“Who’s Your Daddy?”
January 28, 2007 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
God the Father
One might imagine that if any doctrine is beyond question, it is that God is our Father. Calling God “Father” seems so natural that even some who question the doctrine of the Trinity have in the past agreed on this designation. But today the idea of God the Father is now attacked as a patriarchal doctrine which suppresses women and wrongly attributes human gender to the divine. So as always we must turn again to Scripture as the basis for even this most basic of doctrines.
God does not appear often as Father in the Old Testament. It was not a usual Jewish name for God. God is compared to a father, as in Psalm 103:13 and Deuteronomy 8:5. He is the father of Israel, that is, of the nation, in a few passages like Jeremiah 31:9. God is viewed as father of the king (or of the Messiah) in Psalm 2:7 and II Samuel 7:14. And in Malachi 2:10, God is called father in virtue of being the creator of all people. Yet almost nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we find the deeply personal, intimate understanding of God as Father which is so apparent throughout the New Testament.
Our knowledge that God is Father depends almost completely on the revelation of that truth in and through Jesus Christ in the New Testament. There we find that God is called Father in three ways. First and primarily, “God the Father” is the first person of the Trinity, the Father of the Son of God. Jesus called God His “Father.” Jesus has a unique relationship with God which no other person possesses. Before creation, before human beings were created, the second person of God was the Son of the first person, the Father. That relationship of Father and Son is eternal and of the very nature of God.
Second, the New Testament reveals that God is the “Father” of everything and everyone. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes approvingly a pagan poet who says, “We are his offspring.” All human beings are the children of God. Other passages, like Jesus’ description of the Father’s care for the birds in Matthew 6 and the name “Father of lights,” in James 1:17 refer to God as Father simply insofar as He is the creator. He “fathers-forth” all creation, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Yet God is not just the unique Father of His Son Jesus and the general Father of all creation. The third way God is Father is as the loving Father of all who believe and trust in Jesus as Savior. By the grace offered to us in His death and resurrection, Jesus invited all people who believe and trust in Him to enjoy a personal relationship with God that goes beyond the general relationship of creature and Creator. Just as Jesus was able to intimately and personally name God as Father, He taught those who follow Him to do the same, particularly in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9. Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 suggest something even more intimate. By the Holy Spirit given to us through Jesus the Son, we may name God familiarly as Abba. This was Jesus’ own personal address to God. It was a child’s name for father in Aramaic and comes close to our “daddy.”
Fathers have had a lot of bad PR. Writing forty years ago, in his wonderful little book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires noted the trend that had already begun. He said,
… a father, as currently imaged, is no longer either authoritative or dignified. For the comic strips in the cheap Press have reduced the father to the stature of a genial and clumsy butt… He fills up the armchair, he has to be kept in a good humor; but he must not be taken too seriously.
He goes on to paint the popular picture of the father as a somewhat well-meaning bumbler who constantly gets himself into ridiculous problems, is manipulated by his wife and children, and generally makes a more or less loveable idiot of himself.
Of course, even apart from comic strips, American television has painted the same picture more graphically. Over the decades, we’ve watched and laughed at the characters of Fred Flintstone, Archie Bunker, Tim Taylor, Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Ray Romano, and the list goes on. We could probably name a dozen more of these “dad as dufus,” characters without really trying.
So when we come to the Biblical assertion that you and I as believers in Jesus Christ ought to call God “Father,” we find ourselves holding lots of silly and frankly negative baggage along with that name. Forget comic strips and television. I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that some of us have had bad experiences with our own real fathers, who may have been absent, abusive or just apathetic. For some, the emotional overtones of the term “Father” may touch a raw and sore place in our hearts.
Whatever the reasons, our concept of “father,” is often lacking or painful in many ways. Yet “Father” is one of most familiar names we use for God, perhaps the first name we were taught to call Him. We learn the Lord’s Prayer, saying “Our Father, who art in heaven…” In worship we sing to Father, Son and Holy Spirit every Sunday. Most of us don’t think twice about addressing God as Father. To us the idea of God as Father is so incredibly familiar, it’s almost boring.
Thus we have two problems with God the Father, then. On one hand, our images of what a father is are all messed up by popular culture and by our own life experiences. On the other hand, we take for granted that God is our Father. What more is there to say?
It might help us to remember that God’s people did not always see Him as a Father. Before the New Testament, before Christianity, the Hebrew people hardly ever thought of God in those terms. When they did, it was much more general. God was the Father of their nation, perhaps of their king. When Jewish people prayed, they called God things like, “Master of the Universe,” as many Jewish people still do. The community might occasionally name God as Father, but no one imagined addressing God individually and personally as “my Father.” It would have struck them as irreverent.
