"You Are Loved No Matter What"
October 3, 2021 Speaker: Mitchel Kirchmeyer Series: Connected: a series about how to connect with others
Passage: Hebrews 4:14–4:16, Romans 8:31–8:39
We need to be loved no matter what before we can give love no matter what
When do you find it easiest to enjoy someone? If you are like me, the easiest people for me to enjoy are people who are enjoyable. And what makes them enjoyable? That they are doing what I think they should be doing or when they are acting like I want them to act, or when they are doing what I think is right or that they are treating me well. I find it easiest to enjoy Hudson when he is obeying. That’s when I find it easiest to express my love for him: to hug him, snuggle with him, kiss him, affirm him, tell him, “I love you.” It’s hard to enjoy a child when they are disobeying. It’s hard to enjoy someone who isn’t treating you right. It’s hard to enjoy someone who is failing at being a good friend.
A couple years ago, I was praying through the fruit of the Spirit. These are the characteristics that God’s Spirit grows in us found in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And I thought, “If the Holy Spirit is making me into someone who reflects what God is like - his character - then before the Spirit of God grows these characteristics in me, these characteristics describe what God is like toward me before I embody any of them.” God is all of these toward me before he asks me to be them toward anyone else. So I began praying through the list, reflecting on what it means for God to love me, to be at peace with me, to be patient with me, to be kind with me, and so forth. The one that I had a really hard time with was joy. What does it mean that God has joy toward me? Does that mean he enjoys me? I wrote down in my journal: “God enjoys me and delights in me. How does this feel? What does it feel like to be the object of God’s affection? I have no idea.”
Perhaps you’re like me and you think: “Why would God enjoy me? What’s to enjoy? I do things wrong all the time. I’m far from perfect. Why would he delight in me?” Perhaps like me you find it easier to say “God loves me” than to say “God likes me.” “What’s to like? I’m a screw-up. I mess up all the time.” If that’s you, I’m really excited you are here today.
Today we are continuing our seven-week sermon series on how to better connect in our relationships. Last week we started learning about four messages everyone longs to hear created by an organization called Connected Families which I am using with their permission. The message last week was, “You are safe with me.” That message lays a foundation of grace - undeserved, unearned favor. We receive this from God so we can pass it on.
Today is about the message “You are loved no matter what.” Here’s the big question for us today: How does God treat us when we are weak, needy, and sinful? How does he respond to our failures? How does he treat us when we misbehave? What is his attitude, disposition, and posture toward us? This has been a personal area of study of mine. Does God actually enjoy me? Does he like me? Or does he kind of have buyer’s remorse? Does he wish he could exchange me for someone better?
Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He adds that we are to love our enemies, meaning people who have not done anything good for us and even people who have wronged us. We find it easy to love those who love us, but how do we love our enemies, people who have hurt us, disrespected us, annoyed us, ignored us, and treated us poorly? How do we do that? How is that even possible?
Think about this: In which of your relationships do you want to experience more connection? Maybe it’s a child or a friend or a relative or a parent or a coworker or a neighbor. Write the name down or just have it in mind throughout this sermon. Now think about this: What do they do that makes them difficult to love? What do they do that drives you crazy? What do they do that is hurtful? When do you find it difficult to love this person? When do you find it most difficult to enjoy them? Write that down too.
This sermon is about how to communicate the message “You are loved no matter what” to them even when they are doing that thing that makes them difficult to love. In the context of parenting, Connected Families says, “Misbehavior is the golden opportunity for true unconditional love.” Just change the word “misbehavior” to anything: “When someone is being a jerk, it is the golden opportunity for true unconditional love. When someone is being a bad friend, it is the golden opportunity for true unconditional love. When someone is failing as a coworker, it is the golden opportunity for true unconditional love.” What does it look like to show love even when the people in our lives don’t deserve it? Even when they are doing what hurts us, annoys us, drives us crazy, disrespects us, belittles us, makes our life harder. What does it look like to show unconditional love while they are doing what makes them really hard to love?
If you are thinking, “There’s no way I am going to be able to love this person when they are doing those things. How am I supposed to do that?” Well, then you are asking the right question because the only way we will be able to give this kind of love is if we first receive it from God. The only way we will be able to love another person no matter what is if we know how it feels to be loved no matter what.
We are going to focus on two ways to express love no matter what: empathy and affection. These are two of the hardest things to do no matter what. The opposite of what we want to do is show empathy and affection when we’ve been wronged or hurt or let down. This tells us that this is a good way to flavor our love with grace because it’s giving them the opposite of what they deserve.
The fuel that enables us to do this for others is first receiving it from God. Let’s first see how God shows us empathy by looking at Hebrews 4:14-16.
