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I have learned by experience that without the experience of wisdom and revelation, all our preaching is more or less vain. Any real truth of the Bible has to be received by revelation, the natural mind cannot grasp it.
I was a professional philosopher at Cambridge University a good many years ago now and when I was called up into the British Army in World War II my big problem was what will I take with me to read, because that’s what my life centered around, was reading books. After a while I reasoned with myself something like this. Here you are, you’re supposed to be a teacher of philosophy but there’s one book in the world, a book of philosophy, that is more widely read and more influential than any other book in human history. I said to myself you know very little about what’s in that book. You know the book that I had in mind? The Bible. And unquestionably, without any question it is the most widely read and influential book in human history. So I decided it was my philosophic duty to read the Bible. I didn’t have any special desire to read the Bible, I just felt I had to do it.
So I went out and bought myself a nice, new, black Bible because I couldn’t conceive at that time that the Bible would be any color but black. Then I said to myself how do you study the Bible? And my answer was treat it like any other book, begin at the beginning and read it through to the end in order. So, I made up my mind to do that.
The first night I was called up and I was in the barrack with twenty-four other new recruits, it was the 12th of September, 1940. It happened to be my mother’s birthday. She’d always—I was going to say prayed for me but that wouldn’t be the word—she’d always got on to me because I was a philosopher, she didn’t approve of that. All my family have been officers in the British Army. From time to time she would say to me, “I wish you’d get your hair cut and go into the Army.” So when I was called up I went back on leave, I said, “There you are, your wish is granted, my hair is cut, I’m in the Army.” But I did not go in by choice.
So, the first night in this barrack room with twenty-four strangers, I thought I’m going to start the Bible. So I began at Genesis 1:1, I opened my Bible, sat down on the bed and started to read. In due course the other recruits realized I was reading the Bible and a kind of uneasy hush fell on the whole barrack room. I realized, which I subsequently confirmed, that to be seen reading the Bible regularly in the Army makes you very conspicuous.
However, I said I’ve started, I’m going to stick with it. In about nine months I had read as far as the book of Job—which is a lot better than some professing Christians do. But I couldn’t understand it, I found it a remote, wearisome, baffling book. The only reason I went on reading it is I said to myself no book is going to defeat me. I’ll read it through.
And then on a certain night in July 1941 I had a supernatural revelation of Jesus Christ in the middle of the night in an army barrack room. And that radically and permanently changed the whole course of my life. It didn’t make me perfect, it still hasn’t made me perfect, but it did make me different. And the next day when I opened my Bible it was the most dramatic difference. It was as if God was speaking personally to me as if there are only two persons involved—God and me—and the Bible was God speaking to me. And it’s been that way now for more than fifty-one years. But I had a revelation. As long as I tried to understand it with my philosophic reasoning I could make no sense of it. And I believe we are shut up, in a sense, to revelation. We have to depend on God to reveal by the Holy Spirit the truths that we really need to know.
So I’m going to pause for a moment and I’m going to pray now. I want you to pray with me that tonight there will be here a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. And as we pray I want you to begin to open up because without that what I’m going to say will just be words. No human mind can begin to comprehend the love of God. It’s unsearchable. So would you just join with me for a moment of prayer.
“Lord, we’re gathered here tonight in the wonderful, precious name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And because we are gathered in His name we have the assurance that He is with us. We pray out of your mercy you will grant to us here tonight a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of your Son. The eyes of our understanding being enlightened that we may know the things we need to know from your word. And Lord, for all that you do tonight we will give you all the glory and all the praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Now I’m going to start from the scripture that we quoted.
“We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
One of the features of the English language is that most of the really basic important concepts are words of one syllable. This is not true in most other languages. If you were to translate this into Greek, for instance, it would be quite different. But I’m impressed by that verse. If you change the word abide to dwell, which is a legitimate change, in all of that verse there’s only one word of two syllables. Every other single word is one syllable. Let’s go through it this way.
“We have known and believed [that’s two syllables] the love that God has for us. God is love and he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.”
One of the features of the writing of the apostle John is that he focused so much on these basic concepts which are in English usually expressed in words of one syllable. That’s one of the powers of the English language, actually. Think of some. Love/hate, light/dark, young/old, rich/poor, truth/lie. You can go on. And it has a special impact on the mind, it kind of strips of us all our false cleverness and brings us down to basics.
