This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Father and Child

God's love for believers is illustrated by means of multiple pictures throughout the Bible. So far this series has examined that love as demonstrated through the following relationships: hen and chicks, husbandman and vine, shepherd and sheep, master and servants, king and subjects, brother and brothers, and husband and bride. This final segment looks at the loving relationship between a parent and child.

God shares some characteristics that a mother would show to her children. First, God comforts His children like a mother would. "As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13). No one can comfort as effectively as a mother. A child may have a special babysitter or a favorite aunt that he enjoys immensely, but when he is tired or sad or injured or scared, he will bypass that special person and go straight to his mother. There is something about the way she holds him, the words she says, and the way in which she says them that makes the mother the only desired source when comfort is needed.

Second, God's devotion to His children is undying, just as a mother seems incapable of ever forgetting or neglecting one to whom she has given birth. "Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15). As seemingly impossible as it would be for a mother to forget her baby, God is even more mindful of His own. He can never forget or neglect those whose names are written permanently on His loving hands. For a fuller discussion of this topic, see A Mother's Love.

Most of the revelation about God's parental love describes God as a father. Sadly, this picture loses some of its intended impact in our world due to the absence of fathers in many homes; it also suffers from the neglectful, inexpressive nature or the harsh, demanding demeanor of many fathers who are present. A good father, on the other hand, is a great blessing, and God is the best Father, the only perfect one.

God Himself claims this relationship. "'And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' says the Lord Almighty" (II Corinthians 6:18). God even willingly claims those who are most needy. "A father of the fatherless . . . is God in His holy habitation" (Psalm 68:5). Believers enter this precious relationship when they accept God's love through the new birth. The relationship truly is one of love. "For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father" (John 16:27). All other aspects of the relationship extend from this great love.

First, the Father meets the needs of His children. Christians should not worry about basic needs such as food and clothing. God meets the needs even of the tiny birds and fragile flowers. "Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matthew 6:26). God will not fail to meet these needs due to ignorance or neglect; "for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (Matthew 6:32). In fact, even if believers did not express their needs to God, He would still supply, "for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8).

Second, the Father responds to the requests of His children. Other Scriptures reveal guidelines for prayer, but the unshakeable reality is that God hears the prayers of His children, and He answers those prayers according to His wisdom. God does not hold Himself back or ration His responses to what His children ask for. "Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you" (John 16:23).

Third, the Father gives good gifts to His children. These gifts come at times in response to requests and at times without any request having been made. God wants to pour out blessings on His children. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!" (Matthew 7:11). "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17).

Fourth, the Father cares about His children's pain. In a wondrous surpassing of the love of earthly fathers, God knows every hurt that His children experience. "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from Your Father. . . . So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29,31). The Father responds to these hurts with the most tender and understanding compassion. "Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).

Fifth, the Father teaches His children. In fact, He concentrates on teaching them the best things, truths with eternal value. "At that time Jesus said, 'I praise You, Father, . . . that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants'" (Matthew 11:25). "Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17).

Sixth, the Father rewards the labors of His children. This is particularly true when those efforts are directed for His glory and not for the purpose of human recognition. "Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:4). The Father honors service rendered to Him. "If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him" (John 12:26).

Seventh, the Father corrects His children when they are going astray, and He lovingly works to bring them back to the right way. "For whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights" (Proverbs 3:12). "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?" (Hebrews 12:7).

Finally, the Father graciously forgives. Even when His child has been wayward and has perhaps rebelled against God for some time, the Father lovingly waits to receive him back and to restore him in his precious position as a son. The parable of the prodigal son illustrates this tender heart of God. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). Just like the mother who cannot forget her child, so is the father who is always ready to forgive and receive his child. Divine love creates a bond that can never be broken in spite of the shortcomings of the child.