Hebrews 4:14-16 - empathy
One of the primary purposes for which the book of Hebrews was written is to encourage followers of Jesus who are in the middle of the race of faith to keep going to the finish line despite it being difficult. Hebrews 4:14-16 articulates a powerful truth about Jesus that goes throughout the book. In these three verses, verse 15 is the foundation of verses 14 and 16. Verse 15 states two truths about Jesus that make verses 14 and 16 possible.
First, verse 15 calls Jesus our high priest. In the Old Testament, God was present with his people through the tabernacle, which was a type of tent, and then in the temple in Jerusalem. The priests operated the tabernacle and then the temple. And among the priests, there was a high priest who oversaw it all. The high priest was appointed by God to act on behalf of the people in relation to him (Heb 5:1). One of their primary jobs was to offer the people’s sacrifices to God (Heb 5:1). Standing before the priest, the person would lay their hand on the head of the animal they had brought, confess their sins, and then the priest would kill it. The animal took the penalty for the person’s sins in their place.
In this way, the high priest functioned as a bridge between God and God’s people. The high priest would represent the people before God and would represent God to the people. This is Jesus’ role: he is a bridge between God and God’s people. He connects us.
So first, this verse tells us that Jesus acts as our high priest. Second, it tells us what qualifies him to carry out this role effectively. He has the title, but what makes him capable of doing this role well?
Verse 15 gives this description of his capability: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. This ability is what makes him capable of being a good high priest. “Weaknesses” is a broad term that can refer to any felt need. He is able to sympathize with human needs. “To sympathize” means “to suffer with.” “Empathy” and “compassion” are closely related. When you sympathize or empathize with someone, you are feeling what they are feeling right along with them. You are sharing their suffering with them and your heart is drawn toward them with compassion and tenderness.
So this is telling us that there is no human need that Jesus doesn’t understand and empathize with. There is no need to which this high priest will say, “I just don’t get that. I don’t know what that’s like. I don’t understand. That doesn’t make sense to me.” Why is Jesus able to sympathize with our weaknesses - our needs, our struggles, our challenges, our hardships, our difficulties, our temptations? Verse 15 says it’s because he has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (cf. Heb 2:17-18, 5:2). The assumption here is that a high priest who has not been tempted in every respect as we are would be unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. That’s not Jesus. He’s been tempted in every respect as we are, yet never gave in.
Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became fully human. This means Jesus knows what it is like to be a weak, needy, fragile human assaulted with temptation which means that when we are weak, needy, and sinful he is not cold, aloof, disinterested, and indifferent. No, he is tender and warm, he is inviting and embracing. His eyes express understanding, compassion, and sympathy. When we are weak, needy, and sinful, Jesus’ heart is full of compassion, not contempt. It’s full of mercy, not judgment. He understands the human condition. Being fully human means he knows exactly what it’s like to be us. Jesus is one with us because he has been united to humanity by becoming like us. He can perfectly represent us and perfectly understand us.
Jesus is fully human and he is also fully God. Being fully God means he perfectly reflects and represents what God is like toward struggling and suffering and sinning humans. So Jesus is also one with God the Father. How Jesus is toward us when we are weak, needy, and sinful is how God the Father is toward us.
Jesus is the perfect mediator, the perfect bridge between God and his people. He is perfectly merciful, perfectly faithful and reliable, perfectly compassionate, perfectly understanding, perfectly sympathetic, perfectly tender. Jesus always responds perfectly to us in our neediness, weakness, and sin. What’s more is that the sacrifice that Jesus offers for sin is not sacrifices we bring to him but himself. Jesus loved us and gave himself as the payment for our sin once and for all, not repeatedly. And he does not offer a sacrifice for himself because he is without sin.
Verse 15 is a statement of reality. It’s a statement of what’s true about Jesus. Verses 14 and 16 each give an exhortation based on this reality. The reason we should do what verses 14 and 16 say is because of what’s true in verse 15. The reality of verse 15 fuels obedience to verses 14 and 16 command.
Verse 14 exhorts us to hold fast our confession of Jesus as our Lord. It’s saying we should keep following Jesus, we should keep trusting Jesus, we should keep holding onto him and the good news about him. Why? Because he’s our high priest who sympathizes with us in our neediness.
Verse 16 flows out of verse 15. It says:
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Why should you draw near to the throne of grace with confidence when you need help? Because you have Jesus as your high priest who knows what it’s like to be you. Why should you keep holding onto Jesus and not abandon faith in him? Because you have Jesus as your high priest who knows what it’s like to be you.
- When are we to draw near? In time of need.
- Why are we to draw near with confidence? Because Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.