And, that’s where we need to be tonight. John said we have known and believed the love that God has for us. Can you say that? Is it true? See, there are two steps. First of all, to know. And one of the tragedies of the world today is there are billions of people who’ve never known about the love of God. That’s one reason why our ministry is committed to reaching the unreached, teaching the untaught. There are probably two billion people in the world today who have never once heard about the love of God. So they can’t say we have known.
Now we can say here we have known but the next question is have we believed? Do we really believe in the love of God? And I think the truth for most contemporary Christians is hardly. Very little real faith in God’s love. I want to help you tonight to create in you the seed of faith in the love of God.
If we really believed in God’s love we would be different people. We wouldn’t be under pressure, we wouldn’t be nervous, we wouldn’t be fearful, we wouldn’t strive and compete with other people. A great deal of pressure would be lifted from us. One reason why we’re under pressure is because we don’t believe in the love of God. We may have known it theoretically but to believe in it practically is another matter.
I want to take some simple statements of scripture that in some way unfold the love of God. I want to say two things about it, first of all. Number one, it’s unconditional. God doesn’t lay down any conditions upon which He loves us. He just loves us. We don’t have to earn it, we can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it and God doesn’t wait till we do. God’s love is unconditional.
There’s a little couplet(?) that I heard some time, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sung, but it says this:
“How sovereign, wonderful and free the love of God for sinful me.”
I’ll say that again.
“How sovereign, wonderful and free the love of God for sinful me.”
God’s love is sovereign. He loves us because He loves us. There’s no other reason. I challenge you, you’ll never find in the Bible a reason why God loves us. We can’t find the reason. If you wait to find the reason you’ll never believe in the love of God.
Moses said in the book of Deuteronomy to Israel, “The Lord loved you not because you were the greatest of all people,” and he goes on a little, “but because He loved you.” That’s the Bible’s explanation of God’s love, God loves because He loves. And if you look in yourself for something that makes your worthy of God’s love you’ll look in vain. That’s the problem of religious people among whom you probably are numbered. We think we’ve got to do something to earn God’s love and the result is we never find it because it cannot be earned. It’s unconditional, it’s sovereign. God loves us because He loves us. And He never gives us any reasons.
And then, as I said already but I want to emphasize it, it can be apprehended only revelation of the Holy Spirit. And without a revelation you can read the Bible, say you believe it, quote it, but you don’t know the love of God.
I want you to repeat those words after me again because I want you to say them as a testimony that you would like to be true, as a kind of prayer. I’ll say them once, you say them with me.
“We have known and believed the love that God has for us.”
Now, to make it a little more where you’ve got to come down to earth, I want every one of you to find somebody else near you, turn and face them and say to them:
“I have known and believed the love that God has for me.”
All right. Do it now. It’s very important. All right.
Now, let’s consider the measure of God’s love. And one of the best places to look is in Romans 5, beginning at verse 6 and reading through verse 10. You’ll find the list of facts about us, how we were when God loved us. Romans 5, beginning at verse 6:
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were yet still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now being justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we will be saved by His life.”
Now I want you to go through with me briefly four facts about our condition when God loved us. In verse 6 it says “when we were still without strength.” We had no power to do anything about it. And it also says “Christ died for the ungodly.” So we were without strength and ungodly. You know, the problem with a lot of religious people is they’re not willing to admit they’re ungodly. Consequently, they never believe that Christ died for them. Because, Christ died for the ungodly.
When I got saved in the middle of the night in an army barrack room, I had one advantage over a lot of religious people. I had no difficulty in acknowledging that I was a sinner, I knew I was ungodly.
And then in verse 8 it says:
“But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The essential meaning of sin in the Bible is to fail to achieve a mark. So you could say while we were failures, total failures, God died for us. He didn’t wait for us to succeed before Christ died for us.
And then in verse 10:
“For if when we were yet enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
So, we were enemies. Take those four facts together and you get a measure of the love of God. Sovereign, wonderful and free. We were without strength, we could do nothing to help ourselves. We were ungodly. We were sinners, we were failures. And, we were at enmity with God because of our sins. And in that condition Christ died for us. He died in faith. None of us were what we should be but He died in faith that through His death we could become what we should be. There was no evidence of it when He died.
And then there’s one other passage in Ephesians 2 which also speaks about the measure of God’s love. I’m going to read Ephesians 2:4–7. I’ll tell you in advance without the help of the Holy Spirit you cannot believe these words, they’re incredible. I say that willingly, knowingly. Incredible, unbelievable. This is what it says:
“But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses...”
