DEVOTION: The Need for Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10)
The apostle Paul is considered to be one of the great Christian leaders of his time. Indeed, his travels—at least his first three missionary journeys—dominate much of the book of Acts. And his letters—which were bound together and circulated amongst the early churches—form a major part of the back half of the New Testament.
Having said that, however, the Apostle Paul was not always seen in such glowing terms. Indeed, he came into the New Testament story as one who openly persecuted the church. After his conversion—and whilst undertaking his missionary journeys—he was often chased out of town by people who believed his teaching was a threat to their beliefs. And even in the churches where he established his ministry and teaching, he faced some very serious opposition.
But despite that—and even because of it—in this particular passage from 2 Corinthians, his theme is: reconciliation. And bearing in mind Paul’s history, we might well have expected him to immediately launch into an appeal for reconciliation between his detractors and himself. But interestingly, that is not the situation in this case.
And the reason for that, was that Paul believed he was a messenger of reconciliation. He believed that God had called him to be his instrument in the reconciliation of people with God. And as a consequence, no matter what Paul’s personal troubles were, Paul began this section of his letter in terms of the need for reconciliation with God.
In other words, first and foremost, in Paul’s mind was the need for the people at Corinth (and elsewhere) to appropriate by faith the reconciliation bought about by Christ’s death. And that superseded any need for any reconciliation between human beings.
But Paul was ever the realist. And so he then talked about the depth of that reconciliation.
Paul was very aware of the tugs and pulls on the members of the Corinthian church. Paul had lived in Corinth for about two years, and during that time he had been arrested and taken to court for preaching the Christian faith. So not only was Paul concerned that the people should be reconciled with God, but that they should have the depth of faith to stay reconciled with God too.
Paul’s readers had accepted the gospel and had experienced something of the grace of God of which it speaks. But Paul was concerned that their faith should be more than just superficial. Paul was particularly concerned that they could stand up to the influence of others on their lives, particularly those who were lurking in the background of the church, whose influence could be so destructive.
And then, having raised the issue of the need for quality reconciliation with God, only then did Paul go on to deal with his own personal issues: the need for reconciliation between him and certain members of the Corinthian church—reconciliation with those who were openly criticising him and his ministry. And as a consequence, he listed some of the things that he and his fellow workers had been through, in order to bring the Corinthians (and others) the message of the Gospel.
Throughout this section of Paul’s letter, then, the whole topic is on the need for reconciliation.
Despite his own problems with members of the Corinthian church, he saw the need for people to get their relationship right with God first—and not just in a superficial way, but in a way that was grounded in a strong faith and able to withstand the pressures to think and act otherwise. For then, and only then, having got themselves right with God, could anyone go on to be reconciled with others.
Now, of course, this whole teaching of Paul has certain ramifications.
After all, how often do we hear calls for peace in the world, for people and countries to cease from war, or to share resources with one another, and yet they have not first been asked to become reconciled with God? And how many people have we met who just cannot forgive someone else, and who has not been faced with the need for reconciliation with God either?
The importance of getting the order right: reconciliation with God first, then reconciliation with others, cannot be overstated. Because without reconciliation with God, true reconciliation with others is just not impossible.
Indeed, there are tribes and countries throughout the world who have, at times, pursued reconciliation with each other. But every now and again, old wounds are reopened and the fighting begins again. Yes, they may have been reconciled to each other once, but there is no depth to their commitment. Similarly, there are individuals who have pursued forgiveness, only for it all to blow up again.
Getting the order right then is one thing, but having that depth of commitment to reconciliation is another thing altogether. And that depth of commitment is just not possible without first having a meaningful relationship with God.
But once we have that solid commitment to build up a relationship with God—once we have accepted the idea of reconciliation with God first—then true reconciliation with others is possible. Indeed, it is no longer an optional extra, but should be part and parcel of every believer’s life.
Indeed, part of our commitment to God is to treat others in the same way that God treats us. As a consequence, we need to take the idea of being reconciled with our fellow believers very seriously. And we would do well to look at the extent to which the apostle Paul was prepared to go, in order to be reconciled to God, and for Christians to be reconciled with one another. And how seriously Paul took his ministry of reconciliation is indicated in the list of things he said about himself at the end of this passage.
The Apostle Paul, then, knew all about the need for reconciliation with God. And as an opponent of the Christian faith, he faced that need when he came face to face with the risen Jesus on the Damascus Road. From his travels, he also knew that any reconciliation—any commitment to others—needed to have solid foundations, because any superficial response would just not last.
