If someone told you need to choose between two kinds of love – a committed love or compassionate love – which would you choose? Think about it for a second.
By committed, I mean someone who is faithful. Reliable. They’re there for you. The have your best interests in mind. Loyal love can, at times, not feel warm and fuzzy, but it is faithful and committed. Or compassionate love, where there’s a warmth, a feeling. There’s no question that they love you because you can feel their love. But it can be a little more come-and-go in expression.
Which would you prefer, compassionate or committed? Don’t you love those questions? I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been revisiting Psalm 103. So, if you’ll turn there just for a minute. Psalm 103. If you’re using a seat Bible, it’s page 502 in one of the Bibles near you in the seat. What’s happening in Psalm 103 is really a sermon to self. It’s a model of preaching to yourself. And in one sense, it’s almost like a personal soul workout plan.
When you wake up in the morning and your brain is everywhere and you feel distracted or pulled in a hundred different directions and you’re not really sure how to think about God or the day. Notice what David does here. He takes his soul in his hands and he talks to himself. Kind of scary. He’s not just listening to how he feels. He talks to himself and he says, (verse 1)
“Soul, let me tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to bless the Lord.”
Do you see that? “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” He’s telling his soul to bless the Lord.
“And not just with part of you, soul. You’re not just going to do this verbally, you’re not just going to do this halfheartedly. All that is within you, bless his holy name.”
And then immediately thoughts come, distractions, what-about questions? And so, he realizes, he’s got to get that soul back in line. So, he repeats himself. Verse 2,
“Soul, are you listening? Look at me, soul. Soul, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to bless the Lord. We’re not going to forget his benefits. We’re going to remember his benefits.”
Do you see how important this is? Just like if you start a new workout plan and you do one thing, like calisthenics, whatever that is. You do that and you’re just like, “I’m in shape now.” No. Anybody knows that you’ve got to do that a lot of times. And that is really what David is modeling for us here with getting your soul in shape.
“Soul, bless the Lord. All that is within me. We’re all in, and let’s repeat. Soul, let’s not forget his benefits. And now into the routine part. Let’s rehearse some of these benefits,” and he starts going through them. What kind of benefits are you talking about? Well, he actually forgives all your iniquities. He forgives all your iniquities, now and tomorrow and forever. He heals all your diseases. He sometimes miraculously heals you the moment you ask, sometimes over time, but ultimately all your diseases are going to be healed. He heals all your diseases.
He redeems your life from the pit. That word “redeem” has to do with buying back out of bondage, bondage to the pit of despair, the pit of sin, the pit of addiction. He buys you back. He pays your debt. He lifts you up out of the pit. Ultimately that’s pointing to the grave. There is no grave that can hold the one whom God loves. He redeems your life from the pit. And here’s the part I want us to focus on for a few minutes.
Second half of Verse 4, “who crowns you, who crowns you with lovingkindness, steadfast love, and mercy.” Now what does he mean “crowns you”? It could mean, that word means just what it sounds like, a coronation. And in the context, it makes sense. You’re lifted up from the pit, elevated to the status of king and queen, like a royal exaltation to exercise dominion over all creation as God originally designed in creation. We are not to be dominated by sin and all the repercussions of sin.
He redeems us. He lifts us up and crowns us! But the other thing that word “crowned” can mean is sometimes translated “to encircle,” kind of like a crown, but “to surround,” which also makes sense in the context because if he’s exalting us from the pit, surrounding us, encircling us. Then he mentions two different Hebrew words for love, both a kind of love.
The first one is “hesed,” which is God’s covenantal, loyal love. You could you could describe that as commitment love, committed love. He crowns us, he surrounds us. He exalts us to a place of living in his committed, loyal, durable, enduring, steadfast love. The kind of love that does not fluctuate with feelings. The kind of love that does not change whether you have a good day or a bad day or you wake up feeling like a Christian or a pagan. It’s a steadfast, loyal love. He surrounds us with that loyal love.
The second word “raham” is a word that has to do with compassion and has a lot more emotion in it. It is sometimes translated “pity.” It is more of a feeling love. It is used later on in the chapter, verses 13 and 14.
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
In contrast to verse 17,
“the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear.”
Isn’t that beautiful? When it comes to God, you don’t have to pick whether you want committed love or compassionate love. He encircles you, surrounds you. You are swimming in and exalted by his committed, compassionate love. He doesn’t just love you legally, which is true, right? Jesus died for your sins, so God loves you and he won’t hold you accountable for a sin that his Son died for. Legally, he loves you in that way. But it is more than that! His heart is moved with compassion for you.
One of the most beautiful pictures of this combination came through at the very end of the movie “The Passion” when Jesus was hanging on the cross and gave up the spirit. He was literally, there was a transactional love there. He was literally assuming the guilt of every sin you ever committed on himself and dying on your behalf. But then the camera goes up and looks down, and I don’t know if you can see it, but that is a giant teardrop falling from heaven to earth and that is a beautiful scene, communicating right there both the committed love, which drove Christ to the cross. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only be gotten Son.”
But that was not done merely as a legal transaction. The thing that moved God’s heart to go to such an extent as to give himself for us is the heart of God loves us with a deep feeling of compassion on those who are bound in sin, those who desperately need him.
So, when you think about God and his love, you are – and this is one of the daily exercises of the soul that David models here – we are crowned with a kind of love that comes at us from different perspectives. It’s not just a feeling love that’s kind of soft and pliable and warm and fuzzy but isn’t very strong.
You know people who have that kind of love, “grandma love,” and then you know other people who may have a much stronger kind of love. You know they’re committed to you, but it certainly doesn’t feel like they love you. Ever. What this passage is describing and promising us and calling us to rehearse as we “forget not all his benefits,” as we bless the Lord, and get our soul between our hands and say, “Regardless of the lies you believe, regardless of the feelings that fluctuate within you, he has surrounded you, encircled you with a strong, durable, yet compassionate and deeply feeling love.” Regardless of how you feel about him, this is how he feels about you. Isn’t that beautiful? He crowns us with steadfast love and deep compassion.
And as we have the privilege today to rejoice with some of our brothers and sisters who are taking a big step of baptism, we get to see this pictured in baptism. Part of what’s happening… the water doesn’t save anybody. It’s Christ who saves by grace through faith. But when a person is buried in the likeness of his death, raised in the likeness of his resurrection, we get a picture of hesed love of God, the loyal, committed, covenantal love. It wasn’t anything that person did that earned that love. It was the free love of God committed to that individual to rescue them.
But also, and this is something that I think about that isn’t specifically outlined in Scripture but (this part is) when a person is under the water, there is a picture of washing and cleansing. But I love to think of that water as expressing, picturing the tears of God. The One who is acquainted with our grief, carried our sorrows is washing away, not just our sin, but is moving toward our sorrow, is bearing our burdens. You can’t love someone sacrificially without, in a sense, absorbing upon yourself their grief, their sadness, their sorrow. And God, the Creator of all things, has moved toward us in that way, not only in a way that pays for our sin, that sets us free from the bondage to the devil, but also because Jesus has a Father who dearly loves his people.
So, we get to get a glimpse of that now as we hear some of the stories of those who have trusted Christ on video. But then as we get to see this pictured, we get to see this all day. I think there’s four or five in this service. There are others in the first service and in the third service, so let’s give thanks to him.
Father, we bless your name today. We praise you together. We refuse to forget your benefits. You have forgiven our iniquities. For all those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ, you have forgiven our iniquities, you heal our diseases, y redeem our lives from the pit, and you crown us with steadfast love and mercy.
And Lord, we get to watch that. And I pray that as we hear these testimonies, as we see these baptisms that there will be many, many thanksgivings rising up to you from our hearts as we bless your name for your glory. And for those who don’t know what it’s like to be loved in a committed, compassionate way, may you draw our hearts to you today. May there be some in here who put their faith in Jesus Christ for your glory. Amen.