2 Corinthians 4:13-15 “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”
The great Corinthian congregation was full of the life of God working away in its midst. Favoured citizens of Corinth were being regenerated and baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ. When strangers came into the church services some of them actually fell down and cried, “God is really among you!” There was love, joy and peace in their lives which were the fruit of the Holy Spirit. There were spiritual gifts given to the people in order for them to minister to one another and to receive ministry from one another. The only explanation for these gifts was that they were the enabling charismata of God the Holy Ghost. When Paul witnessed all this life it made him more content to die in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. He rejoiced that the life of God was seen in those he served. These are the closing words of the verse immediately before our text: “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (v.12).
Then, notice his very next words. He is speaking of the mighty life of God in a particular congregation, and see what his mind inevitably turns to – “It is written”! On earth where will you find the life of heaven? Where much is made of the Bible, the written word of God. The Scriptures are God-breathed. The holy men of the Old Testament spoke as they were moved by the Spirit of God. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. So if Paul thinks of the true life of God at work in a particular congregation he is certain that the Bible has a central part in those churches, not rituals, not ceremonies, not choreography, not music but the miraculous Bible. Now we need to ask this particular question, what characterises the ministry if the life of God is at work in a church, and look to our text to see what answers it provides.
1. IT IS A MINISTRY OF CONVICTION.
“It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” (v.13). The apostle quotes from the Old Testament, Psalm 116:10. David is speaking there about his brush with death, “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me” (v.3), but he called on the Lord and was delivered. He trusted in God and was not put to shame, so this psalm of deliverance comes out of an experience of David’s personal living faith. When Paul read the psalm he immediately identified with David. Death was at work in him too, but the same Lord who delivered King David had been delivering this apostle Paul and he was also at work in the Corinthians bringing life to them. What did they all possess? “That same spirit of faith” Paul says (v.13).
For example, we read in the Scriptures the incomparable Ninetieth Psalm. It is the oldest of the psalms, beginning, “Lord thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.” It was written by Moses about 3,400 years ago. Yet it is utterly contemporary, lucid, fervent, God-exalting and most humble. It is everything that a prayer should be. I believe that on the very last day, minutes before Christ returns, there will be people in every corner of the world being saved and sanctified by this psalm which was written 1,400 years before Christ.
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place
In generations all,
Before thou ever hadst brought forth
The mountains great or small.
What makes those words timeless and powerful? It is the spirit of faith that first breathed them forth, which faith king David also had four hundred years later, and which a thousand years later Paul knew that he himself had, and which we 21st century Christians also have. In other words, we are affirming that saving faith, which enables a man to confess Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, is a gift from God. The Bible makes that utterly clear: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephs. 2:8). When some men came to John the Baptist and told him about everyone going away from them to listen to Jesus whom John had baptized he meekly answered them, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).
And every virtue we possess,
And every victory won,
And every thought of holiness,
Are his alone.
The spirit of faith, which every believer possesses under the old covenant or the new, is a gift from God. To what is compared the natural heart of man? To a stone. What will grow on a pebble? Nothing at all. The granite heart must be changed before it can breathe with loving faith to Christ. Will a man with a heart of stone say, “I’m a lost sinner and my only hope of forgiveness is the death of the blessed Lamb of God for me”? That is impossible. Then it would not be a heart of stone. That is only what a man with a new heart, a heart of flesh, can say. God gives the faith which he demands from us. He gives the same spirit of faith in every single believer.
We may be standing on a pavement when along come a group of Hare Krishna followers chanting and beating their drums. We are not blessed at the sight and sound because we don’t have the same spirit of faith which they have. When the cry goes forth from the minaret summoning the Muslim faithful to prayer we do not hurry along to join with them because God has not given to them the same spirit of faith. When men deny the virgin born Jesus, his substitutionary death, his bodily resurrection, then, though they be preachers and bishops, they do not display the same spirit of faith that we have.
