom (Ex. 32:33; Phil. 4:3; Rev.
3:5; 17:8; 21:27; 22:19). This was not an offer made in hot blood; after
the hours of climbing the mountain, Moses had decided what he sorely wished
to do: to offer his place in God's Kingdom, so that Israel might be forgiven
one awful sin. This is just superb. To offer one's physical life is one
thing; to offer one's eternal life is quite another. And he pleaded with
God to accept his offer, just for the forgiveness of one sin, of a people
who hated him and were evidently bent on fulfilling the lust of the flesh.
If this is how much Moses loved sinful Israel, think how much more Christ
loved them. And if that's the level of Christ's love for sinful Israel,
consider (or try to) the level of Christ's love for us who at least try
not to thrust Him from us, who wish, in our weakness, to follow Him to
To be blotted out of the book God had written may have been understood
by Moses as asking for him to be excluded from an inheritance in the promised
land; for later, a ‘book’ was written describing the various
portions (Josh. 18:9). The connection is made explicit in Ez. 13:9: “…neither
shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall
they enter into the land of Israel”. To be blotted out of the book
meant to not enter the land (surely Ezekiel is alluding to Moses’
experience). If Israel were to be blotted out there and then in the wilderness,
then Moses wanted to share this experience. God had just spoken of ‘blotting
out’ Israel from before Him (Dt. 9:14), and making a nation of Moses;
but now Moses is asking to share in their condemnation rather than experience
salvation without them. This was the extent of his devotion. On the last
day of his life, Moses reeled off the great speech of Deuteronomy, knowing
full well that he was to die without entering the land. In Dt. 9:18 he
says that his prayer of Ex. 32:32 was heard- in that he was not going
to enter the land, but they would. Hence his urging of them to go ahead
and enter the land- to experience what his self-sacrifice had enabled.
In this we see the economy of God, and how He works even through sin.
On account of Moses’ temporary rashness of speech, he was excluded-
and yet by this, his prayer was heard. He was temporarily blotted out
of the book, so that they might enter. Moses’ fleeting requests
to enter the land must be read as a flagging from the height of devotion
he reached, rather like the Lord’s request to escape the cross in
Gethsemane. But ultimately he did what he intended- he gave his place
in the Kingdom / land so that they might enter [although of course he
will be in the future Kingdom]. This is why Moses stresses on the last
day of his life that he wouldn’t enter the land for Israel’s
sake (Dt. 1:37; 3:26; 4:21). He saw that his sin had been worked through,
and the essential reason for him not entering was because of the offer
he had made. It “went ill with him for their sakes” (Ps. 106:32).
In all this, Moses was typifying the death of the Lord. Is. 53:8 describes
His cross as being “cut off [Strong: ‘excluded’] from
the land of the living” (s.w. ‘the congregation’- of
Israel), for the transgression of His people. This is undoubtedly reference
to the self-sacrificial exclusion of Moses from the land, that Israel
might enter. The Lord died the death of a sinner, He chose like Moses
to suffer affliction with us, that we might be saved. The intense prayer
of Moses for Israel’s salvation inspired David in prayer (Ps. 25:11
= Ex. 32:30,31). And Paul makes a series of allusions to Moses, which
climax in an invitation to pray like Moses for the salvation of others:
2 Tim. 2:24,25
“the servant of the Lord
A very common title of Moses
must not strive
As Israel did with him (Num. 26:9)
but be gentle unto all
The spirit of Moses
apt to teach
As was Moses (Ex. 18:20; 24:12; Dt. 4:1,5,14; 6:1; 31:22)
As was Moses
Moses was the meekest man (Num. 12:3)
instructing those that oppose themselves
at the time of Aaron and Miriam’s self-opposing rebellion
if God peradventure will give them repentance [i.e. forgiveness]”
“Peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin” (Ex.
32:30)- and he prayed 40 days and nights for it.
And note too:
2:19 = Num. 16:5,26
2:20 = Num. 12:7
2:21 = Num. 16:37
2:22 = Num. 12:2; 16:3
2:26 = Num. 16:33
This is quite something. The height of Moses’ devotion for His
people, the passion of his praying, shadowing as it did the matchless
intercession and self-giving of the Lord, really is our example. It isn’t
just a height to be admired. It means that we will not half heartedly
ask our God to ‘be with’ brother x and sister y and the brethren
in country z, as we lie half asleep in bed. This is a call to sustained,
on our knees prayer and devotion to the salvation of others.
