Tonight, as we think about the great revelation of Scripture, we return to the theme that we began last Sunday night on the love of God. Does God love the world? For those of you who are visiting with us tonight or haven’t been here, we have been engaged in a doctrinal study, and we have been looking at some of the very most important doctrines in the Christian faith and some of those that are hard for some people to understand and handle.
And our little trek through these doctrines, which began with a look at the perseverance of the saints or the security of the believer, has brought us all the way to discussing the issue of the love of God. And the Bible says that God is love. He is also spirit. He is also light. He is also life. He is also holiness. But He is love. And this is the most commonly proclaimed attribute of God, it’s the favorite attribute of God, it’s the popular attribute of God. It makes people feel good to hear that God loves them. It is affirming to hear that. Just a simple recognition that God loves you is an amazing reality.
But it is not by any means as simple as some people make it seem, and so we have taken a brief look at this love that God has, defining it more carefully and bringing it into more sharpened focus. Does God love the world? Yes. He does love the world. Does He love every single person in the world the same way? No. He does not.
I dealt with this in rather careful detail in a book I wrote called The Love of God (or The God who Loves, depending on which edition you have) and at the time, I don’t think I even understood fully the character, the nature, and the extent of the love of God, and so it was a very helpful effort on my part. And I remember years ago when I went through the series, I think I preached seven or eight or nine messages on this theme, so we’re giving you really just a condensed look at it in these couple of Sunday nights.
But when we talk about the love of God, we are then forced to look at the love of God in all its categories. And the first category we looked at last Sunday night is that love which God has for Himself, intra-Trinitarian love. The Father loves the Son, the Father loves the Spirit, the Son loves the Spirit and the Father, the Spirit loves the Son and the Father, there is this perfect love, this perfect communion of love inside the Trinity.
And we noted that the New Testament makes it clear that the Father’s love for the Son is perfect, that the Son’s love for the Father is perfect, and we looked at some scriptures that indicate that. And, of course, the Spirit is swept up in that love in its perfection as well. It was the Father’s perfect love for the Son that caused the Father to seek a bride for His Son. It was the Son’s perfect love for the Father that caused the Son to give His life to purchase the bride to please His Father. It was the Spirit’s love for the Father and the Son that caused the Spirit, then, to do the great work of transforming and regenerating those who would become the bride of the Son.
It is the love of the Father for the Son and it is the love of the Son for the Father that is the primary motivating reality in the history of redemption, only secondary is the love that God has for mankind. The primary issue here is God loved the Son so much that He sought a bride for Him, and the Son loved the Father so much that He sought to pay the price for that bride, and ultimately when the Son has received His bride, according to 1 Corinthians 15, He will then turn around and give Himself and His bride back to the Father, that God may be all in all.
And so we’ve been learning that within the Trinity is this great expression of love going on, and we are secondary in the sense that God loves us so that He can fulfill His love to Himself within the Trinity. God’s loving people rises out of intra-Trinitarian love.
We move, then, to the second category, God’s love for Himself being first, God’s love for humanity in general being second. This is the love of God that is general. This is the love of God that’s often referred to as unconditional love. This is the love that is unlimited love. This is the love that is indiscriminate love. This is what Titus 3:4 calls God’s love for mankind. This is the kind of love that Matthew 5 talks about, God loving His enemies and so should we.
Now, four features characterize this love that God has for everyone. One, common grace. He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He has provided in this world expressions of His love, expressions of His goodness and His kindness and His mercy and His compassion and His tenderness to all men in just the goodness and the richness of life itself. That’s common grace.
Secondly, God loves all mankind with a love of compassion. The Bible talks about the fact that God feels compassion for sinners in general. This love is not motivated by their value, it’s motivated by the loss of value that sin has produced. And thirdly, we talked about the fact that this general love of God is manifest in warning. Throughout the Scripture, all sinners everywhere are warned of judgment. Scripture is filled with warnings about judgment. Warnings, relentless and endless warnings, which will be heard by people who never will be redeemed. But God’s broad warnings to the world are part of His extended love to mankind.
And finally, the gospel offer is a demonstration of God’s love for mankind. There is a legitimate offer of the gospel to anyone who believes. We are told to take that to the ends of the earth and preach it to every creature. And so there is a love that God has for mankind.