Paul read the words of psalm 116 and he knew that that psalmist had the same faith in the same Lord as himself. He had trusted in God and so he prayed as he did. Then when Paul studied the content of the psalm, its spirit of penitence and trust – a God-honouring and self-abasing spirit – then he knew that he and the psalmist both were possessed by the same spirit of faith. It was also there in the Corinthian congregation where the life of God was so evident. Faith begins with what is written in Scripture. “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Roms. 19:17). Paul and the Corinthian church fed on that Book. Then their faith was fashioned and moulded by the same Spirit that had breathed out the Bible. The spirit of faith was in them.
So, this spirit of saving faith, present in Moses, David, Paul, the Corinthians Christians and in many of us, is a sovereign creation of God. We are debtors to God for it. In other words, no one can be praised for having it. I have watched my daughter carry a child for the last months. I know that she suffered the travail of giving birth to him. I have witnessed her feeding him and changing him. She will soon be binding up all his bruises and comforting him in all his sorrows as he grows up. She will care for him night and day through all his childhood diseases, sitting up late at night, rising from her bed when he cries and soothing him back to sleep. After he is grown should she reward him for calling her ‘Mother’? Should she say, “Thank you so much for calling me your mother”? Indeed not! Anything less would be unforgivable. Having received so much from her hand, what should possess him to refuse to honour her? Will he not rather say one day when she is frail and near death, that the greatest privilege he ever had was of being her son, and being given the privilege of calling her his mother?
So too when Paul saw the spirit of faith in the Corinthians church or in any other congregation you never find him saying, “Thank you for believing in God.” Not once. He says, “We always thank God that he gave you faith, that true genuine saving faith, that Moses and David and the apostles also had.” And if you might hear of some evangelist telling you how to believe God, and name things, and claim things, bragging to you that ‘he believed for a Mercedes’ and for a high paying job, you can be sure that man is an utter stranger to the spirit of faith, because that spirit excludes any boasting in any attainments.
What does this spirit of faith do? It makes us speak. You will never find a modernist on a soap box preaching his universalist message, and a good thing too. There are no modernist evangelists. Modernism is inarticulate. Its diagnosis is faulty and so is its cure. But the spirit of faith, taught by what God has written, makes a proclamation. Of course the tele-evangelist speaks. Oh, how he speaks, and this discredits testimonies and thanksgivings. But bad money would never be put in circulation unless good money was indisputably valuable. It is not the dumb but the confessing Christian who glorifies God. There is no merit in the secret followers of Nicodemus who make a merit of their silence, and boast that they have never by a syllable betrayed their faith. If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly. Faith is betrayed when it is kept secret. Let everyone of us have the conviction that we are first of all a believer in the Lord who also happens to be a housewife, or who happens to be a professor, or who happens to be a student, or who happens to be retired. Our priority is that we are believers.
Our faith makes us speak. When young Andrew heard from John of the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world “he first found his brother” (John 1:41), and then he spoke to him, “We have found the Messiah … and he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:42). Because Andrew believed he spoke. The local University Christian Union has an annual mission which is a useful concerted effort, but it can never take the place of private, personal encounters. Man to man, one to one, heart to heart, eyes to eyes. This is the evangelism of the future encouraged by the worship of a local church in which the words “it is written” are all important.
Consider the phrase ‘hand picked fruit.’ Nowadays we have machines for harvesting crops like cotton and potatoes, but to pick eating apples, and raspberries, and strawberries there are no suitable machines because they will damage the fruit. Lovingly picked by hand the fruit is less likely to be harmed. Which thing is a parable. We must discover the art of a hands-on approach to people who are strangers to the gospel, and to personally dealing with them. Some people like Ernest C. Reisinger strengthened that gift in a wonderful manner but every Christian has to say a word for his Lord. At the end of the day, our speaking must be done with a lisping stammering tongue. Our living out the life of Jesus day by day in credible godliness is of course indispensable, but without words it is not enough. Paul could say to one church that he was gentle among them like a nursing mother – and nobody hearing that letter read out to them laughed. They knew it was so. But a life alone without words is not enough. Music won’t do it: it is a cold medium. A sketch or drama spot wont do it: that is a colder medium. Choreography won’t do it: that is the coldest of all. Sooner or later He must be spoken – his name, his claims, his promises, his warnings, his overtures, his invitations to men. Words on our lips about him are a hot medium. My fear is that so many will one day stand before him and have to show no more than the barren fig-tree could show – nothing but leaves. “We speak what we do know, and witness to the things we have seen,” and “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim” (John 3:11, 1 John 1:3).
