On a certain winter’s day early in my Army career a distinguished visitor stopped by our office. This gentleman was Chief of Staff of 24th Infantry Division, the third highest ranking officer of the division and our senior supervisor. His rank of colonel, his position as Chief of Staff, and his 30 years of service as a warrior of the United States conferred on him a high degree of honor and respect. The occasion of his appearance in our office was his farewell visit to the staff. Not only would he be leaving us, he would be retiring from the Army. As usual with such events, we had received word ahead of time that the Chief would be in the area. When he arrived we jumped to our feet, stood at attention, and waited patiently as he made his way around the room, shaking hands and speaking to every person. Whether we had known the man long or not, all of us understood the protocol required to honor a person of his rank and position.
Except for one soldier. For some reason it never occurred to her to stand up and come out from behind her desk when the colonel approached her. She sat there and allowed him to reach over the desk to shake her hand, and then returned to her work when he walked away. In all fairness, she was very young – not more than 19, and accustomed to the easy standards of her rural upbringing that regarded all people as social equals. The rigid rank structure of the Army, with its pomp and circumstance, was yet foreign to her. Nevertheless, her carefree demeanor and lack of respect for the colonel horrified me as the officer responsible for her conduct, and my warrant officer, the man who supervised our younger soldiers. We knew that the fault lay not with this ignorant young soldier, but with us who should have taught her better.
The people of God should also be taught better about our attitudes toward the Creator Who breathed life into us.
Perhaps the origin of this casual approach to Almighty God comes in the account of Abraham’s relationship with God, which the Prophet Isaiah summarizes as follows:
But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham My friend, you whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its remotest parts and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:8-10 NASB, emphasis added)
God so highly regarded Abraham that He appeared to him personally to deliver the long-expected news that Isaac, the son of promise, would at last be born. Let that soak in for a moment. The Lord God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, chose to appear as Three Persons at Abraham’s tent, eat his food, and deliver news of supreme importance. How could this be? The Apostle James provides the answer:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. (James 2:21-23 NASB, emphasis added)
Abraham did not just fall into a casual, friendly relationship with God. He earned that relationship. It took him years to get to the place where God would consider him His friend, starting with Abraham’s answer to God’s call to leave his land and his family and move to Canaan. At every step Abraham believed God and then acted on that belief. Twenty-five years after God invited him on this journey of faith, Abraham had matured to the point that the Lord could visit him in person. The key test of that maturity occurred in the hospitality Abraham offered to the Holy Trinity:
Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:1-8 NASB)
Abraham’s recognition of the true identity of his Guests testifies to his intimacy with the Lord which he had established in the preceding decades. Having recognized them, he followed the protocol for honoring visitors of such great importance. That protocol required him to stand and wait on his Guests, not sit and engage them in friendly banter. And it was not a one-time thing; no matter how bold Abraham could be with the Creator, he remained courteous and respectful. That was why the Lord could trust him with the privileged information of the pending judgment on Sodom, and even allow Abraham to enter into negotiations with God to secure mercy for the city. Unlike Abraham, Sodom and the cities of the plain had no standing with God. It was not their blatant sexual sins that most angered the Lord, but the fact that they took advantage of the weak, the poor, and the stranger. There was no justice in Sodom, and certainly no hospitality. That is evident from the way the men of Sodom received the angels of the Lord when they visited Abraham’s nephew Lot, and from the Prophet Ezekiel’s explanation of the sin of Sodom:
“As I live,” declares the Lord God, “Sodom, your sister and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50 NASB)
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was no reflection on Abraham. He, the friend of God, did all that he could to save the people there. Indeed, he had been interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah long before the events of Genesis 18-19, and perhaps without even knowing it. Every act of obedience and honor and worship to the Lord God that Abraham walked out in his faith earned him an increasing measure of honor in the eyes of the One Who had invited him to be His companion in the redemption of the world. His status in God’s eyes increased over the next quarter century as Isaac’s father, leading to the greatest test of his faith: binding the son of promise and offering him up as a sacrifice when the Lord required it. Abraham most likely did not understand this bizarre request, but his faith in the Lord, built on decades of relationship, had instilled in him everything he needed to do as God said. Little did he know that the selfless offer of Isaac, with Isaac’s full agreement, would result not only in God’s provision of a substitute sacrifice, but in an even greater measure of honor for Abraham and Isaac. Moreover, that act provides a prophetic picture of what the Lord would do in offering His own Son as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.
Centuries later, Yeshua cautioned His disciples that they, too, should approach God with great deference and respect.
Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:7-10 NASB)
Such an admonition is far removed from the easy, familiar Christian chorus, “I am the friend of God”. While it is true Yeshua calls His disciples friends, there is yet a protocol we must follow. We do not step into that “friend” status automatically, but only by proving our friendship, just as our father Abraham did. Yeshua explained this at the moment He conferred the status of friend on His disciples:
This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:12-17 NASB, emphasis added)
Friendship with God is not something we gain just by saying a prayer, but by years of believing on Him and doing the things He commanded us. Even as His friends we do not barge into the Father’s throne room and shout out our demands and decrees. Such acts are more worthy of Sodom than of heaven. The protocol of heaven focuses all attention on the One Who makes and sustains life, not on the many who presume a privileged status they may not yet have attained. In humility we approach our King, and, like Esther long ago, let Him extend His scepter to us at the time of His choosing.