Most of you reading this article have children. But if you don’t, this is still for you. Just substitute all references to children with your best friend or the person who’s most important to you. So, how do you give away your kids? How do you get rid of them?
That question creates another. Why would you even consider giving your kids away? Well, maybe you’d consider giving your kids away because they’ve disappointed you in every way possible. They’ve rebelled against you, punched, slapped, kicked, and wrecked you. They’ve destroyed your life and the lives of others. They’ve shown more loyalty to everyone else but you. Spread out over time, these patterns of behavior could wear you down and make you seriously consider kicking them out of your life.
Sadly, some of us have lived through situations like these or know those who have. So, how do you cut the cord and finally give your kids away to whatever lifestyle or whatever group of friends they want? In the book of Hosea, God Himself is confronted with this question. What shall He do with an entire nation of “children,” a nation to whom He has wed Himself like a husband, that has repeatedly rejected and misused Him? “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away” (Hos 11:1-2). Can you hear the sadness, the disappointment? So, after all the rejection and abuse, how does God finally bring Himself to give His kids away? He doesn’t. He can’t. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” (Hos 11:8).
How do you give away the people who are most important to you, even when they hurt you deeply? You don’t, because you can’t. Why? In the words of a Jewish teacher from decades ago, “The decisive motive is love.” This is what we’re talking about today. Listen closely.
No, I’m not talking about your personal age. I’m talking about churches across the country, including ours. All the way back in 2001, a U.S. Census Bureau reported that adults ages 18 to 29 comprised 22% of the adult population in the U.S. And yet the same age group represented less than 10% of church attendees nationwide. Today, the situation isn’t any better. Our churches are aging. What does this mean? It means that, as far as U.S. churches are concerned, our future is fading as quickly as our hair.
What, then, can we do? In the words of a recent book written on the subject, we have to “grow young.” “Oh, you mean we’ve got to prioritize the youth, and give them everything they want, and basically give up the church that I’ve known and loved for years?” Well, kinda. Here’s what I mean: It is the responsibility of each generation to prioritize, engage, and raise up the next generation of Christ followers. In other words, every generation must prioritize and be attentive to the faith of the upcoming generation. The youth in our church will one day have to make the same commitment and prioritize the generation coming behind them, and so on and so forth. The biblical story is replete with emphases on the importance of older generations prioritizing the faith and maturity of younger generations (see Deut. 4:9-10, 6:4-9, 11:18-21, Ps. 78:1-8, Titus 2:1-6). So, giving priority and emphasis to the younger generation isn’t simply a matter of taste or preference. It’s a matter of biblical faithfulness.
This can be scary for lots of us. But remember this: Church isn’t about our nostalgia and sentimental attachment to days gone by. It’s about advancing the mission of the Kingdom across the generations. Today, Josh is going to help us process this biblical vision and challenge us to “grow young,” not just for sake of our youth, but for the sake of our future.
Imagine what your marriage, or some other significant relationship, would be like if you only communicated through a list of likes and dislikes, or a list of what you wanted from your partner and didn’t want. How intimate would that relationship be? And if you did everything on the list, what further obligations would you have? Could you overlook birthdays and anniversaries, or dispense with displays of affection, or neglect loyalty and faithfulness, so long as the list was done? Would you ever defend your lack of engagement with your partner by saying, “Well, I did the list. You can’t ask anything else of me. In fact, I think you owe me now.”
What you’ve just imagined is a ridiculous scenario, and we intuitively know this. We wouldn’t dream of pursuing our deepest and most important relationships this way. And yet, many Christians think this is precisely God’s design for the faith and practice of Christianity. God gives a list (even if somewhat scattered across the New Testament). We put it together, and then do it. At this point, God must keep loving us and “blessing” us, even if the blessing is only the assurance that we won’t go to Hell if we die today.
What a miserable religion. And what a miserable relationship. In fact, although it might pass for religion, such an arrangement can’t possibly pass for a relationship. And this awareness illuminates something that we’re going to read in Hosea today: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Two thousand years ago, Jesus told some very religious people to go learn what that statement meant (twice, actually). So, that’s what we’re doing today. We’re going to learn what this means.
Fault us moderns as you may, we like to keep things polite and cordial in public. Of course, I’m well aware of the toxic, vitriolic exchanges online in social media posts and the comments section on most webpages. But, in public, we try to keep things polite. And if someone breaks this social code, we take great offense.
We also try to maintain a similar relationship with God. We want to keep things mostly polite, calm, and cool. And we certainly want God to keep it that way with us. But sometimes, God just looks at us and says, “You whore.” What?!? Yes. But He doesn’t do it to be rude. He does it because He’s hurt, and He wants you to know that the way you’re living your life isn’t right. Your choices are destructive. Your relationships are poisonous. Your treatment of others is heinous. Your priorities are upside down. Your hopes and faith are misplaced. And you’re cheating on God. But you don’t notice any of it. So, what needs to happen? How are you going to realize what you’re doing?
You need someone to confront you with truth. You need someone to tell you that you’re whoring your life away. In the book of Hosea, this is Israel’s national condition. She’s cheating on her husband, Yahweh, and whoring her life away. Hers is a textbook case of how to be an adulterer. So, the language in the opening to Hosea is heated, fierce, and anything but polite. But God takes the dialogue to this alarming, even offensive, level because of how completely committed He is to His people, His wife, Israel. When love is real, and passionate, and threatened, politeness is a luxury it can’t afford. So, let’s spend the next few weeks listening in as God attempts to win back His adulterous wife.