Another of Nicky Gumbels’ daily readings which has spoken directly to my head and my heart, a sort of revelation. As you will know, if you have read my blog http://amandalannon.wordpress.com/, that my three children have turned against me, one of them most specifically because she was told, by one extremely vindictive Christian, that her relationship with me was wrong, this has been backed up and supported by her friends and new family. We did have an intimate relationship, a very beautiful and wonderful mother and daughter relationship, one where we were able to share our hearts and thoughts with each other, we were in unison with each other because we thought and felt the same way. Apparently this is a wrong relationship to have between mother an daughter, according to those who deem themselves authorities when meddling in other peoples business…there should be “boundaries” and for five years my daughter and her husband tried to enforce boundaries on me, I was not allowed to speak about certain people within our family, have feelings of maternal love, express my sadness mixed with joy at them leaving the country to live in Africa, nor to communicate on facebook, or text and so on. Why? Some people feel threatened by intimacy, just like Nicky states below. Some people assume it means something sexual rather than a heart closeness. At present, I have intimate relationships with three of my female friends, I have had intimate relationships with male friends, I used to have intimate relationships with all three of my children, until someone corrupted them when my back was turned. I have, of course, a very intimate relationship with my husband and most important of all, I have an even more intimate relationship with God. Just as love comes on different levels, so does intimacy, but you cannot hope to relationship with people without getting close. I truly believe that those who are unable to be intimate in their relationships with each other have hard hearts.
From The Bible in one year by Nicky Gumbel…a daily reading.
‘When I first visited the Vineyard Church in California I discovered that one of their principal values was “intimacy with God”. So when I came back I started to talk about that as being one of our values too’, recalls Sandy Millar in his book, All I Want is You.
He continues, ‘One of the very nice members of our congregation at that time took me to one side and said, “Please don’t use the word ‘intimacy’ because we don’t use that word in that context.” So I started talking about “the closest possible relationship with God” which is quite a mouthful. But after a bit I stopped because what I really meant was “intimacy” and I think that’s what the Bible means for our relationship with God too.’
We are created for intimate relationships – with God and with one another. There is a hunger deep in our souls for intimacy. There is a hunger for a relationship with God. There is also a hunger for intimate relationships with other human beings.
1. Intimacy with God
We are created for an intimate relationship with God. It is personal. ‘The Lord our God’ (v.9). Yet intimacy with God is not to be taken for granted. God is mighty, holy and just.
‘The Lord reigns … he sits enthroned between the cherubim’ (v.1). The cherubim are the symbol of God’s holiness (see Genesis 3:24, Ezekiel 1:4ff,10:1ff). God’s throne is pictured, ‘between the two cherubim’ (Numbers 7:89). This is the place from which God speaks.
This psalm emphasises the holiness of God. The word ‘holy’ (Psalm 99:3) emphasises the distance between God and human beings. God is not only mighty and holy, he is also just: ‘He loves justice’ (v.4). The appropriate response is to ‘worship at his footstool’ (v.5).
Somehow, this gulf between God and us has been bridged. We know now that this is through Jesus and what he did for us by the cross and resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This psalm anticipates the intimacy with this God of power, holiness and justice made possible through Christ.
God ‘spoke to them’ (v.7). He spoke to Moses and Aaron and Samuel (v.6). He spoke to individuals. He speaks to us individually. ‘They prayed to God and he answered them’ (v.6, MSG).
Not only is he a God of justice, he is a God of mercy and forgiveness – ‘a forgiving God’ (v.8). He is ‘our God’ (vv.8–9). As Derek Kidner puts it in his commentary on the Psalms, ‘The majesty is undiminished, but the last word is now given to intimacy.’
Lord, it is amazing that you are all-powerful, holy and just, yet you call us into an intimate relationship with you. Thank you for your mercy. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you that you speak to us in an intimate way. Thank you that you are our God. Lord, the only appropriate response is to ‘worship’ at your ‘holy mountain’ (v.9).
2. Intimacy with one another
There is so much loneliness in our society. Many, especially young people today, have nowhere to process their pain. They turn to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity or some other way in an attempt to deal with their pain.
We are not intended to live alone. God created us for community – a community as close and as interdependent as the various parts of the human body. Paul develops the analogy of the church being like the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has given different gifts to every member of the church (vv.1–11).
‘The body is a unit’ but ‘it is made up of many parts’ (v.12). People come into the church from all different backgrounds, nationalities and positions in society – ‘Jews or Greeks, slave or free’ (v.13b). Yet regardless of where we have come from, ‘Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink’ (v.13, MSG).
