God's Undying Love
There are two sides to love.
Love's qualities involve kindness, goodness and compassion. However, love
also has strength, endurance and temperance. Love is tolerant, but love
is also temperate. Love often causes a great deal of conflict in our minds.
How many times have we asked ourselves, "What is the loving thing to do?"
Nothing represents the confliction of love better than the cross of Christ.
God's love moved him to crucify his Son on the cross for our sins. That
same love demanded the sacrifice of his Son on the cross for the remission
of our sins. God's love compelled him to lay on his Son the sins of the
whole world. We see the harshness of God's love when Jesus cried out, "My
God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" We see the extent of God’s love
as Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
God's love is both gentle and tough.
Our God is capable of completely saving our souls. He is also capable of
completely destroying our souls in hell. God's gentleness is seen in his
tenderness, kindness, generosity and patience. God's toughness is seen
in his judgment against sin. The extremities of God's love are seen in
the following verses.
"For God so loved the world that he gave
his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but
have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn
the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10
God is just: He will pay back trouble to
those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us
as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in
blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not
know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished
with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord
and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in
his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.
This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)
If God's love were too soft, it would
only encourage evil. If God's love were too hard, it would also
promote evil. God's love for us, as well as his judgment against our sins
is tempered with mercy. However, even mercy has a harsh side as well as
a gentle side. Sometimes the most merciful thing you can do is to punish
a person for doing wrong. It is little wonder Paul asks us to "Consider
therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell,
but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise,
you also will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 NIV)
The sternness and kindness of God's love is
seen on Calvary. As Jesus cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken
me?" In almost the same breath he told the thief "Today you shall be with
me in paradise."
God's Love Is Stern but Irrevocable
When the sternness of God’s love is observed
as God disciplines his children, we may begin to think God no longer loves
his children. However, God’s sternness is not an indication of a fading
love. God’s love is undying. Even God’s anger with our sin exhibits his
love for our souls.
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are
enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are
loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call
are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to
God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they
too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive
mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over
to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (NIV)
Paul says that God's gifts and his call
are irrevocable. This doesn’t mean that we have no choice. We can
certainly reject his call and his gifts. However, God’s love is undying
and his gifts og love are still offered. God’s love for us cannot be diminished
through our rejection. God's gifts are given because of his love for us.
If his gifts are irrevocable, his love is irrevocable. He cannot stop loving
God will not revoke his blessings because
of our rebellion. It is impossible to look back and see God's blessings
on Abraham, Isaac and Jacob without understanding God's love for each of
us. Everything God did for them, he was doing for each of us. God used
them to provide a Messiah for a blessing to all the families of the earth.
(Genesis 12:1-5) The blessing will always be provided in spite of our rebellion.
The gospel is powerful because God’s
love is irrevocable. The ultimate desire of God is that every individual
would come to repentance and be saved. (2 Peter 3:9) God's love is such
that he can not withhold his love. Paul was hoping God's love to the Gentiles
would make the Jews so envious that they would turn back to God.
"Hear, O my people, and I will warn you--
if you would but listen to me, O Israel! You shall have no foreign god
among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god. I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
"But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So
I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.
"If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how
quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes!
Those who hate the LORD would cringe before him, and their punishment would
last forever. But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey
from the rock I would satisfy you." (NIV)
God judged Israel, but God had not rejected
Israel. Even his judgement had a purpose. The purpose of God's judgement
was to effect their salvation. His judgement was a redemptive act designed
to bring them back to God.
In these verses we catch a glimpse of God’s
undying love. Israel would not listen to God, they refused to submit to
his ways and God had given them over to their own stubborn ways, but he
still loved them. God says,
"If my people would but listen to me,
if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes! Those who hate the LORD would cringe
before him, and their punishment would last forever. But you would be fed
with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you."
God's love is such that he takes no
pleasure in the punishment of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11) We may
find a certain amount of joy in seeing a person get what they deserve,
but not so with God. He takes no pleasure in punishing the wicked.
