Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 15

The mercy which is grace..

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

(1 Cor 15.9&10)

As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain

(2Cor 6.1)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you….We each have different gifts according to the grace given us. 

(Rom 12.3&6)

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness..He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Cor 11.30 & 12.9&10)

I have been thinking about how as redeemed, yet still imperfect, followers of Jesus, we are called to live with our own particular package of time, talents and opportunities. Being naturally of a pessimistic turn of mind, I concentrate too much on the things which I get wrong, the many ways I fail to live in a God-honouring way, hurting others and causing myself endless trouble. I am aware that this is in itself unhelpful, and makes me easy prey to the devil’s wiles.

There is perhaps an opposite danger, where a believer might be so confident in their salvation, presuming upon forgiveness, that they become insensitive to their sins and indolent in their service. So what resources are made available to us as believers in this “inbetween” period as we wait and work in our fallen world, with our frail bodies and still shadowed personalities? There are many possible answers, but grace seems to be the most common when the apostles are writing to exhort and encourage their new congregations.

We find the word ‘grace’ being used in two particular ways by the apostles. Firstly, in the sense that we have once and for all received grace in the gift of salvation – we are forgiven, justified, promised eternal life, and adoption into God’s family. Secondly, in the sense of a continual supply of something that we need just as much as we need the air we breathe and the food we eat – a daily necessity which makes life possible and even enjoyable. Our supply of the second depends upon the first – it is only grace-saved sinners who are promised daily-graces in this special way from God.

Each new day is a fresh opportunity for believers to serve and glorify God; and each day, in some way, we all fail to do this perfectly. This is where that daily grace is essential – the fresh forgiveness, the fresh encouragement, the renewed sense of God’s love for us and above all the reminder that our salvation is not dependent upon our performance as believers any more than it was upon our failures as sinners.

Only God can achieve all his purposes, in our lives, in the places where we live and work and witness. We are privileged to see sometimes that we have played a part in that work – but we must never think and act as if by our failures we have in any way made life difficult for God, or caused trouble that he had not expected. It is our stubborn, pervasive pride that makes us think that anything depended upon us, that we mattered in that sense. Only God is big enough to handle the complexities of life, and it should be a relief to us to surrender to his sovereignty and accept his gracious offer to be his partners in some small way.

Thanks be to our good and gracious God, who takes broken people and makes them whole, who weaves all their earnest yet clumsy efforts together into his own work to realise the coming of the kingdom of his son. May that daily grace which meets every need and covers every failure, be also the inspiration for our highest aspirations and most persevering labour, so that our God is glorified and in our weakness, seen to triumph all the more..

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It’s all about him..

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth…I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

(Ps 57.5,9-11)

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations….” This is what God the Lord says- the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness..I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.

(Isa 42.1,5-8)

After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God

(Jn 17.1-3)

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sin, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven

(Heb 1.2&3)

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep..Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet..when he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

(1Cor 15.20,24,25&28)

Recently I was privileged to be among a gathering addressed by one of the most eminent and respected christian scholars of the last fifty years, and was particularly struck by some comments he made regarding God’s stated aim throughout scripture – to be glorified in all creation. Why, he asked, should we worship God and give him the pre-eminent place? Firstly, because unlike every other being – human or spirit – he is good, powerful, perfect, holy and just, in ways that we cannot begin to conceive. But secondly, because “the universe is made that way”!

All creation – springing from the heart and word of God – has a fundamental principle upon which it is founded, namely that God is supreme, and everything will operate perfectly, in its right place, only when that principle is observed. When humanity rebelled and tore God from the throne of their lives, we violated that founding principle and have been paying the price ever since – all creation became and remains indeed out of balance, unstable, and flawed.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news which comes to us through his life, death and resurrection, is not some sticking plaster remedy for our rebellion, nor some panacea for its bad side-effects. The idea that Jesus died solely for our benefit, to make us happy and to solve our personal problems is a sorry misrepresentation of the magnificent truth. Jesus came to restore order to the universe, to make it possible for EVERYTHING that has ever existed to be in a right relation to God once again. Only by defeating sin and death on the cross, paying the price for our rebellion, could that fundamental imbalance be addressed. But by doing this, Jesus has drawn us into a narrative of unimaginable breadth and majesty – our small lives are now transformed into part of this rising crescendo, this relentless march towards the day when we shall see Christ in all his glory laying everything at his father’s feet.

Until then, we catch only glimpses of what is to come, we hear echoes and distorted chords of the triumph song. But on that day, we will be part of the perfect song which rises for ever in fitting praise to the God who is utterly worthy; we will know ourselves part of a new earth and new heaven which are flawless, and in a perfect submission to God from which springs eternal life of a quality and intensity which we cannot now imagine.

May God, in his mercy, continually raise our eyes to this vision of perfection so that we might see all that happens to us in that light – what does it do for the kingdom, for his glory? When trials come, let us seek to glorify him and see His name lifted high through them. When others look at our lives, may the question on their lips be “Who is this Jesus, who is the God whom you call upon? ”

Let us be all about him…

Walking not in my own strength..

Now, my brothers and sisters, I want to speak about the gospel which I have previously preached to you, which you accepted, in which you are at present standing, and by which  if you remain faithful to the message I gave you, your salvation is being worked out – unless, of course, your faith had no meaning behind it at all. For I passed on to you, as among the first to hear it, the message I had myself received – that Christ died for our sins, as the scriptures said he would; that he was buried and rose again on the third day, again as the scriptures foretold.

(1Cor 15.1-5: JB Phillips)

So then, my dearest friends, as you have always followed my advice – and that not only when I was present to give it – so now that I am far away be keener than ever to work out the salvation that God has given you with a proper sense of awe and responsibility, for it is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose.

(Phil 2.12&13: JB Phillips)

..but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. ..Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees! “Make level paths for your feet “, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed…May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

(Heb 12.10,12&13; 13.20&21)

As I look ahead to a new year, with all it’s accompanying unknowns – good or bad – I am aware that I am by nature more pessimistic, than optimistic (I prefer to call it realistic), and am sometimes overwhelmed by the prospect! The past twelve months have yielded too many examples of my weaknesses, of how far I fall short of where I think I should be. The coming months will present new opportunities to mess up, to hurt people, to get things wrong and generally disappoint God – and myself. How can I find the courage to keep going? Perhaps to begin with, I need to recognise the false perspective which I adopt so easily – one centred on my opinion of myself, instead of the truth about me, which is God’s opinion!

Yes, I am a sinner. BUT, I am a redeemed sinner – the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about Jesus, the anointed one has changed my identity, my purpose and my future once and forever. His blood has bought my forgiveness, I have a fresh start with God, and the promise of his presence with me every step of the way home. Yes, I do continue to sin. BUT, that too is covered by the blood of Christ, and the increasing sensitivity to sin is a sign of comfort to me that I am – amazing thought – being made more holy, more Christ-like as the years go by.

When I consider the path that lies ahead of me, I do so as one who has the ultimate companion at her side – one who never leaves me, one who cheers every step of the way, one who can give me strength and the desire to continue simply by being with me. He is working in me to achieve those things which he has promised will be done – and my task is to say, “Yes, Lord; let’s keep going, let me tackle this day’s journey cheerfully and confidently because you are here.”

It is a wonderful paradox – that my salvation is to be worked out in my life simultaneously by God and by me. It does not depend upon my efforts, but without my active obedience and earnest endeavour, I may crawl by the wayside as one crippled. That is no witness to the glory of God, no proper response to the wonderful gift of life and hope which he has given me.

The scriptures, and the pages of history reveal so many followers of Jesus who can testify to this mystery, of their labours and of God’s striving within them, as they walk the path of discipleship and service. As they grow in holiness, and see their salvation being worked out – made real and effective in every part of life- all the glory and credit is given to God, and yet we know that they have embraced the work, have given their lives to it in awe and full of the responsibility of bearing their part well.

This, then, is my prayer for 2019, that I might indeed engage more fully with the responsibility of working out my salvation; rejoicing that it is God who is at work in me, and giving thanks that he has provided all the things I need. May my focus be on him, on the complete adequacy of Christ my Saviour,  so that I might rest as I walk, refusing to bear burdens of guilt which are no longer mine and quietly glad to be in company with one who loves me more than all.

 

 

The hope of the resurrection

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; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I and not another.

(Job 19.25-27)

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you..

(John 14. 2)

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each seed he gives its own body….so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a supernatural body…..then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

(1 Corinthians 15. 37,38, 42-44, 54&55)

There is so much that we do not know about what God has in store for us on the other side of death, so many unanswered questions and it can be tempting to indulge in speculation, seeking for comfort in bereavement and struggling to accept the absence of a precious companion.

But I believe that most of what lies ahead for us is simply beyond our understanding, and therefore God in his mercy has hidden it from us for the present. It makes sense, that even as we struggle to imagine the eternal present which is God’s presence, so we cannot begin to comprehend how humanity can exist within that context. We are utterly bound within time and space, and our future lies in a different realm!

I believe that we have been given as much as we need, grounds for hope and assurance, and glimpses of glory to whet our appetites. We see Christ, our Saviour and elder brother, going ahead of us through death into a resurrected body. His people could hold him and recognise him, and yet his body was – as Paul says – raised in glory, raised imperishable. This same body is in heaven now, a glorified and perfect human being is there in God’s presence – so we know that we too will dwell in recognisable form with God. That in itself is incredible to us, and wonderful!

