While We Were Still Weak
by Rev. Dr. Richard Leaver
Director of Mission and Pastoral Care
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8)
As I think about Christ’s love for us, and the many ways love is revealed to us in scripture, I understand there are at least four ways that the depth of Christ’s love is shown to us.
First, we know the depth of someone’s love by the sacrifices one makes so that we are made better. Christ’s life assures us of a deeper love than if he only sacrificed, say exile, or took his whipping and was released by the Romans. We see the depth of Christ’s love by the depth of what it cost him his very life.
Second, we know Christ’s love for us by how little we deserve it. Each one of us is guilty of his death. If we love someone and do all that he/she expects of us, then they will probably love us. But that doesn’t prove as much as it would if he/she loved us when we disobeyed, or shunned him/her, and hated them. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing and deep is Christ’s love for us. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love in relation to how undeserving are the objects of his love (Romans 5:5–8).
Third, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by how we are benefited by the person’s love. For example, if we are helped to pass an exam we will feel loved in one way. If we are helped to get a job, we will feel loved another way. If we are helped to escape from an oppressive captivity and given freedom for the rest of our life, we will feel loved another way, a very deep way. But if we are rescued from eternal damnation and given a place in the presence of God with abundant joy forevermore, we will know a depth of love that surpasses all others (1 John 3:1–3). So, we will see the depth of Christ’s love by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved by him.
Fourth, we know the depth of someone’s love by the freedom with which they love us. If a person does good things for us because someone is making him, when he doesn’t really want to, then we don’t think the love is very deep. Love is deep in proportion to the freedom it allows us. So if an insurance company pays you $40,000 because you lose your spouse, you don’t usually marvel at how much this company loves you. There were legal constraints. But if your church friends make all your meals for a month after your spouse dies, and someone calls you every day they are showing you the love of Christ through their service to you without expectation of repayment of any sort. They don’t have to do this for you.
They do it freely and willingly. So, we experience Christ’s love for us in his freedom: “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
To push this truth to the limit, let me quote for you a psalm that the New Testament applies to Jesus (Hebrews 10:9). It refers to his coming into the world to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin: “I delight to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40:8). The ultimate freedom is joy. He rejoiced to do his work of redemption for us. The physical pain of the cross did not become a physical pleasure. But Jesus was sustained through it all by joy. He really, really desired to save us. To gather for himself a happy, holy, praising people. He displayed his love like a husband yearning for a beloved bride (Ephesians 5:25–33).
Think on this and ponder his love for you this Holy Week.