The Constraining Love Of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:14: "The love of Christ constraineth us."

"Constraineth!"
We need to understand the importance and content of that word.
What is it's strength and quality?
The word that Paul uses concerning the love of Christ is one of great power and intensity.
It throbs with energy in our conversations.
Its usage in other relationships in the New Testament reveals its force and tenacity.
So let us look at one or two of these usages so that we may return to our Scripture passage
with greater insight and powers of interpretation.

Let us look at some usages of the word, "Constraineth."

There is one in Luke 8:37 that says, "They were taken with great fear."
Let us use our imagination to think about that phrase.
We know that the tyranny of fear can enslave us – body, mind, and soul.
And yet, the word that is used to express the dominion of a fear is used by the apostle Paul to express
the hold upon that the love of Christ had.
Just as some are possessed and enslaved by fear, Paul was possessed and enslaved by love.
"The love of God constraineth me."

There is another New Testament usage of the word found in Luke 8:45: "The multitude throng thee."
The very word that is translated "throng" gives it color and intensity to the word of our Scripture passage:
"The multitude throng thee."
Have you ever been caught by the current of a thronging multitude?
You might remember times and events where you were pushed forward with the crowd.

It is that word, "throng," that is descriptive of that mass movement, and is descriptive to describe
the effect upon Paul of the love of Christ.
"The love of Christ [throngs] me."
This is saying that it gets around my soul with the mass and momentum of a great crowd.
It carries me off my feet, and it bears me onward and forward in the gracious purpose of my God.
"The love of Christ [throngs] me!"
"The love of Christ constraineth me."

There is another New Testament word that we need to consider which will enrich our conception
of its significance.
It is found in Luke 22:63: "The men that held Jesus mocked Him."

Try to imagine the hold that these brutal men had on Jesus Christ.
He was their prisoner.
He had been arrested.
They would not let Him go.

It is that use of the word – the conception of a strong and arresting hand gripping a prisoner,
that Paul applies to the hold that the love of Christ has upon him.
It arrests Him.
It grips Him.
It holds Him prisoner.
"The love of Christ constraineth me!"
Paul was its prisoner.
He was held in it's strong and most authoritative hand.

"O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be."
-- George Matheson

These are a few of the significance of this wonderful word which Paul uses to describe his conception
and experience of the love of Christ.
That love possesses him.
The love of Christ bears him forward with the irresistible momentum of a great crowd.
The love of Christ holds him prisoner in the strong arresting grip of a detaining hand.
It is the holding of a great fear.
It is the thronging of a great crowd.
It is a grip that holds him captive.
"The love of Christ constraineth me."

To a certain degree this is true of all love.
Every kind of love is in its own degree endowed with these forces of constraint.
Every form of true love is dynamic.
It has power because it is power.

Think of the constraining power of the parent' s love for a child.
There is a constraining power in it – constraining to be and to do and to live and to die.
The love of a mother for her child possesses her, throngs her, grips her, holds her in a mighty,
yet delicately, tender constraint.

Here is a message that a pastor sent to his oldest son when he was just deciding upon his career:
"When you were a little child I often thought how willingly I would consent to be nothing in the world
if I could only make you a good man!
And I feel so, still, anxious only to see you as one who could serve your God and your kind!
If you do that, I shall be happy to be remembered only as your father
. "

"Constraineth" is an intensely, gracious word.
There is a depth of love in that sentence that no one can measure.
It was a love that constraining that great and noble pastor to even have obscurity if only his son
might be honored and blessed.
The love of a child constrained him.

We find the same dynamic, constraint in a passionate patriotism.
We are learning as perhaps we have never learned before in our time, what love of country
will constrain men and women to do.
It arrests them.
It grips them.
It holds them prisoner.
It throngs them, and carries them off their feet.
It carries them into ways of pain and hardship and endurance and sacrifice.
That is patriotism – the love of country that has this outstanding dynamic.
The love of country "constraineth" me.

