This is the last message I preach to you before my eight-month leave of absence that starts May 1st. I see it as a continuation of last week’s message. The point of that message was that God loves you — you, Bethlehem, as a body of believers, and you Bethlehem as individual sons and daughters in his family — that God loves you in ways that are so spectacular, you need supernatural help to believe it and feel it.
Love So Amazing
I mean that very explicitly and seriously. The love of God, the love of Christ, for you is so spectacular that you cannot grasp it — know it as a conscious experience — without omnipotent supernatural help. This is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3:18–19 like this: I pray that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”
The love of Christ surpasses what you are able to comprehend with your mere human mind or heart. So what is needed to experience it? God’s power. So Paul prays, “May you have strength to comprehend the love of Christ.” Soul strength. Heart strength. Mind strength. God, give this to us, we pray.
This is why Paul says in Romans 5:5 that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Without the divine power of the Holy Spirit, we will not be able to experience the love of God. So I paused in the service last week to pray that God would give this power and pour out the Holy Spirit in our hearts like this — to help us experience the love of God.
Loved Enough to Be Saved from Self
The question I posed last week was: Why is it that the Bible reveals God’s love for us — including God’s making much of us and delighting in us and rejoicing over us — why does the Bible reveal God’s love as a way of calling attention to his own glory?
“We are so precious to God that God, in great mercy, will not let our preciousness to him become our god.”
The answer is that if God didn’t do it this way, we would be even more likely to turn the love of God into a subtle means of self-exaltation. We would use his love to make ourselves the deepest foundation of our joy. God would become a servant to our slavery to self. We would take our preciousness to God and make that very preciousness our god.
God Will Make Much of Us
But, I argued, God loves us so much — we are so precious to him — that he will not let that happen to his people. We are so precious to God that God, in great mercy, will not let our preciousness to him become our god. God will make sure that God remains our God—that our supreme treasure is not ourselves but God.
We will indeed through all eternity enjoy being made much of by God. But God will so work in us that the bottom of our joy will be that he himself is the kind of God — the kind of infinitely gracious God — who can and does delight in us. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). God himself will be the beginning, the middle, and the end of our perfect happiness.
And because he loves you in this spectacular way, we have reason to believe that these next eight months will be a time of extraordinary blessing in the life of this church, and in our lives personally as part of this church. So let me take the message a little further and give additional reason to believe that and pray with expectation toward that blessing.
A Double Purpose for Loving Us This Way
Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Here’s the link with last week. In these six verses, Paul describes at least four ways that God loves us. And by “us” I mean all the sinful, broken people who have seen our need for a Savior and embraced Jesus as our only hope for forgiveness and our only all-satisfying treasure. And besides describing four ways God loves us, he gives a double purpose for loving us this way. These two things — how he loves us, and why he loves us this way — give us added reason to believe God is planning to pour out unusual blessing on Bethlehem in the next eight months.
1. So That We Don’t Boast in Ourselves
First, let’s notice the double purpose for God’s loving us the way he does. The first half of the double purpose is in verse 29: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” The purpose God loves us the way he does is: so that none of us would boast in ourselves before God. In other words, God loves us — and he loves us so much that he will not let us diminish that love by exalting ourselves in his presence. He will not let us ruin the glorious experience of being loved by turning God’s love for us into a reason for us to boast in ourselves.
2. So That We Boast in Jesus
Rather, here’s the second half of the double purpose God loves us in these verses. Verse 31: He loves us this way “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” In other words, verse 29 tells us that his purpose is that we not boast in ourselves, and verse 31 tells us that his purpose is that we instead boast in the Lord.
“The love of God — the love of Christ — for you is so spectacular that you cannot grasp it.”
So this is what we saw last week: God loves us more than we could ever dream, and part of what makes his love so great is that it prevents us from making ourselves to be our boast. And it secures for us that God himself will be our supreme boast. “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” This will be our joy through all the ages: boasting in the Lord, not in ourselves. The love of God will see to it.
Four Ways God Loves You
Now focus on the four ways that God loves us in these verses. In sum, they are: (1) God chose us; (2) God called us; (3) God put us in Christ; (4) God made Christ our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. God loved you by choosing you.
Verses 27–28: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”
The only other place this word “choose” is used in Paul is Ephesians 1:4–5: “[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” So what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 1:27–28 is that before we were made, God saw us in our sin and our rebellion, and he graciously set his favor on us owing to nothing in ourselves. Paul calls it in Romans 11:5 the “election of grace.”
This electing love is absolutely unconditional. We were not yet created. And we know that he foresaw us as undeserving when he chose us because the blessing of our election had to come through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4–7). We needed a redeemer in his eyes when he chose us. So be amazed. If you are believer in Jesus, God has loved you from before the world and chose you for his own possession — with all the biblical benefits and all the biblical affections that implies.
2. God loved you by calling you.
Verse 26: “For consider your calling, brothers.” What is Paul referring to? Their job? Being a carpenter? Homemaker? Teacher? No. He is referring to the work of God in calling them to himself out of darkness into light, out of death into life. You can see the meaning pretty clearly in verses 22–24:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So there are three groups in these verses: the Jews, the Gentiles, and “the called.” Or to be more precise: the non-called Jews, the non-called Gentiles, and the called Jews and Gentiles. And what’s the difference? The non-called Jews see Christ-crucified as a stumbling block (verse 23). The non-called Gentiles see Christ-crucified as folly (verse 23). But “the called” Jews and Gentiles see Christ-crucified as “the power of God and the wisdom of God (verse 24).