The Love Of David
This kind of logical extension can be repeated in the consideration of
David's love for Saul. Saul was his enemy, he drove David to absolute
despair, his senseless persecution of David was articulated in every way
he knew how. In all this we see played out the prototype of the hatred
between the Jews and the Lord. Yet when Saul was slain for his sins, David's
love for him was overflowing, to the point that his people saw that this
was no political theatricism (2 Sam. 3:36,37). His lament over Saul was
taught to the children of Judah (2 Sam. 1:18); and the chapters of 2 Samuel
are full of examples of David's expression of love for Saul in every way
he knew how. But it was not only at Saul's death that David had these
feelings; after all, it's a lot easier to love someone when they're dead.
Psalm 35 is David's commentary on his feelings for Saul: "They laid
to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to
the spoiling of my soul (spiritually). But as for me, when they (Saul
and his family, in the context) were sick, my clothing was sackcloth:
I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into my bosom.
I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother (i.e. Jonathan,
2 Sam. 1:26): I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother"
(Ps. 35:11-15). Bowing down heavily as a man weeps at his mother's graveside
is a powerful image. A man's grief for his mother must surely be the finest
picture David could have chosen. That sense of infinite regret that he
didn't appreciate her more. "As one that mourneth for his mother".
But David goes on: "But in mine adversity, they rejoiced...".
It's as if David realized that he had reached the point where he knew
that he really did truly love his enemies. He wept for Saul as a man weeps
at his dear dear mother's graveside. And he did this for a man who was
utterly worthless. And this is a poor, poor shadow of the Lord's peerless
love for Israel. And how much more does He love us, who at least try to
make up for Israel's cruel indifference?
And finally, consider how thanks to David building an altar at his own
expense and asking God to kill him and his family, God stopped the plague
upon Israel (2 Sam. 24:16,17- the stretched out hand of God in destruction
was what David asked to be upon him and his family). Israel were suffering
the effect of their own sin, in not paying the temple tax (Ex. 30:11-16);
but in the spirit of Christ, David was willing to die for them. He seems
to have sincerely felt that their sin was his sin (25:17). And his dominant
desire was counted as if it had been done, and thanks to his self-sacrificial
spirit, the people were saved when they personally were unworthy.
The Love Of Jeremiah
There are so many descriptions of the pain of Jeremiah for an Israel
who plotted to take his life, who "devised devices against me, saying...let
us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be no more remembered"
(11:19), an Israel whom he would fain run away from in despair (9:2).
Yet in response to this, "for the hurt of the daughter of my people
am I hurt...oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night (in prayer?) for the slain of the daughter
of my people". And I could go on and on with passages like this.
He broke into a new paradigm of grief and love for Israel, which his people
couldn't understand: "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by (as
he sat by the wayside weeping)? behold, and see if there be any sorrow
like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me" (Lam. 1:12). God thrice
forbad him to pray for Israel (7:16; 11:14; 14:11), yet they asked him
to do so (21:2; 37:3), with the possible implication that they knew he
was willing to do so. Finally, after all the Jews had done to him, they
asked Jeremiah: "Pray for us unto the Lord thy God...then Jeremiah
the prophecy said unto them, I have heard you, behold, I will pray unto
the Lord" (42:2,4). Jeremiah went right against the specific prohibition
of God because He so loved them. And Jeremiah's love, the real deep seated
feeling, right deep in the very centre of his soul, was for a nation hardened
against the Lord their God. And the love of Christ far, far exceeds anything
The Love Of Caleb
Caleb was a Gentile who became adopted into the tribe of Judah and became
a leader of the tribe. Yet he was graciously given an inheritance in the
land of Israel. By his spiritual ambition, he was granted Hebron as his
inheritance. He went up there and drove out the tribes with a faithful
zeal unmatched in Israel. And yet, he gave away that city- for Hebron
became a priestly city for the Levites to live in. He gave his place in
the Kingdom to others (Josh. 14:12)- that was the level of love this great
The Love Of Paul
Paul had the spirit of Moses when he could say that he could wish himself
accursed from Christ for the sake of his Jewish kinsmen. He was willing
in theory to give up his salvation for them, even though he knew that
in actual fact this is not the basis on which God works. He emphasizes
that he is not using mere words: "I say the truth in Christ, I lie
not [note the double emphasis], my conscience also bearing me witness
in the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 9:1-3). The Holy Spirit confirmed that
what he felt in his conscience for them was in fact valid; this really
was the level of devotion Paul reached for a nation who systematically
worked for his extermination, and even more painfully, for the infiltration
and destruction of his lifetime's work. The Jewish infiltrators had indirectly
had their effect on Corinth, who mocked and denigrated the Paul who would
have laid down his life for them. And yet time and again he calls them
his brethren, he sees them as an innocent Eve in Eden, about to be beguiled
by the snake of the Jewish infiltrators; he sees them as a chaste virgin.