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are." I John 3:1 (NASB)

This study was prompted by and partially based upon the final sermon in a series about knowing God that can be ordered here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Husband and Bride

Of all the pictures that illustrate God's love for His children, I find that of a husband with his bride to be the most fascinating. Not only do I believe this to be the comparison that most fully reflects the nature of the relationship between God and the believer, but I also believe that God invented marriage (with His guidelines for what it should be like) so that He would have as insightful a picture as possible to illustrate His relationship with Christians.

Nowhere else in Scripture is this relationship so intensely illustrated as in the Song of Solomon. While the book gives an example of the passionate love that ought to exist between a man and his wife, on a larger scale it reveals God's love for His bride, the believer. The story line mimics the interactions between God and a believer, and the statements of the bridegroom echo the love God has for His chosen. Deep love is expressed through statements like the following.

"Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens" (2:2). "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along" (2:10). "How beautiful you are, my darling, how beautiful you are!" (4:1). "You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you" (4:7). "You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes" (4:9). "How beautiful and how delightful you are, my love, with all your charms!" (7:6). "Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised" (8:7).

Throughout the Bible, God gives instructions about the institution of marriage that He ordained. It is important that these guidelines designed by God be followed in order to present a true picture of God's love for believers. Without question, God Himself follows the pattern that He established. With that in mind, the Bible contains some interesting insights about God's love expressed through the picture of marriage.

Salvation itself is compared to the excitement and extravagant preparations of the wedding day. "I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, . . . for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10).

God rejoices over His bride. "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5). While this verse refers specifically to Israel, other parts of the Bible reveal that the Gentile church is also included as the bride.

The husband is admonished to faithfulness to his bride, and to be always satisfied with her, desiring no one else. "Rejoice in the wife of your youth. . . . Be exhilarated always with her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Marriage is such a positive thing that it is to be viewed as a reward. "Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life" (Ecclesiastes 9:9).

A loving husband wants his wife to be fruitful and sees this fruitfulness as a blessing. "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house" (Psalm 128:3). This is also a common theme found in Song of Solomon.

A loving husband is interested in pleasing his wife, and he gives diligent effort to doing good things for her. "But one who is married is concerned with the things of the world, how he may please his wife" (I Corinthians 7:33).

A loving husband understands his wife, especially in the aspect of recognizing and being sensitive to her weaknesses. "You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman" (I Peter 3:7)

God chose His bride while she was imperfect and hurting. He accepted someone whom others had rejected. "For your husband is your Maker, . . .  For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected" (Isaiah 54:5-6).

Even when believers are unfaithful to God, He remains faithful. In spite of His bride's defilement, He invites her to come back to Him. "God says, 'If a husband divorces his wife and she goes from him and belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted? But you are a harlot with many lovers; yet you turn to Me,' declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 3:1). The story of Hosea was designed to show this undying love of God in spite of the bride's gross violation of the marriage vows. "Then the LORD said to me, 'Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes'" (Hosea 3:1).

God will never put away the bride He has taken. "'Let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,' says the LORD" (Malachi 2:15-16).

Marriage is for life. "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord" (I Corinthians 7:39). Since God is eternal, and since He gives His children eternal life, there is no end to this marriage.

A husband and his wife become one. Believers are joined inseparably to God. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). Because the believer is one with Christ, the bride can never be separated from God or His love.

What is probably the Bible's most famous passage regarding husbands describes the extent of love. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. . . .This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5: 25-30,32).

God as the husband loves the wife as if she were His own body (which, in fact, she is), and He showed that love when Jesus actually sacrificed His own life for her. God nourishes and cherishes His bride. He also has a great objective for her; He wants to cleanse her, to help her improve and develop to the point that there is no longer the least bit of spot or impurity in her. With His intervention, she will become someone infinitely more beautiful than she ever could have become on her own. The above passage closes by revealing the God-intended picture of His love as seen through the institution of marriage.

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." Revelation 19:7 (NASB)
This study was prompted by and partially based upon the final sermon in a series about knowing God that can be ordered here.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Brother and Brothers

In this series about relationships that illustrate God's love for His children, I come to the picture of brothers. Jesus taught that believers are His brothers. "And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whosoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother'" (Matthew 12:49-50). Jesus also declared, "My mother and My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21). Paul reveals the stated purpose of God that Jesus "would be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).

A person could look at his own family experience to understand what a brother does; given a positive background, this consideration could be insightful and encouraging. Lest one's understanding of this truth be colored by negative experience, however, the Bible provides instruction about how a brother should treat his siblings; Jesus fully mastered every biblical instruction. In essence, the relationship between brothers is one of unified support and helpfulness.

This supportive relationship is first of all characterized by kind and fervent love. Peter gives this instruction in his first epistle: "Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart" (1:22). Also, "To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit" (3:8).

This heartfelt, overflowing love can express itself in a multitude of ways. Here are just a few examples. Paul asked of his brother Philemon, "Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ" (Philemon 1:20). A true brother encourages and refreshes the spirit of his brothers. Luke 15:32 provides another insight: "But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found." A loving brother rejoices when things go well for his siblings or are again put right for them.

Second, the supportive relationship is characterized by loyalty and understanding. It is careful not to take action that would undermine or damage the relationship. The action with perhaps the greatest damaging potential is found in James 4:11. "Do not speak evil against one another, brethren." This attitude extends beyond words to also include actions: "That no man transgress and defraud his brother" (I Thessalonians 4:6). Because a loving brother seeks to help his brother and be unified with him, he does not speak or act in a way that attacks his brother or invites separation.

This spirit of loyalty and understanding means that a brother is gentle and patient with his brother rather than rigid or dictatorial. He especially understands when a brother has a slightly different or perhaps incomplete knowledge that causes him to act, although sincerely, in a way that is perhaps not optimal. Instead of attacking, the brother protects and patiently guides. "But now, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? . . . Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this - not to put an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother's way. . . . So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another" (Romans 14:10,13,19).

Third, the supportive relationship is characterized by longsuffering and forgiveness. The one who loves in this way does not contribute to the breaking of the relationship. Matthew 5:22-24 describes the serious nature of being angry with one's brother and of speaking or acting in that anger. The verses also describe the important and necessary process of speedy restoration. When the unity between loving brothers is broken for any reason, the desire is always to be reconciled and return to a state of unity as quickly as possible.

When an offense or division exists between brothers, they are able to talk to one another and come to peace. "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother" (Matthew 18:15). The desire is to restore the bond. In fact, this desire is so strong that forgiveness is unlimited. "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'" (Matthew 18:21-22).

Fourth, the supportive relationship is characterized by appropriate intervention in time of need. When the need is physical, the brother responds with physical help. "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" (I John 3:17). James questions the heart of one who does not respond to the physical needs of his brothers (James 2:15-16).

When the need is spiritual, the brother responds with spiritual help. First Thessalonians 3:2 tells just one of many examples: "And we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith." Even when someone falls into sin or error, a loving brother will still show his support by praying. "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will give life to those who commit sin not leading to death" (I John 5:16). The brother's heart of love also desires spiritual restoration for his brother. "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness" (Galatians 6:1).

As the perfect brother, Jesus wonderfully expresses this support and helpfulness. He loves His brothers beyond the level that anyone else can love. He is understanding of human weakness and does not tear down His brothers. He is supremely patient and forgiving of even the worst offenses, and He faithfully meets both physical and spiritual needs that no one else can meet. Jesus does everything that an earthly brother should do, but He goes beyond that. Jesus expresses His support and helpfulness in a way that earthly brothers cannot.

Because Jesus was "not ashamed to call [believers] brethren, . . . He Himself likewise also partook of the same [flesh and blood]" (Hebrews 2:11,14). He chose to become a man and to suffer so that He could fully understand human suffering and weakness. This experience equipped Him to be able to minister most fully to fallen mankind. "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18).

Jesus unashamedly claims believers as His brothers. He became flesh on purpose so that He could understand their sufferings. His knowledge makes Him compassionate to help them in temptation. His victory over temptation equips Him to give the help they need. His compassionate understanding of man is coupled with His divine power to deliver a tremendous display of the brotherly love that seeks to support and help believers throughout all of life.

