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