Love Surpassing Knowledge
Pentecost 9, b, July 29, 2012
One of the things that you learn quickly when you spend any time in the Bible is that people haven't changed all that much. It doesn't matter if you are talking about the New Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures, apparently 4,000 years of evolution is not enough to change human nature to a perceptible degree. We can still be a dense bunch, needing guidance to recognize our situation.
So just before our passage this morning from Ephesians the apostle Paul is calling upon the infant Christian church to recognize what an incredible miracle has taken place before them, lest they miss it altogether. The miracle that Paul calls repeatedly throughout Ephesians the “mystery“ that has now been revealed is that all along God has designed for both Jew and Gentile to come together in one holy community “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”(Eph. 3:6)
In our passage for this morning Paul begins in prayer. “I pray that according to the riches of God's glory, God may grant you to be strengthened in your inner being with power through God spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Paul is praying for their strengthening, and by extension, for our strengthening, too. Paul is yearning that we in the church would come to understand what he has learned in his own life about the power of God to take our meager gifts and to transform them into something life-giving and good. One need only remember the multitude of ways in which Paul suffered physically and psychologically in order to proclaim his simple message of the saving work in Christ that is available to all, both Jew and Gentile equally. Through his witness the early church gained its foothold in the Middle East and in Europe.
“I pray that you… Be strengthened in your inner being with power through God’s spirit.” Perhaps with the Olympics just underway it is appropriate to remember that the greatest strength is not a strong body. It is strength of the mind and spirit. Yet in Olympic athletes we will see those important spiritual strengths as well.
“In 1964, Al Oerter from the U.S. won a gold medal and set a new Olympic record in the discus throw. Al accomplished all this while suffering from ripped cartilage in his rib cage. A few days before the Olympics opened, Al had injured himself in practice. Doctors warned him not to compete. They told him that the pain would be too much to bear,” and that he might further injure himself. “But he forced himself to compete anyway, and at his highest level.
In an interview after his winning throw, Al told reporters, ‘Don't make me a hero. I wanted to win so I gutted it out.’ Al Oerter's strength went beyond being able to hurl the discus. He had a strength of purpose, desire, determination,” spirit.
And let me say that I quite admire those of you who work out on a regular basis to keep your bodies in fit condition, but we all know that muscular strength is the least important of the kinds of strength. There are plenty of folks with fit and trim bodies who are spiritually weak.
They don't know what real strength is. Paul tells us what real strength is. Real strength is learning to love…learning to love like God loves.
There’s a study about love in a Psychology Today article some years back. The study was about how happily married couples regard each other. According to three Canadian researchers, couples are most satisfied with their relationship when partners see one each another through what we might call “rose-colored glasses.” While common sense suggests that relationships work best when each partner accurately sees the other's strengths and weaknesses, this team of psychologists found just the opposite.
They asked 180 couples a series of questions about themselves, their partner, their ideal partner, and their satisfaction with their relationships. For the most part, they discovered, individuals viewed their partners in a more positive light than their partners saw themselves. “And in the happiest relationships, there was an outright frenzy of mutual delusion: Each partner saw the absolute best in his or her significant other, regardless of the person's actual attributes.” [ii]
This, my friends, is the same kind of lavishing, overlooking love that Paul is trying to tell us that the love of God is like. “The breadth and length and height and depth” of love, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge..” (Eph. 3:19)
For Paul, this was the most important thing we could know. You will remember that in the early church there were those who felt they had particular insight into the ways of God. They believed that they had “knowledge.” Some of them fit into the category for which we use today the word, “Gnostics.” But whatever the term in those days or in our own, the belief that one has a special knowledge that others don’t have almost always leads to division in communities, with the one “that knows” feeling so superior and usually saying so.
Paul is clear that actually living in and richly experiencing this extravagant love of God is so much more important than obtaining any so called special knowledge about God. When we truly love, we see the other, the beloved, as a mother sees her child. The rest of the world may see them as losers, as low life, as failures, but those who love….see their positive points not their negative ones, their strengths not their weaknesses.
This is the way God sees us all, God's children, "through rose-colored glasses.
When we experience that love of God looking at us as through love-colored glasses, then we begin looking at others the same way. We begin looking for the good in others not the evil. When we do that, we will often see the self-fulfilling prophecy in action. People will return the love we show them.
In 1972, a young man from India set out to bicycle around the world. On one leg of his journey, he was accosted by a mugger. The mugger held him at gunpoint and demanded some money.
"Why do you want my money, brother?" the Indian asked.
"What you do mean 'brother'?" the mugger asked, bewildered.
"Well, we are all brothers," the Indian replied.
"Who are you? What are you doing?" the mugger asked.
"I am bicycling around the world on $23," said the Indian.
"How are you going to make it around the world on $23?" the mugger asked.
“To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Do you hear that God longs for each and every one of us to be fulfilled completely by being filled with the fullness of God? That in itself is glorious good news! In the following chapters of Ephesians as elsewhere throughout the New Testament, we are given explicit instructions on how to order our lives so that we discover that “fullness of God” that God intends for us.
Life is meant to be a rich adventure with all kinds of challenges: with plenty of failures but also plenty of successes. And through it all we are to be blessed with the love of God through Christ that welcomes us, that forgives us, that heals us, that empowers us, and that sends us forth into the world to share the great good news with all who will listen.
To God be the glory, Amen.
[i] Carli Laklan, Olympic Champions: Why They Win (New York: Funk & Wagnall's, 1968). This story was found in the sermon “Paul's Prayer For Us” by King Duncan online.