Note: The title of this sermon came from a series by Rick Warren; however, the content is original.
This morning, we conclude a nine week series, in which we’ve been examining how God meets our fundamental human needs – our needs for things like hope and healing, for peace and power. We’ve considered how we can strengthen our trust in God to meet those needs, regardless of what our circumstances may be. This morning, we’re going to be looking at this question: "What kind of father is God?" Why is that question important? And why is it especially important to this issue of how God meets our deepest needs?
First of all, God’s identity as a father – as our father – is important because it’s how he chose to characterize his relationship to us. It’s not just a description that was dreamed up by preachers or theologians. I could stand up here this morning, and say, for example, "God is like a favorite uncle". Perhaps I could use that "uncle-nephew" analogy to highlight some important truths about God. It might even turn into pretty good sermon. But likening God to an uncle would still be just a human comparison. Because the Bible never refers to him in that way. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, doesn’t begin with the words, "Our uncle in heaven, hallowed be your name," but rather "Our Father in heaven." No, among all the human relationships he could have chosen as a metaphor for his relationship with us, he chose this one, "Father". There was something significant that God wanted to communicate by his choice of this title.
In fact, I’ll go even farther. God purposely designed human fatherhood to be an illustration of his relationship to us. The whole reason that God even created something called "fathers" was so that we could better understand who he is. In other words, it wasn’t as if God looked around at all the different kinds of human relationships he had created – father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin – and finally settled on this one as being the most similar to his relationship with his people. No. It goes back farther than that. In the very beginning, God fashioned the family, and the role of the father in the family, to serve as a living picture of who he is. Therefore, when he refers to himself as our "father," it is not arbitrary or unimportant. It is highly intentional. It has great significance. And by the way, that’s why contemporary assaults on the Biblical view of the family are so destructive. Not just because they harm the people involved, who usually find that alternative forms of family structure don’t work very well. But also because they obscure the picture of God that human fatherhood was intended to reveal. They make it harder for people to understand what God is like.
Let’s look at just a few of the instances in which the Scriptures refer to God as our Father. First, in the Old Testament we see the prophets referring to God as our Father:
"[Y]ou, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. " – Isaiah 63:16
". . . O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." – Isaiah 64:8
In the New Testament, we see Christ repeatedly referring to God as both his Father and ours:
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" – Matthew 6:26
"For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." – John 6:40
The apostles also refer to God as our Father. For example, Paul usually begins his letters with a greeting similar to this one:
"Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." – 2 Corinthians 1:2
The New Testament refers to God as a father over 250 times, and that’s enough by itself to make it significant. That’s how God chooses to identify himself. But that’s not all – it’s important because it affects how we relate to him. We’ve seen in the past few weeks that God can meet our deepest needs. But our ability to receive those blessings depends on what kind of father we think he is. If we view him as a wise, and loving, and kind father, one who keeps his promises and always has our best interests in mind, then we’ll be able to trust him. We’ll be able to follow and obey; even when we don’t understand what He’s doing in our lives. On the other hand, if we see him as an unreliable, or uncaring, or perhaps even abusive father, then it will be much harder for us to trust him.
Some of you probably grew up with fathers who came far short of the ideal. Fathers who were cold, distant and disengaged. Fathers who were angry, critical and controlling. Fathers who were alcoholic, or depressed, or physically abusive. Fathers whose own inner struggles sapped all their strength, leaving them with little left over to care for your needs. And that has impacted your ability to trust God as your heavenly Father. Even the best of fathers, with the best of intentions, often miss the mark. Those of us who are fathers know that all too well. In spite of our best efforts, we often fail to be what God would have us to be. We act selfishly and sinfully. We fail to love our children as we should. It grieves us to admit that, but it’s true. We are struggling sinners, even the best of us, and we know that the picture of God’s fatherhood that our life is painting for our children is far from perfect.
In addition, our society has largely abandoned God’s pattern for family relationships. The Biblical view of male leadership in the home is not only rejected, but mocked and ridiculed. And we can see the results all around us. Men in their 40’s and 50’s who’ve never grown up; who won’t take responsibility for anything. Confused, angry adolescents who have no idea of what it means to be a man. Macho jerks who equate masculinity with violence. In the news this week, there was a story about a gang of boys in Milwaukee who hunted down and beat to death a man named Charlie Young. One of the boys was only ten years old. The rest were in their early to mid teens. When I see something like that, I think to myself, "where were their fathers?" How did these boys get so twisted around that this kind of brutal, vicious behavior seemed normal?
Here’s my point: The view of God’s fatherhood that we received from our own fathers was flawed and imperfect. We certainly can’t rely on our culture to give us a true picture of fatherhood. So what do we do? Where can we go to get a clear view of what it means for God to be a Father? We go to the Scriptures. Because they alone are completely true, and reliable, and trustworthy. So let’s do that. This morning I want to focus on three things God does which clearly reflect his fatherhood. First, he defends us; second, he disciplines us; and third, he is absolutely devoted to us.
We’ll begin with the fact that God defends us. Can you imagine any father watching his son or daughter be attacked, and doing nothing to stop it? Of course not. And neither will God. God is always for us; always on our side. Now, it’s not politically correct these days to speak of God as a warrior. Some Christians seem embarrassed by the God of the Old Testament, who led his people into battle against their enemies. Some publishers have even removed hymns like "Onward Christian Soldiers" from their hymnals because they sound too militaristic. But God is committed to defending and protecting his people. And that involves a readiness to do battle. He will not abandon us; He will not retreat from the conflict. He will stand and fight. And he will be victorious. Now, let me make myself clear. I’m not talking about a literal battlefield. I’m not talking about God giving America victory over Iraq. I hope he will, but that’s not what I’m talking about. No, the battles I’m talking about are spiritual ones. I’m talking about God giving you and I victory against the spiritual forces which are arrayed against us.
The problem is that most Christians today don’t even understand they’re in a battle. They don’t see the need to look to God as their defender and protector, because they don’t realize they’re under attack. But Listen to what the Bible says:
". . . Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms." – Ephesians 6:10-12, NLT
That sure makes it sound as if there’s a battle going on. I’m not talking about ghosts, and goblins, and things that go bump in the night. I’m talking about spiritual beings which are engaged in warfare against God and against his people. I’m talking about unseen forces and demonic powers, which are doing all they possibly can to oppose the work of the gospel. Provoking destructive conflicts in churches, for example. Tempting Christians and undermining their faith. Still not convinced? Listen:
"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." – 1 Peter 5:8
"So put away all falsehood and tell your neighbor the truth because we belong to each other. And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil." – Ephesians 4:25-27, NLT
Why does anger give a "foothold" to the Devil? Because he will use any tool at his disposal to attack the church. And when anger goes unresolved, it turns into bitterness and resentment. It spreads throughout the whole body, like a poison. And pretty soon the peace and unity and fellowship of the church is destroyed. Mission accomplished.
Some people scoff at this whole idea. Superstitious nonsense. Why, an educated, enlightened person couldn’t possibly believe such fables. But I prefer to stand on the authority of the Word of God. To paraphrase Shakespeare’s character, Hamlet, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophies. The skeptics assume that whatever they can’t see must not exist, just as many people in America before 9-11 wouldn’t believe there were terrorists in our country, because they hadn’t seen them. But now we know better. And likewise, demonic powers exist, even though they can’t be seen.
The good news is that we don’t have to live in fear. We can boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, we can boldly live for Christ. Because God, as our father, has promised to protect us against these powers. He does this, first of all, by giving us the weapons we need to defend ourselves.
"In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray
at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit." – Ephesians 6:16-18a, NLT
Not only does God provide us with weapons, but He himself will stand beside us and fight on our behalf. King David prays for just that in Psalm 35:
"O LORD, oppose those who oppose me. Declare war on those who are attacking me. Put on your armor, and take up your shield. Prepare for battle, and come to my aid. Lift up your spear and javelin and block the way of my enemies. Let me hear you say, ’I am your salvation!’" – Psalm 35:1-3, NLT
And in Isaiah 54, we have God’s promise of victory:
"no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me," declares the Lord." – Isaiah 54:17
Are you feeling defeated? Perhaps the problem is that you’re at war, but you just don’t know it. Go to God in prayer. Enlist his help. Seek his power. And then watch to see what he will do for you.
The second thing God does as our father is discipline us. Sometimes it’s in the form of constructive discipline, in which he takes us through difficult circumstances to strengthen us and build our faith. Discipline like this is meant to prepare us for the future; to ready us for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Just as God wrestled with Jacob in order to transform him, so he sometimes wrestles with us for the same purpose. Corrective discipline, on the other hand, is meant to alter our attitudes or change our behavior. God sometimes allows us to experience the painful consequences of our sinful choices in order to teach us to do what is right. As the author of Hebrews puts it:
"As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever?
