There is a repeated Biblical theme that the believer's relationship with the Father too is essentially mutual. For example, we dwell in God (Ps. 90:1), and He dwells in us (1 Cor. 3:16). Thus " he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him " (1 Jn. 4:15,16). We respond to God's call of us by calling upon Him (1 Cor. 1:2). We work out our salvation, and God in response works in us both to will and to work (Phil. 2:12,13 RV). When Israel repent, He will repent of His judgment of them (Joel 2:13,14). He has blessed us with all things (Eph. 1:3), and we all bless Him with all that is in us (Ps. 103:1,22; Eph. 1:3). He commits the " all things" of the Gospel to us, and we commit our " all things" to Him (2 Tim. 1:12 cp. 14; 1 Tim. 6:20). God's love is perfected in us, and because of this experience our love is also perfected in Him (1 Jn. 4:12,17). The Lord partook in our nature, and we are made partakers in Him (Heb. 2:14 cp. 3:14; 12:10; 2 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:13). There are several examples where there is an ambiguity in the Hebrew text which reflects the suggestion of mutuality. Take Gen. 18:22:”Abraham stood yet before the Lord”. And yet, as witnessed by several translations, this can just as well mean “The Lord stood yet before Abraham”.
Moses is an example of this mutuality between God and man. God said that because He knew Moses by name, He would show Moses His Name (Ex. 33:12,17,19). Daniel is another example. He heard the voice of God's words, and then the Angel comes and tells him that God has heard the voice of his (Daniel's) words (Dan. 10:9,12). And with us too; if we hear God's words, then God will hear our words of prayer (Jn. 15:7). Several chapters in Jeremiah shows how the prophet feels or says something, and Yahweh responds to it (e.g. Jer. 9:1,2 = Jeremiah; v.3 = God; v. 10 = Jeremiah; v. 11 = God's response). David lifts himself up to God (Ps. 25:1; 28:2; 86:4), and asks God to lift up Himself in response (Ps. 7:6; 10:12; 94:2). Yahweh was his shepherd (Ps. 23:1), and he was to shepherd Israel (2 Sam. 5:2 Heb.). Or take Samuel. ‘They didn’t reject you, they rejected me, but they rejected you, in that you are with Me’ (1 Sam. 8:7,8). In the Lord Himself we see the supreme example of a mutual experience with the Father. He sought God’s glory (Jn. 7:18), as the Father sought His (Jn. 8:50).
And we must make this our way of life too. We work God’s will, and He works in us (Heb. 13:21 Gk.). We are God's portion / inheritance (Dt. 4:20; 9:29; Eph. 1:18), and He is our inheritance (Ps. 16:5,6; 73:26; Lam. 3:22-24; Eph. 1:11 RV); we inherit each other. Our eye is upon Him (Ps. 25:5; 69:3; 123:2), as His eye is upon us (Ps. 32:8; 33:18). The Lord stresses, with apparently needless repetition, that to the man who responds to His word, " I will sup with him and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). There is something very touching in the picture of a man living alone (unusual in the first century), presumably due to old age or persecution, with no wife (either dead or left him); and the Lord of all knocks at his door. He lets him in (i.e. responds to the word of Christ), and " I... sup with him, and he with me" . Two men, eating a man's meal, earnestly bent together over the table. It's a fine picture of the mutuality between the Lord and the believer. Even in failure and weak moments, that mutuality is still there. At the very time Israel put God to the test at Marah (Dt. 6:16), God responded by testing them (Ex. 15:25). When Israel were weary of God, He wearied them (Is. 43:22,24). Because they turned their back on Him (Jer. 2:27), He turned His back on them (Jer. 18:17); because they broke His eternal covenant with them, He eventually did likewise. On the other hand, God set the rainbow in the sky so that whenever He looks upon it, He will remember His covenant with man (Gen. 9:16). The pronouns seem wrong; we would expect to read that the rainbow is so that whenever we look upon it, we remember... but no. God condescends to man to such an extent that He invites us to understand that whenever we remember the covenant with Him, He does likewise.
