The redemptive names of God, Jehovah-Jireh, Jehovah-Nissi and Jehovah-Shammah to name a few, are compound names that tell us something about Yahweh who is God. Many a sermon has been preached and many a book written discussing the meaning of these names; Jehovah-jireh the Lord who provides; Jehovah-Shalom the Lord who is peace, etc. Jehovah is translated ‘The Lord’ and the words added to make a compound name, describe something about what he does. From this we can get an idea of ‘who’ God is based on learning about ‘what’ he does.
But these names, revealed over time to the Israelites, only reveal something about God; they do not reveal anything about the nature of relationship between God and man. Just like saying that a man, John, is a cook. John-the –Cook says that he cooks and if he works in a restaurant you could expect to get a meal. But this does not really say much about him relationally etc.
Living Way, as a community, or more specifically a family of faith, came about nearly 20 years ago when a number of young mostly single men and women sought to follow Lesley and I. Discipleship ensued and the relationship became a modern version similar to Paul discipling Timothy and Titus. I became to them a spiritual father and at some point they began to call Lesley and I, “dad and mum”.
As numbers were added to our ‘family’, though not required or expected, others began to call us dad and mum.
What is interesting though is how some would vacillate between calling me dad or Michael. When they were in a good place in God and in good relationship with me they called me dad, but when they were in a place of hard-heartedness and in a non-relational frame of mind, they would revert to calling me, Michael.
So what does this mean? A name is more than a noun, more than a simple identifier; names speak about and identify relationships.
Sir is a polite or respectful way of addressing a man often in a position of authority. This address says something about the relationship between the user and the recipient, as does Mister. Doctor and professor are titles that refer to a persons achievements and/or a position that requires respect.
Calling someone by their first name often signifies a peer relationship; nicknames can indicate a more intimate relationship while derogatory names suggest personal disrespect.
All of these titles or forms of address, while being identifiers, also indicate the nature of one’s relationship to that person.
Whereas Lesley is my wife’s name, the noun people use to identify my wife in a conversation with others or to address her as a peer, if I called her by that name I’m going to be in trouble. Just as when she calls me ‘Michael’ I know I’m in trouble – which for me, experientially proves my thesis that names are more than identifiers, more than labels on a garment, but expressions of relationship.
The Name that is Above All Names
Philippians 2:9 (ESV) Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
The name given to Jesus, as a result of His obedience “even unto death”, was given in conjunction with His being “highly exalted”, and therefore receiving a name that reflects His exaltedness. So, while the name given signifies Jesus’ exaltedness, those who use it proclaim His exaltedness in relationship to themselves. To call or assert that Jesus is ‘Christ and Lord’ reveals the nature of relationship with Him. As the Philippians passage points out, whether voluntarily or by compulsion, everyone will be obliged to declare their relationship with Him – that He is Lord and we are subject to His Lordship:
Philippians 2:10–11 (ESV) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It is not enough to use divine titles and names as mere identifiers/nouns; they are expressions of relationship between the creator and the created. They reveal to all the nature of that relationship and insist that the relationship be upheld in life.
The Names of God is Father
One day Lesley tried to explain to our grandson that papa’s name was also Michael. He just scoffed, laughed and said, “No, his name is papa”. He had gone for a walk with his parents and sister so I planned to meet them. From a distance Michael saw me and said, “look daddy, a man”. But as I got closer he cried out, “no! It’s not a man, it’s my papa!” To our grandchildren I will always be papa and regardless of what I do papa is papa. Papa is not a title it is a person the children have a relationship with.
Matthew 6:9 (ESV) Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
This brings me to the point of this matter, the names of God speak about what he can do, they speak about His character and personality. The Old Testament events reveal The God who created the heavens and the earth, they speak of His involvement with humanity – specifically through a particular people group – and of His activities as He engages in the history of men according to His own will and purpose. But now, through His self-revelation in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have been given another name by which to approach God, His son has given us ‘Our Heavenly Father’ (Matt 6:9).