For despite all his travels and efforts, and despite all his teaching, Paul knew what it was like to have people opposed to what he was saying and doing. And yet, he quite clearly knew that it was no good trying to reconcile with each other, without first laying the foundations by becoming reconciled with God first.
Posted: 26th May 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Christian Giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-15)
The church began in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost and was funded by members as they were able. When funds got low, a member would sell some property and give the proceeds to the twelve Apostles. The funds would then be distributed as the church thought fit.
Now unfortunately, bit by bit, with the sending out of missionaries, and the increasing number of widows and others to feed and to look after—and a drought—the financial strain on the church in Jerusalem came to breaking point. Indeed, it could no longer afford to continue in the same way.
As a consequence, what we have in 2 Corinthians is an appeal to help a struggling church. It is a contrast between two churches who both owed their existence to the church in Jerusalem and reflects two different attitudes to giving.
The first five verses describe the church that had been established in Macedonia (1-5). It was a church that Paul said was very generous. They’d had much trouble of their own; they’d had many problems. They weren’t particularly rich. But they were able to see that the church in Jerusalem was far worse off than they were. So they not only gave the little they could afford, but they gave much more than they could afford as well.
The next ten verses, however, describe the church in Corinth (6-15). And in contrast to the church in Macedonia, they were very rich. They had also taken on the idea of helping the church in Jerusalem. But when it came to the crunch, when it came to actually giving what they had promised, that was a different story. They wanted to keep their money for themselves. Indeed they found it very inconvenient that the church that was struggling was the one that was largely responsible for their own existence.
It’s an interesting contrast. And yet the “Corinthian” attitude towards money and possessions is still alive and well in many of our churches today. It has also got a lot of churches into trouble. But then any church who has their eyes set on preserving their own property and finances, has invariably taken their eyes off Jesus.
Now that was certainly the case in regard to the church at Corinth. But could the same be said of the churches to which we belong as well?
Posted: 26th February 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: My Grace Is Sufficient for You (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)
1. Our Struggles and Our Prayers
We all bear struggles of one kind or another. Indeed, some people seem to face nothing but struggles, while most of us only have periods where life can be difficult. And when life is a struggle, it can seem that no matter how much we pray—or others pray—nothing ever seems to change. It’s like God isn’t listening, or that he doesn’t seem to care.
In these difficult times, then, our dilemma can be that we know (intellectually) that God does care. But on the other hand, it’s like what we experience doesn’t match up to what we believe to be true.
Because whatever we know about God, how many of us still face the family struggles—the constant battles between family members, who make no attempt to get on with one another; a wayward child, who seems incapable of growing up; there are the various ailments and diseases that either won’t go away, or that it’s just one thing after another; there are the people or individuals, who just seem to be out to give you a hard time, and who take great delight in making your life a misery. And those are just a few examples.
Indeed, how many of us have faced (or face) one, or even all of those struggles? And despite knowing intellectually that God cares, it’s like hitting your head against a brick wall as far as God is concerned.
2. My Grace Is Sufficient for You
Well, if I’ve hit a raw nerve today, then I’d like to refer you to some words that God spoke to the Apostle Paul. Because Paul was a man that knew that God was with him, and yet he was a man who suffered—and he’d been suffering for a long time. He had even prayed to God to take his suffering away. But the words, the reply from God, were not, “Well done you good and faithful servant, I will take your suffering away.” Rather, they were simply, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
So today what do those words mean? Are they some sort of religious gobbledygook—to explain away a God who doesn’t care? Do they represent a lack of faith and, consequently, a lack of healing? Or is there much more to it than that?
And if so, how can our understanding of the meaning of those words help us in our own struggles in life, and with own prayers that don’t always seem to get answered too?
B. LIVING WITH INFIRMITY
1. Healing Miracles
Well, I don’t know about you, but when I pick up the Bible, and read it, one of the first things that comes to mind is the sheer number of times that God came to the rescue of his people. He rescued Jacob and his family from starvation, by placing his son Joseph in Egypt, in charge of the grain (Gen 41:41). He rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, by calling Moses to lead them into the Promised Land (Ex 6:6). He rescued the Israelites from the Philistines, by using David to defeat Goliath. He used prophets like Elijah and Elisha, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and to provide food for the hungry. And then with Jesus . . . there are all the healing miracles, seemingly one after another: people who were lame, blind, on their death beds, and even dead. In addition, he cast out demons; he rescued a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death; and he encouraged the poor, fed the hungry, and forgave people’s sins.