There’s one other fact about us, we were dead. How many people will love a corpse? If it was a dear loved one who just passed away, maybe you could be filled with love. But to walk into a room and see a corpse stretched out that you’ve never known, and love it, you couldn’t do it. But that’s how we were, we were dead.
“...even when we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ [and then He says] (by grace you have been saved)...”
He puts that in because don’t think you have to earn it. You can’t earn it.
“...(by grace you have been saved), God made us alive together, He raised us up together [He resurrected us], and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Now, what is Christ sitting on today? A throne. So when we are made to sit together with Christ we are enthroned. The New English Bible says it, “He enthroned us together with Christ.”
So there are three things that God did out of His love. He made us alive, He resurrected us—and don’t stop there—He enthroned us. Our proper address now is on the throne.
But, dear beloved and friends, you’ll never believe that unless you let God breathe the faith into you because it is incredible. It’s so vast we can’t even begin to apprehend it.
Now I want to go further. In the next verse in Ephesians 2 it says God did these things
“...that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”
Again, that’s incredible. It absolutely passes our power to understand. God is a creator who reveals Himself. Those are two facts of God, He’s a self revealing creator. And, He delights to reveal Himself to His creation. And there are many, many different ways in which God reveals different aspects of His being to His created creatures.
But one particular thing God wants to reveal through us, what is it?
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us.”
Can you comprehend this? That throughout all eternity you and I who have been redeemed from sin recreated are to be the eternal demonstration to the universe of God’s grace.
See, grace is one of the attributes of God which can only be fully demonstrated when people don’t deserve it. The angels couldn’t demonstrate the grace of God, they’ve never fallen. The only people who could fully demonstrate the grace of God are those who’ve been lost in rebellion, in sin, in darkness, without hope. And God takes us from the lowest and He’s going to place us on the highest, on the throne. And you say why is God going to do that? Because He wants to show the whole universe throughout eternity the extent of His grace. And remember, grace cannot be earned.
Is this Grace Fellowship here? I always have to be careful so permit me, but I’ve learned by experience generally speaking the churches that use the word grace know the least about it. I trust this is an exception. But most of them are very legalistic and sticky, and you have to meet about ten different conditions before they love you. That is totally unlike the grace of God. I trust this church does and will continue to demonstrate the grace of God. That’s one major reason why God has saved us, that we may be the demonstration of His grace. Not just in time but in eternity. Not just to this world but to all succeeding ages forever and ever and ever, we are to be the demonstration of the grace of God.
Now do you imagine for a moment you could ever earn that? See, again the problem with a lot of religious people is they confine themselves to what they think they’ve earned—which is very little. You don’t have to live within the limits of what you’ve earned because God says by grace you have been saved. And grace is not earned. If you earn anything, it’s not grace. Grace begins where human ability ends. As long as you can do it yourself you don’t need the grace of God. And as long as you stay within the limits of your own ability you’re really shutting out the grace of God. Because, it begins when you step out beyond what you understand and what you can do.
Let’s turn to 1John which is probably in a way the main, single source of revelation of the love of God. By no means the only one but John probably says more about the love of God in his first epistle and also in his gospel, to a certain extent. In 1John 4:9–10 John reveals that the initiative in love didn’t come from us, it came from God. He says:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him.”
Brothers and sisters, we didn’t ever pray for God to send Jesus. Nobody ever prayed for that. Nobody ever expected it. It preceded entirely out of God’s initiative.
And then he says:
“In this is love not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God took the initiative. And as I was saying, and as I think Ruth quoted, the only really important things in our lives are the things in which God takes the initiative. The most important thing is love. And the initiative was solely from God. We were dead! How could we take the initiative? We were rebels, we were at enmity with God. It’s amazing.
If you’ve never been amazed by the Bible you’ve never really read the Bible because it is an amazing book. It’s a staggering book. It’s a breathtaking book. Sit down and read it sometime without a lot of preconceived ideas and without being religious. Just ask God to say what He wants to say to you through the Bible. I believe you’ll come out a different person.
I was before I became a preacher a philosopher. You don’t meet many but you’re looking at one. I was a philosopher because I’d given up on religion. I had been looking for the meaning and purpose of life and I concluded that Christianity didn’t have it. I was a member of the Anglican church and I’m not going to say any unkind things about the Anglican church. I would say certainly God was somewhere in the Anglican church but He and I never met. So, at the age of about eighteen when I went to Cambridge University I concluded it’s no good looking for the answer in religion. But I still wanted to find the answer. I said where do I go? Philosophy, the love of wisdom. So I became a philosopher. And, academically I was very successful.