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way." – Hebrews 12:7-11
All right, so God disciplines us, and this discipline proves that we are his children. How can we make this practical? First, by allowing it to change our attitude. If we are undergoing hardship or suffering, we know it isn’t random or meaningless. God has a purpose for it. And we also know that God isn’t punishing us, because that was completely taken care of at the cross. Christ bore all our punishment, when he gave his life for us. And so any pain we experience comes into our lives as an instrument of our Father’s discipline. It’s proof that God loves us and cares about us. He is at work in our lives; He is forming our character, and purging our hearts of sin, and drawing us close to himself. So instead of grumbling, or complaining, or murmuring against God, we need to humble ourselves and submit to Him. No, we don’t have to like it. But we should remember that God has a good purpose in it.
Second, we should use discipline as an opportunity for reflection and self-assessment. Is there a sin in my life which I need to repent of? Is this suffering even partially a result of my own disobedience?
My pride, my stubbornness, my selfishness? Is there some negative attitude, some impure habit, some idol in my heart that I need to confess to God? Let the discipline accomplish its purpose; let the heat of your trials cause the gunk in your heart to raise to the surface, so that you can confess it to God, and repent of it, and be cleansed of it. If there is no sin to confess, then use the discipline as an opportunity to develop patience. Ask God to give you joy and peace in the midst of your trial.
Again, remember that all of this is proof of God’s love. A father who truly loves his children doesn’t let them do whatever they want. He doesn’t allow bad behaviors or bad attitudes to go unchallenged. He doesn’t allow the children to run the home. Instead, he faithfully and consistently guides his children through the use of discipline. Even when they scream, and holler, and say things like, "I hate you!" Even when they sulk, and pout, and won’t come out of their room. Even when they don’t understand, and don’t agree that what he is doing is right. Certainly, my children have never said, "I agree, daddy, that I should be disciplined. Thank you." But a good father does it anyway. Because he knows that the failure to discipline will result in raising selfish, wicked, unhappy adults. And he loves his children too much to let that happen. He’s not trying to be their pal or best buddy. He’s trying to be their father. And he trusts that, in time they will understand, they will appreciate what he was trying to do. In the same way, God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. He loves us too much to let us wallow in our sin. And so he brings people and circumstances into our lives that, slowly, and sometimes painfully, over time, will mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Even if we scream, and yell, and sulk. Even though it pains him to cause us pain. He does it anyway, because he loves us.
Friends, are you suffering right now? Are you experiencing a painful trial? Then be thankful. Because that’s evidence that your heavenly Father loves you. Submit to his hand of correction. Let him do his work. And in due time, you will give thanks for the result.
Third and finally, God’s fatherhood is seen in his absolute devotion to us as his children. Once we enter into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ, there is literally nothing we can do which will separate us from God. We belong to him forever. One of the tragedies of children who spend much time in the foster care system is that this is not the case. There is no one in their life who is absolutely committed to them. Until they are either adopted or returned permanently to their parents, every connection is temporary, conditional, open to being dissolved. I can’t even imagine what that would be like. But as Christians with God as our Father, we know we will never be rejected, never be abandoned, never be cast out. He loves us with an everlasting love, and nothing we or anyone else will do, can change that. Listen to the words of Christ:
"’My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’" – John 10:27-30
The apostle Peter found this to be true. He denied the Lord three times on the night of his arrest, denied that he even knew Christ. Abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, and yet was forgiven and received back into fellowship. Maybe you know what that’s like. It’s a wonderful feeling. But perhaps you also know what it’s like to be rejected; to have a relationship severed; to be cast aside by someone you love. And you know how painful that can be. That will never happen with God. Because He is our Father, and we are his children, now and forever. What a glorious truth!
In conclusion, to this whole series really, let me appeal to you to seek the satisfaction of your deepest needs in a relationship with God. The things you want most, deep down – the joy, and peace, and hope, and strength, and fulfillment you long for – all of those things are available to you through faith in Jesus Christ. Won’t you decide, today, to follow him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Won’t you place your trust and confidence in him to save you from your sins and grant you eternal life? Won’t you yield your will, and determine to serve and follow him all the days of your life? You won’t be disappointed.
(For an .rtf file of this and other sermons, see www.journeychurchonline.org/messages.htm)