"God's Fatherly Love"
A Father's Day Message
(Delivered Father's Day Sunday, June 18, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
In His Sermon on The Mount, Jesus taught His followers to pray something remarkable. The chances are, however, that you are so used to hearing it and praying it, that you don't realize how truly remarkable a thing it is.
This remarkable thing is found in the great 'model' prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. In fact, it is how He teaches us to begin this prayer. He taught us to begin by saying, “Our Father in heaven . . .” (Matthew 6:9).
As Christians, we are used to addressing our prayers to God in that way. But to the Jewish people who first heard those words, that was an unprecedented thing—to address God by the affectionate name, “our Father”. Such a name suggested a depth of intimacy and relationship with the Almighty that had never before been known or imagined. How could mere humans—and sinful, fallen humans at that!—dare to address the sovereign God of Israel in so familiar a term as “our Father”? How could mere human beings dare to think of themselves as His sons and daughters? But that's how Jesus teaches us to pray to His Father.
And Jesus does not speak as if we must first “earn” the right to call God “Father”. He doesn't exhort us to work hard at becoming worthy of being called God's children. Instead, our Lord invites His redeemed followers to address His Father in that very intimate way immediately—as a gift of His Father's gracious love toward them. The apostle John wrote to his believing brothers and sisters in Christ and said,
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God. Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we known that when He [that is, Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:1-2).
The idea of John's words is, “Behold what a 'foreign' kind of love this is—what a truly 'out-of-this-world' kind of love this is . . .” The love that God has demonstrated for His people through the cross of Jesus—a love that has resulted in unworthy sinners such as us becoming cleansed of our sins and being made into God's own dear children—is a love that is like no other love! It is a love that is beyond any counterpart in the normal realm of human experience! There is no other love like the love God has shown toward us—a love in which He would invite us to call Him “our Father”.
And do you notice that John says that “now”—right now in Christ—“we are children of God”? It is our privilege at this moment—by His grace—to be called His children! It is not a right we must first earn or become worthy of. It is our privilege even now to be the children of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
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This morning—this Father's Day—I ask that we open our Bibles together and consider what this over-abounding “fatherly love” of God means. But before we do, let's be straight-forward about a couple of things. First, let's understand that not everyone has the right to call Him “Father” in the sense that Jesus' spoke of.
Now, it's true that there is a sense in which God looks upon all people as His 'offspring'. The Bible recognizes this. In Acts 17:28, the apostle Paul spoke to the people of Athens about God; and in doing so, he quoted one of the Athenian poets. He said, “[F]or in Him [that is, in God as Creator] we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'” The Bible endorses the idea that all people, everywhere—no matter who they are or how they live—are valuable because they owe their existence to God. So, in that limited sense, everyone can make a legitimate claim to be God's 'offspring'.
But the Bible also teaches that only certain people may call God Father in a special sense—in what we might call an “adoptive” or “relational” sense. He is “Father” only to those who have entered into a relationship with Him by faith in His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. It's a relationship made possible through Jesus' death for our sins on the cross. It's a relationship in which repentant sinners are cleaned of their sins, and legally “adopted” by God the Father into His family as as His children—with all the rights and privileges of full “sonship”.
Now; the hard fact is that those who are not in this relationship do not have a right to call God “Father”. There was a time—recorded for us in the eighth chapter of John's Gospel—in which Jesus was in debate with the Pharisees. They were opposing Him and rejecting Him as God's Messiah. They were insistent because of their identity as Jews—the sons of Abraham—that, “. . . [W]e have one Father—God” (John 8:41). But Jesus told them that what they believed was not true. God was, in fact, not their Father at all. Instead, He told them, “You are of your father the devil . . .” (v. 44).
So, in terms of an intimate, personal, adoptive relationship that directs the course of someone's life and that gives them the right to be considered His children, God was most certainly not the “Father” of those Pharisees. He is not the “Father” of those who reject His only begotten Son Jesus. He is not the “Father” of everyone; but only of those who have entered into a relationship with Him by faith in His Son.