But at the end of the seven years I still hadn’t found the answer. So that’s what’s made me willing when I went into the army to read the Bible. I thought at least it can’t be any sillier than a lot of other things I’ve read.
And philosophy, one of the standard pursuits is to find the first cause of the universe. And you know that scientists for a time came up with what they called “The Big Bang Theory,” that it all exploded out of some kind of bang. Now that Big Bang Theory has been exploded itself. So we’re back to square one. I want to tell you the Bible reveals the first cause. It’s very simple, it’s the love of God. It’s God’s love that caused Him to create.
You see, if you can once grasp that this universe proceeds out of the love of God, your attitude to life will be very different. You won’t be nervous, you won’t be anxious, you’ll say, “My Father made it all. He’s in control. He loves me. I may not understand His dealings but I know He loves me.”
Now I want to speak about the place of love in the Christian life. I’d have to say in the Charismatic movement, which I’ve been part of for about nearly thirty years, there isn’t much said about the love of God. Actually, nowadays there’s very little said about the cross. Everybody’s busy being happy and victorious and proclaiming. Which is all right but I have learned by experience that if you don’t deal with the cross regularly and systematically—I think it was Spurgeon who said this, “If you don’t preach the message of the cross you’re like a drill sergeant giving orders to a squad of soldiers who have no feet.” You give the right orders but they can’t carry them out. And the only place you’ll get the power to obey is at the cross. Once we leave the cross out we can preach lots of wonderful sermons and get people excited but the results will be very meager—as they are in most of the Charismatic movement. Is that right? Maybe that’s an explanation.
I was invited to ask that we would sing that song, “My Jesus I Love You, I Know Thou Art Mine.” I’d just make this observation. I like the choruses we sing, they’re wonderful but they’re very incomplete. We need to get back to some of the great traditional hymns of the church which state the basic truths that we never need to let go of. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” That’s something we need to say every week. It’s not that I don’t like the choruses but you can’t live on a diet of choruses any more than you can live on a diet of desserts. You need the meat.
Another interesting thing about hymns, and it’s included in that one, up till the end of the last century and even into the first decade of this century, almost every Christian hymn had a verse about death. You know this one, “Even when the death lies cold on my brow, my Jesus I love thee.” And you go through those hymns, there’s very few of them that don’t deal with the theme of death. But we live in an age when people are not willing to face some uncertain facts, one of which is death. So we don’t speak about death, we don’t speak about funerals, we speak about parlors of peace. We don’t talk about cemeteries, they’re gardens of rest. Let me tell you something, death is the last enemy and it’s a cruel enemy. That came home to me very clearly when my first wife was taken. I realized just how cruel death is. I went through a personal crisis. I’d been a preacher at that time for a good twenty years or more and I said to myself, “I’ve preached the resurrection, do I really believe it?” I had an inward test. Eventually I said, “Yes, I believe in the resurrection. I believe I’m going to see my wife again. I believe we’re going to meet and never be separated.”
One other thing helped me. I have a real sympathy with people who have been bereaved because I’ve been through it. The other thing that helped me was the words of Job. Job said when everything was taken from him except his wife—and I rather wonder sometimes whether he wouldn’t have wished his wife had been taken too! Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.” And I said to myself that’s true. If I trust the Lord to give I have to trust Him to take away. Because, the same God who gives takes away. I knew the Lord had given me my first wife and I was able to trust Him that He’d taken her away.
Then one other thing that happened to me which is just as special. I was living in a large house on Sunrise Key in Fort Lauderdale at that time. I was lonely. One evening two couples came, both of whom I know, both of whom have ministries in song. They came to comfort me. We began to sing and the atmosphere changed and I ended up by dancing. I can honestly say the Lord turned for me my mourning into dancing. I always remember with gratitude those two young couples. They’re not so young any longer today.
Now let’s come back to the place of love in the Christian life. 1John 4:7:
“Beloved, let us love one another...”
Shall we say that?
“Beloved, let us love one another.”
All right, that’s a decision. Christian love is not an emotion, it’s a decision. Loving your wife doesn’t always depend on all the good that’s in her, you still have to love her when you don’t see the good. It’s a decision. And, let me say quickly to the ladies, you still have to love your husband even if he may be very awkward at times. It doesn’t depend on your feelings.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God...”
Shall we say that?
“Love is of God.”
Say it again.
“Love is of God.”
“...and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
Incidentally, the word for love here is that famous word that everybody misquotes, agape, which is normally used only for the love of God and of Christians, though it is occasionally used for the love of sinners. That’s an amazing statement. Everyone who loves is born of God. In other words, there is a kind of love which can only be produced by the new birth. There is no other way that a person can have that love. It’s unique. Natural love isn’t to be compared with it. Parental love isn’t to be compared with it. It’s totally in a class by itself.
We hear a lot today about being born again. In fact, it’s become almost a cult to be born again. We hear politicians glibly telling us that they’re born again. I suspect their motive is to get votes. Some of them may be born again, most of them don’t live like it. But, Christians are silly enough to listen to what politicians say.
My point is this, the real evidence that you’ve been born again is that you have a kind of love which cannot come by any other means.
Let’s ask ourselves honestly about us Christians today in America. Do we demonstrate that kind of love? The answer is most of us don’t. I’m not saying if you don’t have that love you’ve never been born again. What I’m saying is if you have that kind of love you know you’ve been born again. It’s a unique product of the new birth and it’s one that everyone who claims to be born again should demonstrate.
Then in 1John 4:8 it says:
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Now, it’s in the context of that kind of love. So he who does not have that kind of love does not know God. I want to tell you that you can saved without knowing God. I have a little thing that I say, “you were saved by a stranger,” somebody you never got to know. Let me give you a little, simple, crude illustration. You’re in a river struggling, about to go down for the third time. Somebody drives past in his car, stops, jumps out, dives in and fishes you out. He saved you. Then he says, “Come on, get into my car, I’ll take you to my house and give you a change of clothing and send you on your way.” So he does all that. An incidentally, you ruin his car with all your wet clothes. And as you leave newly dressed in clothing he’s provided he said, “This is my phone number, you know where I live. Come and see me, I’d like to know you better.” But, you never take him up on that invitation. You never go to see him, you never phone him, you have no further real contact with him. You’ve been saved but by a stranger. You don’t know the one who saved you.
And John says he who does not love does not know God. You can be saved but you’ve never come to know the one who saved you. I think that’s the condition of the majority of professing Christians in the United States. We have been saved by a stranger, and He’s still a stranger after salvation.
Paul had been an apostle many years and in Philippians 3:10 he said his aim was:
“...that I may know Him.”
Paul was definitely saved, he was definitely baptized in the Spirit, he had a charismatic ministry. But he didn’t take it for granted that on that basis he knew God. He said my aim is to know Him.
What about you? Are you concerned to know God? Do you take time with God? Do you talk to Him on the phone? Do you go and visit Him? Do you tell Him from time to time, “I remember the day when you fished me out of the water. I’ll never forget it. Thank you. I’ll be grateful to you all my life. I want to introduce my family to you.” Is that how you relate? Or, do you just go around saying I’m saved? And a lot of people will look at you and say, “So what? You don’t live any different from the people who don’t say they’re saved.”
The Lord spoke to Ruth and my—I say He spoke, we believe He spoke—about three years ago. He said, “Pray for God’s elect in the United States because many of them are being swept away into the gutter.” The filth of this world, its pornography, its vileness, its cheapness. Brothers and sisters, salvation is free but it is not cheap. Don’t make it cheap. I would say don’t present salvation to other people as if it were something cheap. It demands a total surrender.
We get a lot of half saved people and they’re the worst to deal with. You don’t know where they are. Are they saved, are they not? If they are saved why do they live the way they do? Why do they have so little time for God? Why is there so little of the scripture in their conversation? Why can they meet together and spend time together and not even pray?
Ruth and I made a decision—well, I made the decision and Ruth agreed with it—that if we have Christians in our home or we meet together for any length of time, we will not separate without praying. I find many times Christians just really want to pray but nobody leads them.
One more statement and this is taken from Ephesians 3, beginning at verse 14. This is one of Paul’s great prayers of which there are two in Ephesians. It says:
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named...”
But, the Greek word for father is patreand the word translated family is patriawhich is directly derived from father. So, a lot of modern translations say “from whom every fatherhood in family and earth derives its name.” Remember, every family has one supreme pattern, that’s God.
What is Paul’s prayer?
“...that He would grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...”
Notice we need to be strong to have Christ dwelling in us. It takes some inner strength to make room for Christ.
“...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge...”