And all of these things are just some of the list of the things God that God did for his people. And, if that wasn’t enough, there are stories where God came to rescue of unbelievers too. And Naaman, a commander in the Aramean army who was cured of his leprosy, is just one example (2 Kings 5).
When we read the bible, therefore, it is very easy to get caught up with the expectation that God will fix every little thing that we ask—physical ailments or whatever—and that no request will be refused.
However, even in Jesus’s time, not everyone who wanted healing was healed. Indeed, the priorities of Jesus often meant that were times when he withdrew from situations so that he wouldn’t be hijacked into simply being a physical healing kind of Messiah. And sometimes he called people to secrecy, so that he wouldn’t be inundated with people simply wanting physical healing.
So with that in mind, therefore, perhaps we could reread our bibles and look with a different focus. Because there are many examples where God did not resolve people’s struggles, even for the most faithful. And instead, he asked them to live with the dilemmas they faced.
King David, for example, for most of his days, lived with the constant threat of his life. Before he became king, his life was threatened on a number of occasions, most notably by King Saul. When he became king, he faced many years of opposition from Saul’s family. His life was almost at constant risk from the surrounding nations. And at the end of his reign, even members of his own family—his children—plotted against him.
The prophet, Elijah, many times, was in fear for his life. He wasn’t popular with the then King Ahab, having constantly to be the bearer of bad news. And he certainly wasn’t popular with Ahab’s wife Jezebel either—denouncing her obsession with her god Baal. And on at least one occasion he had to run for fear of his life.
The Apostle Paul’s protégé, Timothy, we’re told suffered from a weak stomach and frequent illnesses (2 Timothy 5:23).
3. Paul—A Case in Point (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)
And the Apostle Paul . . . well, haven’t we just read that he faced two problems? Firstly, he was under constant attack from members of the Corinthian church. They were saying that Paul wasn’t all that he claimed to be, that he was a fraud, and that he hadn’t really seen Jesus on the Damascus Road or anywhere else—that was just part of his imagination. And these attacks continued, despite the witnesses to his Damascus Road experience (Acts 22:17-21).
And, secondly, that he suffered a “thorn in the flesh”.
Now we really don’t know what that thorn in the flesh was. However, the evidence does suggest that it was a distressing, if not humiliating, physical ailment. Some suggestions have been that he suffered from pains in the ear or head, epilepsy or convulsive attacks, eye problems or malaria. But whatever the ailment it was, it was evidently something that was a recurring physical disability, and it wasn’t going away.
4. My Grace Is Sufficient for You (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Now, in all of these examples—of those who were required to live life with their struggles—they weren’t just any people, they were David, Elijah, Timothy, and Paul. They were all great men of the bible—all who were noted for their faith.
And yet they were also four people who had had to come to grips with that message from God. And God’s words to Paul, again . . . “My grace is sufficient for you”.
5. The Reason for Unresolved Struggles
Now does that seem harsh? Does it sound like a god who cares? Or does it sound like a god who really doesn’t care?
The problem for us is that we know that God wants us to live ideal lives—free from anxiety and pain. And yet the reality for the Christian is not like that at all. Indeed, I’ve just quoted examples where some of the greatest of God’s people have been told by God, that they needed to put up with their lot in life.
And why? Because God had something far greater in mind than just people’s physical healing, or even living a peaceful life. More important that both of those things was people’s spiritual welfare. It’s the one thing that is far more important than any other thing.
As a consequence, Jesus was prepared to walk away from people requiring physical healing, because he didn’t want the message of spiritual healing to be lost. As a consequence, God is prepared to use people’s weaknesses—and not take them away—so that they, and others, might come to know him or to know him better.
And there’s a good illustration of God’s priorities recorded in John’s gospel. Indeed, John tells us of an incident in Jesus’s life where he saw a man who had been born blind. Now at the time, it was believed that blindness was the direct result of someone’s sin, and consequently only someone who had the authority to take away sin could cure them. So the disciples asked Jesus the obvious question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:2). To which Jesus’ reply was: “Neither . . . It was in order that the work of God might be revealed in him.” (Jn 9:3).
