Read the Bible in 2011* ◊ Week 4: Sunday
The Bible speaks of God the Father, but while calling God, Father, is easily done by some Christians, for others it is a struggle because it brings painful memories of their earthly father. There is confusion in our understanding of God and our emotions are connected to those men who have failed us and harmed us, and that can overlay and distort the truth of who God is. Sometimes we don’t comprehend the difference the Gospel makes in our lives in a new relationship with our Father, God, who loves us.
The Prodigal Son is probably the best known, and the best loved, of all of the parables told by Jesus. I think in part that’s because it tells the story of the kind of father we would all like to have. Some of us may have been blessed with a father similar to the one in the parable, but I would guess a majority of us have a deep longing for a father who loves and forgives us as the son’s father did.
Look at this painting. The compassion and love of this father pales in comparison with the love that God has for us who are his children.
This struggle isn’t new. In the 1600s, John Owen wrote a wonderful book, Communion With God, in which he provides truth after truth from the Bible to give us clarity and assurance. His pastor’s heart is evident within the pages. I have found such help from his work that I want to share with you something he wrote.
The word usage is unfamiliar, but work through it. This is balm to the heart. I think the word peculiarly here means “characteristic of one only; distinctive or special.”1 Communion is “not merely the interchange of feeling between God in his gracious character and a soul in a gracious state, but the gracious relationship upon which this holy interchange is based.”2
The emphasis is Owen’s.
“I come now to declare what it is wherein peculiarly and eminently the saints have communion with the Father; and this is LOVE,—free, undeserved, and eternal love. This the Father peculiarly fixes upon the saints; this they are immediately to eye in him, to receive of him, and to make such returns thereof as he is delighted withal. This is the great discovery of the gospel: for whereas the Father, as the fountain of the Deity, is not known any other way but as full of wrath, anger, and indignation against sin, nor can the sons of men have any other thoughts of him (Rom. i. 18; Isa. xxxiii. 13, 14; Hab. i. 13; Ps. v. 4–6; Eph. ii. 3),—here he is now revealed peculiarly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the peculiar work of the gospel, Tit. iii. 4.”3
Those who know Christ are no longer under the wrath of God. We need not fear Him. This is the great discovery of the gospel: God the Father loves His children with free, undeserved, and eternal love.
In Romans 8:14–17, Paul wrote,
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Years ago Michael Card and John Thompson wrote the song, El Shaddai. Some of the Hebrew names for God from the Old Testament are used in the words. In 1993 I wrote an additional set of lyrics because now we are able to call God, Abba! Father!
Through our lives in all Your ways,
You are cause for ceaseless praise.
You will make us like Your Son,
‘Til our race of faith is won.
El shaddai, el shaddai,
Abba! Father! now we cry.
In you our trust shall lie,
There may be times we know great affliction in this world or times we undergo God’s discipline, but do not doubt the Father’s love for you.
See also: “The Love That Will Not Let Go” and Unfailing Love.
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
The Return of the Prodigal Son: James Tissot, Public Domain.
Little girl: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted).
1Peculiar: The common meaning today is odd, but it also means: “characteristic of one only; distinctive or special”. Princeton University “Peculiar.” WordNet. Princeton University. 2010. <http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn>
2Communion: ‘The term “Communion,” as used by Owen, is used in a wider sense than is consistent with that which is now generally attached to it in religious phraseology. It denotes not merely the interchange of feeling between God in his gracious character and a soul in a gracious state, but the gracious relationship upon which this holy interchange is based. On the part of Christ, for example, all his work and its results are described, from the atonement till it takes effect in the actual justification of the sinner.’ William H. Goold, ed., “Prefatory Note,” John Owen, The Works of John Owen William H. Goold, ed., Vol. II, Communion with God, Chapter III (Reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, Scotland: 2004) 2.
The word Abba is a transliteration of an Aramaic word. W. E. Vine has this definition:
“ABBA (Αββα) is an Aramaic word, found in Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15 and Gal 4:6. In the Gemara (a Rabbinical commentary on the Mishna, the traditional teaching of the Jews) it is stated that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this title. It approximates to a personal name, in contrast to “Father,” with which it is always joined in the NT. This is probably due to the fact that, abba having practically become a proper name, Greek-speaking Jews added the Greek word patēr, “father,” from the language they used. Abba is the word framed by the lips of infants, and betokens unreasoning trust; “father” expresses an intelligent apprehension of the relationship. The two together express the love and intelligent confidence of the child.” W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Old Testament edited by F. F. Bruce, vol. 1 (Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan NJ: 1981) 9.
*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” On the directory pages if a day didn’t link to a post, it was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.
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