A human form, imbued with eternity and perfectly equipped to thrive in the new heavens and new earth which are promised after God has wound up this era of suffering, pain and toil. Does this not thrill us? Are we not deeply conscious of a longing to explore all that humanity is capable of in its perfect state? We don’t long eagerly for a disembodied state, nor for annihalation – that is to reject the promise which God created in us, and is a rejection of his vision for humankind. We are broken and marred, yes indeed, but the solution is not the destruction of self for ever, rather it is the redemption and transformation of self by the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

I believe that the piercing joys, the fleeting moments of glory and intense gladness which are our experience here are simply foretastes of what God has in store, in that home for which we are all looking and longing. There we will belong, there we will have tasks which inspire, enthrall and satisfy us – perfectly suited to our unique qualities and characters. We will not disappear into some bland uniformity, but rather become more intensely and gloriously ourselves, the “I” whom God saw in us from the beginning, now free of all weakness.

Oh, friends, may God give us patience and courage to wait for this, wait for his timing, and meantime to exult in the hope we have! These words express something of the ecstatic joy which fills me even as I write, perhaps they will lift you too for a moment, to glimpse the glory:

I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship, when, at his bidding, every storm is stilled,   Or who can say how great the jubilation when all the hearts of men with love are filled.  But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture, and myriad, myriad human voices sing, And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth will answer: At last the Saviour, Saviour of the world is King!

(William Young Fullerton, 1857-1932)

The sting is drawn!

Go forth upon thy journey Christian soul! Go from this world; Go in the Name of God the Omnipotent Father, who created thee! Go in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Son of the living God, who bled for thee: Go in the name of the Holy Spirit, who hath been poured out on thee!

Go on thy course; and may thy place today be found in peace, and may thy dwelling be the holy mount of Sion: through the same, through Christ our Lord.

(John Henry Newman; 1801-90)

It is not given to all of us to know when our death is near, or to have the luxury of strength and clarity of mind to prepare for that threshold, but for the follower of Jesus, it is always possible to be sure of our destination! That is because of the complete assurance we have that through our faith in Jesus, in his effective salvation of us, we can know that we are now acceptable to an utterly holy God, and that our place in glory is guaranteed to us. We can rejoice now in the peace that comes from knowing that our state of health and mind at the end will not separate us from the love of God through Christ, that no amount of confusion, pain or forgetfulness can undo that great work upon the cross.

The words at the top of this blog are another extract from the Dream of Gerontius, the poem by Newman which was so memorably set to music by Edward Elgar. This passage in particular is achingly beautiful – I love to think I could be listening to it when my time comes to leave this world, because it speaks so strongly of the confidence which I have, and which those who love me can share even as they let me go. It is a great valediction, the commending of a soul to the faithfulness of the God who has promised and done all that is needed, so that even in the dissolution of imminent death, there need be no fear. Our confidence rests in the character and revealed will of God, whose work of redeeming his beloved children was accomplished at such unimaginable cost. This God, will never set aside that sacrifice or break his covenant with us and we give ourselves wholly and confidently up to him.

I believe that the bible makes it clear that death, the destruction of the physical body and the awful separation from all that life and love mean, was never part of God’s original plan for us, His beloved children. Over and again it is described as the ‘wages of sin’, the direct result of the rebellion which humankind staged against God’s authority and rightful supremacy in our lives. Surely this is why we never get used to it, why the prospect is so awful. It is indeed an affront to the image of God which is in everyone, that we should be bereaved and die.

But in Christ, we see that for all who have faith in him, in his power to save, the apparent finality of death is not real, not true! The apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth writes:-

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

(1 Corinthians 15.20-22)

As I grow older, and more and more of those dear to me pass ahead through the dark valley of death, the truth of our eternal life to come is more and more precious. It allows me to experience the loss of loved ones with hope, though not without grief. It equips me to face my own likely experience of frailty, illness, pain and perhaps confusion with confidence – because NOTHING can separate me from the love of God which is made manifest in Christ Jesus.

There may indeed be troubles ahead, times of great darkness and sorrow – none of us can escape the valley of the shadows, the only question is whether for us it will be a long journey, or a brief crossing. But we have a confidence which is gloriously embodied in the words with which I began this blog, resting upon the very character of the God above all, the Lover of our souls.

May we be a blessing to all those whom we know are close to the valley of shadows, reminding them of the sure and certain hope which they have, of our Lord’s presence in the darkness, and his welcoming embrace in the glorious light which lies ahead.