The Arrows of God
—Target, energy, penetration
The prophecy about Jesus Christ in Psalm 45:3-6, contains the statement, "Your arrows are sharp". What are the "arrows" of God? Perhaps there are many answers to that question, but these words spring readily to mind: "Now abide faith, hope, love, these three —but the greatest of these is love" (1Corinthians 13:13).
I would like us to think about faith, hope, and love, as the arrows of God. Now arrows need at least three things. Not only do physical arrows need these three things, but the arrows of God need these things too.
1 An Arrow Needs a Target
The first thing that an arrow needs is a target. Without a target to aim at, an arrow would seem to have little purpose. Archery without a target —just an undisciplined and aimless shooting of arrows into the air—would not make much sense. It would be as silly as a race with nowhere to run to and nothing to run for, or a boxing match where the opponents just beat the air (1Corinthians 9:26).
When children play ball games, there is usually some kind of target —a wicket, a hoop, a goal square, or a target painted on a brick wall. But when children play with bubbles, they cannot do very much with them. Bubbles are nice, they are fun, but rather airy-fairy things, whereas balls are more serious and substantial things which can be propelled toward a goal. Our faith, hope, and love, must be like the balls, not like the bubbles.
If God's arrows are faith, hope, and love, then what are their targets?
In Colossians 1:4-5 we find not only faith, hope, and love, but their targets as well.
"We heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and your love for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven..." (Colossians 1:4-5).
- Paul speaks of "faith in Christ Jesus". There's the target of the faith arrow: Christ Jesus! You say to me, "Oh, I have faith!" But I ask you, who or what is the target of your faith? Is it a faith directed at Jesus Christ? Or is it an airy-fairy faith that isn't really looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith?
- Paul speaks of "love for all the saints". There's the target of the love arrow: all the saints! Of course this is not the only target of love; there are others. For example, there's love of God (Jude 1:20-21), and a love of the truth (2Thessalonians 2:10).
- You say to me, "Oh, I have love!" But I ask you, who is the target of that love? Is it a love directed at all your Christian brothers and sisters in Christ —and beyond them especially to all humanity in its great need of salvation? Or is your love directed at a tiny bullseye not much bigger than yourself —so tiny it is impossible to hit?
- Paul speaks of "hope laid up for you in heaven". There's the target of the hope arrow: heaven! You say to me, "Oh, I have hope!" But I ask you, what do you hope for? Is your hope directed at temporal things that last but a little while and then vanish away? Or is your hope in the spiritual blessings and promises that culminate in heavenly glory and eternal life?
2 An Arrow Needs Energy
Without energy, an arrow would be a useless object. In archery, energy is transferred from the arm muscle into the bow, and imparted to the arrow by the string. Only then is the arrow any use.
Faith, hope, and love, are not just passive things. They are things that work, and work requires energy. Faith, hope, and love, are not just nouns. They have verb forms. These are action words. We can say, "I believe! I love! I hope!" They are not merely things we have, they are things we do.
As the Bible tells us, faith or belief alone —a faith that does not work— is a dead faith (James 2:26). If God's arrows are faith, hope, and love, we should observe a living energy in them.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:3, we find not only faith, hope, and love, but their energy as well.
"We constantly bear in mind your work of faith, labor of love, and perseverance of hope" (1Thessalonians 1:3)
- Paul speaks of "your work of faith". There's the energy of the faith arrow: its desire to do the work of obedience to God! Drawing back the bow string without an arrow is useless work. And the reverse, faith without work, is also useless (James 2:20) —like an arrow without a drawn bow. You say to me, "Oh, I have faith!" But I ask you, is your faith an energetic faith? Does your faith have an urge to obey Christ?
- Paul speaks of "your labor of love." There's the energy of the love arrow: labor! In the Greek, the idea is a toil-and-trouble labor. Just as we must have "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5), so there must be the laborious struggle of love. The energy of love is commitment —the will to suffer in love. You say to me, "Oh, I have love!" But I ask you, does your love toil? Does your love work on even through times of trouble?
- Paul speaks of "your perseverance of hope". There's the energy of the hope arrow: perseverance! Some translations say "patience" but that is perhaps too passive a word. The idea is "perseverance" or stick-to-it-iveness. Imagine you have fallen over a cliff, but just saved yourself from death below. You managed, as you fell, to grasp a root. Now you are holding on, and yelling, for all you are worth. You hope to be saved and you give it everything you've got. You say to me, "Oh, I have hope!" But I ask you, is it a powerful holding-on and persevering hope?
3 An Arrow Needs Penetration
Without the ability to penetrate, without being sharp, an arrow would be rather useless. To change the analogy a little, you have probably pricked your finger with a pin or needle, but that was easily removed. Have you ever had a fish-hook lodge in your finger? That's quite a different matter! It penetrates and stays in because it is barbed. If God's arrows are faith, hope, and love, we should find them barbed and penetrating both our hearts and the hearts of the people who know us.
Where do faith, hope, and love get their sharpness from? What makes them penetrate the heart and stick?
In 1John 4:16-17, we find not only faith, hope, and love, but their penetration as well.
"We have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment..." (1John 4:16-17).
- John says that we "know and believe". There's the penetration of the faith arrow: it becomes a knowledge! It's one thing to believe in something, and quite another thing to both know and believe it. Paul said, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded..." (2Timothy 1:12). You say to me, "Oh, I have faith!" But I ask you, do you know Jesus? Is he your friend?
- John says that in us, "love has been perfected". There's the penetration of the love arrow: it is perfected or full grown! He also uses the word "abides" in connection with love. That's the same word Paul used in 1st Corinthians 13:13 "—and now abide faith, hope, love, these three." To abide means to indwell. Love must live in us, and we must live in love. Love is like the air we breathe: we must abide in it, and it must abide in us. If we were not in the air, or if the air were not in us, we would die. You say to me, "Oh, I have love!" But I ask you, is it perfected love? Is it an abiding love?
- John says that we may have "boldness in the day of judgment". There's the penetration of the hope arrow: boldness or confidence! You say to me, "Oh, I have hope!" But I ask you, are you bold in that hope? Is it a full assurance, an immovable confidence? There is no more important moment in all your existence, now or in eternity, than the moment you give account of yourself to God in judgment. Are you ready and confident in Christ for that moment?