- What do we get when we draw near? Mercy and grace to help - we get better than we deserve and we get exactly what we need.
When do you feel confidence to go before God? This passage doesn’t say, “Draw near with confidence when you have it all together. Draw near with confidence when you have a good Bible reading and prayer streak. Draw near with confidence when you’ve avoided any major sins for a while. Draw near with confidence when you have your life together. Draw near with confidence when you’ve cleaned yourself up.” It doesn’t say that.
None of these are where our confidence is to be placed. We can draw near with confidence because of Jesus! We don’t draw near with confidence in ourselves but with confidence in Jesus Christ, our faithful, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate, tender high priest. We usually think the less weak, needy, and sinful we are, the more confidently we can go before God. No. That is a lie straight from the devil to keep you away from the only one who can truly help you in your neediness, weakness, and sin. Our confidence is directly related to who our high priest is and his ability to know what it’s like to be us.
Why is Jesus’ sympathy and understanding of us important? Think about how frustrating it is when someone wants to help you but they just don’t get it. They can’t see what it’s like to be you. They are unable to put themselves in your shoes. They don’t see things from your perspective. They don’t know how hard it is, how painful it is, how exhausting it is. That person won’t actually be able to offer you help because they don’t understand your situation. Whatever advice they give will probably not fit your situation and even if they give good advice, you won’t be very open to taking it if you don’t feel like they understand and care about how you are feeling and what it’s like to be you.
Also, think about when you most feel like giving up. If you’re like me, it’s when you feel alone because no one understands what it’s like to be you. “Nobody gets it. Nobody understands. Nobody knows how hard this is, how much it hurts, how difficult it is to keep going. I’m alone in this and I can’t do it anymore.”
This passage tells us that with Jesus, he is able to sympathize with whatever we have going on. He can say to us, “I get it. I understand. I know it’s hard.” When I’m feeling really hurt, I gain a lot of peace by considering when Jesus might have felt this way in the gospels. Then I can say, “Jesus knows exactly how it feels to [blank]” - to be misunderstood, to be betrayed, to be criticized and ridiculed, to suffer unjustly, and so forth. You are not alone.
When you come to Jesus, you don’t find someone closed off to you. You don’t find someone who doesn’t get it or doesn’t understand. Even in our misbehavior, sin, selfishness, foolishness, failures, and mistakes, God wants to connect with us. We are invited to draw near to the throne of grace where we will find tenderness, compassion, warmth, and sympathy. It's actually in bringing our sin, selfishness, foolishness, failures, mistakes, neediness, and weakness to him that we are able to connect with him. God is on our side against our sin.
Romans 8:37-39 - affection
Let’s now turn to affection by looking at Romans 8:37-39. In this letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul spends eight chapters laying out the gospel. The simple summary is this: “In Christ, God is for us even though he has every reason to be against us.” Romans 8:31-39 is an exclamation point at the end of this gospel explanation and the last three verses zero in on God’s love for us.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)
Connected Families created an adaptation of Romans 8:38-39 for parenting that goes like this: “For I am convinced that neither arguing nor defiance, neither sibling conflict nor disrespect, neither bad grades nor failure, neither whining nor lying, neither forgetfulness nor messes, nor any other misbehavior will be able to separate you from my love, or from God’s amazing love.”
What do you think separates you from God’s love? When do you think God couldn’t possibly love you right now? Are you convinced that neither failures nor mess-ups, neither sins nor selfishness, neither your doubt nor neglect, neither your past sins nor your future sins, neither your needs nor your weaknesses, neither your failure to love nor your love of the wrongs things, neither your depression nor your anger, neither your addictions nor your fears, neither yourguilt nor your shame, will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? Are you convinced of that? Do you live like you are convinced of that?
Think about how you’d fill in these blanks:
- God loves me more when I [blank].
- God loves me less when I [blank].
Perhaps you need to write your own version of Romans 8:38-39. What are the things that you think separate you from God’s love? It’s probably anything you feel guilt or shame about. Make that list then write above it: none of this separates me from God’s love.
I heard another pastor say that there are two different ways to answer the question: How much does God love me? First you can answer according to law: “How much does God love me? As much as I deserve.” Or you can answer according to grace: “How much does God love me? Way more than I deserve!” The truth is that you aren’t becoming a version of yourself that God will love more or that he will actually start loving. You aren’t becoming a version of yourself that God will enjoy more. He loves and enjoys you now!
