By R. Adam Davidson
Does God love everybody? Most assuredly. We know that God is love, and that the love of God is made most obvious in the sending of His Son for our sins. But does God like everybody?
It truly depends on what we mean with the word “like.” Though we dare not project our broken human qualities to our Heavenly Father, we are all aware of the fact that you can love someone without liking them, especially if you’ve ever been to a family reunion. The love of God is constant, enduring, and unconditional. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). Don’t worry — God loves you.
However, we would be misreading Scripture and cheapening the gospel if we ignore example after example of how God shows favor to certain people. God chose an entire people group —Israel — referring to them as chosen out of all the people of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6). Jesus chose 12 people to be His primary students who attended the discipleship school of hard knocks (discipleship isn’t easy) and then gave them the job of keeping it going until He returns (Matthew 28:18-20). As for the end of all things, with the coming kingdom of God, John writes that those who hear and keep the Word are blessed (Revelation 1:3).
Does God have favorites? I dare say … yes. But we must ensure we understand that this is a favor based on God’s perfect love and not our mere human love, which is a cracked and bent version of the original.
Our blended family includes five kids, age 5 to 18. Do I have a favorite kid? Of course not! But, if I’m being honest, there are times where I like one more than the other. I love them equally, but it really bugs me when they’re not listening, doing unwise things, and forgetting the basics (deodorant, for example). I don’t love them less, but I do wish that they would get their act together because I like when that happens.
What’s my motivation as a parent in loving all my kids equally but liking what they’re doing at different levels? It has to do with the kind of trajectory they’ve taken in a given moment. My wife and I aren’t here to crush their spirits or ruin all the fun (though they tend to believe otherwise). Nah, we’re here to do the hard work of parenting, both of us overseeing kids that may not biologically be ours but are certainly part of the mandate to “train up a child in the way [they] should go” (Proverbs 22:6 KJV).
Advent and Christmas give us an opportunity to walk through the story of the incarnation again. It’s important that we keep a fresh eye on this ancient story, lest the waters of our soul become stagnant. For example, have you ever noticed that the angelic announcement says that God’s peace isn’t for everyone? Luke 2:14 says, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” It stands out like an over-the-top Christmas light display that God’s peace is for those who have His favor.
So how do I know I have God’s favor? First off, let’s make sure we’re both talking about the same thing when we circle around the word “peace.” For example, when I hear that word, it makes me hungry for a piece of pie, preferably pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Why someone would eat pumpkin pie without whipped cream is beyond me. It’s like eating healthy pie — and that’s not why we eat pie.
“The gospel of peace is one of salvation.”
But that’s not the piece we’re talking about. We’re talking about peace — the Greek word is eirēnē, which means tranquility, fearing nothing because we are saved to God by God. Everyone strives for their own kind of peace, which our world defines primarily by how well people get along and how well they keep things under their hats. The gospel of peace is one of salvation. God wants to save everybody because, as we’ve established, God loves everybody. Not everybody wants to be saved (sadly), which is most evidenced by our severe lack of peace. It’s not that this peace is unavailable. Quite the contrary: it is abundantly available. We simply chose a different, and therefore ineffective, path.
On the Right Track
Who are the ones that choose the right path to peace? Those on whom God’s favor rests. How does God’s favor rest on us? The Father who loves all of us likes it when we’re on the right track, because the right path leads to the gospel of peace.
To better understand God’s favor, let’s take a look at Isaiah 66:2b, where the Father says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”
It serves as no surprise that God looks for humility and contrition. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NLT). There is divine brilliance in God’s delivery of good news to shepherds, birthing Jesus in a servant girl, and growing Him up in Nazareth — a town so small it probably didn’t even have a Dollar General.
God favors the humble because only the humble are ready to receive His kind of divine peace. Divine peace requires us to release control and surrender our lives to Jesus, the baby King.
Ultimately, it’s not God who decides upon whom His favor rests. It’s actually up to me. Will I respond positively to the prevenient grace of God? Will I humble myself before the Messiah? Will my disappointment with the peace that the world offers stir my hunger for the peace that only salvation brings?
“There are times in my own life where I am sure that I wasn’t experiencing the full favor of God because I was too arrogant and prideful.”
It brings me comfort to know that those whom God favored — the Israelites, the Apostles — have a history of going completely off the rails. Most of the Old Testament is an adventure in God calling Israel to be in His favor. The disciples, chosen by Jesus, ended up bailing on their friend … their friend who chose them and certainly favored them. There are times in my own life where I am sure that I wasn’t experiencing the full favor of God because I was too arrogant and prideful. He loved me the whole way through, but I’m not sure that I was (or am) His favorite.
But I want to be. I want to be favored by God.
I want to put myself in the place of the Israelites in Isaiah 66, where His favorites are those who are humble and contrite. I want to tremble at His word.
I want to be in the fields nearby, humbly watching over flocks at night, only to be inundated with light and thunderous voices, making me tremble at His word.
I want to be ready this Advent to receive again His peace — not because it’s different this year, but because I am different. I know I’m loved. I want to return that love by obeying Jesus (John 14:23) as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13).
“He wants us to be holy, and holiness comes at a great cost to us in self-sacrifice.”
Does God favor you? I hope so. But if not, it’s certainly not a lack of love on His part. It might be a lack of humility on ours. God loves all of us, but, like a good Father, He really likes it when we’re on the right track. Why? Not because He’s out to crush our spirits or ruin all the fun (though we tend to believe otherwise). Nah, He wants us to be holy, and holiness comes at a great cost to us in self-sacrifice. It’s a cost God is most familiar with because He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the cross, which is the greatest sacrifice of all and for all — those God loves and likes, too.
My prayer is that I hear that key line in the ancient Christmas story — “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to whom his favor rests” as a call to respond to the love of God by living in the favor of God. Friends, this is how we are spiritually formed. Otherwise, it’s the same old story.
May the Spirit breathe life into you, dear friend, and may you experience the favor and peace of God the Father, Son, and Spirit this Advent and always. Amen. +