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November 17, 2019 - Hosea Chapter 1

November 17, 2019

Hosea Chapter One

1:1 “The Word of the Lord which came to Hosea.” 

God spoke to a man at a particular time and place in history.  It is not that man’s word.  It is God’s Word to that man.  This lends authority and urgency to the ministry of Hosea — he speaks because God has spoken.  What does this tell us about God?  That God is not hiding and is not silent.  He reveals Himself to people, communicates His Word, His truth, His plans and purposes to His servants and through them to whoever will listen and obey.  This Word that God speaks requires a response, demands action.  We may listen and respond or listen and refuse. Or we may refuse to listen. However, to refuse is a response.  To fail to act or obey is an action, the act of disobedience.

Notice the confidence of Hosea. He knows that the living God has spoken to Him and he is confident to declare this word to the nation. The truth that Hosea declares existed before Him — it is the word of the eternal God and therefore, it is eternally true. It is true for every generation, every society and culture, without exception. It is not disproven or invalidated by the latest philosophies, cultural customs or false gods. It is a transcendent word spoken by a transcendent God who exists before and beyond every society, every culture, every generation yet meets us in our time, our cultural setting.

1:2 Hosea is commanded to marry a prostitute and “have children of harlotry, for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.”  The subtext here is that God and Israel had entered into a covenant relationship of the most intimate kind.  God considered Israel to be His betrothed, His Bride and considered Himself to be Israel’s husband.  He is the Bridegroom God who entered history to redeem fallen, weak, sinful people and call them into covenant with Himself. He delights in His covenant people, desires to lavish His love upon them and takes pleasure in their love for Him.

What God desired from Israel was a relationship of intimate, faithful, covenant love. Israel’s unfaithfulness to God was, in God’s sight, adultery.  They not only had rejected God, they had taken other gods as their lovers, given credit and thanks to those false gods for the blessings that the true and living God had showered upon them.  Israel’s worship of those gods was an act of adultery at the deepest level of being.  Israel had prostituted itself to these false gods.


While it is true that false gods are not real, each idol is infused with demonic presence and power. There is a demonically inspired philosophical / theological system of thought undergirding the worship of the idol, a spiritual reality attached to the idol and involvement with that idol creates an enslaving entanglement with powers of darkness. The Apostle Paul expresses this in his warning to the church at Corinth,

“What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (I Cor. 10:19-21).

As we have said, the idol itself is not alive but the demonic power infusing it is very real. Pauls says, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons.” The word “sharers” is koinonos which is related to the word koinonia which means “communion”. Paul was warning the church that any participation in any form of idolatry was an act of communion with the demonic power behind and within the idol.

In worshipping idols, Israel was not only walking away from the true and living God. The nation was also giving itself into intimate communion with demonic powers that would only result in Israel’s destruction, unless the people repented and returned to the Lord.

God’s response is to pursue the nation, call to the nation. He warns them, rehearses their covenant history with Him, reminds them of His faithful, covenant love for them. This is the Bridegroom God pursuing His unfaithful Bride, contending for her purity; indeed, for her survival.

Doesn’t this subtext also include each of us?  God desires intimate, faithful, loving relationship with each of us.  In Christ, God has called us out of darkness into covenant relationship with Himself.  But even after we entered into covenant with God through faith in Christ, we have at times been unfaithful lovers of God.  There are temptations, in every generation, to pursue other gods. In Jesus’ messages to the seven churches, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the ever-present influence of these corrupting temptations. And we see the Lord calling to His Bride, contending for His Bride.

The ministry and message of Hosea is relevant for every generation, for each of us.

As we shared in the Introduction, some Bible scholars suggest that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel, that is, marry a prostitute.  Some say that this is merely symbolic language, that Gomer’s infidelity was spiritual in nature — she was a worshipper of false gods. Others argue that the marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot.  This would parallel God’s relationship with Israel — God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3) and had made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of His bride.  In the same way, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful.  

However, those interpretations violates the literal narrative. God commanded the prophet to do something which violated the Law of Israel because Israel had violated the Law. More than this, Israel had violated their sacred covenant with God, had grieved the heart of the God who considered Himself to be the Groom and Israel to be His Bride. But the incredible narrative of Hosea is that the Bridegroom God did not reject unfaithful Israel and this marriage between Hosea and Gomer and Hosea’s faithfulness to his bride is a revelation of God’s continued love for and pursuit of His covenant Bride.  

As God reveals His love for Israel, He reveals also the truth of Israel’s unfaithfulness.  God’s love does not compromise God’s truth.  He desires to confront Israel with unfailing love and unflinching truth.  So it is with each of us.  God pursues us with unfailing love and unflinching truth about ourselves. We see in Hosea’s ministry the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved.

Notice the Lord’s words to Hosea in verse two — Israel is guilty of “forsaking the Lord.” Similar to the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus — “You have left your first love.” This is sin of the highest order, since the first and greatest commandment is, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

1:3-5 Hosea obeyed God, married Gomer and they had a son.  He was given the name Jezreel, which means, “God sows.”  The child’s birth was the occasion for a prophetic word concerning God’s future judgment of Israel. God will sow judgment upon the nation because of their sin. Sowing also implies scattering — one sows seed by scattering it and in this we see the future destruction and scattering of Israel out of their land.

However, even though the Lord is declaring judgment over the nation, it is not His desire that Israel will be destroyed. He gives the nation this prophetic warning so that they will return to Him. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord said, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live” (Ezkl. 18:32).

God warns people and nations of judgment so that they will turn and live.

“I will break the bow of Israel” refers to the breaking of national military power, the defeat and overthrow of the nation which no longer trusted in the God of the covenant but in false gods, weapons and military alliances with pagan nations. It points ahead to destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. But it did not have to end that way. When God breaks the power or wealth or pride of any man or woman or nation, this is an act of mercy. It may be that in their humbled condition, they will see more clearly the self-destructive choices they have made and turn to the Lord.

1:6 Again Gomer gave birth to a child.  She was named Lo-ruhamah, whose name means, “She has not obtained compassion.”  In this, God declared the reality of Israel’s choice.  Israel had broken covenant with God and rejected the compassion and mercy of God.  That mercy will now be beyond their grasp, beyond their experience, if they continue to refuse to repent. It is not because God had ceased to be merciful and compassionate — God does not change, He is always the same God.  But Israel has refused mercy and compassion.  The experience of God’s mercy is within the boundary of covenant relationship with Him but Israel had rejected that covenant and therefore had rejected the blessings that lie within that covenant.  They could not obtain that which they rejected.

They had offended and grieved God by choosing to enter adulterous relationships with false gods.  God now reminds Israel of the reality of their choices.  Unless they turn back to God, they cannot experience compassion because they have rejected compassion.  They have broken covenant and law, have offended the justice of God and have now entered into judgment.  God cannot manifest Himself as their Deliverer, Provider or Redeemer because they have rejected Him. The Bridegroom God now manifests as the holy Bridegroom Judge.  Again, God has not ceased to love them but love does not cancel justice.  God is perfectly loving and perfectly just and they will experience His love or His justice depending on their response to Him.

However, there is still time to respond. There are two kinds of judgment. There is final destruction but there is also judgment as an expression of grace. The Bridegroom God applies pressure for the purpose of driving the sinner back to the security and provision of the covenant God.

Once we were all Lo-ruhamah, as Peter reminds us, “For you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). We have been “called out of darkness” into the marvelous light of God. We experience the blessings of His mercy as we live within the boundary of His light.

The last phrase of verse 6 is best translated, “For I will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel, that I would ever forgive them.” An alternate translation, “For I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel, but I will utterly take them away” is not preferred.

Although this sounds like final, irrevocable judgment over the northen kingdom, we must ask, “Why then is God coming to them, warning them, calling to them?” Because He is the Bridegroom God. Those who refuse to turn, who persist in their idolatry, will not experience compassion and will not be forgiven. But some will turn, some will repent and they will find abundant pardon. This is the heart of the Bridegroom God who is slow to judge and quick to forgive. He will always preserve a faithful Bride remnant.

1:7 There is still the possibility of compassion and deliverance for the southern kingdom of Judah.  Judah will not be delivered by their weapons, but by “the Lord their God.”  This is the reality for those who are in covenant relationship with God.  God showers mercy on His beloved and acts in history, in our lives, to deliver and bless. 