But I want to talk tonight about that third category of love, as we prepare for the Lord’s Table, and that is the love that God has for His own. He does love the world in a way expressed in common grace, compassion, warning, and gospel offer. But He loves His own in a very different way, a far different way. God’s love for the world - think of it this way, God’s love for the world, for mankind in general, in unlimited in extent but limited in degree. God’s love for the world in general is unlimited in extent but limited in degree. He loves them all but to a limited degree.
God’s love for believers is limited in extent, but unlimited in degree. God’s love for His own is limited to those who believe, and they are those whom He has chosen, and so His love for them is limited to them but it is unlimited in degree and in expression. His love for His own is eternal and limitless.
How are we then to understand how God loves us? I was visiting folks in the hospital today and I was talking to the lady who was there by her husband in intensive care and she was talking about last Sunday and she said, “I was so overwhelmed last Sunday because we sang, ‘Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus. Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,’” and she said, “In my mind, all I could think about was the tsunami, this massive flood just sweeping away everything. And I saw in that the image of the overwhelming and deep love of Jesus for me.’” That is a way to understand the love that He has for His own. It is all encompassing, all engulfing, and rather than being all destructive, it is all beneficial.
Turn to John 13 - John 13. There are many places to go, by the way, in the New Testament to look at this issue. This is one, John 13, verse 1. The feast of the Passover was about to come. This would be the Passover at which the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world would be slain. This was the Passover where Jesus was to be crucified. So it says, “Before the feast of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that the hour, His hour, had come that He should depart out of the world to the Father.” He’s very aware, He is meeting here with His apostles in the upper room.
It is the night of His betrayal. His crucifixion is only hours away. He knows it. He looks at the apostles who are around the table, all of them (including Judas) are there. And it says, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them,” the NAS says, “to the end.” Other translations say “eternally.” Others say “to the uttermost.”
Now, here is a kind of love that is unique. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them eis telos - eis telos.” He confers an eis telos love on His own. It is a quality of love, a degree of love beyond anything the world in general experiences. First Timothy 4:10 says God is the Savior of all men in a temporal way; that is, He shows love to all men, delivering them at least temporarily from the destruction and the judgment and the hell that they deserve.
But that same verse says, “He is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” There is a sense in which He is a Savior of all men, physically and temporally, not bringing to sinners what they deserve when they deserve it, but extending grace and compassion and warning and gospel offered to them. But when it comes to believers, He especially loves them. And especially is the Savior of those who believe not in a physical, temporal sense, but in a spiritual, eternal sense.
What does it mean, eis telos? What does it mean that He loved them to the end? And by the way, they weren’t being particularly lovable at this moment because if you compare the gospel account, they were arguing about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom, which was a rather continual argument that they had, fighting for position and posturing themselves with reference to the kingdom they thought Jesus was going to bring. And so they were about as ugly as they ever got. There wasn’t anything particularly winsome about them at the time. But then again, the love of Jesus is not affected about how He feels about them or how they act at the moment. And that’s the nature of this kind of love. What does it mean eis telos?
Well, in the Greek it means “unto the end,” “unto the finish.” And it can go a lot of directions. Let me suggest a few. Number one, it can mean completely or perfectly or fully. He loved them to the maximum of His capacity to love - that is to say, He loves them so completely, so comprehensively, so fully that He cannot love them more. And His love is so full and so rich that He cannot hold back anything from them. Therefore, Scripture says, we are joint heirs with Christ, we inherit everything that Christ inherits.
Scripture says we sit on His throne. Scripture says Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. Scripture says that everything that is heaven that belongs to God and belongs to Christ will also belong to us. It is that breadth of love, that limitless range of love, that causes everything that God has to also belong to us.
It also can mean He loves us to the end. Eis telos can be used chronologically. He loves us not only completely and perfectly but to the end, to the last. He loves us right until it’s over. This is sort of like Romans 8, what shall separate us from the love of Christ, the tribulation and all those other things that are listed there. He loves us when we’re cowardly, He loves us when we’re disloyal. He loves us when we’re disobedient. He loves us when we’re doubtful. He loves us when we’re fearful. He loves us when we’re rebellious. He loves us when we are flatly disobedient. He loves us when our love for Him grows cold.
The disciples have lived through all of those phases - didn’t they? - just like we do. In spite of their doubt, in spite of their lack of love, in spite of their fear, in spite of their disloyalty, in spite of their disobedience, He never wavered, He never wandered away from His love for them. He protected them in the garden from being arrested because He knew they could never survive the arrest and the scrutiny and the interrogation and the punishment, so He never let it happen. He loved them even when they were in disbelief, walking on the road to Emmaus, moaning because they had put their trust in One who was now dead, and they were overcome with hopelessness.
He loved them when they were outright disobedient. He told them to go into the mountain and wait for Him and they went back to their old profession of fishing and He loved them anyway in John 21. And the real test of His love, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And He loved them enough to lay down His life to forgive their sins. His love for them to the end meant that He loved them enough to die for them, even in the midst of their failures, in the midst of their weaknesses.
That’s what it means to be loved by the Lord. It means to be loved completely. It means to be loved so fully that He couldn’t love you more than He loves you, and it means that every benefit that His love can possibly give, He gives. And it means that that love is to the end, to the last, it’s never going to be anything other than that. Sometimes people get a little bit confused and they talk about that as if that’s how God loves the world. That is not how God loves the world. He doesn’t love them in that way. He doesn’t love them savingly. He doesn’t love them limitlessly. He doesn’t love them permanently, no matter what. But He loves His own that way.
And that’s what it says in verse 13, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” That would exclude Judas and that’s why a little while later, He dismissed Judas. Verse 2, “During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him.” Jesus had a little dialogue and dismissed Judas and he went out and betrayed Jesus. And you know the rest of the story.
It means to love perfectly, it means to love to the very end, and thirdly, it can convey the idea of loving forever. Eis telos is a way to express something that’s eternal. And the phrase is used to speak of eternity, forever. He loves His own forever. It is not just a general love that expresses common grace that blesses us temporally in this life, it is not just that general love which causes God to feel compassion toward us. It’s not that general love that warns and gives the gospel. This is a different love altogether. It is limited in its extent, but it is limitless in its degree and its quality.
This is the love of God that only believers experience. This is the love of God that was predetermined before the foundation of the world in the sovereign, unaffected plan of God to choose some to be saved. This is the love of God that was expressed on the cross when Jesus died to actually pay the penalty for those upon whom God had set His love before the foundation of the world. In fact, the temporary, brief love that God has for mankind eventually turns to eternal hate when they reject Him and feel His judgment. Psalm 5, “I hate all who do iniquity.”
So the love that God has for His own is vastly different. It is a sort of spiritual tsunami. It is a surge of love. It is a depth of love and a breadth and a height of love that literally engulfs us. And it always turns to salvation - always.
The best way to illustrate this saving love is to look at a couple of Old Testament passages, just briefly. Deuteronomy chapter 7 - Deuteronomy chapter 7 and I just - we’ll pick it up in verse 6, Deuteronomy 7, verse 6. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God,” he’s talking to Israel here. “You are a holy people to the Lord your God, the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” This is divine election.
Verse 7, “The Lord did not set His love on you” - stop right there. That expression is another way to say what verse 6 said. “God has chosen you.” “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number.” Why did He choose you? “Because He set His love on you.” Why did God set His love on just this nation? It was the uninfluenced purpose of His own sovereignty. Verse 8, “Because the Lord loved you,” et cetera.
Verse 9, “Knowing therefore the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” And here you have this picture of God in eternity past loving certain people, Jews, in the little tiny nation of Israel, descendants of Abraham through Isaac, and setting His eternal love and covenant on them.
Turn to Ezekiel 16. Here is another more dramatic and more graphic illustration of this. In fact, this is one of the most graphic chapters in all the prophets and certainly the most vivid, forceful chapter in Ezekiel, also the longest chapter in Ezekiel, 63 verses. And it’s really an amazing chapter. Through the years, we’ve - couple of times considered this chapter, and I’m not going to get bogged down, but I just want you to get a feel for what’s going on here. This chapter demonstrates God’s forgiving, eternal love to His own.
The story of Israel is presented here, really in very kind of vivid and even somewhat distasteful, sordid imagery. In fact, it was so ugly that many rabbis forbid this chapter to be read or explained in public. They skipped it because it focuses on Israel in what many of the Jews felt was an unsavory way. Verse 1, “The Word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations.’” That’s a bad start as far as the Jews were concerned because it exposed their abominations.
“And say, ‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem, your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite. Your father was an Amorite; your mother, a Hittite.’” That’s just a little history. The nation basically was born out of a Caananite-ish background, Amorites and Hittites. “As for your birth, on the day you were born, your navel cord wasn’t cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing, and you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred” - or hated - “on the day you were born.”
The dwellers in Canaan were generally called Amorites or Hittites. It’s talking about the fact that Jerusalem and the Jewish people had pagan origins. And because of idolatry, Jerusalem was acting in a very Caananite-ish way, even at this time, and that’s what led to the captivity that Ezekiel was a part of. When the nation came into existence, it was weak and defenseless and poor. It was liable to perish, it was just out there on its own in a field. I guess you could say the field was Egypt. It received no pity from any human source.
This was a common thing to do, by the way, in the ancient world. If you didn’t want a baby, you didn’t necessarily have to abort the baby, just cut the cord and throw the baby in a field. Israel was unwanted and uncared for, thrown out in the field, as it were, in Egypt. Nobody had bothered to cut the navel cord, nobody had bothered to wash with water, which was always done, to cleanse that baby when it was born, and babies were rubbed with salt to mitigate against any infection and wrapped, obviously, for protection and warmth. Nobody had any pity on Israel. Nobody cared. There they were, thrown out in the open field of Egypt, hated.
Verse 6: Then God said, “When I passed by, I saw you squirming in your blood. I said to you while you were in your blood, Live.’” “I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live.’ And I made you numerous like plants of the field.” And that’s a little bit about the history of Israel and Egypt. They grew to a mighty nation - mighty nation, may have been as many as two million of them that came out of that field. But this is just a start.
“I made you numerous like plants of the field, you grew up, you became tall, you reached the age for fine ornaments. Your breasts were formed, your hair had grown” - maturity - “yet you were naked and bare, you still weren’t complete, you still weren’t covered. I passed by and I saw you and you were at the time for love, so I spread my skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became mine,” declares the Lord God.
I picked you up out of no place. I picked you up when you were left to die. I picked you up out of Egypt and I brought you back and I allowed you to mature. And then I clothed you and protected you and I bathed you with water and washed off the blood and anointed you with oil. And I clothed you with embroidered cloth and I put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet.” Take that, you environmentalists. “And I wrapped you with fine linen and I covered you with silk and I adorned you with ornaments and I put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck.”
Wow. You know, back in verse 8, it says, “I spread my skirt over you and covered your nakedness.” That was tantamount to a marriage covenant. God says I made you my bride, I made you my wife, then I took care of you and I washed you and I clothed you and I adorned you. Verse 12, “I put a ring in your nostril,” not a big bull ring, by the way, but just a little ring was worn often in those days and still in some cultures. Earrings in your ears, a crown on your head, adorned you with gold, silver, dress, fine linen, silk, embroidered cloth, you ate fine flour, honey, oil, you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty and your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty.
That would be about the time of Solomon - right? - when the kingdom really reached its apex. Lavish goodness from God, I did all this for you. But, verse 15, “You trusted in your beauty, you played the harlot because of your fame. You poured out your harlotries on every passerby who might be willing.” Wow. Every stranger, you had a liaison with. And, of course, this is talking about idolatry. There was real adultery going on in Israel, but He’s talking here about spiritual idolatry, spiritual adultery.
You took your beautiful jewels made of my gold and my silver, which I gave you, made for yourselves male images - you turned the gold and silver I gave you and you flaunted that and you made idols out of it and you played the harlot, you worshiped the very idols made out of the goods that I gave you. Took your embroidered cloth and you covered them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. You took everything I gave you and used it in your idolatry. My bread I gave you, fine flour, oil and honey with which I fed you, you would offer before them for a soothing aroma. So it happened, declares the Lord God.
Verse 20, He asked at the end of the verse, “Were your harlotries so small a matter, you slaughtered my children, offered them up to idols by causing them to pass by through the fire. They got involved in worshiping Molech. And besides all the abominations,” verse 22, “and harlotries, you didn’t remember the days of your youth when you were naked and bare and squirming in your blood. You forgot, you forgot.” And it just goes on. I won’t take the time to read it.
Israel is an impudent prostitute without control, without conscience. Eventually, you get down to verse 35 to 43 and you have the Babylonian captivity. God will not be pacified any longer. I’ll bring, verse 43 says, I’ll bring your conduct down on your own head. Judgment came and it came in the form of the Babylonian captivity. Slaughter, people taken out of their country, all of this because of your abominations.
And then in verses 46 - in verse 46 and following, He talks about Samaria and Sodom. Samaria, evil. The northern kingdom, wicked, taken away into captivity, never to return. Sodom, homosexuality, gross sin, destroyed by fire and brimstone. Samaria and Sodom would have been bywords for the worst, but verse 47 says, “Yet you have not merely walked in their ways or done according to their abominations but as if that were too little, you acted more corruptly in all your conduct than they.” Worse than Sodom? Worse than Samaria?