It is because of the great Object of our faith that we will speak. We are believing in the Blessed One who loved us and gave himself for us and so we speak of him to others. If our sight of him is dimmed, or been sullied and spoiled by coldness of heart or by secret backsliding we will be silent. If we have drawn the line with Jesus we will not speak. Many who once clearly carried about in their bodies the death of Jesus need today to pick up crucified Christ and begin to take him with them again. The converted need to be re-converted, if that does not strain our theology too much. The amount of faith you have is less important than the clear object of your faith. If your faith in Christ is as a grain of mustard seed it is enough for you to do the hard thing you are being asked to do. Not because of the faith but because of whom the faith is focused upon.
I am saying that our faith in Christ brings us to stand right in front of the heart’s door of a sinner and start to knock on it. For example, one older teenager picks up hitch-hikers and he greets them by saying, “Hello, I’m Jack Jones, and I want to share with you that Jesus is alive.” Hitch-hikers confronted in that way rarely give trouble. Another church-member visits the hospital and he says to a patient, “My reason for visiting you is to let you know about the love of Jesus, that there is nothing better in the whole world than knowing him.” He has seen a whole family come to faith through speaking to one member and giving that one a Bible. That is where it started. We know of two women who have a ministry to students, and they often say, “May we have a few minutes of your time to talk to you about Jesus Christ and the new life he gives?” They all seek to get the truth about the Lord before men in as personal and honest and loving a manner as possible, not letting the hour of opportunity slip. Because they trust in Christ they have to speak for him.
It was that sort of faith that the heroes in Hebrews 11 displayed. That was what enabled them to subdue kingdoms and obtain promises and work righteously. John White was serving on an aircraft carrier in the War and a few Christians were meeting for prayer and a Bible study each week on board that ship. They wanted to advertise their meeting as they were sailing home from the Far East. John White was delegated to approach the skipper, a testy irascible professional. “What do you want?” he said curtly as John stood to attention before him. “Hurry up. I don’t have time to waste. What’s this? A Bible study. I read the lesson on this ship and we don’t need Bible studies.” John stood and waited. There seemed nothing else to do. “Well, what are you waiting for?” “I want to put up a notice, Sir …” “Didn’t you hear what I said? I take the Sunday services on this ship. I read the prayers. I read the lesson. Nothing more is needed.” “Yes, Sir.” Silence. “Why are you still standing there, White? The door is behind you.” I felt sick. “I want to put a notice up, Sir…” “Damn you. Don’t I make sense?” Pause. “Put your idiotic notice up. Put up any notice you like. Get out!” “Yes Sir – and thank you very much, Sir” (John White, “The Fight”, IVP, 1977, p.104). And through those meetings there were those who came to trust in the Saviour. It is faith in King Jesus Christ that makes us speak.
There is not a young person whose life has not been given a jolt through hearing spontaneous words of faith on the lips of a Christian. John Miller said, “I vividly recall an experience I had as a youthful unbeliever, steeped in intellectual despisal of the Christian faith. It was August 1945, and the atomic bomb had just been exploded over Hiroshima. As we commuters boarded our bus, people were shaking their heads and wondering whether this new weapon would destroy the world. A sailor responded quietly, ‘No, the world won’t ever be destroyed by atomic bombs. Jesus won’t let that happen. He’s coming back first.’ I was completely silenced by this unquestioning confidence. It was biblical boldness that came from the Spirit of God” (John Miller, “Evangelism and Your Church”, P&R ,1980, p.35). The sailor believed and therefore he spoke.