Proof of God’s Undying Love
The sternness and goodness of God’s
love makes it easy to think of salvation as an exclusive right to a certain
group. Sometimes the saved think they are the only ones God is
interested in saving. They see everyone else excluded from God's redeeming
plan. The Jews believed the Gentiles were created for the fires of hell.
When salvation through Christ was preached to the Gentiles, the Gentiles
starting thinking God had cast away all Jews. This attitude gives rise
to what Paul writes in Romans 11.
It is easy to develop an attitude where
we think people are saved en masse. We lose sight of the fact people
are saved individually. Our relationship with God is an individual relationship.
We do not inherit our salvation. We must surrender our own hearts. Paul
opens Romans 11 assuring us that God does not choose one group over another,
but rather recognizes all who respond with humble hearts.
But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they
did: "Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends
of the world." Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says,
"I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you
angry by a nation that has no understanding." And Isaiah boldly says, "I
was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who
did not ask for me." But concerning Israel he says, "All day long I have
held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people." I ask then:
Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant
of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people,
whom he foreknew. (NIV)
The apostle Paul’s conversion is proof
of God’s undying love for every disobedient Jew. God held out his
hands to a disobedient and obstinate people. He desired to save them. Paul’s
life stood as evidence of God’s acceptance of those who obeyed the heavenly
call. Regardless of their disobedience and God’s discipline for their sin
they could be saved.
The 7,000 in Elijah’s day are another
example of God’s undying love for the Jew. God impressed upon Elijah
that no matter what Israel had done en masse there was a remnant that had
not bowed themselves to Baal. That faithful remnant would be saved.
Don't you know what the Scripture says in
the passage about Elijah-- how he appealed to God against Israel: "Lord,
they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only
one left, and they are trying to kill me"? And what was God's answer to
him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the
knee to Baal." So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by
grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace
would no longer be grace. (NIV)
Just as God saved the remnant of 7,000 faithful
in Elijah’s day, today he saves the remnant of faithful. God doesn’t save
any group en mass. He saves the remnant because of the individual's
choice of obedience.
Which way is it? Do hearts become obstinate
because of God’s rejection? Or, does God reject us because of our hard
hearts? Too many reject God because they desire to seek God on
their terms and their hearts become obstinate to God’s call. Israel had
a zeal for God. They earnestly sought God, but they sought him on their
terms. They rejected all who sought God on God’s terms.
What then? What Israel sought so earnestly
it did not obtain, but the elect did. The others were hardened, as it is
written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not
see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day." And David
says: "May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and
a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever." (NIV)
These verses draw upon the imagery of a person
feasting at a banquet table and the person's sense of safety has become
their ruin. The table of blessing we sit at becomes a snare. It is like
being in a stupor. Your hearing becomes vague and your eyes blurred so
that you are groping about with bent backs trying to find your way. It
is so easy for us to get caught up in ourselves and to become blind to
what we really are and what we need to do about it.
God had not given Israel a spirit of stupor
so they could reject him. He gave them a spirit of stupor because they
had chosen to reject him. Their eyes couldn’t see and their ears couldn’t
hear because they chose to reject God. They did not reject God because
they had not heard. They rejected God because they chose not to hear. Therefore
God’s judgement came upon them. His judgment was an act of his irrevocable
love designed to bring about their repentance.
So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you
hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion,
during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and
tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with
that generation, and I said, 'Their hearts are always going astray, and
they have not known my ways.' So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They
shall never enter my rest.'" See to it, brothers, that none of you has
a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage
one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may
be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if
we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just
been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as
you did in the rebellion." Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they
not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty
years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?
And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to
those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because
of their unbelief. (NIV)
Undying Love Keeps Hope Alive
God gives us hope in the midst of our
rebellion. God’s undying love seeks to reach a rebellious world
in spite of the Jews rejection.
