In his book All I Want is You, Bishop Sandy Millar writes, ‘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.’
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.’
There is a hunger deep in our souls for an intimate relationship with God and with other human beings.
Intimacy with GodPsalm 99:1-9
You and I 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 highlights 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, 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). His 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 me into an intimate, personal relationship with you. Thank you that you are my God.
Intimacy with one another1 Corinthians 12:1-26
There is so much loneliness in our society. The elderly are often marginalised, isolated and alone. Also, 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.
You are not intended to live alone. God created you 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 (vv.12–13).
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.’
‘The old labels we once used to identify ourselves... are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive’ (v.13, MSG). It is time to drop the labels – describing ourselves or others as a particular type of Christian.
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). As St Augustine said, ‘Take away envy and what I have is yours too. And if I banish envy all you possess is mine!’
Lord, help us to demonstrate such a unity, love and intimacy with our brothers and sisters that makes Christ beautiful to the world.
Intimacy in marriageSong of Songs 1:1-4:16
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 beautiful intimacy of marital love between man and woman.
Yet marriage is, in a sense, a metaphor to describe something even more beautiful – the relationship of God to his people. Supremely, it is used 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 you and your intimate relationship with Jesus, whose ‘banner over [you] is love’ (Song of Songs 2:4). For this reason, throughout church history, people have used this book as a metaphor to express the intimacy between God and the church.
However, 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’ (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). You risk spoiling this beautiful gift if you 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. 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. The friends say, ‘We rejoice and delight in you. We will praise your love more than wine’ (1:4).
Lord, thank you that the beautiful intimacy of marriage is ultimately a picture of the intimate love between Christ and the church. Help us to grow in this intimacy and love with you and with one another.
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. And in the same way, if anyone in the church is suffering we all suffer along with them.
Verse of the Day
‘They prayed to God and he answered them’ (Psalm 99:6, MSG).
Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2013), p.1036
Sandy Millar, All I Want is You, (Alpha International, 2005).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.