Dr. Daniel Paavola—Professor of Theology

Concordia University Wisconsin

Mequon, Wisconsin

June, 2013

OPENING: It’s a staple of advertising: You can have the very same thing, the same experience, the same joy that you see others have. If you just buy this product, you’ll be just like them. Who wouldn’t want to be that happy, that fit, that successful? So, go ahead, hand over the plastic and it’s waiting for you.


Of course, while we have all bought into this, there’s a big caution. Even if I follow the same diet plan as the celebrity who is endorsing it, I’m not sure I’ll ever look like Marie Osmond or Dan Marino. And even if I take that vacation to that paradise resort, I might not be quite as overjoyed as the people in the commercial. It might be out there, and someone might even have it, but I doubt that it will come to me.


That’s what makes the promises of the Gospel so remarkable. The offer of God is that the loving relationship that we see others have is also offered to us. We don’t have to merely watch from a distance or settle for a second best, hand-me-down version. The whole, complete love of God comes to us. We will look at three distinct relationships that express this love, as God calls us friends, adopted children, and his bride.


To start however, discuss what offers in advertising you know best that make the promise: You can be just like me.


When have you bought into one of those ads? How did it turn out?




Jesus is speaking of the first of our three relationships, friendship. He sets our friendship in comparison with two other relationships, being the son in the family and servanthood. We are like his tie with the Father and we are far from merely servants, kept for the work we might do.


Start with being friends. One challenge of friendship is understanding which friend we are to someone else. Are we the work friend, handy for lunch, but it all ends at 5:00 p.m.? Are we the old friend, useful to reminisce with, but let’s leave it in the past, not the present or future? Are we the sport friend, the tennis partner, the golf on Thursday morning, the “let’s go for a bike ride, it’s such a nice day” friend?


What are the categories of friendship that you have filled?


How difficult is it to grow out of our specific category?


Wouldn’t it be easy for Jesus to categorize us into a specific niche of friendship? He has made us all distinct in our talents and so we could be slotted into types of friendship. We could be “friends” in a broad way only. We are really servants. After all, look at vv. 10-14 and all that they say about keeping his commands. It might be that he wants us just for the work that we do. And what could we say to that since we are his creation? We have no defense or reason to expect more. We could be the “friends” invited only to bring the salad, serve it, and then stay to clean up when everyone has left.


But that’s not the model of relationship that he uses in our context. Notice again v. 9. The Father’s love is the love in this relationship. God the Father certainly doesn’t see his Son as a merely useful tool. He loves his Son in the deepest way through his unique relationship as the only-begotten Son of God from eternity. It is this love which he offers us and in this love he calls us, not as servants, but as friends, v. 15.


Imagine what this means in terms of which friend we are. We are not the friend on the fringe, the last one invited, the one with the least to offer, the one who doesn’t fit everyone else’s plans. We’re not left on the outside. He loves us with the very love the Father has for him. It is the genuine article which has the same closeness and welcome as given to everyone.


We can’t do this ourselves, with our friendships of varying experience and welcome. But God has called us each from eternity and known us, as Psalm 139 says, before we had lived one day. We were created by grace to be his and by grace he sees us as friends.


How does this relationship as called friends, equal to all other believers, appeal to you in a world full of friendships based on differences and distinctions?


How does this call to be friends and not merely handy servants prepare us to willingly do what he commands, to bear fruit, v. 16?


APPLY: You are his friend, without divisions or limits. You need never envy the relationship, the closeness, the readiness to talk, that someone has with God as he has already called you to that same nearness. He lives within us through baptism and continues to speak to us through his


word. We are invited to be as Moses was when he went into the Tent of Meeting. “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” Exodus 33:11. We don’t need a special place nor will we see God face to face as Moses did, but the closeness of God hasn’t grown cold.


Consider also the other heroes of the faith whose relationship with God you admire. Is there anything stopping you from having a measure, at least, of the patience of Noah as he built the ark with God each day for decades? Is there a ruling that says the courage of David facing Goliath has been restricted only to David and can never be shared with you? Is the calm listening to Jesus by Mary only for her, or isn’t there a place beside her for all of us Martha’s? He has called us friends, not of a lesser sort, but as the genuine friends we all desire to be.


Whose biblical relationship with God have you long admired? What measure of that relationship and the characteristics that come with it are waiting for you?


What steps of prayer, trust, patience, and action are likely needed for you to deepen your relationship with Jesus who remarkably calls you “friend?”






OPENING: Remember going to your best friend’s house for supper when you were little? It was great! Your friend’s Mom was so nice, the food was like nothing you had at home, and they had the best TV or games. Everyone listened to you and even thought your jokes were funny. It was so good, you seriously wished you could be a part of this family.