This experience of an acceptive mutuality between God and man is surely at the very core of our spirituality; it should be part of an inner spiritual shell that nothing, nothing can shake: aggression from our brethren, disillusion with other Christians, persecution from the world, painful personal relationships... Israel were to give their hand to God, and His hand in turn would give them a heart to follow Him further (2 Chron. 30:8 cp. 12 A.V.mg.). " This is the witness of God...He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself...the (i.e. this) witness of God is greater" than that of men (1 Jn. 5:9,10). The ultimate proof that the Truth is the Truth is not in the witness of men- be they archaeologists, scientists, good friends or who. The real witness of God is deep in yourself. " Taste and see, that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8) is the most powerful appeal. John is using a legal word for " witness" . There is, of course, something intentionally contradictory here. For a witness must be independent of yourself. You can't really be a valid witness to yourself. But the Lord said that He was a witness of Himself, and this witness was valid (Jn. 8:14-18). We, too, John is saying, can be a valid witness to ourselves that our faith is genuine. Our personal experience of the Lord Jesus is valid. Paul proves the resurrection of Jesus by saying that " he has risen indeed" exactly because he (Paul) has seen the risen Lord (1 Cor. 15). This is the kind of 'evidence' we tend to fight shy of. But our personal experience of the Lord Jesus is a valid prop to our faith, according to the passages considered.
Solomon apprehended the reality of all this when he commented that all the wisdom and relationship with God that a man develops in his life cannot benefit anyone else; each soul must discover for himself (Ecc. 2:21). The emphasis which we have always given to personal Bible study and a lack of authoritarian spiritual leaders is surely correct. It was God's will that Israel should be without a human king. Their lack of such human leadership is described as them each doing what was right in their own eyes. Far from being the negative comment this is often taken to be, the idea is surely that while they were without a human King, as God intended, the people did what was right in their own judgment; they worked out their own relationship with God for themselves. It is significant that a quarter of the names listed in Heb. 11 were from the period of the Judges, when there was no human King.
- The sacrifices, offered on the altar as the table of Yahweh, were the bread of God (Num. 28:2), offered at the same times [morning and evening] as God fed His people. He feeds us, and beyond our understanding our sacrifices can give something to God, we can touch His heart, and thereby ‘feed’ Him. This idea is brought out in Ez. 16:19: “My meat [food] also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee…”. The flour, oil etc. were the things Israel were to offer in sacrifice to God- the food with which they were to feed Him. Yet, Ezekiel goes on, they had offered them in sacrifice [‘fed’ them] to idols. Yet those very things were fed to Israel by God.
- “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” by God (2 Cor. 7:10). If we repent / change our minds, then God will not repent of His plan for saving us.
- The Lord ‘found’ Philip, and he responded by ‘finding’ Nathanael and saying that they had ‘found’ the Messiah. Philip found the Lord, and the Lord found him. And he responded by going forth and finding another man for the Lord (Jn. 1:43,45).
- There is a play on words with the Hebrew word bayith [‘house’]. It is used about David’s house / family (1 Chron. 17:10,16,17,23,24) and that of God (vv. 12,14). Our house is God’s house. He is, therefore, to be at the centre of family life.
- We are the apple of God’s eye (Ps. 17:8; Dt. 32:10), and His word must be as the apple of our eye (Prov. 7:2). We dwell in God, and His word dwells in us (Jn. 15).
- David’s men ‘delivered’ God’s land, and He delivered them (1 Chron. 11:14).
- - In his famous final speech, Stephen evidently had humming in his mind the theme of the glory of God. He begins by saying that “The God of glory appeared…” (Acts 7:2). God heard that speech, and read his mind. And responded in an appropriate way- for to give Stephen final strength to face death, God made His glory appear to Stephen (Acts 7:55). And so it can be for us- although it all depends what we have humming in our hearts.
- The way ‘Abram’ was changed to ‘AbraHAm’ and ‘Sarah’ to ‘SarAH’ shows how God wishes to mix syllables of His Name with that of men. Jacob was changed to Isra-el, mixing God’s name with that of his father. This is indeed mutuality between God and man.
- The Lord now sits at the Father’s right hand. But Ps. 110 describes God as being at Christ’s right hand. The confusion of the idioms surely demonstrates the mutuality between them. And the relationship between Father and Son is openly offered to us in John 17.
- We are God’s inheritance, and He is ours (Eph. 1:11,18).
