By Stephen Campbell
“If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?” (Lk. 11:11 NKJV). So spoke the Lord Jesus as He told His disciples what God the Father is like. If even an imperfect father on earth knows how to give what is good to his children, will not their heavenly Father give precisely what is needed?
We might have been hesitant to call God our Father if the Scriptures had not done so. It is a protective, nurturing, intimate relationship. Naturally speaking, it is a relationship that all sons and daughters seek in their own families. Of course, in families there are sometimes difficulties which interrupt that relationship, whether through divorce, death or simply the failings of our earthly fathers. Yet God is not subject to those failings; and as we appreciate our relationship with Him as our Father we will find a sure foundation for our lives – not only spiritually, but physically and emotionally as well.
There are a few occasions in the Old Testament when God is called Father, especially in a national sense towards Israel. Moses asked the people, “Is He not your Father, who bought you?” (Dt. 32:6). “You, O LORD, are our Father; our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name,” Isaiah affirmed (Isa. 63:16; see Isaiah 64:8 and Malachi 2:10). However, it is really in the New Testament that God reveals the fullness of this relationship. We need the Lord Jesus Himself to open this relationship up to us because only He truly knows what it means to think of God as Father (Lk. 10:22). On the day of His resurrection, having dealt with our sins at Calvary, Jesus invited His own to remember that God is their Father (Jn. 20:17).
In this context it may be good to mention that there is a limited sense in which God is the Father of all humanity. In Athens, Paul used this truth to indicate the folly of worshiping idols. God made every human being “from one blood” and “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Therefore, Paul concluded, “we are the offspring of God” (Acts 17:26,28-29) – so it is not sensible to venerate [consider as holy] stone or metal objects we have designed ourselves. This reference to God as our Father in a general sense is an appeal to those with no knowledge of Him; but it does not imply that all mankind are now His children in a spiritual sense.
However, for believers in the Lord Jesus, the relationship with God as our Father is a marvelous blessing. There are several privileges connected with this relationship. One is that we come to know the Father’s care. The Lord spoke emphatically of this, reminding His followers that God took care of the ravens and the lilies – and did He not value the disciples even more? Therefore, He added, “do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink … [Your] Father knows that you need these things” (Lk. 12:29-30; also see Matthew 6:25-33).
By contrast, the nations of the world seek after these same things (Lk. 12:30); and here the word translated “seek after” has an added intensity. In our lives this means that we are surrounded by people who are fixated [preoccupied] on meeting their own needs. Thus, we may find it easy to develop the same obsession ourselves. For the believer, though, such anxiety is unfounded because our Father knows what we need! Not only that, but we can be sure His power is great enough to provide it. From Abraham to Paul, the Old and New Testaments overflow with examples of God’s ability to meet our physical needs.
As we appreciate the Father’s care we also learn to know His love. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” declared the apostle John (1 Jn. 3:1; see also John 16:27). Because of God’s saving love, He provided redemption for our sins through Christ. But more than that, because of His character as our Father, He desires not only to save us but also to make us His own children. On earth the sense of our father’s love may be lacking, and in extreme cases there may be abandonment or even hatred. But the Father’s love is unchanging.
One important result of enjoying the Father’s love is that it will preserve us from the love of the world. In the Scriptures the world is described as being specifically opposed to the Father. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). The world presents itself as a place that can satisfy our every desire: “Why wait for God if we can find pleasure without Him?” This is what happened to Demas, who “loved this present world” and ceased his service for the Lord (2 Tim. 4:10; compare with Philemon 24). By contrast, the assurance that our Father loves and cares for us will help us overcome the world’s attractions because we know we can trust Him rather than seek elsewhere for our needs.
If we forget our Father’s care and love we are not forsaken, for He employs still another aspect of our relationship: His correction. It is a poor father who neglects to consistently guide his children, as even the Lord’s people have discovered to their sorrow (consider David in 1 Kings 1:5-6). Children gain understanding and maturity from the correction of their fathers, imperfect as they may be; and therefore the Scriptures conclude, “Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb. 12:9). Discipline may not be pleasant, but it produces righteousness when we have learned from it, just as Paul learned to trust God’s grace after receiving a difficult “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Moreover, the Father’s discipline is a proof that we are indeed part of His family, reminding us again of our privilege to have a relationship with Him.
These three aspects of the Father’s relationship – His care, His love and His correction – suggest some additional lessons for us as well. When we remember that our Father knows our circumstances we can learn to depend on Him. Since He is aware of our needs and understands our weaknesses, He will surely provide what we require in a timely way.
We can also learn to be content. Because He is the Father of lights, who never turns aside or acts inconsistently with His character, He provides every good and perfect gift (Jas. 1:13-17). This means that anything He has not provided would not be good for us at the moment. Reminding ourselves that our Father knows, we can be thankful for precisely what He has given, whether little or much.
Further, we can learn to have the right perspective even in very difficult circumstances. For example, many of the Lord’s people around the world live in great poverty. When we are forced to do without the comforts of this world we can be tempted to meet our needs in illegal ways (Pr. 30:9) or accuse God of dealing harshly with us (Ruth 1:20-21). We might even feel that our disadvantages will prevent us from serving the Lord. But remembering that our Father knows our need will keep us on a straight path, for He has been a faithful provider for generations (Ps. 37:25). God showed Hagar a spring of water for her dying son; He multiplied flour and oil for desperate widows and He does not stop showing His kindness to those in need today (Gen. 21:15-20; 1 Ki. 17:11-16; 2 Ki. 4:1-7; Ruth 2:20). We tend to focus on what we don’t have (even if we are relatively well off), but God focuses on what we do have (2 Cor. 8:12). “What is in your hand?” asks the LORD (Ex. 4:2). That is what He will use.*
Among all the aspects of our relationship with God as our Father, one name has special meaning: the name Abba. It is an Aramaic word for father that implies a great deal of familiarity. Some have suggested it is like the English word “Papa.” On two occasions (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) Paul wrote that God’s Spirit in us allows us to enjoy exactly this relationship with God as we call to Him, “Abba, Father!” There is only one occasion when the Lord Himself used this term: in the garden of Gethsemane, in His deep agony as He anticipated the suffering of the Cross (Mk. 14:36). This helps us appreciate the deep intimacy of this name, which is precisely the reality of our relationship with God as our Father. In our darkest moments, in our deepest difficulties, we can turn to Him because He knows and He cares.
* This line of teaching encourages the poor, but it does not negate the related responsibility of those who have this world’s goods to share them with their brethren in need (1 Jn. 3:17).