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FIRST-PERSON: A portrait of God’s love

EULESS, Texas (BP)–We talk, sing and write more about love than perhaps any other single topic in human history. Love is an enigma to many and a bitter word (at best) to others. And when we as Christians talk about “God’s love,” perhaps we tend to place his divine love in the same categories of thought that we class human love. What does God’s love look like? Jesus paints a portrait of God’s love in Luke 15:11-32. This portrait will help us understand what God’s love is really like, and how it affects both our lives individually and the lives of our families.

In Luke 15, Jesus teaches the parable of the prodigal son. The story reads as follows: the youngest son, eager to experience the world, asks his father for his portion of the inheritance that is due him. The father gives the youngest son his portion, and the son goes off to a far country. He spends wildly and lives even more wildly. When a famine hits the land in which he is staying, the son hits rock bottom. He loses his fortune and the only work he finds is that of a pig-keeper.

While feeding the swine, the son experiences an epiphany, and he “comes to his senses.” He realizes that his father takes better care of his servants than the state in which he finds himself. The son decides to go back home, ask his father’s forgiveness, and request that his father hire him on as a servant. From afar, the father sees his son and runs to meet him. After an emotional reunion, the father forgives all and restores both his son’s position in the family and his dignity. The father then throws a party for the son “who was dead and is now alive.”

While the party is going on, however, we catch a glimpse of the oldest son who is coming in from the fields. The oldest son, who has stayed at home and dutifully fulfilled his responsibilities to his family, catches a servant heading to the party. He asks the servant, “What is going on?” The servant replies, “Your brother is back home! Your father threw a party for his return from the depths of disaster!” The oldest son is incensed. After all, his father never threw a party for him! He has served faithfully all his life, and his father never gave him a little goat, much less the prize fatted calf, to feast on with his friends! He determined that he would not attend the party.

The father hears that his oldest son will not attend, and he meets the elder son, pleading and begging him to attend the celebration. The father looks and the elder son and replies to him, “Child, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It’s right that we should be glad and celebrate, because your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

The parable depicts humanity as the children and God as the father. From this portrait, we see three aspects of God’s divine love:

1) God’s love is limitless. No matter if we rebel against God in our actions or rebel against him in our hearts, God looks for our decision to return to him.

2) God’s love forgives. As we return to him, God, in his love, completely forgives us. His forgiveness not only removes our guilt but it also restores our dignity.

3) God’s love celebrates. The Lord is happy and wants to celebrate journey toward him. If the father in the parable is a portrait of God’s love, then we see that God celebrates with us in steps of repentance, obedience and faith. These three dimensions paint a portrait of God’s love: limitless, forgiving and celebratory.

When we learn to embrace the limitless, forgiving and celebratory love of God, he will begin to change our hearts and our lives. God’s love will penetrate our families as we begin to model our love after his. As we live lives of repentance, obedience and faith, God will celebrate over us. Divine love does not have to be an enigma. We can experience it today. Embrace the portrait of God’s love that Jesus paints in the parable of the prodigal son. As we do, our families will discover great love that lasts.
For more of Claude Thomas’ resources on worship, visit Lifepoints, at www.firstonthe.net .

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  • Claude Thomas