God Seeks Our Partnership With Him
This article arises out of the Sunday Bible readings for March 13, that’s following the inter-denominational Revised Common Lectionary. The readings tell a developing story, a message for us and how we live our lives with the help of His Spirit and the detail of where this message comes from is found in The Living Word Bible Study for March 13 which offers verse by verse commentary and reflections showing how they fit together.
• Watch this week’s video (9 min) Partnership is God’s Desire based on this article
This is about God, our Father, and His desire to make partners out of us — where He works with us and we with Him. The Bible calls it covenant. And it’s a close and trusting relationship on both sides. We start in Psalm 27 which speaks of devotion to God and the confidence that arises from that sense of belonging:
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.
3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.
5 For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
Abram – later renamed Abraham – is the father of the Jewish nation and the person God chose to established His covenant with. This was a partnership between God and man and in many ways the pattern of God’s way of working with His people. Abraham was clearly a spiritual person, aware of God from his early life when God Took him on a journey, first from the city of Ur in present-day Iraq via Harran in southern Turkey and then a long way south to Canaan. Our story starts with God meeting him there. It was an extraordinary encounter – a vision, two astounding and hard-to-believe promises of land and of descendants, and an unforgettable solemn night-time covenant ceremony.
1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ”
2-3 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4-5 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring Me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10-11 Abram brought all these to Him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
17-18 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Abraham believed God, extraordinary though the promises were, and God counted Abraham righteous in his site because of the face he have expressed. In this he becomes a father, not just of the Jewish nation, but of everyone who becomes a believer in God and in God’s Son Jesus — a precedent often referred to in the New Testament.
For Jesus – who was God although also fully human in His incarnation – this became about believing who He was and why He had come. The Jews of his time knew that the Messiah was anticipated, but struggled with this ‘ordinary’ Galilean artisan being that person, despite the miraculous signs Jesus performed, not just healing and deliverance but mastery over the elements which could only be explained by His divine authority.
Now, in the story, He is preparing to go to Jerusalem for the last time and He is warned of the danger of this. But in a passionate statement He sets out the sense of call that He has to go there despite the reception He knows He will receive. His mission must be fulfilled there. His death ± and the death of the temple and its worship — would dramatically end His involvement with the people who knew Him, but it would also be the start of a whole new ministry and way of being present.
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32-33 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
35 “Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord'”
This is referring to the way that Israel, having abandoned the covenant, got itself into terrible difficulties with people taken into captivity and exile. Restored after resettlement, Jerusalem is once again the centre of worship for the nation, with ab hierarchy controlling its proud tradition but now under Roman occupation. Jesus foretells the destruction which is to come, and with a well-known quotation from Psalm 118 gives a broad hint of how He will become known and present with future generations through their Spirit-led worship.
And so our story moves on to the time of the early church and Paul writing to believers in the Greek city of Philippi who are those kind of worshippers Jesus alluded to, seeking to live their lives by the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit. This is the true partnership. But all is not well in that city. The problem there, as in all of the churches that Paul and his team planted, was self-appointed teachers who liked the status, but lacked the spirituality, and were leading people astray by teaching what they had not experienced themselves. How would Paul’s readers know who to follow? They were to exercise spiritual discernment as to who was Christ-like, as the apostles clearly were, and who were merely self-seeking.
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.
18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the Cross of Christ.
19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.
20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Paul explains it this way: “Keep your eyes on those who live as we do” and work out who are the ones who have a citizenship which belongs to heaven. Who are the people who are clearly waiting for Jesus’ return, and exercising an active partnership to please Him? Rather than being concerned with their own status and position. The same question and the same discernment applies in what is sometimes a confused and uncertain spirituality in today’s church.
This gives us a series of pictures showing us what partnership with God looks like.It starts with Abraham and the way he believed and trusted God for what looked impossible. It gives us the example of Jesus who knew what He would face in Jerusalem but went ahead with it anyway because this was His mission and the high point of His partnership with His father. And finally we have Paul urging his readers to work out who are the ones that have a genuine Cross-centred Christ-like spirituality, who are able to equip them for their own partnership with God.
And that’s where we all are — with our own sense of call by God, our new life which starts with receiving Jesus into our hearts for eternal life, discovering our gifts and how God wishes to deploy us. And looking back to that great patriarch, Abraham, who didn’t concern himself with religious niceties but kept it all simple — taking God at His word and being counted as right with God as a result of his trust.