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for [times of] adversity." Proverbs 17:17 (NASB)
This study was prompted by and partially based upon the final sermon in a series about knowing God that can be ordered here.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

King and Subjects

God expresses His love for His people through many pictures. One of those pictures is the relationship between a king and his subjects. While the Bible may not explicitly connect this relationship with the concept of love, nevertheless it does present aspects of a loving God. Stories of harsh and cruel kings abound, but both history and fiction are also filled with the accounts of good kings who truly loved their people. God takes that concept to its highest possible level. As a benevolent monarch, God provides for and protects His subjects; He lovingly rules over their world and their lives.

One important aspect of the loving King is His power. This is vitally important, as it allows the King to carry out what His heart desires to do. "Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle" (Psalm 24:8). The Bible reveals that "His eyes keep watch on the nations" (Psalm 66:7) and that "His sovereignty rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). God the King is paying attention to everything that happens. He has the power to control, restrict, direct, and override the actions of men. Because He knows what is happening in the lives of His subjects, and because He has all power to control what happens, the King is able to act properly toward those He loves.

A second important aspect of the loving King is His righteousness. It would matter very little that He is able to do anything if He did not choose to do the right thing. There is no such fear regarding the actions of God, because He always does what is right. "With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the LORD. . . . for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity" (Psalm 98:6,9). God's decisions are right and fair. He does what is right because it is part of His character and because righteousness is so important to Him. "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness" (Psalm 45:6-7). Righteousness is so inherent in this King that He cannot choose any other verdict.

A third important aspect regarding this loving King is that He is divine. "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever" (I Timothy 1:17). I have heard the evaluation that the best form of human government would be a monarchy - provided the monarch is a good one. Sadly, citizens could prosper under such a ruler only to have him die and be succeeded by a scoundrel. There is no such fear with God. He is an eternal King, existing before the creation of the world and lasting past the destruction of the world. He is immortal; He cannot die. This King will always rule. He will always be in control. There will never be a time that the believer's benevolent monarch is replaced with any other ruler.

Fourth, this loving King is helpful. Yes, He does deliver His people and make righteous judgments as noted above, but He also interacts positively in the lives of His citizens. Beyond being merely a wall of defense or a righteous judge, He is a King who provides blessing for His subjects. "The LORD sat as King at the flood; yes, the LORD sits as King forever. The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace" (Psalm 29:10-11). This loving King helps His people in the living of daily life by giving them strength and enabling them to do the mundane or ordinary tasks that fill their days. Wonderfully, He also gives the blessing of peace, providing a beneficial atmosphere in which His citizens can live their lives.

Fifth, there is the very precious truth that this loving King is compassionate. He takes a special interest and shows a special care for those who are most needy. There are people who fall through the cracks in society, and who do not have anyone to advocate on their behalf or provide for them. The King claims these needy subjects as His own personal responsibility. "The LORD is King forever and ever: nations have perished from His land. O LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror" (Psalm 10:16-18).

Psalm 145 offers praise to this kind and compassionate King. "I will extol You, my God, O King, and I will bless Your name forever and ever" (v. 1). The passage recalls the King's power and mighty works (vs. 3-6, 10-12). It speaks of His blessings and goodness (vs. 7-9). Then comes a beautiful description of how this King interacts with the neediest of His subjects. "The LORD sustains all who fall and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is righteous is all His ways and kind in all His deeds. The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them. The LORD keeps all who love Him" (vs. 14-20). This King knows who really needs help, and He graciously draws from His infinite resources to lovingly minister to them.

What a wonder that the Almighty God would allow such needy and sinful people to be part of His kingdom! Not only does He claim as citizens those who have trusted in Him, but He goes beyond that to give them a share in the riches of His kingdom. "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 25:34).

"There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore." Isaiah 9:7 (NASB)