1 John 3:1-7
1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.
7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
I’ve said before and I will say again that nothing has helped me to better understand the love of God than becoming a father myself. I have read theology books by the stacks, listened to countless lectures and sermons, and gathered in small groups around coffee tables discussing just this topic, but I have never been able to wrap my mind around this concept of unconditional love. However, I would say that the love that a parent has for his or her children is about as close as we will ever come to understanding the love of God here on earth. And that, I am sure, is why the Bible often uses the metaphor of God as our heavenly father.
We use a lot of metaphors in the church to talk about theology and this isn’t anything new. The Bible is full of metaphors which are intended to help us understand complex concepts. Sometimes these metaphors are helpful because as human beings we have shared experiences. We all have experienced hunger and thirst, we know the function of light, and we have probably all tasted salt. But some metaphors are a little more confusing. If you grew up in the city, the agricultural metaphors might leave you scratching your head. The parable of the sower and mustard seed might not mean much to you. And come on, why wouldn’t you want to look back while you are plowing? That is where all of the action is! But what about a person who had been born blind and never seen light? Wouldn’t the metaphor of God being light be less than helpful?
I say all of this because I know that the metaphor of God being our father and we being his children is not helpful to everyone. Some of us may have never known our fathers. Some of us may wish we had never known our fathers. If you have been abused or neglected by a male authority figure in your life, please know that God is not like that; God is not that kind of father. God is our father as fathers were meant to be. Today I want to look at the relationship between a father and his children from my earthly position to hopefully better understand the unconditional love that God has for us.
I want to start by looking at Deuteronomy 14:1-2, which totally seems like the right place to start talking about the unconditional love of God. Deuteronomy is full of rules, laws, and commandments on what the Israelites can eat, wear, and do. Verses 1-2 says, “You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.”
The “cutting yourself” and “shaving the front of your heads” reference has to do with the Israelites being separate from the rest of the world. We often call these “holiness laws” as they were a way for people to differentiate between God’s chosen nation and the rest of the world, which usually served another God. Often the things that were commanded against in Deuteronomy were practices that other religions participated in and the people of Israel were not like other people groups. They were the children of God.
Now to be sure, everyone is a child of God in a sense. We are all created in the image of God and unconditionally loved by God. We must never forget that. There is something within each person that still bears the image of God, even if it is cracked and distorted. But I believe this metaphor of being a child of God is reserved for the Israelites in the Old Testament. They were truly in a unique position among the nations.
So we come to our text today in 1 John 3 and the first part of verse one says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” Alright, more of the same, right? God loves us Israelites! No, John was writing to a largely Gentile audience. The Gentiles were not the children of God in the Old Testament. The Gentiles were the very people that the children of God were not supposed to be like! It is kind of like when other parents used to tell their kids not to play with me because they didn’t want me being a bad influence on their childrenJ. Now, it is that “bad influence” that the Israelites were to avoid who are called the children of God, or more precisely, being included in the family of God. See what great love the Father has lavished on us, outsiders, Gentiles, pagans, that we should be called children of God.
This once closed group, gated community, that had all of these rules and regulations that were meant to keep Israel pure and separate from the world has had all of the boundaries and walls removed allowing anyone that wanted to join in and be a child of God to do just that. This brings me to my first point about the unconditional love of God. It is infinite.
The unconditional love of a father is infinite. It doesn’t run out and it can’t be diluted. On January 16th, 2010, our first child, Paxton came into the world. We loved that boy before we ever laid eyes on him. I went to every doctor’s appointment with Sonya and I stood by her side as she brought him into the world. And for the last two years, he has been the focus of our love and object of our attention.
Then comes March 25th of 2012 and Hadley was born. It would seem that everything has changed in our household. Our sleeping schedule has been altered, our bedroom arrangements have been changed, and our daily schedule is…unscheduled. We had this object of our love and attention, and then came another object of our love and attention.
The birth of Hadley might have changed some of the things in our household, but her arrival did not change our love for Paxton one bit. The love that this father has for his children has not run out and it is not diluted. I did not have to start loving Paxton less in order to lover Hadley more. The love of a father is infinite and in-dilute-able.
The second thing that I want to point out is that we, as children of God, only have limited understanding of God’s actions and we will be left with questions. We can’t fully grasp the love of God and we can’t fully grasp who God is. And we surely can’t grasp why God does some things and not others, or allows some things to happen.
Tomorrow will be Hadley’s one-month checkup. She will be weighed, measured, and inspected from head to toe. And at the end of the checkup, she will receive some shots. These are vaccinations. Now there are some debates about vaccinations and our children, but there is no debating that that needle, no matter how small it might be, hurts. Nobody likes shots. But we do this so our children won’t get sick. Measles, mumps, rubella, oh my! Polio, Hepatitis B, the list goes on and on. I’ll be honest, I am glad that Sonya is taking her to the checkup this time because it is not pleasant to have a little helpless baby in your arms, knowing that she is about to be “hurt” even when you know it is for the best.
Hadley has a very limited amount of understanding of what is going on. She doesn’t know that the shots that she is receiving are for her own good. All she knows is that they hurt now. And even Paxton, two years older than Hadley, doesn’t grasp this concept. It just hurts.
As children of God, we can’t always see the bigger picture. Our knowledge is very limited. But we trust that there is something bigger and better and that our loving father is going to do what is best for us. A father’s love seeks what is best for his children.