But those who are in this relationship truly have the privilege and the right to call God “Father”. You might remember the wonderful announcement that Jesus made at His resurrection. Mary Magdalene encountered Him at the tomb; and Jesus told her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren [that is, to the apostles] and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God'” (John 20:17).
Do you see it? The risen Son of God calls His followers “My brethren”; and now tells them that His Father is also their Father as well! He accomplished this for us through His sacrifice on the cross. What a privilege it is to introduce others to Jesus; because it is through Him that they may enter into a relationship with the almighty God as “Father”!
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But this leads us to another thing we need to remember as we enter into this discussion. And I must tell you; it's a cause for a great deal of sadness to me. I have very often found that, when I talk to some people about God as “Father”, I am immediately met with a very negative reaction. The idea of God as “Father” is often a difficult and almost insurmountable wall for some people to overcome.
You see; there used to be a time in our culture when, if you said the word “father”, you could reasonably expect that it would bring up a very positive image in the minds of people—a warm and loving and sentimental image. But we live in a fallen world—and particularly in a very fallen culture; and an increasing number of people in our day have grown up under earthly fathers who were abusive or emotionally disconnected. Many have had fathers who cheated on their mothers—or who had never even bothered to marry their mothers. Many had fathers who had abandoned them; or who—if they were present at all—were unspeakably mean and cruel to them.
I'm afraid that, in our day, it would be very naive to think that the word “father” automatically brought a positive picture into the minds of everyone who heard it. For many today, the word “father” has a negative and deeply painful ring to it. Because of the harm that their fallen earthly fathers did to them, many today are so bitter toward the idea of “fatherhood” that they have a difficult time feeling at peace with the idea of God as “Father”. I have had the sad experience of people telling me, “If you are offering God to me as a 'Father', then I want nothing to do with Him!” These are hard things to say on Father's Day; but I'm just trying to be realistic.
And so today, I ask that we—as it were—flip our thinking 'right-side-up'. By the help of the Holy Spirit, let's not look to imperfect, fallen examples of human fathers for a definition of “fatherhood”; and then, project that flawed definition on to the heavenly Father. Instead, let's look to the Bible and learn what it tells us of God's perfect love for His children. Let's allow God's fatherly love to be the standard of what “fatherly love” truly means; because “fatherly love” is defined by the ways that God cares for His children in Christ.
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What I'd like to do this morning is share with you from several passages of Scripture that reveal the characteristics of God's 'fatherly love' for us. I am speaking primarily to my brothers and sisters in Christ by faith today; but I hope that if you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior, you will be encouraged by this look in the Scriptures to likewise place your trust in Him—and thus come to know God as the wonderful and perfect “Father” that He truly is.
First, we see that God is “Father” in the sense that . . .
1. HE GIVES LIFE TO HIS CHILDREN.
Have you ever noticed how we sometimes say that a father 'brought' his children 'into the world'? We mean by this, of course, that a particular man was used biologically to impart life to his children. But we also mean much more than this alone. We also mean that he was there to greet that child into the world at birth as his own, and to give that child a name and a future. In a similar way, God's 'fatherly love' for His own spiritual children is shown in the fact that He gives them life. He 'brings' them into life eternal.
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One of the things that makes the Christian faith distinct from mere 'religion' is the essential necessity of what theologians call 'regeneration'. Jesus spoke of this essential necessity when He soke one night with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Jesus told this scholarly and very moral man, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus that this was not the same thing as being born from the womb of his mother. He explained it as a matter of being a “spiritual” birth (v. 5).
This wasn't a relationship that someone 'earned' by doing good deeds, or by adhering to a set of religious rituals and codes. If it had been, Nicodemus certainly would have earned it. But there was, in fact, nothing that Nicodemus could do to make himself “born again”—any more than there was anything he could have done to make himself born the first time! This spiritual “rebirth” is a gracious work of God's Holy Spirit toward us through Christ. The apostle Peter spoke of it when he wrote,
The Bible teaches us that someone is “born again” when they accept what God has already done for us on the cross of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. God gives them life, and they believe; and the fact that they believe is evidence that God has given them life. John 1:12-13 says,
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And this leads us to another important point about our heavenly Father's 'life-giving' work toward His children. A father gives life to his children; but he doesn't stop at simply giving them life. He also gives His children a name—an identity. My earthly father gave an identity to me. He gave me his name—in fact, he not only gave me his last name; but also gave me his own name as my middle name. I have an identity through the fact that my father gave life to me; and that identity marks me as the son of my father.
Similarly, in Christ—and in Christ only—a man or woman has every right to be identified as 'a child of God'. Such people are in the group of those that Paul spoke of in Galatians 3:26; where he says, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” Such people enjoy that 'inner witness' that Paul wrote of in Romans 8:15-17; where it says,
God is “Father” to those who are in Christ in the sense that He gives them life. They are “born again” by His grace; and He gives them a name and a bright future. How wonderfully faithful and good a Father He is!
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A second way that God demonstrates His “fatherly love” toward us in Christ is seen in the fact that . . .
2. HE PROVIDES FOR HIS CHILDREN.
Sadly, many human fathers have brought their children into the world and did nothing more for them. Sometimes, they don't even give them a name. But a good father does much more than simply bring his children into the world. He physically provides for their needs. A good father will make every necessary sacrifice to insure that his little ones grow up safe, warm, sufficiently clothed, well-feed, and well-educated and equipped for life.
The God who gives life to His children through Christ is the same. He never abandons them. He cares for their every need, and provides for them throughout life. They are utterly dependent upon Him for all things; and He is wonderfully faithful to provide all things for them.
Jesus taught us that this is a truth about our wonderful heavenly Father that we can count on. He tells us about it in Luke 12:22-34. Just listen to these words and let what they say about the provisional 'fatherly love' of God sink in:
You who are fathers—let me ask you: How would it be if you were to walk into a room and find your small child sitting with a calculator in hand, with all his or her coins spread out on the floor, and wearing a deeply worried look? How would it be if you asked your child what was going on, and he or she told you that they were worried about how they will be secure for the coming year—what they will eat, or what they will wear, or where they will live? They are worried about who is going to take care of them, and of how they'll make it. Now, how would that make you feel? Wouldn't you be significantly hurt (as well as somewhat amazed)? Wouldn't you feel grieved over the fact that your own child didn't trust you to make provision for him or her? Wouldn't you want to assure them that they had no need to worry—that you are their father; and you are going to take care of everything?
Well; how often to you suppose we make our heavenly Father feel that way? Hasn't He promised to take care of His children? Isn't He more than able to do so? Doesn't He know our needs perfectly? And yet, we so very often ignore His promise, and spend our time worrying and fretting about the future.
In the passage I just read to you, Jesus teaches us to put aside all worry. He teaches us that our heavenly Father has gladly chosen to give His whole kingdom to those who are His children. And as His children, we're invited to be so confident in that provision that we would be willing to sell all that we have and trust ourselves, in complete assurance, upon His care.
In fact, rather than worry, Jesus teaches us to confidently go to our Father and ask for whatever we need—knowing that our Father's ability to give is greater than our wisdom to ask. In Matthew 7:7-11, He said,
And so, are you His child by faith? Then don't ever worry. He is a good Father to you; and He has pledged Himself to take care of your every need because you belong to Him.
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Now; there's a third way that God shows His 'fatherly love' toward His children that—at first thought—we don't like to think about. But if we take the time to think carefully and rightly about it, we will become increasingly grateful to Him for it. It is the fact that . . .
3. HE DISCIPLINES HIS CHILDREN.
We read about this in the book of Hebrews. That book was written to Jewish believers who were suffering persecution for having placed their faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. They were suffering so much persecution, in fact, that some of them were beginning to wonder if they'd made a serious mistake in turning from Judaism and trusting in Jesus.
But what they didn't know was that the persecution was in the hand of—and under the control of—their sovereign heavenly Father. They didn't understand that He intended the persecution for their good and for their growth. The writer of Hebrews offers these words of encouragement to the suffering Jewish believers in Hebrews 12:5-8;
One of the ways that a good father identifies himself with His own children is through the fact that he disciplines them, and teaches and trains them to live rightly. When you see a man gently but firmly disciplining a child, you know that the child is his. He marks that child out as his own beloved son or daughter by the fact that he doesn't simply stand by and let them run wild. Rather, he he steps forward to bring loving discipline upon them. And that's what our heavenly Father does for us as His own children.