Before Jesus, and without Jesus, people find themselves before God in the situation Paul alludes to in the beginning of our text. God appears to us a daunting authority figure, a Master, a King, or even a kind of cosmic Dictator. We are like children, Paul says in Galatians 4:1 and 2, who have not been truly acknowledged as children.
Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield begins with David’s father dying before he is even born. After seven years, his mother remarries, to a man named Mr. Murdstone. It is clear from the outset that Murdstone regards little David as a problem in need of management. Whenever Clara shows tenderness or love to her son with a hug or a kiss, his stepfather moves up and pulls her away, whispering, “Firmness, my dear. That’s what he needs, firmness.” In the end, Murdstone gives David a horrible beating for failing in his studies and David bites him. He’s then sent off to boarding school.
That’s what Paul says in verse 1 it is like with God, when we don’t have our full rights, when God is merely our creator, a cosmic stepfather. Though we may be God’s children by creation, but we “are no different from slaves.”
It wouldn’t be so bad if our slavery were merely to God. We might at least count on Him being just and fair, better than Mr. Murdstone. But in verse 3, Paul says that our slavery is actually not to God, but to the “elemental spiritual forces of the world.” As children, on our own, we are slaves to our own passions and desires, and even to the evil spirits that swarm this world. Like David Copperfield, the best we can do is bite back, become mean and evil-spirited ourselves, to be slaves to sin.
God’s answer to our slavery, to our mean-spirited selfishness and sin, is to become our Father in a new and deeper. Not the kind of false, cruel, dictating fathering that Murdstone gives Copperfield. You and I might look around the world and into our own hearts and think that what we actually need is some “firmness.” We might suppose we do need a father-figure who will take charge and straighten things out.
Yet what we read in verse 4 is, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law.” Instead of handing down more law, placing more firmness upon you and me, God placed His own Son, His only natural Son, beneath His law. He laid His firm hand on His one true Child and sent Him to us so that we could see what it is like to truly be children of God.
When we meet Jesus in the Bible, we discover what it is to have God as Father. Jesus knew God as a child knows his father. We observed two weeks ago at Jesus’ baptism how Jesus heard His Father tell Him that He was loved. We read how Jesus trusted God to care for Him and protect Him from evil. Throughout the Gospels and particularly in going to the Cross, notice how Jesus always obeyed His Father and submitted Himself to His will. We find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36, praying to “Abba, Father,” calling God the Aramaic equivalent of “daddy.”
With Jesus Christ we have revealed to us the perfect relationship of child to father— intimate, personal, full of love. And the whole purpose of it, of Jesus life as God’s Son on earth, says Paul, is so that He could redeem us to be His children too. “So that we might receive adoption to sonship,” as it says in verse 5.
Almost the whole idea of calling God “Father” came into history in the person of Jesus Christ. The general public image of fatherhood was not much better in His time. There were mean and even evil fathers then. Herod the Great not only tried to murder the baby Jesus, he murdered his own sons so they would not plot against him to take the throne. And Roman fathers were in the habit of taking small or sickly babies and leaving them on a hillside to die, rather than have a weak child. The pagan god Zeus, as the father of several of the other gods, was a tyrannous buffoon, perhaps the archetype of Archie Bunker. The ancient world, like the modern world, had lousy models of fatherhood.
Jesus came into that sort of world to teach us that God wants to be our kind, gracious, perfect Father. He did so by exhibiting His own absolutely unique and wonderful personal relationship with God. He knew God so well, He called Him “Daddy.” He taught us to do the same. And He died and rose again for us, so that it would actually be possible for God to be our Father, for us to be His children.
If you’ve been a parent, you may have lived through that experiment which many a child will try. When she is tiny, you are “Daddy” or “Mommy.” That’s all she knows. But at some point she discovers that you, like they, have a name. So all of a sudden, your little tyke, or perhaps your rebellious adolescent who’s watched one too many episodes of the Simpsons, looks at you one day, and addresses you like your friends do, like your boss does, like neighbor across the street calling to you. Suddenly instead of Dad or Mom, you are Joe or Nancy. If you are like me, it was like a slap in the face. That cherished intimacy, that wonderful connection signified by those endearing names is snapped. Now suddenly your child wants to treat you like one his buddies. Something is lost.
When that happened at our house, my wife Beth handled it wonderfully. She sat a little girl down and explained to her that everyone else in the world can call her “Beth” or call me “Steve,” but that she, as our child, has a privilege that belongs only to her and to her sister. They are the only two people on earth who can call us “Daddy,” or “Mommy.” No else is allowed to use those names for us.
