A story was once written about a woman married to a man whom she did not love. He was very demanding of her life and her time. She was made to arise before daybreak to prepare his breakfast, the house was to be kept neat and spotless, all of his clothes had to be ironed, and she was responsible for paying all the bills. Her life was made miserable waiting on him and trying to satisfy his demanding requests. In time, her husband died. After a few years she married again, but this time it was to a man who was affectionate toward her and who adored her presence. Rather than living with demands and rules, she now lived with dignity and respect. One day while clearing out some old papers, she came across the strict set of rules her former husband had written out for her to obey. She read through the list very slowly and came to realize that she was still fulfilling every single one of his demands. However, she had not realized it because this time she was doing it for the sake of love rather than force.
If anyone ever modeled the perseverance of Christ, it would be the Apostle Paul. His life was filled with problems, pressures, perils, and prisons, but none of these things could derail his mission. His secret was not found in sheer determination, passionate enthusiasm, or even decisive ambition, but rather in his motive for service. Paul declared that motive in 2 Corinthians 5:14, “For the love of Christ constraineth us…” Having been exposed to the heart of God, God’s love moved beyond theory and became the compelling motivation of his life.
Many years ago, the great missionary Hudson Taylor was examining some young prospects for the mission field. He wanted to know why they each desired to be a missionary. One said, “I must go because Christ commanded us to go.” Another said, “I want to go because millions have not even heard the name of Christ.” Hudson then explained that while their motives were good, they would fail them in times of trials, testings, and possibly death. He added, “There is but one motive which will sustain you in trial and testing…the love of Christ must constrain you.” What motivates you to do what you do for the Lord? Until the love of God grips our hearts, the consistency of our walk will be critically impaired. What happens to a life constrained by the love of God?
God’s love carries us through endangerment. The first meaning of the word “constraineth” is “to hold together.” It is the picture of holding something securely to keep it from falling to pieces. As a child, I recall finding bird eggs in a nest that was built on a broken limb. The nest had lost stability, so I carefully and cautiously moved the nest to protect the eggs from breaking. With similar care, the Lord is fully aware of our weaknesses, and He holds us securely in place. Have you ever looked back on places in your past and wondered, “How did I ever make it through that?” Perhaps the psalmist had that thought in mind when he noted in Psalm 90:10-11, “For He shall give His angels charge over thee…they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” The truth is: we never make it through the hard places of life alone. If it were not for the Lord’s hands carrying us, we would utterly fall apart. It was the Lord’s constraint that kept Moses from losing his sanity in the wilderness, Peter from losing his sleep in prison, and Daniel from losing his skin in a lion’s den. We are never closer to the heart of God than when the fractures we possess threaten to shatter us into pieces.
God’s love conditions us for endurance. The second meaning of the word “constraineth” is “to press on every side.” It is the picture of cattle being forced into a cattle squeeze where it cannot move so the farmer can administer medicine. Has life ever left you feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place? It is interesting that Job’s troubles, Esther’s adversary, David’s distresses, Daniel’s tribulation, and Isaiah’s sorrow are all literally translated “a tight, narrow place.” Each of them must have faced panic as if the end was near, but like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, it only brought good things to the surface of their lives! John Newton, who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, once said, “Everything is needful that He sends; nothing is needful that He withholds.” In our frail humanity, it is easy to confuse God’s constraining affection with God’s consuming anger. David wrongly numbered the people in 2 Samuel 24 and found himself “in a great strait.” Balaam went ahead of God in Numbers 22 and found himself “in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.” It was not that God was through with their lives, He simply wanted them to trust Him. God’s love, like that of the sun, is often obscured from our view. But, may we always remember it never ceases to shine!
God’s love compensates us with expectation. The third meaning of the word “constraineth” is “to hold completely.” It is the picture of taking a prisoner. The idea of being taken prisoner conjures up images of a hostile takeover filled with humiliation, harassment, and hurt. But, in this word the Lord has in mind rescuing us with hope. Surrender is a frightening thought to lives that demand being in control. However, ponder this thought: is a raindrop lost if it surrenders itself into the sea? Not in the least! It is there the raindrop becomes a part of a larger picture and potential beyond its wildest imagination if it remained alone. A.W. Tozer once asked a question that answered itself, “With the goodness of God to desire our highest welfare, the wisdom of God to plan it, and the power of God to achieve it, what do we lack?” How else can you explain Gideon winning a battle with only 300 men? How else can you explain Elijah defeating over 800 false prophets while standing alone? They understood as long as God was on their side, they would always be in the majority. We will never realize nor live up to our potential if life is always lived by our will and our way.
Those who specialize in the study of dogs tell us that the true test of a dog’s loyalty lies in what they will do if their master should leave the front door open. In such a moment, they are held in check out of restraint or out of constraint. If the Lord should tell us today there were neither rules nor rewards for our lives, would His love for us still be enough to keep us faithful to our task? If not, life may just be miserable motions without earnest emotions.
Your Most Proud Pastor,
© 2009 Alan Stewart
Alan Stewart: Dr. Alan Stewart has served as Senior Pastor of Rechoboth Baptist since December 1999. He attended The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Moody Bible Institute, Covington Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
Prior to pastoring the Tennessee church, Alan was an evangelist for 15 years. He has preached revivals/pastor’s conferences in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. He also preached crusades/conferences in India, Hungary, and conducted a crusade in South Africa in August of 2009. Pastor Alan is married to Jeanne, and they are blessed with two children – Sierra and Seth.