That’s a kind of paradox, isn’t it? To know it but you can’t know it. And then it says:
“...that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
What a prayer! But notice the only people who can enter into that prayer fully are those who are rooted and grounded in love. Because, no other foundation is strong enough to bear what God wants to put on it.
And so, there’s two words, rooted and grounded, that talk about a foundation, underpinning. They’re compared to a tree with its roots and a building with its foundation. And in both cases the roots and the foundation make possible the growth of the tree or the building of the building. And so, Paul is saying if it isn’t in love, if you’re not rooted and grounded in love, you will not be able to comprehend with all the saints.
See, it isn’t comprehended intellectually, it’s comprehended by revelation. What is the breadth and length and depth and height? To know the love of Christ.
Again, that prayer was prayed for Charismatic believers. But Paul didn’t assume that they knew the love of Christ. He prayed for it intensely. Dear brothers and sisters, you and I cannot assume because we’re saved and baptized in the Spirit that we know the love of Christ. We can’t know the love of Christ unless there’s a foundation of Love within us that will take the superstructure.
I don’t know whether any of you ever met a brother in the Lord, a minister called Ben Sweat? Does anybody here remember Ben Sweat? Well, he had a ministry in Jamaica, he had an orphanage there. He used to travel around and he carried a guitar. He wasn’t a great singer but he would sing. He and I were together in some meetings in various places. But there’s one song he sung that I’ve never forgotten, and the words were this:
“You know nothing till you’ve known the love of God.”
And that’s absolutely true. You know nothing till you’ve known the love of God. All our human knowledge in comparison with the love of God is like a pin prick in a piece of paper compared with an ocean.
In 1Timothy 1:5–6 Paul says in this translation:
“Now the purpose of the commandment is love...”
But the NASB gives a much better rendering, it says:
“The goal of our instruction is love...”
And then it gives three conditions for love:
“...from a pure heart, from a good conscience and sincere faith.”
I ask you, I ask myself, is that the goal of our instruction? What are we aiming to produce in people? Paul said the goal is love. Then he said:
“From which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk...”
In other words, any kind of preaching or teaching that doesn’t produce love is just empty words. I’ve asked myself quite a number of times what am I producing in people? Because, if I’m not producing love I might as well stop. I’m wasting my words and my time.
Dear friends, there’s an awful lot of wasted time in churches. There’s an awful lot of preaching and teaching that doesn’t produce love. Is that true? There’s a whole lot of Christians who don’t love their fellow believers. Some preaching and teaching really is designed to produce that. If you don’t agree with every point of their doctrine, dot every I and cross every t, you’re an enemy. Is that true?
See, we’ve missed the whole purpose of the ministry. Is that true, brother? I believe you believe it. I think we need to stop sometimes and ask ourselves what am I producing? Because if I’m not producing people who love God and love one another and love people, it probably would be better if I didn’t produce anything.
The goal of our instruction is love. Not one goal, the goal.
I think we have deviated along way from the central line of Christianity. I believe the only hope for America is for the church to get back to it. It isn’t the politicians who are the problem, it’s the church that’s the problem.
I was in our office the other day. We came back and some people were very disturbed that Bill Clinton had been elected the next president. I mean, I don’t share that feeling myself. But, I said to them, “Listen, Bill Clinton can’t make America any worse than it already is. What are your worrying about? What you need to be worrying about is the condition of America, not the condition of Bill Clinton.” I mean, I don’t know Bill Clinton, I’m not a part of his campaign team. But, oh so many Christians are wasting their time on prayers and activities that are not directed at the one thing that matters, which is, tell me in one word?
You see, I am totally against abortion and I’ve put it in writing more than once. But I think the Christians that are always praying for the legislature to bring out some law against abortion are mainly wasting their time. That isn’t the problem. Even if a law was passed it would change very little of what people do.
They passed a law called Prohibition. I wasn’t living in America at that time. It didn’t work. Is that right? Because you can’t change people by laws. If laws would do it, it would have done it for Israel. They had the perfect law, a God given law. But laws do not change people’s hearts. You know what will change people? Salvation. How do I know? Because it changed me, overnight. I tell people the real problem in America is there that there are more bad people than good. And, the bad people are multiplying more quickly than the good. I said there’s only one basic, practical remedy, something that will turn a lot of bad people into good people quickly. And what will do that? Salvation.
Brothers and sisters, if we pray for those people to get saved we’d be praying something positive. The truth of the matter is a lot of people who are against abortion are very unloving. They’re critical, they’re negative and the abortionists look at them and say, “If that’s what it means to be a Christian, God help me, I don’t want to be one.” Is that right?
