Love Never Fails
12 Aug 2006, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
LOVE NEVER FAILS
In 1861 a gentleman called Horatius Bonar was to write down some beautiful and majestic words about the love and power of God. He based his message on the thought of Jeremiah 31: 3 that says: 'I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.' Listen to these words.
O love of God, how strong and true
Eternal and yet ever new;
Uncomprehending and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.
O wide embracing, wondrous love!
We read thee in the sky above;
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell, and streams that flow.
We read thee best in Him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.
We read thy power to bless and save,
Even in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light
We read the fullness of thy might.
O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in thee we rest,
Forever safe forever blest.
Dear friends, we live in a world that is starved of love - of that love that has its origins in heaven. We see this lack of love etched into the faces of many of the people we associate with every day.
Our children are bombarded from all sides with so many different concepts of love, that confusion has become the order of the day.
How do we convey what true love really is, in a world that's gone mad - a world that is full of hate, a world where positive role models are far and few between, a world full of jealousy, a world full of everything that God predicted would be the sign of the age in which we now live?
We live in a society that is progressively disintegrating around us, where the home, the very basis of an ordered society is in disarray and people are despairing for any real solution to the problems.
There would only seem to be one answer and that is to turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full into His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
We have a need of a Savior - a Savior who has the power to change lives.
This need was brought home to me more forcefully a number of years ago during the 1980s when, by invitation, I had the opportunity of attending a Queensland Criminal Justice Commission hearing at Parliament House in Brisbane. The discussion, chaired by Sir Max Bingham, had come about largely as a result of the corruption being unearthed in Queensland politics. The issue of ethics regulation by governments was the main item on the agenda. After much heated debate the consensus of opinion of those in attendance seemed to be that governments generally cannot regulate ethics by legislation but, the group also recognized that for any real improvement in this area of morality it would have to mean a change in peoples lives. It seemed to me, from many of the comments made in that secular gathering, that many considered that this change would indicate the need for a spiritual renewal in the life.
We all need to commit ourselves completely to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to build a consistent, regular loving relationship with Him centered around a solid prayer life. As a Church, we have a responsibility that is greater than ever before to care for others in our midst and to be sensitive to their needs and to learn to love them unconditionally. Do you believe that?
This responsibility is reinforced in the words found in the 1st book of Corinthians Chapter 13 - the chapter that is often referred to as the 'love chapter'. It is here that the Scriptures tell us that true love is based on principle not on emotions. Let us read 1Cor 13: 1-8. RSV
'If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind, It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails.'
What a beautiful description of the love of God and of the love that we also need to show. Verse 8 says that - Love never fails which would seem to suggest that God never fails because God is love.
Let me ask you a number of questions this morning
- What do we really know about the love of god?
- How do we know that God loves us?
- How can we understand God's love?
- How far is God prepared to go to have us in the kingdom?
- What assurances have you received about God's relationship to you?
The Holy Scriptures tell us that God's love to man is:
First of all unconditional - This is so different to what many of us are used to. It means there are no strings attached -nothing is expected of us in return. It comes to us freely. God loves us for what we are and who we are - a person He died for so we may have the opportunity of being in the kingdom. Nothing is expected of us in return
We are also told that this love goes the 2nd mile which would tend to suggest that it is more than you and I should ever expect or deserve - it goes beyond what is considered fair. It is more than what you and I deserve.
We are further told that this love exists regardless of the way we respond.
We may turn from it and we may refuse it but it remains. God's love continuously flows through to every person. It is always there and there is not a thing you can do about. This love exists regardless of the way we respond.
The Scriptures additionally suggest that God's love is eternal. There is never any change. All children love the security of consistent, unchanging love. Not moodiness - loving one day and not the next.
God's love is patient and long-suffering and I guess if it weren't like that we wouldn't be here today, would we.
I thank God for His patience and longsuffering for you and for me.
As I reflect on each of these characteristics, the main thought that forcefully comes through and is strongly reinforced is that -
God does not give up on you.
God does not give up on me.
Even when our lives become faithless and seemingly worthless God does not give up.
I have had many young people come to me over the years and suggest that they have gone too far in sin and that God would never take them back.
Dear friends, we need to remember that this was Satan's original lie with the angels in heaven - that they had gone too far in rebellion - that God would never accept them back.
God will not give up on you - He wants you in the kingdom. He will do everything possible to get you there
In the Old Testament book of Hosea we find one of the best illustrations about this aspect of God's love.
In Hosea Ch 14: 1,4-7 R.S.V. we see the way God is pleading with His people to come back to Him. Listen to what it says.
'Return O Israel to the Lord your God
I will heal their faithlessness
I will love them freely for my anger
is turned from them…
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow
They shall flourish as a garden.'
