I want you to know that quitting ain't an option.
"Love is a many-splendored thing, It's the April rose that only grows in the early spring." At least that is what one song-writer thought. And that, for all of us who have ever experienced falling in love, is true. For Jesus Christ, love is even more than that. It is a powerfully magnetic, attractive, and practical thing. The religious leaders of Christ's day could not understand that. They chose instead to believe that some sinister reason drew society's outcasts to Christ's message. So, now Jesus tells three parables, "The Lost Sheep," "The Lost Coin," and "The Lost Son." Or, if we really want to be accurate, call them, "The Seeking Shepherd," The Seeking Woman," and "The Seeking Father."
The first parable tells of how the seeking shepherd travels into the wilds to bring home the lost sheep because love is not gooey, otherworldly, and removed from reality but it's logical and practical, and, because of that, sometimes hard.
The third parable tells of the loving father whose young wayward second son went off to a far country and whose life ended up in a downward spiral until he came to his senses in a pig pen and turned back towards home. It tells us that no matter how far we have traveled from God there is always a way back home because of God's love and the cross on which God's only begotten Son, Jesus, died in our place.
In the second parable, which is our focus today, we see Christ's word picture of another wonderful quality to love: Love is persistent: With love, quitting is not an option. Paul reminds us of this in his great love chapter. He says, "Love is patient...Love never fails" in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. This woman in Luke 15 loses a coin and looks...and looks...and looks until she finds it. When she finds it she rejoices with her friends. Let's think about this Jesus style of love.
First, let's consider what we might call "pathetic love."
These men and women who gathered around to hear the magnetic message of Jesus had cut themselves off from the sacred places of life oftentimes. They did not feel a part of what God was doing in the religious climate of their generation. The message of God from the lips of their teachers seemed irrelevant. The religious leaders of their day, in their apathy, made no effort to ascertain the deeper causes of their spiritual condition or to win back lost souls into fellowship. "Who cares about the infidels?" they said. "Let them go!"
Did you see that awful picture in the evening news not long ago of a woman swept off by some terrible floods in La Paz? As she washed through her own neighborhood, one after another, neighbors tried in vain to rescue her with limbs and poles that they held out to her. None of their efforts was successful. Finally, someone holding a tree limb with one hand jumped into the rushing flood waters beside her, and with one hand still on the limb, he reached out with the other hand and saved her. What if that man risking his own life to reach her had decided that it was useless to try again? Suppose he had rehearsed in his mind the failed efforts of others and concluded there was no more use in trying? It's very easy for us in the church to decide it's time to give up but Jesus, the Lord of the church, never gives up.
Just a few days ago, a woman in the community where I live approached me after I had purchased something from the store where she works. Although she is not a member of the church I serve, she recognized me and asked if she might speak with me. She told me the story of her niece, a daughter of her deceased sister, who has slipped down through temptation's surly way and now makes her living in places where women are regarded as cheap entertainment and that are not safe for young women to go, where there is, and will be, abuse of almost every kind. "I've tried and tried to reach out to her," the woman said to me as her eyes began to swell with tears. Do you know anything else I might do? Then, before I had time to answer her, she said, "I know what I'm going to do. I'm going back down there to see her again and to try one more time because I love her and quitting ain't an option!" That is what love does. Love never gives up and it never gives in because love knows that "quitting ain't an option." How far different is this woman's love from the actions of the religious leaders of Jesus' time and even some today! How many times did Christ have to demonstrate love to you to win you? Love is never a pathetic thing.
Secondly, love is a persevering thing.
We all need a regular reminder of how long God worked with us to get us to where we are and still works with us to get us to where we need to be. For me (maybe for you) it began when I was very small. God has been trying all my life to reach me and make me what He wants me to be. In fact, it's been even longer than that, because I was bought and paid for about 2,000 years ago on the cross at Calvary, and so were you. Paul reminds me that God's love for me preceded even that cross for he says that he chose me in Christ before the world was created. And in Ephesians, chapter 1, he writes, "In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."
He is still trying! He has brought me a long way from where I used to be but because of what He has to work with, His work is not yet complete. Like the Apostle Paul I can say, "I have not yet been made perfect"(Philippians 3:12). I grew up in a covenant family. I cannot remember a time when God was not a part of our family conversations and church was not part of our lifestyle. Sometimes as a child, when I felt guilt or shame about something I did, I would promise God I'd do better. And, sometimes I would even try to bribe God or to buy Him off if He would do this or do that. "Lord, if You're willing, make my parents buy me that toy and I'll be a really good boy. I promise." And often He did, but I didn't! I got the toy but God did not get me. I imagine some of you know firsthand exactly what I'm saying. There were times in school when I would pray, "Lord, if You will just help me do well on this test I'll go to church every Sunday." Again, He often did, but I didn't! I passed the test in school, but I failed to keep my promise to God. As a teenager I prayed many times, "Lord, if You will make that pretty girl notice me, I'll read the Bible every day." He did, but I didn't. As an adult: "Lord, if you'll help me get that job or another raise in pay, I'll pray more often." He did, but I didn't! I got the job or the pay raise but God got no more of me. I even did it as a young preacher, "Lord, if you'll help me get that bigger church, I'll be more faithful in following you." He did, but I was not! When I would get myself in a fix, I'd pray, "Lord, I really mean it this time. Get me out of this and I'll get really serious with you." He did, but I did not! The whole problem with that kind of reasoning is that it's me-ism, it's not theism. It's a big Leslie and a little (small "g") god; a god of my imagination who is not even remotely like the sovereign Lord of the Bible.
And the real fatal flaw in such thinking is that it is based on the false assumption that I can come to God as an equal negotiator. It is built on a false notion that denies God's sovereignty.
Of course, I could have done all those things I had promised and it still would not have made one wit of difference to my eternal salvation because we are not saved by doing those things. We are saved by His sovereign grace demonstrated best on Calvary's cross and reinforced every day that we are alive by His providing care.
When we lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, someone showed me a letter written by a died-in-the-wool Yankee to some friends who were thinking of moving South. He wrote, "Down there, they've got movie rentals and fish bait in the same store. Don't buy your groceries there! And then, "If a southern kid on a go-cart says, 'Hey y'all watch this!' Stand back! Because those may the last words that kid ever says!" And then this, "Be aware that 'He needed killin' is a valid legal defense in the South. And this, "One good thing about the South: If you ever run your car off in a ditch you don't need to panic or wait for Triple A, because some guys in a four-wheel-drive truck with a case of beer in the back will show up shortly. They'll have a tow chain and get you out of there in no time. Don't try to help them. They've done it hundreds of times before. In fact, every time they do it it is the highlight of their day. It's what they live for!"
Now, I need to tell you I love the South and I live in the South now. In fact, I've spent most of my adult life in the South. My children and grandchildren are Southerners and (I'll let you into a secret!) when I lived up North and was invited back to speak down in the South again, I would often introduce myself by telling the people that I was "a missionary to the Yankees." Southerners like that! But that letter reminded me that I'm one of those people who occasionally thinks getting into the proverbial ditches (i.e., trouble) is no problem because God will always show up and pull me out. He has done it hundreds of times over the years. Seems like it's the highlight of His day, it's just what He lives for. But, no, wait! It's actually what He died for!
You see, the truth is that if God wanted to, He could just wipe us out and He would immediately be better off. But, instead, He gives us Calvary's sustaining love every single day. It is only by His amazing love that He puts up with me. Is that not also true with you? By persistent love, He conquers. I can never repay Him. God's middle name could be persistence! Because "quitting ain't an option" for God, even when it means that His Son dies on a cross in my place and yours.
This woman in Jesus' parable simply would not quit. The Greek text could be translated, "She (kept on keeping on) until she found it." Then, "She called in her friends...to rejoice." Can we even begin to calculate how much more valuable is a lost soul than a lost coin? God says, "That your soul and my soul is worth more than the life and reputation of His Son who "scorned the shame of the cross" (Hb 12:2) for us. For, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us," according to Romans chapter 5 and verse 8. Yes, God's middle name could be perseverance.
Then, third, there is this indication that love is persistent. Love is a persistent thing.
God has you in His grip! The fact that you are listening to this broadcast is good evidence that He has no intention of ever letting you go. If, as I was for many years, you are on the run from Him, you might as well save your energy and surrender. He will never let you go for He never gives up and He never gives in. That's the nature of His love.
In his novel, The Testament, John Grisham paints a powerful word portrait of one man's surrender to God's will. Nate O'Reilly, a disgraced corporate attorney, is plagued by alcoholism and drug abuse. After two marriages, four detox programs, and a serious health crisis, Nate acknowledges his need for God. Grisham describes the dramatic transformation in these words: With both hands, he clenched the back of the pew in front of him. He repeated (his) list, mumbling softly every weakness and flaw and affliction and evil that plagued him. He confessed them all. In one long glorious acknowledgment of failure, he laid himself bare before God. He held nothing back. He unloaded enough burdens to crush any three men, and when he finally finished Nate had tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered to God. "Please, help me." As quickly as the fever had left his body, he felt the baggage leave his soul. With one gentle brush of the hand, his slate had been wiped clean. He breathed a massive sigh of relief, but his pulse was racing.
Perhaps like Nate, you need to make a list of things to bring before the Lord. When you do, you will find Him waiting and ready to hear and forgive. Take it from Jesus Himself, "There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Maybe, some of you, like that lady in the store, are wrestling with a lost child, lost friends, lost husband, lost wife, lost marriage. I'm here to encourage your heart today, to say to you that quitting is not an option. "Don't get tired of doing what is good," Paul says to the Galatians. "Don't get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time" (Galatians 6:9). Put your hand in the hand that pulls us out of the ditches of life and keep on keeping on for "quitting ain't an option" for Him or for you.
Love always persists and love never fails. Isn't that why you are listening to this program? I know it's why I am speaking on it! "In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God's angels when even one sinner repents." Thanks be to God!
Loving and eternal God, we thank you for that love that persists and that perhaps even in the course of this day, maybe even through this program, has persisted with someone listening to make a transformation, to pick up a heart that is broken, and begin the process of putting it back together again. Thank you that you never quit. In Jesus' name. Amen.