What Manner of Love?

What Manner of Love Banner

It’s a love story for the ages! A beautiful maid claimed by her Shepherd King.
But when He returns from His long absence, will He find her waiting? Or preoccupied?

This is a story for Valentine’s Day. It’s about our Heavenly Bridegroom, the Lover of  our Souls, as the consuming passion of our lives.

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

At its best, human love is an echo of the Divine. We’re all familiar with Yeshua’s depiction of Himself as the Bridegroom. And anyone who’s ever attended a wedding in a Bible-teaching church has probably heard Paul’s charge to married couples:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:25, 31-32)

By drawing an analogy between the marriage relationship and the relationship between Christ and the ekklesia—the assembly of called-out ones—Paul is building on a long tradition in Scripture. God is often depicted as the loving and faithful Husband of His straying people.

Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. (Jer 31:3)

And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you. (Is 62:5)

Do not rejoice, O Israel, with joy like other peoples,
For you have played the harlot against your God.
You have made love for hire on every threshing floor. (Hos 9:1)

Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce…. (Jer 3:8)

We like to flatter ourselves that Israel is the adulterous bride. That that depiction doesn’t pertain to us–after all, it’s the Old Testament, right?

Or wrong?


A Love for the Ages

The most extended example of this Bridegroom metaphor is the Song of Songs, where a maiden pines for her Lover / Husband / Shepherd / King. Jewish sages have long interpreted this book as an allegory of God’s deep love for His people.

Check out this meditation on the allegory provided by John J. Parsons on Hebrew4christians.com:

One day the mysterious Shepherd, who traveled with no sheep, told the woman he was leaving but promised he would return for her. The days passed and she waited, but her family and friends begin to ridicule her hope. Nonetheless, she loved the shepherd and dreamed of being with him. “On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not.” (Song 3:1). She longed to be with her beloved; she missed him, and dreamed of the day they would be together… There were even strange visitations, a fragrance of her lover in the air, that she could not explain. Surely this longing represents the soul’s homesickness for heaven and the Presence of Yeshua… “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”
Some time later, as she was working in the vineyard, she saw a caravan approaching, and the cry went forth: “King Solomon is coming!” (Song 3:6-7) Then someone ran to her and said, “The King is asking for you!” But why would the king ask for her? Because the mysterious Shepherd had wooed her in disguise—in “garments of lowliness”—to win her heart before he revealed his true identity…

Like the Shulamite woman, we are hidden in the “clefts of the rock,” but we are not forgotten. The hope of our Salvation is fulfilled in God’s love and in our response to that love.

Tell me that isn’t a love story for the ages! What manner of sacrificial love!

Yeshua's Love for Us: the Passover Betrothal Cup

“This is My blood of the covenant…” Yeshua’s phrase at His last Passover meal reflects a bridegroom offering the Betrothal Cup. “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” Yeshua alludes to the Wedding Cup, which He will drink with His bride at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. (Matt 26:28-29)

(For more thoughts on Yeshua as our Heavenly Bridegroom, and the fascinating way His long absence maps to Jewish wedding traditions, check out this post.)


A Tale of Two Brides

There’s a place where the Song of Songs feels like a “tale of two brides.”

  • The devoted bride who “swoons” for her lover’s embrace. (And seeks him all over the city–where he’s not! Song 3:2)
    “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— For your love is better than wine.” (Song 1:2)
  • The preoccupied bride who’s all about her own comfort. When He shows up at an inconvenient time, she takes so long to open the door that he goes away into the damp night!
    “I have taken off my robe; How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; How can I defile them?… I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone…. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.” (Song 5:3,6)


“Central” or Supreme?

Here’s the rub. I picked this up from a blog post by Dr. Richard Ross of Southwestern Seminary.

One of America’s best-known worship leaders recently confided a heartache to David Bryant. He said:

Often it feels to me as if, for many of our people, singing praise songs and hymns on a Sunday morning has turned into an affair with Christ.…  Too many of us are far more passionate about lesser, temporal concerns…. But we rarely ever get that excited about Christ Himself, at least on any consistent basis. Except when we enter a sanctuary on a Sunday. Then for a while we end up sort of ‘swooning’ over Christ with feel-good music and heart-stirring prayers—only to return to the daily grind of secular seductions to which, for all practical purposes, we’re thoroughly ‘married.’

