Introduction Let me ask you a very personal question. Who loves you? Think about that for a moment. Now whether your answer is "nobody" - or you're still counting - here is a second question: How do you know? How can you be sure? I want to focus this evening on one verse, which speaks about the Spirit of God, Romans 5.5. This is a glorious verse, and it tells us about love - the love of God:
hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Who loves you, and how do you know? "Fiddler on the Roof" is a great musical. If you haven't seen it, it's all about a close knit Jewish community in Russia. At one point the main character (Tevye I think his name is) has a crisis of confidence about his wife's feelings towards him. They are an undemonstrative couple, and he needs reassurance. So, as husbands often do, he bursts into song (which I shall not do). "Do you love me?" he asks her. She resists the question. He persists. Eventually she answers: "Do I love you? For 25 years I have looked after you, cooked for you, cared for you. And you ask me whether I love you! Of course I love you!" That satisfies him, and no doubt to her great relief, he stops singing. He is sure of her love. What is it that makes us sure of someone's love for us? This is very important - not only because we need to know that we are loved, but also because true human love points beyond itself to the greatest love of all, which is the love of God. Here are four things that show love: Firstly, past actions. Secondly, present behaviour. Thirdly, a guarantee of future faithfulness. And fourthly, words expressing love. If someone shows love to you in all four of those ways, then if you remain unsure of their love it's not because they don't love you. It's because you can't see it. So what is your perception of the love of God? That's what this verse (Romans 5:5) is all about. Let's take it in three parts, working backwards through it. My headings are these: First, GOD GIVES THE HOLY SPIRIT. Secondly, GOD POURS OUT HIS LOVE. And thirdly, GOD NEVER LETS US DOWN. First, GOD GIVES THE HOLY SPIRIT
God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
There is no such thing as a Christian who has not received the Holy Spirit. Or to be a bit more precise: every true Christian has been given the Holy Spirit by God. That is not to say that everyone who calls themselves a Christian is Spirit-filled. Calling yourself a Christian doesn't make you a Christian any more than calling yourself Big Mac turns you into a beefburger. What makes you a Christian is faith - faith in Christ, the only Saviour from sin, Satan and death, and the only Lord who is to be trusted and obeyed. If you have faith in Christ, then you have the Holy Spirit. You cannot have one without the other any more than you can be married without a spouse, or be employed without a job. Romans 8:9:
If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.
Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is God's seal - God's mark of ownership, just as the name running through a stick of rock shows where it comes from, or a postmark shows where a letter originates. 2 Corinthians 1:22:
He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
The Holy Spirit takes up residence in the life of the believer. If BSkyB succeeds in taking over Manchester United, they will send in their people. The 'Under New Management' signs will go up. Not just the ownership changes but the control changes. Old personnel may stay or go, but there is new leadership. So it is with the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:11:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit, who lives in you.
And when the take-over does happen, the changes begin. Tesco buys up an ailing supermarket. At first there are just a few signs of the radical change that has happened. But soon enough, the whole place is refitted. The entrance of the Holy Spirit in to the believer's life is a total, internal, spiritual transformation that has an ever-expanding external impact. 2 Corinthians 3:18:
we ... are being transformed into [the Lord's] likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Like the wind, like breath, he cannot be seen, but the signs of his presence are all around. And one of the most wonderful of those signs is the outpouring of God's love into the heart of the believer. Which brings me to my next heading: Secondly, GOD POURS OUT HIS LOVE
Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit ...
I remember hearing David Yonggi Cho speaking. He is the Senior Pastor of the world's biggest church - a Pentecostal church in Korea with over 700,000 members. The church seats 50,000 and they have to have many services to fit everyone in. He reminded us of a particular danger, which he said is characteristic of Pentecostals but it applies to us all: the danger of regarding the Holy Spirit as a thing and not a person. An experience to be had rather than the Third Person of the Trinity - God himself, present in our lives. He told us how at one time he fell into the same way of thinking in relation to his wife. He took her for granted and spent no time with her. Until his mother-in-law had a word with him. "Yonggi" she said, "do you like living with my daughter?" "Yes, of course," he said.
"Well," she said, "you are going to lose her if you keep treating her this way ... Son, don't you understand. You didn't bring a 'thing' into your home. You brought a person to your home. A person can't live in an apartment with just rice and clothes and money. She needs love, recognition, fellowship."
He was deeply challenged and God changed his attitude and his behaviour toward her. Certainly things happen when the Holy Spirit is around. But the Holy Spirit is not an experience to be had. He is a person and the wonder is that he leads the believer to share in his own fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son. He shows us God's love. How does he do that? First, he brings home to our minds and hearts God's past action. If you are grateful that God sent his Son to die for your sins, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:8:
God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:9:
This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.
