Vol. 7, No. 5
~ Page 15 ~
The love of Christ--who can describe it? It supersedes sexual love (eros), and family love (storge), and friendship love (philia). It is what God is: agape (1 John 4:8). It is selfless service, undying concern and unending commitment. It is unconditional, impartial and never failing. It has been called the "in spite of" love.
When the love of Christ takes hold of a sinner's heart, he confers "not with flesh and blood," but immediately he rushes, even at midnight, to the water of baptism (Acts 16:25-34).
On arising from the water, he is never the same again! From that moment, he lives "no longer" for himself, but only for him who died for him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). He has "crucified" and "buried" his "old" self and is "renewed in the spirit of his mind" (Galatians 5:24; Romans 6:4; Ephesians 4:22-23). He is a "new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Everlastingly grateful, he describes to all who will hear "the excellencies of him who called" him "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). He exclaims that Jesus "loved me, and gave himself for me," yet not for him alone, "but for the whole world" (Galatians 2:20; 1 John 2:2).
He may be criticized or even spurned by his blood-kin, but what Jesus has done for him means everything. He is grieved, because of mother love, if he has to turn away from mother's religion, but his decision has been made, and he will not turn back. One man, some 24 years after the love of Christ mastered him, was still grieving about his kinfolks:
I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brothers' sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9:2-3).
Oh! How much he wanted his kinfolks to be taken over by Christ's love! He wrote, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1).
All the rest of his life, after Christ's love took over, for some 34 years, he suffered prisons, lashings and even stoning. But the constraint of Christ's love, "an urge with irresistible force," made him say, about all the threats against him,
None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to 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).
The word "constraineth" is variously defined as taking hold, ruling, controlling, compelling, urging, seizing, inciting and driving. But something more meaningful than all dictionary definitions is to see sinner in action after the love of Christ has captured him. For example, spend some time with a man named Epaphroditus.
The parents of Epaphroditus, apparently residents of Philippi in Macedonia, named their son in honor of Aphrodite (Venus), the Grecian goddess of love. In the Lord's providence, Paul and Silas in the 50's preached Christ's love in Philippi. Lydia, a jailor and others yielded to that love and obeyed the Gospel (Acts 16:11-34). Epaphroditus did also, turning from his parents' pagan religion (Philippians 2:25-30).
We hope that the parents of Epaphroditus became Christians also, but we are certain that Christ's love captured the heart of Epaphroditus, moving him to live for Jesus who had died for him (Philippians 2:25-30).
In the spring of 61 A.D., Paul arrived in Rome, a prisoner in chains, but instead of being imprisoned, he was allowed to rent a house and live there (Acts 28:30). However, rent had to be paid and food had to be bought. Paul's money ran out. He could not follow his trade of tent making, for the authorities kept Paul chained to a soldier (Acts 28:16, 20). Even when he had company and made a speech to visitors, the chain was visible (Acts 28:20).
Over at Philippi, Christians had not forgotten the man who introduced them to Jesus. Somehow, they heard that Paul was a prisoner in Rome and needed money badly. Those loving Christians, constrained by the love of Christ, took a collection of money for Paul, and they asked Epaphroditus to carry it to Rome. He was to be their messenger (literally, their apostle, apostolos, Philippians 2:25).
What a trip! Over 400 miles! By land and by water. And after he had arrived, a disappointment! The money was not enough! What to do? Christ's love constrained Epaphroditus to get a job in Rome to earn money to assist Paul. Very likely he held down two jobs, for he became ill, very ill.
Paul insisted that he go home, and he wrote a letter to the Philippian Christians, asking them to receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold such people in honor. He was near death for Christ's work, risking his life, that he might make up your lack of service to me (Philippians 2:25-30).
Paul esteemed Epaphroditus highly. He wrote to the Philippians what that man meant to him personally, saying he "is my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier" and "servant of my need." And he let the Philippians know how greatly he was relieved when Epaphroditus had recovered: "God had mercy on him, and not only him, but also on me, so that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow" (Philippians 2:27).
We hope that Epaphroditus was able to make the arduous trip back home. However, we will not know until we talk with him in heaven.
Besides Epaphroditus, many early Christians, constrained by Christ's love, made themselves "living" sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Some became dead sacrifices, as Antipas of Pergamos, not loving life "so much as to refuse to die" (Revelation 12:11). Jesus looked down from heaven and saw Antipas "slain," and sent word to John on the isle of Patmos that Antipas was "my faithful martyr" (Revelation 2:13).
Before John died, he went to Smyrna and appointed Polycarp as an elder of the church there. He is another wholly motivated by Christ's love, but living in a time when Christianity was both unpopular and illegal. Both the Jews and the Roman government tried to stamp out Christianity.
The Roman consul gave Polycarp a choice: "Swear, and I will release you: curse Christ!" Polycarp replied, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me. How then shall I blaspheme my King, who has saved me?"
The old man was ordered to be burned at the stake. The Jews helped gather logs for the fire. Today at Smyrna (present day Izmar), on the slope of Mt. Pagus, are the ruins of a theater and a stadium close by the spot where Polycarp died in flames on Saturday, February 23, 155 A.D.
Many centuries later, on a farm out from Dickson, Tennessee, a mother told her children about the work of J. M. McCaleb, who left comfortable America in 1892 to live in pagan Japan, being constrained by Christ's love. One of her daughters, Sarah Andrews, was baptized at age 14 and told her parents she wanted to do what J. M. McCaleb had done. What! A female missionary! In a foreign language? Thousands of miles from Tennessee! Alone! What nerve!
That was 1904 and she would not change her mind! At age 25, sponsored by no congregation, supported only by her parents, on Christmas Day, 1915, she left alone for Japan. There she served unrelentingly for 46 years, teaching neighborhood women, boys and girls. Mack Wayne Craig, her nephew, wrote,
Because she was a single woman, much of her work was devoted to teaching girls and women. She used her house to teach them to cook and sew, as well as to help them learn of the Savior. . . . When war broke out, she was interned as an enemy alien, and confined to her house.
Wounded soldiers were brought to her house for her to be a nurse for them. "I did my best," but "because of a lack of food, I broke down."
My body began swelling, which is one sign of starvation. . . . I weighed only 75 pounds. . . . There was a duration of almost three years that I had no word from the homeland whatsoever.
Today there are three congregations in Japan that she helped to establish. The church in Dickson, Tennessee, supported her for the last 25 years of her life. When she was asked to retire and to move back to Tennessee, she replied, "It is just as near to heaven from Japan as it is from America."
An orphan girl, Oiha San, mothered by Sarah in her home, grew up and loved Sarah deeply. At Sarah's grave in Shizuoka, Oiha and others erected a monument in her memory. Ten years later, at the Sunday morning service in Shizuoka, December 26, 1971, Hugo and Lois McCord met and hugged and reminisced with the gray-haired Oiha San. "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord," all being constrained by Christ's love (Revelation 14:13).