Letter writing, for some, can be very difficult. Because while some find it easy, others find it not so easy indeed.
And this can be for a number of reasons. For example, sometimes we may not know what to say. Other times we may know what we want to say, but just don’t know how to say it. And then there are the issues of handwriting (and who can read it), and being super conscious of our grammar and language skills.
Now if the issue of letter writing hits a chord with you today, then take comfort, you are not alone. Because I’m sure we’ve all received letters from time to time, that are not so easy to read for one reason or another.
But the reason I’m even saying this to you, today, is not to put you off letter writing. On the contrary, I think we should all be encouraged to write letters (warts and all), because it is a basic means of keeping in contact. No! the reason I am raising this, today, is by way of an introduction to someone who excelled in long sentences, no punctuation, and bad handwriting. He also had an uncanny knack of raising important topics only to get side-tracked onto another issue. As a consequence, his letters were—and still are—very difficult to follow. But despite that he also had some very important things to say.
B. OUR PART IN CREATION
Now, of course, the person I’m describing is the Apostle Paul. An educated man who in this epistle alone wrote one sentence ten verses long. However, the message that he had to give—in that short extract alone—makes persisting with his letters all the more worthwhile.
But because of his writing style I’ve needed to rearrange the verses; I’ve changed the order in which he makes his points. And I’ve done that, because I think that it makes it easier to understand what he had to say. And there four important things which we would do well to note:
1. God’s Sovereign Plan (10)
And the first point is that despite the state of the world—and two thousand years ago it was not a lot different from today—Paul wanted to reassure his fellow believers to have hope. To believe that despite everything, in the end everything would be alright.
And what he meant by that, was that even though the world was made perfect—and had been corrupted through mankind’s disobedience to the point where endless disorder and disintegration reigned—life could still be built on hope.
So whether your country is occupied by Roman forces, or you’re living in times of constant terrorist threats and attacks, or whatever the issue is, Paul suggested that we should live knowing that in the end God’s creation will be restored to its former glory. And restored to its intended function. And this will be marked by the fact that all things, without exception, both in heaven and earth will be brought, united, under the headship of one person—his son, Jesus Christ.
Now in a world that is falling apart, that is good news. It was good news then, and it is good news now. Because although that doesn’t mean necessarily that the world will be put to rights in our own lifetime, we can and should live our lives knowing that in the end all wrongs will be righted, all injustices will be dealt with, and all contamination and decay will be brought to an end. And that should give us reason for hope even in the most difficult of times.
2. The Responsibility of Believers (11-13)
The second point is that whilst we continue to live through this process of corruption and decay, all believers in God—all who put their trust in him (without exception)—have a role to play. And we cannot excuse ourselves because it is inconvenient.
Initially, in history, this was through the selection of a nation of people by God—from the calling of Abraham to the establishment of the Israelite nation. However, since the birth and death of Jesus Christ it has included all other believers as well.
And the role that Paul says we are to play, is that we are to bring praise and glory to God. We are to praise him for the things that he does for us, for the blessings he provides, and for the guidance he gives. We are to thank him for who he is and what he has done. We are to give him glory, and play our roles in pointing people everywhere—who do not know him—to their creator and God.
Now this responsibility of believers wasn’t something that God made up as he went along, after, perhaps, having realised he’d made a mistake in the creation of the world. No! Paul says, that even before the world was created, God knew what the outcome of giving us freewill would be. As a consequence, he’d already built in to his design the need to make the world perfect again, and the part that believers would contribute while the world was in a state of decay.
As a consequence, even we—believers of today—have a role to play, preordained before creation itself. And our role is to continue to give him praise and glory. Not only because that is his due, but because of the effect of what our witness will be on those who do not have faith.
The spreading of the story, the good news, by the faithful, has always been part of God’s plan. And in spreading it, the knowledge of the truth of the gospel can be heard. This can lead to faith, and a restored relationship with God.
3. The Marks of a Believer (3-9)
As a consequence, because of our role and our responsibilities, the third point that Paul wanted to make is that there are certain features which should be part of a Christian’s life—that should mark us out as a believer, and as a person of God.
a). Lifted Above the Commonplace (3)
And the first of which is that our lives should be lifted above the commonplace.
Indeed, that we should live in the world to some extent—and deal with the same problems as everyone else—but we should also live in heaven, and that all issues should be dealt with on a heavenly plane.
