Consequences of God’s Unconditional Love
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
You used to hear older people saying, “Oh the great thing about being in Jesus is something new is coming to you all the time.” I thought, “Oh yeah, well that’s a good thing to say but I wonder if it’s true.” Of course it’s so great to see that it is true. So, I’m breaking from Ephesians today because really I do think I saw something from God that was new to me and I think it’ll be good for you to look at it too.
You remember, when I would try to explain this whole new truth that we’ve been thinking about for some years now about how we were all created in Jesus from before the world began. I would often quote that verse in Genesis and you could look at it. We’ll just start us off in the same verse anyway. Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’” Of course I would put it that way, God, as it were, turned round to Jesus and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
Then I would explain in the best way I knew that God obviously wanted people like himself whom he could love and who could love him. I was never absolutely sure about my second relative clause there: “who could love him” but it did seem to follow pretty naturally and logically from the first one. So it was the best I could do to try to express that God wanted beings like himself whom he could enjoy himself with. I have continued to use that clause or that expression, people that could love him, even though I wasn’t absolutely sure about it myself as I analyzed it as finely as possible theologically.
Of course it all came very clear to me with this dear old German theologian, Karl Barth because he comes with this sentence. For those of you who are beginning to get Barth as gifts, I think it’s Volume 4 and Part 2. Here he writes, “His love is his self giving to and for man. He does not love therefore merely to be loved in return. He does not long for this, or court it, or bargain for it. He does not make this response a condition of his own love.” It came home with such truth but I could not grasp the massiveness of it. That God loved me and loves each of you not because you love him back — not even so that you will love him back. He doesn’t expect you to love him back. Not as he says, “Longing for you to love him back, courting it, bargaining for it.” Then I thought, “Well, why does he love me then?” And I began to grasp a little that he loves me for nothing. He loves me for nothing.
He loves me whether I love him back or not. He just loves me. He wills to love me. He just wills to love me. He wills to put himself last after me. He wills to put me first before himself just out of sheer generous love. Of course, for me it all fits in with theology and philosophy. I suppose like all of us, I was so full of myself that I didn’t think God’s love could possibly be that. I thought usually he wanted to have a kind of party. Or he wanted a family; everybody wants a family. So he wanted a family to love that we love him back and he’ll have a family.
But old Barth, with his old circumlocution, keeps coming round at it again, and again, and again until he gets it, or he gets it through our thick heads. “We must be careful not to make the love of God a kind of model for our own well enough known self love in which we all seek our own.” We must be careful not to try to get a handle on God’s love as a kind of version of our own well enough
known self love in which we seek our own.
Father loves the children so the children will love the father. Husband loves the wife so that the wife will love the husband. The brother loves the sister so that the sister will love the brother. Politician loves the citizen so that they will love him and elect him. Of course, he points out that the only love most of us know is that self related love, which says, “I love you. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” And he says, “We must be careful not to see God’s love as that kind of love. As something that he does so that we love him back.”
Then of course the sentence that clinched it for me, “He certainly does not will anything for himself for what have we to give him?” For what have we to give him? Well, I don’t know about you but I felt, of course, I have my love to give him. I wouldn’t have said he needs it but if you pushed me I’d have thought, “Well, he kind of wants it.” But then what have we to give him? What love have we? What have we of love that is ours?
I saw again what stuck up little egotists we are where we feel, “Yes, we can give God our love.” Of course it comes home to you as you think of all the phrases that are so popular in evangelical and liberal theology such as, “Yes, we can give God our love. I choose to make my decision for Christ. I will give to Christ my life.” What life have you to give that belongs to you? Have you any nerves, or any vessels that you can call your own? Have you even a good thought that you can call your own? “Well, I believe that God wants my love and I can give him my love.” Well, where does your love come from? What – it’s your love, is it?
Of course it came home to me clearly I have nothing to give God; I have nothing to give him. Then it hits you in the back of the head, “Well, why does he love me? Why does he love me then?” Gradually it begins to dawn on you that he loves you because he loves you even though you’re nothing, even though you’re worthless, even though you have nothing, even though you can’t love him in return he loves you, he just loves you.
I don’t know about you but it lifted such a burden off my shoulders. Trying to love God, trying to love him, I’m trying to love him; I’m trying to praise him the way he ought to be praised. I’m trying to work my heart around and my feelings so that I really do love him, so that – then in the back of our minds — we can give him something. So that we can give him something? Then also even behind that again, because he’s demanding something from me, he wants me to love him. Suddenly I realized, “No he isn’t. He isn’t. He just loves us. He just loves us.”