“It was in order that the work of God might be revealed in him.” A sentiment that is matched by those words of God to Paul. Because God didn’t just say that “My grace is sufficient for you” but he said … “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
1. David, Elijah, Timothy, & Paul
It’s a sobering thought, then, that we are faced with passages in the bible that tend to suggest that physical healing—and the resolution of ongoing worldly problems—may not be the immediate priority that God has on our lives. For sure he wants our total healing, but there is a priority of God which goes beyond physical healing and goes beyond the solving of all worldly dilemmas. Indeed, it may be that God is telling us that rather than removing those dilemmas, we might actually have to learn to cope with them.
After all, King David—despite the enemies that surrounded him, and the enemies that never seemed to go away—still quite clearly identified his God as the great shepherd king, who would look after him and care for all his needs. David learned to put his struggles aside, and despite all the opposition was able to get on with his life—a life with God at the helm.
Elijah—having escaped the clutches of Ahab and Jezebel, and despite not being offered an immediate and permanent solution to his persecution—was able to take on the training of his future replacement Elisha. And he was able to continue his work with Elisha by his side, despite Ahab and Jezebel still being around.
Timothy also continued his work, and often accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys.
And Paul stopped praying for healing for himself, and instead, considered that his suffering was a good thing. Because far from hampering his ministry, he acknowledged that it made his ministry far more effective.
2. The 2 Corinthians Solution
So what is the point of all this? What benefit is there in God not always healing physical ailments or solving people’s various worldly dilemmas? Well, in terms of the letter of Paul to the Corinthians, Paul identified three reasons why his continued suffering actually helped him grow in his Christian faith.
Firstly, Paul recognised that his sufferings were necessary as a means to keep him humble (2 Cor 12:7). It would have been very easy for Paul—with all his personal experiences and visions of Christ—to get carried away, to lose perspective, and to big note himself in the eyes of the rest of the church. However, Paul identified that his continuing thorn in the flesh was a good thing in keeping him humble, particularly in regard to keeping him on track in the Christian faith.
Secondly, Paul identified that even though God hadn’t healed him, he had given him the strength to cope with his struggles. Yes, the struggles may still have been there, but they no longer occupied his mind to the exclusion of all else. Indeed, he rejoiced in them to the point where he could cope with more than just his physical ailment. He could also cope with all the insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties (2 Cor 12:10)—that he faced as a Christian—inflicted upon him by believers and non-believers alike.
And thirdly, Paul recognised that because he was weak, Jesus shone through him even more. The things that Paul did, he couldn’t possibly do on his own. It was, therefore, much more obvious not only to Paul, but to the people to whom he was ministering, that God wasn’t just a theory to be discussed, but someone who was alive, and active, and working through Paul.
For Paul, therefore, God’s lack of healing was a good thing. He recognised that his lack of healing served as a constant reminder of his dependence upon God. For Paul, this wasn’t a punishment, but rather had more positive implications—with a view to his growth in grace. It helped him in his own spiritual growth, and it helped him to be more effective in his service for his Lord and saviour. Paul’s suffering was a test of his Christian character—to which he could either grow or crumble in a heap. And our suffering can be a test of our Christian character too.
When we consider our struggles and our prayers—and our prayers which don’t always seem to be answered—it is not necessarily that God has abandoned us. Rather, that he may have an alternative plan.
For sure, physical healing, or the resolution of our dilemmas, may be our first choice. But in the context of God’s greater concern for spiritual healing, rather than physical healing, maybe, when our prayers do not appear to be answered, we should consider God’s alternative priorities.
For sure, when we read the bible, we might like to focus on all the positive healing miracles, and on all the times when peoples’ health is restored. But we should balance that out with the situations experienced by other people of God, where God did not always take away the problems they faced. But rather said, like he said to Paul, “my grace is sufficient for you.”
Being able to accept those words of God isn’t a religious cop out for apparently unanswered prayer. Rather, it is the way forward where we too can acknowledge that God gives us the ability to cope with our struggles—he helps to learn to live them; that those struggles can be used by God to help us grow spiritually; and, in addition, those struggles can place us in a position where God is able to use us more effectively for the spiritual building up of others in the world.
