Who shapes your understanding of love? Is loved defined for you by romantic comedies, popular music or soppy books? John Stott says that if you want a definition of love you should not look for it in a dictionary, instead you should look to the cross. Jesus is the one who shows us what our love should look like!
You won't understand Jesus' love if you don't understand the concept of grace. You see, God does not love us because we are lovely but because he is love. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God gave his Son for us while we were morally repugnant. Grace has a love that we do not deserve.
This sermon is about living as a people who are loved and who are loving. It is about being grace-filled. Jesus prayed that his followers would be known by their love and that through such love the world would know we belong to God.
1. Love is the result of being loved
Paul writes 'to all in Rome who are loved by God ...' (7).
There is a world of difference between children who grow up in homes where they know they are loved and those who have reason to doubt their parents' love. To be a Christian is to be the object of the purest and most passionate love any human being can experience. We have a Heavenly Father who loved us while us were his enemies, who adopted us as his children, and who promises that nothing can separate us from his affection. One of the great prayers we are to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters is they may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:17-19). One of the reasons some of you are unhappy is because you struggle to believe that God delights over you (Zephaniah 3:17).
2. Love causes us to enjoy God's people
When we realise the gracious love of God we become more patient with our Christian brothers and sisters. The church at Rome was far from perfect. There was a big problem there between Christians from a Jewish background and Christians from a Gentile background. Yet Paul does not start his letter by criticising them, but by telling them how thankful to God he is for them. 'I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world' (8).
It is not hard to imagine what people thought of Rome. Like all large cities Rome was home to all sorts of vice. It was filled with idolatry and was the centre of emperor worship. Yet in that wicked place God had extended his kingdom by bringing people into relationship with himself. Their faith might not have been exceptional, but the fact that Jesus was building his church in Rome encouraged every Christian throughout the Roman world.
3. Love prays
Now Paul was possibly the busiest Christian leader at that time. He travelled as a missionary, he wrote as a teacher, he encouraged as a father in the faith, he gave of himself as a pastor, and all the time he supported himself through tent-making. Yet he also found time to intercede in prayer for the churches. 'God ... is my witness how constantly I remember you and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you' (9-10).
What a lesson in the sovereign purposes of God! God works all thing together for the good of those who love him. But he does not always work in ways that are comfortable and expected. Paul had hoped to visit Rome on his way to Spain. However, God had different plans. When he visited Rome it was in the chains of a prisoner and he had to minister to them from the room where he was kept under house arrest.
4. Love lets others encourage us
Paul was a giant figure in the early church. In contrast, the Christians in Rome demonstrated their immaturity through their divisions. Yet Paul wants to both encourage them and be encouraged by them. 'I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith' (11-12).
Sometimes it is easier to minister to people than to let them minister to us. That is because proud people would rather give than receive, and proud people do not want to be in debt to anyone. But love is not proud (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is willing to let others encourage us. Love recognises that God has given every Christian gifts to minister with. Love lets others encourage us.
5. Love shares the gospel
Paul's love motivates him to share the gospel. But notice that he sees this gospel-sharing in terms of discharging a debt! In what sense is Paul in debt to the world? How could an undeserving world say that Paul owes them the gospel? Yet Paul writes, 'I am a debtor both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish' (14).
It works like this. Imagine a king gives his servant a thousand pounds to be distributed amongst the residents of a village. That servant is now in debt to the villagers until he has shared out that money. The villagers may have done nothing to deserve the gift from the king but the servant still owes them the money. The villagers may even hate the king but the servant has still to give them his gift. We have a treasure that is to be shared with the world. Indeed there are people who won't hear this good news unless we share it with them. May God give us the courage, wisdom and opportunity to discharge this debt.
6. Love is rooted in grace
Notice that Paul also wants to preach the gospel to the converted! 'That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome' (15). The good news of the gospel is more than simply telling us how we can be made right with God, it also shows us how to live as God's people. That is because the gospel is all about grace (God's undeserved favour) and grace is applicable to every area of our lives. Someone has said, 'you never grow beyond the gospel, you simply grow deeper into the gospel.'
Think of how grace is to change our attitudes! If God has loved me with a love that I do not deserve, then surely I must not demand that people prove worthy of my love. If I have been forgiven, then surely I am obliged to forgive others. If Jesus was willing to go to a cross, then surely following him involves taking up my cross and follow him whole-heartedly.
Robert Chapman was a remarkable man who served God in the small English town of Barnstable during the nineteenth century. Despite deliberately trying to avoid publicity he became known for his great compassion, wisdom, and love. He was referred to as the apostle of love. One time a letter from overseas addressed simply to 'R. C. Chapman, University of Love, England' was correctly delivered to him. He wrote, 'God is love. His children please Him only so far as they are like Him, and walk in love.' Let us walk in love as because we have experienced love and grace. Let us walk in love as we enjoy God's people. Let us walk in love as we pray for them and let them encourage us. Let us walk in love as proclaim God's love to a lost world.