Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 13-17)
For quite some time I have been frustrated by the church’s overabundance of labels. You see, it is not enough to say, “I am a Christian,” because this is true of anyone who attends a Christian church whether they have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ or not. It is not enough to say, “I am a believer,” because people are unsure of what you believe in. Even lately I have been finding that the term “evangelical” is inadequate since this term is used in different ways by different Christian denominations. But more importantly, all of these terms reflect an institutional character and are not overly personal.
Recently I have tried to find the right term to use in reference to my relationship to God. For a while I liked to think of myself as “God’s child,” and this is biblical. We are told in 1 John 5:1 that, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,” therefore it is biblical to think of ourselves as a “child of God.” Yet, I struggled with the image of a parent/child relationship because it lacked a certain level of true intimacy that I think exists between a believer and God, and it brought to mind a relationship burdened with discipline. I then contemplated the image of a master and his servant. This too is biblical: “Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). Yet, having grown up in the southern United States the image of a master and his servant or slave is troubled with many negative historical connotations. So, this led me to the question, “What is an appropriate biblical word to describe me in my relationship to God?” The answer I believe is found in Matthew 3:13-17.
From these five verses what I would like to focus are the words in verse 17, “This is My beloved Son,” or as it could also be translated, “This is My son, the Beloved.” The word “beloved” has a long history in biblical tradition. For example, take the Song of Solomon. On one level the Song of Solomon is about the love between a man and a woman. This explains the many references to sex and sexuality throughout the book. Yet, on another level the book is about God and his relationship to his chosen people, both Israel and Christian believers. First, 1:13-16: “My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh which lies all night between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi. How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves. How handsome you are, my beloved, And so pleasant! Indeed, our couch is luxuriant!”
Second, 2:8-10: “Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills! My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the windows, He is peering through the lattice. My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.'” Without getting mired in the details of the elaborate pictorial language that Solomon uses throughout the book, let us simply notice that the term of affection in these verses is “beloved.” So, if the book is about two lovers then we can conclude that “beloved” is a term used between two persons who are deeply in love. However, if the book is also about God’s relationship with believers, then we can conclude that “beloved” is a term of endearment used by God to describe his people. The same idea is present in Matthew 3:17.
In Matthew 3:17 Jesus is referred to as God’s “beloved.” Etymologically this simply means that one is loved by another person. However, the word “beloved” somehow carries a very intimate connotation to it. Perhaps this is because this is an infrequently used word in language today (or at least it is in my experience). For example, I can never remember one instance when I called my wife “my beloved.” Yet, she is my beloved. I love her deeply, therefore she is my beloved. Let’s not miss the significance of this word. Today, the concept of love has been distorted into meaning, “I find you very attractive,” or, “I want to sleep with you.” Or, the emotion of love is applied toward inanimate things when someone says, “I love my car,” or, “I love that movie.” Thus, the word “love” has been cheapened. Yet, with the word “beloved” that cheapening of the word is non-existent. “Beloved” still carries with it its true and original meaning.
The remainder of the New Testament reinforces this true meaning of the word. Paul uses it to describe the Christians in Rome when he writes in Romans 1:7, “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul refers to Timothy as his “beloved son” in 2 Timothy 1:2, communicating the deep relationship that the two of them shared with one another. Finally, in Philemon, Paul and Timothy address Philemon as their “beloved brother” (v. 1) and use the same word to describe Onesimus (v. 16). The hint is subtle but clear – if both Philemon and Onesimus are beloved, then they are both equal. Therefore, Philemon, the master, needs to forgive Onesimus, the slave, and accept him back as his equal and not as his slave.
The short epistle of 3 John uses the term “beloved” four times. John addresses the letter to a man named Gaius who is John’s “beloved.” This is likely the same Gaius mentioned four other times in the New Testament who was baptized by Paul (1 Cor. 1:14) and subsequently became Paul’s traveling companion (Acts 19:29, 20:4). Three of the references to Gaius as “beloved” are explicitly connected with his Godly behavior. In verse 2 John says that the “beloved” Gaius’ “soul prospers.” The Greek word for “prospers” here implies completing a journey, coming to the end of the road that one is traveling. In essence, John is saying that Gaius has been faithful in his Christian life and testimony. Explicitly, John explains that Gaius has been faithful in his service to the church and God. Verse 5 explains Gaius’ service to the church: “Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren.” In the New Testament, “brethren” is always a reference to other Christians; therefore it is a reference to the church. Verse 11 explains Gaius’ faithfulness to God: “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God.” In short, Gaius is a Godly person who loves God and, in turn, is loved by God; therefore he is God’s “beloved.” The intimacy depicted in 3 John is not between John and Gaius (though John does refer to him as “beloved”), but rather between Gaius and God.
More examples could be given since the word “beloved” is used nearly seventy times in the New Testament. Yet, these few examples are enough to demonstrate the intimacy of the term and why it is a good and appropriate term to describe us in our relationship to God. We are God’s beloved, that is, God truly and sincerely love us. There is no better time to remember this truth than during this season of Lent, while we contemplate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for those whom he loves, his beloved – you and I.