The truly astounding thing, then, about God’s fatherhood is that the love of God the Father was big enough to include new children. And the grace of Jesus Christ was unselfish enough that He was willing to share His privilege with us. And by sending the Holy Spirit into our hearts, as it says in verse 6, He speaks from inside us and calls God what Jesus calls God, “Abba, Father.” Daddy.
As the only begotten Son of God, Jesus came into the world to make us sons and daughters of God alongside Him. The plan that was executed in the fullness of time was for everyone to have the opportunity know God as Father as Jesus knows Him, for everyone to be able to call God “Daddy.”
We need to be clear about this. Paul is not saying, I am not saying, that God is right now everyone’s Father. Yes, God is first of all our creator, and in that sense the Father of every person on earth. But to know God as Father in the Christian sense, intimately and personally, belongs only to those who believe. To be adopted as children of God comes only through faith in His natural Son Jesus.
Being God’s children is a gift and privilege which is bestowed by Jesus Christ. It’s only through the true and perfect Son Jesus that you and I may become adopted sons and daughters of God. In John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s not a very popular verse among some people these days, but it’s true to what we are. Without Jesus, we are only stepchildren, hardly children at all, really only slaves to sin. But with Jesus, God is our Father. John 1:12 says about Jesus, “to as many as received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
The big question for each one of us is: “Have you accepted that right? Have you received Jesus Christ and believed in His name?” It’s the only way to be God’s child. My prayer is that each of you have taken or will take soon that step of faith. Open your heart, and welcome in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit who lets you call God Daddy. That is you can know all the love that the Father offers you.
There are other questions, however. Paul had a reason, here in our text, for reminding the Galatians that, in Jesus Christ, God is their Father and they are His children. He wanted them to act like God’s children.
On one side, the Galatians were behaving not as children, but as slaves. They had the notion they had to live by every last detail of the law. It’s as if they lived constantly in the fear their adoption would be revoked and they would be out of God’s family if they did not measure up. To those with such fears, Paul sent this wonderful reminder that they were children by the spirit of Jesus, not by their own efforts.
You and I fall into the Galatian trap when we are too hard on ourselves. We fall into anger, or neglect our devotions, or fail in commitment to service, and fear that we have lost our relationship with God. To all such worries, Paul says that Jesus’ Spirit within you calls out “Abba, Father,” and that you are always His own dear child. No failure can break that relationship, because it depends completely on Him, not on us.
So I wish to assure everyone here this morning that if you believe and trust in God’s Son Jesus, then you are God’s child. He is your Father, your kind, gracious, loving Father. By the selfless grace of His natural Son, your sins are forgiven and you are welcomed into the Father’s arms forever. Nothing, not even your own sin and rebellion, can remove you from that relationship. Rest easy. Trusting in Jesus Christ, you are God’s child.
On the other side, some of the Galatians were acting too much like children, in the sense that they were squabbling with one another, expecting each other to live up to impossible standards, and questioning each other’s faith and devotion. In chapter 5 verse 15 he warns them, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Paul wrote to remind the Galatians that they were not just children, but children of a heavenly Father who loved and cared for each of them equally. To be His children means to extend that same love and care to each other.
We began with the comics. Let’s end there. Some of you may read the strip called Stone Soup, written and drawn by a local artist. The most recent development in the story is that Joan and her husband are expecting a baby. As Joan takes a walk with her first child, a two-year old named Max, her sister Valerie inquires, “Have you talked to Max about the new baby?”
“Oh sure,” says Joan. “We pat the baby… talk to the baby… sing to the baby…”
“Do you think he gets it?” asks Valerie.
“In his own 2-year-old way,” Joan replies, as Max grabs her firmly by the arm and shouts, “MY Mama!!”
Being children of God, you and I are expected to grow up. As Paul writes in the letter which follows Galatians in the Bible, in Ephesians 4:15, “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Just as Jesus was completely unselfish with His own position as the one Son of God, you and I are to grow up into people who are unselfish about our own relationship to God as Father. We are to grow into a great, loving family of brothers and sisters who together experience God’s love for us.
If we believe God is our Father, then, let us watch out for those times when we start acting like two-year-olds, start imagining that only we are loved by God, or that there is someone God loves less than He loves us. God the Father sent His one dear and beloved Son into the world so that anyone who desires might be His son or daughter. May you and I, in everything we say and do with each other, reflect that great love. And may we join our Father, and His Son, and their Holy Spirit, in reaching out to any person who still does not know what it means to be His child. Our Father’s house is large enough for everyone.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj