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         Become Rooted in Love

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Unsearchable Riches of Christ.” The sermon was preached at Westminster Chapel, London, in 1956 and first published in 1979 and reprinted in 2004.

 

`That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,'

Ephesians 3:17

 

We now come to consider the last phrase in this seventeenth verse, namely, `that ye, being rooted and grounded in love'. It might also be translated, `that ye, having been rooted and grounded in love'. This is necessary, the Apostle tells us, to enable us to have some comprehension of the love of Christ. It is still a part of the great prayer the Apostle is offering for the Ephesian Christians. As we go forward it is important that we should remember that the Apostle's concern for these people is that they may know the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They are not, primarily, to seek the blessings that He can give, nor even to seek holiness, but to seek the Lord Himself. All holiness, sanctification, every kind of blessing and every condition in the Christian life, is to be the result of our knowledge of Him as a Person and our communion with Himself.

Such is the essential meaning of `Christ dwelling in the heart by faith'. My primary ambition should be, not to be a good man, not even to be a holy man. There are `holy men' in other religions, in Buddhism, and Judaism, for example. The specific truth about the Christian is that our holiness is the result of our knowledge of Him, and of our relationship to Him. In a sense, therefore, we must not even speak about `the deepening of the spiritual life'; we should speak of the deepening of our knowledge of Him and our love of Him. When that happens our spiritual life of necessity will be deepened. So what the Apostle is saying here is that if Christ dwells in our hearts the result will be that we shall be `rooted and grounded in love'. Take note of the order in which these matters are mentioned. To vary it is extremely dangerous.

The first result of Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith is that we become `rooted' and `grounded' in love. Paul does not say that we must be rooted and grounded in God's love. That will come later. Here the emphasis is that we ourselves should be rooted and grounded in love. In other words, love should be the predominating and prevailing element in our lives and conduct and experience. Obviously we have no love in us apart from His love. `We love Him because He first loved us'; and there is of necessity an element of love in the Christian life from the very beginning. One simply cannot believe that the Son of God came on earth and gave Himself to the death of the Cross for us, and for our sins, without there being an element of grateful love toward Him immediately. The Apostle has already dealt with this aspect of truth in the first and second chapters. Here, in the third chapter, he is concerned about a deeper love, a more permanent love, and he is very specifically speaking about our love to Him, rather than about His love to us. So the subject here is our love to God, our love to the Lord Jesus Christ, our love towards our brethren in the faith, our love of Christian work and activity, indeed our love for everything that pertains to the `truth as it is in Jesus'.

In order to emphasize that the chief characteristic of the Christian life is to be love, the Apostle uses two pictures, `rooted' and `grounded'. The first picture immediately makes one think of a tree; the second makes us think of a building. The Apostle deliberately uses the two comparisons, and I suggest that he does so because of certain similarities in the two pictures and also because of certain dissimilarities. Clearly the leading and the central idea in both pictures is that of permanence. But there is also a subtle distinction between the two. What is common to the two pictures is what a great tree has in common with a great building, namely, the idea of depth and of firmness, of permanence and durability. `Rooted' means `deeply rooted'. We must not think of a sapling that would be blown down if a slight gale should happen to rise, but rather of a majestic oak tree whose roots go down into the depths of the earth, spreading in many directions and taking a firm hold of earth and rocks. We must think of a great tree of considerable age and girth, that looks as if it is going to stand for ever. In the other picture we are looking at a great and high building, erected upon a firm and strong foundation. As you stand and look at it you are impressed by this idea of solidity. Two elements---depth and strength---are common to both, and therefore permanence and durability.