But remember how they denigrated him, in the cruellest ways. Yet his love
for them was surpassing. And now with intended repetition, I make my point
again: the love of Paul for Israel, for Corinth, the love of Jeremiah
and Moses for Israel, the love of David for Saul...all these fantastic
peaks of human love and sacrifice were only dim, hazy shadows of the love
of Christ for wayward Israel, for whom primarily He died (Gal. 4:4,5).
If this was his love for those who rejected Him, how much higher is His
love for us who follow in weakness.
In the New Testament, we see the love of Christ directly, openly displayed.
Particularly on the cross we see the very essence of love. Having loved
His own, He loved us there unto the end, to the end of the very concept
of love and beyond (Jn. 13:1). He knew that in His death, He would shew
"greater love" than any man had or could show. There He declared
the Name and character of God, "that the love wherewith thou hast
loved me may be in them" (Jn. 17:26). "Walk in love, as Christ
hath loved us (in that) he hath given himself for us an offering and a
sacrifice to God" (Eph. 5:2). "Hereby perceive we love, because
he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the
brethren" (1 Jn. 3:16 Gk.). The death of the cross was therefore
the very definition of love; love is a crucifixion-love, a conscious doing
of that which is against the grain of our nature. And you will have noticed
that all these references add that we must therefore respond by showing
that love to our brethren. It is not an option. To be unloving is to deny
the very essence of the cross of Christ. Paul states that because of the
Lord's death "as an offering for sin", thereby the 'commandment
["requirement" RVmg] of the Law is fulfilled in us' (Rom. 8:3,4).
But in the practical part of that same letter, Paul defines the requirement
/ commandment of the Law to be one thing- simply "love" (Rom.
13:10). Love as God understands it is that we keep or fulfil His commandments
(1 Jn. 5:3). What, then, is the connection? How could the Lord's death
on the cross lead to the fulfilment in us of the Law's commandment / requirement
of love? Quite simply, because it is now impossible for a man to be passive
before the cross, and not to be inspired by Him there towards a life of
genuine love. Paul isn't simply making some mechanistic, theological statement-
that the cross fulfilled the Law, because it fulfilled all the types etc.
It fulfilled the Law in that the Law intended to teach love; and the cross
and dying of the Lord Jesus is now the means by which we can powerfully
be inspired to the life of love which fulfils the entire Law.
He died as He did so that the love of God, the real meaning of love,
might be displayed in a cameo, in an intense, visual, physical form which
could be remembered and meditated upon. Observing the memorial meeting
is the very least we can do to this end; and this itself is only a beginning.
"The love of Christ constraineth us" not to live for ourselves,
but unto him that died for us, and to show this by our concern for our
brethren (2 Cor. 5:14 and context). Marvin Vincent has a telling comment
on the Greek word translated "constraineth": "The idea
is not urging or driving, but shutting up to one line or purpose, as in
a narrow, walled road" (Word Studies Of The N.T.). We shouldn't be
driven men and women; we are not urged or driven by the cross, but shut
up by it to one purpose. There are only two ways before us, to death or
life; and we are shut up by the cross in that road to life. In this lies
the sustaining and transforming power of the cross, if only we would meditate
upon it. It is an epitome of every facet of the love of God and of Christ.
There the Name of God was declared, that the love that was in the Father
and Son may be in us (Jn. 17:26).
You may know that I am an enthusiast for reading through a Gospel record
in one or two sittings. One theme that jumped out at me once when going
through was that whenever the Lord starts talking about His impending
death, the disciples change the subject! And so it is with us. There is
something that makes us turn away from the real import of the cross. The
way exhortations so often stray from the essential point, the way we return
so quickly to the things of here and now after breaking bread... we all
know our guilt. Isaiah laments that despite the wonder of the atonement
God would work out on the cross, scarcely any would believe it, and men
would turn away their faces from the crucified Christ (Is. 53:1,3). And
so it happened. Men and women went out that Friday afternoon to behold
it, they saw it for a few moments, beat their breasts and returned to
their homes (Lk. 23:48). My sense is that most of that crowd still died
in unbelief, untouched by what they saw that day. And so it is with us.
