Christ Loved and Gave Himself
Stephen Whitmore, Clacton-on-Sea
Three times in the New Testament, we read expressions concerning our Lord, that He loved, and gave Himself. These are found in Galatians 2. 20, Ephesians 5. 2, and Ephesians 5. 26-28. It is interesting to see the way in which these passages develop the theme of His love. They may be seen in the following manner:
Galatians 2. 20 - Love Recognized at Conversion
Ephesians 5.2 - Love Manifest in Life
Ephesians 5. 25-27 - Love Consummated at His Coming
The word for 'gave' in these three instances is a much stronger word than is normally employed, emphasizing the fullness of what was involved in our Lord giving Himself over into the hands of those who hated Him without a cause, John 15. 25.
1. Love Recognized at Conversion
Here we have brought to us the experience of conversion. We need to consider carefully how we preach in the light of this, as Paul is clearly outlining the fact that his rejection of the need for circumcision, and his withstanding of Peter later, were based upon the fact that the cross has removed every requirement of obedience to the law for salvation. The moment we are saved, we identify ourselves with our Lord in His shame and reproach, confessing that our past has been dealt with only and fully by His death upon the cross.
The statement, I am crucified with Christ, is what every believer states at baptism, a pictorial demonstration of what happened at conversion. We separate the two events, but Scripture does not, and the need to distinguish is an indication that we are failing to live and preach in such a way as to demand a change in life whenever a profession of conversion is made. Let us take care that we look for evidence of conversion, not in conformity to any preconceived standards that we may set, but in, evidence of a desire to live in a way that pleases the Lord. Without a knowledge of the truth, we cannot expect conformity to the truth: the distinction is in a desire for the truth, and a readiness to obey when it is taught.
The cross is the testimony of God to the weakness of the law to save, for the believer there is therefore an assurance of life which the law could not give. It is also the testimony of God to the character of the world, and so it is impossible for a believer to continue in a life which is based on fulfilling the desires of the flesh. Rather than self-motivation, our life is to be lived in the consciousness of Christ living and directing.
The basis is the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. What greater motive could there be for a life to the glory of God. No less a Person than the Son of God, the Heir of all things, the First-born of all creation, has taken an interest in each of us personally. Here is the assurance for each who knows the Lord as Saviour and Lord. In view of this, how can we hold back any part of our life from Him.
2. Love Manifest in Life
If the first reference took us back to our conversion, then this one reminds us of a present life with the saints of God. Here we see the evidence of the effect of the love in our lives, as the knowledge of the love of Christ which has saved us now affects our walk. Let us not be content with the knowledge of salvation, but let us go forward with the single desire to please our Lord. As always, He is the perfect example. It is not now the great contrast of the Son of God loving each of us as individuals, but rather the exhortation to reflect the fact that we are all enjoying the same love for each other. There is no room for pride here. In the previous chapter, a man-made division, has brought the negative side before us, but now the positive side is seen. Bitterness, wrath, and all the other sins are put away; kindness, tender-heartedness and forgiveness are found. These are the obvious evidences of love at work. The exhortation that follows summarizes these, widening the thought, and reminding us that this is the basis of our acceptance. We are not asked to do for others what our Lord has not first done for us. The reference here to the sacrifice possibly alludes to the Peace Offering as this is the only offering which is also termed a sacrifice in the Levitical offerings, speaking of our fellowship in Christ. Here we see the reminder that our fellowship is based upon the work of Christ, but that it can only be maintained in practice when our walk is right before the Lord. John brings out a similar thought in 1 John 1. 7, 'If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin'.
3. Love Consummated at His Coming
Here the challenge that husbands should love their wives is seen against the background of the love of Christ for the church. We are brought to realize that, in grace we can never comprehend, our Lord has chosen the most intimate of human ties to be the picture of that glorious consummation of His great love for the church. While, at this time, we shall concentrate upon the prospect that is ours in Christ, let us never lose sight of the fact that this is the pattern for the love of a husband for his wife. As the passage proceeds we find that the teaching might be summarized by concluding that the love of the husband for his wife means that he does nothing without his wife - they are one flesh, inseparable.
These verses bring to us the consummation - a glorious church. Here we see the marvel of love. Those who were full of shame, far more deserving of reproach than that which man ever heaped upon the Lord, yet He has determined that we should be presented to Himself a glorious church. This is not anything of the flesh, it is His glory seen in us.
If we are a glorious church, then the fulness of the character is seen: 'without spot' shows us the fact that no defilement is found; the 'wrinkle' is the evidence of ageing and therefore failing strength, but neither is this to be seen; holy tells of complete separation from every form of sin; without blemish is the fact that no cause for shame is found. How our hearts thrill at the description here of what is to be our state in glory. Everything that is true of our Lord will be true of us. We shall be His in that day, made fit for Him. Once more, this is all of His doing. He is the One who gave Himself so that He might sanctify and cleanse the church. The basis is the fact that He gave Himself, He is the One who sanctifies - that is separates from sin for Himself, and cleanses - that is washes the stains of sin away. The means He employs is the word. Let us allow the word to have its work in our hearts and lives, removing the stains of sin, and making us fit for our Lord.
These verses bring us to consider the extent of the love of our Lord, lifting us up from the depths of sin, transforming us into His likeness, and ultimately presenting us as a glorious church. The realization of what His love has done, and will do, brings to us the challenge as to our lives before Him. Individually, collectively, in the home, in the world, these truths ought to affect our walk. Can the world see that we are crucified with Christ? Does our walk show the love of Christ to one another, and to those around? Is our walk a demonstration that we live in the assurance that Heaven is our Home? Can we say:
'Higher than the highest heaven,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, thy love at last has conquered:
Grant me now my supplication -
None of self, and all of thee'?