It is a sin not to speak when God in his providence gives us the opportunity. A Londoner was taking some fresh air one evening standing on the pavement in front of his house, minding his own business. A policeman came across the street: “Come on. Move along.” “I’ll not budge,” the man said angrily. “A man has a right to stand in front of his own home.” But the policeman was as stubborn as the loiterer. The case of the man who stood still landed in the courts. The magistrate had to hand out a fine because the law against loitering with intent after warning had been broken. There was an uproar. Was it justice? Surely the police have better things to do, but have you noticed how often in the Scriptures it is said to be a crime to stand still? In one of the Lord’s parables a man with one talent appeared before the judge. The accused was not a thief. He just stood pat. He had done nothing with his talent. Hear the harsh sentence: “You wicked and slothful servant. Take the talent from him … Cast him into outer judgment.”
To stand still is to stand condemned. Sometimes silence is golden, but there is such a thing as a guilty silence. John Stott describes going to Pembrokeshire on the night sleeper from London and finding himself sharing the two-berth cabin with a young land agent. “He was occupying the top bunk. In the morning, while preparing to wash, he accidentally dropped the contents of his sponge bag on to the floor and vented his annoyance by taking the name of Christ in vain. I said nothing. Indeed, I was sorely tempted to remain silent. The usual plausible excuses came crowding into my head – ‘it’s none of your business’, ‘you’ve no responsibility for him’, ‘he’ll only laugh at you’. But the previous evening I had preached in church from Ephesians 4:26,27: ‘Be angry and do not sin’. I had spoken about righteous indignation and the facade of sweet reasonableness which often conceals our moral cowardice and compromise. An inner struggle followed, as I argued with myself and prayed, and not until ten or fifteen minutes later did I find the courage to speak. Although his immediate reaction was unfavourable, I was soon to witness to the Christ he had blasphemed and to give him an evangelistic booklet” (John Stott, “Our Guilty Silence,” Hodder and Stoughton, 1967, p.14).
It is having faith in Christ in our hearts that shatters our own silences. It is that same faith that will drive us to serve him with our whole lives. There was the young Hudson Taylor in Brighton in June 1865, so burdened for China that he found the self-satisfied, hymn-singing congregation intolerable. He looked around him, pew upon pew of prosperous bearded merchants, shopkeepers, visitors; demure wives in bonnets and crinolines, scrubbed children trained to hide their impatience; the atmosphere of smug piety sickened him. He seized his hat and left, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand unmoved by the plight of the lost. “I wandered on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony,” he wrote, “and prayed for twenty-four willing skilful labourers.” It was his faith in the Saviour of the world that made him a missionary.
Or think again of Henry Martyn in his late twenties witnessing to the Muslims of Shiraz and translating the Bible into Persian. He spoke kindly to them all only disturbed when anyone insulted his Lord. On one occasion someone said to him, “Prince Abbas Mirza had killed so many Christians that Christ from the fourth heaven took hold of Mahomet’s skirt to entreat him to desist.” It was a dramatic fantasy. Here was Christ kneeling before Mahommed. How would Martyn react? “I was cut to the soul at this blaspheny.” Seeing his discomfiture, his visitor asked what it was that was so offensive. Martyn replied: “I could not endure existence if Jesus were not glorified; it would be hell to me, if he were thus always dishonoured.” His Muslim visitor was astonished and again asked why. Martyn replied, “If anyone pluck out your eyes, there is no saying why you feel pain. It is feeling. It is because I am one with Christ that I am thus dreadfully wounded” It was because of his faith in the glorious pre-eminence of Christ that Martyn so spoke. Death worked in him. He was only two years in Shiraz before he died. His longing was that life should come to the Muslims of that nation by his death as he had carried there in his frail body the dying of Jesus. Our ministries are ministries of conviction. Because we believe we cannot help speaking.