Our God is a gracious and forgiving father. I know that I fail daily in loving my children with a perfect love. Sometimes they do things that just make me angry. Paxton, our 27-month-old, is about 1/3 of the way through his terrible twos. He seems to have a love/hate relationship with the word “no”. He loves to say it, but hates to hear it.
One thing that every parent wants is for their children to be safe. But this independent 2 year old refuses to be carried through parking lots and when we cross the street. He kicks and flails his arms around when he wants to get down and run.
Recently we were leaving a grocery store and sure enough, he wanted “down.” So I let him down with the stipulation that he must stay with me. He is 2. He doesn’t know what a stipulation is. So I am walking out of the grocery store with bags in my hands and he begins to run, darting in and out of parked cars. And the thing is, you can’t run after him because he thinks it is a big joke. I finally catch up to him and I tell him that I am going to carry him whether he likes it or not. He chose to not like it. So the kicking and flailing of the arms not only picks up again, but it intensifies.
This is enough to tick me off. But there is more. Paxton likes to carry toys with him when we go places. Today’s toy of choice was a metal dump truck. Got the picture? Dad, carrying several bags of groceries. Little boy, holding a toy truck. Dad picks up boy, boy objects, flails, kicks, and hits dad in the face with a dump truck.
So all of these emotions were going through me at the same time. I was worried about his safety and that is why I wanted to carry him, to enact some sort of rules. He resisted, which made me frustrated and a little angry. He hit me, which caused me pain and made me really angry. And of course, he screamed the entire way home. And though I wasn’t any too happy with him at the time, I am glad to say that he and I have made up.
I think of our relationship with our heavenly father and as I have said before, I believe that much of the ethical teachings in the New Testament are there for our own good and to keep us safe. God is worried about our wellbeing, so God provides some guidance to us. We rebel, kick, scream, and flail around, and I am sure that God gets frustrated. And sometimes we even do things that probably hurt God. We say things and do things that we know and intend to be hurtful. But God does forgive.
I don’t think that I can go one month without returning to the story of the Prodigal Son. It must be one of my favorites from the Bible. We know the story, the son takes his inheritance early, embarrassing his father even more than a 2 year old acting up in a grocery store, blows all of his money, and then comes crawling back to his father expecting to get a job on his dad’s farm. But his father is ready for him, welcoming the son back with open arms before the son has a chance to get a word out.
It seems quite insignificant to think of me forgiving my son for hitting me in the face with a toy when compared to the forgiveness that the father offers the son in the story of the Prodigal. And both stories fail to measure up to the forgiveness that God offers to us as his children. Our God is a father of grace and mercy.
I think of myself as a people person. I like people, most of the time. I have my periods of introversion, but I would prefer a good conversation over a good book most days. I say that to lead into my next thought about God. God doesn’t get tired of us, even when we are annoying. We can be annoyed by people we love. Don’t point at anyone, but we all know that sometimes we just need our own space. And this applies in our relationship with children as well.
It seems like all of my examples today have been from when my children have been misbehaving, and I guess that is appropriate. It is a lot easier to love children when they are cooperating! The last aspect of God’s love that I want to lift up this morning is that God is approachable, available, and patient.
We really try to not let Paxton watch too much television. But let’s be honest, who among us doesn’t enjoy a little time of thought-free bliss sitting in front of the magical box? Or who doesn’t appreciate some responsibility-free bliss as your child is babysat by that magical box? And yes, there are educational programs out there. But if given the opportunity, I believe Paxton would watch Dora the Explorer 24 hours a day.
So when he gets on a Dora kick, Paxton walks around and says, “Watch Dora!” He says it with such enthusiasm and excitement that at first it makes me smile. That quickly changes when I tell him no. Then he says, “Watch Dora, okay!” Again, I reply with a “no.”
After a few minutes of this, we then have some screaming going on. There is a threat of timeout. There is more screaming. And every now and then I just start the DVD to make him be quiet for a few minutes.
Or another new thing that Paxton likes is to be picked up and thrown onto the couch by his ankles (I know, I am a terrible father). He likes it when I pick him up, causing him to hang upside down, and then swing him enough to drop him flat on his back on the couch. This is fun for everyone, for about 4-5 times. He is starting to get bigger and heavier. I am starting to get older and winded easier. And after a few times of picking him up, swinging him around by his ankles, and throwing him across the room, daddy is tired. So again, he gets frustrated, I get frustrated. He screams, I threaten to put him in time out, and we end up putting in a Dora DVD to make things quiet again.
God is a lot more patient that I am with his children. I don’t know that God just loves to hear us grumble and complain. It didn’t work too well for the Israelites as they wandered through the wilderness. But yet we have a God who invites us to enter into conversation with him through prayer. And Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock. He even tells a parable about a persistent knocker who needed some bread from his neighbor and wasn’t going to go away until he got it. So he continued to knock on the door until the neighbor got up and helped him.
Yes, I get tired when my children whine, complain, and grumble. But God is a lot more patient than I am. God invites us to ask him for the things we need. God is a patient father.
The love of a father is infinite, it is forgiving, and it is patient. It is not self-serving, and it is something that we cannot always understand with our limited minds. The Bible uses the metaphor of God being our father to emphasize some of these characteristics. It is my hope and prayer that those of us who are fathers will strive to love our children in the same way our heavenly father loves us.