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall
beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation
has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression
means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles,
how much greater riches will their fullness bring! I am talking to you
Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of
my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy
and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of
the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (NIV)
God’s undying love seeks to provoke
the Jews to jealousy to bring them back into his love. God seeks
to rekindle their love for him by his love for the Gentiles. Imagine a
couple dating over a number of weeks or months breaking up. It isn't unusual
for one to try to rekindle the flame by dating someone else to make the
Paul envisions God provoking the Jews to jealousy
through his love for the Gentile, although his love for both is real and
undying. God's ways are truly past finding out. God is endeavoring to use
Israel's insensitivity to him as a means to their salvation as he provokes
them to jealousy. He hopes jealousy will provoke them to respond to his
love. Imagine this, Israel is insensitive to God. God resurrects their
sensitivity through envy so they may see God’s love for them through what
he is doing for the Gentile.
The Jews transgression became a means
of salvation to the Gentiles.When the Jews nailed Christ to the
cross, it became a means of salvation for the whole world. The object of
their rejection became the means to our salvation. Salvation came through
the Jews rejection of the Messiah. Their rejection of Christ brought reconciliation
to the world. When they rejected Christ salvation went to the Gentiles.
Now God was seeking to provoke Israel to jealousy in hope that they would
return to him.
Sometimes the only way you can provoke others
to a better way of living is to make them jealous of the way you are living.
Jealousy is not the best of motives, but it can be the beginning of a new
life in Christ.
God's rejection of the obstinate Jew
was not permanent. Proof of this is Paul's conversion after his
obstinate rejection of Christ.
If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits
is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the
branches. If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though
a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share
in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.
If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports
you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted
in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand
by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. (NIV)
Sometimes the allegories from the Jewish
mindset are hard for the modern mind to follow. Paul refers to
food offered to God. The law was that the first part of the dough being
prepared for a meal had to be offered to God. (Numbers 15:19-20) If the
first part was offered, the whole lump was sanctified. Paul has shown us
that God has accepted the remnant of Israel who chose to obey. This reveals
God's willingness to sanctify the whole nation, but of course they would
have to be obedient.
Another proof that God had not completely
rejected the Jewish nation was that Israel was the root from which salvation
originated. It was a common practice to plant sacred trees in places
sacred to the gods. When the sapling was planted, it was dedicated to God;
and thereafter every branch that came from it or that was grafted in was
sacred to God.
The logic Paul uses is that the patriarchs
were sacred to God; they had in a special way heard God's voice and obeyed
God's word. They had been chosen and consecrated by God. The whole
nation sprang from them. So just as the whole lump of dough was sanctified
by the handful offered, and the tree was made sacred by its root; God also
accepted the Jews as candidates for salvation as a result of the faithfulness
of the patriarchs.
If some of the branches have been broken
off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the
others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not
boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support
the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were
broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken
off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but
be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare
you either. (NIV)
Becoming arrogant is the easiest thing to
do. Paul reminds the Gentiles the branches or Jews were broken off of the
tree so the Gentile could be grafted in. They were broken off because of
unbelief and the Gentile was grafted in because of faith. However, this
left no room for boasting, for God was willing to graft the natural branches
back into the tree.
Accepting God’s Undying Love
God’s love is undying and the gifts
of salvation are irrevocable. But we must the proper response to
Paul asks us to "Consider therefore the kindness
and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you,
provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be
cut off." (Romans 11:22 NIV)
God's loving kindness is extended to you upon
the condition "that you continue in his kindness." If you
refuse to continue in his kindness, the sternness of God’s love will cut
you off from his blessings. The purpose of God cutting you off is to bring
you back to obedience.
As we read God's word, we find that there
are many promises made to us. God intends to keep every single one of those
promises. In fact, we are told that all of the promises of God are in the
affirmative for us. God would never make a promise and revoke that promise.
We should see this in his dealing with Israel. If God could take their
rebellion and turn it into an opportunity to show mercy on the Gentiles,
then we should be assured that God has our best interest at heart.
God is not some tyrant looking to condemn
but of a loving Father seeking to bring the lost into his mercy. God's
mercy is for all. God's mercy is for you.