2. IT IS A MINISTRY OF HOPE.
“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence” (v.14). Paul has been speaking about his faith, and this was characterised by great assurance. Hear his words: “We know the one who raised the Lord Jesus,” he says. That assurance made him speak. What did he speak about? That death is not the end of man’s existence. In this 14th verse he is looking in two directions, backwards and forwards. He looks back to the first Easter Sunday and “the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.” Then he looks ahead to that same Almighty One who “will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence”. Paul’s theological universe has these two horizons, the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his own resurrection.
i] The Lord Jesus was raised from the dead. The Lord came from his Father into the world. He took our nature. He took our frailty. He took our mortality, and in that mortality he experienced the fact of death, its pain and taste and its very anguish. Many of you have not seen a dead body. I will tell you how cold and waxen and utterly unalive it is. You cannot bear to remain looking at it for very long because you remember what once it was, and what it can never be again.
Paul is not speaking here of the dying of the Lord Jesus but that Prince of Life was “dead.” The one in whom was life and that life was the light of men had finally for himself tasted death. That death was witnessed, and it was official. It was in the records. The grave was sealed, and the body, covered with spices, was protected from grave-robbers by a squad of soldiers. The Lord of glory lay in that tomb utterly inert. The voice that had spoken and the winds and waves had obeyed it was now utterly silent. The lips could not move. Rigor mortis had set into the body and it was entirely inactive. There was no teaching, no miracles, no intercession, no contact or communication between him and the disciples whom he loved.
Then on the first day of the week everything changed. The stone is rolled away, the grave clothes are there in the position of his head and his body, but he is not there. The body which no one wanted, neither friend nor foe, has momentarily vanished from sight. The four men on guard duty lie in the deepest of sleeps. The disciples drawn to the tomb, women and men, suddenly are confronted by Christ and talk with him. He is alive. The message is given, “The Lord is risen indeed.” The Messiah who had been so undeniably dead is now vitally alive. He speaks. He can be touched. He kills some fish and eats a meal with his apostles. Not one of his disciples says anything other than, “He is risen.” Not one breaks ranks and tells of some fabulous plot. These simple people will die for this knowledge that they have been with him, the one they saw baptized three years earlier, they had spent 40 days with him after he rose from the dead. Death is not the ultimate reality that we face but this Lord Jesus Christ.
The explanation for the empty tomb is straightforward. God has “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.” That is no absurdity – the God who made the heavens and the earth, who holds the universe together. The Lord who made the human eye and human brain – that God raised him. It is not a mere curiosity, some fact that is stranger than fiction. Rather it is an event for which the New Testament has a totally adequate explanation, that God has raised him from the dead, and that is all. God did it, by his finger as it were, and that is it. The resurrection is impossible and an absurdity only if it is beyond the power of the God who made the world to raise his Son from death. The New Testament says that that is exactly what happened. Paul can ask the kings Agrippa and Festus, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).
This point needs to be brought into sharper focus. It is the God of the Old Testament who raised Jesus from the dead, not any deity, but a God with a name, Jehovah or Yahweh. The religion of the Old Testament always believed in life after death. There was Enoch who walked with God, and then was not because God took him. He was not annihilated. There was David soberly saying at the death of his son that his son would not come to him but he would go to his son. There are the anticipations of the psalmist that in God’s presence is fulness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore. But not only is there life after death in the Old Testament there is resurrection spoken of and also witnessed. Both Elijah and Elisha the prophets raise children up who have died. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Women received back their dead” (Hebs. 11:35). That was a foretaste of a great day to come. Daniel’s great hope is that, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, reasoning that “God could raise the dead” (Hebs. 11:19). Job declares his hope, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God” (Hebs 19:25).
Belief in the power of God to raise the dead was widespread at the time of the Lord Jesus so that when he began to preach and do his mighty works some wondered whether John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. A certain religious group called ‘Sadducees’ are judged to be a bit off-centre in the religious life of Jesus’ day for not believing in the resurrection. When the Lord Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again, “Of course, at the great day of resurrection he will rise,” she says. So the resurrection of Christ is an event which has been carefully prepared by God as steadily, and then with increasing clarity, he reveals this fact even in the Old Testament.
One more thing needs to be added. This resurrection is not of a nobody! It is an event in a whole life which is utterly supernatural. Angels mark its birth. Miracles characterise his entire public ministry. Many are described in fascinating detail, such as giving sight to a man born blind. There is not one case of sickness that proves too hard for the Saviour, not one person in the last stages of a wasting disease is passed by with a sad shake of Jesus’ head. He heals every one. He raises three from the dead. He opens the jaws of death and takes the prey from the captor. This is the one who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who gave those glorious discourses in the upper room to his disciples and the parables to the people – the Good Samaritan … the Prodigal Son. Never man spake like this man. Not any other religious founder, not Mohammed, not Buddha; not the famous supremos of the 19th century, Marx, Darwin, Freud – how dated and forlorn those figures now seem. But Christ Jesus ever seems fresh and discontinuous from all men.
It is he who was raised from the dead, the spotless Saviour who never put a foot wrong, an utterly blameless man. It is he who was raised by the Father whose impact on the lives of those who followed him was transformational. They had been rather petty men, children of their time, squabbling over who would be top man in the new kingdom, petulant with a village that rejected their message wanting it to be destroyed with fire from heaven, utterly depressed at Jesus’ death. What a difference were the six weeks he spent with them. His resurrection made them all very different men, elevated, ennobled, wiser men. Consider a fisherman like Peter ultimately enabled to write letters of such high theology and profundity as the two epistles which he wrote. They became caring sensible men. There is something utterly awe-inspiring about the apostle Paul as I am constantly drawn back to study his life and letters. He can take your breath away, and that is possible only because of the impact the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road made upon him. So he looks back and he says that God “raised the Lord Jesus from the dead” (v.14).
ii] The apostle also looks forward and thinks of the ramifications of this fact. That death is not ultimate reality, but Christ is. That our final end is not a decaying corpse but a resurrection encounter with the living God. That Christ is more powerful than death. So the same God who raised up Jesus, “will also raise us up with Jesus, and present us with you in his presence” (v.14). We too are going to be raised. The apostle stands in great solidarity with the whole Corinthian congregation. ‘Us’, he says, to be raised up. “I and all the believers of Corinth. We shall be changed.” This life will go by like sand trickling through our hands, and soon it will all be over, and body and soul will part from one another in death. But the soul will immediately stand before the Creator, and the body waits decomposing in the grave. If men and women are joined to Christ by saving faith their souls at death will be made perfect in holiness and will immediately pass into glory. But that is only the first step in a most glorious progress. Because he lives they shall live also. As in Adam all die so in Christ shall all be made alive. The resurrected Christ is the first fruits of them that sleep. This is the Christian’s great hope. Joined to Christ he must rise too. What single Corinthian believer looked around Greece and its cultural glories and cried out, “Oh, let me die the death of a philosopher!”? Or “Let me die the death of an architect!”? Or “Let me die the death of a warrior!”? Or “Let me die the death of the poet!”? Not one. All of them rather cried, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and my last end be like his!”
Imagine an old Christian from the church at Corinth who might have lost all his family in a fearful pestilence that had swept through Macedonia could lean on the wall surrounding the plot where they all lay buried and could think of the indissoluble link that joined these loved ones to his resurrected Saviour, and that one day he with them would be presented together in Jesus’ presence. Every time he went at spring time and sowed his brown gnarled seeds into the earth he would think of the change that would soon take place in them and that what he had sown would come up from the earth utterly transformed from those kernels that had been placed there by his hands; sown in weakness, raised in power, sown an earthly body raised a body filled with the Holy Spirit. What exultation and hope would be his! “This mortal too,” he would say as he slapped his old hands together and stared at them, “will put on immortality.” The certainty and nearness of the event made him purify himself as the great Resurrector himself is pure. “I am to be presented to the Lord Jesus. What honour and glory. I shall prepare by being busy in his service, so that when I see him he shall say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
But will there not be many presented to Christ in that day who had lived for travel, and lived for money, and lived for sex, and lived for fame, and lived for scholarship? Will he not say to them all, “You have your reward” and condemn them to everlasting destruction, but to those who have served him and his people, and sought to live that his name might be exalted, will not Christ cry, “Room! Make room! Make room angels and seraphim! Let this one come and sit with me in the midst of my throne. He has owned my name and honoured me on earth. He shall be honoured in heaven through all the ages of eternity.”
What fools we are to lust after the rewards and successes that his world has to offer. How utterly transient they are. Think of that great idol called Sport, and how many millions bow before it, young and old, and live for its heroes. Gareth Edwards, voted the greatest rugby player of the century, was speaking on the radio this past week of the time he went to New Zealand with the British Lions and they won a series against the mighty All Blacks in their back yard. In other words it was a peak of his sporting career. You would think he might live for the rest of his life on the glories of that. Yet he spoke of returning to the dressing room after the final test with Gerald Davies, that brilliant winger, and the sense of anti-climax the two Welshman immediately had. One of them said, “Do you know, we have come to New Zealand and won a test series against the All Blacks?” Then there was a pause and they both said to one another, “So what?” That is the transitory nature of the rewards of this world, because we are made for something so much greater, the life of eternity, the resurrection of the body, the fulness of joy in God’s presence for evermore. So it is a ministry of conviction and also one of hope.
3. IT IS A MINISTRY OF THANKSGIVING.
“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (v.15). Paul had this ministry of speaking and suffering. It was given to him by the grace of God. He embodied that grace, as his Saviour was the very enfleshment of grace. It was reaching out to more and more people, from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. It was all for sinners’ gain. And when people were changed by God’s grace, then what thanksgiving overflowed in a Philippian jail, or by the side of a river there, to the glory of God. Greece had been in the grip of false gods. No thanksgiving. No shouts of Hallelujah. No rejoicing with holy joy. But then Paul and Silas, bearing about in their bodies the death of Jesus, spoke to them, and they believed, and their gratitude to the Lord for sending his own Son, just overflowed to God’s glory. All Paul’s suffering was for that end. That is what at midnight he and Silas were singing praise in a prison cell.
That has been the pattern ever since. Christian workers may paraphrase the Easter hymn: All the pains that we’ve endured, men’s salvation has secured. In the way of the cross grace has reached out to benefit the nations. David Livingstone gave his life to exploring Africa and showing the love of Jesus Christ to the people there. How he suffered in that work, but Livingstone didn’t see himself as a hero: “I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa … Is that a ‘sacrifice’ which brings its own blest reward in healthy activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege.” Livingstone overflowed with thanksgiving to the glory of God. He didn’t pretend it was always easy. “Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”
Hudson Taylor echoed those very words. When asked about the hardships of serving God, he said, “I never made a sacrifice. Unspeakable joy all day long and every day, was my happy experience. God, even my God, was a living bright reality, and all I had to do was joyful service.” Again the result of his service was thanksgiving that overflowed to the glory of God.
Some of the things that have come into our lives since we became Christians we would not have chosen if we had had the choice. God hasn’t promised us all that we’ve wanted. But he has given us life, and a full and complete salvation, and all we need in order to become what he wants us to be. Helen Keller was a very remarkable blind and deaf woman who achieved great things. We’d all rather be able to see and hear than be blind and deaf, yet in Helen Keller thanksgiving overflowed to the glory of God. She said, “I thank God for my handicaps. Through them I have found myself, my work and my God.” She had long ceased asking that she might be someone else. God has purposed Joni Eareckson Tada to glorify him in a wheel-chair just as she is. When she had taken the gift of suffering from God she could reach out with it to more and more people who themselves thanked God for her, and all this overflowed to the glory of God. Not by her healing, you note well, but by thanksgiving for mighty sustaining grace enabling her to be to the benefit of others in the service of the suffering Saviour.
The end of it all our lives is thanksgiving. You consider the scenes of the end in the book of Revelation, of a vast choir from every nation and they are all filled with doxology. Remember the three great words that present to us the structure of God’s great redemption. Guilt. Grace. Gratitude. We were sinners. There was none righteous – no not one. God in his grace saved us, and then we began in this life to display our thankfulness to God, and increasingly so. Every day will I bless thee and praise thy name for ever and ever. More perfectly will we express it in the world to come. There are millions of people all over the world today who have said, “Thank you, Jesus” but millions more in that bright world above,
4 March 2001 GEOFF THOMAS