[These are the sermon notes from Pastor Joel's latest message. Enjoy!]
2Co 6:3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: 2Co 6:4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 2Co 6:5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 2Co 6:6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned...
I want to circle around to where we started in this brief series we’ve done on the love unfeigned. Here in 2 Cor. 6, the greater context to our study on love was suffering. Remember, in these passages, we have three lists. In the first list, Paul went through the different types of sufferings and this list was punctuated by the preposition IN. Then we have the second list - HOW he got through those hard times, and this list is punctuated by the preposition BY. The third list is about the blessed results, which we’ll get to.
But we are still in this second list, how Paul got through suffering, and you might remember that we’ve been careful to make the point that Paul’s strategy for how to get through suffering was to focus upon excelling at specific aspects of his spiritual life. When Paul suffered, he focused his mind upon excelling at pureness, then knowledge, then longsuffering, and kindness. By focusing upon excelling at these qualities in your walk, you’re not as worried and upset about the suffering – why? Because you’re more concerned about service to God. By focusing upon excelling at, say, kindness, you’re lessening your worries and keeping yourself in the game of advancing the cause of Christ rather then fretting and worrying yourself to death about “how do I get through all this suffering?” Because the question for all of us should be, “how do I excel while I’m suffering?” Suffering is the time in which we all have to put into practice everything we’ve learned in His Word. I’m convinced that there is no greater testimony than the suffering servant glorifying God while we are going through some of the most difficult circumstances in our lives. That’s the kind of demonstration of God’s power that should make anyone look at that suffering servant and think, “I want what he or she has.” We looked at what we called PKLK, excelling at pureness, knowledge, longsuffering, and kindness when we suffer. Then we arrived at the expression by the Holy Ghost, and we did a thorough examination of the Holy Spirit from the OT to the NT, which we concluded with a list of 250 Things the Holy Spirit Does for Us.
Then we arrived at this next expression. “By love unfeigned.” I don’t think anyone can emphasize this point strongly enough. When Paul suffered, he was focused upon excelling at love. Has anyone ever told you that? “When you go through hard times, focus upon excelling at love.” When Paul suffered, he was focused upon excelling at love toward everyone he knew - believers and unbelievers alike. When you suffer, are you ever focused upon excelling at love? When you’re suffering, say, a physical infirmity, it’s easy to love those friends and family members that support you and help you. But when you’re suffering because you’re being persecuted, how focused are you upon loving your persecutor? That’s hard to do, and I suspect that’s why Paul made it a point to focus upon excelling at love, especially when he was being persecuted. Even today, the response to the fury of the haters, the fury of the mob and the cancel culture is not to lash out at them but to respond with love. The only way unbelieving persecutors are going to be persuaded to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whom you represent as His ambassador, they only way they’ll be persuaded to place their faith in Him - is if they actually experience His love through you. Because unbelievers behaving like unbelievers is not a shock to us. We know what’s going on with them. They’re all corrupt in their minds because their hearts have been darkened because they’re all cut off from His light because of sin. They’re all in bondage to sin, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the corrupt desires of the mind, behaving like the children of wrath, because they’re following the course of this world under the direction of the prince of this world. So what’s going to persuade them out of that state they’re in? By accepting the gospel from someone who has shown them that they love them – why? Because God loves them. Our love to them when they’re enemies to us has to be unconditional because God’s love to us was unconditional when we were enemies to Him.
We cannot forget what we covered about the love of God. God is love. He is the source of all love, because He is love itself. God isn’t loving. He is source and embodiment of agape love. God never chose to love you, as He doesn’t choose to love unbelievers. He loves you and everyone else because He is love itself. That’s who He is. That’s how He operates, how He has always operated because His nature is love itself. Love is the eternal active energy of His essence. As God Himself is without end, so His love is without end. As no man can measure the heights and depths of God, so no man can measure the heights and depths of His love. As God is eternal, so His love is eternal.
We also cannot overlook the magnitude of what Paul is telling us about excelling at love unfeigned when he suffered. Remember how we defined unfeigned. Webster says, “UNFEIGNED is not counterfeit; not hypocritical; real; sincere; as unfeigned piety to God; unfeigned love to man.” We pointed out that this is the same Greek translated as dissimulation. Rom_12:9 “Let love be without dissimulation.” Webster says, “DISSIMULATION, noun [Latin , to make like; like.] The act of dissembling; a hiding under a false appearance; a feigning; false pretension; hypocrisy.”
Just as charity and love help to give us a fuller meaning of agape, both unfeigned and dissimulation help to give us a fuller meaning of this particular Greek word. This isn’t just a love that isn’t counterfeit, isn’t just hiding under a false appearance, but this is a love that is as real and as pure and as natural as the love of God Himself. When Paul says he’s focused upon love unfeigned while he suffered, he wasn’t simply trying to not be fake. He was focused upon embodying the fullness of God’s love, the pureness of God’s love, the depths of God’s love, and he was also focused upon exhibiting every single aspect of love that we covered the last two weeks in the Great Love Chapter of 1 Cor. 13.
