Genesis 22: 1-3, 7-12
Ephesians 5: 25-27
Romans 12: 1, 2;
Revelation 22: 1-5
Unremarkable as it might seem, I have in mind to speak of love. However, I wish to speak of a particular aspect of love which seems to me to be most important, indeed essential, but which is referred to fairly infrequently.
Believers have a very great advantage in the circumstances of life, in sorrows and in joys. In sorrows they can look to God for comfort, and find it; they can look to the Lord in whom they believe for sympathy, and find it. In joys they can remember that their joy is soundly based upon the work of Christ, the redemptive work of which we have been reminded in our hymn (No 1). The believer in his or her joys is not to forget God who made provision for that enjoyment into which they have entered. That is something we need to remember.
In the circumstances of life, whatever they might be, the believer finds that there is resource in God and in particular in the love of God. That love has been fully expressed in Christ. It could have been expressed no more fully than it has been, in Christ. It is a love that is made good in us by the Spirit, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us”, Rom 5: 5.
I want to speak a little of a particular characteristic of God’s love. If I speak of God’s love I am not referring to natural love. We must dismiss from our minds what in this scene is generally called love, which very often is lust, and we must dismiss all thoughts of what is romantic and superficial. What we discover - and I trust we discover it for ourselves - is that God’s love is holy, it is infinite, it is eternal, it is deep and constant, it is gracious and powerful, it is tender and faithful. Much more could be said. How much we can find in God’s love!
What I wish to speak about in particular is the fact that God’s love is sacrificial. It is a love that gives. However, there is more than giving conveyed in the word sacrifice. We think of giving as ‘giving away’ but there is also in God’s love what is ‘given up’. This is the character of God’s love that I desire to speak about.
As we know, the first expression of love as presented in scripture, is found in Genesis 22, the love of a father for a son, “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac”, v 2. The Spirit dwells upon those words as if to reinforce their meaning to us. It is widely thought that the fullest expression in love is between a man and a woman, between husband and wife. I suppose we could understand that love was present in Adam towards Eve and Eve towards Adam, but the scripture does not refer to it. Love must have been there because the thrust of Satan through Cain was made in hatred. What was Satan doing? I suggest that he was seeking to deny, to undermine, the reality of love which was there although not described. Then there was what was sacrificial in the offering that Abel brought. And in the death of Abel there was more than a suggestion of what was sacrificial. The blood of Abel cried from the ground, Gen 4: 10. But the scripture - and the Spirit behind the scripture - waits until we have the account of Abraham offering up Isaac and, in that context, his love for Isaac - the love of a father for his son, sacrificial in character, typically the love of God the Father for His Son.
Sacrificial love, the aspect of which I speak, does not consider for itself. God is fully entitled to consider for Himself: man has no entitlement to consider for himself. The wonder of it is is that God has considered for us! We will never fathom the meaning of that fact. Love in its sacrificial quality considers for its object, not for itself. God’s love was prepared to go the whole way in considering and providing for its object. It was prepared to pay the ultimate price. Thus we can begin to see the meaning of sacrifice, “He who, yea, has not spared his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”, Rom 8: 32. What sacrifice underlies and is expressed in that verse. I would go so far as to say that sacrifice is the hallmark of God’s love. I would also suggest that there is no true love without preparedness to sacrifice.
Sacrificial love has been expressed to us in Christ. Paul the apostle could speak of, “the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me”, Gal 2: 20. Think of that! Think of the fact the Son of God loved and gave Himself for such as Paul, who regarded himself as “less then least of all saints”, Eph 3: 8! Have you wondered at it for yourself? I trust all here who are able, in some sense, to understand the meaning of the words can speak of “the Son of God, who has loved me and given himself for me”. I am sure it is so with our brother and sister, newly married. I am glad that it is so. But then “Christ loved us” (Eph 5: 2) and, the scripture says, “also loved the assembly”, Eph 5: 25. He has fully demonstrated His sacrificial love in delivering Himself up for the assembly.
The love that has been found in expression in Christ is a love that calls for a sacrificial answer in you and me; indeed, in us all. The love of Christ which has been expressed so fully, clearly, unmistakably and attractively will undoubtedly find an answer in the assembly. “I speak as to Christ, and as to the assembly” (Eph 5: 32), the apostle Paul could say. From that exalted and glorious level, Christ and the assembly, flows all the teaching as to husband and wife, and from a level no less than that. But the answer must be found in you and me.
We can speak also of the sacrificial service of the Spirit. We have considered the Father, typically, and we have considered Christ; and we can think in a similar way of the Spirit. He has been “poured out on us richly”, Titus 3: 6. He is acting for the Father and for Christ. He is acting for the assembly, therefore for us, for you and for me; He is not acting for Himself. The service of the Spirit can be seen as sacrificial. The effect is to be seen in us, in you and in me. The Spirit forms in us what is Christ-like and is pleasurable to the Father.
If we are familiar with our Bibles we understand that the fundamental teaching of the epistle to the Romans leads to the living sacrifice of which I have read in chapter 12. There is to be with us love for God, love for Christ and love for the brethren, before any thought of self. That is what I mean by sacrificial love in its application to me and - I venture to suggest - to you; it is without consideration for self. There is to be with us what was found with the apostle Paul, readiness to “spend and be utterly spent” (2 Cor 12: 15); sacrificial service, love in its sacrificial character, love therefore in true expression. And there is to be with us an underlying attitude of grace toward all men, to serve men sacrificially in the glad tidings; “carrying on as a sacrificial service the message of glad tidings of God”, Rom 15: 16.
In connection with marriage and, eventually perhaps, a family, love (if it is truly love) must be sacrificial; it must be of that quality and kind. Sacrifice is greater than ‘give and take’. The lack of such love is the cause of a great deal of sorrow and breakdown. We have to face the fact that these things have come close to us. The absence of appreciation and expression of sacrificial love leads to sorrow. However, the presence of such love brings stability, peace, joy, preservation and protection of the family and of the following generation. Sacrificial love in action has that result. God sees to it that it has that result because it is the kind of love of which He approves; it is the kind of love that He has expressed, and it is the kind of love that He desires to see in expression in us.
If we speak about a family, God might bless a couple with children; and it is a blessing, let us not forget - children are a blessing; they are to be “olive-plants round about thy table”, Ps 128: 3. God has blessing in mind for those who are married, and it comes very frequently by way of a family. In that blessing what is in view is continuance until the Lord comes. I think that if we reflect on these things we can understand how essential sacrificial love is in us, and in those who might follow us. It has been seen in those who have preceded us; it is essential that it be seen in us in the time that is left, in our readiness to suffer for the Lord’s name, until His return.
Revelation 22 speaks to us of the perfect offering. However, I think it speaks to us of more than that. If we look at the verses, which commence with reference to the day to come, at the end there is a touch as to the eternal day, “to the ages of ages”. We notice in reading Revelation (and how often we have remarked upon it) that the Lord is frequently referred to as the Lamb. In this passage I was particularly affected by the words, “and of the Lamb” which appear twice, as if to say that in the day to come and, I believe, in the eternal day there will continue to be a reminder of the sacrificial aspect of the love of Christ. It will not be necessary in the eternal day for love to be sacrificial because the need of sacrifice will have passed, but I think that we will ever be conscious, throughout eternity, of the sacrificial nature of the love Christ has shown to us. We will give Him thanks for it and rejoice in the result of it.
Today is a day of rejoicing. If I speak words which sound rather sober, it is not because there is any lack of joy in my heart or in the hearts of the saints whom I address. This is a day of joy, but that joy must be soundly based.
I commend these thoughts to the brethren.
5th September 2009