What a beautiful passage showing the patience and long suffering of God with a rebellious people.
'Return o Israel to your God'.
God here is pleading to his people to come back - to return. He is pleading with you and He is pleading with me to come back.
You know there are many people who say that the God of the Old Testament is not a God of love - not like the God of the New Testament.
They need to read the book of Hosea and I would like to turn to one of its chapters in a few moments.
But, before we do, let me ask this question.
Is it possible, in this life, to really understand the love of God?
While the scriptures answer this for us, I also find this question answered in an expanded form for us by author, Ellen White, who was one of the pioneers of the SDA Church. I would like to share it with you.
'Tongue cannot utter it, pen cannot portray it. You may meditate upon it every day of your life; you may search the Scriptures diligently in order to understand it; you may summon every power and capability that God has given to you, in the endeavor to comprehend the love and compassion of the heavenly Father; and yet there is an infinity beyond.' - There is an infinity beyond (White, 1943: 740).
What advice then can we find in the scriptures to enable us to understand just something of God's love? Such advice was given by the Apostle John and is found in 1John 3: 1. In reading this passage, we need to keep in mind that John himself found God's love difficult to describe. Let's read what he says:
'Behold (Repeat) - what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.' (KJV)
Behold. This is the key word he is using.
What was John really trying to say?
Behold it. Contemplate it - if we look on Him long enough it is suggested we will become like Him.
So he says look upon it.
See His love in action.
See how love transforms lives - Let us see what it has done to people's lives.
How is it possible for us to experience this love?
There are a number of ways, but God has given many the opportunity of experiencing this love through family relationships and particularly through the love of a father or mother for their child.
Where this love breaks down, the greatest opportunity of experiencing the love of God is lost and the devil understands this aspect very well.
Around the turn of the century, in the Alps of Northern Italy, a tragedy was about to unfold. A young adventurous German student was hiking across one of the huge glaciers that issued out of that very rugged mountain area when, before his eyes, a huge section of ice and snow dislodged itself and moved in an avalanche that was to sweep him to his death.
Many of you would be aware that at certain times of the year when the winds come up over those Alpine areas, they have a warming effect as they descend down to the lower slopes. As a consequence, they melt the snow and ice to such a degree that any sound or vibration can trigger large sections of material to move down slope in mere seconds.
These winds are called 'fohen' winds or more commonly called the 'White Death' by those who live in these areas.
At the time this tragedy occurred, another hiker was watching the scene from a nearby trail. Horrified, he watched as two more falls spilled across the path of the glacier trapping the boy's body under tons of rock, snow and ice, making his exact whereabouts difficult to ascertain.
Immediately, as word reached the closest settlement, guides and volunteer rescuers were dispatched to look for the body but the task ahead of them looked hopeless.
The boy's mother, who in the meantime had traveled from Germany, was told there was no hope in his recovery. The rescuers weren't even really sure where to begin any serious investigation.
But the mother refused to listen to them. She would not return to Germany without him. She wanted the body of her son (dead or alive).
So she journeyed to the spot to look where it was thought he had fallen.
You just imagine the scene. To everyone else it was an impossible task. Looking at the tons of rock, ice and snow - A massive pile of rubble.
But she steadfastly refused to give up the search.
With the only money she had, she engaged a group of men to help her with the colossal task of removing the debris with the hope of finding her boy. She dug with those men for 10 hours each day, for a total of 40 days.
In this time they cleared away, not only a large part of the first avalanche, but much of the others, and you could just imagine the response when the boys body was eventually found.
It is hard to imagine the labor, the aching backs, the blistered hands and the breaking heart of that mother as she persevered during those 40 days. The love of that mother for her son is difficult to explain. It was her love for her boy that drove her on until he was found.
For many of us it is difficult to understand that love relationship particularly between a mother and her child.
And I guess it is also one of the reasons why we find it difficult to understand the love relationship that exists between God and His children. It is foreign to us, particularly, in a world where this love is in such short supply. However, it is vital that we come to understand God's love for us because our very salvation depends upon it.
There are many of us here who have given our lives totally to our children and know what it is like to feel a deep love for our own flesh and blood.
There are also many who know what it is like to have a child turn his back on you and walk out of your life and your church. And I believe, without question, that there would be many here today that would be on their knees daily pleading with God for their return.
These experiences should help us understand in some small measure how the God of heaven feels when men and women turn away from him. When they turn their backs on Him.
Parents stand in the place of God before their children with all the responsibilities that go along with it. So do teachers and so do members of the Church.