Now, where does all this go? Go down to verse 60, “Nevertheless” - there’s a great word. “Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” What? Why? Why? “You will remember your ways,” verse 61, “and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger. I will give them to you as daughters but not because of your covenant. Thus I will establish my covenant with you and you shall know that I am the Lord in order that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done, the Lord God declares.”
Why in the world is He going to forgive them? Why didn’t He forgive Sodom? Why didn’t he forgive Samaria? Judah is worse. Why? Verse 60, “I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” I made a pledge, I made a promise based upon my sovereign will. This is the essence of the kind of love that God has for those He chooses. He will save them and He will give them salvation no matter how they blaspheme and spurn Him. Eventually, they will turn. You will remember, verse 63, you will be ashamed, you will be humiliated, I will forgive you.
Sodom was destroyed. Samaria was unredeemed. Israel was worse. Yet God forgave because He predetermined to do it. He set His saving love upon that people. And to this day, He is saving a remnant out of Israel, in spite of Israel’s horrific apostasy in the past. And someday, He will redeem the nation because He has promised to do it. It’s an illustration of the fact that His love for His own is perfect, it is complete, it is saving love, it is eternal love, and whom He predetermines to love, He will love savingly.
It was said of Solomon the Lord loved him. Solomon sinned yet was, it says in Nehemiah, beloved of his God. You see, we are the beneficiaries and the recipients of a sovereign love established before the foundation of the world, set upon us. It is limited to those whom God chooses and those who believe. It is unlimited in its quality and its degree. Ephesians 2 says it is a love that forgives, it is a love that gives life. It is the love that promises eternal glory. It is a love that brings kindness forever. It is a love that produces righteousness and it’s all of grace.
Ephesians chapter 5 says it is a love that gives life. It is a love that separates from sin. It is a love that cleanses. It is a love that purifies. It is a love that makes holy. It is a love that nourishes. It is a love that cherishes. Luke 15 says it is a love that forgives and lavishes and rejoices and restores and enriches. Romans 8 says it is an inseparable, unconquerable, unbreakable, everlasting love.
And so it is that God loves His own and He loves us to the extreme end of His love, which is really without end. And He loves us through all our lives to the very last, no matter what. And He loves us throughout all eternity. He has saved us to lavish that love upon us. And I know we go back to the question that we talked about months ago. Why did God not choose to love everyone like this? Well, He didn’t, but if you ask me why He didn’t, I can’t tell you the answer any other than this: because loving this way brought Him glory. God is not obligated to be the unqualified equal-opportunity lover of all people. God is not the prisoner of His love, nor is He the prisoner of man’s expectation for His love. And God’s love is not separated from all the other attributes which bring Him glory like justice and holiness and righteousness and wrath.
Everything God does in the end is for the glory of His name. He loved Jacob for His glory and He hated Esau for His glory. And for the purposes that He Himself knows and are absolutely righteous, God loves the way He loves. We will not understand it. Maybe we’ll get closer to understanding it in heaven. But we can certainly rejoice in it.
When you come to this table, then, you come to celebrate this eternal love which God the Father set on you before the foundation of the world by which He determined to save you and give you as a part of the bride to His own beloved Son.
And it was for you that the Son died, paying the penalty for your sin in order to purchase you to be His bride, someday then to give Himself and the bride back to the Father, that God may be all in all. And so we come, overwhelmed, I trust, with this astonishing gift of salvation, born out of God’s sovereign love. Let’s pray together.
Father, as we come now to this table, we really are overwhelmed. This is just too mysterious. We’re no better than others. We’re no different than others. We’re no saints on our own. There’s nothing in us to be commended. There’s nothing in us particularly lovable. How in the world could we ever assume that you could find something lovable in sinners when you are perfectly holy?
But out of the grace and mercy of your heart and out of your immense love for your Son, you determined that you would love some of us and that you would love us to the max and that you would love us to the end and that you would love us through all eternity because it serves your purpose in loving your Son. And that your Son would love us because it served Him in showing His love for you. And that the Spirit would join in by redeeming us through a mighty work of transformation so that this great love could be complete.
We think of the words of Jesus, who talked about how the Son loves the Father and the Father loves the Son, and how He longed that all who believe would enjoy participating in that same love. And we will forever enter into the love that is unique to the Trinity. O God, this is so vast and so marvelous, and we know that being loved finds its highest moment at the cross where the price is paid to make your own those you determine to love. So we come to the cross so grateful, so thankful, and again to be reminded of the sacrifice that our Lord made there.
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