Years ago I had the pleasure of a rather intimate acquaintance with a First Mate on an ocean liner, a distinguished and vigorous man who had spent many years sailing the high seas. One day he intimated that he would very much enjoy going out in a common row boat, so we made arrangements to hire a small boat for a day of fishing on New Jersey’s beautiful Greenwood Lake. It was a lovely summer’s morning as we got into our boat and I rowed him out to a spot some distance from shore.
I have since forgotten how well we did at fishing, but I do recall that when it was time to return, my friend insisted that since I had done the rowing so far he would row us back to shore.
He had been working the oars for some considerable time when he remarked that distances are deceiving on the water, whether from a row boat or an ocean liner. With all his rowing we were still far from shore.
Since he was not as accustomed to rowing as I, I suggested that he let me row the rest of the way back. He seemed willing enough, so we changed seats again and I pulled in the anchor and rowed back to shore!
He was a First Mate on an ocean liner but had failed to make headway in a small row boat because he had forgotten to take in the anchor! I can still hear him “ho-ho-ing” over it!
This incident came back to me recently as I asked myself what, above all else, is the greatest drawback to Christian service. What, more than anything else, keeps us from constantly and consistently living for Christ and striving to make Him known to others?
After considering the many and varied hindrances to Christian service referred to in the Word, I thought of “our beloved brother Paul,” who, above all other men could say: “…I…labor, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:29).
I recalled how the magistrates at Philippi, yielding to the mob, had maltreated him and Silas, tearing the clothes off their backs, beating them with many stripes and then casting them into prison, where the jailor threw them into a dungeon and made their feet fast in stocks (Acts 16:22-24).
And then I recalled what the apostle and his companion had done after leaving Philippi. They had gone straight to Thessalonica where again they boldly proclaimed the gospel in the face of bitter opposition. Paul writes of it in I Thessalonians 2:2:
“But even after we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
We read in II Corinthians 11:23-29 the long list of sufferings he had already then endured for Christ, and hear him conclude: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” and we ask ourselves what kept him pressing persistently on in the face of so much opposition, persecution, and disappointment.
The answer, we believe, is found in one short phrase from his pen recorded in II Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ constraineth us,” or, more literally: “The love of Christ bears us along.” (The same original word is used in Luke 8:45, where we read that the multitude “thronged” our Lord.) He doubtless had greater reason to be discouraged than we will ever have, but he couldn’t quit, for a sense of the infinite love of Christ—to him and to a lost world—bore him along as resistlessly as an ocean tide.
And this continued year after year after year until, on his last journey to Jerusalem, surrounded by dangers and confronted with “bonds and afflictions,” he still found the grace to say:
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
Nor, years later, after still more unreasonable persecution and imprisonment, did he regret the course he had taken, for among his very last recorded words we find this triumphant declaration:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:6,7).
Without in any way disparaging the twelve or their ministry for Christ, it is still a fact that, compared with the twelve apostles, Paul seems like a blazing torch next to twelve candles, and this is not strange, for to him, the chief of sinners, was given the greatest revelation of the love of Christ.
It was an appreciation of this love that released him, as it were, and set and kept him on fire for his Lord. This alone explains the utter abandon with which he labored and suffered for Christ. Often he was “pressed out of measure, above strength,” and would have given up, but he could not, for the love of Christ bore him along. This infinite love, demonstrated in the grace that had saved even him, constantly overwhelmed him. This is why he wrote to the Corinthians:
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10).
What then, is our greatest drawback in Christian service? Obviously it is our lack of appreciation of the infinite love of Christ. Why do we not serve our blessed Lord as Paul did? Because we do not share his sense of being loved by Christ. Mark well, we are not referring to our love for Christ, but to His love for us.
Have you ever noticed that Paul says little or nothing about his love for Christ, while he is constantly talking about Christ’s love for him? He, perhaps above all men, appreciated the truth of I John 4:10 and 19: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us….We love Him because He first loved us.”
But how can we overcome our natural indifference to His love? How can we cast off this evil drag on our Christian experience?
Ah, the apostle explains this at length in Ephesians 3:14-21. Humbly bowing his knees to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he prays with intense earnestness that God will grant us “according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man,” and then goes on to explain how this can be accomplished.
First, he says, Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith that we might be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ver. 17). We must draw our strength from His love as a tree, through its roots, draws its strength from the ground. All we do must be founded on His love to us, not a desire to gain His favor, or fear that we might displease Him.
Thus alone will we be able to “comprehend,” or appreciate, the breadth, length, depth, and height of God’s great message of grace.
And as we measure the dimensions of this glorious plan we find ourselves launching out into the depths of the love of Christ.
But is the message and program of the “mystery” broader than what had been previously proclaimed? Yes. When on earth our Lord said: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24) but now, in the light of Calvary and the revelation of the mystery, the invitation has been infinitely broadened:
“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:12,13).
In the program of grace the view is longer too. In His earthly ministry our Lord went back only as far as David and Abraham in proclaiming the kingdom. Paul’s epistles, however, go back to “one man,” Adam, by whom “all were made sinners” and then point to Christ, the “One” by whom believers receive “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:12-18). Indeed the revelation of “the mystery” takes us back to “His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (II Tim. 1:9) and ahead to “the ages to come” when God will “show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
This plan goes deeper and higher, too, than any hitherto revealed, for it takes sinners “without excuse” from the lowest place of condemnation and exalts them to the highest heavens, giving them a place at God’s right hand in Christ. And this because our Lord was made sin for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21).
As we consider the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of this glorious revelation we find ourselves indeed “measuring the immeasurable,” but let us go on forever measuring, for as we do we will come more and more fully “to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” and will be ever increasingly “filled with all the fulness of God.”
This is how to pull up the anchor that keeps us from making progress in our testimony and service.
Only as we become steeped in the glorious truth of the mystery, with its riches of grace, can we “know the love of Christ” as Paul knew it. Only thus can we find the needed help to press on in the work despite opposition and discouragement.
May God help us to “comprehend” these precious truths so that we may indeed be “borne along” by the love of Christ to serve Him faithfully and acceptably.