Okay, so I suggested that there are times when our God will temporarily withdraw his blessing and his goodness from us. It is almost if he lifts a curtain and we begin to see life as it was before he entered it. When this happens, our lives inevitably turn impossible to live. Our lives become utterly dull, drab, lonely, and miserable.
Now, if that is true, why does this happen? Well, Paul tells us that it is the result of the condition we are born into. And, he explains, the only thing that will alleviate our condition is the mercy and the grace Yahweh offers. It would always be that way — every moment of life would be that way — were it not for His goodness poured out on us, to the just and the unjust alike, in his attempt to reach us and arrest us.
So these words provide great meaning: “But God . . .” Paul was very careful to immediately tell us what it is that moves our God to act, and that is where he focuses:
“But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures . . .” (Ephesians 2:4)
That was our condition when we were found. But God began to move. What moved him? Paul explains that first, it was His mercy. You know, I wonder if you understand what mercy is? Especially what the difference between mercy and grace is. I mean, we throw theise religious terms out there all the time, but have we really looked at what they mean?
There is a story about a little boy who, in Sunday School, was asked to explain the difference between kindness and loving-kindness. He thought about a few moments and finally said, “If I ask my mom for a slice of bread and butter, and she gives it to me, that is kindness. But if she puts jam on it, that is loving-kindness!”
That is one smart kid! He provided a perfect illustration of the difference between those concepts. Well, there is a difference between mercy and grace. Yes, Yahweh’s grace reaches out to man just like mercy does. However, grace flows to us for a different reason than his mercy does. Do you know the difference?
Mankind’s guilt draws the grace of God. You see, when the Lord looks at us and sees us as guilty — as actually having made choices and done things which were deliberately wrong when we knew them to be wrong — it calls for his compassion, expressed in grace. Even though we deserve it, he still doesn’t want us left with our guilt. So his grace is aroused and he finds a way to set aside the demands of law and to relieve us from the punishment our guilt deserves and sets us free. And that is what he has done! It is His grace which has dealt with our guilt.
That is important and should never be minimized. However, it is our misery which requires His mercy. Those of you who are parents should know how this works. If you have a child who is suffering from a severe cold — his has a sore throat, watering eyes, running nose and all stuffed up and can hardly breathe, and miserable and all he can do is throw his arms around your neck and cry — as he parent, how does that make you feel? , Why it tears you up, and you try to relieve him any way you can. Why? because his misery has drawn out your mercy. That is what Paul says has awakened the mercy of God — the misery of man.
All of this was presented in the first verses of this chapter. Paul tells us that, as a race, we are dead in a helpless, impotent condition. We are corrupt, decaying, and life is on a downward slant. He reminds us that we are molded by the world around us, we are gripped by this passion for conformity, and we find it very difficult to break away from the established trend. We don’t want to be different, we are forced to conform in attitudes, in ways of reacting mentally, as well as in clothing and standard of living. And this holds us in bondage. We can’t be the independent people we would like to be.
But God sees all this realistically and he says, “That is what is making you miserable.” This kind of condition is everywhere. It is shared with the rest of mankind. God sees the misery and heartache caused by it — the tears, the disappointment, the crushing sense of frustration, of weakness, of inadequacy. He sees the misery, the abject misery of human life. And, more and more, this is becoming apparent to us as well, isn’t it? But this is what draws God’s mercy. It awakens his love to reach out to us. He wants to do something to relieve the misery of man. That is what Paul says is happening.
God’s mercy touches his love — and love is active: “. . . But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us . . .” Paul was thinking of the cross, and, behind it, the whole story of Jesus’ coming to Earth. That is the sign of our Father’s love. How do we know that God loved us? Well, because “God loved the world this way: He gave . . .” (John 3:16). This was His mark of love.
As a side note, I think husbands have a big problem understanding and following the command to love their wives: “Husbands, love your wives . . .” (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 3:19), How are they going to obey that command if they don’t understand what love is? To most of us, love is a kind of an ooey-gooey feeling, a lovey-dovey feeling, which, to be fair, we do have sometimes toward our wives. But let’s be honest: it isn’t always there! Still, husbands are told to love their wives. Yet if love is nothing but this ooey-gooey feeling, this itch around the heart that you can’t scratch, this uncertain attitude which is nice to have but isn’t always present, then it is impossible to obey that exhortation to love your wife, right?
Ah, but that isn’t what love is. Love is a will, a choice that you make. Love is an active moving-out to meet the needs of someone else. That is why the Scriptures say, “If a man is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him to drink” (Romans 12:20). When your respond to someone’s needs, you are demonstrating love. That is what it means to love. When a husband begins to meet his wife’s needs, to find out who she is, where she is in life, what she wants, what she needs, and then supplies those needs, that is when he is loving his wife. (And fellas, I should add, that is when your wife begins will begin to love you. Just thought I would through that in).
This is what Paul was talking about: “God loved us and he did something about it. He came here.” He is not indifferent or unconcerned. No, He was touched with our misery and he came and he wept and he suffered. He became the poorest of the poor. He was rejected, he felt hurt, he was frightened, he felt all the trials which come into our lives. And when he had fully identified himself with us, he went out and, in the indescribable anguish and pain of the cross, for no reason in himself, bore our sins.
No, Paul doesn’t mention this specifically here; but it does come later in this letter. But I am presenting it now as background, the necessary groundwork for everything follows. It is proof of our Father’s love, reaching out to us. And he did it when there was nothing in us worth sacrificing for. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins. When we had done nothing to break through this pattern of human misery, He still came to rescue us.
This is the biblical view of life, and extremely important for you to understand. When we were dead, when we were absolutely hopeless, that is when Yahweh did something. He took action. He broke through. And what He accomplished was to break the spell of evil, and set us free. All of this, as you know, became available to us when we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ.
What happened when you believed? What did our God do to break this pattern? How does it work? If we don’t clearly understand this we will never be able to enter into the riches that belong to us in Jesus Christ. We will continue to grovel around, trying to live a good Christian life, struggling and discovering a few helpful things here and there, but mostly falling on our faces. The whole time, watching other believers go on into freedom and liberty and joyfulness and beauty of character, while we ourselves never seem able to discover the secret. We must understand thoroughly what has happened to us.
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