Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 12, 2018
Text: Ephesians 3:16, Old Testament: Psalm 14, New Testament: Ephesians 3:14-21
Outward actions come from inner living. The language we use, the choices we make, the time we spend, our initiative, our energy, our drive comes from within us.
Inside us are two major centers – the mind and the heart. The mind is the storehouse of knowledge. The heart is the treasury of emotion.
We use both to interpret our experience to give life meaning and purpose.
Some of us operate from our mental center more than our emotional center. Others of us live from our emotions more than our thoughts.
For those who live from their emotions, people who primarily rely on their minds can appear aloof – distant. For those who live yearning for wisdom, people who primarily live from their emotions can appear to be too easily influenced by momentary feelings.
When our inner life is over-weighted by reason, compassion can be lost. For those whose inner life is overwhelmed by emotions, spontaneity can throw caution to the wind.
Balancing the two centers of our inner life requires the integration of wisdom with emotion. When wisdom and emotion are properly integrated, a calming peace is present within.
Some people attempt to engineer inner peace by conscious efforts of meditation and contemplation. It once was called self-awareness. Other people are frustrated by the questions life poses for them which overwhelm contemplation. Their inner state is so unsettled by life that spending tremendous time and effort on self-awareness is upsetting. They throw themselves into projects. Bus-i-ness is a means to escape the self-alienation they experience.
The Apostle Paul was a busy evangelist. He didn’t stay long in any one place. He was passionate about his responsibility to spread the Word about Jesus Christ to as many people as he was given life to reach. He carefully managed his life so that every opportunity he had to share the Gospel did not escape him.
If Paul was in a market place surrounded by shoppers, he made it an auditorium for an audience to hear about Jesus.
If Paul was in a home with a family, he made it an opportunity for his hosts to hear the remarkable story of Jesus.
If Paul was among soldiers on a boat, or behind bars in a prison with guards, he seized the opportunity to expose them to Jesus’ life and mystery.
If Paul was before a Roman governor on charges of disturbing the peace, he saw the moment as his responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
All of this came from the integration of his mind with his heart in his inner life by the love of Jesus Christ.
The inner life that integrates reason with faith, compassion with responsibility, begins for the Christian with the love of Jesus.
In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul does not appeal to reason, as he does in Romans 15 to intellectually defend Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as the motivation to follow Jesus. Paul doesn’t call for a renewal of the mind in Ephesians 3, like he does in Romans 10, so that a non-believer chooses Jesus Christ as Lord.
The Apostle Paul appeals to the heart in these verses. Paul pinpoints the core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – Christ’s love for humanity – as the treasure for cultivating a Christian life.
Jesus’ love is the ground of Christian life. Jesus’ love is the source of Christian life. Jesus’ love is the Spirit of life. Jesus’ love animates the inner life of the Christian spirit.
But we must be careful to separate Jesus’ love from a sentimental, emotional, romantic love. Romantic love depends upon emotional bonding that is fleeting. Romantic love is here today and gone tomorrow. Its too dependent upon outward attractiveness. Romantic love is corrupted by its devotion to how we appear, not who we are in the inner person.
Were Paul presenting a relationship with Jesus with the extreme passion of romance, he would have used the Greek word eros. Eros is the love of the goddess Aphrodite, whose temple housed prostitutes in Corinth and Athens. It is a sensual, physical love that cannot be satisfied.
Neither did Paul use another Greek word for love in Ephesians 3, philia. Aristotle used philia in his book on ethics to mean affectionate regard among equals. This type of love is pleasant, and kind. But it is not motivating. Philia is not passionate. It is a series of relationships among equals that is based on virtue, and honesty. But it isn’t altruistic. It does not call upon a person to give up anything for another.
Paul did not use the Greek word for parental love for children – storge. This affection for offspring is not the relationship Jesus has with us. Paul is clear, Jesus’ love goes beyond God the Father’s affection for the people of His creation.