At the same time there are clearly certain differences to be noted, otherwise the Apostle would never have used the two pictures. If he merely wanted to emphasize solidity and permanence then a building alone would have been sufficient; but the Apostle pictures a tree as well. When you look at a tree you are not only aware of strength and durability, but also of life and vitality, of energy and growth. And not only so, but there is something about a tree which impresses us in a way that a building cannot do. It conveys the idea of life and vitality and energy. It conveys blessings as the result of its active nature. Such elements are lacking in a building. A building suggests a strength which can withstand the stresses and the strains and all other influences that bear upon it; but there is no life there, no vitality, no possibility of growth. It is fixed, set, durable, permanent. We must therefore examine the two pictures more closely in order that we may grasp the Apostle's teaching.

This is not the only place in which the Apostle puts these two ideas together. Indeed he frequently seems to think in terms of these two pictures whenever he is thinking about the Church. So let us turn to 1 Corinthians 3:9, where we find the Apostle reminding the members of the Church at Corinth, `You are God's husbandry, you are God's building'. They are God's `husbandry', God's `farm'; but also God's building as well. The Apostle also says that he thinks of himself both as a farmer and as a master-builder. The one idea without the other did not seem to be adequate for his purpose in conveying to them certain great truths about the Church and the Christian life. In precisely the same manner he uses the two ideas in order to tell us about the centrality of love in the life of a Christian. One picture alone is not enough.

The first picture is that of being `rooted' in love. Think again of a great oak tree and its roots. Observe their girth, their strength and how they spread and divide and sub-divide in every direction. Do not think of the little delicate threads you see in other plants or in some sapling; but rather of roots that are virtually trees in and of themselves, and which span and embrace a great mass of earth. If that tree is to be blown over it has to raise that tremendous mass of earth with it. But it cannot be shaken because it has gone down so deeply. And such, according to the Apostle, is to be the condition of the Christian. It is his description of love in the life of the mature Christian. Let us remind ourselves once more that the Apostle is praying for people who were already Christians, who had already believed, who had already been sealed by the Spirit. But they must advance beyond their beginnings, and experience the Christian life in its maturity. And that life should call forth admiration. It should be striking and arresting like a tree, a great tree which as you are walking through a forest suddenly makes you stop and stand and say, How marvellous! How majestic! How wonderful! The Apostle prays that these Ephesian Christians may become such.

The picture therefore conveys the idea that love is the soil in which our Christian life is set and in which it grows. The nutriment and nourishment, and all that helps to build us up and make us strong Christians comes from the soil of love. We are to be rooted in it. The tree receives very much of its nutriment in that way. It gets various chemicals from the soil, and also its moisture and various other things. Its needs are met through this network of roots; nourishment is drawn up into the trunk, and out into the branches and the leaves. In this way the life of the tree is maintained. So the ground and the soil of our Christian life is to be love, says the Apostle. Love is that which alone builds up the Christian life and really makes it like the life of Christ Himself. As Christians we are meant to be like Him; we are to be `conformed to the image of God's Son' (Rom 8:29). We must ever keep this truth before us. We must cease to think negatively of ourselves as being just a little better than we once were or better than someone else. We are to look at Him, we are to be made like Him. In our regeneration we are made anew on that pattern, and we are to become more and more like Him. The only way to become like Him is to be `rooted' in love. In this way alone shall we become strong and manifest that symmetry and proportion which is ever the most striking characteristic of a majestic tree. It is only as we are rooted in love that we shall manifest these glories and be a joy and a pleasure and of value to others.

The real strength of the Christian's life is love. We are living in days when love is often regarded as something weak and flabby and sentimental. But love is strong. `Love is strong as death' (Song of Songs 8:6), indeed it is stronger than death. There is nothing stronger than true love. Here we find the essential difference between true love and mere sentimentality or sentimentalism, which is always weak and maudlin and flabby, and is incapable of action. Love is the grandest and the most powerful influence in the world.

 

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We can emphasize this truth by means of certain contrasts. According to New Testament teaching it is love and not knowledge that makes us strong Christians. This is clearly taught in the eighth chapter of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, where we read the memorable phrase, `Knowledge puffeth up: but charity (love) edifieth' or builds up (v.1). This is a most important distinction. Let us remember that it is the great Apostle Paul who says this, a man who was pre-eminently a teacher, the greatest teacher the Church has ever known, the man who was greatly concerned that Christians should have knowledge, and that they should grow in knowledge. It is he of all men who says, `Knowledge puffeth up, but charity (love) builds up'.

We can state and emphasize this distinction in the following way. There is a sense in which it is true to say that the whole of the First Epistle to the Corinthians is a disquisition on the difference between knowledge and love. The Apostle had written the letter because of divisions, because of sects, because there were many grievous troubles in the Church. He takes these problems up one by one. But a careful reading of the treatment given to the separate individual problems leads to the conclusion that all the troubles had a common origin---the Corinthians were putting knowledge in the place of love. They were making knowledge the supreme thing in the life of the Christian. It was a very gifted church, the Holy Spirit had dispensed many spiritual gifts to them; but they had gone astray because they had forgotten love. If anything is placed in the primary position, or built into the foundation, save love, we are certain to go astray. If we put intellectual knowledge and apprehension first it will probably puff us up and ruin everything. If we put spiritual gifts first it will again puff us up and cause division and schism and ruin everything. Love is the foundation, love is the soil, not knowledge. Knowledge is, of course, absolutely essential; without knowledge there never can be any growth. But knowledge in the truly Christian sense is never merely intellectual. This is so, and that because it is the knowledge of a Person. The purpose of all doctrine, the value of all instruction, is to bring us to the Person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

I emphasize this again because it has been a pitfall to many throughout the centuries in the Church. The pitfall for some professed Christians is not to trouble themselves about knowledge at all; such people are already in a false position. Others can see clearly that we are meant to have knowledge, that the Scripture urges this, so they begin to seek knowledge. The devil then enters in and turns this into something purely intellectual. The result is that they have heads packed full of knowledge and of doctrine, but their hearts are as cold and hard as stones. They are dry, and as unlike a majestic tree as it is possible for man to be. True Christian knowledge is the knowledge of a Person. And because it is knowledge of a Person it leads to love, because He Himself is love. `God is love'. Christ is love incarnate. So to know God and to know Christ, of necessity leads to love. If the knowledge we claim to have has not led to greater love in our lives we had better examine ourselves very seriously. Knowledge without love becomes what the Scriptures call `heady' and `high-minded'. It turns us into authorities; it introduces a censoriousness and hardness which is positively harmful.

We find a repetition of the same teaching in the thirteenth chapter of that same First Epistle to the Corinthians. In verse 2 we read, `Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing'. However great our knowledge may be, if we have not got this love we are useless. Again in verse 8 of that chapter, `Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away'. Verse 9 says, `We know in part and we prophesy in part'. All our knowledge is but partial; at the very best and highest in our life in this world, we see only `as in a glass darkly'.

Let us realize then that the business of knowledge is to lead us to love. This is always the ultimate test of our Christian life. Our Lord expresses it thus in the Sermon on the Mount: `Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect' (Matt 5:48). The perfection of which He is speaking is love. He says that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust, and causes His sun to shine upon the righteous and the unrighteous alike. God manifests His love in that way and thereby shows us the way in which we too have to love. The Gentiles, says the Lord, love those who love them, but the question is, Can you do good to them that hate you? That is how God loves; and we are to love as God loves. `Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect'. That is the soil, the only nutriment which can build us up and make us strong, and make us look like representatives and reproductions of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

A further truth is that it is love alone which can give us real power to live the Christian life and to work and labour in this Christian life. This is frequently emphasized in the Scripture. Ezra in exhorting the people to the work of rebuilding, after the destruction and devastation in Jerusalem, made this striking statement, `The joy of the Lord is your strength' (Neh 8:10). There is nothing in the world that so energizes us as love. I stress again the difference between love and sentimentality. The sentimental person sits back in his chair and enjoys some fleeting stimulus. He feels very happy for the moment, and then waits for the next stimulus or experience, but he does nothing. Love energizes and sends a man out upon a task, it urges him and drives him out and on.