Posted: 4th June 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
SERMON: Knowing and Experiencing our Trinitarian God (2 Corinthians 13:14)
We seem, at times, to be a nation who loves puzzles. Indeed, some like traditional jigsaw puzzles and spend hours putting all the pieces together. Others prefer those wooden puzzles where you need to fit all the pieces together to make a particular shape, or even a Rubik’s cube type of puzzle. Then, of course, there are the brain teasers. And there is the abundance of whodunit stories, whether in novel form or in any one of a number of television detective shows. And more intriguing for some, is the many man-made mysteries, like: Who built the pyramids? What is the purpose of Stonehenge? And further still, others involve themselves in the big puzzles of life, like the size and complexity of the universe and, scientifically, how it came about.
2. The Trinity Puzzle
Indeed, there seems to be a puzzle for just about anyone. And there’s even one for those of us in the church. In fact, it’s probably the biggest puzzle of them all: The Trinity Puzzle—one God but three persons. There’s God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And yet there’s still only one God.
It’s a puzzle that’s always been difficult to grasp. And over the centuries the church has had great difficulty in explaining it to the satisfaction of its critics. Which, of course, will never be achieved. After all how can we realistically expect to understand or explain God?
And yet, it’s important to try. Because we need to acknowledge the God that we believe in. And we need to be trying to experience God in all his fullness.
B. THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
So, what sort of God do we believe in and experience? Well, I’m going to suggest that God could be something like this:
1.God the Father
First of all, God the Father:
When we think of God the Father, we could think of God the Creator. The God who created the world, the universe, and everything in six days. The God who gave a command and it came to pass. The God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing; who created night and day, sea, and dry land; who created the animals, plant life, and every living thing. And finally once everything else was in place, he created mankind—you and me—to live in this world that he created.
But let’s not leave it there. Because we also have God the lawmaker and judge. The God who gave rules to Adam and Eve about what they could and couldn’t eat in the garden—and then expelled them when they disobeyed. The God who gave Moses laws and commandments for the Israelites to follow and, when they strayed from their beliefs, forced them to wander for forty years in the wilderness. The God who sets such high standards, that none of us have a hope of even coming close to the perfection he demands.
And then there’s God, the intimate God. The God who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And throughout the pages of Old and New Testaments there are numerous examples of God pursuing a direct relationship with his people. Indeed, his very purpose in creating us was so that we could have an intimate relationship with him.
2. God the Son
Now I know that is a very inadequate description of God the Father—and there are a lot of things left unsaid—but, secondly, what about God the Son?
Well, there’s Jesus, the man—God who somehow divested himself of his godhood, so that he could be born, live and die like any other human being. God who made himself witness life first hand, just as we do, with all its pitfalls and temptations, with all its illnesses, tragedies, joys, and pleasures. Someone who can empathise with our needs.
Then there’s Jesus the carer—that special kind of man who was one of a kind. The one who cared for people, particularly the outcasts, sick, disabled—the forgotten and ignored people—those who don’t always find acceptance in the community. In other words a totally unselfish man, a man who wanted to share what he had himself—a relationship with God—with everyone else.
Then there’s Jesus the Saviour—the reason for his presence in the world. The innocent man who deliberately allowed his life to be cut short, so that he could take the punishment we deserve for our disobedience to God. The one and only sacrifice that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.
3. God the Holy Spirit
Now again, I haven’t said half of what I should have done, but, thirdly, what about God the Holy Spirit?
Well, there’s the indwelling nature of the Holy Spirit—the presence of God inside every Christian—filling us, bringing us comfort, insight, and guidance. He’s the “another counsellor” that Jesus talked about. And he’s been given to us to teach us, encourage us, and to inspire us in our walk with God. Indeed without the Holy Spirit we would not be Christians at all (no matter what we call ourselves).
And then there’s the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts. The person who gives Christian’s talents and abilities we never knew were possible. The Spirit who changes people from being worldly to people who are active in the faith, building up and encouraging one another.
The Spirit . . . enabling us to not only believe, but to carry out the tasks that God wants, and giving us the right tools for the job. And again we could go on…
Now, of course I’ve done God a great injustice in limiting God to the aspects of his nature that I’ve just described. But I’ve deliberately simplified it to make a point. And the point is: That contrary to the many descriptions of God that we often hear, even amongst believers, the reality is that God is so much fuller and so much richer than many people either know or can describe or even have experienced.
And, consequently, in this is a challenge to us all. Because getting the puzzle right—the academic explanation of who God is—is one thing. But knowing and experiencing the fuller image of God, is another thing altogether.
