Many years ago, I heard John Piper compare ministry to living in a hall of mirrors. You look into one mirror, he said, and you appear short and fat. You look into another mirror, and you are tall and thin. And you look into yet another mirror, and you appear totally upside down.

It is easy, Piper concluded, to lose our focus in ministry. If we are not careful, we can begin responding to the various feedback and criticisms that we receive. When someone tells us that we are short and fat, we can so easily respond by going on a diet. When someone says that we are tall and thin, we can respond by trying to gain weight. And when we hear that we are upside down, we can respond by standing on our heads. Before we know it, we are trying to please everyone by striving to be what each person thinks we should be.

No one can last very long in ministry in this kind of setting. Either frustration and bitterness will consume us, or we will burn ourselves out in our trying to be everything to everyone. How can we maintain our focus in ministry and preserve our longevity and fruitfulness?

I have found that I need to be reminded regularly of the “deep, deep love of Jesus,” to borrow the words of the well-known hymn. I need to be reminded that God really does love me and gave His Son for me. And if I don’t get this reminder regularly, I find that I am far more susceptible to allowing the feedback and criticisms of others to set my course and my tempo for ministry. To that end, let us consider how Luke 15 encourages us to remember God’s love for us.

Luke 15 contains three familiar parables—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. All three are given in response to the Pharisees and religious leaders who were grumbling and complaining about Jesus’ receiving sinners and even eating with them (v. 2). All three parables teach them, and us, about the love of God. According to Jesus, the love of God is not reserved for those who think they are good people any more than the care of the physician is reserved for those who think they are well. God’s love does not wait until we clean ourselves up; it seeks out lost sinners and is given to those who do not deserve it.

Love That Spares No Expense

In the first parable, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep. After one of them becomes lost, the shepherd leaves the remaining ninety-nine “in the open country” and goes after the one that is missing. Jesus’ point is clear: the love of God is such that it spares no expense. It is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of one lost sheep.

Utilitarianism tells us that the ninety-nine are worth far more than the one that is lost. After all, that one lost sheep is to blame for wandering away from the safety of the flock anyway. The right thing to do is to sacrifice the one for the sake of the greater good of the ninety-nine. But Jesus says that is not the way the love of God works. God is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the one. His love spares no expense.

We sometimes marvel that God would go to such great lengths to save us, that He would send His own Son into the world to be born of a woman, born under the law, and that He would voluntarily take the guilt for all our sins upon Himself. We marvel at that. Can it really be possible? Why would God do this? Luke 15 gives us one answer to these questions: our God is a God whose love spares no expense. He leaves the ninety-nine for the sake of the one.

Love That Attends to Details

The second parable is similar to the first. But instead of emphasizing the sacrificial nature of the love of God, it focuses on the thorough and deliberate manner in which God’s love pursues that which is lost. Having misplaced one of ten silver coins (probably 10 percent of her net worth), the woman in the second parable searches “diligently” or “carefully” or “thoroughly” to find it (v. 8). And Jesus’ point is that the love of God acts just that way. It leaves no stone unturned, no detail unattended to. As we might say, it dots every i and crosses every t.

Such is the character of the love of our great God and King. It spares no expense, and it leaves no detail unattended to.

The great seventeenth-century Scottish minister Samuel Rutherford once said that when we get to heaven, we will look back over our lives on earth and see that if anything else had happened to us in our lives other than what actually did happen, we would never have made it to heaven. We would have fallen away or jettisoned our faith or grown complacent and quit. Rutherford’s point is that God is always careful and thorough. He weaves together every detail of our lives, leaving no stone unturned and no detail unattended to, such that we who are lost will not only be found but will be in heaven with Him. Such is the character of the love of our great God and King. It spares no expense, and it leaves no detail unattended to.

Love That Conquers Every Sin

The third parable is the best known of all. Here, Jesus tells the story of a man who has two sons, the younger one of whom rebels against his father by asking for his share of the inheritance (approximately one-third of the estate). In asking for this while his father is still alive, the younger son is saying to his father: “I wish you were dead. Your money is more important to me than you are. I don’t want you in my life. I just want your money. Give me what the law says you owe me.” His actions convey the height of rebellion and ingratitude. This son wants nothing to do with his father. He wants to get as far away from him as he possibly can. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the son takes his father’s money and squanders it in “reckless living” (v. 13). He wastes it on prostitutes and parties (v. 30).

Despite the son’s rebellion, despite his complete disregard for his father and the complete waste of his possessions, the father still receives his son lavishly when he returns home. We are told that the father continually scans the horizon waiting to catch a glimpse of his son coming home. When the father finally sees him, “while he was still a long way off,” he throws caution and dignity to the wind and runs to his son and welcomes him extravagantly, as though the son had never done any of the things that he had actually done (vv. 20, 22–24).

Jesus’ point in this third parable is that no sin is too great for the love of God. No sin is beyond His forgiveness. No rebellion is beyond His grace. That does not give us license to go on sinning; rather, it hastens our repentance. It brings us back home to our Father. We know that when we return, He will shower us with lavish expressions of His love despite our many failures and our hardhearted rebellion. He will receive us as though we had never done any of the things that we have done.

That is the kind of love that I need to be reminded of, a love in which no expense is spared, no detail is left unattended, and no sin is too great. Being reminded of that love helps me overcome the seemingly insatiable desire to please others and to be what they think I should be in ministry. Being reminded of that love helps me maintain my center and my focus upon the Lord. My prayer is that it will help you do the same as well.

Editor’s Note: This post was first published on February 21, 2018.

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