Today he just loves us whatever we do. Each one of us here, he knows you by name as he knows me by name and he loves you, he just loves you. He just – well, it’s what Barth says he is satisfied in all the fullness of his Godhead in which he might well have been satisfied with himself. He’s fully satisfied with himself. In the fullness of his Godhead in which he might well have been satisfied with himself, he wills himself together with us. He wills himself in fellowship with us. God just willed that he would not stay on his own. He willed you and me to be together with him. That’s it, just out of love. He willed us to be together with him in his Godhead just out of his love and that’s it!
It’s unconditional love — it’s not love on the basis of you doing something or giving him love back. It’s just as if a millionaire had come through this door and had presented his gold Cadillac to Marty and the rest of his money to Trish, and his home to Joe and said, “Here, this is it, I love you. No, I don’t want you to do anything with the Cadillac. Do what you want with the house. I
love you.” That’s it, it’s God doing that.
So, I pray that God will make some of the words light to you as they were with me. He wills himself not as the object of our wishes and desires, of our imagination and aspiration, of our willing and running, but as his gift freely imparted to us. You know, I used to think, “Well, he wills himself to us so that we can love him.” But Barth says no, “Not as the object of our wishes and desires.” If I can imagine Jesus so often have I looked at the cross and tried to picture his wounds that I might see it is a thing most wonderful.
Often have I looked at the wounds and tried to picture Jesus dying. He says, “No, he doesn’t will us as the objective of our love; he just wills us to be with himself just because he loves us.” He doesn’t even want our devotion. He doesn’t demand our devotion.
This is what Barth goes on to say, “That when we begin to glimpse the free love that God has for us that creates love in us. A kind of love that is totally different from Eros — a love that is free, a love that is liberated. It is a love that is not filled with obligation. A love that is not filled with a feeling that we’re giving something to God or we ought to love him back but it creates in us a free liberated love that is totally free and above every other kind of love.” And he says, “That’s what God’s love does in us when we begin to glimpse it.”
What I wonder is, have we not often failed to grasp the whole freedom of God’s love and so in a way we have a kind of quid pro quo, “Well, you love us so we have to love you?” So we have a love that we call love but it’s almost a variation of Eros love. Eros love is I love you if you love me — I love you to get something.
Of course we all know in our praise services and adoration services how easy it is to slip into that where you’re hoping to get some inspiration for yourself. In fact, we all know that old complaint, “Oh there’s no life in the services.” You know, that is, “I’m not getting anything out of it.”
But I wonder, how many of us have been caught in just a version of Eros love and failed to see the whole freedom of God’s love for us, that he loves us just because he loves us whether we love him back or not. Of course then he opens it all into what I think you’re bound to see yourself. He says, “The love that God has given us is a love that is so totally different from Eros love that it is something that only he can create.”
Barth points out that that’s why there is that description of it way back in Deuteronomy. I’ll just read it to you without you looking it up but it is actually in Deuteronomy 30, “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven that thou shall say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven and bring it on to us that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea that thou should say, ‘Who shall go over the sea for us and bring it nigh unto us that we may hear it and do it?’ But that word is very nigh unto thee in thy mouth and in thy heart that thou mayest do it.”
He’s talking about how we love God with all your heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, and that is the love that God creates miraculously in us when we at last see his free love for us. It’s such a total thing. His love for us is so totally free that that’s the love that’s created in us for him with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind. I think so often what we do is we take Eros love and try to lift it up to the ‘nth’ degree to get it up to that level of “with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind” and we can’t because we’re
still involved in that you love me if I love you.
But the moment we enter and we see, “You mean God loves me whatever I do, or whatever I’m like, or however I respond or don’t respond to him?” Then there begins to be born in us a love that is overwhelming and a love that is free. This is where he lights up for us the whole great commandment. “The doubtful translation of “agapasis” in Greek and “diligas” in Latin, “thou shalt love, thou shalt love thy Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” is responsible in part for the fateful misunderstanding of others as Kierkegaard [Danish philosopher and theologian, 1813-1855] at this point. In the pre-Tempian period the English “thou shalt” will have approximated to what is intended by the Bible both here and in the formulation of the commandments generally but the “agapasis” of the Septuagint.”