I mean, I’m concerned about the amount of time that’s wasted in prayer for things that aren’t really important. I’ve published a book, Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting, and there’s a lot of examples in it about how governments have been changed. Listen, I don’t know much about church history but I do know of two groups who really changed the culture of their time. One was the Methodists and the other was the Salvation Army. At least in Britain. And neither of them went out to change culture, they went out to save people. And the best way to change a culture is to save people. You won’t save people if you’re unloving.
I’ll give you a little example of how it can work. There was a lady, I’ve never been introduced to her but I know about her through a personal friend of hers. She was bad. I mean, she was everything that Christians don’t approve of. She was a feminist, she was a Lesbian, she was a Marxist. She was a woman of action. I mean, she was buying revolvers to shoot men with. She found herself with a group of her fellow revolutionaries in a small ship in the China Sea. I don’t know what they were going to do but they were going to do something bad. There was a storm building up so the people on deck said go down into the hold, turn on the radio and find out what the weather forecast is. She turned on the radio and got Derek Prince from Manila in the Philippines. And within ten minutes she was saved! Today she’s just as active in the opposite direction as she was before. That didn’t cost a lot of money, it’s just reaching the right person at the right time with the right message.
You know what America needs? It needs to hear the gospel. Not a lot of radio preachers who are trying to raise money, it needs to hear the simple truth about Jesus Christ presented by people who really love them. And you’d be surprised at the way people would change. How do we know? Because it happened to us, most of us.
I mean, when I went back to Cambridge after I got saved, some of my former friends said, “It could have happened to anybody but you!” But, it happened to me. I wasn’t worthy, I wasn’t a candidate. But God loved me.
I had one friend at Cambridge when I was there as a student. I didn’t even know it but he was a Roman Catholic. I cared so little about religion I didn’t bother about it. But he was very interested in classical music. I loved classical music but I am no musician. I’ve got very little ear for music. In those days we still used what they called gramophones. Do you know what a gramophone is? You’d wind the handle and it revolved, the needle goes round. Now, the best kind of reproduction that could be obtained from a gramophone was from a nine foot horn that went up like that [indicating] and out, so my friend had this nine foot horn. And we loved Mozart and Bach particularly and we would get together with a bottle of whiskey and sit under this nine foot horn and listen to the music and enjoy ourselves. We did other things, too, which I won’t tell you about! But, we separated. The war separated me from almost all my friends. Many of them I never met again.
But about four or five years ago I was in Britain and I was on a talk show in Lee on the BBC. I gave part of my testimony and the interviewer who was very sympathetic announced that I was due to be speaking in a certain hall that night, and gave the address. So when I walked onto the platform, right in front of me in the middle seat was my friend Geoffrey. I hadn’t seen him for I don’t know how many years. I thought what’s he doing here? When I finished, he jumped up on the platform, embraced me and said, “I’m saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit!” We were the two most unlikely candidates.
You see, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. What people need is to be saved. It’s very simple, it’s not complicated.
I just want to close by speaking about the value of love. I want to turn to the Song of Solomon, which is found just before the prophet Isaiah. One of my problems is all my life I used to say Isaiah [Isiah] and then I came to America and I had to learn to say Isaiah. Now when I go back to England I have to unlearn it. Anyhow, 8th chapter of the Song of Solomon, just two verses. As I understand it, these verses are spoken by the believer to the Lord. Or, by the bride to the bridegroom. And it says:
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death.”
Now, death is irresistible. When death comes, no one can say I won’t die. And love is as strong as death. In fact, I think Calvary demonstrates that love is stronger than death because love and death met in mortal conflict and love came out the winner. So if you want to know the power of love, consider the power of death and realize that love is as irresistible as death.
Then it says the opposite:
“...jealousy is cruel as the grave, its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.”
Then it returns to the theme of love and it says;
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it.”
Love is undrownable. Nothing can quench it.
And then he goes on:
“If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.”
You cannot buy love. There is no sum of money with which you can purchase love. You can’t buy it. And let me tell you something to Charismatics, you can’t claim it. I meet people who claim healing and claim prosperity and claim all sorts of things. I’ve never met anybody who claimed love. And how stupid we are because love is more valuable than physical healing as heaven is higher than earth. Because, physical healing, although it’s wonderful, will only endure for a few short years and then it’s finished. Love is eternal.