But in our Scripture passage we have this supreme application of this great word in Paul's application of it.
It is the hold of the love of the Lord Jesus in Paul's soul.
"The love of Christ constraineth me."

What does he mean?
Does he mean that the constraint was to be found in Christ love for him, or was the constraint
that can be found in his love for Christ?
Did Paul's love for his great Saviour hold him, or did the love of his great Savior hold him, in its grip?

Surely we cannot divide the two.
The love is inclusive of both.
The love of Christ for him awakened his love for Christ.

The divine fire kindled the flame of sacred love on the altar of his heart.
God's divine love came to him like the breath of spring.
There was a gracious quickening in the birth and spiritual beauty, and ascended to the Lord
the fragrant incense of a responsive love.
"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
Therefore, I don't think we can rightly divide the two.

While we can think of this constraining love as a mingling of two loves that was altogether preeminent
– the initial love, the love that generated love, the love that ministered when there was only
the unlovely to love, the love that was loving when there was no response,
loving one apparently when there was nothing to love.

Paul exults in the wonderful love of his Lord!
You cannot get away from the rapture of it in any one of his letters.

I believe if you had been with Paul for an hour, he would have let you into the sunshine of his Saviour's love.
I believe that Paul would at any time stop an argument to sing a doxology.
That makes Paul so difficult to read.
He would argue and argue and, then in the midst of his reasonings, catch a glimpse
of what he calls "the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Ephesians 3:8)
Then he would begin to sing what you could call his doxology on the theme of his Redeemer's love.
His soul would just burst out in rapture like the spontaneous songs of happy birds.

"[He] loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

"His great love wherewith he loved us." (Ephesians 2:4)

"Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2)

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Romans 8:35)

This is the unquenchable ambition of Paul.
When in the epistle to the Philippians Paul is gathering up and converging his aspirations
and ambitions into one, they are focused in his magnificent intensity,
"To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."
(Ephesians 3:19
And therefore, I say that this is the unquenchable ambition and aspiration of Paul.
The love of Christ hailed him, took him, thronged him, constrained him, and in the Beulah land
of his soul all of the birds were singing night and day.

What had the love of Christ done for him?
It made him a "new man." (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10)
That is Paul's claim.

That is not a big word for a little thing.
It is an altogether an inadequate word.
The love of Christ had made Paul into another man.
Paul does not merely mean that a crooked thing had been made straight.
He does not mean that crooked habits had been untwisted into rectitude.
He means that the vital stuff and substance of his being had been transformed.

When the Lord Jesus Christ lays hold of a man and begins His saving work upon that man,
he receives a new life as literally and as positively as he received life in his mother's womb.
A new man!
A new creation!
It is Paul's own words, "If any man in Christ, he is a new creature." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The love of Christ had given Paul a new beginning. He had been created "a new man in Christ Jesus."
Christ had taken Paul's guilt and died for it.
"Christ… loved me and gave Himself for me."

Christ had taken Paul's forgiven soul, and quickened it with the impartation of His own life.
Christ had died for him.
Christ now lived for him.
"Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." (Verse 17)
And the love of Christ had done it all -- "all to Him I owe."

That is never to be so unwise as to call this page of apostolic witness a remote and old-world story
that has no living relationship to our own day.
We are speaking of a man's experience of miracles of that kind of grace when the various substance
and stuff of a man's soul are absolutely transformed.

John Henry Jowett, in one of his sermons tells of a man that had become very prosperous,
and yet tempted to overcome the change that his wealth had brought him.
Jowett had this letter from this man telling what he was going through:
"My soul was so overcome.
I had to ask God to somewhat lessen the weight of the glory, because the mystical power was so overwhelming.
It is impossible for me to describe my joy in the Lord.
My cup is overflowing.
If I felt in any way depressed, I fall at once at the foot of the Cross.
Never has the power of the living Christ been so vividly felt as during the last four months;
demonstration after demonstration that He was with me at my side
."

This man could sing the song of surrender: "The love of Christ throngs me, grips me,
carries me on and upward
."
This describes the wonder of the grace and love of Christ, and the transformation that was one token
of its blessed and transforming work.