Like I said at the beginning, I have been on a personal journey answering the question: “Does God actually enjoy me? Does God actually like me? Can God actually be pleased with me?” And I’ve found that when it comes to God’s enjoyment of us, we need to separate who we are from what we do. Who before do. Who I am to God is always more important than what I do. He never forgets who I am to him. God may not love what I did, but he still loves me as his beloved son. God may not be happy with what I did, but he is still happy that I’m his child. God may not like what I did, but he still likes me. God may not accept whatI did, but he accepts me. God may not embrace what I did, but he still embraces me. God may not be pleased with what I did, but he is pleased with who I am - his cherished child. He always enjoys, delights in, and takes pleasure in me as his child, no matter what I have done. Who before do.
A few years ago, I was in a learning group with a few other pastors. And in one of our sessions together, one of the other pastors, Brian, shared something that really helped me understand God’s love for me (and I asked for his permission to share this story). He told us how he had discovered his teenage son was looking at pornography and that his son had lied to him about it. This was hard on him and it was easy to understand why. Later in the conversation, he said that his sons are phenomenal and he’s really blessed. My mind was blown. This just didn’t make sense to me. If he is dealing with his son looking at pornography and lying, how could he think his son is phenomenal and count himself blessed? I didn’t know how those two things could both be true.
This moment was a turning point for me because Brian showed me a picture of God the Father’s heart toward us as his sons and daughters. He showed me a way of reacting to sin that is unnatural. It showed me what grace looks like in action. It showed me how what we do is separated from who we are. When we sin, God says to us: “What you did wasn’t great, but I still think you are great. I don’t love what you did, but I still love you. I am not pleased with what you did, but I’m still pleased with you. I don’t want you to do that anymore, but I still want you.” This is love no matter what. This is a love that transforms. To be loved like this is the most powerful force in the universe.
Here’s the two truths about God from today:
- God is empathetic toward us in our weakness, neediness, and sin. God is warm, tender, and compassionate toward you no matter what.
- God is affectionate toward us in our weakness, neediness, and sin. God delights in you, takes pleasure in you, and enjoys you no matter what.
We were made to love and enjoy God. But even more, you were first made to be enjoyed by God, to be liked by God, to be delighted in by God, to soak in the warm rays of his joyous, glowing face toward you. God’s no-matter-what-love is what draws us toward God. It draws us out of hiding, covering up, and blaming.
If you want to sum up today's message, here's the big idea: We need to be loved no matter what before we can give love no matter what. We can love our enemies because God loved us when we were his enemies. We can love people who are against us because God loves us when we are against him.
Think again about the person in your life with whom you want more connection. How do you love them when it’s hardest? How do you love them when they don’t deserve it? How do you love them when it’s the opposite of what you want to do? In that moment, you can remember and receive God’s no-matter-what-love for you. You receive it before you can give it.
Think about what they do that makes them difficult to love. Write above that list: “Even when they...don’t listen, disrespect me, frustrate me, annoy me…I will love them no matter what.” Love no matter what means we love no matter what they have said, no matter what they have done, no matter what they are feeling, no matter what way they’ve treated us, no matter what they’ve given to us, no matter what they’ve done to hurt us, disrespect us, annoy us, cause us hardship.
Here are two ways to love no matter what through empathy and affection.
1. Ask: What’s going on in them?
To communicate the message “You are safe with me”, we ask the question, “What’s going on in me?” But now we ask, “What’s going on in them?” What is it like to be them right now? What’s their perspective? What are they experiencing? Empathy shows we care about what’s going on for them no matter what.
Here’s a saying I’ve learned from a podcast on parenting: “They’re not giving me a hard time; they’re having a hard time.” This can help us begin to focus on the person and not the problem or pain. In fact, we begin to see and empathize with the other person’s problem or pain. This can snap us out of enemy mode - to be for them instead of against them, even if they are against us.
2. Remember: Keep the relationship bigger than the problem.
Who before do. God always keeps the relationship bigger than the problem of sin in our lives. God puts who we are before what we do. God does not love us because of our behavior but in spite of our behavior. God sees the person, not just the problem. So remember who this person is to you. See the person, not just the problem or pain. How can you show that you like them even when they aren’t doing what you like?
Think about the person you want to have more connection with. What do they do that separates them from your love? The person is more important than the problem. They matter more than whatever got messed up, got broken, got neglected, etc. This communicates to them that they are more important to you than what they did. Your relationship is bigger than this problem.
This is how you can show affection no matter what. If you keep the relationship bigger than the problem or pain, you can show that you like them even if you don’t like what they did. Both empathy and affection keep us focused on the person and not just the problem or pain. Don’t worry, you’ll get to correcting the behavior, but first we want to connect with the person. Your number one goal is not behavior correction but connection. Empathy and affection open our hearts and another person’s heart to change.
God has called us to be a community that expresses his empathy and affection for each other and to those who don’t yet know him. We become his agents of love as we love no matter what. And in doing so, people can see what our God is really like.