Sermon Illustrations on divine love (Agape)


Christian Love: the Antithesis of Envy

The Christian’s self-understanding is that she is precious before God—however much a sinner, however much a failure (or success) she may be by the standards of worldly comparisons—and that every other person she meets has the same status…This vision is not only one that levels every distinction by which egos seek…glory…This vision, when appropriated, is also the ultimate ground of self-confidence.

For the message is that God loves me for myself—not for anything I have achieved, not for my beauty or intelligence or righteousness or for any other “qualification,” but simply in the way that a good mother loves the fruit of her womb. If I can get that into my head—or better, into my heart—then I won’t be grasping desperately for self-esteem at the expense of others, and cutting myself off from my proper destiny, which is spiritual fellowship with them.

Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 69. See the updated chapter in his Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

Wound With Mercy Round and Round

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from God’s love. St. Paul reminded the Romans of this when he wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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” (Rom. 8:38–39). God’s love for us cannot be changed.

Why? Because it is not based on anything we do. It was the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who declared, “I say that we are wound with mercy round and round—as with air.” We cannot escape God’s love and mercy because it is everywhere. It enwraps and enfolds us wherever we go; it surrounds us and penetrates us even if we are not aware of it.

James Bryan Smith, Embracing the Love of God: The Path and Promise of Christian Life, HarperCollins, 2010.

You Are There First And Forever

In this short prayer by Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher describes how the love of God always precedes our own devotion:

“Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the inquietude of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves.

Søren Kierkegaard, The Prayers of Kierkegaard, University of Chicago Press.


Challenge: Sum up Every Aspect of Theology & Church History

Karl Barth arguably was the greatest theologian of the twentieth century.  His twelve-volume Church Dogmatics, alone, consists of over ten thousand pages of systematic theology.  Toward the end of his life, Barth made a tour of the United States, where he had the opportunity to speak at several of our nation’s top universities.  During a question and answer time following one of his lectures, a student posed, what seemed an impossible question to answer.

“Dr. Barth, you have written extensively on every aspect of theology and church history.  I’m wondering if you could sum it all up in a short sentence or two.”  The room fell silent.  Dr. Barth just stood there for a moment, carefully considering how to respond.  Some of the professors and students who were there clearly began to feel awkward that such a trifling question would be asked of such a brilliant scholar.

Finally, Karl Barth turned toward the student and succinctly replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Joshua Brooks, Playing for an Audience of One: Learning to Live for the Approval of Jesus (Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 2008, pp.32-33).

A Dream of Immanuel

When he was a young boy, twelfth-century church leader Bernard of Clairvaux fell asleep outside a church while waiting to go in for a Christmas Eve service. In his sleep he had a dream, a kind of vision, in which he saw very clearly and distinctly how the Son of God, having espoused human nature, became a little child in his mother’s womb. In that act he came to see how God’s heavenly majesty was mingled with sweet humility.

This vision so filled young Bernard’s heart with comfort and jubilation that throughout his life he kept a vivid memory of it. What was it that filled his heart with joy? It was nothing other than the fact that God chose to be with us: Immanuel. Out of love Jesus was conceived, and out of love he chose to die. There is something in us that God finds lovable. It is certainly not our sanctity, nor is it our fidelity. When I look at my own baseness, my incredible ability to sin at a moment’s notice, I wonder what God sees in me.

James Bryan Smith, Embracing the Love of God: The Path and Promise of Christian Life, HarperCollins, 2010.

The Love of God Wrapped About Him

The sense of Presence! I have spoken of it as stealing on one unawares. It is recorded of John Wilhelm Rowntree that as he left a great physician’s office, where he had just been told that his advancing blindness could not be stayed, he stood by some railings for a few moments to collect himself when he “suddenly felt the love of God wrap him about as though a visible presence enfolded him and a joy filled him such as he had never known before.”

An amazing timeliness of the Invading Love, as the Everlasting stole about him in his sorrow. I cannot report such a timeliness of visitation, but only unpredictable arrivals and fading-out. But without doubt it is given to many of richer experience to find the comfort of the Eternal is watchfully given at their crises in time.

Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper & Bros., 1941.

When God Looks at You

Patti and Bruce, feeling a tug from Jesus, welcomed a four-year-old foster child into their home. Originally the child welfare organization told them Jonathan would be staying with them and their four other children for about a month. Five months later, after a couple of attempts to place him back with his mother, he’s still living with Patti and Bruce.

The process has been messy and complicated. This little boy is sweet, charming, and winsome at times, but angry and confused at other times. So sometimes he cuddles and hugs, but other times he acts out: yelling, scratching, hitting, and even biting.