God And Jonah: Move And Countermove
Jonah's relationship with God involved what could be called 'move and countermove'. God's responses to Jonah indicated a very deep awareness and sensitivity to what Jonah was saying and feeling. The way the record is presented in Jonah 4 [in Hebrew] brings this out powerfully:
|Jonah 4:2,3||Jonah's monologue||39 words|
|Jonah 4:4||God's question||3 words|
|Jonah 4:8||Jonah's question||3 words|
|Jonah 4:9||God and Jonah in dialogue||5 words for God|
|5 words for Jonah|
|Jonah 4:10,11||God's monologue||39 words|
The Mutual Relationship Between God And David
This mutuality between God and man is brought out by the structure of several of the Psalms, in which God and David are shown to be involved in a dynamic, two way relationship. Consider Bullinger's analysis of Ps. 132:
A (vv 1,2) David swears to God
B (3-5) What David sware
C (6,7) Search for a dwelling place
D (8) Prayer to enter into rest
E (9) Prayer for priests
F (9) Prayer for saints
G (10) Prayer for Messiah
This was responded to by God:
A1 (v 11) God swears to David
B1 (11,12) What God sware
C1 (13) Designation of the dwelling place
D1 (14,15) Answer to prayer in D
E1 (16) Answer to prayer in E
F1 (16) Answer to prayer in F
G1 (17, 18) Answer to prayer in G.
Me, Myself And I: Knowing Ourselves
All this speaks of how seriously we are to take ourselves, the fact that I personally really really am in relationship with God, responsible to Him, answerable to my Heavenly bridegroom at the last day... that our religion isn't merely a following of a crowd, a mouthing of sets of words, a passionless holding of some intellectual positions. But that really and truly I myself, me myself and I, have a God and a Master and Lord who love me to the end, and before whom I will ultimately stand, and with whom and in whose love I really will eternally live; and before whom I must urgently, therefore, repent and live aright. So often the Lord Jesus turned back the comments and questions of His listeners to place the spotlight on them as individuals; and it was psychologist Luke who was especially conscious of this, as in nearly every example he records of Jesus responding to others, Luke makes this point. Consider and soak up the spirit of these examples:
'Hey! We really can do miracles!' was met by the Lord with an urgent appeal for them to rejoice even more ecstatically that their names were written in Heaven- that they would really, personally, be in the Kingdom of God for ever (Lk. 10:17-20). Time and again, the Lord responded to requests for Him to do something by reminding those who asked of their responsibilities- e.g. 'Bring fire down on these guys! You have the Spirit, go on, do it, you surely can!' was responded to with a reminder that you don't appreciate what Spirit you have (Lk. 9:54,55). 'Send the people away... No, you feed them' (Lk. 9:12,13). 'Save us from this storm, Jesus, you miracle man!... Where is your faith?' (Lk. 8:24,25).
Lk. 12:13-21 records how a man asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him more fairly. The Lord replies by asking the man to think again about who had given Jesus authority- for if indeed God really had given Jesus authority, then the man ought himself to fear the judgment of Jesus- for as the Lord goes on to show in the parable of the rich fool, He has the power to reject those who are materialistic, exactly because He has such authority from God. The Lord is pushing the man to look at himself and think of himself at the end of his life and before the final day of judgment; and to cease paying a mere lipservice respect to the authority of Jesus, but to take this for real, realizing what it means for his own personal responsibility.
In Lk. 13:1-10 the people tell Jesus how terrible is Pilate for killing some Galileans, and how judged those individuals were by God. He answers that all humanity are under danger of eternal judgment and they needed to start worrying about themselves rather than worrying about God's justice [or otherwise] with those Galileans. And the Lord follows this up with the parable of the unfruitful tree which by rights should be cut down, but He was urgently pleading for more time in order that it might bring forth fruit. In other words, the Lord's audience were to realize the intense urgency of their position rather than worrying about the justice of others' judgment. Their personal situation was so urgent, they really were to worry about bringing forth fruit, rather than being sidetracked by the issues connected with the suffering and possible judgment of others. It's not that these matters don't have importance; it was simply that those asking those questions of Jesus were in such a personally urgent position that they just had to get that right. And this seems to me most relevant to those who will not get personally themselves right with God because of their complaint about His justice with others. And Luke's record develops the theme yet further. In Lk. 13:23 we read of Him being asked the perennial question- why will only few be saved? His answer is simply to speak of the utter horror of personal rejection by the Lord Jesus at the day of judgment- knocking on the door, thinking this is your old friend's house, to be told "I never knew you". The idea is clearly to worry about the future which we may personally miss rather than debating the unsearchable issues of why, apparently, few will be saved. Same again with Peter's question as to whether the Lord's predictions of condemnation refer to the disciples or to the unbelieving world (Lk. 12:41)- the Lord's response was simply to speak about the need to personally be always prepared for the Lord's coming. And so it is with us- don't worry about who may be condemned, worry about your own personal readiness and how you will respond in that split second moment when we know for sure 'He's back!'.