After all, do we really know and experience God the Father: The creator, lawmaker, and judge, and the one who wants an intimate relationship with his people? Do we really know and experience God the Son: The God become man, the carer, and the saviour? And do we really know and experience God the Holy Spirit: The God who lives in every believer, and the giver of gifts? Because, if we don’t, or if we are missing certain aspects, then the challenge is to get to know the missing parts of the God that we say we believe in.
1. God the Father
And that means regarding God the Father:
The need to see and experience God in his creation. And that involves not only seeing the magnitude of what he has done, but also the need to acknowledge that this isn’t our world to do with what we like. On the contrary, it’s his world and he has given it to us for a purpose: To care for it, and to take our proper place in it.
It means to accept that God is the lawmaker and judge, and that the rules he has given us are for our own self-protection. Break those rules and God, in order to be consistent with himself, will need to bring justice, and judgement will be the end result. And just as justice is what God demands of himself, so he expects justice to be one of our aims too.
And it also means that we need to accept that God is also the intimate God. And the very reason we exist—apart from to look after creation—is to live life constantly in communication with him. Indeed, to talk to, and listen to the one who gave us life, is an essential element of knowing and experiencing God.
2. God the Son
To know and experience God the Son:
We need to see Jesus the God made man, and the things that he gave up in order to be born and experience life as we know it. We need to see the kind of love that he had for his creation, and the kind of commitment he has given for us all. Commitment which he calls us to have towards him and our fellow man.
It means that we need to appreciate the life of Jesus the carer, who in his few short years on earth showed compassion and care well beyond the norm. He went out of his way to tell others that not only was judgement coming, but there was a way, one way to avoid being condemned.
And, regarding that, it means that we need not only to appreciate Jesus the Saviour for what he did, but we need to accept what Jesus has done for ourselves. And more than that, we also need to go out and tell others about what Jesus has done, so that they too will have the opportunity to share in salvation.
3. God the Holy Spirit
And to get to know and experience God the Holy Spirit:
We need to acknowledge our dependence upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer. That it is the Holy Spirit whose role it is to guide us to show us the way. That it is his presence which guarantees our salvation and which proves the claims of God the Father and God the Son.
And it means that we need to not only accept the Holy Spirit, the giver of gifts, but we need to actively participate in allowing the Spirit to work through us and use us in ways we never thought were possible—through the gifts with which he endows us.
4. One God
And then, when we start to get all of those things right, only then will we get to know God as he really is. Only then will we start to experience him in the way he wants to work in our lives.
Now all of these things combined (and more) should be the God that we know and experience. Leave aspects out, and we effectively deny part of who God is. Keep everything in, and we will start to understand God and experience him in all his fullness.
D. GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Now having said that, it’s very easy to get things out of balance—emphasising one aspect more than another. For example: There are dangers in so emphasising the Father, that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can get lost. There are dangers in so emphasising Jesus, that the Father and the Holy Spirit can get lost. And there are dangers in so emphasising the Holy Spirit, that the Father and Jesus can get lost.
The truth of God is in all aspects, and what we should experience should be in all of those aspects too. Consequently, part of knowing and experiencing God is a balancing act, and we need to keep every single aspect of God in balance. And this isn’t something that only individuals can have trouble with, but whole congregations can have trouble with as well.
For example, even within the Anglican Church we have: High Churches which emphasise the holiness of God, but often to the detriment of the work of the Holy Spirit and the mission of the church. We have Charismatic or Pentecostal churches, which emphasise the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but often to the detriment of the holiness of God and the mission of the church. And we have evangelical churches which emphasise the mission of the church, but often to the detriment of the holiness of God and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now we may not all be comfortable with every aspect of God’s personality. But to over emphasise one aspect to the detriment of another, or to deny the bits we are uncomfortable with, or relegate some aspects as being less important than others, means at the very least we will have a deficient view of who God really is. We will also be unable to worship or appreciate him in all his fullness.
So no matter what we are personally comfortable with, and no matter what we think of certain traditions—even traditions within the Anglican Church—the fact is that the truth lies in maintaining a balance. Because just as God is really a balance of the things that I’ve just described (and more), so our experience of God should be a balance of all those things too. Having said that, however, there is something to be said for emphasising different aspects from time to time.
So today we have a puzzle. Indeed perhaps the greatest puzzle of all—the puzzle of a God who is one and yet three. But I think it’s healthy to set aside time to think about this puzzle, because we need to remind ourselves constantly of whom we believe in, whom we worship, and whom we owe everything, absolutely everything to. We need to have a picture of God that is as a whole as we can make it, and we need opportunities like this to check for any imbalance in our beliefs of who he truly is.
