Love Changes Everything

December 8, 2020

It is dangerous to be unlike other people.

The world rewards conformity and punishes those who dare to be different. Many years ago I attended a Christian college whose motto was, “Distinctively different.” I always thought that was a fine description of the Christian because God calls us to stand out from the world.

That’s true, of course, but don’t expect the world to give you any merit badges for being different. If you want to see your name in the lights, you better learn how to play the game. You’ve got to go along to get along. Others may call you “mad” or “crazy” if you dare to walk your own road. On social media you are more likely to be called “narrow-minded” or “bigot” or something much worse.

If you know your Bible, this will not surprise you. People said Jesus was beside himself, and Festus told Paul his great learning was driving him insane. In Paul’s case, he did nothing more than claim Jesus had risen from the dead. For that, the world declared him a madman.

We can see the same principle at work when Mary broke an expensive jar of ointment and poured it on Jesus’ feet (John 12:1-8). Disgusted by this extravagant gesture, Judas said the ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii (perhaps $45,000) and given to the poor.

What a waste!

Judas hated what Mary did, but Jesus loved it. Love has its reasons, and those reasons rarely make sense to others. So how do you explain yourself to those who question your motives? In Mary’s case, she let her actions speak for herself. She never answered Judas. Often silence is the best policy when we are criticized.

Sometimes we must answer our critics

But sometimes we must give an answer. At this point, we come up against the conundrum posed by Proverbs 26:4-5:

Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness
or you’ll be like him yourself.

 Answer a fool according to his foolishness
or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.

There are times when we should walk away from our critics, and there are times when we must give an answer. We need the Holy Spirit (and the wise counsel of our friends) to know which is which.

Paul evidently had had enough. He answered his critics because of the impact they had on his ministry.

That gives us the bigger picture of this section. Looked at another way, these two verses pierce to the heart of our Christian witness. They explain why we aren’t like everyone else. We march to a different drummer. We follow a different leader. We live by a different standard. Peel away the layers, and you discover the most powerful force in the world.

 The Fact Stated

“For Christ’s love compels us” (v. 14a).

When critics attack, it can be hard to maintain your composure. You find out who you are when others malign your character. In the heat of battle, it is not always a pleasant discovery.

What motivates you?

Fear of punishment often works. That’s why burglars tend to skip homes with visible cameras. That’s why you see yard signs that say, “This home protected by ____________.” That appeals to our desire to stay out of jail. We do good because we dare not do evil.

You might call this the virtue of compulsion. It makes the thief honest and the slanderer silent. It may keep a murderer from pulling the trigger. We should not make light of this. Laws protect us from lawless behavior.

Fear alone is not enough

But fear alone is not enough.

That’s why Paul said, “The love of Christ compels me.” Grammatically, it could be Christ’s love for us or our love for Christ. In context, Paul must be thinking of Christ’s love for us. We love God because he first loved us. Everything starts with God and comes down to us. Anything that depends solely on us will be weak and feeble and uncertain. Our love waxes and wanes, grows hot and then fades away.

When Alexander MacLaren preached on this text, he used a cascade of phrases to describe the impact of Christ’s love on the human heart. It is

Unturned away by unworthiness,
Unrepelled by non-responsiveness,
Undisgusted by any sin,
Unwearied by any opposition.

It is the light of heaven piercing the darkness of earth. Let that love get hold of your heart, and your life will never be the same.

Have you ever heard of George Matheson? He was a brilliant Scottish pastor who became one of Scotland’s greatest preachers in the late 1800s. As a young man, he received the news that he was going blind and nothing could be done about it. His fiancé ended their engagement because she could not face going through life married to a blind man. His sister volunteered to assist him in his ministry, and she did so for many years. But eventually she fell in love. On the day she was married, George Matheson felt a great agony of soul as he faced the prospect of being by himself for the rest of his life. Facing his grief, he wrote a hymn that remains popular to this day. He said the words came to him in just five minutes. Here are the words to the first verse:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;

Those words ring in perfect harmony with my text. That’s what Paul meant when he said the love of Christ “compels” us. It’s a love that will not let us go. If you live long enough, you’ll encounter fickle people and broken promises. Your love will go unrequited. That’s why we need the love of Christ. His love is not fickle because it comes from a God who does not change. That love welcomes every weary soul. It endures through the worst disappointments of life.

The Reason Given

“Because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14b).

The word “convinced” joins the love of Christ with the doctrine that follows. It means to pass judgment and render a verdict. When Christ died, he died for all. There are no limitations on that statement. But notice the result. “Therefore all died.” He died because all died in Adam. Romans 5:12 puts it this way: “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”

We start with the historical reality: Adam sinned. The Bible traces sin back to the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of one particular tree. The serpent deceived Eve, who ate the fruit, and then offered some to Adam, who, though he was not deceived, ate the fruit anyway. Through that deliberate choice sin entered the world. Before that moment, Adam was a living soul in an immortal body. After that moment, he was a dead soul in a dying body. If you had been there, all you would have seen was a man taking fruit from his wife and eating it. No lightning, no thunder, no scary music in the background. Yet from that one act of disobedience, disastrous results flowed out across history.