When I was little, my father certainly 'disciplined' me! In fact, he did so often—or at least, that's how I remember it! But there were many times when he preceded the punishment with a statement that—at that time—I didn't quite understand. He said, “Greg, I'm doing this because I love you.” I understand that statement much better now—especially having been a father myself for many years. He didn't just love me in spite of the fact that he disciplined me; rather, he loved me through the fact that he disciplined me. And we can fully accept the discipline we receive from our heavenly Father; and have absolute confidence that it is a manifest sign that He truly loves us as His own children. It marks us out as His own.
And what's more, we can have confidence that He disciplines us in a way that's perfect, and is designed to make us into what He wants us to be. If you are a child of God by faith, then, you have great reason to submit yourself to the discipline of your loving heavenly Father. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say;
How grateful we will be when we stand in heavenly glory and see all the good that our loving heavenly Father brought about in us through the good discipline He administered to us! How grateful we should be now that He demonstrates His love for us in this way!
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Now consider carefully what we have just talked about—that is, about the loving discipline our Father administers to us. This leads us to a fourth way that God shows His fatherly love toward His children; and how grateful we should be for it! It is the fact that . . .
4. HE IS TENDER TOWARD HIS CHILDREN.
What child wouldn't willingly submit himself or herself to the disciplining hand of a father who he or she knew was—to a perfect degree—compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness? At a time of discipline, those are qualities that are very desirable; don't you agree?
Well, dear brother or sister in Christ; you have just such a Father! God demonstrates 'fatherly love' to all His children in that He is compassionate toward them. Psalm 103:8-14 describes Him in these terms:
Our great heavenly Father is characterized by tenderness and gentleness and mercy toward all of His children. He knows how to have compassion on each one of us with respect to each one of our needs. And this psalm goes on to say;
His fatherly arms of love are always open to His children; and they're always welcomed and invited to come to Him at any time for any need—just as 1 Peter 5:7 teaches us, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
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Thoughts of God's compassion for His children brings us to one more way He shows them His fatherly love; and that's in the fact that . . .
5. HE SETS THE EXAMPLE FOR HIS CHILDREN.
A good father very conscientiously sets his children an example to follow. He not only tells them what to do and how to live—but he himself shows them what to do and how to live by doing and living as he tells them. And that's what our heavenly Father does for us.
Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 5:43-48; and see how God, our compassionate Father, sets the example for us:
Our heavenly Father acts and leads in a way that is consistent with what He Himself is. He never tells us to be something that He is not Himself. He never teaches us to do as He says, but not as He does. He never calls us to do something that is in contradiction to who He shows Himself to be. When He calls us to obey His commandments, it's because those commandments are a perfect expression of His own holy character. When He calls us to “walk in the light”, it's because He Himself is “light” (1 John 1:5-7).
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When we celebrate Father's Day, we're celebrating the man that God has put into our lives that exhibited the qualities of fatherhood—although imperfectly so. Today, we're celebrating the one who gave life to us, who made provision for us, who disciplined us when we needed it, who picked us up in his loving and strong arms when we needed to be held, and who left us a legacy of good footsteps to follow.
But let's not forget that all of these qualities that we see in our earthly father, as much as we appreciate them in him, are only a faint echo of their full perfection demonstrated in our heavenly Father. He sets the perfect example for us of what we should be. He is perfect in His display toward us of mercy, graciousness, and abundant lovingkindness and tenderness. He is our perfect disciplinarian and teacher. He is the unfailing source of every good and perfect provision for our lives. And above all, He is the one who has graciously given us life, and has made us to be His own dear children through faith in His only begotten Son Jesus as an act of His unmerited grace. He is the one who washes the sinner clean and gives him or her a new name as His own dear, adopted child.
So, let's not allow “Father's Day” go by without celebrating and thanking Him!
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