Secondly, the Spirit brings home to our minds and hearts the reality of the believer's present situation, and God's active love towards us. Romans 8:16:
The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God's children ... by him we cry 'Abba, Father.'
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit brings home to our minds and hearts the loving words of God to us. Jesus said (in John 16:13)
" .. when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears."
And fourthly, the Holy Spirit acts in our lives as the guarantee of God's everlasting, loving, faithfulness towards his children. Ephesians 1:14: the Holy Spirit is
a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory.
The Holy Spirit brings home to the believer the reality of God's love. God loved us when he gave his Son to die. He loves us today with that same love. He will always love us. And he tells us he loves us. Do you know that? Have you put your faith in Christ and been given his Holy Spirit? When I tell you about the love of God is there a response within you that says: "Yes, it's true. I know it's true. Christ has died for me. God loves me. He is my heavenly Father."? If these is no such echo in your heart but you want to know that love, then surrender your life to Christ today and ask God to give you his Spirit. If you already know the reality of that love, then let me ask you this. Do you appreciate it? Or do you take it for granted? Do you respond with loving obedience to the love that God has shown to you? Do you take time each day to say thank you to your heavenly Father, and to allow the reality of his love to sink ever more deeply into your heart? Don't worry if you haven't had any overwhelming emotional experiences of the love of God. Don't worry if you have but it all seems a long time ago. Such experiences may come or they may not. That is up to God, and under his control. That kind of very intense experience may be wonderful and it is to be enjoyed if and when it comes. But it is not the same as knowing God's love. The work of the Spirit above all is the steady, day by day pouring of knowledge of God's love into the believer's heart. The two closest parallels to God's love for us in human relationships are a good marriage on the one hand, and the love of a good father for his child on the other. And marriage is not one long experience of ecstatic emotion, day after day. Unless I've missed something! Even less so is the child's knowledge of his or her father's love. But there is that profound security that produces an undercurrent of peace and joy. You are asked if anyone loves you and you immediately know the answer. "Yes. Yes, I am loved. Just as I am. And always." Except that even the strongest human love is fragile and broken in the end, even if it is only by death. The strongest human love is just a pale reflection of the love of God in Christ. And nothing can separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) Which leads me to my final heading: Thirdly, GOD NEVER LETS US DOWN The hope that we have does not disappoint us. Friends may let us down. Wives or husbands may let us down. Parents may disappoint us. And we, no doubt, will disappoint everybody who gets to know us well. But God is a rock. A stronghold. His love is eternal. Of course we must not misunderstand the nature of God's promise to those who trust him. He does not promise to be a kind of divine Jeeves to our human Wooster: that would not be love. That would be paid employment. And he does not promise to shield his children from major trouble. If we expect that, then the time will surely come when we feel mightily let down. One Christian woman wrote this: "My husband and I were youth leaders in our church ... when our 2½ year old son accidentally drowned. We had lived for the Lord and never lost anyone. We thought we would be spared such things. I went through four years numb, not understanding, not accepting my anger, continuing to try to be strong. I really was not talking to anyone about the pain and finally went into deep depression ..." The Christian life is not a bed of roses. Jesus made that quite clear. But the presence of Christ is constant. The promise of Christ is that he well bring us through anything that happens. And the love of Christ is being poured continuously into our lives by the Holy Spirit - whether or not we are in a fit state to appreciate it. In conclusion Let me tell you about a childhood experience of an Argentinian pastor. When he was growing up, 'siesta' time was mandatory. Everybody had to have a nap in the afternoon - children included. He was in the habit of waiting until all the adults were asleep, and then sneaking out of his room to join the other children running wild around the town. But his rather strict father discovered this, and made him sleep next to him so he could not get out unnoticed. He writes: "After a while my father's breathing would become rhythmic, clearly signalling that he was in sleepland. However, the moment I saw him horizontal and with his eyes closed, I was driven to slowly and carefully crawl towards him. Once I was next to him, I would put my head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat. What I did not know at this time is that because both my mum and dad had lost one of their parents in childhood, I was controlled by a subconscious fear of losing one of them. Seeing my father with his eyes closed always triggered that fear. As I leaned my ear on his chest, his heart beat reassured me emotionally. I even put lyrics to his heartbeat. "I love you, son. I won't die." Over and over. Oh, how good it felt!" "I love you, son. I won't die." That boy's dad would die, of course, in the end. But Christ will never die again. The Holy Spirit is like the heartbeat of God right close up to the believer's ear - reassuring us: "I love you, son. I won't die." How good it is to know that! Let's make our own the apostle Paul's prayer for the Ephesians (chapter 3 verses 14 to 21).
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, 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 fulness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.