We break bread, and we rise up and go on our way, we return to the pettiness
of our lives, to a spirituality which often amounts (at its best) to little
more than a scratching about on the surface of our natures. But let's
not look away, and change the subject; let's see the love of Christ, behold
it, and by this very act be changed into that same image, from glory unto
glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).
And then we will come to know the mind of Paul, as he penned, albeit
under inspiration, what to me are some of the finest pieces of writing
of all time: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through
him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life...nor
things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other
creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is
in Christ Jesus our Lord...the love of Christ constraineth us...the love
of Christ, which passeth knowledge...the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things...God
forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world " (Rom.
8:37-39; 2 Cor. 5:14; Eph. 3:19; Phil. 3:8; Gal. 6:14). Passages like
these reveal the spiritual climax Paul reached as he meditated upon the
real import of the love of Christ; they are written in what I would call
intellectual ecstasy, Paul's inspiration notwithstanding, in deep personal
realization of the height and depth and breadth of the love to which we
stand related. And that ecstasy of realization, that mountain peak, is
there for each of us to reach.
The Maturity Of Love
To achieve a lifestyle and way of thinking dominated by the love of Christ
and the love which this inevitably brings forth in us is the absolute
crowning climax of our Christianity. This is God's ultimate intention
for us. I believe, seriously believe, that God is working in the lives
of each of us towards this ultimate goal, through every niggling frustration
of today and yesterday and tomorrow, and through every major blow on the
anvil which we occasionally receive. We may die having fallen short of
fully realizing this goal, our innate bitterness and selfishness may be
that strong, we may be that lazy to tackle it; yet by His grace we will
still be accepted into His Kingdom- in the same way as men like Jacob
and David still had some evident aspects of spiritual immaturity in them
at the time of their death, and yet they will still be accepted. There
are verses enough which indicate that knowing the love of Christ, seeing
the real meaning of the cross where that love was so intensely and publicly
paraded, is the ultimate climax of our walk in Christ:
- The end of the concept of commandment is love out of a pure heart
(1 Tim. 1:5). This is where it all leads. All commandments are "briefly
comprehended" in that of love (Rom. 13:9).
- "Above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of
perfectness" (Col. 3:14); love is the ultimate spiritual maturity.
- "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is
perfected (matured) in us" (1 Jn. 4:12). This is maturity; to grow
to a point where the love of God dwells in us, and our love for each
other has let that love reach the maturity it is intended to produce.
- If love is made mature, we may have boldness in the day of judgment;
a mature love will cast out all fear of rejection (1 Jn. 4:17,18). These
words are a real challenge. The fear most of us have of the judgment
is because we have not yet reached that maturity of love. But then that,
presumably, is why we are still alive, living through this process of
- Our experience of tribulation leads to the development of patience,
then real hope of salvation, and above all, as the final stage of maturity,
"the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit
which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5). 2 Pet. 1:5-7 describes a similar
upward spiral of chronological development, again culminating in brotherly
kindness and then, love. And then, Peter goes on, we will know the Lord
Jesus Christ (v.8). This is not to say that we cannot show love in our
days of spiritual immaturity, but "love" in the sense of that
final state which is saturated with the experience of Christ is the
ultimate end which God is working in us to achieve.
All this explains the constant emphasis on the supreme importance of
reflecting the love of Christ: "Above all these things, put on charity"
(Col. 3:14); "above all things have fervent charity among yourselves"
(1 Pet. 4:8). This is why John so often drives home the point that if
we have reflected the love of God, then we are assured of salvation, for
we have assimilated the essence of the Gospel and Cross of the Lord Jesus
Christ. It's not for me to explicitly exhort you how better and more enthusiastically
to reflect the love of Christ in your life. You will see how. For if you
seriously behold it, the love and cross of Christ of itself will constrain
(1) It is difficult to interpret the
Hebraism here. Moses may have meant: 'If you bar them from the Kingdom,
then take my part out of it too; I don't want to be there without them'.
Considering how they had treated him, this likewise shows his great love
for them. A lesser man would have reasoned that being without that rabble
of apostate renegades was what he looked forward to in the Kingdom.