Frederick Lehman was a California business man who went bankrupt and lost everything he had in the early 1900’s. He was forced to do manual labor, working in a Pasadena packing plant loading oranges and lemons into wooden crates. Not the best environment to write a love song. But it was there that he composed one of the greatest love songs ever written.
Lehman was a Christian who never recovered from God’s immense love and amazing grace. And one Sunday night he was so deeply moved by a sermon on the love of God that he could hardly sleep. The next morning as he was driving to work, the lyrics of the song started forming in his head.
Throughout the day he packed oranges and lemons and couldn’t wait to get home to write the words down on paper. He finished two stanzas easily, but needed a third to complete the song. He tried and tried to come up with a third verse, but the words just wouldn’t come.
Then he remembered a poem someone had given him on a card that he used for a bookmark. The words of the poem had originally been found scribbled on the wall of a prison cell some 200 years earlier.
Lehman went to the piano and began to voice the words of the poem with the melody he had just written. And they were a perfect fit. He couldn’t believe it. It was a miracle, he said. The song was published and has been sung throughout the world ever since.
It’s simply called The Love of God. And the verse that was found written on a prison cell goes like this.
“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry, nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky. Oh love of God, how rich and pure. How measureless and strong. It shall forever more endure the saints and angels’ song.”
Frederick Lehman was overwhelmed by the love of God even after he went bankrupt and lost it all. Have you ever been overwhelmed by the love of God? Are you overwhelmed by it right now? If you are, you know how completely it changes our perspective on life and the trials we face.
This morning we continue our series called Becoming Who We Are with a teaching called “The Measureless Love of God.” If you have a Bible turn with me to Ephesians 3:14-21. Throughout these first three chapters Paul’s been overwhelmed again and again by God’s grace, power, and love. In chapter three he’s ready to drop to his knees and pray when he hears the rattle of his own chain and remembers that he’s a prisoner. He’s under arrest for making the mystery of Christ known. And what’s the mystery of Christ? Matt shared it last week.
The mystery is that two groups of people that hated each other for millennia are now one family in Christ. Jew and Gentile are members together of one body called the church and together share equally in the promises of Messiah Jesus.
There’s no more room for hatred, for prejudice, for racial supremacy which once defined Paul’s life. There’s only room for humility and a deep sense of gratitude for the grace of God. And he models that in verse 8 by saying, “I am the less than the least of all the Lord’s people.” That’s the attitude of a person who’s been overwhelmed by the grace of God, which brings us to Ephesians 3:14.
Notice the repetition with 3:1, For this reason. And then again in verse 14, For this reason, I kneel before the Father. This is Paul’s second attempt to drop to his knees and pray. And his prayer is a bridge between what it means to be “in Christ,” the focus of chapters 1-3, and what it means to live “for Christ,” the focus of chapters 4-6. And what he prays for is absolutely essential to for us to become who we really are.
He starts with a reminder that Jew and Gentile are all part of God’s family. For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom every family (literally from whom his whole family) in heaven and on earth derives its name.
In other words, as believers in Jesus we belong to a family that transcends time, space, and race. We’re part of a family bigger than this world can even contain. We’re connected to brothers and sisters living upstairs in heaven and downstairs on earth, across the country and around the world. Paul’s prayer begins with a reminder of our oneness as a family. “And as a member of that family,” he says, “this is what I pray.”
Look at verse 16, I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power,
Paul prays for power. He wants God’s family, you and me, to have power, power through the Holy Spirit to live for Christ in this broken, hostile world. We can’t do it without God’s power. Do you need power today? Do you feel weak? Tired? Stressed out? Beat up? Drained? Alone? Paul’s praying that we would have power.
What kind of power? Power to do what? Power to heal the sick? Power to raise the dead? Power to cast out demons and work all kinds of miracles? Is that what he’s praying for here? Paul knew all about that kind of power.
In fact, while he was in Ephesus we read in Acts 19:11-12, God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.
God’s power flowed through Paul in miraculous ways. But that’s not the power he’s praying for here. Paul’s praying for the power to grasp something, to grasp something that is absolutely essential to hold on to if we’re going to live for Christ in a broken, hostile world.
Look at verse 18, I pray that you may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul is praying that we would have the power to grasp the measureless love of Christ for us. He struggles to even put it into words. It’s so wide and long and high and deep that the universe can’t even contain God’s love! Do you believe that?
Do you realize that there’s that kind of love in the universe with your name on it? Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? We’re all looking to be loved aren’t we? And Paul is saying we are loved by Christ more than we can ever imagine. We just need to grasp it and hang on to it to become who we really are.
You see it’s possible to be in the family of God and not really grasp the love that Jesus has for you. And if we don’t grasp it we’ll never be able to be filled to the measure of the fullness of God. That’s the power Paul is praying for. That’s the power we need to grasp and cling to sometimes with white knuckled faith especially when life gets tough.
So how do we grasp the measureless love of Christ? How do we feel his love? How do we let Christ’s love drive our behavior towards God and towards others? In the time that remains let me suggest two ways that can help us better grasp the love that Christ has for each one of us. There are many more I know, but let me give you two that have really helped me.
First, don’t confuse God with life. I see this tendency in myself and I run into to it all the time talking with others. We get angry at God when things don’t go our way. We wonder where God is when tragedy strikes. We accuse God of not being loving because this accident happened or this illness occurred. So we think to ourselves or say out loud, “God if you really loved me why did you allow this to happen? You must not love me.”
I get that. I understand that. I ask that question myself and I ask it for others that I know. Life is tough and filled with trouble. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Life is unfair. You know it and I know it. Jesus knew it too. It was certainly unfair for the perfect Son of God to be nailed to a cross and executed like a convicted criminal.
Life was unfair to the Apostle Paul who wrote these words about the measureless love of Christ. If anyone had an axe to grind with Jesus over the way he’d been mistreated it was the Apostle Paul. Life was anything but fair to him.
We catch a glimpse of that in 2 Corinthians 11 where Paul lists some of the struggles he endured serving Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:23-31, Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false believers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches … 31The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.
Really?! Praise God forever after all that happened to you, Paul?! Its mind boggling to see what Paul endured serving Christ. Let alone the illness that he writes about in 2 Corinthians 12 that God wouldn’t heal even though he pleaded with him again and again and again. Paul could heal others with handkerchiefs and aprons, but not himself. Yet none of that loosened his grip on the width and length and height and depth of God’s love for him.
Oh I’m sure he struggled to get to that place. And we’ll struggle too. We’ll get angry. We’ll get confused along the way. We’ll doubt God’s love and get discouraged like so many of the Psalms start out. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” That’s normal. That’s necessary. That’s all part of the journey. I’d be shocked if we didn’t feel those emotions. But we can’t land there. We need to land safely on the solid rock of Christ’s measureless love. That needs to be the filter through which we see life.
A number of years ago I read a book by Philip Yancey that really helped me with this. The book was called Disappointment with God and in it Yancey tells the story about a man whose wife was battling breast cancer when he was hit by a drunk driver and partially paralyzed. As you can imagine it raised all kinds of doubts about God’s love and threw this couple into a faith crisis.
But at the end of the day in an interview with Yancey the man said, “I’m not disappointed with God. I learned, first through my wife’s illness and then through the car accident, not to confuse God with life. We tend to think, ‘Life should be fair because God is fair.’ But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting constant good health for example – then I set myself up for crashing disappointment. On the other hand, if we develop a relationship with God apart from our life circumstances, then we may be able to hang on when the physical reality breaks down. We can learn to trust God despite all the unfairness of life.”
Church, life is unfair. Count on it. But don’t let the unfairness of life loosen your grasp on how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for you. Don’t confuse God with life.
And second, remind yourself often of God’s love. Read the Scriptures. I don’t know anybody who has a grasp on the love of Christ, who doesn’t also have a grasp on the Word of God. And by that, I don’t mean a Bible scholar or a theologian. I mean someone who values the Scriptures and realizes that the Bible is God’s love letter to us. And one way we grow in our grasp of the love of Christ is by reading about that love over and over and over again in the Scriptures.
If you’re in a love relationship with a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, a husband or a wife, a parent or a child, you need to hear again and again that you’re loved. Once just isn’t enough.
It’s so easy for us to lose confidence in the love of Christ because we live in a world that’s filled with trouble and a world where love is so conditional, where love is so often performance based, “I’ll love you if. I’ll love you when. I’ll love you because of.” Not, “I love you inspite of.” That’s unconditional love. That’s Christ’s love for us. And nothing we do or don’t do can separate us from his measureless love. Nothing can keep his love from coming at us. Not even our own failure to perform.
And we have failed to perform. We all fall short of the glory of God. Paul pointed that out in Ephesians 2 when he said that we were dead in our transgressions and sins. We followed the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit of disobedience. We were all in that same boat headed over Niagara Falls until Jesus came to the rescue. Someone has well said, “We are worse off than we could ever imagine. But we are loved more than we could ever dream!” How true.
Don’t confuse God with life. Remind yourself often of God’s love for you through the Scriptures.
Paul closes his prayer with a benediction that Jennifer and I have carved into our wedding bands. Not the whole passage, just the verse numbers. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Frank Lehman found that third verse he was looking for written on the wall of a prison cell. But he penned the first two verses himself along with the melody. And we’re going to close our worship gathering by singing The Love of God.
So let’s stand together. And if you want to know more about that measureless love that has your name on it you’re welcome to come to front after we close so we can talk with you and pray with you. Members of our Prayer Team would love to do that.