My friends have loved this child, even as he tries their patience, even as they sometimes despair over the difficulties his birth family faces: poverty, illness, and so on. When they tuck him in at night, they ask him, “Jonathan, when God looks at you, what does he say?” And they have taught him to answer, “He says, ‘I sure do love that little boy!’”

Keri Wyatt Kent, Deeply Loved, Abingdon Press, Kindle Locations 4-11.

The Ironwoman Nun

The speaker at a dinner I once attended was a Catholic nun, and the only reason that this was unusual was that the dinner was a gathering of triathletes at Ironman Canada in 2006. The nun, Sister Madonna Buder, was not there to give a trite invocation before the meal but was a veteran participant asked to say a few words of encouragement to her fellow competitors. Nicknamed “Iron Nun,” Sister Madonna would become in 2012 the world record holder in her age group and the oldest person, at eighty-two, to complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run that makes up the Ironman Triathlon.

That evening her message was simple, “Tomorrow, when things get tough out there, remember, you were loved into existence. If you get discouraged and want to quit, if you get injured and can’t finish, if things don’t go the way you hope even though you have trained for this day for months or even years, even then remember: You were loved into existence.” A competitor herself with several age-group world records in several running events to her name, she wanted to remind that group of dedicated performers that the most important thing about them was true about them before they had performed at all.

Taken from Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod E Bolsinger. Copyright (c) 2021 by Tod E Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


“I love you, my son. I will answer your prayers.”

One evening after a class in seminary, guest lecturer and Vineyard pastor John Wimber offered to have a prayer session for anyone in the class who needed prayer. Even though I was a student, I was already serving as a minister to college students at a church and the ministry was not going as well as I had hoped. I had come under some criticism from collegians who wanted the program to be more social and less about discipleship. A church elder had also stood up in a Session retreat and publicly criticized my leadership. I was deeply discouraged, and when Pastor Wimber offered prayer, I went to the room to receive it. I remember standing there with my eyes closed and a group of people gathered around me. I heard the voice of a younger man saying in a word that I took as from God, “I love you, my son. I will answer your prayers.” Over and over again through the years, whenever I have been most discouraged I have come back to those words. God loves me as a son, a beloved child. God assured me that even if my ministry wasn’t everything I wanted it to be—or even thought it should be—God knew the deepest desires of my heart and would meet me in those moments when I poured my heart out to him.

Taken from Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod E Bolsinger. Copyright (c) 2021 by Tod E Bolsinger. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com



Which God Do You Believe In?

Does it matter which God-concept we hold to? Recent brain research by Dr. Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has documented that all forms of contemplative meditation were associated with positive brain changes—but the greatest improvements occurred when participants meditated specifically on a God of love.

Such meditation was associated with growth in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain right behind our forehead where we reason, make judgments and experience Godlike love) and subsequent increased capacity for empathy, sympathy, compassion and altruism.

But here’s the most astonishing part. Not only does other-centered love increase when we worship a God of love, but sharp thinking and memory improve as well. In other words, worshiping a God of love actually stimulates the brain to heal and grow.

Taken from The God Shaped Brain by Timothy Jennings Copyright (c) 2017 by Timothy Jennings. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Circle of Giving

In all life we see this circle of giving, which is the law of love. Consider electricity: when electricity moves through metal wires it does so by the movement of electrons from one atom to another. They flow in what we call a current, but they can only do so if the current forms a complete circle, which we call a circuit.

When you flip the switch to turn on a light, you have “closed” the electrical circuit, thus forming a complete “circle” allowing the electrons to flow and the light to come on. Conversely, when you flip the switch to turn off the light, you break the circle, and the electrons cannot flow. It is only when the circles (circuits) are complete that electricity flows. This is how nature was built to operate. The law of love is the design template for all God’s creation because all life flows from him and God is love.

The God-Shaped Brain: How Changing Your View of God Transforms Your Life, InterVarsity Press.

Stooping Down to Our Level

One thing we often do as human beings is take for granted how our physical presence can impact those around us. Do you remember how big your parents seemed when you were a kid? They were massive! Over time of course, things change; we grow up and we become the big humans.

I (Stu) am about 6’3 and surprisingly enough, my children are not quite so tall. My wife reminds me that when I begin to lose my temper, I can be a bit scary for a child whose only a few feet tall. When I’m at my best as a parent, and one of my kids is beginning to struggle, the best thing I can do is kneel down on their level and speak to them in a soft gentle voice.

This is what God did when He sent Jesus to be among us. I think we all know what it’s like to think of God as this massive cosmic force we need to be constantly in fear and trembling towards (think Isaiah 6), but God didn’t want that to be the final word towards His creation. God wanted us to know him primarily as the one who loves. And the way God did that was by “stooping down,” coming to us on our level, not as a mighty king or grand emperor, but as a common man

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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God’s Presence

God’s Will




Sacrificial Love

 The Trinity

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