What does the band Journey have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Only this: the greatest love songs find their ultimate fulfillment in the gospel, which is, among many other things, the greatest love story ever told.
Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:31-32
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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, January 22, and this is Devotional Podcast #6. I post new episodes in this series every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I also post my Sunday sermons here.
You’re listening to “Open Arms” by the band Journey. This is one of the greatest love songs ever written. This comes from their 1982 album, Escape. It was written by Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain.
One recurring theme of my recent preaching—well, because it’s also a recent theme of my life—is that most of us Christians have an urgent need to fall in love with Jesus all over again. In our Methodist tradition, we are supposed to follow something called Wesley’s “General Rules,” which are: One, do no harm. Two, do good. Three, attend to the ordinances of God. When Wesley originally wrote the rules, he gave specific examples of each rule—which would have been helpful to Methodists living in the 18th century. Without specific examples of “harm” that we are to avoid doing today, I find the rules to be anodyne. I mean, of course we’re supposed to “do good” and “do no harm”! Who could possibly disagree?
But it begs the question: what does “doing harm” and “doing good” look like today? Doesn’t everyone always feel justified in whatever they’re doing or not doing? Are they right or wrong to feel that way, and how do they know? In Wesley’s day, he gave the rules some teeth: “No, my fellow Englishmen and women, you may not own slaves or be employed in industries that benefit from or facilitate the slave trade in any way and still call yourselves Methodist.” That sort of thing… Of course, there were plenty of Christians who would disagree with him back then, unfortunately.
If the rules were updated for our day, what would they say? Can Christians buy lottery tickets and still “do no harm”? Is it harmful for a Christian to watch Game of Thrones? What about owning gas-guzzling SUVs instead of more environmentally friendly vehicles? Can Christians vote for candidates who support legal abortion and still “do no harm”? I have no interest in answering these questions in this podcast, but if Wesley were alive today, he probably would!
But I want to focus on rule number three, “attend to the ordinances of God.” This rule seems pretty straightforward and unchanging from Wesley’s day to ours: These “ordinances” would include the prayer, Bible study, the Lord’s Supper, worship, baptism, tithing, fasting, Christian service, among others. By all means, we Christians should do these things today!
A prominent United Methodist devotional writer, the late Bishop Reuben Job, wrote a book about Wesley’s General Rules several years ago called Three Simple Rules. And he changed this last rule from “Attend to the ordinances of God” to “Stay in love with God.” I guess he thought “attend to the ordinances of God” sounded too stuffy and formal. From Job’s perspective, the way to “stay in love with God” was to attend to these ordinances.
Anyway, in the past I have complained loudly about the way that Job changed the name of this rule. I mean, for heaven’s sake, can we modern-day Methodists receive something from our past, from our heritage, that we don’t try to mess with—that we can just accept without qualification? Also, it seemed touchy-feely—overly sentimental. Stay in love with God… Yuck!
But now that I’m a little older, guess what? I love it! That’s the most useful part of the book that he wrote—those five words: “Stay in love with God.”
Reuben Job was onto something. We desperately need to stay in love with God!
Because make no mistake: the gospel of Jesus Christ is a love story. Not like in the Old Testament, for example, where the book of Hosea depicts God as a spurned lover, a husband whose wife has cheated on him over and over. No, the gospel is a romantic “falling in love”-type love story. Just look at Paul’s words in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 31 and 32. Paul is talking here about the relationship between husbands and wives. Then Paul tells husbands that they need to love their wives the way Christ loves the church and briefly describes what that looks like. And then, in verse 31, he quotes Genesis 2:24, written in the context of the first marriage in history, between Adam and Eve:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”
So… we’re talking about husbands and wives still, right—men and women… Right? Not so fast. Because then Paul says,
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
In other words, the relationship between husband and wife is an analogy for the relationship between Christ and all of us who have accepted him as Savior and Lord. Or vice versa. That’s an amazing way to characterize Christ’s love for us!
But think about it… Let’s look again at the quote from Genesis chapter 2. Out of love, a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife and the two become one. Similarly, out of love, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, leaves his Father in heaven in order to be joined to humanity, so that the two—Christ and his church—become one.
We all remember, or have experienced, or currently experiencing what it’s like to be in love. Remember the butterflies in our stomach? Remember how eager we were to be with the one we loved? Remember how we’d do anything for them?
Is it possible that Jesus Christ loves you and me like that? With that kind of intimacy… that kind of intensity… that kind of emotion? Think of every good love song you’ve ever heard—like the one I’m playing, for instance. That song finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s love for us Christians! You think, “How can that be true?” but the Bible says it is!
Before he was hanged by the British for being a spy during the American Revolutionary War, patriot Nathan Hale famously said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Guess what? That feeling is even more intense when you’re in love! You would gladly lay down your life for the woman or man you’re in love with—without a second thought!
That’s how Christ loves us. Which explains his willingness to go to the cross for us! He was happy to do it—because he loved us the way Paul describes in Ephesians 5.