Falling in Love With the God Who Plans to Marry Us

If you’re reading this blog post the weekend it was published, then Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, also called Rosh Hoshanna) is about to happen. This year, the first day of the seventh Hebrew month falls on Monday, Sept. 26. All around the world, people will blow shofars and gather to celebrate this day God calls holy to Him.

Last year, I wrote about the many different theories for what this day pictures. God simply calls it “a solemn rest for you, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation” (Lev. 23:24, WEB). There are several ideas about what this day pictures in the New Covenant now that Jesus has filled the Law up to its fullest extent (Matt 5:17-20; see Thayer’s definition of pleroo). I think the strongest argument links this day with Jesus’s return to claim His bride.

I’ve been thinking about love and marriage a lot lately. I recently started dating a man I’ve been friends with for years and I’m kind of in awe of how wonderful this relationship is; I thought we’d be good together but I hadn’t realized exactly how good. This giddy, happy, can’t-wait-to-see-him feeling is how we should feel as we wait for Jesus to come back to earth. We should be longing to see Him, eager to have our Bridegroom give us His new name (Rev. 3:12).

Promised in Marriage

I know the idea of being romantically in love with God and having Him in love with us makes some people uncomfortable. For some, thinking of Jesus as lover as well as Lord is a struggle; the in-love emotion seems a strange thing to try and balance with the respect due God. I suspect it’s a particularly weird analogy for men in the church, who are asked to picture themselves as a bride for their spiritual relationship to Christ while also modeling His role as Husband in their relationship with their own wives if they get married (Eph. 5:25-33). Still, church as bride and Jesus as Groom is one of the most common analogies for our relationship used in scripture, so it’s worthwhile to try and wrap our minds around it.

Usually at this point in a study about Jesus as our Bridegroom, I’d start talking about Jewish wedding traditions. Today, though, I want to focus just on how scripture talks about this relationship. For more on the Jewish background and historical context, check out my posts “The Bridegroom’s Pledge” and “The Bridegroom Cometh!

I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:1-3, NET

There isn’t much room to argue with this verse. If we’re following Jesus, then we’re promised to Him in marriage. Our goal is to be pure for Him at that marriage; in other words, wholly faithful to Him now whatever our past was like. The “foolishness” Paul talks about here involves defending his apostolic mission from naysayers, moderate boasting about the mission God sent him on, and the shocking idea that his readers might listen to someone preaching “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 10-11). It isn’t foolish to think of Jesus as our future Husband. It’s foolish to let anything distract from our focus on being faithful to Him.

Image of a man reading a book, with text from Rev. 19:7-8, NET version: "“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the All-Powerful, reigns! Let us rejoice and exult and give him glory, because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”
Image by Creative Clicks Photography from Lightstock

The Marriage Covenant

If you followed along with my recent Isaiah study, you might remember that the topic of God’s marriage covenant with Israel came up in Isaiah 40-66. When God established His covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (often called the Mosaic covenant), He was setting up a marriage relationship (see Is 54:5-8). They would be His people and He would be their God. When they stopped worshiping Him or brought foreign gods into their hearts, He took that as adultery. Ezekiel 16 summarizes this well.

“Yes, I swore to you, and entered into a covenant with you,” says the Lord Yahweh, “and you became mine. … You were exceedingly beautiful, and you prospered to royal estate. Your renown went out among the nations for your beauty; for it was perfect, through my majesty which I had put on you,” says the Lord Yahweh.

“But you trusted in your beauty, and played the prostitute because of your renown, and poured out your prostitution on everyone who passed by. … Moreover you have taken your sons and your daughters, whom you have borne to me, and you have sacrificed these to them to be devoured. …

“I will judge you, as women who break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will bring on you the blood of wrath and jealousy.” …

For the Lord Yahweh says: “I will also deal with you as you have done, who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant. Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. … Then you will know that I am Yahweh; that you may remember, and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more, because of your shame, when I have forgiven you all that you have done,” says the Lord Yahweh.

Ezekiel 16:8, 13-15, 20, 38, 59-60, 62-63, WEB

Love story” is my favorite metanarrative the Bible gives us to describe the big, important story God is creating. When we pull back and look at God’s plan as revealed in the whole Bible, we see a story of romance where God married a people who were then unfaithful to Him, and whom He died for in order to bring back to Him. You’re simply never going to find a better love story than that. Even the most beautifully romantic fairy tales are pale reflections of God’s love for His bride. He’s passionate about us and He wants us in a faithful, lasting covenant relationship with Him.

Image of a woman with rolling hills in the background, with text from Isaiah 54:5, NET version: “For your husband is the one who made you—
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name. He is your Protector, the Holy One of Israel. He is called ‘God of the entire earth.’”
Image by PhotoGranary from Lightstock

Falling in Love With God

There’s a really interesting connection between love and obedience in the Bible. The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:28-34, WEB). All the other commandments depend on loving God and loving your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). Love is the basis for our obedience; the foundation for following God’s other laws. It’s also a lot easier to enjoy being obedient if you’re in love with God and trust that His commands are good for us.

But what if you don’t feel “in-love” with God? Real love is as much an action as it is a feeling, so we can (and ought to) do the things that people who love God do regardless of how we feel. As much as I enjoy relating to God’s word academically, though, I also think it’s appropriate to get excited about God and our relationship with Him. There’s likely more than one way to do this, but one of the things that helps me connect with my love for God is reading about His love for me.

Image of a smiling woman worshipping with the blog's title text and the words "As wonderful as it is to be in love with God now, how much more wonderful will it be after He comes back for us, marries His church, and establishes His 
kingdom here on earth?"
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying,
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love.
Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, WEB

“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.”

Hosea 2:19-20, WEB

God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in offenses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!

Ephesians 2:4-5, NET

In just those three verses, we see God passionately declaring His love for His people, and one of those people reminding us of the “great love with which He loved us.” The reality of God’s love is awesome. We were dead and His love brought us back to life. We made mistakes and He still wants to keep us with Him forever. He treats us with loving kindness and calls His love faithful and everlasting.

We are recipients of God’s love now, which is an incredible thing. We’re still waiting, though, for a time when things will be even better. When Jesus returns, we’ll “be like Him” and we’ll get to “see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2, NET). Make no mistake, Jesus is present with us now. We don’t get to see Him, though. Our conversations don’t happen face-to-face. As wonderful as it is to be in love with Him now, how much more wonderful will it be after He comes back for us, marries us, and establishes His kingdom here on earth? That’s the sort of wonderful, exciting thing we can look forward to as we begin this fall holy day season.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” He who hears, let him say, “Come!” He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely. … He who testifies these things says, “Yes, I come quickly.”

Amen! Yes, come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:17, 20, WEB

Featured image Jess Bailey from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Even So Come” by Chris Tomlin

A Song of God’s Vineyard

I want to start today with a scripture passage. It’s a bit long, but it sets the stage perfectly for what we’ll be talking about in this post.

Let me sing for my well beloved a song of my beloved about his vineyard.
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up,
gathered out its stones,
planted it with the choicest vine,
built a tower in the middle of it,
and also cut out a wine press in it.
He looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

“Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
please judge between me and my vineyard.
What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?
Why, when I looked for it to yield grapes, did it yield wild grapes?
Now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will take away its hedge, and it will be eaten up.
I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled down.
I will lay it a wasteland.
It won’t be pruned or hoed,
but it will grow briers and thorns.
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain on it.”

For the vineyard of Yahweh of Armies is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah his pleasant plant:
and he looked for justice, but, behold, oppression;
for righteousness, but, behold, a cry of distress.

Isaiah 5:1-7, WEB

Love songs like this are one reason I love the book of Isaiah so much. It starts out sounding like something from Song of Solomon, with someone singing to Yahweh, their beloved. Then the song turns sour (like the grapes in this vineyard) as Israel turned their hearts away from their lover. God Himself interjects to finish the story. They turned their back on Him even though He did everything right, and for Him this isn’t an empty claim. No one can do more than God to show love and to provide fertile ground to grow in. It wasn’t unreasonable of Him to look at a people He “planted” and expect they’d yield fruits of justice and righteousness instead of oppression and distress.

I recently started reading a new one-year devotional called Worship The King by Chris Tiegreen. January 15-19 are all based on Isaiah 5:1-7, and one of the things Tiegreen points out is that, God’s question, “What more could I do?” is in some ways rhetorical. There was one more thing He could do, and He did it when He sent Jesus to die for our sins (p. 18). If you’ve ever wondered why Jesus spent so much time talking about agriculture and vineyards in His parables, this is it. He’s continuing a metaphor God started using in the prophets to show how He fits into God’s love story.

Vineyard Parables

There are three primary vineyard parables that Jesus shared during His ministry. One is focused on reward for workers in a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), and another on two sons whose father told them to work in his vineyard (Matt. 21:27-32). Then, right after that parable where only one son did his father’s will by working in the vineyard, Jesus says this:

“Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a wine press in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season for the fruit came near, he sent his servants to the farmers to receive his fruit. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they treated them the same way. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard, then killed him. When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

Matthew 21:33-40, WEB

The people Jesus is talking with are pretty sure they know the answer to that last question. The master will kill the servants and “lease out the vineyard to other farmers who will give him the fruit in its season.” In response, Jesus points them back to a scripture predicting the Messiah would be rejected by the people who should have been looking for His arrival (Psalm 118:22-23). The other servants who came before Him were prophets like Isaiah and many others whom Israel ignored. Now, the Master’s Son is here.

Jesus doesn’t point His listeners back to Isiah’s song about the vineyard, but we can easily see the parallels. Here in Jesus’s parable, though, the link between Him and the vineyard is made more explicit. God has a vineyard like the one Isaiah sang about. Jesus coming as the Master’s Son is the one thing more that God can do to receive the fruit His vineyard owes Him. And then the leaders of His people killed Him just like the wicked workers in this parable. Jesus points beyond that death when He says, “God’s Kingdom will be taken away from you and will be given to a nation producing its fruit” (Matt. 21:41-46). That doesn’t mean Jewish or Israelite people won’t be in God’s kingdom (as Paul points out using another agricultural example in Romans 11). It does mean that staying in a fruit-producing relationship with God is far more important to your long-term spiritual wellbeing than whether or not your ancestors had a covenant with Him.

Our Role as Vines

Fruitfulness is something God comes back to again and again. In another vineyard song from Isaiah, God speaks of a time when “Jacob will take root. Israel will blossom and bud. They will fill the surface of the world with fruit” (Is. 27:2-12, WEB). Even in this song, though, it speaks of issues with the vineyard that must be forgiven before the vines can thrive. As other prophets point out, the vines that God cultivated for thousands of years weren’t always as fruitful as they should have been (Jer. 2:19-22; 12:10-11; Ezk. 19:10-14). It’s an issue that could really only be solved by Jesus’s sacrifice. Even after that sacrifice, though, fruitfulness requires our participation. Jesus addressed this idea in another parable, this time about a fig tree.

He spoke this parable. “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. He said to the vine dresser, ‘Behold, these three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and found none. Cut it down. Why does it waste the soil?’ He answered, ‘Lord, leave it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit, fine; but if not, after that, you can cut it down.’”

Luke 13:6-9, WEB

As vines and trees in God’s vineyard, we have a say in whether or not we produce fruit. He provides fertile ground where we can thrive. He prunes and forgives us, keeping us spiritually healthy. He feeds everyone connected to Jesus–the Root that we all rely on as branches who are part of Him as the Vine (John 15:1-16). But we’re human beings, not vines that always stay exactly where we’re planted. Whether or not we stay in that good soil is our choice. We need to keep seeking God’s correction and forgiveness as we grow to be more and more like Him. And we need to stay rooted in the vine. Only then will the Father be glorified by the fruit that we produce and the love song that we sing to Him.

Featured image by alohamalakhov from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Dance With Me” by Paul Wilbur

Crash-Course In John: Pre-Reqs for Paul, Part Three

For the last two weeks, we’ve been studying the general epistles. Here are links to the posts on James’s and Peter’s letters. As I mentioned in those posts, there’s evidence that when the books of the New Testament were first put together the order had James, Peter, John, and Jude’s letters between Acts and Romans (click here to learn more). This meant that if you read straight-through the New Testament, you’d read the general (also called “catholic”) epistles before getting to Paul’s letters. That reading order makes sense, since the letters that James, Peter, John, and Jude write are phrased in simpler language than Paul’s writings. The general epistles also give us a foundation for understanding the connections between Jesus’s teachings, the Old Testament, and our lives as New Covenant believers. You can think of the general epistles as a kind of pre-requisite course to help us with understanding Paul’s writings, similar to how you’d need to take intro to composition courses before specializing in teaching writing.

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on John’s three epistles. The first of these epistles begins without addressing a specific group, though from the context of the letter it’s clear he’s speaking to Christians–those who whom the gospel was preached and who chose to believe it. James’s letter addressed those of Israelite descent who believed in Jesus, Peter’s letters addressed Jewish and Gentile believers, and now John’s letter is written to everyone. The purpose he gives for writing this letter is “so that our joy may be complete” (or “your joy” depending on the Greek manuscript you use) (1 John 1:4, all quotes from NET).The mention of joy comes at the beginning of all three of his letters, and frames the encouraging and weighty subjects he’ll be covering.

Walk in the Light

The strongest theme throughout John’s three epistles is love. Here is where we learn “God is love,” and are reminded over and over that because God loves us we must love one another. Though John brings up other topics as well, he ties them all back to this core message. God is love, and because we’ve received God’s love we are duty-bound to respond to God and to other people in certain ways.

We’ll return to love before the end of this post, but that word actually doesn’t show up in John’s first letter until the second chapter. Originally, of course, there wouldn’t have been chapters dividing up the text of this letter, but that fact does make me curious about what things John felt it was important to talk about before diving into the main theme of his letter.

Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10, NET

This recap of the gospel is what John starts his letter with. “God is light” is something that he wants to establish for his readers before sharing that “God is love.” If he just started off with “God is love,” then perhaps his readers might make the mistake that so many modern people have of assuming that because God is love, His love doesn’t come with any expectations placed on us. We who’ve received God’s love and who’ve been cleansed from our sins by Jesus’s sacrifice must walk in the light as well as live in God’s love. In short, we must “walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6).

John’s instruction to walk in God’s light is not a new commandment (1 John 2:7). It echoes all the commands from the Old Testament that could be summed-up as “love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9-10; James 2:8). On the other hand, John also describes this as “a new commandment” because the darkness of old has now passed away and we have a far clearer picture of the true light shining through Jesus Christ (1 John 2:8). As Jesus said, he came to fill the “law and the prophets” to their fullest extent. Doing that magnifies what obedience looks like now as we follow the spirit of God’s commands. With that background, John moves into talking about love.

The one who says “I have come to know God” and yet does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in such a person. But whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has been perfected. …

The one who says he is in the light but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

1 John 2:4-5, 9-10, NET
Image by Pearl from LightStock

Be Warry of Dangers

John’s not writing about the contrast between people who are in God’s love and light and the people who are living a lie in order to scare us. Indeed, he has some very reassuring things to say to his readers (1 John 2:12-14). He’s writing to them, and to us, because we’ve been forgiven, we know God, and we are already overcoming the evil one. But John also knows that Christians face many challenges, and it’s easy to slip away if we don’t have reminders for how to follow God. So he writes to us about the wonderful life that God offers. He reminds us of all the wonderful things that await us as people who God calls His very own children. He also talks about the fact that if we have that hope inside us, we will work to purify ourselves just as God is pure (1 John 3:1-3). Alongside all this talk of love and light, John highlights the need to keep God’s commandments and stay faithful to Him in spite of the dangers we face.

Over and over again in these letters and in the gospel he wrote, John links love with commandment keeping. Alongside that, John highlights the importance of living according to the truth. This idea goes along with walking in the light, keeping God’s commandments, and practicing righteousness. In both of his two shorter letters, John says that he rejoices to learn that his children (apparently referring to those he taught this faith to) are living in the truth (2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4). Living and walking in the truth ought to be our intention as well, but there are many things that try to work against that goal.

Many dangers face God’s people, and a lot of them are spiritual. One example that John talks about is people who are “antichrist.” Though there is a figure known as “the antichrist” coming in the end times, Johan says we’re currently in “the last hour” and that “many antichrists” have already appeared. These are often people who were once part of the Christian body, but have now left and who deny both the Father and the Son (1 John 2:18-19, 22-26). Much like Peter did in his second epistle, John warns that the most dangerous antichrists are those who are working from inside the church to subvert people into denying the Father and/or the Son. For that reason, we need to “test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1-6; see also 2 John 1:7-11).

Even though John is very reassuring to his readers and continually reminds them of things like “we have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13), he also does not soften the strength of his warnings. In the second letter, he even says, “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God. The one who remains in this teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:7-8). John wants us to take these warnings seriously and let them inspire us to remain in holiness. Whether or not we choose light, love, and commandment keeping is a choice that has eternal consequences.

Image by Anggie from LightStock

Love Always

It’s in the context of all these reminders, reassurances, and warnings that John highlights the vital importance of love. In these three letters, “love” is translated from agape or its root word agapao. This is a selfless, benevolent love that always seeks the good of the one who is loved. Agape is often described as “godly love,” although other words, like philos are also used of God’s love in the New Testament. As we read through John’s letters, we’re warned not to “love the world or the things in the world,” but rather to focus our love on God as we practice the things which are in accordance with His will (1 John 2:15-17).

John tells us, “Everyone who does not practice righteousness—the one who does not love his fellow Christian—is not of God” (1 John 3:10). From that, we can infer that practicing righteousness involves loving our brethren. Indeed, John goes on to say, “We know that we have crossed over from death to life because we love our fellow Christians” (1 John 3:14). It’s worthwhile at this point to go and read all of chapters 3 and 4 because that section of the letter goes into so much depth on this particular topic. Because of God’s love for us–which results in us being redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice and being called the Father’s children–“we also ought to love one another “(1 John 4:11). If we don’t genuinely love each other, we can’t even say that we love God. Unless our love includes other believers, we have no concept of what God’s love truly means. And our love must also include keeping God’s commandments (2 John 1:5-6).

Image by HarveyMade from Lightstock

As John wraps up his letter, he looks back on everything discussed so far and says this:

We know that everyone fathered by God does not sin, but God protects the one he has fathered, and the evil one cannot touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This one is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:18-21, NET

I find John’s writings some of the most poetic and inspiring of the New Testament. His emphasis on God’s light and love is beautiful, and I love the way he talks about God welcoming us into His light and His family. In a compassionate, empathetic way, John also writes about the need for Christians to live and walk in a certain way. We’re not to be fearful, worried that God will cut us off and cast us away if we slip-up, but we must at the same time commit to practicing righteousness instead of sin. God has given us everything we need for salvation. He loves us and He wants us as part of His family. We just need to be on guard to make sure we don’t let those good things slip away from us through neglect or rejection. We know the truth of what’s going on in this world and behind the scenes, including that the world lies under the power of the evil one. With that in mind, we can be vigilant in order to guard against putting any idols before God or falling prey to the influences of those who are antichrist.

Featured image by Lamppost Collective from Lightstock

Finding Treasures, New and Old, in the Pages of Scripture

Have you ever been reading a familiar part of the Bible–one of the gospels, for example–and came across something you’d never noticed before? I don’t know how many dozens of times I’ve read Matthew, and just a few weeks ago I noticed a verse that I don’t think I’ve ever thought about before. It comes right after a collection of several parables about the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus says,

“Have you understood all these things?” They replied, “Yes.” Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.”

Matthew 13:51-52, NET

As I’ve pondered this verse over the past few weeks while studying the kingdom of God, one thing that jumps out at me is the importance Jesus puts on the old and the new. Treasuring both seems like a different recommendation than what some other scriptures teach us about how to relate to the old and the new. But Jesus also makes this sound like something we’re supposed to do. An “expert in the law” (also translated “scribe” or “Torah scholar/teacher”) who is trained (or “discipled”) for the kingdom seems like someone who has paid close attention to Jesus’s teachings and understand them. So how can we imitate this disciple-scholar’s approach to the kingdom of God?

An Old and New Commandment

Describing someone who is trained or discipled for the kingdom as bringing out old and new treasures can seem strange in light of Jesus’s other teachings. The parables of the new patch on an old garment and new wine in old wineskins make it seem like the new and old is incompatible (Luke 5:36-39). Later, Paul writes about cleaning out the old so we can be new, and of the old passing away because we are new in Christ (1 Cor. 5:7; 2 Cor 5:17). Part of figuring out this puzzle involves asking the question, “Old and new what?” because not all these passages are talking about the same old and new things. In addition to keeping that in mind, I think the key to unlocking this mystery is found in John’s writings:

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have already heard. On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

1 John 2:7-8, NET

Jesus did not do away with the old commandments and words of God (Matt. 5:17-20). He did, however, bring something new to add to it, including a new covenant which would supersede the old (Heb. 8-9). Part of participating in this new covenant involves us cleaning old things that are incompatible with godliness out of our lives (that’s what Paul was talking about in the Corinthians passages). It also involves properly balancing and appreciating the new and old treasures of God’s word.

Called into the New, Founded on the Old

People often think of Christianity as something new that Jesus started. The way scripture talks about it, though, “Christian” is just a new name applied to believers who were continuing to follow the teachings of the one true God and align with His unfolding plan as Jesus revealed the next steps. Our faith’s roots aren’t found in the first century C.E.–they’re found “in the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth. Jesus coming as the Messiah was the next step in the plan God had laid out even before He laid the foundations for the earth (Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20).

As part of His work here on earth, Jesus revealed more fully how to worship God and invited us to “serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code” (Rom. 7:6, NET). Now, is Paul saying here that the old has no value? “Absolutely not!” Rather, he argues that “we uphold the law” when we live by faith” (Rom. 3:31; 6:15; 7:7).

For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NET

The work God is doing in us and the knowledge He gives us are amazing treasures. Part of this treasure of understanding involves an appreciation of the value both of the new and old things that God has given His people. Through His extraordinary power and mercy, we are called into a new thing founded on very old truths.

Finding and Keeping Kingdom Treasures

If we go back to the kingdom of heaven parables that Jesus shared before making the statement where we started this post, we find that He talked about treasure there, too.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid. And because of his joy, he goes out and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. Upon finding a pearl of great value, he went out and sold all that he had and bought it.” …

Then He said to them, “Therefore every Torah scholar discipled for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure both new things and old.”

Matthew 13:44-46, 52, TLV

God’s kingdom is a treasure so precious we should be willing–and even joyful–to give up whatever is needed to get the kingdom (Matt. 10:21; Luke 18:22). And we should be collecting and treasuring things related to the kingdom, such as the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” hidden in Jesus (Col. 2:3, see also Matt. 6:19-21). As we continue to learn and grow, let’s appreciate the rich history of our faith and our own personal experiences, as well as the new things God teaches and the glorious future He has planned.

Featured image by Oliver Eyth from Pixabay

Drawn To God

My new favorite Bible Study tool is the New English Translation with its 60,000+ translator’s notes. As I was perusing the pages (you can get a print version or access the whole thing for free online), I noticed the translation notes on Song of Songs take up more space than the actual text. Apparently, not only is this text’s interpretation widely debated, but it is also notoriously difficult to translate. As you might know if you’ve read some of my other posts or my short book God’s Love Story, I favor the interpretation that the Song is both a celebration of human love and an allegory of Christ’s love for the church. With that in mind, here’s one of the verses with a footnote that I found intriguing:

Draw me[a] after you; let us hurry!
May the king bring me into his bedroom chambers!

[note a] The verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, “draw”) is a figurative expression (hypocatastasis) which draws an implied comparison between the physical acting of leading a person with the romantic action of leading a person in love. Elsewhere it is used figuratively of a master gently leading an animal with leather cords (Hos 11:4) and of a military victor leading his captives (Jer 31:3). The point of comparison might be that the woman wants to be the willing captive of the love of her beloved, that is, a willing prisoner of his love.

Song of Songs 1:4, NET

Another translation for mawshak in this verse is “Take me away with you” (NIV, WEB). There are nuances of meaning for this Hebrew word (as the NET footnote points out), but the basic one is “to draw, drag, seize” (Brown–Driver–Briggs; Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Here in Song, and in a few other places as well, it can be understood as “entice, allure, woo” (TWOT). In those verses, it is connected with one of the many pictures God gives us for relating to Him–as a lover alluring, wooing, and drawing His bride to Himself.

Alluring us with Love, Kindness and Grace

Hosea is one of the books that makes the analogy of God as bridegroom and husband most clearly. God instructs the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute because ancient Israel “continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away form the Lord” (Hos 1:2, NET). God used Hosea’s marriage and his writings to teach that, even though Israel was unfaithful, God still promised “in the future I will allure her,” and then “you will call, ‘My husband’; you will never again call me, ‘My master'” (Hos. 2:14, 16, NET).

Later in Hosea, God talks about how He “drew” (mawshak) Israel out of Egypt “with leather cords” (NET), “with cords of a man” (KJV), or “cords of human kindness” (NIV). Though the NET presents a compelling case for the “leather” translation, I favor “human kindness” because it connects more strongly to the overall theme of God wooing His people that is found so often in Hosea. It would also echo the language God uses in Jeremiah 31:3.

Yahweh appeared of old to me, saying, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, WEB

Alternate translations for this passage include “That is why I have continued to be faithful to you” (NET), “That is why I have drawn you to myself through my unfailing kindness” (NET footnote), and “This is why in my grace I draw you to me” (CJB). God’s drawing of us to Himself is prompted by His everlasting love, and it is done with faithfulness and kindness.

Longing for God to Satisfy Us

The time Jeremiah speaks of when God draws His people to Him is followed by a time “when watchmen will call out … ‘Come! Let us go to Zion to worship the Lord our God!’” (31:6, NET). Those who claim the Lord as their God are eager to be drawn, rescued, and gathered by Him (Jer. 31:7-9). Their response here is much like the Beloved in Song of Songs–take me away! draw me after you!–and like that of David in this psalm.

How precious is your loving kindness, God!
The children of men take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They shall be abundantly satisfied with the abundance of your house.
You will make them drink of the river of your pleasures.
For with you is the spring of life.
In your light we will see light.
Oh continue (mawshak) your loving kindness to those who know you,
your righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 36:7-10, WEB

We can find all we need to satisfy us in the great One who loves us, the Lord our God. We can call on Him to draw us closer, and He will faithfully respond to our longing for Him.

Featured Image by Jackson David from Pixabay

Persevere, Grow, Love: Jesus’s Message To The End-Time Believers

A lot of people want to know if we’re living in the end times. Is this it? Have the events of Revelation started? Will Jesus return soon? And there are plenty of people willing to answer them by setting dates, making predictions, or identifying the mark of the beast. There’s much fear, much distraction, and an eagerness — sometimes almost a desperation — to figure things out. We often overlook that the apostle John offered a simple answer to this question nearly 2,000 years ago.

Little children, these are the end times, and as you heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. By this we know that it is the final hour. (1 John 2:18, all quotes from WEB translation)

We are living in the end times, and have been for as long as there’s been a new covenant church. Whether Christ returns this year, the next, or 100 years from now the things He had to say about how His people should prepare for the end of this world do apply to us. An end will come for each of us one way or another (whether we die or Christ returns before that), and we are told to be ready.

Near the end of His human ministry, Jesus’s disciples asked, “tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3). In Matthew 24:4-41 He answered their question by describing what “the beginning of sorrows” will look like, how things will get worse, and signs that His coming is near. He also clarifies that we do not know “the day or hour” but that we can still be ready and watchful. He then expounds on how to do that through a series of parables. Read more