Published June 10, 2014

Paul's Epistle...
"Abba, Father"

How do you think of God?

Naturally, we think of Him as awesome, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient – far beyond human understanding. And, of course, that is all very true.

But we also refer to him as "Father." In fact, Christ Himself, in showing his disciples how to pray, told them to open prayer with, "Our Father which art in heaven..." (Matt. 6:9). Quite often our prayers today begin by addressing our "Heavenly Father..." Innumerable times Christ referred to "the Father." He is, as no Christian could deny, the "Father" of us all. The matter seems settled.

But God is all about relationships. And three times in the New Testament we read of another interesting, slightly modified reference to God the Father. The term used is "Abba, Father." What does this imply regarding the nature of our relationship as believers to God the Father?

The first use comes in Mark 14:36 where Christ is praying to the Father in the garden, shortly before his arrest and ultimate crucifixion. He prays, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take away this cup from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." This is an intimate communication between Christ (the Son) and the Father.

The other two uses of the phrase come from the Apostle Paul. In Romans 8:15 he writes to Christians, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father." And again, in Galatians 4:6, Paul writes to believers, "...because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!"

All three of these uses are clearly about relationships. Christ, of course, has an intimate relationship with the Father. And, in both of Paul's usages, the Christian — thanks to Christ's completed work — has an intimate relationship with the Father as a "son" and, indeed, an "heir." Paul makes it clear in Romans 8:17a: "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ..."

Scholars tell us that in New Testament times, the term "abba" was used both in Aramaic and in Hebrew (two languages which Jesus spoke regularly). Its use was such as to imply respect for the father addressed – but also an intimate, close and loving relationship between father and child, and that child could be of any age. Although "abba" meant "father," it apparently was commonly used as an honorific or modifier, signifying a very close or special relationship – which is why the term "Abba, Father" was used – and not just either word alone.

Some say that "Abba" was a term of endearment, similar to our use today of the term "Daddy." And, although, ironically, that is true today in modern Hebrew, it was apparently not so much the case in Bible times.

Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that God chooses to reveal Himself – in the words of His Son and through the inspired writings of Paul – in such a way that illustrates the close, loving relationship He wants with His children. He wants us to come to Him with our problems. He wants to protect us when we need protection. He wants to comfort us when we need to be comforted. He wants to assure us when we need assurance. He wants to listen when we just need someone to listen. And – in a way that no human father can – God the Father is always, always immediately there for us. What's more, He is uniquely able to provide lovingly whatever we truly need.

A song the late George Younce of the Cathedrals often sang — a song called "Hold Me*" — captures, as well as any, that intimate relationship God wants to have with his children:

      Sometimes the little boy in me
      Still wants to climb on Father's knee
      When the world outside gets too big for me
      When the fear's too great for me to hide
      And my fondest dreams have almost died
      He always understands me when I say,

      Hold me, hold me
      I'm so afraid of the storm
      Hold me, hold me
      I'll be safe in my Father's arms.

Troubled? Go ahead – crawl up on the Father's knee today. Tell Him all of your concerns. He'll listen intently to every word. And then let Him hold you and comfort you, as His beloved child, in His strong and everlasting arms.

- Paul

*"Hold Me," written by Joan Ewing, John T. Benson Pub Co., as recorded by George Younce and the Cathedrals on their "Goin' In Style" album, 1988.

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