Today’s post is something of a continuation to last week’s post, The Bridegroom’s Pledge. As Jesus Christ’s bride, the church is supposed to be getting ready for a marriage that will take place when He returns. If this were a human wedding, preparations for it would include things like picking a date and venue, mailing out invitations, and hiring a caterer. But none of those things are any use in preparing for a wedding to Jesus. He needs us to focus on something different, something that will strengthen a relationship He intends to last into eternity.
Diversity In Oneness
He who loves his own wife loves himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord also does the church; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. “For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will be joined to his wife. The two will become one flesh.” This mystery is great, but I speak concerning Christ and of the church. (Eph. 5:28-32, WEB)
In these verses, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about the husband and wife becoming one flesh. The Hebrew word for “one” is echad (H259). It’s the same word use in the Shema: “Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God. Yahweh is one” (Deut. 6:4, WEB).
While echad can mean the number one, in these verses “It stresses unity while recognizing diversity within that oneness” (TWOT entry 61). A husband and wife don’t literally merge into a single being. And God (Elohim) consists of two Beings. But they can be called one because they’re united. That’s the sort of relationship we’re supposed to be developing with Christ. Read more →
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.
Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.
A Promise To Come Back
The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).
In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).
Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.
When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more →
I don’t have a regular blog post for you today. I just want to get real with you all for a moment. God spoke to me earlier this week. Not in the “I have a divine revelation to share with you all” way, but in the sense that He used someone to tell me something I really needed to hear.
This other person and I were talking one night and they told me they felt God’s presence as a near-constant thing. And I felt sad, as well as a bit envious, that I didn’t have that. It’s not that I’ve never felt God is there. I feel that He hugged me once when I was singing in church. I often feel Him when I dance. He drew me into deeper relationship with Him and led me to baptism when, at age 18, He showed me that He wants me as well as loves me. But I also feel myself slipping into a pattern of having more head-faith than heart-faith even though I write all the time about connecting with God at a heart level.
On top of that, I’ve recently realized that for all the work I did years ago on learning to love myself and accept God’s perspective on me that I’ve lost hold of that as well (if I ever really had it). I know that God loves me and values me and I’m precious in his sight. But dating my boyfriend has brought to light there was still a voice in my mind saying I’m not actually all those things. Or more accurately it’s saying that even though God sees me like that no one else ever will or should. Which simply isn’t true. But it feels true and I’m so grateful I’m in a relationship with a guy who thinks it’s important that I come to believe I’m truly precious and thinks everyone else should see that, too.
So getting back to the night God spoke to me. I really can’t put it any other way. Someone else was speaking the words but they were coming from God. And He said, “I choose you. I love you. And I’ve loved you for so very long. Why won’t you accept my love? I chose you all the time. All of you — writer, blogger, cook, girl who chose to follow Me even when she can’t feel Me, lover of people. And I accept you.” And more than I’ll share here. It was incredible. Can you blame me for breaking down in tears, crumpled at Jesus’ feet?
I’m not sure how most of you see me. I’ve had some people mention that it seems like I have a strong faith, or that I’m “spiritual,” or that it’s obvious God is working in me. I suppose we could say those are true. But I felt broken and lonely and terrified I would be rejected. Parts of me still feel like that, but not nearly so much. In fact, the person I was talking with might be right when they said they felt like I really accepted God into my heart for the first time that evening. Not that I hadn’t committed to God before, but that this was the first time I really believed deep in my heart that His love and acceptance is, and should be, for me.
At the very least, I realized I had “left my first love,” to borrow a phrase from the letter to Ephesus. I honestly don’t remember feeling anything like what I do now since I was 14 years old and realized I wanted to be baptized and spent a summer singing to God every morning. I don’t do that any more. And I suspect reading things like Captivating moved me to tears not because I really believed God loved me like that but becasue I wanted to believe it. Similarly, I loved songs like “Someone Worth Dying For” not because I believed that’s something I am but because the longing found the chorus’ questions was in my own heart as well.
I feel rather dense, to be honest. If you look back at the blog posts I’ve been writing it’s obvious that God has been trying to tell me this for years. But I just wrote the posts, thanked Him for His goodness and love, then shared them with others without really, truly internalizing it. I’m grateful that He has used my hurt to help other people — that because I’ve felt these things I know how much other people who are going through the same doubts need encouragement. But it took God having another person put their hands on my shoulders and insist I really listen this time to realize how much those studies were meant for me as well. Posts like the reminder to love yourself because God loves you so much. Or the one from two years ago about taking down barriers you’ve built between you and God. Or the series I’ve been doing on really believing God’s promises, including the one that He’ll never let you down.
I want to share with you the verses I went to the morning after this conversation. I think the most consistent way God communicates with us is through Bible study (though He’ll use other methods as well especially, as I just learned, if we’re not getting it otherwise). Many of these passages were already among my favorite verses and I even quoted most of them in my ebook God’s Love Story. Now they hold even more meaning than before.
But now Yahweh who created you, Jacob, and he who formed you, Israel says: “Don’t be afraid, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and flame will not scorch you. For I am Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I have given Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you have been precious and honored in my sight, and I have loved you; therefore I will give people in your place, and nations instead of your life. (Is. 43:1-4, WEB)
Now when I passed by you, and looked at you, behold, your time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yes, I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord Yahweh, and you became mine. (Ezk. 16:8, WEB)
Therefore behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she will respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. It will be in that day,” says Yahweh, “that you will call me ‘my husband,’ and no longer call me ‘my master.’ For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they will no longer be mentioned by name.
In that day I will make a covenant for them with the animals of the field, and with the birds of the sky, and with the creeping things of the ground. I will break the bow, the sword, and the battle out of the land, and will make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to me forever. Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness, in justice, in loving kindness, and in compassion. I will even betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know Yahweh.
It will happen in that day, I will respond,” says Yahweh, “I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, and the new wine, and the oil; and they will respond to Jezreel. I will sow her to me in the earth; and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; and I will tell those who were not my people, ‘You are my people;’ and they will say, ‘My God!’” (Hos. 2:14-23, WEB)
My beloved spoke, and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. For, behold, the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of the singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens her green figs. The vines are in blossom. They give out their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” (Song 2:10-13, WEB)
Only Yahweh had a delight in your fathers to love them, and he chose their offspring after them, even you above all peoples, as it is today. (Deut. 10:15, WEB)
For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning lamp. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name, which Yahweh‘s mouth will name. You will also be a crown of beauty in Yahweh‘s hand, and a royal diadem in your God‘s hand. You will not be called Forsaken any more; nor will your land be called Desolate any more: but you will be called Hephzibah [“I delight in her”], and your land Beulah [“married”]; for Yahweh delights in you, and your land will be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you. As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Is. 62:1–5, WEB)
But God wasn’t yet done with confirming His message for me. This past week I was at an evening service for Yom Teruah and we read some confessions/prayers together as a congregation that spoke directly to this subject as well. We had a printed out program for some congregational readings, but only used about 1/4 of them in our service. I’m assuming the chosen readings weren’t a coincidence and God knew I needed this confirmation. The very first one we read together included these lines:
Abba Father, we come before You today to receive Your love anew, a love that never fails, and to experience the wonderful truth that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). We come in faith to You, desiring freedom in our lives from past hurts and disappointments. … I receive your unconditional love. I declare that the enemy’s power of rejection over me is broken. Bless me, enlarge my territory, and keep me from evil. Give me fresh vision, heal my heart, and fill it with your love, joy, and peace.
Wow. Could that get any more relevant to what He’s been telling me? The language is so similar to what God was saying a few days earlier through my friend that I was getting choked-up reading it. I’m getting choked up typing it now.
And you know what’s more? God’s saying the same things to you, dear readers. I know many of you have the same doubts, fears, and feeling I had that you lack value. But God chooses you. He wants you. He loves you and has loved you for so very long. You are accepted in the beloved. And because of Jesus’ triumph on the cross the enemy’s power of rejection over you is broken. The Lord will bless you indeed and always be there with you.
I recently finished reading, and then immediately re-reading, Fill These Hearts by Christopher West. It’s a powerful rebuttal to the lie that Christianity is a joyless religion of laws and suppressed desires. West touches on many points regarding marriage and the plan of God that I hit in my book God’s Love Story, a subject you know is dear to my heart. I could probably write half a dozen posts inspired by Fill These Hearts (I already quoted from it in last week’s post), but here’s the part I want to focus on today:
Christianity is the religion of desire — the religion that redeemseros — and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open … all their desires for love and union to the Love and Union that alone can satisfy. … the saints have learned to open eros (their yearning for love) to Eros (God’s passionate love for them).” (p. 39)
Seeing God’s love described as Eros might make you a little uncomfortable at first (it had that effect on me). Eros is the Greek word for passionate or sexual love. This word doesn’t even appear in scripture, although erotic love is alluded to. The word we usually associate with God’s love — and rightly so — is agape.Read more →
As long as I can remember, and I’m told well before that, “Why are we here?” has been a familiar refrain in sermons. I’m not sure if other churches ask this question so religiously, but in mine it’s trundled out every Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), and at least once more on other Holy Days and/or Sabbaths throughout the year.
The answers are equally familiar by now: “Because God called us,” “Because today is a commanded assembly,” “Because you’ve been given understanding the rest of the world doesn’t have.” Last time I heard this question was a few weeks ago, and that time I tried to think beyond why I was sitting in an uncomfortable blue-upholstered chair on a Saturday afternoon. When we really boil it all down to the question of why God called us in the first place, why are we really here? What is our purpose as followers of God?
A Great Mystery
From the very beginning God’s focus has been on relationships. Looking back to Genesis 1, we see God speaking the world into existence, and proclaiming that it was good. Finally we come to the pinnacle of God’s creation.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26)
This is the first time in the Bible where we see both The Word/Jesus Christ and God The Father talking about something together. I’m sure they collaborated on the rest of creation as well (Eph. 3:9), but mankind is the one creative act where They made sure we knew They acted together. “Let Us make man” is a collaborative, relational statement, announcing Their intent to make people “in Our Image,” and therefore capable of relationship.
The specific way humans were created also points out the importance of relationships. With other creatures, both male and female were apparently created at the same time. With humans, however, man was created first. This gave God a chance to point out, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). As Paul explains much later in the scriptures, the marriage relationship created here is a picture of the relationship God wants with His church.”
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31-32)
Here, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to teach us a great mystery about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the New Testament church. At its core, the goal of “Let Us make man” was to build familial relationships. We are made children of God and co-inheritors with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:15-17), and betrothed to our adopted Brother (2 Cor. 11:2). We are designed to be in relationship with our Creator.
Lovers of God
In 2 Timothy, Paul describes “the last days,” warning that bad things are going to happen because men will turn away from loving God.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim. 3:4-5)
Note that these people have a “form of godliness.” As bad as they sound, they aren’t just people outside the churches — there are some inside our groups as well trying to pass themselves off as godly. But because they are not truly “lovers of God,” they are denying His true power and refusing to walk in His ways.
What does a “lover of God” look like? We’ve quoted John 14:15 several times over the past few weeks, where Christ says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” He expands on this idea through chapter 15 as well.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)
Obedience is key to being in a relationship with God. If we ignore His commands, we’re telling Him we don’t care about a relationship with Him. But if we keep His commandments, we’re saying how much we love Him and want to be close to Him.
When was the last time you heard Song of Solomon quoted in a sermon? For that matter, how many Christians do you think would have included it in the Bible if canonization had been up to them? No one seems quite sure what to do with it. My KeyWord study Bible says that portions of the Song were sung at Passover, though, so with that coming up next week maybe today is the perfect time to take another look at the Song of Songs.
Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah and Lamentations all use this metaphor; the rabbis merely amplified what they had already found in the Bible. The Song of Songs, to the rabbis, was the completion of the metaphor. The prophets may have denounced infidelity but the Song of Songs spoke of reunion and love, the kind of love that the believing rabbinic Jew felt for God. Even the Psalms do not talk about God as the lover or bridegroom of Israel. The Song of Songs is seen as a dialogue between God and Israel, and this provides the book with a unique religious intensity.” (Benjamin Edidin Scolnic, “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?”, page 4)
Scholars can’t agree on who wrote the Song of Songs or when, much less how to interpret it. Some claim that it’s nothing more than a secular love song, others say it only has allegorical applications. The more balanced view is that it operates on two levels — as an account of human love, and as a picture of Christ’s love for the church and/or God’s love for Israel. That’s the one I like, and there is much to learn when we read this book looking for insight into our relationship with God.
I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Song 7:10)
Do you feel like this about your relationship with Jesus? We should, for we do belong to Him since He desired us so much that he redeemed us by giving His own life. The only time we see God’s name in the Song of Songs, it is not translated into English. It’s in chapter 8:6, and “Thus at the end of the Song the woman describes her love for her man as being like ‘YHWH’s Flame,’ the love between them will not only be as strong as death; it will be as strong as YHWH’s love for His people” (Andrew Greele, quoted by Scolnic, page 6). With a love so strong offered to us, we should offer all our love to God in return. What’s why we are here — to be lovers of God.
One of the foundational things we have to recognize when coming to Christ is that we’re not worthy. The Bible makes it clear that the human “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). We can’t earn salvation, and we have not done anything to deserve God’s love. This should fill us with humility as we enter a relationship with God, knowing He loves us even through we are nothing without Him.
But I know far too many people who get stuck on the “I am undeserving” part of this truth. Instead of finding our identity in Jesus Christ and defining ourselves by our relationship with Him (“I’m a Christian”), we can be tempted to find our identity in the fact that we don’t deserve His forgiveness and love (“I’m worthless”). Maybe you’ve been told your whole life that “you’re not good enough,” and you’ve carried that into your relationship with God. Maybe you’re a perfectionist who’s stopped using your attention to detail to get things done right and started letting it rule your life so you feel useless unless you’re constantly giving 110%. Or maybe your self-lies are more like mine — that I’m not brave, strong, or clever enough to be of use to God.
Is this what God wants when He asks for humility? Do His instructions to think less of ourselves than of others mean He wants us to have low self-esteem? What does the Bible say about our value?
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)
Even when we were sinners — working at cross-purposes to God — He loved us enough to die for us. God is love, and there is no greater example of this than the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to transform broken people who had done nothing to deserve His attention into something special.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)
Look how Jesus describes His followers, as friends so valued He was willing to die for and share His thoughts with them. And those who follow Christ are not only His friends, but His family as well, and “He is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). Think of that. The One who knows you best — all your sins, weakness, foibles, and most secret thoughts — is not ashamed to say you are His family.
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. … For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior … since you were precious in My sight, you have been honored, and I have loved you; therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. (Is. 43:1, 3, 4)
These early verses of Isaiah 43 are some of my favorite scriptures. I read them when I’m feeling lonely or doubtful of my worth in God’s eyes. Isn’t it a lovely reassurance of how highly God values His people? When God looks at you, He doesn’t think, “that person is worthless,” He thinks, “that person belongs to Me, and I love them.”
What We Are
So far, we’ve seen God call us precious, beloved, family, and friends. When we look a bit deeper into how He interacts with the church for today, we see even more evidence of how highly He values us.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
God must value us highly to call us “holy,” dwell inside us, and to destroy those who “defile” us. This part of the verse can be read as a warning to individual parts of the temple that we not become corrupt, and also as a warning to those who would set out to “subvert or corrupt” us as God’s temple. In that sense, it’s similar to God’s Isaiah 43 promise to protect and defend us. God is saying, “They are mine. I prize them highly, and I will fight for them.”
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
Jesus Christ thought we were worth paying the price of His life to redeem. In the words of Matthew Henry, “A spouse so dearly bought and paid for could not but be dearly loved. Such a price being given for her, a high value must needs be put upon her accordingly” (commentary on Song 4:8-14). Jesus did not redeem us so we could be worthless, weak, uninteresting, or whatever it is we call ourselves. He redeemed us to adopt as His siblings (Rom. 8:15-17), marry as His bride (2 Cor. 11:2), and give us a share in His glory (John 17:22; 1 John 3:2).
A Proper Attitude
So, what attitude are we supposed to have about ourselves? One thing we absolutely cannot do is allow the knowledge of how much God loves us lead to an idea that we’re something amazing in and of ourselves. God hates pride, arrogance, and vanity. When He says He values us highly, that’s not the reaction He’s looking for in return. Rather, the Lord requires us “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8)
But we can’t go to the opposite extreme either. If we tell ourselves we have no value, there’s a danger of becoming paralyzed by fear of doing something wrong and attracting attention to our own worthlessness. But that kind of fear has no place in a person where God’s love dwells (1 John 4:18).
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5)
This is the key — having the mind of Christ. His was the most valuable human life ever, and yet He chose to use His greatness to serve others, first by giving up the glory He had before the world existed, then in how He lived His life, then by dying for us, and now by living as our High Priest and the Head over all things to the church. His every act on this earth was one of love and service and esteeming the needs of others as more important than His own. That’s the example we should be following.
When we find our identity in Christ and believe we are precious in God’s sight, we can be bold, courageous, and strong in Him (Heb. 4:16; John 16:33; Eph. 6:10). We are also humble, knowing the things that make us valuable come from our relationship with God and not from ourselves. And we esteem our brethren higher than ourselves, because they are also temples of God and we are called to serve and love them as Christ serves and loves us.