Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sabbath Scnool Insights No. 7, Qtr 1-06

Special Insights No. 7

First Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Families in the Family of God”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The Royal Love Song”



This week’s lesson brings us to an all too brief study of the Song of Solomon, that beautiful description of the joys of married life, which Elder Wieland says he was ashamed to be seen reading when he was a teenager. It would appear that Satan has done a very thorough job of robbing humanity of a proper appreciation of the gift of sexuality. From the Hollywood screen to the magazine rack to the Internet, sexual perversion and abuse is flaunted, and that which should be holy and uplifting is made a demoralizing scandal. I have often thought that this is because the ability to procreate is a reflection of the image of God, which angels do not share, and it has become the special target of the enemy in his campaign to obliterate the image of God in man. In stealing this profound symbol he seeks to rob us of a proper appreciation of the foundation of the gospel (God’s agape love) and make marriage inconceivable as a symbol of the relationship between God and mankind.


Monday’s lesson introduces the thought of the friendship between Solomon and Shulamith. It was God’s intention that the relationship between husband and wife should include all levels and aspects of love. First, a husband and wife should be friends. Considering the many ways in which they are so different, and the powerful ways in which these differences can be a distraction, friendship between male and female is an intriguing thought. Yet these differences become so minor and insignificant in comparison with the differences between God and man, that the concept of friendship with God is for most people beyond their wildest imagination. Yet this is what God desires.


In his book, The Lost Secret of the Covenant, Malcolm Smith describes the experience of a discouraged missionary who felt that God had let him down. He had won no converts in the many months that he had spent in the mission field. The meager offerings of the few believers in the region were far too small to support his family. He had spent his life’s savings and had concluded that his only option was to give up mission work and return to his former work as a businessman. But before leaving he decided that he must tell God what he thought of all that had transpired.


In a little hut isolated from his family he spent most of the morning pouring out his heart to God. When finally he was still and quiet, he “heard” the Lord “speak” to him very clearly. He said “Above all, I desire your friendship. If serving Me interrupts and disrupts our friendship, I would rather you go back to your business and continue to be My friend. Your friendship is more important to Me than all your acts of service.” The missionary dissolved into tears. He had never conceived of the thought that God desired a friendship with mankind. The idea revolutionized his entire concept of Christianity. After that encounter with God, he remained in the mission field and won many converts to Christ.


Amazing as the thought may have been to that missionary, it is the truth revealed in the Song of Solomon. “The wife declares, ‘This is my friend’” (5:16). Yet this beautiful poem is more than a description of a romantic human relationship. It is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church. The apostle Paul makes this clear in Ephesians chapter five. After describing the relationship between husband and wife he concludes: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (vs. 32). If the marital relationship is a picture of what God wants in his relationship with the church, then God wants to be our friend.


This thought is reinforced in many passages of the Bible. Jesus is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Toward the end of His earthly mission, Jesus said “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). To be counted a faithful servant of God is an honor. But to be counted a “friend” of God is indeed astonishing! Yet the friendship aspect of marriage should also be a dimension of our relationship with Christ.


Marital love includes friendship, and as astonishing as the thought of friendship with God may be, marriage includes much more than this. It includes an intimate union of mind and soul and body, which human language is inadequate to describe. This aspect of marriage is also symbolic of the relationship which God desires to have with his church.


In his sermon entitled, The Freedom of True Love, Dr. Timothy Keller summarizes the Bible: In the first two chapters of Genesis you have a wedding. In the last two chapters of Revelation you have a wedding. If a book begins with a wedding and ends with a wedding it must be a love story. And the whole of the Bible can be summed up as follows; the Lord says “I loved you. And I lost you. And I am going to move heaven and earth to get you back.”


This summary is so succinct, so intriguing, so uncommon, but I thinks it is quite accurate. The Bible is a love story. It is the story of God’s amazing love for His bride. The “foolish” decision of Adam to die with his wife rather than live without her is a profound reflection of the decision of Christ to die for his bride rather than live without her. The story of Hosea pursuing his wayward wife is symbolic of God pursuing His wayward wife. The preparation of every woman for her wedding is to remind us that some day it will finally be declared that “the bride hath made herself ready” (Rev. 3:19).


Time does not allow us to explore the unspeakable heart rending agony involved in the symbols which have been chosen to represent the details of the poignant drama. Over and over God’s plea through the prophets is not merely, You are committing sins or you are breaking the law or you are rebelling against Me. No. The Divine Lover chooses to use language which speaks of inexpressible hurt and grief. He says, over and over, “you are committing adultery” (see for example Jer. 3:6, Judges 8:27, 1 Chron. 5:25, Eze. 6:16, Hosea 9:1). Yet the Song of Solomon says, “love is as strong as death” (8:6). This is a wonderful description of God’s agape.


The marriage vow, in which to people pledge to love one another “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” is only a faint reflection of God’s love. His unilateral, unconditional, inextinguishable love which was fully revealed at the cross is the very heart of the 1888 message. It is the basis of the gospel, therefore essential to a proper understanding of the gospel. It is the “seal” which must be upon the “hearts” of God’s people before He can return to claim them as His bride.


May we come to appreciate that love in all of its dimensions for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Mark Duncan


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