Centrality is about keeping Christ at the center of who we are, where we are headed, and all we are doing. Supremacy speaks of so much more. Supremacy proclaims Christ’s right to keep us at the center of who He is, where He is headed, and how He is blessed. Jesus does not exist to come down here and make my life a little easier. I exist to stand before him in awe-filled worship and to join him in bringing his kingdom on the earth. It’s never all about me. It’s always all about him.

We sometimes say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Perhaps it would be better to use David Bryant’s words: “God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him, to sum up everything in heaven and earth under Him as Redeemer and Lord; and He loves you and me enough to give us a strategic place in it.”

So if Christ is our Heavenly Bridegroom, which bride are we?? Is God our all-in-all, or a passing affair to swoon over when it suits us?

Here’s my confession. I find myself pretty frequently asking the “why” questions—why God has allowed some circumstance in my life to play out in a way I find less than ideal. So, does God’s plan revolve around my comfort and convenience? Or does my life revolve around serving Him and His Kingdom?

Comfort and convenience, or the Cross and conformance to His image? Which bride am I?

How can I show others His love, if I can’t start by loving Him with an undivided heart?

I was shamed for my attitude on this by a character in a novel! This is from a Japanese novel I’m reading, as research for my own novel in progress:

God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfect in love. We puny humans are deeply sinful, so it’s no use complaining in wise-sounding syllables about what He does. The essential matter is to first yield ourselves into God’s hands without anxiety. It is certainly safer and surer when things happen according to God’s deep will than when they happen according to our own shallow hearts.
– Ayako Miura, Lady Gracia: A Samurai Wife’s Love, Strife, and Faith

The late Ms. Miura, a Christian and one of the foremost Japanese novelists of the twentieth century, put these words in the mouth of Takayama Ukon. Ukon was a 16th-century warlord who wound up losing all he had for his Christian faith.

The author herself came to faith in 1952 through a deep crucible of trial. She contracted tuberculosis of the spine (tuberculosis spondylitis) and spent thirteen years confined to bed, seven of those in a full body cast that restricted all movement. Coming to faith in Christ was a lifeline that rescued Ms. Miura from suicidal despair.

What on earth do I have to complain about?


Outside Looking In

The blog post I quoted above referenced a body of research, and I googled it for more background. It was a survey conducted a decade ago with 3000 teens. The conclusion?

It is apparent that most religiously affiliated U.S. teens are not particularly interested in espousing and upholding the beliefs of their faith traditions, or that their communities of faith are failing in attempts to educate their youth, or both….

  1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”
  2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”
  3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”
  4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”
  5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

That, in sum, is the creed to which much adolescent faith can be reduced. …

When it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”…This is not the God who thunders from the mountain, nor a God who will serve as judge. This undemanding deity is more interested in solving our problems and in making people happy. “In short, God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”… Furthermore, this deity does not challenge the most basic self-centered assumptions of our postmodern age. Particularly when it comes to so-called “lifestyle” issues, this God is exceedingly tolerant and this religion is radically undemanding….

All this means is that teenagers have been listening carefully…. They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

So as a church, which bride are we? All about us, or all about Him? (Granted, the research is a bit old, but I don’t see any reason to think the situation has fundamentally changed.)

After I read the post, the phrase “bolt-on faith” kept ringing through my mind. Is my faith something I “bolt on” when it’s convenient?

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:17-20)

Just as in the Song of Songs, Yeshua isn’t even inside!

The real Yeshua, not our “divine butler,” stands outside the door in all His majesty and knocks. It’s not too late to let Him in!

Lord, you mused once:

“When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

When You come–soon and very soon–to claim the bride You died to bring to Your Father’s house, let me be the bride who’s all about You!

Our bridal canopy beckons…

Our Bridal Canopy Awaits

 

If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)

The decision that saves you is that simple!

Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now.

For more thoughts on Yeshua as our Heavenly Bridegroom, and the fascinating way His long absence maps to Jewish wedding traditions, check out this post.

3 Comments

  1. Beautiful write up. I don’t know how you do it, you sure have a way with words. I give God all the glory for this amazing ability to communicate so effectively on virtually any theme no matter how difficult. Thank you very much for this piece and remain blessed.

  2. Godwin Ekanem says:

    Seasonal message,especially now that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. Keep it up,Linda and more Grace.

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