The Septuagint is the Greek version of the Old Testament and “agapasis” is you in love, not thou shalt love. “But the “agapasis” of the Septuagint is better as is also the “tu amora” in French. “Tu” is the loving personal word that is used between relatives or close friends – “tu” as opposed to “vous” – more formal used with strangers. He says, “It’s close to the “tu amora” — you would love me. “As is also the tu amora in the French version which is based on the Vulgate Latin version.” The Latinist Jerome translates it as ‘diligas’ which is also you will love.
“What we have is not an abstract demand but a direction which points to an inescapable conclusion in the form of a future. The moment you realize God’s free love for you, you will love him. You will love him with all your heart, and soul, and strength, and mind. “Hear O Israel thou will love because God is bound to thee and thou to him. No other action can result but that which is envisaged and posited in this relationship. The action in which thee thy God and thy neighbor, as Matthew adds from another passage, is to be loved by thee, his self governing finding a response in reflecting in nigh. We may paraphrase it as follows, by thy liberation from Egypt which is the work of the electing purifying great love of thy God thou art made free for this action being set on the way and in motion it is in the power of this divine action which according to the New Testament is the power of the reconciling act which fulfills the covenant of Jesus Christ that there consists as the bible sees it all the authority and power of the divine commandments and the superiority with which man is directed to the way of love as the way of life and therefore is this way and this way alone. I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts.’”
He says, “You will love,” not, “You shall love,” or, “You have to love.” Of course he makes it clear he says, “It may be sensed; it is hardly surprising then that for all its individual.” I’m sorry then he says, “Love cannot be commanded. It is not the case that a love which is imposed and enforced as a duty, however it may be understood, can ever be more than an “eros” with its back to the wall as it were.” And that’s right. If it was thou shalt love; it’s a command to produce an “eros” love. “He’s demanding love from me so I have to love because my back is against the wall. What can I do he’s the superior God?” And what Barth is saying is no, God does not command you — Thou shall love. He says, “When you see how I love, you will love me. You will love me from your heart.
I don’t know about each of you but that certainly always seemed to me a little difficult. He says, “It would be a strange love which demanded love and it would be a strange love which was merely a response to this demand. It is the nerve of the whole relationship between the love of God and that of man, that by the love of God, man is put in a position to love that he may do so — that he is not bullied or prodded to do so by any compelling authority from without. That he is really free, made free to do so of himself in imitation of the self-giving of God. If this is not the case what
does it mean that in this connection the Old Testament speaks so emphatically of the heart as the place where this whole movement is initiated. Surely it is not love from the heart or with the whole heart if there’s any question of compulsion. If we have to love in the required fulfillment of duty or exercise of virtue.”
So loved ones, I do think there’s a whole way of peace, and liberty, and beauty there for us to realize and for us to talk over with our Father. I think it brings a whole new attitude to us because I’m sure you have like me, stood before the commandment and said, “Well, that’s the commandment of God. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God and that’s what I’ve to do; I’ve to love him.”
Of course, even as you say that the very words wither on your lips because you think, “Well, that’s what I’ve to do that’s the commandment, that’s the great commandment. If I don’t do that commandment what good is any other? So I have to love God, that’s my first duty.”
Even the word duty sounds harsh to you, “But wait a minute, how can I love if it’s a duty?” Of course the truth is, it’s not a duty. Our Father loves us just because his heart is full of love and he loves us not so that we love him back, he loves us just because he loves us. Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we are so anxious to do what is right for all kinds of reasons. You know, Lord, that we’ve been anxious to do what is right in regard to you and yet we see that we’ve thought of you being as weak and as twisted as ourselves. We see now, Lord, that you aren’t weak or twisted; that you really mean love when you say you are loved. And love in your heart is not an attempt to illicit a similar attitude from the other person. Love for you is not a manipulative power. It is not a selfish desire for your own satisfaction. Love for you is just you putting yourself last and you putting us before yourself and giving us all that you have.
O Father, we would open our arms and our hearts and say thank you and say what can we do but open our lives in the same way to you and to each other, without hope of gain, without hope of benefit from you or from each other but just love. Just put the others first and ourselves last, just give ourselves freely. We thank you, Lord, that by your miraculous power you will create and sustain that love in us.
Holy Spirit, we pray for each other that even today you will enlighten us so that we may perceive the inner meaning and the life of all this truth that you have shown us so that we may begin to abide in that liberated love that lifts us above the world and into the heavenly places with Christ.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of us now and ever more. Amen.