It is historical fact that the Lord preserved the southern kingdom from the marauding armies of Syria and Assyria — the kingdom of Judah endured for another 132 years after the fall of Israel. Recall the miraculous intervention of the angel of the Lord when 185,000 Assyrians were slain in one night, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  In these words, not “by bow, sword, battle, horses or horsemen,” we see also a reminder of the end time deliverance of Israel by the Lord Jesus Himself.

Again, it is not that God is sometimes our Judge and sometimes the God of grace.  He is always perfectly just and perfectly loving.  But our response to God determines how we experience Him.  We are free to accept God’s love and love Him in return.  We have been invited to enter into covenant relationship with the Bridegroom God and enjoy the blessings of His covenant.  

But if we choose to reject relationship with God, despise His love and violate His laws, there will be consequences.  We are not free of the consequences of our decisions.  We are free to love God or reject God, free to do righteous deeds and free to sin.  But the wages of sin is death.  We are free to choose our actions but not free to choose the consequences of our actions.  Every choice has a consequence.

Consequences change as our choices change.  But God is unchanging.  God is perfect in love, holiness and justice.  Every attribute of God is always perfectly expressed but we experience that attribute based on our response to Him.  If we flaunt God’s law and violate His just decrees, then we will experience the consequences of broken law and violated justice.  If we embrace God’s love in faithful, covenant relationship, we experience the blessings of covenant.  

When we experience the judgment of God, that does not mean that God ceases to love us.  And when we experience the mercy of God, that does not mean that He ceases to be just.  God is always all that God ever was or will be — perfectly loving and perfectly holy. Sin turns away the mercy that God desires to outpour and brings us into confrontation with the justice which God must express. But He is still perfect in mercy and justice, both in the same moment. And even that confrontation is an expression of mercy — He confronts us with truth, with reality, applies pressure so that we will see the truth, understand the reality, and turn back to Him.

The great mystery and wonder of God’s love is that while we were yet His enemies, sinning against Him and violating His covenant, God pursued us in love, awakened us to His love.  This is depicted in Hosea’s pursuit of Gomer.  It is the glory of God’s love that in Christ, He took upon Himself the fulness of His own judgment which we earned when we despised His love, broke His laws and rejected His covenant.  God took the fullness of His own judgment upon Himself on the cross, along with our sin, so that we might experience the fullness of His mercy. 

1:8,9 In time Gomer gave birth to a son.  He was named Lo-ammi, which means, “not my people”.  The Israelites had broken covenant with God, despised their covenant relationship with God, had rejected God, had been unfaithful, taking other lovers as they worshipped false gods.  In so doing, they had declared themselves to be not God’s people.  God now portrays their choice in front of them.  This is both an act of judgment and love.  It is right and just that God says they are no longer His people because this is the choice they have made and the truth which they have lived out.  But it is also an act of love to tell them the truth and to portray the truth with such clarity.  

This is not a cold, calloused, judgmental God. This is the Bridegroom God contending for His Bride. He is contending with Israel because they are His people, though they are living as though they are not.

When God gives us up to our choices, He is seeking to make our choices and their consequences more real to us.  There’s nothing like reality to sober us, to focus us and bring us to personal accountability.  The story of the prodigal son is a perfect example of this (Luke 15:11-24).  There’s nothing like pig husks in a far country to awaken one’s sense of sin and a longing for restored covenant relationship with the waiting father.  But we can’t experience true pig-husk reality as long as God’s protective hand is over us.  So, while we sin, break faith and despise covenant, God will warn us, call to us with gentle, brokenhearted love.  But if we will not respond then at last He withdraws His hand and blessing, let’s us taste the choices we have made — gives us up to our choices and the consequences which those choices produce.  It is the hope of the wounded, rejected Bridegroom God that we will come to our senses and return.

1:10,11 But even as God declares the broken covenant, God also declares the future certainty of a restored covenant when Israel will again be the people of God.  The Scriptures offer abundant testimony to this truth, that God is faithful to forgive the faithless, abounding in mercy to those who once rejected mercy. David the psalmist celebrated the wonderful truth of God’s grace: 

“Bless the Lord, O my soul ... who pardons all your iniquities ... who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion … The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins … as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:1,3,4,8,10,12).  

Years later, in the midst of Jerusalem’s desolation, Jeremiah confessed, “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22,23).  

Even when we were “dead in trespasses and sins ... God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with Him” (Eph 2:1,4-6).  

“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

But how great the cost of this reconciliation. To achieve it, God bore the punishment of His own justice.  Yet what greater proof or demonstration of love could God make than this?  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us ... For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:8,10). 

In this gift we find proof of all other gifts from God.  “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:31,32).

God promises to unfaithful Israel that the covenant relationship will be restored and notice where this restoration will take place.  “Where it is said to them, ‘You are not my people’, it will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’”  In the place where covenant was broken, in that same place, covenant will be restored.  The place of transgression becomes the place of forgiveness.  The place where faith was denied becomes the place of faith pledged anew.  The land that was fouled by sin becomes, again, sacred covenant ground.

The place of tragic failure becomes, by the grace of God, the place of triumph.  The  road which the prodigal traveled in selfish rebellion, became the highway to reconciliation with his father.  Defeat, failure, tragedy — these are not the final words over any life when we allow God to enter and pour out the redeeming, saving, restoring grace which is His heart’s desire.

Is there a more beautiful picture of this in nature than the oyster’s wound becoming a pearl?  The Apostle Paul said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Why?  Because there, in his weakness, God’s grace was magnified.  Paul’s lack became a glorious lens to magnify God’s abundance.  It is the heart of  God to do this.  It is an expression of His grace.  All is grace.

Hosea speaks of a future day when there will be a regathering of Israel and of Judah.  There have been times of renewal, revival and regathering in Israel’s long history.  After Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom and after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the southern kingdom, Israel was again regathered to their land. After the Romans destroyed the nation in 70 A.D., there was no Israel for centuries. But in 1948 the nation was again established in their land.

However, in this passage, God grants Hosea vision into the far future, to the very end of history, when the children of Israel and Judah will be regathered in their land with “one leader.” This is a reference to Messiah who will someday reign over the earth from His throne in Jerusalem.

In that day the Bridegroom God will do what has always been in His heart to do.  Why did God pursue us when we rejected Him and ran from Him?  Why did God redeem us and call us into covenant with Himself?  Why did He take our judgment upon Himself, wash us, clothe us in a new robe and raise us up in resurrection life with Himself?  

“So that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”  (Eph 2:7).

Pastor Mike Bickle in the Bridegroom Judge, said, “The Lord wanted Hosea’s pain-filled marriage to be a prophetic picture of how the Lord feels about His relationship to His people when they are unfaithful to Him. God will not throw them away — He will stay with them and bear the pain of their rejection of Him. He will also discipline with the goal of awakening them to their destiny as His bride.”

So we see in chapter one God contending for His Bride, confronting the covenant people with their sin, warning of judgment while promising blessing. Many will be lost through unbelief, yet some will be saved by grace through faith. God will have a covenant Bride.

November 10, 2019 - Hosea Introduction

November 10, 2019

Hosea 

Introduction:

When God speaks, it is in response to real people alive in real places at real times. So we always want to examine the context of a prophecy or epistle or teaching or parable. Why was Paul writing to the church at Corinth— what was going on there? What motivated Jesus to tell the parable of the wedding feast? As we begin to study what God said through Hosea, we want to develop a sense of context: where was God speaking and what was happening in that society?

Name and authorship:

The name Hosea means deliverer or savior, from the Hebrew verb yasha which means to save or deliver. Aside from his ministry, we have no specific biographical information other than the name of his father, Beeri. It is interesting that the Lord providentially guided Beeri to name his son in a way that represents the ministry to which God ordained him — He proclaimed a God who passionately desired to save and deliver His covenant people.

1. Date of Hosea’s ministry:

Hosea dates himself in 1:1.  He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jereboam II, king of Israel.  Since Jereboam II died in 753 B.C. and Uzziah began to reign  by himself in 767, Hosea's ministry began somewhere between these two dates, probably around 755 B.C.  He continued to minister at least until the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign (from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C.). So Hosea’s ministry lasted forty to fifty years or possibly more. A general timeline would place his ministry from 755 to 710 B.C. Hosea then would be a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Micah.

He prophesied primarily in the northern kingdom of Israel, beginning near the end of the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C). After Jeroboam’s death, the following six kings were each assassinated, resulting in social and political anarchy and culminating with Assyria’s conquest of the nation in 722.

At that point, the northern kingdom, Israel, ceased to exist. At the same time the southern kingdom, Judah (comprised of the tribes Judah and Benjamin), also suffered from poor leadership, interrupted briefly by the reign of the godly reformer, Hezekiah. But his reforms only served to slow the decline and destruction of the nation. Eventually, Judah also was destroyed (though over a hundred years later).

