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Apr 10, 2016

Enduring Love - Ch. 29

Enduring Love - Ch. 29

Passage: 2 Corinthians 5:1-21

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Keywords: apostle paul, evangelism, journeys, love of christ, mission, motivation, persecution, transformation


This message looks at the life of Paul and more specifically the motivation behind this man who was radically changed by the love of Christ and, in turn, radically changed the world through the Gospel of Christ. We do some self-examination of just how much we are being impacted by the love of Jesus in our relationships with other people.


Enduring Love

The Story—Week #29

MORNING INTROMotivation matters!  In fact, it is highly doubtful that anything very significant in this world gets done without being highly motivated to do it. 

One of the reasons I wanted to interview Ben & Lauren is so you could see how God grows motivation for a radical life-devotion to Jesus and His Gospel.  It can happen in a moment; it can happen over years and even a lifetime

We’re going to see that this morning in the life of the Apostle Paul, a man who turned the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus.  

My son-in-law has been in the process of writing a movie about the life of Paul for the past year.  It’s been a gargantuan process because Paul’s life, when you lay it all out, seems bigger than life. To start that project, he read just about every book he could get his hands on about Paul.  That turned out to be nearly 40!  

Just this week, I asked him a few questions about how he went about tackling this project.  Here are just a few comments he shared:   

  • While they were house-sitting in LA about a year ago, he started laying out a timeline of Paul’s life on a whole wall using post-it notes. Was shocked how much life Paul put into two to three decades of life.  Realized that Paul’s life wasn’t something you could fit even into a 10-part mini-series.  J
  • Was impressed with the simplicity of his life Didn’t deserve any of the grace or mercy he got from God and so turned around and dedicated every waking moment to doing what God asked him to do.  Singleness of purpose.
  • Was moved to realize that Paul was writing to a very difference audience than your typical American Christian. These 1st century believers were being severely persecuted.  They were people Paul knew could be killed for following Jesus.  Life was much more like it is for Christians in the Middle East today.  Andrew was very convicted about our lack of seriousness about our faith.
  • It was feeling the human side of Paul from his later letters helped Andrew decide to focus on the context in which Paul wrote so much of the N.T.—a world of tremendous darkness that faced the early Christians.

So…condensing the life, ministry and impact of the Apostle Paul on human history into a 30 minute message is…well…impossible, too. How do you do justice to someone whom God used to do the following:

  • Paul wrote 13 (possibly 14) of the 27 books of the N.T.?
  • Pioneered the Christian church and Gospel in more cities and regions than all the other Apostles combined?
  • In a matter of weeks or months at most, he planted churches in dozens of cities, moving people from mere inquirers to converts to church pastors and leaders.
  • Wrote more Christian theology than all the other N.T. writers combined?
  • Traveled over 15,000 miles over 660 days on foot, by boat and on horseback to preach the Gospel?
  • Changed overnight from being a murderous hunter of Christians to the greatest Christian evangelists of all time?
  • Took four if not several more missionary journeys in the course of 20 years? His life was one of constant movement and travel for the Gospel.
  • He was stoned, beaten, lashed, shipwrecked, had a bounty on his head and assassination attempts on his life, was imprisoned and probably beheaded by Nero for his faith.

Today’s biblical focus in our 31 week chronological journey through the Bible is on Paul’s life as it unfolds in the book of Acts and various passages in his epistles (or letters) to various churches and people (Timothy, Titus, Philemon).  Rather than focus on events of Paul’s journeys, what I really want to look at most today is the dramatic spiritual change that happened internally to Paul when he met the resurrected Jesus. 

Just what was it that moved this man Paul to go from being a murderer of Christians to the foremost missionary for Christ? Paul was literally hunting down Christians (much like a member of ISIS might do today—storming their home by force and dragging them violently out, to appear before the religious court of the day for sentences ranging from imprisonment and floggings to death). 

Saul of Tarsus, this Jewish Pharisee, was at the top of his class when it came to attacking the living, breathing, world-wide body of Jesus Christ in the first century.  He was, frankly, a very bad dude…all in the name of devotion to the God we serve. 

APP:  This is, sadly, what has happened throughout history and continues to happen today with people who think they know God’s truth and zealously demand that others adhere to their version of the truth when, in reality, they are just as far if not further from God as any secular humanist or pagan polytheist

APP:  The suffering Saul of Tarsus was inflicting on Christians was not unlike what radical Muslims are inflicting on our brothers and sisters under nations governed by Muslim Sharia Law courts are experiencing in places like Saudi Arabia or Syria or Libya or Iraq or Indonesia right now because they refuse to turn from their life in Jesus Christ

It was only that personal, dramatic, blinding encounter Saul had with the resurrected Jesus Christ while on the highway to Damascus from Jerusalem that changed this man’s heart.  When God opened his eyes to the truth of what he was doing—actually attacking Jesus Christ himself by attacking his Body, the church—Saul’s mind as well as heart was transformed.  All that energy, zeal and total dedication that he had used to fight against God in Jesus Christ became channeled to fighting for the Church and for the transforming Gospel of Christ. 

            So while we could spend multiple messages talking about all that Paul DID for Christ and for the Gospel, it is that internal motivation, that internal drive which I want us to be moved and molded by today.

APP:  Truth is, unless each of US experience that kind of transformation of character that can and does come only by the work of the Holy Spirit as we related to Jesus, none of us will either come to know Jesus as he is or come to make Him known in this world as He is.  

So, a question: what was it internally, motivationally, experientially that transformed Paul…and can transform us…to such a degree that we become THE BEST world change agents?

In I Corinthians  6,  Paul gives a list of things he endured so that more people could get to know Jesus Christ.  He talks about “troubles, hardships and distresses…beatings, imprisonments and riots; hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” to mention but a few.  From a man used to inflicting these very things on others who believed in Jesus, Paul had become a man who received and endured those very things because he now was a follower of Jesus. 

            One chapter before, in I Corinthians 5:14, Paul tells us WHY he endured all those things for the sake of Christ.  Listen.

            “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  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.” 

            Commentators on this passage are divided as to whether this should be translated “Christ’s love compels us” OR “our love for Christ compels us.”  Either way, LOVE is the compelling motivation.  But I would tend to agree with the majority of the translations like the NIV which understands Christ’s love for us as the compelling motivation for a life lived on-mission for Jesus. 

            What is so compelling about love?  The very nature of love is that it doesn’t force the recipient to do anything, right?  Someone can love you and you can completely reject their love. They can be kind and patient, self-sacrificing and forgiving, and you can choose to reject that love.  Teenagers do that all the time with their parents. J  Some spouses do that towards their better half.  Most of the world does that to God every day! 

            But when good and godly love is received, everything changes.  Then love transforms a person.  Then love becomes the most compelling force in a human’s life. 

ILL:  Some of you know about that.  You grew up in an abusive home or homes.  You may have had to live with really self-centered bosses or spouses or “friends” who couldn’t or didn’t love you. 

            But then someone came along who did love you.  It may not have changed overnight.  It may not have been all wonderful and easy.  But you know, without a doubt, that that person or people sacrificed themselves to love you.  They gave up some or much of their own life to give you life.  They loved you like no one else loved you…and it changed you forever. 

            Paul is telling us that not only is love itself…when received…very compelling; he’s telling us that the love of Christ is particularly compelling.  He experienced it first hand.  It changed him!

  • From being a man who murdered others who dared to deviate from his world view and religious conviction he become a man willing to die for others who rejected His Savior Jesus.
  • From being a person willing to physically abuse and coerce other people he became a man who endured extreme physical abuse so others might consider Christ.
  • From a man wielding top-down power from the highest levels of leadership in his culture to becoming a man who served others night and day, through all kinds of hardships and trouble like the humblest of slaves, the love of Christ absolutely transformed Paul.

In fact, in Romans 9, Paul tells us something that leaves me rather undone when I think about the compelling power of the love of God.  Having just finished that amazing section in Romans 8 about how nothing can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Paul launches into what such amazing love has done to give him love for the very people who were hounding and persecuting him the most—his own Jewish people.  Listen to how deeply the love of Jesus has filled him with love for his fellow Jews. 

Romans 9:1-4

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—2) I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  3) For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4) the people of Israel.” 

That term “cursed” (anathema) Paul chooses means to be delivered over to the wrath of God for eternal destruction (c.f. also I Cor. 12:3; 16:22; Gal. 1:8-9).  Paul is willing to spend eternity in hell if it would somehow mean his beloved nation of Israel would simply receive the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

APP:  I find it hard to give up a free evening at home…or my privacy…or a week of my vacation so that others in my own neighborhood or city or world might be reconciled to Jesus. 

I find it challenging to be moved enough by the love of God for me that I move out of my comfort zone and talk about Jesus when others want to talk about sports or the weather or their business.

I find it difficult to let go of my preference for a nice vacation or a newer car or a more secure retirement than I do to actually love some corner of the world or some group of people in need of Christ by supporting another missionary, some church planter or national pastor in some far off country or some campus worker right here in my own country. 

Paul didn’t.  He was willing to suffer the loss of ALL things…even his eternal salvation…to love others to Christ.  And he went on, in Rome itself, to suffer the loss of freedom, of food and of his very life so that he might preach the Gospel to pagan Roman magistrates and emperors and citizens.   

            For as much as we talk and sing and even preach about the love of God these days, looking at the life of Paul, I have to wonder if I really know very much about that “love that surpasses all understanding” (Eph. 3:19)…that LOVE of Christ that compelled Paul and has compelled the church of Jesus for so many centuries to let go of so much so that others could find Christ. 

But the love of Jesus that will compel us to take the Good News of Jesus to everyone whenever and however we can, isn’t just something that causes us to give up a whole lot of things.  Paul, writing again to the believers in Corinth, in I Corinthians 13, tells the church that it is very possible to “give all I possess to the poor and [even] surrender my body to the flames” of martyrdom but do so without genuine love.  Motivation matters.  We can give everything we have right up to our very life without doing it from the love of God in Christ.

APP:  Isn’t this precisely what Islamic terrorists who are plaguing the world are doing—this kind of loveless sacrifice in action?  While willing to give their own lives for the sake of Allah, they are also willing to take the lives of innocents and infidels, of good people and evil people…all for the false promise of some eternal haram of 72 virgins and the supposed blessing of a god who knows nothing of self-sacrificing love for unworthy sinners. 

            This is one of the striking differences those who have been raised in Muslim majority countries will tell you they see between Islam’s god named Allah and the Judeo-Christian God.  While Allah may occasionally demonstrate glimpses of love, he is not the God of love evidenced from Genesis to Revelation in the Bible.  And when many a Muslim truly encounters the love of Jesus Christ either in the Word of God or the lives of Christ-followers, they often find it both refreshing and compelling. 

Now, of course, this compelling love of God can be illustrated and studied through many a passage of the Bible.  But let’s cap off our study of the compelling love of Christ this morning by looking at THE famous “love chapter” of I Corinthians 13.  Rather than read it simply as it is in most of your translations, I’d like us to read it by substituting the name of JESUS for the word “love.”  So here we go, beginning with vs. 4.

  • “[Jesus] is patient.” True or false?    Any examples of his patience that come to mind right off either from the stories in the Gospels or life today?
  • “[Jesus] is kind.” Again, true or false?  What examples come to mind?
  • “[Jesus] does not envy….” Perhaps a simple definition of envy would be wanting to be, do or experience what someone else is or does or experiences.  We don’t envy buildings or cars or sidewalks.  But we envy beautiful people, rich people, popular or “successful” people.  Can you think of a single person or being Jesus wishes he was like but isn’t?  That’s why the more we become like Jesus, the more we’ll escape the grip of envy.
  • Let’s keep going. “[Jesus] does not boast.”  Rather than talk about all his accomplishments, all his attributes, all his godliness and righteousness and love, etc., what did Jesus do?  He let his actions speak for themselves.  He let his deeds convict and convince. 
  • “[Jesus] is not proud.” Pride simply puts one’s own interests, life, concerns, self above those of others.  Our God, though the only being in the universe that could rightly be proud because He is the best, the greatest, the most beautiful, etc. by exponential proportions to any other being in the universe, does not live out pride.  Rather, Jesus set aside his glory and fit himself into inglorious humanity so he could serve undeserving people like us even to the point of death (Phil. 2).  Is there a single word or deed you can point to in the life of Jesus that put himself before others?    An entire life free of pride. 
  • “[Jesus] is not rude/does not dishonor others.” Here we might be tempted to pause and wonder if Jesus wasn’t just a little rude with the Pharisees and religious bigots of his day.  But I think our problem is with our contemporary concept of rudeness.  We tend to consider someone rude if they say anything that makes someone else feel uncomfortable or puts them in their place.  But the simple truth can do that without being rude.  I can be offended without someone being rude to me.  Rudeness seeks to put others down, to cut them down to size so that the speaker can feel more important or somehow elevated above the listener. The love of Christ doesn’t do that.
  • “[Jesus] is not self-seeking….” Whether it was the will of the Father or what was best for his disciples, Jesus never went after His desires and will unless it was in the best interest of everyone around Him.  Self-seeking means we seek OUR self-interest first, not others best first.  Everything Jesus did was for the Father’s glory and for people’s blessing and benefit.  He came to give life, not condemn the world. 
  • “[Jesus] is not easily angered….” Notice, “not easily”  How many times do we have Jesus getting angry in the Gospels?  Over what?  (Hardness of people’s hearts, turning the Temple into a den of robbers, etc.)  Love doesn’t mean you never get angry; it means you get angry about the right things, in the right way, at the right time.  When God shows anger, it is usually because we are stubbornly refusing to do what is best for us and others around us or because what we are doing is damaging us and them.  And it takes God’s love a LONG time to boil over.  Mine can come to a boil way too quickly. 
  • “[Jesus] keeps no record of wrongs.” That doesn’t mean we deny reality or have a bad case of amnesia that simply forgets how bad people have been to us or the damage they have done.  Jesus clearly recognized the evil around him and in people.  But he forgave and forgave and forgave right through and including his unjust, horrific death on the cross.  When we fail, he doesn’t get all “historical” about it.  He never goes back in time to remind us of our many failures.  He won’t say, “You know, this is the 328th time you’ve done this same old sin!”  He keeps no record of wrong. 

APP:  Is there anyone in our human experience who treats us like this?  Some really godly people may come close.  But there is no love like this that keeps NO record of wrong.  Maybe that’s because no one but Jesus paid the price He paid to be able to wipe away that record!

  • “[Jesus] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” You cannot point to a single time in Jesus’ 33 years of life on earth where he was happy with evil.  He fought evil every day, everywhere he found it.  He confronted it when others let it slide.  He rebuked evil.  He unmasked it.  He prayed against it and he bore it in his body on the cross.  But He NEVER delighted in it. 

But whenever truth was revealed, whenever God’s truth could be spoken, He rejoiced and was overjoyed. 

Pure truth can be a brutal thing unless it comes intertwined with grace.  That’s why Jesus could confront people with truth that cut them to the core yet brought them closer to His Father.  His application of the truth was always intertwined with grace.  He was, as the Apostle John said, “full of grace and truth.”  (Jn. 1:14)

  • “[Jesus] always protects….” In how many instances do you remember Jesus protecting people?  Who did he protect? 

Our Lord Jesus is THE Good Shepherd who takes care of the sheep.  “His rod and his staff, they comfort me,” no?  NOT if you’re the wolf.  Not if you’re a Pharisee.  Not if you’re taking advantage of people trying to get closer to God in His house of prayer.  But Jesus was always protecting the outcast, the downtrodden, the “sinners” who knew they were sinners and wanted a Savior.

  • “[Jesus] always trusts….” Didn’t Jesus say that he entrusted himself to no man (Jn. 2:24)?  He didn’t seem to be very trusting of sinful human nature and sinful human beings, did he?

I don’t think God is telling us that his love denies the reality that as humans we’re often not very trustworthy.  That would be simply folly or stupidity to trust people who are not trustworthy. 

So just what does Paul mean to tell us by saying that love (and therefore God) “always trusts”?  This whole discussion of love in I Corinthians 13 occurs in the context of teaching on spiritual gifts and the different roles each has.  Paul addresses specifically the people who might be tempted to say, “Well, because I don’t have that important-looking gift of, say, teaching or prophecy or leadership then I’m not needed.”  But since God is the one who hands out spiritual gifts and determines who gets which ones, doesn’t that call upon us to trust God?  Shouldn’t we trust the wisdom and goodness of God to give us…and everyone else in the body of Christ…just the gifts He wants us to have. 

I think love trusts those who are most loving, most Christ-like, most like God.  It’s not a blind trust that just keeps risking everything on people who have proven they are untrustworthy.  But when you trust God with your life, with the circumstances He’s letting into your life, with the way He’s loving you, then the love of Christ is being brought to fullness in you. 

Jesus trusted the Father because He loved the Father and knew the Father loved him.  They were perfect in love.  And that love led him to trust the Father’s will about even the cross.  Love always trusts the love of God for you and for people around you. 

  • “[Jesus] always hopes.” Again, Paul is turning our attention to the basis for this kind of love.  It isn’t the reliability of people or some supposed goodness of mankind that Jesus hoped in.  His “hope” was always in the steadfast goodness of the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the future resurrection he knew was planned for Him despite the cross.  Again, Jesus’ hope was in the God of hope, not the hopelessness of sinful humanity. 

            So the love of Christ at work in us will always hope for God’s best in the lives of people and for his resurrection power to be at work in this life and the next to come.

  • “[Jesus] always perseveres.” It is because Jesus is always looking to the Father’s future and to our future in Him that he persevered for us.  He pressed on to the cross because that’s the nature of God’s love.  He perseveres in the presence of the Father as our Advocate and High Priest because he is supremely “hopeful” of what we can become as we keep learning to live in the love of Christ.  He always brings every promise, every prophecy, every bit of the word of God to its fulfillment because His love never lets up, never lets go, never gives up on any of us. 

This kind of love is compelling.

This kind of love changes marriages and friendships and churches and cities and neighborhoods

This kind of love endures all things

This kind of love turns selfish people like you and me into self-sacrificing people like Paul and St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa and the 4 Wycliffe missionaries killed in the Middle East this past month while translating the Bible into the native language of a group of Muslims. 

So how are we going to become people who live out of and are compelled by the love of Christ?  How are we going to become world changers, nation changers, city-changers, family-changers who are people compelled by the love of Christ rather than driven by personal, petty, selfish desires? 

  1. We must have the power and life of Christ at work in us. That only comes when we personally respond to the love of Christ by faith, inviting Him to be Lord and Savior of our lives.
  2. It will only come as we drill deeper and deeper into the love of Christ in our everyday experience. That may involve a couple of steps in itself:
    1. We will need to recognize where and in what ways we are lacking the love of Christ. I’m going to help each one of us do that personally in just a moment. 
    2. We will need to personally encounter the love of Christ both in the Word of God and in our own experience in those areas where Christ’s love is not dominating us yet. The more we grasp the nature of Christ’s love for us, the more that love will grip us.  Asking God to grow and develop this kind of love especially in the relationships of life that we find difficult, gives God more room to teach us about His love first for us and then through us to others. 

So in an attempt to help us all do that today, I’m going to ask you to take a few minutes to do some self-inventory work, some self-assessment of  where the love of Christ IS taking root and where it NEEDS more root. 

[Personal “Life of Love” inventory from I Cor. 13]

Andrew is going to play some background music for a few minutes as you ask God to help you take an honest look at your own life of love. 

Once you’ve completed both sides of the inventory, I’d like you to talk to God about the people he has brought to mind regarding the second side of this page.  PRAY for them…and for God to fill you with the compelling love of Jesus for them.


“Life of Love” Self-Assessment

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

  1. “I am patient with others.”

       (Never) 1               2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I am kind towards others.”

     (Never)  1               2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I am envious of others.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I boast about my accomplishments.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I am proud.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I am rude.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I am self-seeking/insist on my own way.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I am easily angered/irritable.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I keep record of wrongs done to me.”

(Frequently)          1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Never)

  1. “I do not delight in evil but instead rejoice with the truth.”

(Never)      1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I protect.”

(Never)      1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I trust (God’s work and love on my behalf and others).”

(Never)      1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I hope (for God’s best in the lives of others).”

(Never)      1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

  1. “I persevere (with God and people for His best until this life is done).”

(Never)      1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10  (Always)

Who might God be asking me to…

  • …be more patient with?
  • …be more kind towards?
  • …be less envious of?
  • …talk less about myself around?
  • …be more humble towards?
  • …not be rude to?
  • …not insist they do things my way so much?
  • …not be so irritable or angry with?
  • …not keep holding their past offenses against them?
  • …stop being happy about their misfortune or mistakes?

be slower to believe evil about and quicker to discover truth in them?

  • …protect more?
  • …trust that God is working with more?
  • …hope for God’s best in their life (rather than expect the worst)?
  • …persevere with longer?