As a consequence, we should expect a continuous flow of blessings from God. But not just of the material things, but in terms of the spiritual, which transcend the material, as well.
b). Humility (4a)
The second mark, for a Christian, relates to humility regarding election, or being chosen by God.
There should be a realisation, and acceptance, that we have not been chosen because we deserve to be, because we’ve led a good life, or whatever else we have done. On the contrary, we should live life knowing that because we were chosen by God before we even existed, our election by God is based on his grace, rather than something to which we can boast.
As far as a believer is concerned, faith is not something we can do, but something that rests totally on the work of God himself.
c). Living a Holy Life (4b-5)
The third mark of a Christian is that a Christian should try to live a holy life.
Of course, that doesn’t mean to say we will always be successful. But we should at least try to live according to God’s standards and not the world’s.
We may have been chosen to enjoy the fruits of eternal life, but we have also been chosen to live and display holiness—God’s way of living in this world. We have been set apart by God, not to do the world’s thing, but to do God’s thing. And that should include, making a concerted efforts to eliminate our own faults as well.
Mankind was created to have fellowship with God. And although that privilege was forfeited through sin, restoration to sonship has been made possible, through Christ—whose perfect life and example we are meant to follow.
d). Grace (6)
The fourth mark of a Christian is that a Christian lives by grace.
Nothing we can do merits any kind of acknowledgment from God. We’re just not good enough; we don’t meet his standards. If we live a good life, or if we do good deeds, that still will not take away or make up for our other imperfections.
Whatever we get, whatever we receive from God is completely undeserved. And it is only his divine favour towards us that makes any relationship with him or any blessing possible.
e). Redemption (7)
The fifth mark of a Christian is that a believer has been redeemed.
In God’s divine favour we have been bought back from the brink of hell. As a consequence, we have been forgiven our mistakes and failures.
The forgiveness we have received through grace, then, is a rich gift beyond man’s understanding. And it is infinitely beyond any earthly wealth. But the setting aside of sin was not done lightly, it was at a price. And the price was what Jesus had to do to fulfil the Old Testament sacrificial system—to sacrifice himself so that we might have life.
f). Wisdom and Prudence (8-9)
And the sixth mark of a Christian is that God gives believers the ability to see the great ultimate truths of eternity—the things that unbelievers just cannot understand.
He gives wisdom and prudence. But a believer only has them because God has chosen to reveal his will concerning the goal and purpose of life; the details of how it will all unfold and our place within it; and the desire to receive insight. A gift that only God can give. Because it cannot be obtained by our inventiveness or cleverness, or by another way.
4. Conclusion – The Christian Experience (14)
And as a consequence, of all that Paul had written regarding the state of the world—with the hope that a believer should have; the responsibility of a believer in giving praise and glory to God; and the marks of a believer, the things that mark out a true believer to be different—Paul was able to conclude, with his fourth point.
And that is, that he can sum up the Christian experience in terms of our lives now—that what we experience (guided by the Holy Spirit) is only a foretaste and a pledge of what a believer will inherit at the end of time.
Indeed, the gifts, the blessings, the insight, the reassurance, the guidance, the everything that God does now, will pale into insignificance with what we will inherit in the afterlife.
As Christians we may continue to live in this world, but we have a foot well entrenched in the next world as well. And what we are faced with now—in terms of the heavenly we experience now—is only a shadow of what is to come.
Even our redemption—the setting free of our slavery to sin—is only partial, and hence we will continue to make mistakes. But while it is only partial now, in the end we will experience it in all its fullness. And in the kind of world that we live in, that should give us much hope and much to look forward to in the life to come.
Now we started off today with the problem of writing letters. And for some people that is an issue that continues to be a sore point. However, the example of the Apostle Paul—who could write one sentence ten verses long, with no punctuation, and who got side-tracked so easily—shows us that there is indeed much value in even the worst writers putting pen to paper.
Paul’s writing skills may have been poor, but the things that he said make the struggle to work out what he was trying to say all the more worthwhile.
For believers there is hope in a lost world. However that does bring responsibilities. And it should reflect on the way that we live our lives. Indeed, the reflections of someone like Paul should give every believer strength and encouragement, as we seek to find meaning and purpose and our place in the world.
Posted: 17th June 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis