How can we be radical without being harsh? A high calling requires a deep love.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Jesus was speaking to his disciples here. They would have heard his words as a betrothal because that was how couples would get engaged: after agreeing to marry, the groom would return to his father’s house to “prepare a place” for both of them. He would promise to return, just as Jesus promised to return (see also Matthew 25:10-13, Luke 12: 40).
God had spoken of marrying His people in the Old Testament but the last thing they’d heard was a severe warning, and that was roughly 400 years previous. So this was very significant: through these words God was saying “I still love you, the marriage is still on”.
The church is a bride, and, by implication, a mother. The Hebrew word for ‘faith’ has at its root the word for ‘mother’. The church is a place where things are born, as we are born by the Spirit into the church (John 3:5-8, 1 Corinthians 12:13). The word for ‘womb’ and the word for ‘mercy’ are also almost the same. The church is a womb where the mercy of God works. Mercy needs to work through the church’s members every day. We need mercy not just to get in, but to get on!
God spoke of Himself as a husband (Isaiah 54:5, Hosea 2:16). Jesus is telling His disciples that he’s their bridegroom and that they are part of the bride. As the Holy Spirit inspired their minds they would have remembered scriptures like these and wondered “is Jesus the creator and the Almighty?”
You are my friends if you do what I command
The bridegroom and bride had a loving relationship, and the wife loved the husband and submitted to him as part of that love. Just as godly husbands lay their lives down for their wives, Jesus laid down his life for his church.
This is obedience in the context of love. If obedience doesn’t spring from love, it’s a dark thing – like hard labour, and not the highest or best reason to be obeying God. He wants a relationship of love. We need a desire, fire, love and gratitude for God. It’s not our hard labour or heavy burdens that bring joy to God’s heart but our joyful sacrifices for Him, for values and principles that we love. This is love and obedience working together.
How can we be radical without being harsh or skewed? By love. You’ll let those you love deeply ask the world of you, and because of who they are to you it wouldn’t seem so much. It wouoldn’t seem heavy. Harshness rarely helps us change, whereas the tenderness of God leads us into life-giving obedience (Romans 2:4).