Does God love everyone? John 3:16 tells us He does.
“Does God love everyone equally?” is another question. God’s “Jacob have I loved but Esau I have hated” statement is a challenge to our sense of fairness – especially when the choice was made while the twins were in utero (Romans 9:10-13). What about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20)?
So, what does it mean to have God’s heart for the Jewish people? Foundationally, it is recognizing their unique role as His chosen people and loving them as He does. For a sampling, Israel is:
• the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8)
• His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 14:2)
• His inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:20)
• His offspring/children (Deuteronomy 14:1)
• His wife (Jeremiah 31:32).
The Jewish people are precious in God’s sight, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4), and His witnesses and servant (43:10). He is Israel’s Redeemer, “the Holy One of Israel,” their Creator and King (43:14-15). He has engraved them on His palms (49:15-15).
The Scriptures are very clear: Israel mattered a great deal to God. And the prophetic words which accompany such expressions of love indicate this love is not merely past tense. [See Isaiah 43:5-7 as one example in context.]
What does love look like? Pastor Steve DeWitt (Bethel Church in Crown Point, IN) defines love as “actively seeking the good and joy of others.” So how do we seek the good and joy of the Jewish people? Here are 5 suggestions:
1. Don’t ignore/overlook the Jewish people. Over the years we have noted with sadness how easy it is for the Jewish people to NOT be represented in missions conferences on college campuses and in churches. We often see “tracks” for reaching Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc., but many times the Jewish people aren’t on the program.
Many evangelical churches work to diversify their missions giving, yet often no Jewish ministry is on the budget. The clear biblical priority of the Jewish people in God’s plan has dropped entirely off the radar for many. Our esteemed colleague Jhan Moskowitz (now with the Lord) said it well: “The greatest form of anti-Semitism is the withholding of the gospel from the Jewish people.”
Thankfully, there are wonderful exceptions. Our hearts soar when we hear of messages preached in local churches which reflect God’s heart for the Jewish people.
2. Recognize Israel’s distinction from the Church. Supercessionism is reflected in a theology that reads the Church back into the Old Testament and considers Israel to be the Church in the New Testament. The failure to distinguish between God’s dealings with national Israel and His purpose for the global Church produces numerous errors.
As examples, God’s unconditional covenant regarding the Land promised to Abraham (Genesis 15) gets spiritualized or ignored. Specific commands to national Israel are confusing when applied to the Church. What is the New Covenant believer’s relationship to laws regarding observing the Sabbath, eating unclean foods, or mixing cotton and linen in clothing?
We are loving the Jewish people when we don’t spiritualize or misappropriate for ourselves the blessings of God to Israel. (“Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter every verse every line” is a catchy song reflecting a lousy hermeneutic, in my opinion.)
3. Remember God’s blueprint for the Church. In Ephesians 2:13-16, Paul details God’s design for the Bride of Messiah:
"But now in Messiah Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
The result of Messiah’s cross-work, for both Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Him, includes:
• peace (vs. 17)
• access in one Spirit to the Father (vs.18)
• built together to be God’s dwelling place (vs. 22)
Ephesians 3:6 unveils the mystery: "This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah Jesus through the gospel.” Hallelujah!
4. Have an attitude of humble gratitude. As Gentiles, our spiritual heritage was destitute: dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2). But that is true of Jewish people as well. In Paul’s words, ”For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:9-11).
However, Scripture contrasts the spiritual legacy of the two groups:
a. Jewish inheritance (Romans 9:4-5): "They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever."
b. Gentile position (Ephesians 2:11-12): "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
One could almost think Paul foresaw what could happen down the road as more Gentiles were added to the Body (and he saw the continuing resistance of his kinsmen to the gospel). Using an “olive tree” analogy, Paul writes to the non-Jewish “wild branches,” instructing “Do not be arrogant toward the (natural) branches” (see Romans 11:17-21).
Reading the words of the Church fathers regarding the Jewish people we get the sense that Paul’s injunction has been widely ignored. Even understanding the difficulties of discerning motivations and the forces shaping cultures far removed from ours, it is easy to see how Jewish people reading the patristic writings don’t come away feeling loved and valued.
After the Church was birthed (Acts 2), Gentiles heard the gospel of the Jewish Messiah from Jewish witnesses. Are we grateful?
5. Remind the Jewish people (and the Church) of God’s enduring covenant faithfulness. This can be done by preaching those passages that both teach and illustrate this truth. (Ezekiel 20 is my favorite, in part because it is unknown; I incorporate it when teaching Perspectives.)
But we also have “tangential” opportunities to reference God’s hesed (steadfast lovingkindnes). As one example, when citing A.W. Pink’s seven qualities of God, the first three qualities (uninfluenced, eternal, and sovereign) all are directly related to God’s love for the Jewish people. Surely His qualities of love extend to all people. But this would be a great place to remind the Church of God’s enduring love for the Jewish people, simply by noting the context of the quoted passages. YHVH’s covenant steadfastness to Israel bolsters our confidence He will not forsake us (2 Timothy 2:13 is a NT restatement of this wonderful truth).
Check back next week for 5 more suggestions!