2. Conditions during Hosea’s ministry:

To understand conditions during Hosea’s ministry, we need to begin after the death of King Solomon (during the 930s B.C.). The ten northern tribes rebelled against the rule of Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, primarily in response to what was considered to be unjust taxation. They chose a man named Jeroboam as their king and called their nation the kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam was not descended from David and therefore was an illegitimate king. 

Far more serious than the political rebellion was the apostate religious system which the northern tribes instituted. The leaders of the nation did not want people going to Jerusalem so they built their own places of worship and consecrated their own priests. Worship was a mixture of Yahweh worship and Canaanite fertility worship, gradually degenerating into terrible darkness, especially during the reign of King Ahab (approximately 875-850 BC). 

Ahab had married a Phoenician woman, Jezebel, who brought her foreign gods with her (primarily fertility gods such as Baal). Under her influence, violent persecution was launched against the true prophets and worshippers of Yahweh. (Jezebel and her false prophets were famously opposed by Elijah).

Approximately one hundred years later, Hosea came on the scene. During that time the Northern kingdom (Israel) enjoyed prosperity and peace along with a disastrous decline in faithfulness to God and a multiplying of idol worship (2 Chron 26:10,  Hosea 8:14).  Spiritual corruption led to moral corruption. Luxury and prosperity led to great sin and weak faith.  Wealth created self sufficiency and pride as the people forgot about God.  (Ironic that it took hardship to remind the people of their dependence on God.  Blessing did not often produce righteousness.)

Along with the increase in wealth for some was a multiplying of poverty among many and oppressive, unjust business practices (Hos 12:7).  Justice was being bought and sold, people were being bought and sold, the poor were being trampled (see Amos 8:4-8). Social morality, business ethics, declined. There is a connection here. As the nation declined in faithfulness to God and as idols increased, there was an increase in moral, political and economic corruption.

As we have said, following the death of Jereboam II, Israel fell into a period of national instability as one king displaced another.  Beginning in 745 B.C., Assyria began to reassert its power, climaxing in 722 with the fall of Israel into Assyrian hands. Many of the survivors were taken away to exile in foreign lands and non-Israelis were brought in to settle the land. (This mix of Jews and foreigners resulted later in the people group known as Samaritans).

3. Marriage to Gomer:

By divine command (1:2), Hosea married Gomer, “a wife of harlotry.”  This marriage is central to the ministry and message of Hosea.  There are different views among Bible scholars regarding the marriage:

a. Some say the marriage never happened — it is a spiritual allegory representing Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. But it’s difficult to accept this view, considering the straightforward narrative.  The story is never presented in any form except as history.

b. Others say the marriage did happen and Gomer was a prostitute in the temple of a false god.  We reject this opinion because we don’t know what relationship she may have had to false gods. 

c. Gomer was a real person but not an actual prostitute — her infidelity was spiritual in nature; she was a worshipper of false gods.  Again, we reject this opinion because we do not know what her spiritual orientation was. 

d. The marriage did occur and Gomer was pure at the time of marriage and only later did she become a harlot.  The proponents of this theory point out how this would parallel God’s relationship with Israel.  God had taken Israel in a pure condition (Jere 2:2,3)  and made covenant with Israel, even though God knew the future unfaithfulness of Israel.  In the same way, Hosea had taken Gomer as a pure young woman, though God had revealed to him that she would be unfaithful. However, this seems to contradict the straightforward words of 1:2, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry…”  

e. The most reasonable interpretation of Hosea’s marriage to Gomer is that it is literally true — Hosea married a prostitute as God commanded him and through this, God depicts His covenant relationship with unfaithful Israel. Some object that God would never direct a man to do something which violated the Law of Israel. But in fact we do know that God commanded Hosea to marry her.

4. The character of Hosea:

Hosea does not tell us much about himself, but nothing proves devotion to God more than obedience.  We know that Hosea was a devout man because he obeyed God.  We know that he was committed to speaking God’s truth because he spoke even at great cost to himself.  In other words, Hosea was a lover of God.  He loved God enough to speak the Word that God planted in his heart. He also must have been a man of great courage to preach destruction and judgment in a time of prosperity. He must have been a man of faith because he was faithful to fulfill his ministry.

Four Themes of Hosea’s Ministry:

1. The Bridegroom God Who Makes Covenant With People:

God is revealed as the Bridegroom God whose love and patience are on display through all the covenant breaking, “I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hos. 2:19). (Isaiah also, a contemporary of Hosea, was receiving this revelation, “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 54:5).  We see the revelation of a God who does not reject His covenant Bride when He is rejected but instead, bears the wounds of rejection while calling to His Beloved. Hosea’s continuing love for Gomer is an illustration of God’s love for Israel (for instance, 3:1-3).

Through Hosea, we realize that the Song of Solomon was not only a poem celebrating romantic love but on a deeper level, a revelation that the God who had revealed Himself as Almighty Creator, all-wise Lawgiver and fearsome Judge is also the Bridegroom God who has entered history to redeem a faithful Bride.

2. The Bride’s Violation of Covenant:

God had made a covenant with Israel which Israel continually violated (1:2  2:2,5  4:11-13).  The worship of false gods is considered by God to be spiritual adultery and is compared with the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.  That broken marriage is used as an illustration of the broken covenant between God and Israel (1:2  3:1-3).

The Lord had repeatedly warned Israel to avoid any polluting contact with the demonically inspired religions practiced by the people around them but over time those religions had infected the entire nation. Chief among them was the worship of fertility gods — Baal, a male god, and Asherah, his female counterpart. Another prominent and particularly gruesome false god was Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. The Canaanites vainly hoped that in the worship of these gods they would enhance the fertility of their crops and livestock.

Imagine the Lord’s offense. It is God who prospered Israel but the more they prospered, the more they gave glory to the false gods of the nations who did not know the Lord!

3. The Bridegroom God Contending for His Bride:

The Bridegroom God confronts His unfaithful Bride with calls to repent and solemn warnings of judgment if she will not (5:1-15,   8:1-14   10:5-8). The enemy of Israel is shown to be, not the Philistines or the Assyrians, but the unfaithfulness of God’s covenant people. The Lord exposes sin and warns of consequences because He is contending for the blessing and fulfillment of His covenant partner. He warns of impending judgment so that we will turn and not experience judgment.

4. Future Restoration of the Bride:

The Bridegroom God promises future restoration when Israel would again enjoy the blessings of God (1:10,11   2:14-23  3:4,5  6:1-3). We understand the Lord’s confrontation with Israel when we understand His heart. It is the Bridegroom God contending with His Bride for her salvation. We see this again in the book of Revelation, as the Lord Jesus confronts churches which have allowed their love for the Lord to be corrupted by indifference or immorality or false teaching. His desire is to bring about in history a Bride made ready for eternal communion with Himself.

Summary

The book of Hosea is a portrayal of God pursuing unfaithful covenant people, calling them back to grace and blessing, but also releasing judgment. There are times when God gives unrepentant sinners up to their sin. If they have become so obstinate, so set in their rejection of God, so committed to breaking covenant, so completely forgetful of God’s love, then God will remove His grace, His protection and His blessing.

So we read in 5:6, “They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them.” The Lord withdrew His presence, anointing, protection, blessing, glory because Israel had withdrawn from Him. They loved God’s blessing, His abundance, His provision, but they despised Him so the Lord pulled back His hand and His blessing. His hope is that adversity will produce the necessary pressure to turn the nation back to Him.

Yet even in judgment, the Lord continued to yearn over His covenant people, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel?” (11:8). This is the Bridegroom God who loves His covenant people with faithful, loyal love. Hear the grieving, yearning heart of Israel’s lover: “I would redeem them but they speak lies against me” (7:13).

God called to Israel through the prophets, spoke to them through the sacred writings, chastised them with calamities yet they continually turned from him and bowed down to gods that are not gods. As a result, even as the nation prospered, it was collapsing in political, social and spiritual turmoil and was threatened by a dangerous, savage foreign enemy, Assyria.

We might picture Israel at that time as a beautiful mansion fitted with all the luxuries money can buy. But behind the walls, termites have eaten away the wood and the foundation beneath our feet is crumbling. Or to stay within the narrative, Israel was a Bride outwardly beautiful but inwardly suffering from a disease which, if not treated, will ultimately prove fatal.