Now I ask the question this way.
What did the love of Christ constrained Paul to do?
And I will tell you.

It moved the apostle Paul to publicly change sides, and stand strong among his fellowmen
as a redeemed and confessed disciple of Christ.
To stand in the old circle with a new confession, of a new leader, and to even confess
to a new way of life is not a thing that any man will turn to without great effort.

To stand in the place of your work and say, "I love the Lord Jesus Christ."
To gather the circle of your own public and friends around and, then, to confess your faith
and talk to them about the Lord is not an easy thing.

To gather the Pharisees around you, and tell your old circle of associates that you have given
your life to Christ often means that you tread the the bloody way of sacrifice,
and it often ends in martyrdom.
No man will turn to that road unless he is driven and impelled by a master -- passionate love.
That was Paul.

Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest the men and women there who love the Lord Jesus,
but on the way to Damascus he was gripped and arrested by the same Lord Jesus Christ.
When he reached Damascus, he found himself among the friends of the Lord Jesus,
and proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.
But that was not all.

Jowett had this to say, "I do not know how far this exegesis is just, but for me it is going to be legitimate
– that in one sentence in the early records of Paul's Christian life there is a warrant
that gives me a glimpse of a splendid ministry.
And the sentence is this: "Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul [Paul]." (Acts 11:25)
What was he doing there?

Tarsus was his old university town.
He had gone back to the haunts of his old university that he might stand before the public
and confess his mighty change, until the men of his old university – if still they sojourned there
– that he had become a soldier and follower of the Nazarene
."

Going back to where you are known and telling the people there that you are following a new Leader
and a new Lover of your soul, and that you are beginning a new career with a new allegiance,
demands a spiritual experience and a moral imperative, and a vital dynamic.
They are to be expressed and expounded in the one great simple word of our text:
"The love of Christ constraineth me."

What else did the love of Christ constrain Paul to do?
It constrained him to risk anything and everything that would in any way hamper his loyalty to his Lord.
If there was anything that would in the least degree impede the fruitfulness of his allegiance to Jesus Christ,
it would have to go.
Social prestige, ecclesiastical honors, the hope and prospect of a distinguished career
– if need be – all must go!

Paul said in Philippians 3:8: "I have suffered the loss of all things."
You feel the weight of that word?
"I have suffered the loss of all things."

Then later, he said this: "I do esteem them but refuse, that I may win Christ and be found in him."
(Philippians 3:8)
To a man like that a difficulty is not a menace -- a difficulty is not a threat -- it is an invitation
and an allurement.

Is it the dread antagonism of Imperial Rome that looms before him?
"I am ready to preach the gospel to you that art Rome also." (Romans 1:15)
Is it the hostile menace even of death itself?
"I am now ready to be offered." (2 Timothy 4:6)

Paul was ready for anything, and ready for everything.
However crowded the way may be with the ministers and ministrations of the Devil.
He is ready for anything, for as he said, "the love of Christ constraineth me."

That same wonderful love is still laying its glorious constraint upon the souls of all of God's children.
It is still arresting them, gripping them, still thronging them, still carrying them everywhere
into the ways of service and sacrifice.

If only all the tracks of heroism that are now being traced in this great land of ours could just be unveiled,
what a wonderful revelation it would be!
But when you have heroism of this kind, which is constrained by the love of Christ very frequently,
it burns away underground, and you have to do a great deal of wooing to get it to show itself.

I close this message with a word of challenge.
After all these rich and gracious influences, what is the love of Christ going to be upon you and upon me?
What kind of constraint?
What will it constrain us to be, to do, to bear, and to serve?
I would like the last word of this message to be an unfinished sentence that everyone
shall complete for themselves.

The love of Christ constrains me to… what?
What is it going to be?
The love of Christ constrains me to…?
The love of Christ grips me to…?

" Were the whole realm of nature mine;
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all."

The love of Christ constrains me to…?

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White