“I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints the length, width, height, and depth of God’s love; and to know that Christ’s love for you surpasses all knowledge and fills you with the fullness of God.” Ephesians 2:17b-19
God loves you. You know that don’t you? But you have heard it so often that it risks sounding trite or maudlin. What is indisputably true is that most Christians live as if they are unaware of God’s love. Your challenge this week is to recapture some of the grandeur of the fact that God loves you.
Here’s how you will do it. Pretend you are an Ephesian Christian in the first century. You live in one of the truly magnificent cities of the empire, one of the top half-dozen or so. Due to its location on a major trading route, the city’s financial impact reverberates through the empire. The same it true of its political might. And religiously? Before you became a Christian you could have worshiped in scores of temples dedicated to dozens of different gods and goddesses. The centerpiece is the Artemision (later called one of the Seven Wonders of the World), the temple dedicated to the city’s patroness: Artemis, whom the Romans adopted from the Greeks and equated with Diana. You worshiped there.
Actually “worshiped” is a bit of stretch. Temples practically were little more than elaborate eating clubs. Worshipers cooked and ate the sacrifice as part of “the service.” You may have participated in a number of such gatherings. They were social events. You respected Diana, but your sacrifice was more of an appeasement. Like most of your fellow Romans you went through the rituals in order to keep Diana off your back. Seriously. You did not love her any more than she loved you.
Diana was like all the gods and goddesses; capricious, capable of the very worst morals, and generally completely uninterested in people. Love her? You could never love something that dangerous or uncaring.
So what led you to become a Christian? It was the good news that a heretofore unknown God deeply loved you. He was nothing like Zeus or Apollo who were more like humans with superhuman powers. No, this God was supremely good and so glorious that He could not be depicted in any art form. The Christians that shared this good news with you explained that He was the only God, the Creator of all, and most amazingly, had sent His Son to show His great love for all people, to die to remove sin and guilt, and to rise three days later. What truly struck you, however, was the love part. This God loves you. You were so overwhelmed that you became a Christian. When you read the words quoted above from the letter addressed to your church you are still a little stunned, but warmed and encouraged beyond words to know the one and only God loves you.
Now back to today. The passage from Ephesians for this week’s GraceWaves is one of the most tender and emphatic declarations of God’s love to be found anywhere in the New Testament. It ranks with John 3:16 and Romans 8:38-39. The personal love of God for all people is the single most important, transforming revelation that enabled Christianity to convert an empire. God’s love was not greeted with a yawn in the early centuries, and it shouldn’t be today.
Yet most Christians never give ten minutes of serious consideration to this tremendous truth. The great God of the universe knows your name! He knows your history! He loves you deeply! Today you must recapture some measure of the grand vision that God loves you. No doctrine is more important. It all begins here. Waves of grace flow from God’s loving character. Never forget this greatest truth, and never allow it be diminished either by familiarity, or by the challenges you face this week. God truly loves you.
Dr. Terry Ellis