God's love is unconditional and it extends to all


I really enjoyed Father's Day this year. It was good to be reminded that I am really fortunate to be part of a loving family. We may be separated by lockdown but I'm proud of my kids, and I know they love me, even if they never seem to laugh at my jokes!

I spent a little time thinking about my own dad too, having recently realised how little I know of his wartime exploits. He served in the Special Boat Service (SBS) alongside the distinguished, if scary Anders Lassen, but he never really talked about it. We heard the odd story of course, and over the years we've managed to put together a potted collection of his activities.

But a few months ago, one of my sons gave me a copy of Gavin Mortimer's The SBS In World War II and it has proved to be a veritable treasure trove of information, allowing us to fill so many of the missing details. The flyleaf states that this small elite band (there were never more than 100 of them) were not only highly trained and ruthless, they were 'totally secretive'. That last phrase described my dad perfectly. "Careless words cost lives" and "walls have ears" were constant refrains.

I am deeply grateful to Gavin Mortimer then, for telling me things about my dad that I didn't know. I feel the same way about my Bible too, because without it I would know so little about my Heavenly Father. I might have worked out that He is incredibly powerful and unbelievably creative, but I would never ever have guessed that He longs for the sort of relationship with me that I enjoy with my sons. And so I spent a little time reading Ephesians again, and found it really helpful given some of the challenges we are facing at the moment.

Take the burning issue of race. Paul makes it clear that from God's perspective, racism is a complete non-starter because the Lord wants a family that is made up of people from every nation under the sun. There can have been few divisions in Paul's day as profound as the one that existed between Jews and Gentiles, which is why he refers to the 'dividing wall of hostility' that existed between them. But Paul had grasped the fact that Jesus is in the demolition business and there can be no place for humanly constructed barriers among God's people. If only the church had taken this issue as seriously as Paul did.

He was desperately keen for his friends to understand just how much God loved them too, and some of his words gave rise to the well-known children's chorus 'Jesus' love is very wonderful'. That song is a salutary reminder of the importance of unconditional love. Too many lives have been blighted by a lack of 'such love', which is why some find Father's Day a struggle and others find it difficult to think of God in this way. But when we come to know God's love is simply unconditional, the rewards are phenomenal. For nothing can give us more confidence than the assurance that we don't have to earn it; nor can we lose it either.

But in assuring them of this, Paul said something that should shake a divided church to the core: "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Most of us miss the point he was trying to make here, although the late John Stott clearly didn't. He wrote: "The isolated Christian can indeed know something of the love of Jesus. But his grasp of it is bound to be limited by his limited experience. It needs the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God, all the saints together, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, black and white, with all their varied backgrounds and experiences."

In other words, Paul wants us all to know that there are no limits to our Heavenly Father's love, only our limited understanding of it. And we need to come to terms with the sobering truth that it is we who set the limits by the way we treat each other!

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.

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