To Understand God’s Love

It has everything to do with His authority.

Our culture is suspicious of authority, and understandably so. Politicians maneuver for power; Wall Street CEOs gamble with our economy; priests are revealed to be pedophiles; and, in the immortal words of Will Smith, parents just don’t understand.

Abuses of power have always been tragic—but does that mean authority itself is inherently bad? If we think so, we’ll have a hard time making sense of Scripture—where, for example, the word “master” or “lord” (adon in Hebrew and kurios in Greek) shows up over 1,000 times. Let’s take a closer look to see how hope for the oppressed is not for no king, but for a good king—Jesus, the Master who sets us free.

“Wall Street CEOs gamble with our economy.”

In Service

The word master is applied to many people in the Old Testament—to kings by their subjects, prophets by their disciples, landowners by their servants. The general idea is someone with authority, a human superior, often looked up to with a sense of affection.

In Genesis 24, for example, Abraham is referred to as “master” 23 times. His servant goes out to find a wife for Abraham’s son and prays a prayer that reveals his posture: “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham” (Gen. 24:12). There is a sense of loyalty, a desire to see his master prosper and good things come to their household.

This feels foreign to us today. Can you imagine an employee praying for his boss to get a bigger year-end bonus? We often assume bonds of love are strongest between equals, while a difference in power makes relationships more impersonal. But Scripture envisions a world where those under authority can have great affection for their king.

There are also layers of authority. A ruler over one person might, at the same time, be servant to another. In 2 Kings 5, for example, the servant girl is under the authority of her master Naaman, but Naaman is simultaneously under the higher authority of a master offsite. And who is the hero of the story? The servant girl. Even though she occupies the lowest position in the chain of command, she humbles the commander who conquered her people and points him in the direction of the one true God. This shows how being in charge doesn’t equate to being at the center of the story. God likes to overturn expectations by working from the bottom up, often straightening out the top of the tree by working from below.

God calls us to ultimate devotion, with no rivals in our heart.

Layers of authority are also at play in Jesus’ parable of a slave who is harsh and refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, though he himself has been pardoned by the king for a much greater debt (Matt. 18:23-35). Ultimately, this higher master—a picture of God—deals appropriately with the unforgiving man below him. Sometimes God shapes the tree not from below, but rather by placing His hand on the pinnacle and pruning off the unruly branches.

God Our Master

Jesus’ parable also confronts us with a higher reality: Ultimately, God is our Master. In the words of the psalmist, “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God” (Psalm 123:2). With bonds of love and cords of affection, we turn our eyes toward God and obey Him in trust.

Jesus loves to depict God as Master in His parables, reminding us we are each to be a “good and faithful servant” with the resources entrusted to us (Matt. 25:21 NIV). We’re to “be on the alert,” ordering our life to prepare for the Master’s return, as God arrives to establish His kingdom in the world (Mark 13:35). And we are to harbor no competitors with God’s ultimate lordship over our life, for “no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt. 6:24).

God calls us to ultimate devotion, with no rivals in our heart.

“As any addict can attest, the vices we give ourselves to can end up running (and ruining) our lives.”

Whom Do You Serve?

It’s interesting Jesus calls wealth a master, showing that even impersonal or inanimate objects can have authority over us. Paul similarly calls death a master who has been conquered by Jesus (Rom. 6:9). Sin, too, is a defeated master because of Jesus’ victory on the cross. Paul reminds us, “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Jesus’ gracious presence frees us from sin and death, as well as from unhealthy devotion to things like wealth, pride, and fame.

Sin is a cruel master. We see this all the way back in the story of Cain and Abel, where the former is told: “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). The Hebrew verb here for “master” is timshal, which means “to rule or have dominion.” Sin is something we can be mastered by—but Christ wants to set us free.

This is deep. Literally. Our deepest desires can be masters. Oppressive authority isn't only outside us; it can also be inside. The things we pursue can end up controlling us. As any addict can attest, the vices we give ourselves to can end up running (and ruining) our lives. This is why Paul declares that while “all things are lawful for me … I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). The word he uses here—exousiasthésomai—speaks to being under the power of something, under its authority. Our sinful desires can bring us under the power of destruction, but God wants to liberate us into life under the power of His loving reign.

This is perhaps the deepest sense in which Jesus is a master who sets us free. To declare Jesus as Lord, to make Him ultimate and order our lives in submission to Him, is to be set free—even from ourselves—to love and serve Him with affection. Jesus declares, “If you love Me ... keep My commandments” (John 14:15), because His commands are for our good, and His authority is ultimately what liberates us into the glorious freedom of His kingdom of love.

 

Illustrations by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Intimacy with God

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12 He said, O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today, and show lovingkindness to my master Abraham.

23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.

24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.

25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.

26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'

27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, `Pay back what you owe.'

29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you.'

30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.

31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.

32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, `You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.

33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?'

34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He is gracious to us.

21 His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

35 Therefore, be on the alert--for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning--

24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.

14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.

15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

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