We now belong to one another. Our relationships are as intimate as the different parts of a body. We are utterly dependent on each other. ‘We all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
The more different we are, the more we need each other. The eye needs a hand more than it needs lots of other eyes (vv.16–17). Variety is essential (v.17b). This is true not just of the local church but of the global church. We should not look at the different parts of the body of Christ and say, ‘They are different, there must be something wrong with them.’ Rather, we should say, ‘They are different, we really need them.’
It is time to drop the labels – describing ourselves or others as a particular type of Christian. ‘The old labels we once used to identify ourselves … are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive’ (v.13, MSG).
God has designed the body so that there will be this mutual dependence. ‘I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of’ (vv.19–20, MSG).
We particularly need the parts that ‘seem to be weaker’ (v.22). Our internal organs ‘seem to be weaker’ in the sense of being more vulnerable. That is why they need protection. However, they are ‘indispensable’ (v.22). Likewise, those parts of the body that are ‘unpresentable’ are treated with ‘special modesty’ (v.23). No one would suggest that these parts are not important. Indeed, they are vital.
Because we need each other so much there should be ‘equal concern for each other’ (v.25). There should be such intimacy and love that ‘if one part suffers, every part suffers with it’ (v.26a). This is the community we need where people can process their pain. It is also a place where people can share their joys, ‘If one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it’ (v.26b).
Lord, help us to have such love and intimacy with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us, as St Augustine said, to ‘banish envy from our hearts’ so that what is ‘yours becomes mine’ and ‘what is mine becomes yours.’ Help us to grow in this loving intimacy with one another in the body of Christ. May there be a unity that makes Christ beautiful to the world. May this unity and loving intimacy satisfy the emotional hunger in the hearts of your people.
3. Intimacy in marriage
This book can be read on many different levels. It describes the joy and mutuality, beauty and power, agony and ecstasy of human sexual love. It speaks of marriage as it ought to be – the intimacy of marital love between man and woman.
Marriage is, of course, a metaphor to describe the relationship of God to his people. Supremely, it is used in the New Testament to describe the relationship between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:21–33). It is a picture of God’s deep and passionate love for us and our intimate relationship with Jesus. For this reason, throughout church history, people have used this book as a metaphor to express the intimacy between God and the church.
However, we must not jump too quickly from the original purpose of the Song of Songs. It is interesting that the Bible has a whole book celebrating erotic love in marriage. It shows what a high view the Bible has of sexual intimacy in marriage. It speaks of delight and contentment – a love that is wholehearted and passionate – holding nothing back.
It is clear that this kind of sexual intimacy is for marriage alone. This is the love between a bride and a bridegroom. The lover refers to his love as ‘my bride’ (Song of Songs 4:8–12ff). In a world of loveless sex, it proclaims that sex should never be separated from love and lifelong commitment.
There is a warning against opening this gift before marriage: ‘Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires’ (2:7; 3:5). Or as The Message puts it, ‘Don’t excite love, don’t stir it up, until the time is ripe – and you’re ready’ (2:7, MSG). We risk spoiling this beautiful gift if we open it too early.
There is also a warning about ‘the little foxes’ that spoil the vine (v.15). Our relationships are often destroyed not so much by big issues but by little ones – seemingly insignificant choices and compromises.
As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Watch the “little foxes” in your life; forgive even the most minor offence so that your heart stays clean, do not cut corners in your finances or on the job when you think no one will notice, do not expose yourself to ungodly influences, thinking, It won’t hurt me if I do it just this once. Little things add up to big things, and before you know it, little foxes can ruin a strong, healthy vine.’
This intimate love relationship described is both exclusive and inclusive. It is exclusive in that at one level they have eyes only for each other: ‘My lover is mine and I am his’ (v.16). Yet this relationship is also, as in all the best marriages, a blessing to others. They do not ignore their friends. The friends say, ‘We rejoice and delight in you. We will praise your love more than wine’ (1:4).
Lord, thank you for the beautiful gift you give us of intimacy in marriage. Thank you also that it points to something even greater and available to all. Thank you that the gift of marriage is ultimately only a picture of the intimate love between Christ and the church. Thank you that although marriage is good and beautiful, there is something even better and more beautiful. Thank you that you created us to be in an intimate relationship with you and with one another. Help us to grow in this intimacy and love.
1 Corinthians 12:26
‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it …’
When I broke my metatarsal (a very small bone in my right foot), it definitely affected my whole body. I could hardly walk for six weeks. I can understand now how something so small can affect the whole body.