In Lk. 14:15, the Lord continues to turn the questions / comments back on themselves. A man comments how blessed will be the person to eat bread in the Kingdom of God; and Jesus responds by telling the parable about how in fact the majority of those who receive invitations to eat break in the Kingdom actually turn it down because of worldly distractions. Again the message is clear. 'Take your focus off the blessedness of others in the future Messianic Kingdom; but concern yourself with the very real possibility that you yes you yourself may actually turn down the invitation to be there because you're too caught up with the things of this world'.
And the theme continues relentlessly. Lk. 14:25 records the people eagerly following Jesus, and then He turns and tells them that actually God is coming after them with 20,000 men and they have only 10,000, and they on a personal level urgently therefore need to make peace with Him- because every minute now counts. Time and again, the Lord is urging people to look at themselves and their own position, not follow Him because they're part of a crowd who does, not hesitate from personal commitment because of never-never questions about cosmic ethics and Divine justice which are well beyond us... He forces the spotlight back on us, me myself and I, time and again. And His audience squirmed, just as they do today. "When will the Kingdom come?" was another perennial question (Lk. 17:20)- again answered by the Lord redirecting the entire enquiry. "The kingdom of God is within you... as it was in the days of Lot... one shall be taken and the other shall be left" (Lk. 17:34). 'Don't worry about the calendar date, don't let a fascination with prophecy distract you from the personal reality that whenever I do come, some will be left behind. Will that be you?'. And in the same vein, Lk. 19:11-27: 'Will the Kingdom come really soon, like, in our lifetimes?'. Answer: the parable of the pounds. Trade your personal talent- because there is such a thing as people being rejected at the last day because they didn't do this. 'What will be the signs of the last days?' was indeed answered quite directly, but building up to a personal, incisive appeal to pray constantly that we will be preserved from those horrors and be accepted before the final judgment seat of God's Son (Lk. 21:7,36). It was as if the Lord was adding a powerful caveat- as if to say 'Now don't go and get obsessed and distracted trying to match these signs to current events- worry about how you will survive the last days, and whether, when you stand before Me in the very end, you will stand or fall before Me'. And 'Are you really the Messiah? Do you really fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies?' was met by an appeal to not stumble in faith (Lk. 7:21-23).
"What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" was another classic question (Lk. 18:18). 'Give me a list of dos and don'ts, I'm game'. But the answer was ultimately: "Follow me" (Lk. 18:22)- 'don't worry about specifics, but have a spirit of life committed to following Me, bearing My cross'. For that is reward enough. Likewise Peter was interested in what the reward would be for having given things up for the Lord; and the final answer is really 'I'm going to die on the cross- please share that death with me' (Lk. 18:28-33 and parallels). 'Who will be married to whom in the Kingdom?' was well answered by the Lord, but His final cut was that God is the God of the living and "all live unto Him", i.e. the fact we are alive means we are responsible for our actions to Him right now- and we must be moved by that, rather than by speculation about the physicalities of how others may be in God's Kingdom (Lk. 20:33-38).
The disciples asked that as a community, their faith may be increased so as to forgive others as Jesus requires them to (Lk. 17:5). The Lord's response is that they should on an individual level realize that even if they were perfectly obedient, they were "unprofitable servants" (Lk. 17:10)- and the only other time that term occurs on the Lord's lips is when speaking of how the unprofitable servant will be cast away to condemnation at the last day (Mt. 25:30). What He's saying is: 'Imagine condemnation. Being cast away as you stand before the judgment seat. That's you- that's what should happen, even if you "do" all. Get it- you're saved by grace, an amazing grace- respond to that, and forgiving others will flow naturally enough from that'.