For the most part, Israel’s leadership was indifferent, complacent, undiscerning of the corruption at the heart of the nation and the imminent danger just beyond their borders. They continued to mix the worship of God with the worship of idols. They attempted to establish political stability without consulting God and when they belatedly recognized the Assyrian threat, they tried to establish peace through military alliances with pagan, idol worshipping nations rather than trusting in the Lord.

None of those policies prevented the continuing disintegration of the nation. And yet the Bridegroom God continually offered them the only solution that would save them: “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord ...” (Hosea 14:1-3).

The solution to national decline is not political, military or economic, rather, it is to return to the Lord, return to the Bridegroom God who had made covenant with them, who called them and pursued them with faithful, covenant love. Return and repent of sin, including the sin of trusting in foreign alliances and false gods. If they would do this, the Lord clearly stated His response: I will heal and restore (Hosea 14:4-6).

We will see throughout the book that God’s emphasis is on the spiritual and moral decay of the nation. Therefore, as we have said, He does not emphasize political or military problems, though there were many. The kings of Israel were being assassinated in rapid order, creating chaos. The nation of Assyria was rising to power and threatening Israel with destruction. But God does not say, “You need a new king or a larger army.” He calls them to repentance and cleansing.

Let’s use the analogy of a human heart. If the heart is diseased, it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how many security guards you hire or how many weapons they carry. If the problem is a diseased heart then the solution must be to repair and revive the heart.

So with a nation. If the problem is moral / spiritual corruption, then the only solution is to turn from that which corrupts and call out to God for cleansing. Israel failed to do this and in the midst of her economic prosperity, political instability and oppression of the poor, as the nation continued to worship false gods, the nation was destroyed.

The Bridegroom God called to His covenant people with such amazing patience and mercy. But ultimately, their stubborn refusal to repent resulted in their total destruction. So it will be for any nation that defies the Lord. But it does not have to end that way.

A good example is in the southern kingdom of Judah. In the days of King Hezekiah, a contemporary of the prophet Hosea, the Assyrian army was marching through the land, killing and pillaging. As the enemy encamped around Jerusalem, Hezekiah called out to the Lord and in one night, the angel of the Lord killed 185,00 Assyrian soldiers, delivering the nation (Isiah 37:14-36).

Here is the choice for every generation. We may try to solve spiritual problems through political, economic or military means. We may continue to worship gods that are not true. Or we may repent of our sin and call on the name of the Lord.

He is mighty to save.

November 3, 2019 - Loving Our Enemies, Praying for Our Persecutors

November 3, 2019

This Sunday we were at the Dancing For Him Ministries Online School Graduation. Pastor Wil gave a wonderful message about loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. He is about 10 minutes into the message when the video comes on. You will hear his voice. The video was done on a lap top during a Zoom meeting, so the quality of the sound is poor (apologies). Nonetheless here is the video...

Loving Our Enemies, Praying for Our Persecutors 

(Matt. 5:43-48)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Principle: Loving my neighbor may require that I love my enemy.

In the first phrase, “Love your neighbor,” Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18. The second phrase, “Hate your enemy,” was a rabbinic interpretation of Scripture but not the word of God.

The Old Testament was not silent on the issue of showing mercy to enemies. For instance, in Exodus 23:4 we read, “If you see your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.” In Proverbs 24:17 we read, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”

While it is true that God commanded Israel to destroy the Canaanite nations which inhabited the Promised Land, it was because of the complete spiritual, moral and cultural corruption of those nations. They had sunk so low in their misunderstanding of God that they sacrificed their children and infants to their false gods while demeaning women with ritual prostitution. God commanded the destruction of those cultures lest they pollute and pervert Israel’s worship of the true and living God. In fact, Israel’s failure to eradicate those nations did lead to the corruption of Israel.

In those holy wars, Israel was an instrument of God’s righteous judgment. The goal of those campaigns was the preservation of Israel’s purity but the rabbis and Pharisees reinterpreted “love your neighbor” in the light of those wars and so they excluded enemies from their love.

The teachers of Israel also allowed certain verses of the Psalms to color their response to enemies. There are Psalms in which the writer pronounces curses over his enemies or the enemies of Israel (Ps. 69:22-24  137:9). But again, these verses were not personal expressions of hatred. Rather, they expressed the righteous judgment of God against those who were unrepentant in their opposition to His redeeming purpose. 

The words, “hate your enemy,” do not  appear in the Old Testament. Instances in which God sovereignly punished His adversaries or used Israel as an instrument of divine justice do not provide an excuse to hate.

The word of God’s impending judgment was both bitter and sweet to the Apostle John (Revelation 10:10). It was sweet to know that God would establish His sovereign, righteous purpose in this world. It was bitter to know that so many would perish under divine judgment.

God’s mercy and judgment are never in opposition. The same God who loves us perfectly also exercises perfect judgment on evil. We are called to proclaim His judgment and manifest His love.

Many of the rabbis and Pharisees of Jesus’ day had lost that balance. They loved their neighbor, whom they defined in very narrow ways, and hated their enemies, whom they defined with great liberality. There was no Scriptural justification for this.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus defined a neighbor in the broadest terms and exhorted us to love even the needy stranger who passes within the circle of our influence (Luke 20:25-37). Here, He extends the circle even further: “But I say to you, love your enemies.”  

The word which Jesus uses for love is aggapao. Aggapao is the love of God for people; it is always self-sacrificing love. Why should we love our enemies with God’s love? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (5:45). Godly love is how we show the presence of God in our lives. It is how we demonstrate that God is truly our Father and we are His children, adopted into His family.

Principle: We are called to love our enemies with God’s love, thereby giving God the opportunity to change them.

What kind of love is God’s love?

a. It is visionary faith-love, love that sees by faith the humanity of our enemy; sees through the bitter words and actions, through the propaganda and passion of the culture around us, and sees a human being for whom Christ died. We are not called to demonize our enemies or win a culture war in which we crush them with our arguments. We are to manifest God’s love to them with such reality that they may be drawn to Christ.

b. It is sacrificial love, which gives up its own will and even its own life for the visionary hope of introducing our enemy to Jesus. The good Samaritan expressed compassion in the life of the wounded man but compassion was costly. He sacrificed his time, his oil and wine and his money. By definition, sacrificial love costs us something.

c. It is redeeming love, love which not only sees the possibility of the enemy becoming something more, something other than enemy; sees not only the possibility of our enemy being reconciled to Christ, but because it is God’s love in us flowing out to our enemy, it carries the power to redeem those whom it touches.

d. It is, ultimately, conquering love. In the Old Testament, Israel was called to conquer its enemies by force of arms, by the violence of warfare. In the New Testament, we are called to conquer our enemies with God’s own love. This does not mean that we excuse their crime, their evil, their sin. Rather, we disarm them in their evil purpose by loving them with God’s love.

Principle: If we love our enemies, we will pray for them (Matt. 5:44).

Not only are we to love our enemies; we are also to pray for our persecutors. So Jesus did on the cross and so Stephen did as he was being stoned to death. Jesus’ prayer was answered as a dying thief cried out for mercy, as the Roman officer gave God glory and later, as many priests became believers. Stephen’s prayer was answered in the conversion of Saul and God only knows which of our persecutors may someday be turned to righteousness through the prayers and the Godly witness of Godly people.

Didn’t we see this acted out in our own nation? A generation of African-American pastors and saints disarmed a generation of violent bigots through love and prayer and a nation’s heart was transformed.

It’s not easy to love enemies, to pray for people who are seeking to destroy us. It requires that we crucify our natural desire for revenge. But it was at the point of their greatest pain that Jesus and Stephen released such great grace. Only the love of God in us can inspire such selfless prayer.

Principle: We show ourselves to be children of God when we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (5:45).

We are to pray, not just for enemies, but for enemies who persecute us (5:44). What greater expression of love for anyone could we possibly share than this — to bring them before the throne of God in prayer? In prayer we are standing beside our enemy in the very presence of God, interceding on their behalf. This serves also to remind us of why we love them — certainly not because of their hatred for us or their sin against us but because they are lost and in need of the redeeming love of Jesus breaking through into their lives.

In loving our enemies and praying for them, we show visibly that we are truly children of the God who showers His mercy on the righteous and the unrighteous. We are showing people what this God is like. The Lord Himself sets the standard and example for this, loving each of us with redeeming, sacrificial love and praying for us while we were yet His enemies. 

If we would be God’s children and live in His kingdom, then we must be like Him, loving even our enemies and praying for our persecutors.

Principle: If we love only those who love us, we have failed to show any sign of God’s redemptive activity in our lives (Matt. 5:46,47). 