Realistically we can’t expect to fully understand the concept of the Trinity, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. The God we experience should be all (and much, much more) of each and every one of the attributes that I’ve mentioned, because our view of God will be sadly deficient if we ignore even one of them.
Posted: 1st August 2020
© 2020, Brian A Curtis
DEVOTION: Grace, Love, and Fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14)
Paul’s relationship with Corinth began during his second missionary journey. He was responsible for taking the faith into the city, and spent eighteen months there, building up the church and teaching them about God (Acts 18:11). He then moved on and returned to Jerusalem.
About eighteen months later, Paul wrote a letter to the church, to encourage them in the faith. And the church wrote back asking for direction on certain matters of life and theology.
In the meantime, information from several sources came to him, telling him that things weren’t as well as they might be in the Corinthian church.
So, not being a position to go to the church, he wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians to chastise them for their abuses and practices, and to encourage them to put aside their differences. He also advised them that he would be visiting them shortly, to make sure they had responded positively to what he was saying, and that everything was O.K.
Unfortunately, this attempt at fixing the problems in the church wasn’t that successful. And so he made an urgent visit to Corinth to put things right. And this was followed up by a third and painful letter, which seemed to ease the situation.
As a consequence, he began to write a fourth letter—which we know as 2 Corinthians—although it appears as though as while he was writing it, more bad news regarding the state of the church was received. So much so that the last four chapters of the letter have a very different tenor to the first nine.
And it’s at the conclusion of what we know as 2 Corinthians that we find the words, that we now know as “The Grace”.
And the purpose of that little line at the end? Well, it wasn’t just a nice Trinitarian formula to say at the end of a meeting—or at the end of a service like we tend to use it today. Rather, it was Paul’s way of saying: whatever your problems, whatever your differences, whatever your arguments, there’s a much better way. He was saying that if only you’d put all the worldly things behind you and experience the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, then all your differences would come to naught. You would then be the people that God intended you to be.
And, of course, with that, the point of the grace takes on a whole new meaning.
Because, firstly, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now whichever part of the bible you read, man is constantly shown to be a sinner—he just can’t get it right. And the reality is that the Corinthians couldn’t get it right, and we can’t get it right today either. However, the message of the New Testament is that in a sense it doesn’t matter. Because by grace—the free gift of God—God is able to treat every believer as though he (or she) has never sinned.
It’s not something we can do for ourselves. But it is something that God does for us, made possible through Jesus. And if we accept that free gift, then that is something that will spill out into every aspect of our lives. Including, our response to God, and our consequent responsibilities to be obedient, with all the moral attitudes that go with it.
Secondly, the love of God.
Now one of the odd things about the gospels is that Jesus is not recorded as speaking about God’s love very often at all. However, in a sense he didn’t need to because Jesus expressed God’s love in action. And he did this through his countless acts of compassionate healing; through his teaching about God’s acceptance of the sinner; through his grief-stricken attitude to human disobedience; and by being a friend of tax-collectors and outcasts. Jesus demonstrated God’s love. And that has to be worth more than any words could say.
And with that in mind, what Paul was trying to say was that each of us has been given many things by God. And what we need to do is to express our love and our thanks to God. But not just in words. We need to express our love in action, firstly to God—who has made all it possible—but, as a consequence of this, to the people around us as well.
And thirdly, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Now this, in particular, is the one with which Christians so often get stuck. Because to some people, “fellowship” is nothing more than a group of people meeting together. Indeed, some churches even call their congregations “fellowships”.
And yet the kind of fellowship that Paul was referring to was the idea of communion with one another. Enjoying close relationships and being partners in a common enterprise. In other words, being 100% involved and 100% committed to letting the Holy Spirit work within us. And being 100% involved and 100% committed to the common enterprise which is the responsibility of every believer. And that is: Christian work, the corporate Christian life, and the responsibility of sharing with others.
As you can see, then, there’s a great contrast between the church, as it was at Corinth—with all its many faults and failings—and the idea that none of those things should be part and parcel of the Christian church at all. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no room for a divided church, or a church where love and compassion had been thrown out of the window. And there is no room for it now.
In its original context, then, this one short phrase was an attempt by Paul, to show the church at Corinth that there was so much more to faith than to simply continue their divisions, with all the problems that naturally followed. And the same is true for us today too.
Posted: 10th June 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis