The Place and the Power of Love

Some of the most beautiful poetry ever written is found in Solomon’s “Song of Songs”, an ode of love (with all its graceful sentiments and instructive distractions) between the Beloved and his Love. Many Christians understand this love story to be not only applicable practically to the human marriage relationship, but also a glorious picture of Christ and His earthly bride, Israel.  By extension, all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ of any age may rightly see themselves as objects of His deep affection, His fadeless love.

In chapter 2 of that little book of the Bible, verses 3 and 4, the spouse has this to say of her Beloved: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love.”  There is no doubt that while she was on that ground over which love held sway, and in that moral place where His banner overspread, she had the sublime enjoyment of her Beloved, and needed nothing more to satisfy her heart.

All too soon, however, whether through her lethargy or distraction, that “fair one” is found apart from her Beloved, no more under His shadow and banner of love, and so the sadness of loss, along with the pain of unfaithfulness, is the bitter result (Song of Solomon 5:2-8). Thankfully, the story does not end there, and she is restored to the full enjoyment of His presence and His love, until she can say: “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is toward me” (ch. 7:10).

The Ephesian assembly was given, through the apostle Paul, some of the highest and most profound truth that the Spirit of God ever taught and entrusted to man. Reading carefully through the Epistle to the Ephesians, one cannot miss the emphasis placed on “love” in that book, as it appears multiple times in each chapter. What especially stands out is the repeated appearance of the little phrase “in love”.¹  The first of those references is at the very beginning of the epistle, where we are told of our unchangeable position “without blame before Him in love”, but the remainder of them have a very practical bearing, and I believe that the Christian’s enjoyment and experience depend greatly upon his or her practically remaining there in the moral place where love’s power and influence prevails.

There are exhortations in Ephesians to walk in love and to forbear one another in love, and we have a model for the church to edify itself in love by acting as the “one body” of Christ. I would like to dwell just briefly on two of the portions in which the phrase “in love” is used in this epistle.

Paul prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith, that they, “being rooted and grounded (or founded) in love”, would be able to apprehend the magnitude of the inheritance they (and we) have been given, and to know the infinite love of Christ (Ephesians 3:14-19).  Being rooted brings to mind the figure of a tree planted in a most favorable spot, as in Psalm 1:3. Being grounded in love might have the connotation of building one’s life on a firm foundation or rock (Luke 6:48-49; Ephesians 2:20; II Timothy 2:19). All of a Christian’s fruit-bearing and all of his building ought to be done in the power of the place where he is exhorted to be rooted and grounded:  In love.

The second reference I would like to touch on is in chapter 4:7-16, where the apostle describes the provision that Christ made for the church, His earthly body, upon His ascension to heaven. He clearly desired that the church (assembly) would grow to maturity and to the measure of the stature of His fullness, and that Christians who make up the assembly should not be “carried about” and swept off their mooring by all the deceiving voices that seek to turn souls from the truth to systematized error. In contrast to these deceivers, the members of the body of Christ are to “hold the truth in love” (verse 15, JND translation). There is to be “truth in the inward parts”² among the saints, a sincerity and a teachableness that seeks to know the truth of God as revealed in His Word. But this desire to know the truth is not enough by itself – it must be maintained and exercised “in love.”

The Ephesians left their “first love” within a generation, and we are told of the Lord’s displeasure in them because of it in Revelation 2:4-5. All the truth they were maintaining and defending was commendable, but without love, and having left the ground of love’s refreshing influence, the truth they held was stagnating and profited little.³

There is no substitute for truth or truthfulness held in love, where real spiritual growth is looked for.  How many dear young people have left assemblies where there is a perceived lack of sincerity, and how many souls of all ages leave assemblies that have moved away from that moral place of Christian power – “in love”.  This applies in families as well, and the blessing of seeing children “walk in truth” (III John 4) is no doubt related to the measure in which parents value the truth and seek to pass along that heritage in the power of love. But there is a place of safety and blessing, where the love of the Lord Jesus may be enjoyed and drawn upon, in spite of our failures. Jude exhorts his brethren in this manner by the Spirit: “Beloved, keep yourselves in the love of God.”

 

¹  Ephesians 1:4; 3:17; 4:2; 4:15; 4:16; 5:2   ²  Psalm 51:6   ³  See also I Corinthians 13:1-3

An Age of Accountability?

It is an old question among Christians: Is there an “age of accountability”, or a point at which a developing child becomes personally accountable before God for disobedience and sin? Some have suggested the twelve-year mark has some significance with respect to maturity and accountability because of the account of the Lord Jesus hearing and asking questions of the doctors of the law in Luke 2. A few have insisted that the age of accountability is 20, for that was the threshold of personal accountability for refusing to enter into the land of Canaan upon the report of the spies in Numbers 14. Some religious traditions deny the concept altogether, on the ground of their teaching that even infants are guilty of Adam’s transgression.

Before commenting on when a child might become accountable and therefore guilty, we ought to touch on the subject of guilt and imputation (reckoning) of sin. When God imputes sin to a man’s account, or charges man with sin as guilty of it, that man faces condemnation for that sin, for taking his own way in conscious disobedience to the God who has creatorial claims upon him. But God is so merciful that He only reluctantly imputes sin to man, and we can see this in II Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”  The blessed Lord’s request of His Father for His people while He was being nailed to the cross was a manifestation of His merciful attitude toward them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even Moses’ action of breaking the tablets of stone bearing the ten commandments (Exodus 32:19) was directed of Jehovah in order to show His people mercy, since the entrance of His holy Law into such a scene of wanton idolatry would have necessitated imputation, and therefore immediate and complete judgment for their sin; but God is “slow to anger” (Nehemiah 9:17, etc.).

Now some Bible teachers hold that Adam’s transgression was imputed to the whole of the human race, including young children, and they make statements like: “A man sins because he is a sinner”. They point to Romans 5:12-19, where Paul writes that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners”. However, just because a child is constituted or appointed a member of a race of sinners by birth does not mean he will be condemned for the sin of that race’s head, Adam. In this very passage, and quite contrary to the teaching that Adam’s sin was imputed to us at conception or birth, we read that “all have sinned”.  This very definitely connects individual responsibility to the condition of the race as under condemnation, showing (I believe) that there is no imputation of sin and no individual condemnation until there has been conscious, willful sin against God.

Keeping in mind God’s merciful hesitance in imputing or reckoning sin, which would result in condemnation, we may learn much from Jesus’ testimony as to the practical moral innocence of our little ones. “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”, He said, and “put His hands upon them, and blessed them” (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14-16). These children were no doubt affected by the fall of Adam with its consequences of death, disease, and an innate conscience of good and evil. However, they had evidently not yet doubted or spurned the goodness of God toward them, nor developed the guile in their hearts (by squelching conscience or despising commandments) that would render those hearts “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 7:9).

The Lord Jesus spoke a parable in Matthew 18, after His words of acceptance and approval of the little ones, whose angels (their spirits) always behold the face of the Father in heaven.  “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (v. 12, ESV)   Just before He posed this question, he spoke of His mission to “save that which was lost”¹, in the context of the little children He valued so highly. Children need a Savior, for they are part of a fallen race, and part of a groaning creation, but it is only after they willfully go astray and leave that place of nearness to God “on the mountains”, that they need to be sought, found, and brought back to God by the Shepherd of their souls.

On the cross of Calvary, the “Savior of the world” has already completed the infinitely effectual work of redemption, by which He will “[take] away the sin of the world”, and “reconcile all things to Himself”.  God’s desire and plan was to remove the curse of sin from creation and to bring it into a state of reconciliation and peace in a coming day of millennial glory, when heaven will open and form a connection with a cleansed earth . How could we not then view little children as “safe”, of whose kind is the kingdom of heaven?  For “Jesus Christ the Righteous . . . is the propitiation . . . for the whole world”.²  Everything has been done for their temporal safety and blessing. What a blessing it is when our children and grandchildren go directly from being safe to being saved without straying far!

At what age or stage of development does a child go astray and lose that safe and blessed status? Is it when there is the first sign of conscience working after some disobedience?  The Lord alone knows. But I would suggest it does not hinge entirely upon the successful inculcation of the knowledge of right and wrong, nor on the possession of a sensitive conscience, for even those who are limited mentally may exhibit evidences of conscience, and yet be incapable of responsible action.

I will venture no further specificity on a subject already so fraught with conjecture, but my meditation on this matter has caused me to better appreciate this aspect of the kindness of our God:  How slow He is to impute sin to a person’s account, but how quick and how willing He has always been to impute righteousness³ to the account of all who simply believe!

 

¹  Contrast this with “to seek and to save that which was lost” in Luke 19:10.

²  John 4:42; John 1:29; Colossians 1:20; John 1:51; Revelation 21:9 – 22:5; I John 2:2 (JND)

³  Genesis 15:6; Romans 4