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Paul always opened his letters with a mention of God the Father or even “God our Father,” as in Colossians 1:3. Christians nowadays are so used to hearing about God as Father that we tend to just gloss over these references at the beginning of Paul’s letters as mere formalities. Paul, however, never wrote, “God our Father,” without great joy.
The Bible of Paul and all the early Christians was the Old Testament, since the New Testament was still in process of being written. In the Old Testament, God was rarely referred to as “Father.” Scholars have counted only fourteen such occurrences (1). Some of these were specifically about Christ the Messiah to come.
2 Samuel 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son… (ESV)
Others were about Israel as a whole, but often showed God’s displeasure with his chosen people.
Jeremiah 3:2 Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been ravished? By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers like an Arab in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom. 3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed. 4 Have you not just now called to me, ‘My father, you are the friend of my youth–5 will he be angry forever, will he be indignant to the end?’ Behold, you have spoken, but you have done all the evil that you could.”
Gregory Brown writes,
When God delivered Israel out of Egypt, he adopted them as his “firstborn son” (Ex 4:22). Therefore, occasionally, Jewish prayers would reference this. But no Israelites personally called God, “Father”–ever. In fact, out of respect for God, they even stopped using his covenant name, Yahweh, and instead, would simply say Adonai or some other name of God. For a Jew to call God, “Father,” would have been considered irreverent and even blasphemous (2).
One of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture is when Jesus spoke to Mary after his resurrection:
John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (ESV)
Far too infrequently do churchgoers hear their pastors teach about the great differences between the two testaments of Scripture, the big changes that occurred after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. One of these changes is what Christ spoke in the quotation just above. Because Jesus Christ was God’s very own offspring, his Son, and because post-cross believers are joined to Christ–only for that reason can followers of Christ now call God their Father. This is huge. Paul never forgot this glorious outcome of Christ’s sacrifice. This is why he never tired of repeating, “God our Father,” in the greetings of his letters.
In church and in Christian music we often hear about, “The glory of the cross.” This is one reason why the cross is so glorious: Believers in Christ can now call God, “Father.” I pray that Christians everywhere will know how special they are to the heart of God, their own Father, and that they will never quit praising him, thanking him, and rejoicing in this marvelous outcome of what began as shameful tragedy–the cross of Christ.
1 Brown, Gregory, “The Sermon on the Mount: Experiencing God’s Kingdom on Earth. 20. Our Father (Matthew 6:9a),” available at https://bible.org/seriespage/20-our-father-matthew-69a#_ftnref3, accessed May 20, 2020.