Which means that the call is the work of God that opens our eyes to see Christ as true and powerful and wise and beautiful and compelling so that we receive him for salvation. God’s call is his life-giving command: Come! If you are a believer today, that is how you got saved. God called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. This call was effective. It produced in you what it called for.
It was like the effectiveness of a command that someone uses to wake you from a deep sleep. You lean over their ear while they are asleep, and you cry out: Wake up! And they bolt upright. They did not hear the command and ponder it and then decide to wake up. The command accomplished what it commanded: Wake up! That is the way God raises us from spiritual death. And only God can do it. And he did it for you. He loved you this way. Ephesians 2:4 says it was because of God’s “great love” that he made us alive when we were dead. You were about to sleep yourself into hell, and God woke you up to the ugliness of sin and the beauty of a great Savior. He loved you with a “great love.”
3. God loved you by putting you in Christ.
Verse 30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus.” Literally: “From him, or of him, are you in Christ Jesus.” The idea is simply that we are united to Christ, and the reason we are is because God did it. He chose us. Then he called us. And in calling us, he united us to Christ. This was a great act of love. You could not do it on your own. Only God can graft you into the life of his Son. He chose to do it before creation. He called you to it. And he did it. Your presence today in union with Christ is owing to the love of God putting you there and keeping you there (1 Peter 1:5).
Now, what is the effect of that union with Christ?
4. God loved you by making Christ your wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
Verse 30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who [that is, Christ] became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” This is why it is so loving of God to put us in Christ. Because, in union with Christ, Christ himself becomes our wisdom and our righteousness and our sanctification and our redemption. I would love to take each of those and explain how Jesus becomes that for us, but my focus today is different. Suffice it to say that everything you need to bring you safely through this life and into eternal life and joy with God, you have in Christ Jesus. He has become for you everything you need. God has loved you this way. Christ has loved you this way.
“You were about to sleep yourself into hell, and God woke you up to the ugliness of sin and the beauty of a great Savior.”
Now we have seen how God loves us and why God loves us this way. He loves us by (1) choosing us for himself, by (2) calling us to himself, by (3) uniting us to Christ, and (4) by making Christ become everything we need. And the double purpose of loving us like this was “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (verse 29), and “so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (verse 31). God has loved us in all these ways — God has made so much of us — so that we will enjoy making much of him forever.
God Is Ready to Pour Out Blessing
Now here’s the way this text becomes an added reason to believe God is planning to pour out unusual blessing on Bethlehem in the next eight months. We have left out an entire emphasis in the text up till now — namely, that God regularly glorifies himself by setting aside human power to magnify his own. By setting aside human wisdom to magnify his own. By setting aside human honor to magnify his own. You see this clear as day in verses 26–28:
Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.
Here is one way to apply this to our situation. Whatever natural wisdom or strength or honor I may bring to this pulpit it may at times stand in the way of God’s fullest blessing. It may be God’s design that the blessing he has for this church will reach a much higher level in my absence than in my presence.
M’Cheyne’s Eight-Month Leave
I sometimes think, that a great blessing may come to my people in my absence. Often God does not bless us when we are in the midst of our labours, lest we shall say, “My hand and my eloquence have done it.” He removes us into silence, and then pours “down a blessing so that there is no room to receive it;” so that all that see it cry out, “It is the Lord!” (Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 85)
After M’Cheyne had asked William Burns, the son of the pastor at Kilsyth, to take over his pulpit while he was away these eight months, he wrote to him,
I hope you may be a thousand times more blessed among them than I ever was. Perhaps there are many souls that would never have been saved under my ministry, who may be touched under yours; and God has taken this method of bringing you into my place. His name is Wonderful. (89)
And the amazing thing is that the Lord did it. Revival came to his church in Dundee in August when M’Cheyne was very ill in Turkey. His biographer wrote,
“If you are believer in Jesus, God has loved you from before the world and chose you for his own possession.”
Two days after [the revival came to nearby Kilsyth], the Spirit began to work in [M’Cheyne’s church] St. Peter’s, at the time of the prayer-meeting in the church, in a way similar to Kilsyth. Day after day the people met for prayer and hearing the word; and the time of the apostles seemed returned, when “the Lord added to the Church daily of such as should be saved.” (109)
M’Cheyne did return to his flock in November, 1839, and served them faithfully till his death at the age of 29 in March, 1843.
A Prayer for These Eight Months
I ended the article with a prayer that I will pray for you (or something like it) every day.
O Lord, as you are often accustomed to do, show your great power in my absence. Send a remarkable awakening that results in hundreds of people coming to Christ, old animosities being removed, marriages being reconciled and renewed, wayward children coming home, long-standing slavery to sin being conquered, spiritual dullness being replaced by vibrant joy, weak faith being replaced by bold witness, disinterest in prayer being replaced by fervent intercession, boring Bible reading being replaced by passion for the Word, disinterest in global missions being replaced by energy for Christ’s name among the nations, and lukewarm worship being replaced by zeal for the greatness of God’s glory.
Lord, when Gideon had thousands of men you said, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me’” (Judges 7:2). You stripped his army to 300, and with that you conquered the peoples of the East who covered the ground like locusts and whose camels were like the sand of sea (Judges 7:12).
O Lord, take the mighty 300 of Bethlehem and bless this church beyond anything we have ever dreamed. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
That’s what I’ll be praying in the months to come. And my heart will be filled with love and eagerness to see you again.