Last week I had the wonderful privilege of being a groomsman in the wedding of one of my dear friends. The ceremony was beautiful, full of God’s presence and beauty and the reception was simply one of the most joyful celebrations I have been a part of for quite some time. My wife and I were sitting with a couple that we had only recently found out that they are expecting their first child. Most of our conversation was about parenting, children and pregnancy. I love talking about my wife’s pregnancies; they were times of great joy, of excitement and of interesting cravings, so I could not resist the opportunity to tell some of her stories as well as to hear some from this mother-to-be. When Melissa was pregnant she never craved ice cream or pickles or pickles and ice cream; she craved the open faced turkey dinner from our local diner, we should have put their take out number on the speed dial. While great fun to talk about and remember, there is something amazing about the cravings, the urges and the compulsions of pregnancy. The change in the body, of the hormones creates a desire for things and feelings that have never been present before. While pregnancy might be an exaggerated illustration, we are all compelled by something. We all live with certain cravings, urges and compulsions; there are emotions, experiences, desires, hopes, dreams and beliefs that drive us that cause us to do what we do and to go where we go. What compels you?
In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul wrote, “the love of Christ compels us”. He was trying to get them to understand that everything that he had done, all that he had taught and written, all of the journeys he had gone on, trouble he endured, risks taken and sacrifices made were done because of the love of Christ. The Greek word translated compels has dual meanings of “to hold together” as well as “to urge, impel”. I believe that Paul is using both meanings here, “the love of Christ holds us together and urges us; Jesus’ great love squeezes me tight while pushing me forward. His love is so strong, so great, so true, and so perfect that it has taken me over!”
I have often asked and wondered what it was that gave Paul strength to endure. What was it that pushed him through beatings, imprisonment, slander, rejection, shipwrecks, hunger, cold, stoning and finally execution? What was it that gave him the willingness to press on? He answers those questions here, “the love of Christ compels us.” Paul did not feel that he owed Jesus something, his obedience was not out of obligation or requirement but instead it was a compulsion that came from being enraptured, overwhelmed by the love that he had been shown. Jesus held nothing back from Paul, Jesus loved him with an unfailing love and that love compelled him to love Jesus with all of his heart, all of his soul, all of his mind and all of his strength.
Like the cravings of pregnancy, others thought Paul’s compulsion was foolish, strange, unnecessary and even offensive but he was not compelled by opinion. He understood and accepted that the cross was foolishness to those not compelled by the love of Christ, but to him and those like him, the cross was the power of God. He understood that to some the love of Christ was as offensive as death but to him and those like him it was the fragrance of victory. He was not compelled to be agreed with or supported, he was compelled by the love of Jesus that had already been spent, already poured out, already tasted and forever craved. This craving was not like those of pregnancy that end, that fades away and become distant happy memories, this compulsion would live forever. Paul was not trying to quench this desire; he had given himself over to it completely and fully. He was not hoping that it would someday be fulfilled so that he could get back to his life prior to Jesus’ grand revelation on the road to Damascus, he had been so incredibly taken by that experience that he had willingly traded life prior to that day to know more and more of the fullness of the love of God.
I have been compelled by many things in my life, some were noble, some were not but each of those compulsions faded away and most left me unsatisfied, sometimes even more so than before I felt compelled. Paul earlier wrote to this same church in Corinth, “Love never fails.” Everything compulsion other than Jesus’ love will fail us, will hurt us and will usually dig us deeper into a place of bondage and hopelessness. Some will create shame, some doubt, some fear, some selfishness and some loneliness, but ultimately they all simply fail. The love of God does not fail us, it is constant, eternal, stronger than death and more mighty than deep waters. The love of God has the power to compel us, to change us, to hold us tightly together and to push us boldly into the direction of His desire and purpose for our lives. I am realizing that I have lived much of my life aware of God’s love for me, but not compelled by His love. I have talked about God’s love but rarely been driven by it. I have preached about God’s love but am not sure I have ever sacrificed because of it.
While preaching in Antioch, Paul said that King David “served God’s purpose in his own generation”. What a grand postscript to a live well lived. The same can be said of Paul, of Peter, of John the Baptist and John the Revelator, of thousands of men and women and children throughout the ages and I pray that it will be true of me. The greatest, possibly even the only way to truly serve God’s purpose in our generation is to be compelled by the love of Christ. I pray today that we would allow Jesus’ love to both embrace and push us, that we would no longer stand still and enjoy the embrace but we would be compelled, pushed, driven to see that same love shed abroad; that because of Christ’s love that we would become ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors of Christ and ministers of the new covenant; that we would be compelled to let love abound and that we would see the fruit of the fulfillment of God’s purpose for each of our lives in our generation.