The Apostle Paul states this same truth in his Epistle to the Galatians, where we find him saying, `In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love' (5:6). He scarcely ever mentions faith without putting love with it. Indeed faith and hope and love go together as a glorious triad. So, in this third chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, after writing about Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, he proceeds immediately to mention love. He does so because faith works by love, faith is energized by love, and the life of faith is a life that is active because of love. And this refers, we remember, to our love of God, of the brethren, and of the work itself.

Let me illustrate what I mean. A man may preach because it is his work, his task, or because he is announced to do so. And he can be energized, as far as he is energized at all, by that alone. But it is hard work, it is a task. But how different when he is energized by love---the love of God and of Christ and the love of souls! `Faith which worketh by love'.

Let us next look at this theme in a very beautiful and almost idyllic Old Testament representation of it. The point I am making is that it is love that alone really gives power and strength in the Christian life. Knowledge may give a head knowledge, and a purely intellectual apprehension and interest. But what we need is the dynamic that love provides. We see this at work in the Old Testament in the story of Jacob. Having escaped from home and the wrath of his brother Esau he went into his mother's homeland and came into contact with Laban and his family. There he fell in love with Rachael, one of Laban's daughters, and asked that she might become his wife. But he was tricked by Laban and forced to take Rachel's elder sister Leah, and then was given Rachel on condition that he agreed to work seven years for her. Then comes the interesting statement in Genesis: `And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her' (29:20). Seven years seems a long time when you are looking forward to something. A student who has to face a seven years' course of study feels that it is almost endless. Or if you are waiting to receive money that is to come to you in seven years, it seems to be a great length of time. But to Jacob this working and waiting for Rachel for seven years seems to him but a few days. The explanation is his love for Rachel. Love changes everything. It seems to have the power to cancel time. It makes seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years to appear as something quite artificial and unreal. Love has its own chronology; and this is so because it produces this energy, this power, this capacity, this capability of seeing everything in a new way. It does not count cost, it does not count time, it is a world of its own, and makes everything to appear new.

Again, love is the only true motive for work and activity in the Christian life. Why do we call ourselves Christian? Why do we partake of bread and wine at the Lord's Supper? Why do we believe that Christ died for our sins on the Cross? The reason for it all is that we know that `God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son'. Love is God's own motive. Why should the eternal, absolute, holy God trouble at all about this world that rebelled against Him and reduced His paradise to a state of chaos? Why did He not destroy it all, and consign it there and then to perdition? It was because of His eternal, self-generating love! This is the motivation in the heart of God. And as you read the story of the Lord Jesus Christ nothing stands out more prominently in all the Gospels than this very same fact. He looked at the crowd, we are told, and He saw them as `sheep without a shepherd'. How frequently is the word `compassion' used in connection with Him! `He had compassion on the multitude'. His deeds of kindness, His miracles, His relieving of the sick and the suffering, was all because of His great heart of love. That gave Him the energy, and provided the motive also; it was the power that led Him on. And in the Christian life we are to be like Him; we are to follow in His steps, we are to be reproductions of Him. Men and women in the world as they look at us should see Him. This, therefore, must be the compelling motive in our Christian life in every respect, in every aspect of it.

As we have said earlier, love should be the motive even for holy living. The real motive for living the holy life should be that it pleases God, and that sin is displeasing to Him. I must not set up my own little standard of holiness and rectitude and my little moral code, and pride myself that I am a man who always keeps his word and lives up to his own code and standard. That is ultimately unChristian. The world acts frequently from such a motive. The only true motive for holy living is that it grieves God and offends Him when I am not holy. My desire must be to please Him; not simply to obey the divine law, but to give joy to God and to the Lord Jesus Christ. That should be the motive in all our actions and activities. We all have to confess that it is not always so. Men who have been very busy in the life of the Church have often been activated by very different motives from this. The motive has far too often been the exaltation of their own name, their own reputation, their own importance, their own success. But that is quite unworthy of our `high calling'. Our motive must be love.

See this motive as it is exemplified in the Apostle Paul himself. Scripture portrays him as an indefatigable evangelist and preacher who travelled day and night teaching and preaching, who crossed oceans and was subjected to endless cruelties and indignities at the hands of men. Ask him why he behaved thus. In his Second Epistle to the Corinthians he gives his answer: `The love of Christ constraineth us' (5:14). The love of Christ is in Him. He has seen the situation of mankind in sin as Christ saw it. He knows what Christ has done for him, and this has created a like love in his heart. He is `rooted in the love of Christ,' it is the base of His entire experience. This is what drives him on, this is the motive, and nothing else. This is to be the way in which we too are to represent Him, to bring glory to His Name and to be well-pleasing in His sight.

There is yet one further element in this idea of being rooted in love. It is negative, yet very important, and has been implied in what we have said. There is no ultimate value in all our work, and all our activity, unless it is rooted and grounded in love. That may appear to be too strong or too extreme a statement; but it is not mine, it belongs to the Apostle himself. He tells us: `Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal'. You 'may be the greatest orator in the world, you may be able to speak in an affecting manner which can move people to admiration and perhaps even to action; but if love does not control what you are saying or doing you are but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Further, `Though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing'. That is a shattering and alarming statement, but it is obviously the simple truth. It must be so because the Christian life is a Christ-like life, and everything in Him had its source in love. So must it be with us. The day of judgment will be a revelation, a day of surprises. What appeared to us to be very great may then appear to be nothing at all; and what appeared to us to be trivial will then be seen to be of great value with the arc-light of God's love shed upon it. What a reversal of our judgments and our conceptions we shall find!

This is not the teaching of the Apostle Paul alone. Our blessed Lord and Saviour taught the same truth. According to Him we are to judge an action, not by its size and its outward appearance, but by the motive that produced it, and by the element of love in it. This is the meaning of the story of the `Widow's mite'. As regards the amount it was but a `mite', but it was an expression of her heart's love, and was of infinitely greater worth in the sight Of God than millions of pounds would have been without love. She gave all that she had, she gave her love, and showed her desire (Mark 12:41-44). The same principle is found in Luke's Gospel which tells of how our Lord went into the house of Simon the Pharisee. Simon did not give Him water to wash His feet, nor did he give Him oil to anoint His head. Simon did not show Him the ordinary, usual civilities. He was a Pharisee who could not quite understand this Person. He was interested up to a point, but he did not know Him, he did not believe in Him, he did not love Him. However he desired Him to come into his house and to sit down at his table. But then a poor woman, a sinner in the city, came and fell at our Lord's feet. She washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with the hairs of her head, and anointed them with ointment (Luke 7:36-50). Her tears were more acceptable in His sight than the precious, expensive ointment which she used. To be anointed by tears from the heart is of infinitely greater value to Him, even though it be only applied to His feet, than to have His head anointed with spikenard or the most costly spices and fragrant perfumes. Nothing is of value in His sight unless it comes out of a heart of love.

The Christian is not a man who is carrying out a task, or labouring merely to perform a duty. He is one who is `rooted in love'. And, like his Lord, his every motive arises from it. He is also energized by it, constrained by it. He cannot refrain, he cannot but be thus. Because Christ is dwelling in his heart by faith, his faith is rooted in the soil of love, and it is drawing its precious vital nutriment from that source. Thus it becomes a reproduction of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. May God open our eyes to this! May He give us this love, and `shed it abroad' in our hearts! May we seek after it above everything else, because all else without it is nothing, and will lead to nothing but loss. May God root us in His love! [181-192]

 

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