But you weren’t. You stayed as long as you could, dragged your feet getting your stuff together, waited to call home for a ride, and ignored the car that pulled up to the driveway. But, you weren’t going to get to stay. Only the family stays.


That’s the second relationship that our series this summer is looking at. We want to be a part of the family. In our first study, we heard Jesus’ invitation and command that called us friends. Friends are wonderful, but now we want a deeper relationship. We want to stay, as only the family gets to stay.


To start, discuss those childhood memories, or the memories of your own children bringing over the friends who never wanted to leave:


Who had the best house to visit? What made it so good—the food, the games, the way they laughed with each other, the way they listened to you?


What did you do to try to stay in that house as long as you could?




Paul gives us the best news possible in the opening of this text. He broadly promises us that God has blessed with every spiritual blessing, v. 3. That’s wonderful news, but it’s a bit like seeing beautifully wrapped packages under the Christmas tree and even seeing your name on the tag. You’ve got gifts, but what exactly are they? So Paul continues to tell us that these were God’s deliberate choice and no accident, v. 4, and that he has planned this blessing from before


foundation of the world. It’s as though at Christmas, before you opened your gifts, Dad said, “When I say this last March, I knew it was for you. I had been looking for it since last Christmas and finally I found it. It’s been hidden upstairs all this time.” Wow, this is going to be a good gift!


But still, what is it? The gift centers on one thing: You are adopted as his child, v. 5. You are part of the family, a genuine child of His. He has deliberately chosen you as his child. Think of the two aspects of this idea and these verses, 4 and 5.


What is remarkable about his choice of you as his adopted child so that you are not a necessity, not an accident, but a deliberate choice to be welcomed into his family?


What is distinct about being his adopted child, even closer in relationship in some ways than being his friend?


If you are his child, not merely a visiting friend, how long can you stay with him?


What an astonishing privilege this is! We had that family that welcomed us and treated us as part of the family. But we weren’t really part of the family. When they celebrated Christmas, we weren’t there. When they went off to vacation in Yellowstone, we stayed behind. When they went through the family pictures, we weren’t in them. We tried our best to be helpful, did dishes and tried never to spill anything, just to stretch our time.


How different as the adopted children of God. As his children, we are not on a trial run, testing us out for a weekend, ready to ship us back if we don’t measure up. We know that we haven’t measured up, and yet he has chosen us to be his children. His choice isn’t temporary or on trial. He has taken us as his own and will not reconsider. What amazing security!


But won’t someone mind? It’s all fine if we’re the only children, but what if there are children already in the family before us? Adopting us might cause problems. In any other household it might, but not here. Read also Ephesians 1:7-14 and see the actions of the Son and the Holy Spirit in securing us this place.


The Son has not only allowed us to become adopted children, but he has paid the extraordinary price of this adoption. Adoptions aren’t cheap and this one cost the blood and death of the only Son. He made room for us in the family by taking the worst space imaginable, the wooden cross and the borrowed tomb. He covered our inevitable sins, more than a bit of spilled milk, with the cleansing blood which the Father saw as so dear, it equaled all that we might ever owe.


And then the Spirit dwells in us as the reassuring presence, the guarantee of our inheritance and the seal of our relationship. When we wake up to this new state, the adopted children of God, he comes with the calm assurance that we are in fact those children.


Read 1 John 3:1-2 for the reassurance that we are in fact the children of God. Notice that John knows that this remarkable truth has objections. In v. 1, he points out that those who don’t see us as the Father’s children don’t know the Father himself. How can they fail to see the resemblance, when they don’t know what He looks like? In v. 2, John also knows that right now we aren’t complete, perfect reflections of our Father. But we are now only children, almost infants. What infant perfectly resembles his Father or shows all that he will become? So in the resurrection when we see Him, then we’ll be mature and will show the full relationship. We are the adopted children but this is only the beginning of all that he will do with us.


APPLY: Now that we are the children of God, by his choice and payment, our wishes have come true. We don’t have to leave and we don’t have to envy someone else’s relationship with him. Consider what this relationship and security can mean for you.


If we are part of the family, we not only get to stay, go on the vacations and celebrate holidays, we also get to do dishes and chores. That’s being part of the family. But remember, we are the amazing adopted children. So how is it to do the chores of this family, now that you are a true child of the Father? Remember, you’re not trying to impress Him so that you can stay just a little longer. Now you are part of the family.


These are our chores, simply put, to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. How are these a happy sign that you really are a true child of his family?






OPENING: Remember the happiest wedding that you’ve seen. I recall especially a hot August Saturday afternoon in a small white-framed church, no air conditioning, every pew full. It was a simple service, no elaborate music, flowers, or dresses. But it was wonderful because the bride and groom were so happy. They were clearly overjoyed to be with their families and friends and they couldn’t wait to be married. The look they shared as she walked down the aisle was the picture of a great wedding leading to a wonderful marriage. I’m happy to say that they are still married ten plus years later, and, thanks to Facebook, they look as happy as ever.


Remember your part in that best wedding. Were you in the pew watching? Perhaps you were a bridesmaid or even maid-of-honor. You were the soloist ready for your two songs. All those are good roles and they all have their moment. But only the bride and groom are truly having a wedding. They begin a marriage while we fill an afternoon and evening.


If you want more than that, our third study is the right place. We’ve looked at the first two relationships of friends and adopted children. They are astonishing privileges in themselves that put us closers to God than we would ever expect. But one more step is waiting. We want to move from friend of the Groom to being the Bride.


To start, discuss those memories of the best weddings you’ve seen:


What was the most memorable moment or image of that wedding?


What did either the bride or groom do to set that wedding apart?


Please, if possible, reassure everyone that the couple is still together and doing well, given the great beginning of their wedding.




How does the Bride look? That is often the first question someone asks if they didn’t get to the wedding. I have failed this question so many times that I pay attention now and through coaching at home and actually seeing Say Yes to the Dress, I can give an answer a bit deeper than, “She looked nice.”


We’re the Bride, so this is a question that’s crucial. Notice that our appearance is determined not by our doing, our past, or our promises. It is dependent on his presenting us to himself. He presents us to himself as radiant without stain or wrinkle, spot or blemish, but holy in his sight. It is his presentation and his eye that makes us perfect. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this Groom sees us as Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”


What makes us so perfect in his sight? Again, it’s not our own doing but rather it’s our wearing of his own gifts. Imagine a Groom who provides the perfect wedding dress for the Bride, out of his own expense, and he even knows the right size and style? No ordinary groom would ever be able to do this, but we have a Groom who knows us completely and provides through his own experience the clothing that is perfect for us. Galatians 3: 27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” When we come before the Father, he sees us as perfect because he sees his Son. When we come before the Son, we are more than bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, the two becoming one. We have put on all of him.


That is why Paul calls this union a great mystery, Eph. 5:32. We are joined with his best gifts, his experiences of death and resurrection. In the wedding vows, we promise that nothing will separate us, neither sickness nor poverty, nothing until death. But this Groom holds onto us through the sickness of crucifixion and even through death. Death doesn’t part us. Death welds us to him. Romans 6:3-4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”


He clothes us with what he lived and taught, and by his death and rising from the dead. He wraps us in his words and his power, with the words that welcomed sinners for they knew he would not condemn but would give new life. He sweeps around us the power by which he calmed the storm and the assurance that in his hand, what seems little becomes more than enough. We’re in a new relationship, being the Bride that has put on all that the Groom has already done.


You’ve been the bridesmaid, the cake-cutter, and the friend in the pew often enough. How is the relationship as the Bride a welcome surprise and a relationship that is deeper than being the good friend or the loved sister?


Since we’re perfect in his sight because we are seen wearing all that he has done, what does that do to our worries over, “How do I look today?” and our promises that though today was a spiritual bad-hair day, tomorrow will be much better?


You’re at the wedding, your wedding, every day. How does that change how your setting looks? How are you, at home, at work, wherever, at the edge of this Wedding?


(By the way, I’m writing this on a perfect June morning, 70 degrees, clear, blue sky with a north-west breeze. I rode my motorcycle deep into Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest and parked off a gravel road hardly anyone uses. I’m sitting in a little clearing that would make the perfect setting for an outdoor all-natural wedding. Birds are singing and the wind is rustling through the pine trees behind me. It’s not exactly Eden, but it’s pretty close. It’s a good place to think of that first wedding and the wedding that will never end.)


APPLY: One of my favorite wedding pictures from our wedding is of Holly and me walking down the aisle at the end of the ceremony. We are happy! Our smiles shout relief and excitement. We had no idea of all that would come in these 34 years since that day, and we don’t know all that is still going to come. But we were married and walking out together.


We are the Bride of Christ, and we don’t know all that is going to come but we’re on the way:


How do you get to continue to wear the perfect wedding clothes of Eph. 5 every day?


What does the Romans 6:4 phrase of “walk in newness of life” mean? Consider how that walk down the aisle after the wedding was a walk in the newness of life. How does that demonstrate our own daily walk with the Groom who has called us and perfected us?


We’ve looked at three relationships in these studies: we are called his friend, we are adopted children, and we are the Bride. What is the strength and appeal of each of these?


Why does he have these three relationships working together to describe our overall relationship with him?