The Scriptures record an interesting twist in the story of Enoch found in Gen 5: 21,22. These verses tell us that after he became the father of Methuselah, it was THEN that he truly walked with God. This would tend to suggest that as a result of this father-son relationship, Enoch was now to experience a much deeper relationship with the God of heaven.
I would like you to turn with me to another Old Testament passage. It is the shortest chapter in the book of Hosea - Chapter 3 - only 5 verses in length. Yet these verses are perhaps one of the most powerful in communicating the concept of God's love for His children.
Let's read Hosea 3: 1-5 (This little book follows the book of Daniel). Paraphrased.
The Lord spoke to me again, saying, 'Go and find your wife, and tell her that you still love her, even though she has left you and has had many lovers. Show her that you love her just as I love the people of Israel even though they have gone after other gods and love to eat the fertility cakes they bake for their idols.
V2 So I went and found my wife working as a prostitute. I paid the man she worked for fifteen pieces of silver and ten bushels of barley and brought her back.
V3 Then I told her that I would bring her home and she would live with me. I also told her I would test her to see if she would leave me to play the harlot as she had done before. I would wait to see if she would stay with me before being her husband again.
V4 In this same way the people of Israel will have to do without a priest or king, without gods and sacred pillars and without fertility idols to whom they like to go for answers. They will have to rely on me.
V5 But the time will come when the people of Israel will turn to the Lord with all their hearts. They will turn to the descendant of David as their rightful King. They will respect the Lord their God and come to Him in awe, seeking His goodness. This is how it will be in the last days.
Why was it necessary for God to have recorded the problems of the Prophet Hosea's family life for our eyes? This would seem to be a very private record. The answer, we are told, was that the love shown by Hosea in these verses was just like God's love for each one of us, and God wanted us to see that.
Hosea was writing from experience - a very deep and a very traumatic experience. He knew first hand the pain of unreturned love.
While Hosea did all in his power to demonstrate his abiding love for his wife, she spurned every attempt he made to keep his family together.
Let us try to picture the scene leading up to the verses in Chapter 3.
What do we know about Hosea?
1. We are told that he was the Son of Beeri.
2. Some suggest that Hosea was probably a baker in the city of Samaria. It was not unusual for many of the prophets to live at subsistence level and to be involved in some trade.
3. He lived about 15 years after the prophet Amos and was a contemporary of the prophet Isaiah.
4. He became a prophet at the end of the reign of the nations last powerful king - Jeroboam 11.
5. He prophesied for about 40 years until just before Samaria fell to Assyria in 722 B.C.
6. Finally we see God instructing Hosea to marry a girl, by the name of Gomer, and it was this relationship that was to be used by God to teach Israel a very valuable lesson.
What do we know about the girl who was to become Hosea's wife?
1. We are told Gomer was the daughter of Diblain
2. The original Hebrew in Chap 1: 2 tends to indicate that she became engaged in the life of prostitution some time after her marriage but:
3. it needs to be understood that she originally came from a family of cult prostitutes who worked in the pagan temples. (Temple prostitution was rife in Israel at that time)
4. Just how long after the wedding Gomer began her extra-marital affairs the Bible does not tell us.
5. We are also told that only the first of Hosea's three children is mentioned as belonging to Hosea.
The last two are the ones referred to in Hosea 1: 2 K.J.V. as 'children of whoredom'. In other words they were born to other men.
Even the names of the children tend to indicate a revelation of God's concern for His children.
The hard part to understand is that in spite of Gomer's unfaithfulness and the misery she caused him, He still loved her.
It was not a sentimental love as the world often sees it.
Hosea's love was much deeper - a deep loving kindness, which continued despite the fact that Gomer had hurt him so much.
The story continues and we find then that Gomer falls on hard times - She is no longer desired by men.
What had happened to her?
She had become old before her time. Men no longer found her attractive. Even in those times, prostitutes could earn very large sums of money but without work she was not provided for, as there was no social services in those days.
As a result, in order to live she sold herself into slavery and it was here that Hosea found her in the slave market and bought her back.
However, we need to understand that he took her home as a wife not as a slave.
It is interesting to note that Gomer stayed at home only for a short time then she left him again.
But still Hosea loved her.
How would we respond in a situation like this?
How would the normal sinful nature respond? We probably would be happy to wipe our hands of the whole affair.
And what causes this response in us?
It is usually pride of life - wounded pride can become very bitter.
But Hosea's response was God's response. A response we find hard to comprehend.
The verses in Ch. 3 then move on to compare Hosea's experience to the experience of Israel in their relationship with God. In order to understand this application, we need to understand what it was like living at that time.
We also need to note the parallels between the times in which we now live and the time of Israel, because there is a message in this experience for all of us.
1. This was a time period when Israel was outwardly successful and prosperous (more than in any other time since David and Solomon). Herein lies the danger signal - It is a recorded fact that countries that have been through a time of prosperity also see a corresponding decline in the spiritual life. (Most Western Nations since 1945 and particularly since the 1960s)
2. Inwardly the nation of Israel was unsound and corrupt. It could be said that it was morally bankrupt.
3. Political anarchy and misrule were the order of the day.
4. Kings took the throne by murdering their predecessors. One example was when Jeroboam died and his son took the throne and was assassinated and replaced by another.
5. Calf-worship is repeatedly mentioned by Hosea. This eventually led to human sacrifice where little children were placed in the hands of Baal and Ashtoreth.
6. There was degradation and gross sensuality.
7. Creature worship replaced the worship of the creator.
8. God's commandments were pushed aside and not obeyed.
9. Dishonesty, mutual distrust, deception toward God and man prevailed (love had all but disappeared)
10. Bloodshed was rife.
11. Luxury was there in every form
12. And sadly even the priests, the ministers of God had joined in the idolatry of the people. They had failed to set an example to the people.
James 3:1 reminds us that 'Very few of you should be teachers my brothers…because you will be judged more harshly.'
Hosea had preached against all these areas.
God had every reason to wipe Israel out completely - It would seem that only faith in God could save His people from destruction
Let us read Hosea 3: 4,5
'For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to His blessings in the last days.'
What are these verses really saying?
Israel would for many days be separated or removed from her old idols and be cut off from her full covenant privileges - without her own Government - no king - no religious emblems. This was to represent the future captivity of the people by alien nations.
Verse 5 predicts that after the return from captivity there would only be one king in Israel. It suggests that the house of David would be represented in the leadership of the restored nation. The final fulfillment of this prophecy awaits Christ's establishment of His kingdom following His 2nd coming.
Well, how does God's unconditional love apply to those of us in this last age of earth's history?
Let us turn to the book of Revelation Chap 3: 15-17 RSV because these verses deal with the message to the church in Laodicea - the church that represents our day. Let's read what he had to say.
'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So, because you are lukewarm- neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.'
How do the words of the true witness describe the true spiritual condition of God's end-time people?
Neither cold nor hot
It is a scathing condemnation. It is not a pretty picture.
Why would God have us either cold or hot?
We are told that 'Half hearted Christians are worse than infidels (those that don't know God), for their deceptive words and non-committal position lead many astray. The infidel shows his colors. The lukewarm Christian deceives both parties. Satan uses him to do a work that no -one else can do.' (Nichol, 1957: 963)
The message to this church, our church, the church of the last days, is the worst of them all.
But are those who are considered lukewarm hopeless cases?
Is there no hope? I thank God there is.
We find that the Laodicean message is also full of encouragement. God is pleading with and for His people. It has been suggested that 'Your Savior and mine is not here to condemn but to save.'
There is help and hope for the most unpromising individual.
God says, 'Return unto me, and I will return unto thee, and will heal all thy backslidings.'
Author, Ellen White, in commenting on these words, applies them to our day. She says, 'Some, I saw, would gladly return. Others will not listen. They will glide along, much after the same manner as before, and will be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord. Those only who zealously repent will have favor with God.'
'To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.'
Is it possible we can overcome? Yes it is, thank God - fully, entirely.
Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him (White, 1944:143, 144).
As an earthly shepherd knows his sheep, so does the divine shepherd know his flock that are scattered throughout the world.........Jesus knows us all by name. He knows the very house in which we live, the name of each occupant...............Every soul is as fully known to Jesus as if he were the only one for whom the Savior died (White, 1940: 479,480).
In the book of Eph. Chap 3: 17-19 we note that 'With untold love our God has loved us, and our love awakens toward Him as we comprehend something of the length and breadth and depth and height of this love that passeth knowledge.'
By the revelation of the attractive loveliness of Christ, by the knowledge of His love expressed to us while we were yet sinners, the stubborn heart is melted and subdued, and the sinner is transformed and becomes the child of heaven. God does not employ compulsory measures; love is the agent, which he uses to expel sin from the heart. By it He changes pride into humility, and enmity and unbelief into love and faith.' (White, 1956: 76, 77).
Love never fails
God loves you and He wants you in the kingdom
How are you going to respond to His love to you today?
The concept of being lost is something we don't want to think about.
And so I would plead with you this morning as the Lord did with Israel
'Return o Israel to the Lord your God
Nichols. F. D. (1956) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 5. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
Nichols. F. D. (1957) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 7. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1956) Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing. Washington DC: Review and Herald.
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1944) Testimonies for the Church. Vol 1. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1943) Testimonies for the Church. Vol 5. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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