'From where do you get your authority? What is your exact nature and relationship to God?' was answered by the parable of the servants who refused to receive the Son and give fruit to the owner (Lk. 20:9-16). The Lord could've answered: 'My authority? From God, He's my Father, I had a virgin birth, you know'. But He wasn't so primitive. Instead He appealed to them to realize their own responsibilities to their creator and to accept His authority by giving fruit to the Father. Another group of Jews got caught up on the issue of whether Christ's forgiveness of others made Him God or not- just as some folk do today. His response was to refocus them on the fact that He wanted you to know that He had real power to forgive their sins (Lk. 5:24). I spend a lot of time arguing against the trinity and the 'Jesus = God' mentality. But the essence is, do we know on a personal level that the Lord Jesus really has the power to forgive our sins? "Should we give tribute to Caesar?" was likewise answered with the comment that whatever has God's image on it should be given to God- and seeing we're made in God's image, the Lord was asking that they gave their very personal selves to God, every part of their mind and body- rather than worrying about the 'guilt by association' that might come from paying your taxes to Caesar (Lk. 20:23-25). It was the same with Simon's concern that Jesus was associating with a fallen woman. The Lord's response to Him was not self-justification, but rather an enquiry as to how much Simon loved the Lord in response to the forgiveness of his sins (Lk. 7:39-48). And when the Pharisees criticized the disciples for mixing with sinners, the Lord's response was to appeal to them personally to repent (Lk. 5:30-32). And He went further in justifying His disciples, by answering another criticism of them by the Jews with the comment that unless they changed, they would be like old bottles broken by His new wine. They personally had to change- and they needed to focus upon that rather than criticizing others for their possible guilt by association.
Perhaps the most relentless, piercing example is in the Lord's three parables told in response to the enquiry as to why He ate with sinners (Lk. 15:1,2). The parables of the lost coin and lost sheep invite the hearer to identify with the heart of the God who seeks His lost. But the final climax of this triad of parables is that of the lost sons. Here the audience has to place themselves in one of two camps- the self-righteous son who ends up not eating with the Father, or the prodigal who sins so awfully and then eats with the Father in the hushed humility which experience of His grace along can bring. The Jews were worried about whom they might eat / fellowship with, just as many in the body of Christ are today. But the Lord turned it all around- you are a serious sinner, you need to make that long walk home to the Father in your day by day repentance, and eat with Him by His grace. He is seeking you to eat with Him; the question of whom you eat with is utterly secondary to that.
This being in touch with ourselves is different to selfishness, self-centredness, self-opinionated egoism. It's about realizing that really, me myself and I, really I am responsible to God. The Lord Jesus died for me, rose again and will return for me, viewing me as His bride, longing for me. I personally will see Him, as Job reflected from the darkness of his depression, we shall see Him for ourselves, and will behold Him in a way which no other person can (Job 19:25-27). Further, God's word in the Bible is His message to me personally. Those events really happened, and they speak to me in a unique way. Surely we all need this reminder to focus upon our personal relationship with God. In so doing, we come to know ourselves; indeed, self-knowledge is required for any relationship of integrity, not least with our Maker. We need to see ourselves from outside of ourselves- how was I brought up? In what country, in which culture, with which perception of history? And so we will come to realize the kinds of pre-understandings and pre-dispositions which we bring to the Bible text, as in it we read God's word to us. We will be helped by the process to better clear our minds to receive that word, that knowledge of God, for what it is rather than for what we assume it to be and mean. And slowly there will develop a sense in us, as we read the Bible, that these things really did happen, and they really speak to me. It is hard for me to express in words what I mean when I say that we will come to personally believe that the Biblical events happened. When we read the crucifixion account, we will sense the reality of those things deeply within us. If we were there, with our mobile phone and digital camera, there would've been a cross and dying man to photograph; if we'd have had an MP3 recorder, there would've been sound to pick up and record as the Lord said His dying words. And so it will happen with increasing frequency that there breaks over us what I would call 'a wave of personal realization'- that really all this is true, and true for me.