Paul uses the word agape in Ephesians 3. This is the love of Jesus for His people. It is compassionate, as a parent is towards her children. But is also more. Jesus love is beyond the affectionate regard equals have toward one another in philia in a form of mutual loyalty. Jesus is not our equal.
Agape captures the essence of God’s love for His people. Jesus’ affection, His loyalty is enhanced by His willingness to sacrifice Himself on behalf of those who are condemned. This is the Apostle Paul’s critical insight in Ephesians 3.
When our inner life comprehends the magnitude of what Christ gave us, it captures our hearts. When a man or a woman is gripped by the enormity of Jesus’ love – love that is sacrificial for us – its impacts what makes sense to us.
There is no good reason for Jesus to love us so much He would sacrifice Himself for people who disown Him. It doesn’t make sense that Almighty God, the great God of Heaven and Earth, who has the power to destroy the world in a blind moment of wrath at human disobedience, would willingly take on a human form to die for humanity’s forgiveness.
God is a mystery, beyond human knowledge and wisdom. What God did by sending His Son to die for us and raising His Son for us, is an act of love that goes beyond philia, or storge. This love, this compelling, enormous love of God for us – that frankly no one deserves – is agape. It reveals the inner life of God.
Agape is not fleeting. It isn’t for the moment. It isn’t a rash emotional divine response to the pathetic condition of humankind that does not appreciate or worship God. Agape is the precious, gracious love that reveals God’s righteousness and goodness to an undeserving world. Agape is the iron-will of God that does not bend before the power of earthly kings and kingdoms.
Agape – God’s love – is glorious! The closest human equivalent for it is when a person offers their life to save another person. I once had a church member who had fought through World War II with distinction. He had the heart of a warrior, unafraid of the enemy. From all the ribbons he had accumulated in battle, he appeared to be a hero who needed no help to live.
The ribbons, the happiness with which he lived as a victor over tyranny, hid the real reason why he had returned home to his family after the war. It was only when we were privately talking one afternoon that he confessed to me that he would never have been come back if it wasn’t for a GI who had fallen on a hand grenade that was thrown into their position, just feet away from him.
He fought back tears of guilt remembering the unselfishness of his friend to save the rest of his squad from certain death. He said each day he awakened in the morning thanking God for the gift his friend gave him of life. It motivated him to live each day with gratitude and a sense of returning to others what had been given to him by an act of pure love.
My church member was saved that day in the Battle of the Bulge to be among the first GI’s from the 82 Airborne Division to enter the Buchenwald concentration camp. Its prisoners considered him like he considered his GI who had died – a motivated spirit willing to give up his life to save them.
My church member marched with Dwight Eisenhower in the victory parade down Broadway Avenue in New York City following the war to screaming crowds and a blizzard of tickertape. Throughout the march he remembered, but for the grace of God through his friend’s intervention, was he a victor over death.
God’s love – His agape love – seized my friend’s mind and his heart. He sang with glory to God on Sundays. He dedicated his life to serving God through the Church. He was an evangelist with the Gospel of Jesus Christ to give the world. He understood from his fellow GI, what Jesus had given him.
Friends, each day you and I march in the tickertape parade of God’s love in this world. We are victors over the grave because Jesus Christ’s love for us.
If our hearts and minds aren’t seized with the deepest and most profound gratitude;
If our inner life isn’t inspired by the enormity of what our precious Jesus did for us that we might be alive in His spirit;
If our thoughts aren’t elevated to live each day with the most profound appreciation for God’s grace that defies reason;
If our hearts and minds aren’t elevated by love for Jesus, so that it is evident whose we are and who He is for the world – what will it take?
Who will it take?
When will it happen for us?
When will others see evidence of Jesus’ love inside us?
The inner life of Jesus’ followers integrates the heart and mind in the love of Jesus Christ. He moves those who comprehend the magnificence of His sacrifice to want others to share that love that moves us within.
Jesus’ love, the love of God that seizes our inner life and moves us to give up our lives for others to know Jesus, this is God’s gift we are to give the world!