It is incredibly easy for us to take our relationship with God for granted. Intellectually, we understand what Jesus did for us, but I don’t know that we always appreciate what an impressive and gift that is. In Galatians 4, Paul points out how important our relationship is with God.
Gal 4:3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Gal 4:4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
Gal 4:5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Gal 4:6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
This is clearly an intimate relationship. It is not a relationship where God is in some far-off place entirely inaccessible to our prayers. We are children of God. As much as children have relationships with their parents, we can have a relationship with God. That is a privilege.
I call it a privilege because I don’t know any reason why God would necessarily need to relate to us. As the Creator, He obviously can have this relationship with us, but it does not seem to be the case that He would have to. As a result, it seems to be significant to me that God not only wants to have a relationship with humanity, but He also wants to have the type of relationship where we can call Him Father.
If we are that close to God, why do we take it for granted? I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times where I don’t take advantage of this opportunity. For example, if If I am anxious about something, I should be thrilled that I can bring that before God, but I know I don’t always do that.
Maybe we need to reevaluate.
As an apologist, it is easy to become far too dependent on general revelation. The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, and the spectacular design of the universe seems to point towards a creator. These types of external testimony are important, and I think that they are incredibly important to use as we answer objections that people have to the Christian faith.
However, as we see in 1 Corinthians 2, there is also another barrier. There is also a personal level that we experience as we develop a relationship with God.
1Co 2:13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Admittedly, there are some things about being a Christian that are hard to explain. Think about how hard it is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is difficult to understand someone else’s perspective. Similarly, it is hard for someone who does not have a relationship with God to understand what it is like to have a relationship with God. If they don’t know Him, how would they know what it is like?
Even if it is hard to explain what it is like to have a relationship with God, the evidence should come out in our behavior. I have heard it said that the most powerful apologetic is a transformed life. When major changes take place, people recognize it. They don’t understand what could have had such a dynamic impact, but they will notice it. God can do that, and He has done that in thousands of lives throughout history.
We have made it to the final book of the Old Testament! Can you believe it?
In Malachi 1, we have a situation where the people of Israel want proof that God loves them. You would think at this point in their history after all of the various demonstrations of God’s protection, they would recognize that God did indeed love them.
God answers with the following problem.
Mal 1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?
As you read farther in the chapter, they were not obeying the sacrificial laws. The types of animals that needed to be sacrificed were very specific, and the priests were simply not doing their job.
Therefore, we have a bit of a two-way relationship that it seems that God is looking for. The question from the people is whether or not God loves them. God responds by essentially asking if they love Him. Are they keeping up their end of the bargain? It is clear that in this situation they are not.
I will point out though that it is important to recognize that God did not say that He stopped loving them. Rather, He pointed out that they were not loving Him.
The Old Testament is full of similar accounts. The people of Israel never stopped being loved by God at any point, but that did not mean that they were not punished. It did not mean that they sometimes wondered if God really did love them. However, God never said that He did not love them no matter what they did. They did need to get right with Him and come back to a right relationship though.
Bringing this to you and me, God loves us. That is clear from a variety of New Testament passages. That does not mean that we will understand everything that God does or like everything that He does. If we are not following Him, we should expect discipline. It is not that God does not love us.
Ezekiel 16 takes us through the entire history of the people of Israel. They began as wanderers in the land, but God was with them, and they became a great kingdom. However, as soon as it became that great kingdom, they began losing their faithfulness. They are beginning to deviate and wander away from God who had brought them to the point where they were.
Eze 16:58 Thou hast borne thy lewdness and thine abominations, saith the LORD.
Eze 16:59 For thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant.
It is important to remember that this is not God changing His covenant. The relationship had been the same from the beginning. He would be their God, and that they would be His people. However, we have a case here where the people have rejected Him and have decided to chase after other pursuits.
I didn’t want to copy the entire chapter, but the language here is related to marital infidelity. This is a serious charge that is being laid on the people of Israel. They had a commitment as strong as any other commitment on earth, and they were violating that. It was not simply like choosing a different item off of a restaurant menu. Those are all equivalent choices. It doesn’t really matter which one you decide. In the case of choosing God or not choosing God, it is obvious that it is not considered to be that type of decision.
This is a decision that has a right answer. It is kind of like being faithful to your spouse. There technically is a decision to be made there and there are two choices, but there also is a right decision that ought to be made every time. That is exactly what the people of Israel should have understood with God. They were in a relationship, and even though they could drift away from him, there was a right decision to be made based upon the relationship that was in place.
I think that we need to consider this kind of thing as Christians as well. We have made a commitment to be in a relationship with God. We should take that just as seriously as the nation of Israel was called to be in a relationship with God.
We have come to the final chapter of the Song of Solomon. In chapter 8, we see the words of the wife, and she comes out with this explanation of the power of love.
Son 8:6 Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Son 8:7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
It is interesting in verse six that she says that love is as strong as death. In fact, love is the only thing that can conquer death. We know what love is because Jesus Christ conquered death.
1Jn 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
We would not have been able to triumph over death without the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. On our own, we were stuck in death. Love made the difference.
I don’t know about you, but as we have been looking through relationships in this book, it has made me think about the relationship we have with Jesus Christ who loves us as much as anyone possibly could. We have been taking this book more literally as a book about human relationships and marriage, and those are very important.
However, as important as they are, we cannot forget that our relationship with God is the one that rises above the rest. He is the one who told us what love is, and as a result, we need to show that love to our spouses, friends, family or really whoever we end up talking to every day.
Song of Solomon 6 contains more bizarre metaphors, but this one is interesting because we get to see some interaction from other people. This has not been an easy road for the unnamed woman in this passage, and if you remember from chapter 1, she really does not believe that she is attractive. Now, you have the people asking to see her, and you have a kind of curious response from Solomon.