When Adam sinned, you sinned with him, and so did I

What does all this have to do with you and me? When Adam sinned, you sinned with him, and so did I. This is the doctrine of original sin in its plainest form. When Adam sinned, you and I sinned. When Adam fell, you and I fell. When he died, you and I died. Although we were not in the garden, because we are descendants of Adam, we suffer the consequences of what he did.

Let me say it another way. Adam drove the bus of humanity. When he drove the bus over the cliff, we went down with him. Or you could say he was at the controls when the plane crashed. It doesn’t matter that we were back in the coach section watching a movie. When he crashed, we all went up in flames.

Paul makes the same argument in this verse that he makes in Romans 5. Through one man (Adam), sin entered the human race. Through one man (Christ), there is now life and hope and righteousness.

Christ died for all. In some sense, this must be true. If he died for one, he died for all. That means his love reaches every person on earth.

He died in my place

He did not die simply as a moral example of sacrifice. That he is our example is true enough, but that doesn’t exhaust the meaning of the cross. We can say he died to defeat death, and that is true. But not even that comes to the heart of the matter. We will never understand the cross until we see that it was a substitution.

One man died for another man.
He died in my place.
He died for me.

His death is personal-He died.
His death is real-He died.
His death is sacrificial-He died for all.
His death is complete-He died for all.

If that is not true, why think of his death at all? If he did not die in my place, if his death is only an example, then his death matters no more than any other death. But when we face our own sin and behold the evil within us, only then will we understand why it was necessary that “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The Application Made

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (v. 15).

We all want to love and to be loved. It is not easy to say which impulse is greater in us. But surely this much is true. We were made to give and to receive love. It is much harder to love others if we have never felt the power of love. That’s why true love is so beautiful when we find it. There is nothing nobler than for one person to say to another, “I love you.” Those words, if uttered truthfully, can melt the hardest heart. In the cross of Christ, God says to the whole world, “I love you.”

The cross stands at the center of our faith

The cross stands at the center of our faith. Take away the cross, and we have no message to share, no hope to offer, no Good News to proclaim to the world. Our message is exceedingly personal. Jesus did not die for a vast, unknown mass of humanity. He died for you! He died for me! Take away that truth, and you reduce Christianity to a set of moral instructions. The gospel becomes good advice, nothing more. Only the death of Christ can move us to the supreme sacrifice of life.

He had to be the Son of God for his death to change us. He had to die to forgive us. He had to rise to save us. A dead Christ saves no one. Only the empty tomb can guarantee our salvation.

Pray for the power of the cross to enter your heart. I speak as a Christian to other Christians. Our hearts by nature are hard and cold and dark. But once the fire from Calvary touches us, those dead embers spring to life. Oh, my friend, pray it happens to you. Only a transforming love can soften our hard hearts. Left to ourselves, we will be small and selfish and bitter and cold. Cynicism will pollute our profession of faith. We will never rid ourselves of what ails us. We need a fresh infusion of the love of Christ.

Pray for that!
Ask God to set you ablaze!
Open your heart to the love of Christ!

Open your heart to the love of Christ!

I had a friend who signed every message the same way: “Lingering at the foot of the cross.” That’s where we should be every single day. Only at the foot of the cross will we grasp the love of Christ for us.

Love changes everything.

Some missionary friends sent an email in which they wrestled with the question people always ask: “Why?” Why would you leave the US and travel to Africa? Why not stay here and make money so you can send others? Why spend your best years on the other side of the world? Why be so far from your parents and grandparents? These are not unusual questions. Every missionary I know wrestles with them. Our friends added some questions of their own: Why take security risks? Why travel on unsafe roads? Why expose yourself to strange diseases? Why raise your children in the third world?

Their answer focused on this text. Here’s what they said:

The King James Version refers to the love of Christ as “constraining us”. To be constrained or compelled in this way is a wonderful thing!

Then they added this:

We are grateful for the bountiful blessings of God poured out into our lives—beginning with the blessing of this constraining love of Jesus.

It’s not easy to be different from the crowd. The pressure is always on us to conform, to fit in, to go with the flow. But some people feel differently about being different. My friends fall into that category. The love of Christ compelled them to go to the ends of the earth. One gathers from their comments that they do not feel they have “given up” anything, or if they have, they have been more than repaid by the Lord.

We need God’s love to melt our hard hearts

When Charles Simeon finished his sermon on this passage, he ended by calling on his readers to “answer the true end of all his love.” He then added these words:

Let the pleasures, the riches, the honors of the world be to you as the dirt under your feet: “be crucified to the world, and let the world be crucified unto you.”

That seems exactly right to me. But it is not easy to do as he says because the honors of the world can be quite beautiful. Only God’s love shed abroad in our hearts will enable us to treat the bright lights of the world as dirt under our feet. Perhaps the words of a familiar chorus will help us:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
    Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
    In the light of his glory and grace.

That is our hope and our prayer. It takes just a few moments to sing those words; it is the work of a lifetime to bring them to reality. When Christ’s love fills your heart, you will find joy in the darkest moments, your faith will rise above your fear, and living for Christ will be a blessing, not a burden.

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Do you understand and believe that when he died, Jesus died for you? You had a place in his heart when he hung on the cross. He didn’t die for a vast, unnamed mass of humanity. He died for you, and he died for me. When that love fills your heart, you will gladly live for him. Let these words be our guide:

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

May God make it a reality in your heart and in mine today!

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