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Relational Tough Love


In his book Rebel with a Cause, Franklin Graham describes the tough love meted out by his parents during his rebellious youth. “ ‘If you don’t stop right now,’ Mama said, ‘I’m going to pull over and lock you up in the trunk.’ . . . Before I knew what was happening, she opened the back door, grabbed me with both hands, jerked me around back, opened the trunk, put me inside, and slammed the lid shut. I wasn’t expecting Mama to drive all the way to Asheville before letting me out, but she drove on and on.”

God had to enact tough love toward the Israelites after generations of disobedience. He sent the Babylonians who invaded the land, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and carried the people into exile. God’s discipline did not mean He had abandoned His people. His intention was to restore and renew His relationship with them. First, God promised to gather His people and “bring them back into their own land” (v. 21). Because the land was one of God’s original promises to Abraham, a return to the land was a sign of God’s care and blessing over His people. God also addressed the problem of sin that would accompany the return from exile, promising salvation for His backsliding people (v. 23).

Second, God promised new leadership. Unlike the previously wicked rulers, God promised a new king, and under this new leadership, Israel would “follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees” (v. 24).

Finally, God declared a restoration of His dwelling place. “I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them” (vv. 26–27). His dwelling includes the promises of a restored relationship, a “covenant of peace” that will bind God to His people.

Apply the Woprd

God’s love for us is described in H. W. Baker’s hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.” Consider singing or reading this hymn today as a reminder of God’s unfailing relationship with us:

“Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me
And on his shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me.”

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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