If I love no one outside my family or my group of friends at church, then I have shown no more evidence of God’s redeeming work in my life than any lost sinner. Even evil people are capable of loving those who love them and greeting and embracing those who are friends. We are to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of God not only in words but especially in our living. If we show nothing more of love than those who do not acknowledge God, how can we expect them to see the presence of the kingdom of God in us? If they cannot see the presence of the kingdom in us, how will they hear the message of the kingdom? 

Principle: The goal of salvation is to be like our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:48).

Jesus says that we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. The word perfect, in the language in which Matthew wrote, is teleios. It has to do with completeness, reaching the end point or fulfillment of something. It is often translated as maturity, for instance in Ephesians 4:13, “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (teleios) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.”  

There is a level of maturity in Christ that is appropriate to each stage of our journey of discipleship. There is a fullness of maturity which is appropriate to a five year old who is coming to know Jesus and there is a maturity which is appropriate to a fifty year old who has known the Lord for many years. But there is also an ultimate goal in attaining the measure of the stature which belongs to Christ, an ultimate fullness and completeness of God’s purpose in us. 

In I John 3:2, we read, “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

Someday, we will be perfected in the image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ because we will be with Him and will see Him as He is. But even now we manifest the  presence of the Lord in our lives as we love pur enemeis and pray for those who persecute us. Though our love and our prayers are imperfect and we wrestle with human emotions when we are hurt by others, it is in this wrestling that we prove who we are and it is in this conflict that the Holy Spirit has room in us to carry on the process of transformation.

And we may be assured that we will arrive at the ultimate goal, complete and perfect in Christ.

October 28, 2019 - Holy Communion

October 27, 2019

Holy Communion

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me’”  (I Corinthians 11:23-25).

We are commanded by Jesus to take bread and a cup of wine or grape juice and remember Him.  What is it we are remembering?

1. Remember that Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.  

John the Apostle heard that victory celebration shouted across the corridors of heaven nearly 2000 years ago: “Then the seventh angel sounded and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever,’” (Revelation 11:15). 

When we celebrate Holy Communion, we are celebrating the Lord’s victory.

As Jesus died, He shouted, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  In the language of the New Testament that is one word, “Tetelestai.”  That was the word stamped on documents and contracts of that day. It means finished, complete, accomplished.

Jesus knew He had perfectly fulfilled redemptive purpose as the Lamb for sinners slain, knew that He had made a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world, knew that His mission was complete.  “Tetelestai” is a shout of triumph.

When we take the bread and the cup, we celebrate the victory which Jesus won on the cross when He made an atoning sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:12), when He reconciled forgiven sinners to a holy God (2 Corinthians 5:18,19), when He disarmed the powers of darkness (Colossians 2:14,15).

In many communion liturgies we say, 

Christ has died, 

Christ is risen, 

Christ will come again. 

We are living in between the victory of Jesus in His first coming and the fulfillment of His triumph at His second coming. We are living between that shout of triumph, “Tetelestai” and the shout that will someday echo across heaven and earth, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign forever and ever.”

Holy Communion is a celebration of victory.

In holy communion we remember and confess that it was our sin which Jesus took upon Himself on the cross and we reverence that unequaled outpouring of love.  But there is a difference between reverence and mournfulness.  We reverence the cross but we do not fall into morbid guilt and condemnation. That is not consistent with a triumphant Savior. 

Perhaps Jesus is saying to us, “When you take this bread and cup, remember that I have conquered the power of the enemy.  Do this in remembrance of my overthrow of the powers of darkness which once captivated you.”

Let’s remember the context of each communion service.  Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples (Matthew 26:20,26-30).  Passover was a celebration of the victory of God over the oppressors of Israel and the deliverance of Israel from bondage.  Pharaoh, leading the most powerful empire on earth, had set himself in opposition to God's salvation purpose on earth and enslaved the covenant people.  God broke Pharaoh's power, broke the slave-maker and set the covenant people free. Passover was a celebration punctuated by blessings and the giving of thanks.  

So for us. Just as the blood of the lamb delivered Israel, just as the flesh of the lamb nourished Israel for their journey, now the body and blood of Christ represent His victory on our behalf and through the grace which Christ ministers to us in this celebration, will nourish us on our journey out of the land of slavery and into the land of promise. Surely we do give thanks.  

As we celebrate together, may we also hear the Lord saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.  What I have done is your point of departure and release from bondage.  Just as Israel celebrates deliverance from slavery and victory from her oppressors, so you come in celebration of the fact that in my cross I have won victory over your slave master, your adversary, the devil.”

Several hours after celebrating the Passover meal, on the cross Jesus by His shed blood made a full and perfect atoning sacrifice, opening a way for our exodus from slavery to sin and death. When the sacrifice was complete He shouted, “It is finished.” 

The kingdom of our God and of His Christ has appeared.  The accuser is cast down and we are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb.  So give thanks in remembrance of our Redeemer.

2. Remember that Holy Communion is a proclamation of redemption.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).  

We are proclaiming the message of redemption every time we take the bread and cup, proclaiming that Jesus purchased life for us, redeemed us from slavery to sin and death.

a. The bread and the cup testify to the world of a Savior who gave His life that we might live.  The bread and cup offer Christ to a world which hungers and thirsts to know God.  The bread and cup do not contain or bestow grace but they proclaim the presence of a God who is faithful to minister grace to all who call upon Him.

b. The bread and the cup testify to holy and unholy angels of the wisdom and power of God, “So that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10). On the cross God disarmed powers and principalities and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:14,15).  Holy communion is a living testimony of that triumph.

c. The bread and the cup testify that redemption costs something and proclaim the price of our deliverance — the body and blood of the Lamb of God.  The means of our deliverance is the cross which is the release point for the power of God unto salvation. 

d. The bread and the cup testify of the name of the Person who is our Deliverer — Jesus, the holy Lamb of God.  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

3. Remember that Holy Communion is our declaration of dependence on Christ our life. 

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:49-51).

Jesus was speaking of our union with Him and the continued communion whereby we partake of His life, without which we have no true life.  Holy Communion is a portrayal of this reality.

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes”  (John 5:21).

We need the nourishment of physical food but also spiritual food, the flow of life and truth from God. True life, abundant life, meaningful life, everlasting life, is found only in Jesus.

Through faith in Christ we were adopted into the household of God. Now, God as Head of the household and our Provider feeds us with spiritual food which sustains our life.  Christ is the only food for our soul.  

Jesus feeds us spiritually on His life through His Word, as we worship, as we pray, as we serve Him.  In Holy Communion, we are holding spiritual tokens of the Christ who nourishes us into eternity. The bread and cup represent the spiritual food by which Christ nourishes His people and in the bread and cup we are declaring that we are dependent on this life flow and calling on the Lord to release His life into our hungry spirit.

As we feed upon Christ by faith, we declare our dependence on Christ our Life and our heavenly Bread.

4. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the invisible union of believers with the Christ who said,  

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him” (John 6:56).  Jesus said that we are partaking of His life, living in Him as He lives in us. 

The bread and cup are visible signs of our spiritual union, our abiding in the flow of Christ's life.  Holy Communion does not create this union, that is the work of the Holy Spirit by faith.  But we proclaim this union in the bread and cup.

5. Remember that Holy Communion is a visible sign of the presence of Christ our High Priest in our midst: 

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (I Corinthians 10:16,17).  

Day by day we are sharing in the life of Jesus and the bread and cup symbolize that sharing.  The bread and cup represent Christ but through the action of the Holy Spirit, Christ is spiritually present in that which represents Him.

Holy Communion is more than a memorial, more than mere remembrance.  It is also a celebration of the Christ who is present among us as we celebrate.  

How is Christ present in Holy Communion?  How is He present in a service of worship or in the preaching of the Word?  How Christ is present is a sacred mystery but the center of this mystery is Christ Himself who continues His High Priestly work of offering the release of His life to those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

6. Remember that Holy Communion is an exercise in discipleship and self examination.

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11:27).  

An unworthy manner refers to a manner not in accordance with the worth or value of the sacrifice of Jesus.  We devalue the offering of His life when we reduce the celebration to mere ceremony, when we muddle through the ritual while tolerating the unrepented practice of sin in our hearts, in our relationships and in our church.

Churches fail to ascribe full worth to Holy Communion when they assume that it is not worthy of their time, when they hurry through the celebration as if it is an interruption in the more important business of customer and cash flow.  

In unworthy celebration, we separate ourselves from the flow of the life of Christ.

Ascribing full worth to Holy Communion involves the realization that this is the symbol of God’s provision for every need in our life.  The blood of Christ paid for our sins, redeemed us from everlasting separation from God and also provides for healing, peace of mind, provision of resources, deliverance from the strategies and weapons and entanglements of the enemy.

“But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (I Corinthians 11:28).

Let us then examine ourselves.  The word examine means to test, discern.

It is one thing to surrender to Christ as Lord and Savior and to be a believer.  It is something more to be a disciple, one who is entering into the disciplines of learning from and being molded by a Master.  A believer is someone who believes in something.  A disciple is someone who is being disciplined by someone.  Jesus calls us to move on from being a believer to a disciple, a disciplined one.

Every day we need to invite the Lord to shine His truth into our hearts and examine us as His disciples, His learners (as if we were sitting at His feet).  He is not just releasing life into us but revealing the life that is in us.  Is it His life that forms us and motivates us?  Or is it the old Adam, with its corrupt, self-centered desires?  What is the energizing life-force within us — is it Christ or is it our self-enthronement?  Is it the values of the kingdom of God or the values of this corrupt and dying world?  

Holy Communion is a time of examination and review in the lives of the disciples, not for the purpose of condemnation but for the purpose of cleansing and growth and maturity into the fulness of the image of Christ.

We have been quoting from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  The problem at Corinth was sin and division in the church.  What does sin and division do?  It separates us from Christ and the flow of His life through His Body, the church.  Therefore we read,  

“For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (I Corinthians 11:29,30).

Paul was referring to the practice of eating together as a church ( they called that the love feast) and then following with Holy Communion.  But he says that they were not judging the body rightly.  What does he mean and which body is he referring to?

Remember that Paul wrote these words to a church which had forgotten that we “are Christ's body and individually members of it”  (I Corinthians 12:27).  Paul follows the statement in Chapter 11 about rightly discerning the body with the presentation in chapter 12 that the church is the Body of Christ. In chapter 13 he reveals how the body should live together — in self-sacrificing love. In chapter14 he further discusses the function of the body.  

Why such emphasis on the church as the body of Christ?

Because they were a divided, sinful church failing to discern the sacred truth that they were the body which Christ now inhabits on earth and they were failing to discern their own relationship in that body.  They met together for the love feast but some were gorging themselves with abundance of food while others had no food, some were drunk and some were sober.  Then, when they attempted to worship and teach the Word, they were in such disunity that it was difficult to carry on a service.  Meanwhile, others had separated from the church through immorality or rebellion or spiritual laziness.

They were not discerning that as members of Christ’s body, there is a flow of His life through the church that vitalizes the members.  Their sin and disunity disconnected them from the flow of Christ’s life and so, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” 

Separated from the life of Christ by ongoing, unrepented sin, we grow weak and death begins to encroach on our life and our fellowship.  What kind of death?  The death of the possibilities of faith, the death of the plan and purpose of God in our life, a dying of anointing and power, a dying of gifts and resources.  And yes, it appears that some in the church at Corinth had become physically ill and others died before their time because of the judgment of God.

God surely does exercise cleansing and chastisement in our hearts and in His church — He does so because He loves us and because He loves His church.  But we do not want to take from this Scripture a picture of Christ standing before us and saying, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest, but if you get it wrong I'll kill you.” 

Yes, Christ exercises judgement among His people and we need look no further than the lives of Ananias and Saphira, who were severely judge for lying to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-11).  But the Christ who knows perfectly our sin and failure has not taken our lives.  Rather, He calls us to His table to feed us on His life, to strengthen us in our weakness, to nurture us in our need, to correct us in our sin.  He stands before us as if He is saying, 

“Come unto me and celebrate my victory on your behalf and receive the flow of my life.  But examine yourself and let my life come to bear on those points where you need growth, maturity, forgiveness, cleansing, deliverance.  Where there is smallness, let my life stretch you.  Where there is unforgiveness, let my life release grace in you toward others.  Where there is lovelessness, let my love release a largeness of heart.  Where there is sin, let my life work repentance and holiness in you.  And if you will rightly discern that this church is my body, if you will discern your place in the body and discern those things that have lodged in your spirit that restrict the flow of my life into your life, then I will feed you and restore those things that are sick and resurrect those things that have died.”  

To this day there are many in the church who fail to discern the body of Christ.  They have failed to discern their place in the body and their need to live in the flow of life that comes from union with Christ and with Christ’s people.  Having separated themselves from the flow of life in Christ through rebellion, disunity, unconfessed sin or through the neglect of spiritual disciplines such as Holy Communion, they have become sick in faith and some of the possibilities of faith have died before their time.

So we examine ourselves, confessing our sin and admitting our need for the flow of life from Christ to ourselves. We rise from self examination in confidence that whatever we lack, whatever the Lord showed us that we lack, wherever it is that we need to grow, there is full provision for this and we ascribe full worth to the provision and to the Provider.  

We partake of the bread and cup and if we need forgiveness, there is provision.  If we need to be restored in some area of the soul, if we need to forgive, to be strengthened in our discipline — whatever we need — the provision is present in Christ our life who is present not only as our Bread but as our High Priest who ministers the Bread of His life.

7. Holy Communion anticipates a greater feast someday — the marriage supper of the Lamb.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).

Every service of Holy Communion is a proclamation that Jesus Christ is faithful to fulfill every promise He has made.  He will conclude history. He will return for His redeemed church. He will establish His kingdom on earth.

“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3).

Jesus Christ is coming again — we proclaim this great truth in the bread and cup. But it is more than Christ’s return that we anticipate. It is the glorious celebration of the consummation of union between Christ and His church — the marriage supper of the Lamb and His bride:

“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 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 19:6,7).

“Then he said to me, Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Revelation 19:9).

What a feast that will be.  It is not merely the banquet that excites our imagination but the One we will see face to face, in whose presence we will abide forever. As we take the bread and cup in our hands, we are declaring the certainty of that feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Our future with Christ is promised and anticipated in this bread and wine.

Christ has died,

Christ is risen,

Christ will come again. 

In those few words we declare the saving death of Jesus, His resurrection presence among us and His promise to return someday.  This is the joyful feast which the early church celebrated and with those early celebrants we cry, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Study Questions

1. Jesus said, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” What are we remembering in Holy Communion?

October 20, 2019 - The Blessed Life

October 20, 2019

The Blessed Life

In Matthew 5:3-12, Jesus taught the principles of the blessed life. 

The word blessed which Jesus uses in these teachings is makarios. It has to do with happiness, joy, a state of being which only God can bestow and is not dependent on the world nor our circumstances. It is His gift to His children, to those who love Him and are faithful. Makarios stands in stark contrast to the world’s definition of happiness which is based on power, fame, riches, pleasure, all of which are easily diminished and eventually lost.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3)

The poor in spirit are those who are awakened by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to realize that they are spiritually dead and separated from God by their sins; who know that they stand condemned before God, stand under the weight of God’s righteous judgment and unless there is a radical change, they will be separated from God forever in hell.

The poor in spirit recognize their spiritual poverty, realize that there is no human work which can be done that will reconcile them to God, rather, it is entirely by the riches of God’s grace that we are saved. Those who confess to God their separation from Him, who confess their spiritual poverty, that they are bankrupt and helpless to change and are entirely dependent on the riches of God’s mercy and grace, will be blessed, will be made happy with a happiness which only God can bestow. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Through faith in Christ, the poor in spirit inherit the true riches of the kingdom: forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God and everlasting life when this life is over.

This is not a someday promise — ours is the kingdom. Today we have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Today we experience the rule of God’s grace in us and around us.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (5:4).

Of the numerous New Testament words for mourning or sorrow, this is the strongest, pentheo, which speaks of the deepest possible grief. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is used for Jacob’s grief over what he believed to be the death of his son Joseph. It is used in Mark 16:10 of the disciples mourning the death of Jesus. 

Sorrow is something the world attempts to avoid, obsessively pursuing happiness and pleasure. In the United States, the pursuit of happiness is considered to be a constitutionally guaranteed right. But the more that people chase the shallow, temporary happiness of this world, the more frustrated and unfulfilled they become. 

In contrast, Jesus says, “Blessed are they that mourn.” Blessed, happy are those who mourn.  Mourn over what?

 

As the Holy Spirit awakens a lost soul to the truth of his or her life, they mourn their sin and self-centeredness; they shall be comforted with forgiveness. They mourn over their spiritual lostness, their separation from God; they shall be comforted with salvation, reconciliation with God our Creator. Blessed are those who mourn over the death that sin creates — the death of opportunities, talents and time; the death of friendships broken, life and health ruined. They shall be comforted with the grace-filled miracle of restoration.

We mourn over the lost souls around us, the condition of a fallen, suffering world and a groaning creation. The Apostle Paul wanted to know the Lord not only in “the power of His resurrection” but also in “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phlp. 3:10). As we share in the travail of Jesus and shall be comforted by His fellowship now and by His reward in heaven.

3. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (5:5).

The word which we translate gentle is praus which can also be rendered as meek. Jesus used a related word to describe Himself in Matthew 11:29, “For I am gentle (praos) and humble in heart.”

Gentleness or meekness has nothing to do with softness or weakness. It is a quality of the character of Christ which God produces in us as we cooperate with His sanctifying work and which expresses itself toward God in humble reverence and toward people in self sacrificing love.

Gentleness is closely related to the concept of humility, though these are different words. Humility, tapeinoo, is used to describe Jesus’ attitude in leaving the riches of heaven to be born in human form, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phlpns. 2:8).

What does Jesus say that these gentle, humble ones will inherit? The earth.

The power brokers of the world build their mega-empires but ultimately they perish and their empires perish after them. In the end, they gain nothing and lose their souls. The gentle, humble follower of Jesus inherits the earth and everlasting life with God.

In the thousand year reign of Christ on earth and afterward in the new heavens and the new earth, those who humbled themselves in repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, will reign with Him. We will literally inherit the earth. Indeed, when we humble ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we then become joint heirs with Him — we stand to inherit that which Jesus inherits: “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” (Romans 8:17).

But there is also a present tense to this inheritance. Jesus promises to resource the lives and ministries of those who, in gentle humility, commit themselves to fulfill His kingdom purpose on earth. The gentle, humble followers of Christ have an inheritance, now in this world, later in the Millennial reign of Christ and finally in the new heavens and new earth. 

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6).

Every day we experience a multitude of appetites which demand fulfillment — people are hungry for so many different kinds of experiences but there is a God-shaped emptiness in each of us which demands to be filled. Only God Himself can fill this deepest longing; it is the way we were created. The world is filled with frustrated, anxious, angry, unfulfilled people because they are trying to fill this desire for God with everything except the true and living God.

Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord asked, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me and eat what is good and delight yourself in abundance” (Isa. 55:2).

What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?

It means to passionately desire a right relationship with God. Humanity is separated from God because of sin against God and we will never experience true fulfillment or lasting satisfaction while living apart from God. People pursue wealth, fame, power but arriving at their goal, they are still hungry.

The Psalmist understood this craving: “As the deer pants (longs for) the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for the living God” (Psalm 42:1,2).

The meaningful, fulfilled life begins in being reconciled to God through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Now, alive in Christ, we hunger and thirst for God’s holy word. Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

We hunger and thirst to grow in Christlikeness. Apostle Peter adds, “Like new born babies, long for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2).

We hunger and thirst for the presence of God. David the Psalmist cried out, “O Lord, I call upon You; hasten to me” (Ps. 141:1).

It is our responsibility to hunger and thirst. It is God’s responsibility to satisfy. 

Mary rejoiced in God’s outpouring into the lives of those who hunger and thirst after Him, “My soul exalts the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior ... He has filled the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:46,47, 53).

David testifies, “You prepare a table before me ... my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who passionately, desperately desire a right relationship with God.  Blessed in what way? Blessed with God Himself. God will draw us into an ever deepening relationship with Himself, wherein is true blessedness, true fulfillment and satisfaction. And in this righteous relationship with God, all other things that are needed shall be added unto us (Matthew 6:33).

5. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7)

All of God’s redeeming work in our lives is an expression of His mercy. God, in turn, requires us to share the mercy we have experienced from Him. “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).

In Luke 6:36 Jesus commands us, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” Two verses later He says, “Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). Mercy is what God pours into our lives. As we allow the Lord to pour out mercy through us, we experience His mercy in greater measure.

This is not a merciful world. It is a savage world fallen from grace, exercising brutality everywhere. Yet Jesus wept over the city that rejected Him, touched the untouchable leper, set at liberty the demon bound outcast and forgave the self righteous priests who crucified Him.

His outpouring of mercy and grace on a fallen world did not result in the world pouring out mercy on Him. Rather, it was His Father who rewarded Him. So with us. We are commanded to share mercy with the world around us. The world will not repay mercy with mercy but our Lord will. It is the Lord Himself who blesses the poor in spirit with their reward, the kingdom of heaven. It is the Lord who comforts those who mourn, who blesses the gentle and satisfies those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We, in turn, are commanded to share mercy with others. How can I show mercy in such a brutal, violent, unforgiving world? “We love because He first loved us” (I John 5:19). “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

It is God’s mercy toward us that enables us to share mercy. It is a work of the Holy Spirit in us and an expression of the character of Christ which the Holy Spirit cultivates in us (Gal. 5:22,23).

6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (5:8)

Pure translates the word kathores from which we derive catharsis, referring to that which has been cleansed. It was used in reference to metals that had been refined of impurities.

Applied to a person, this is a heart which is undivided by conflicting motives or contradictory desires, singleminded, devoted, uncompromised. It speaks of integrity, that which is integrated, in which all the parts are functioning as a whole. It is a heart with one focus, whole, wholly committed to know and love God. It is a cleansed heart, undiluted by darkness, transparent — as clear as light.  

Only God can create a pure heart but He does so as we participate in the discipline of holiness. This discipline includes honest accountability for our sins and failures. John exhorts us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

This discipline also includes refusing to practice the old ways of our fallen nature while continually practicing our new life in Christ. Paul refers to this as putting off the old and putting on the new (Colossians 3:1-17).

This discipline includes presenting ourselves to God daily, refusing conformity to this world and accepting God’s work of transformation (Romans 6:12-14 12:1,2) as we meet Him in His word and in worship.

This discipline includes accepting God’s restoring, forgiving grace day by day. David the Psalmist knew something of failure but also of forgiving, cleansing grace. He said, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Ps. 32:1).

What is the blessing obtained by those who have a pure heart? “They shall see God.” This is not just an end time event but a daily, intimate communion with God, uninterrupted fellowship with our Lord and Savior.

7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

The Lord who spoke peace to the storm offers us His peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).  

Peace is Jesus’ gift to all who come to Him in humble repentance and childlike faith. Since it is His gift to us, the world can neither take it from us nor diminish its reality within us.

This peace is, first of all, peace with God, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Secondly, it is the peace of God, a living peace established within us by the God of peace who indwells us. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you so that in me you may have peace” (John 16:33).

Whatever storms we encounter, we may experience the peace of God. Now, the God of peace, who has planted His peace within us, calls us to be peacemakers in a fallen world which is in violent rebellion against its Creator and burning in its self destructive rebellion. A peacemaker is someone who disturbs the natural order of things in a world at war with itself.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The peace which Jesus brings is rooted in righteous relationship with a holy God who speaks truth wrapped in grace and love. But truth is confrontational.

When the truth of the Gospel confronted our sin, we repented and placed our faith in Christ. But this confrontation was not an act of peace. It was an act of war resulting in peace.

After Peter preached his first sermon on Pentecost, the people “were pierced (wounded) to the heart” and they cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Peter responded, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name or Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (2:38). Hearts wounded by truth were brought into the peace of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Just as God brought peace to our souls by confronting us with truth, so it is in His church. In Revelation chapter two, Jesus confronted the church at Pergamum because there were some false teachers in the church. He said in 2:16, “Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” He was ready to make war on anyone that would harm His bride. He would bring peace and purity to His bride with the sword of His mouth, with truth.

Just as God brings peace to our souls and to the church by confronting us with truth, so it must be with the world around us. The world is not at peace. It is at war and the primary cause of conflict is that people are separated from God and from one another. The root of this separation is sin. What robs the world of peace is sin.

What delivers anyone from sin? Confrontation with truth. We are called to speak the truth with love and grace and our peacemaking in God’s name gives proof that we are His children, “They shall be called sons of God.”

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). If this is so, if we are indeed children of God by faith in Christ, then there will be visible manifestations of our relationship with the living God. 

Peace with God, the peace of God and peace making in God’s name demonstrate that we are who we say we are.

October 13, 2019 - The First and Greatest Commandment

October 13, 2019

The First and Greatest Commandment

Mark 12:30

A scribe asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

What does it mean to love God with all of our being? It means to love God the way He loves us — God loves us with all of His being.  How do we love God with all of our being? By encountering and experiencing His love for us.

The reason we are able to love God at all is because God has come to us, pursued us, awakened us and lavished His saving grace upon us: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I John 4:10).

We see a beautiful picture of this through the prophetic ministry of Hosea. God had made covenant with Israel, betrothed Israel to Himself as His bride. When Israel rejected the Lord and pursued false gods, the Lord did not reject the nation. Instead, He pursued Israel as a husband pursing His unfaithful beloved, calling to her. 

Around this same time, Isaiah was also declaring this revelation, “It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken,’ nor to your land will it any longer be said, ‘Desolate’; but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘Married’; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:4,5)

What a revelation, that the God of Israel was not only the mighty Creator and fearsome Judge but also the covenant husband of Israel, the Bridegroom God who delights in His covenant people  “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride.” This gave a radically different interpretation to the Song of Solomon. Now it was obvious that this was not merely a poem about romantic love but a portrait of the divine Beloved declaring His love for His bride.

“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride … How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices!” (Song of Solomon 4:9). This is a God who is captivated by His Bride, enraptured by her and passionately desiring that she would love Him in return. 

The Bride is awakened by her divine Beloved and with amazed wonder, she declares, “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is toward me” (Song 7:10). What a revelation! The Creator of the universe passionately desires to bring fallen, sinful people into a covenant relationship with Himself wherein we may experience, not merely the forgiveness of our sins but the lavishing of His grace and love upon us so that then He can take pleasure in our love for Him.

But there’s more. The Bridegroom God brings His beloved to His banqueting table and spreads His banner of love over her (Song 2:4). The banqueting table is the place where the bride is nourished. This is a picture of covenant people, those who are betrothed to God, meeting God in prayer, in worship, in feeding on His word. This banqueting table is a place of revelation where the Bridegroom God opens His heart and mind to His beloved. It is a place of celebration where we rejoice in His love and He finds pleasure in our love.

He spreads His banner over the celebration — the banner represents His rulership over our lives. It is a rule of grace overcoming guilt, forgiveness overcoming judgment, life swallowing up death.

Under that banner and in that place of nourishment, revelation and celebration, the Bride finds her identity — I am the one whom my Beloved desires, His delight is in me. Our identity is established in the incredible reality that the Creator of the universe loves us, desires us, delights in us and takes pleasure in our love for Him. 

This changes everything. Our obedience, our giving, the exercise of ministry, all of life is empowered by this experience of being desired by God. We don’t earn or deserve God’s love, nor do we motivate His desire for us. It is His love for us that awakens us, motivates us to pursue Him, to enjoy Him and to lavish our love upon Him.  

The psalmist declared, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Psalm 149:4). Who are His people? Those who have been awakened by Him and have entered into covenant with Him, His betrothed, His beloved — and He finds pleasure in us.

This experience of the love of God, of God’s delight in us, enables us to love God in return: “We love, because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19). God’s love for us is the well spring of all love and it is this well, with neither beginning nor end, which cannot die nor be overcome nor contained, that draws us into the depths of true love. The greatest reward for love is the ability to love more and as we drink from this well delight, our love rises and flows back to this God who delights in us. 

The Apostle Paul asked, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35,37-39).

Since this is so, that nothing can restrict or restrain God’s love for us, we can rest, we can be confident, in the unchanging reality of the love of the Bridegroom God.

John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” The love of God is the reason for our being, we were created to experience God’s love and respond with love.  This need to know and love God is locked within our hearts as a seed, an instinct, an undeniable impulse.  We must know God’s love and love Him in return or we die.  It is the only love that truly satisfies, this love of the God who first loved us, who loves us with undying, everlasting love.  Out of this exchange of love, all other love flows.  “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5).  It is our experience of His love for us that enables, inspires and nurtures all the other manifold loves of our life.  It pours out through us back to the Bridegroom God and to the world around us.

Love for God is demonstrated as we obey His righteous laws, not with words but with deeds, as Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).  Humanity is free to withhold love from God and this is the genesis of all sin and the cause of final judgment and separation from God, that anyone would reject His love and refuse to love Him in return. But why would we reject this Bridegroom God who has pursued us with such passion? Overwhelmed with His love, we respond with all of our being — heart, soul, mind and strength.

We are to love God with all of our heart, which might be interpreted as the depths of our emotions. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1).

We love God with all of our soul, with all our creative powers and artistic giftings.

We love God with all of our mind, our rational and intellectual powers.  This is why Paul prayed for the church, “That your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9).  Paul prayed that we would be “rooted and grounded in love … able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).

We are to love God with all our physical powers, in the living of life each day. Our vocation, our daily tasks, no matter now mundane and common, can be done as expressions of our love for God.

Love of God cannot be restricted to a particular time and place such as Sunday morning at the cathedral.  It is broader and deeper than that, encompassing all of life.  We cannot love God in our worship liturgy and then deny Him in our work day ethics.  We cannot sing our love for God in the church choir but deny our love for God in the streets and markets of commerce, in the halls of politics and in the racially diverse neighborhoods of our cities.  Love of God must encompass all of life.  It is a lifestyle, the life we were created to live.

This is why Jesus adds that the second commandment “is like it,” that we love our neighbor as ourselves. These two commandments are alike, joined in meaning, because we cannot say that we love God, whom we have not seen if we hate our brother whom we have seen (I John 4:20).  Lest we become too exclusive in our definition of brother or neighbor, Jesus breaks down the walls of separation in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).  Samaritans were racially, nationally and religiously distinct from Jews, despised by Jews, yet it is precisely the loving service of a Samaritan to a Jew that Jesus uses to define the neighbor-love that reveals our God-love.

Paul prayed, “And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you” (I Thes. 3:12). This is God’s primary purpose in our lives — that we would experience His love for us and then pour our love back to Him and into the world around us. His priority is not our ministry, our gifts or our offerings. It is that we would know His love and love Him in return with heart, soul, mind and strength.

Jesus prayed, “And I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Jesus asked the Father to pour into our lives His love for His Son. What a marvelous thought, that we would experience the exchange of love between God the Father and God the Son, that we would stand within the circle of that eternal, unbounded flow of love.

If this is true, that God passionately desires that we experience His love and love Him in return, then our identity can be defined not by success or failure in our careers, not by acceptance or rejection in our relationships, but by this primary reality — God loves us and takes pleasure in our love for Him. This is our true identity, this is who we are —the Bride of the Bridegroom God.

This means that our success is defined not by profit margins or popularity but by this primary reality — God desires us and takes pleasure in our desire for Him. 

If this is true, then Jesus’ evaluation of our lives is not defined by sin or our struggle to overcome sin or by our success or our struggle to obtain success.  Jesus’ evaluation of our lives is defined by our willingness to receive His love and love Him in return.

This then empowers and energizes our obedience, our giving, the exercise of gifts, the fulfilling of ministry. Pastor Mike Bickle calls this “Affection-based obedience”— a motive for living that flows from our experience of Christ’s overwhelming passion for us and our willingness to pour it back upon Him. This covenant love of the Bridegroom God for His bride cannot be destroyed or even diminished. It is the most permanent, fixed reality in an unstable, storm-wracked world.

Jesus told a parable about His desire for a bride (Matt. 22:1-14). A king gave a wedding feast for his son. Most of the people were indifferent, ignored the invitation. Some of the people beat the messengers, killed them. The king’s response to their rejection? Go out into the highways, persuade them to come in.

The last book of the Bible begins with these words, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Revelation means unveiling and in the following chapters we see the unveiling of Jesus in the fulness of His glory. We see the unveiling of history as it empties into eternity. And we see the grand, unexpected, goal of history — the unveiling of the church as a bride made ready for the Bridegroom God. 

What a marvelous revelation, that the Creator of the universe is the Bridegroom God, born in human form to pursue sinful, lost people, to awaken us with His love, to redeem us to know His love, to inspire us to love Him in return.

We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and with all of our strength.  The fact that we struggle to do this, that we wrestle with imperfect love, immature love, weak love, love that is so easily distracted and seduced by this passing world, love that is often assaulted, dishonored and polluted by sin — this does not diminish the Bridegroom’s love for us. It moves Him all the more.

You see, it will be easy to love the Bridegroom God in eternity when we see Him in His glory, when we stand amidst the splendor of heaven and the raptures of celebration.  But it moves Him that we choose to love Him now in the midst of temptation, weariness, resistance, opposition, disappointment, failure and sin. It moves Him because our love now is costly. These few years on earth are the only span of time when we choose to love the Lord without seeing Him, in the midst of storms, trials and tribulations.  Your choice to love Him now, with all you can offer of heart, soul, mind and strength, this delights the Bridegroom God.