Son 6:13 Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.
The people want to see her, and Solomon asks what they’re going to when they see her. Then he basically says a battlefield. When two armies are near each other, there is presumably going to be a battle. One possible explanation for this is that she was just beat up by the watchmen. We just talked about that yesterday, and it actually makes sense in this context.
In verse one of this chapter, the other people also call out for the woman, but they are asking where her husband is. Now, they are specifically asking for her, but no one has seen her since her accident. It seems that Solomon is almost challenging the people here.
Do they simply want to see her to see the damage that was done? Are they acting kind of like the paparazzi of ancient Israel?
If you proceed into the next chapter, this episode seems to be over, so we never get to hear what the people said in response. However, I think that it shows the protection that can take place and should take place in relationships.
Solomon did not want his wife becoming known as the woman who got beat up. He didn’t want to fuel the rumors, so he called the people out. He wanted to protect the honor of his wife.
I think this is important for all couples. You need to want what is best for the other person.
We’re going to end Proverbs with some very practical life advice. King Lemuel actually wrote this chapter based on the advice he received from his mother. Basically the entire chapter of Proverbs 31 it based on what he should be looking for in his wife. Too bad this chapter didn’t come up yesterday; it would have been good for Mother’s Day.
Pro 31:10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
Pro 31:11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
Pro 31:12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
I could copy a lot more verses here, but the concept is pretty much the same as you go on. Basically, as he is looking for his wife, her character is what matters. This is actually quite a bit different than a lot of marriages at this time as I understand it.
Marriages seemed to be very political things in the ancient world. It seems like it was a relatively common process to get into a relationship with someone who will help you benefit materially. It didn’t really matter all that much who you married but what you married into.
The Bible seems to be arguing for something a lot different. It seems to be arguing that your spouse should be one who is virtuous, who you can trust and who will do good deeds. That’s a lot different than saying that you ought to marry someone for political or economic purposes.
Obviously, this is still true today. Some of my readers are probably married, and others are not, but I think that we can even generalize this to all of our relationships. We want people of high character. It is good to be around people like that.
Proverbs 20 has a verse in it that I think if people truly took the heart would eliminate the majority of the drama that so many people get wrapped up in every day.
Pro 20:3 It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
Sometimes it is an honor to simply walk away from the conflict and let the situation die. Sometimes our pride doesn’t let us do that though. We don’t want to simply disengage because we actually want to win. We want to win the debate or the fight or the argument. We don’t want to let it die because that doesn’t necessarily feel like the victory that we feel we want.
However, if you keep doing that and keep meddling in an issue that ultimately doesn’t matter, the Bible calls you a fool. If you keep stirring the pot for the sake of stirring the pot, what good could possibly come from that? It doesn’t allow anyone to come to any type of understanding or reconciliation. It simply keeps the matter in the forefront for even more time than it originally deserved.
I think the application is rather straightforward. I think that we can learn from Jesus in this regard. He was not afraid to say what needed to be said, but He did not sit around and banter. He didn’t continue to irritate everyone just for the sake of irritation; He made the point and moved on. He didn’t compromise, but He didn’t meddle.
Maybe we can take this one to heart. We deal with people every day, and sometimes we need to recognize the need to just walk away rather than make situations worse.
Proverbs 17 presents what looks like a pretty major challenge to all of us. Think about a time that someone has hurt you in some way. It is certainly not a good time, and you probably did not feel very good about the whole situation. I know I have been there, and the first thing you want to do in these types of situations is to go and talk to someone else about it. You want to have someone to talk through it with and try to come to some understanding of whatever happened.
Pro 17:9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
This is a difficult challenge. While I do think that it is helpful to talk to other people when we are having problems, this is definitely true advice. If I tell you negative things about a third person over and over again, it will certainly affect your relationship with that person as well.
This particular passage doesn’t delve into individual situations. For example, say someone came up and started beating me up. Maybe that is not the type of transaction I should be covering. Why am I making an exception? Well, if I love you, I would probably want to protect you from harm. Perhaps that is a situation where I need to seek love by protecting someone else from a “friend” that they might as well be separated from anyway.
However, rather than play with all of these exceptions, I think that we can understand what this verse is talking about. If someone has hurt us, we need to go to that person and make it right. It doesn’t help if we start repeating the story over and over again for anyone who will listen. All it does is create more attention when perhaps it needs to be an issue that could be resolved immediately. That is certainly more loving.
Proverbs is one of those books that I seem to find a lot of application in. Obviously, that was the purpose it was written for, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but Proverbs 10 is home to one of the more well-known verses from this book that I think we all need to keep in mind from time to time.
Pro 10:12 Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.
I want to approach this one in two parts. The first part talks about hatred stirring up strife. Thinking back over my life, this is a pretty obvious statement. If you don’t like someone all that much, it seems as if it is so easy to find even more ways to disagree with them. The little things that they do drive you crazy simply because you don’t like them all that much. You are starting from the wrong point in that relationship. You are starting from a point of hatred as opposed to a point of love.
The second part of the verse talks about love. It talks about how love covers over sin. It doesn’t mean that it absolutely erases the problem, but it covers them over. It allows you to move on. You don’t need to become hung up on that. The offense still happened, but it is not in the forefront anymore. Because you are starting from the spot of loving people, you are able to have that healing.
I think that it is important to remember these two starting points. On one hand, you are dealing with someone that you might not like very much. If you approach them with that attitude, only difficulty is going to come out of that. On the other hand, when you are dealing with someone that you love, you are able to have the reconciliation that you really need to have in these situations.
We need to have the right attitude when we relate to other people. We need to remember that God did command us to love other people. This proverb brought that thought back to the front of my mind.