When Paul suffered he meditated upon love. He dived deep into every aspect of agape love, and he focused upon excelling at all those qualities of love in himself, especially when he was persecuted. He was engaged in suffering long in his agape love toward his enemies. Why was he willing to allow his love to suffer long toward others? Because love always has goals for the betterment of that person to whom all that love is directed. Love suffers long because love wants to see souls saved and saints edified. Love suffers long because love wants to see those people not only saved but also rejoicing in God’s overwhelming grace in everything He will make them and given them in His Son. Love suffers long because love wants to see joy in others. Paul was also concentrated upon the kindness and selflessness of love toward everyone. He didn’t envy that others were better off when he suffered. He wouldn’t allow himself to be puffed up. He didn’t behave unseemly toward anyone. He thought of others above himself. He didn’t think or wish evil toward anyone, including his awful persecutors. He freed himself from all that bitterness and anger and hostility he might normally feel. All those wrongs done to him? Well, Paul would leave that in the hands of the Lord, the judge of all the earth, and allow himself to focus upon experiencing the pureness of His love living through him. He would let the power of love to carry him through all suffering because he understood the power of love. He knew that love itself could bear all things, hope for all good things, and endure anything and everything in life. It may well be true that the time of your life in which you may experience the fullness of the power of love operating inside of you is when you’re suffering, because then you can know how the power of love in you can carry you through any suffering, and not only that, the power of love can enable you to be a light to the lost through the mighty testimony of being God’s suffering servant. When Paul highlights here that he was focused upon excelling at love unfeigned, he’s aspiring to nothing less than capturing in his heart the fulness of the depth of God’s love to others.
I want to highlight again what we shared a few weeks ago, what Keith Blades said about Supernatural Love. He writes, “However as the Christians that we are; or more particularly as the members of God’s ‘new creature,’ the church the body of Christ that we are in this present dispensation of God’s grace; our love should not be confined or limited to that which is merely natural. For God has both purposed and provided something better for us. Instead, our love should move out of the realm of the natural and into the realm of the supernatural. In other words, our love should move out of, and go beyond, that which belongs to purely ‘natural love’ and that is ‘common to man,’ to that which is Godly. And indeed God’s love is supernatural. In other words it goes beyond that which is natural to man, exceeding it in all areas and in every way. For it is not only devoid of being adversely affected and restricted in any way by the corrupting effects of sin, (as man’s natural love is), but by its very nature it also possesses features and characteristics that are greater than, or surpass, what God originally instilled in man. Hence God’s love is supernatural compared to man’s ‘natural love.’ Moreover, God designed that the greater and surpassing features and characteristics of His love be acquired by man as part of his godly education. This means that God designed that man should learn His supernatural love and… possess it. Or in other words God designed that man should be taught by Him to love to the same extent and degree that He Himself does.”
And my question to you is, how can any of us love to the same degree that God loves? Or the way that Christ loves? How is that possible?
It is actually possible for you and for me to love to that same degree. How? Because of how God made us in Christ. That moment we believed, we became dead, buried, and risen with Christ. We’re living His resurrection life, freed from the power and dominion of sin. We’re completely new creatures. His life has been poured into our souls, we’re alive unto God, with a new man alive in us and the new man loves like God loves. The new man was created in the very image of God Himself in all righteousness and true holiness. The ability to love to the same degree as God Himself became possible the moment we believed, but manifesting that love in our lives requires a renewed mind through the study of His Word, by which the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, His love is literally poured out onto our hearts, His love is abundantly produced from within us, His love fills us to overflowing in our hearts, and through the study of His Word we may together with all the saints be able to comprehend something that surpasses all human knowledge – what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ Himself. And having that knowledge fills us with all the fullness of God Himself. And in all of that, because of what God made us in Christ, and because of the power of His Word working in us, fortifying in our souls His own nature of love, we can and should love to the same degree as God.
Agape love isn’t just love. Agape love isn’t just great affection toward something. Agape love is also charity, which is not so much love in action as it is the attitude that produces the love in action, that pre-disposition in our hearts that inclines us to act in love toward everyone. The Supernatural Love God would have manifest in us, isn’t just great affection, isn’t just love in action, but it’s also having that disposition of heart that’s always inclined to act in love. Do you see the magnitude of what Paul is telling us here? When you suffer, when you are persecuted, you can’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking, “how do I get through this?” You must start thinking, how do I get through this excelling at love toward everyone around? When you suffer, that’s the time to excel.
Other Aspects of Love
I’m reminded of a verse in 1Ti_1:5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned…
I find that the thinking behind this verse is very similar to what we find in 2 Cor. 6. Here, in 1 Tim. 1:5, Paul reveals what I like to call God’s divine strategy on how to win friends and influence believers – charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned. These were instructions not for Timothy alone but for all of us. Paul’s words to Timothy are God’s words to us in which we discover these beautiful virtues of life for a people of God - charity flowing out of a pure heart, underscored by a good conscience, in a life defined by an immovable, unhidden, and sincerest of all faiths in the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was committed to the Apostle Paul. We cannot love without a pure heart, which cannot be pure unless we live by a good conscience, which is not possible for us unless we walk with a sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word. There is neither love without a good conscience, nor a good conscience without faith, nor faith without the Word of God. Pure faith in what Christ teaches us in His Word enables us to live with a pure conscience, which inspires us to love everyone we know with a genuinely pure heart. True Biblical charity that God would have us embody is made possible by the pureness of our hearts, the clearness of our conscience, and the sincerity of our faith in God and His Word. These are more than just principles to live by. These are reflections of the nature and character of God Himself. Likewise, in 2 Cor. 6, mastering the power of the fulness of God’s love in our lives while we suffer, also requires the mastery of all the elements that came before it - PKLK. Mastery of pureness in our walks and in our faith. Mastery in the knowledge of His Word. Mastery in the fine art of longsuffering, just as Christ suffers long. Mastery of the fine art of kindness. Mastery of walking in the Spirit. And then we can arrive at mastery of love unfeigned, of exhibiting agape love to the same degree that God loves.
Paul would tell us in Col. 3:13 that agape love is the bond of perfectness. Agape love, a heart predisposed to act out of love, keeps everything in its place and perfects every detail of our grace-filled lives. This is love that isn’t false in any way but love that extends itself to others naturally “because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” It’s a love that will manifest itself in harmony in every tone and every gesture in everything that we say and do in our lives. If there is Christ’s love in the heart, the words of affection to others will be sincere. Agape love or charity is the bond of perfectness; the bond, the ligament, the glue that holds the church and the entire program of grace together. And with “perfectness,” you get the sense of full maturity, the ultimate fulfillment of everything God intended for us in this grace program in which we live. When believers exercise love toward each other, they remain bound together in a complete whole. Whereas flesh tears apart, love binds together. Love not only bears and forbears but overcomes evil with good and binds together the Body of Christ. “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, and thinketh no evil.” “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these ischarity.” 1Ti_4:12 “…be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
I’m reminded also of 2Ti_1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I’d like to suggest this verse does not say what most people think. Paul’s not saying that God has given us power, love, and a sound mind, although God has done that. Look at the construction of the sentence. Paul says first that God has not given us the spirit of fear, and then he tells us what spirit God has given us. He’s given us the spirit of power, the spirit of love, and the spirit of a sound mind. How does that work? What does that mean? Spirit in the sense of characteristics of something. Paul’s saying that God hasn’t given us the characteristics of fear, but He’s given us the characteristics of power, the characteristics of love, and the characteristics of a sound mind. This verse goes deeper than the simple fact that God has given us power, love, and a sound mind. Paul is identifying the characteristics of the mature believer in grace. He’s saying the mature believer is one who exhibits the characteristics of God’s power in his daily walk because he not only has God’s power in him but he has also through his studies learned how to appropriate that power in his life. It’s true that God’s given us power, but I think this verse primarily means that the mature believer has learned how to walk in that power, which means he exhibits the characteristics of God’s power. All the time spent in His Word has made him powerful in his spiritual life. He walks in that power, and he exhibit those characteristics of God’s power in his life. The same principle is true for love. The mature believer is one who exhibits all the characteristics of God’s love in him because he not only has God’s love shed abroad in his heart, but he has also through his studies learned what love truly is in 1 Cor. 13, and he exhibits all those characteristics in his life. The mature believer has love. He knows how love truly behaves, and he exhibits all those characteristics of God’s love openly in his walk. The disposition of his heart is inclined to act in love toward everyone because he has yielded himself to the teaching of the Spirit in His Word. And the mature believer is one who exhibits a sound mind because he has through his studies fully embraced the mind of Christ such that he’s made Christ’s thinking his own thinking, which has given him a sound mind.
And you consider also the motivation of God’s love to serve Him and Him alone as found in places like 2Co 5:14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead… In this chapter 5, like so many other chapters in 2 Cor, Paul yet again spends an enormous amount of time defending his apostleship, and in vs. 14, Paul shares his motivation. “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” Constraineth with the -eth at the end means it’s a continual state of being. They were continually constrained and motivated by the love of Christ, which meant that they were not about to wander all over the place serving different masters. Christ’s love constrained them to the singular purpose of serving Christ and Christ alone. It’s such a profound thought when you consider all the endless suffering Paul was going through when he wrote those words about his motivation: “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” The suffering was nothing, but His love was everything to them. His love didn’t just help Paul get through the tough times. His love energized his heart, guided his path to serve Christ alone, and His love inspired him to press onward to reach more people and endure even more trials for the sake of winning souls to Christ. God’s grace is what made him able to serve and His love is not only what motivates our hearts to stay true to Him but also energizes us to keep pressing onward in our ministries whatever the cost may be.
So you consider what we covered in these now 4 message on love in the context of suffering. Agape love isn’t just love. Agape love isn’t just great affection toward something. Agape love is also charity, which is not so much love in action as it is the attitude that produces the love in action, that pre-disposition in our hearts that inclines us to act in love toward everyone. When Paul said he was focused upon love unfeigned, this isn’t just a love that isn’t counterfeit, that isn’t fake, that isn’t just hiding under a false appearance, but this is a love that is as real and as pure and as natural as the love of God Himself.