Calling God Father signifies both His authority and His intimacy with us. It declares that if God is our father then we are His children, sons and daughters. If He is Jehovah Jireh or Jehovah Shalom, then He is that to His children.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not Father by title, He is Father in deed, meaning Father in relationship. (A father is only father in relationship to his children. Without this relationship the name is meaningless.) As is clear in Scripture, through the intimacy of relationship He enables us – or better still, en-titles us – to call Him Abba Father:
Galatians 4:6 (ESV) And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Since we are ‘sons’ we are obligated through the intimacy of relationship given to us to press into the reality of sonship. That is not, as so many have professed, a relationship about living in and on His estate and receiving His provision – a sort of Kingdom now theology. It is pressing on to know Him (Hos 6:3; 6:6; Jn 17:3) The King in whose Kingdom we have entered through the blood of the Lamb. (Eph 2:13; Heb 10:19, 1Pt 1:2)
The point of the parable of the prodigal son is very important to grasp here. One son knew the inheritance of the estate and demanded it, the other knew the labour of the estate and served it. But neither one knew the Father of the estate. The point of the parable is to show us who the Father is in relation to His sons.
There is much preaching today about the ‘inheritance’ of the possession and power of the estate or Kingdom of God: It belongs to you take it. The nature of the Kingdom is power and possessions and position as ‘king’s kids’ it is yours to be taken. This is the heart of the prodigal before he realised how foolish his thinking and his heart were.
There is a reaction to this misguided teaching but often the reaction is the opposite side of the same coin. It is the foolish heart of the older brother. This reactionary teaching refers to the Kingdom in terms of authority and obedience through service in religious organisations that are called ‘church’: Obedience to headship and service in the building and to the congregation, this is the nature of the Kingdom.
Both these views do not reveal the Father but His possessions and His power or position. The prodigal learnt that the father was not just a source of inheritance but a loving, merciful and faithful father whose love endures. He did not come back to privilege, wealth and power but to his Father. The older brother never unfortunately got this. Rather than seeing the Father’s heart he only saw obedience, headship and service. He grumbled because the Father he saw in relationship with the prodigal, was not the father he thought he knew and served.
The name of God given to us by Jesus is Father and we become sons. The provision of The Father and service in His Estate is taken for granted. By that I mean that it is a given that we will serve in His house as faithful sons and He will provide for us as a faithful and caring Father. What is the point is that we ought to press into the meaning of relationship of Father and son as it is expressed in the relationship of God and Jesus: Father and Son. To know the intimate pleasure of His divine presence as Abba Father, whose boundless love and grace is an ever-present reality is the true meaning of sonship.
The intimacy of The Father’s presence, and the intense delight of participating in life in His presence, is revealed in the anguish of Christ as He sweat drops of blood in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:42-44). This ‘cup’ that he wanted to avoid, the unimaginable agony He was to partake of, could only have been the experience of the absence of the presence of His Father. The greatest price He would pay for sin is a price we fail to understand. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were cut off from the presence of God (cf Gen 3:24 with Jn 17:3; cf Gen 2:17 with Rom6:11 and Eph 2:1,5). We, who know the presence of sin and not the presence of God were redeemed by Him who knew no sin but only knew the presence of God (Jn 1:1-4; 2Cor 5:21).
This intimacy of relationship is made clear in the cry of dereliction: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”. Salvation is not heaven, or power, or possessions, or position, or pleasure, it is presence – the presence of the living God who loved and sent His son to die so that we may be reconciled to Himself. His pleasure is to be our Heavenly Father, which means His pleasure is that we would be His sons and daughters and live in His presence.
God as, Heavenly Father, also sheds light on the nature of our relationship with Jesus. The one whose name is above every name; the one who ‘must reign until all things are put under His feet’ (1 Cor 15:21; Ps 110:1; Is 9:7; Rev 11:15); the one who is ‘seated in the heavenly realms’ (Eph 1:21,22); is also our brother. Our relationship with Him is as intimate as a brother. He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11).
If The God and Father of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ calls us sons and daughters, if the Son of God, the eternal Word made flesh, sent from the Father to redeem us, calls us brothers and sisters, then we who are called by His name are joint heirs together with Him and with each other. So the name of God and Father and Jesus as our brother signifies that we are related together as brothers and sisters in intimate relationship together with Him and thus with each other.
BAM: It all about relationship; fellowship; unity; intimacy; oneness together with God in Christ Jesus through the power of His Holy Spirit.
What to do: pray together, worship together, seek the knowledge of The Father and the Son together and enjoy the bliss of divine fellowship together.
Psalm 133:1–3 (ESV)
1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,