Let me read 1Corinthians 13, just two passages. 1Corinthians 13, just the first and the last verses. I think these must have been addressed to Charismatics, they’re meaningless to other people.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”
I’m just a noise without any context. A religious noise. How much tongue speaking today is just that, a religious noise empty of content?
Then Paul says:
“Although I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains...”
I have all the great gifts of the Spirit.
“...but have not love, I am nothing.”
We don’t act that way. Many of us are ambitious for spiritual gifts. Paul says covet earnestly the best gifts but by comparison with love, the gifts are baubles, they’re trifles, they’re impermanent, they’re not going to last.
And then Paul says:
“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not loved, it profits me nothing.”
That’s a solemn statement. It may profit other people. Your exercise of gifts may bless other people but without love it doesn’t profit you. How tragic to have ministered maybe to hundreds and end up with nothing because it’s without love.
I want to say this the right way. How many well known preachers can you think of that are just flowing with the love of God? Words, gifts, power, but no love. And in many cases exploiting people. The Bible says it profits them nothing. At the end of it all they’ll be totally empty—we will be totally empty, let me not talk about others—without love.
One final statement in Romans 5:5:
“Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
There is only one person who administers the love of God. Who is it? The Holy Spirit, that’s right. If you want to receive the love of God you have to be friendly with the Holy Spirit. And He’s easy to be friendly with. He wants fellowship with us. But there’s no other source for the love of God but the Holy Spirit.
Let me share in closing a little testimony. I have believed in divine healing, I’ve been healed, I’ve preached it. Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of people healed. I am a believer in healing. I believe healing is provided through the atonement of Jesus. But, I don’t always stay well. Some people do but I have known times of sickness. And particularly Ruth my wife has had a continuing battle with sickness for about four years. That really troubled my theology. And so a little while ago when we were praying I said, “Lord, I believe in healing but we don’t always stay well. We get sick and we have to be healed. And sometimes we don’t get healed.” I said, “Lord, what is the secret to living in health?” I don’t know whether I’m wise to tell you this because we’ve come down to that level you’re out to get something. But anyhow, I’ll tell it to you. God gave us a specific, clear answer. He said this, “The answer is let the love of God flow into you, flow over you and overflow you. That is the source of permanent healing, permanent health.” And that’s what I want. Not because I want to be healed but because it’s incomparably the most valuable thing in the world, is the love of God.
I think we have along way to go, Ruth and I, but we’re learning. And my priorities have changed. I’m still adjusting, I’m not sure I know where I am. But I used to always declare that I’d pray for the sick in some meetings. People would come in droves. And, people would get healed but most of them didn’t get healed. I began to ask myself is it really ethical to make the promise of healing a means of drawing people in because they’re going to get disappointed at the end. I don’t have an answer to that question. But one thing is I am much more interested in getting people right with God, free from sin, than seeing people physically healed.
So, where are you tonight? Is there a longing in your heart to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge? Would you make that in your life priority number one? More important than being wealthy or being healthy or being happy.
You know, we deceive people a lot. We say if you receive Christ you’re going to have a wonderful life. It’ll be the end of your problems. It isn’t true. My friend Bob Mumford was asked once what’s the evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He said, “Trouble.” That’s pretty true. How many of you former Baptists can recognize that fact? The baptism in the Holy Spirit doesn’t give you a trouble free life but it gives you power to deal with trouble.
So I want to help you tonight and I don’t know how to do it. I would like to give you a kind of invitation to tell God that you want to receive His love, free, unearned, immeasurable, inexhaustible. I think what we’ll do is this. I didn’t plan this in advance. I would like you to sit for just a few moments and ponder on what I’ve been teaching. And particularly the scriptures I’ve taught you. And then if you say really measured by the standards of the New Testament, “My life is pretty empty. I don’t have what Paul was talking about and praying about. I’m saved but actually the one who saved me is a stranger to me. I don’t really know Him. I spend very little time in His presence. But, I’d like to change. From what I’ve heard tonight I see there’s something more that there hasn’t been much talked about lately, the love of God which surpasses knowledge.” What I’m going to ask you to do is this, just think it over for a moment.
I was in a place, when they made the appeal they turned the lights down. That embarrasses me. I believe you should be willing to let everybody see that you’re seeking God. I don’t want a soupy, sentimental appeal. I want an appeal that tells people like it is and says make up your mind whether you want it or not. And if you want it, don’t be ashamed to show people that you want it.
So, just sit there in silence for a few moments and ponder over this issue, the love of God.
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