Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?

The apostle John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus loved all of “his own who were in the world,” John is identified in particular as a disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23; 19:26; 20:2, 21:7, 20-24). If we want to know Jesus — and we do, because that’s part of salvation and eternal life (John 17:3; Phil. 3:8) — then who better to learn from than John?

We’re taking a short break from our series on godly wisdom because I really felt like this was the topic I should be studying this week. Love and relationship are so important to God. Knowing Him and being known by Him are central to salvation, Christianity, and our eternal hope. We have to know Him in His way, though. Jesus said there will be people at the end who think they know Him and yet never had a relationship with Him (Matt. 7:21-23). That’s a scary thought, but John makes sure to leave us guides in his writings for how to love Jesus and how to tell whether or not we truly know Him.

Knowing God is Essential to Life

John’s writings are among my favorite in the New Testament. He highlights Jesus’ power and divinity — the things that make Him so much higher than us — more than any other gospel writer, yet He also highlights Jesus’s love and His longing for relationship — the things that make Him closer to us. The way John talks about Jesus and the Father makes it clear that the powerful, eternal, creator God longs for a relationship with us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, and lived among us.  (John 1:1-4, 14, WEB)

Jesus came here not just to die for our sins and reconcile us to God, but also to get to know us. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep and is known by His own, who choose to follow Him (John 10:14, 27). He calls us His followers, friends, chosen, and beloved (John 15:12-16). And He reveals that knowing Him and the Father is key to eternal life (John 17:3). The importance of knowing and being known by God cannot be overstated. Read more

The Romance Of Passover

Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.

In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).

This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).

Covenants and Romance

So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrash on Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).

Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more

Replacing Anxiety With Power, Love, and A Sound Mind

There’s a verse that I’ve found myself praying when I struggle with anxiety, which has been pretty often for the past couple weeks. It comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy in which he assured the young man that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, KJV).

I don’t want to speak for everyone’s anxiety, but for me at least I do feel like it’s often tied to a lack or imbalance of the three things mentioned here. I’m scared when I feel I have no power or others have too much power. My anxiety spikes when I’m not felling loved and looked out for, as well as when I spend too much time turned in on myself instead of actively loving others. And my mind seems unsound or undisciplined when it spins elaborate worst-case scenarios to worry about, or tells me things like “you’re broken and worthless.”

This verse says that I don’t have to stay stuck there. When we have God’s spirit in us, we have access to a part of Him that can replace fear with power, love, and sound mindedness.

Power

There are a few different Greek words that could be translated “power.” The one here is dunamis. Like other words that come from duna it carries “the meaning of being able, capable.” Specifically, dunamis speaks of inherent strength and power (Zodhiates’ and Thayre’s dictionaries, entry on G1411).

We see this power demonstrated when Jesus performed miracles. “All the multitude sought to touch him, for power came out of him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19, WEB). When we’re given God’s holy spirit, this same sort of power that resides in God is put inside of us (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The power doesn’t belong to us (Acts 3:12; 2 Cor. 4:7), but it is available to us.

Read more

Where Do You Find Your Self-Value?

Before we can become the best versions of ourselves and have a right view of ourselves, we have to recognize our true value. The world will tell you that your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you have, and that increasing your self-esteem will correct any problems you have with feeling like you’re not enough in some way. But following that advice isn’t deeply satisfying because I think deep down we all realize that we can’t assign value to ourselves.

That begs the question, “Who can assign value to you?” Other people, society, or impersonal metrics aren’t good measures either. The only satisfactory answer is God. Only the Creator can assign value to His creation. He knows what He created you for and who He created you to be, and therefore only He can declare how valuable you truly are.

Testing Where To Look For Value

We’ve been talking about Ecclesiastes here on this blog for a couple week now (click here to read “Crash Course in Ecclesiastes” and here for “Letting Death Give Us Perspective On Life“). One of the things that Solomon does in this book is present an in-depth analysis of all the different places that we can look for value.

Solomon experiments with finding value in his own wisdom, in pleasure, in wealth, in fine works, in great power, and in the legacy you leave for future generations. But he describes it all as “vanity” (hebel, H1892) — a transitory, unsatisfactory thing. As we modern people read through Ecclesiastes, we often label Solomon as depressed (probably accurate) and having low self-esteem. But Solomon himself doesn’t describe the problem as not esteeming himself enough. He knows the self isn’t a good place to look for value, and he wants something or someone else to give life meaning and tell him his purpose.

As Solomon works though his existential crisis, he concludes that meaning can only be found in God. God is the one who sets everything in motion and the only one with an accurate perspective on His plan (Ecc. 3:1-15). He’s in heaven and we’re on earth, so we need to be wary of jumping to conclusions about things we know nothing about (Ecc. 5:1-7). In the end, everything boils down to our duty to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecc. 12:13-14). That’s the key to understanding who we are and where our value lies. Read more

The Bridegroom’s Pledge

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 Bridegroom's Pledge | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo by Brooke Cagle on StockSnap

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.

A Gift For The Bride

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

Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God

Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?

That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:

  • Agape — selfless, benevolent love
  • Philos —  friendly, affectionate love
  • Storge — natural, family love
  • Eros — passionate, romantic love

We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).

It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.

Do You Love Me?

The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more