Monday, 11 August 2008

Dear Friends - August

Dear Friends

Which book have you earmarked for holiday reading? Is there a cheeky little paperback that you’ve got your eye on? Me, I thought I’d take a Ludlum to the coast; nothing too demanding, lots of plot and very little characterisation. I want a page turner not a tear jerker; I’m a bloke!

But, the closing words of Paul’s letter to the Romans warn me about being exclusively secular in my holiday reading habits. He reminds us that there’s real value to earmarking the Bible as one of the things that we might read as we lounge by the pool. Look at his words in the 16th chapter of that book.

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

These closing words are often called a doxology. The ESV even has that as the heading. That unfamiliar word comes from the Greek ‘doxa’, meaning glory. So, Paul concludes this magisterial letter by ascribing glory to God. In this outpouring of praise he gives credit where credit’s due. And in particular Paul praises God for four things.

1. Paul praised God for His strength
Paul began by praising God for His ability to strengthen and establish the church. The word he uses, which in English is translated ‘strengthen’, is a normal one that might be used to describe securely fixing a loose floor board! But when Paul uses the term it takes on a technical meaning which implies securely fixing new converts by nurturing them in the faith. Paul recognised that no Christian and no church would be spiritually secure apart from this strengthening activity of God. And so, we need to remember that if we’re to keep going in our Christian lives and keep going as a church, then we depend entirely on the power of God. We will not do it on our own. Wonderfully, we don’t have to!

2. Paul praised God for His gospel
Paul knew that the way in which God strengthens His people is through the gospel. He describes this gospel in three ways. First, he described the gospel as His, in the sense that God had entrusted him with it. Secondly, he described it as concerned with Jesus Christ, in the sense that he is the substance of the good news from God. Thirdly, he described it as a mystery now revealed, in the sense that it was previously hidden but had now exposed by the New Testament perspective on the Old Testament prophetic writings. But his point was that this gospel of which he was a servant, Christ was the substance and the New Testament provided the interpretation is what strengthens churches. And so, even though there are few things as disappointing as an evangelistic event to which no unbelievers come, even then there’s a silver lining to that particular dark cloud. Believers benefit from hearing the gospel as well. It’s the means by which God grows our faith in Him and establishes us in maturity. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, unbelievers still need to hear the gospel and we still need to try and persuade them to come along and listen. Nevertheless, even if no one but the regulars pitches up we know that God is at work building and toughening us up for the challenges that we’ll face before the New Creation.

3. Paul praised God for His mission
Paul realised that the only fitting stage for the salvation accomplished by Christ was a worldwide one. He recognised the divine design behind the apostolic evangelisation of the nations. And he praised God that this momentous news had gone overseas. God had removed the limits on the spread of the gospel. In the Old Testament era it was clearly not His intention to save many outside of Israel. But in the New Testament era all that had changed. The gospel was to be taken to the ends of the world. God had bigger plans. Paul’s reason for writing the letter was to seek support for his visit to Spain so that he could bring the news of the righteousness of God to an unreached people. We not only need to praise God for His evangelistic passion through which we’ve become the beneficiaries, but we also need to share it so that others might be on the receiving end of His glorious salvation.

4. Paul praised God for His wisdom
As Paul reflected on the events of salvation history it blew his mind. Behind everything that was happening in the world he saw the wise plan of God. In sending His Son to take on human flesh, die on a cross, be raised to life, send the Spirit and start the world wide spread of the gospel through the church planting ministry of his Apostles, the wisdom of God was writ large. Paul stood back and allowed the existence of the extraordinary phenomenon of a group of obedient followers of Jesus Christ to sink in. Though the world may look at the church and mock, Paul saw things differently. He saw, not through rose tinted spectacles [his experience of churches saved him from that] but he saw with the eyes of faith. God is doing a remarkable thing through the gospel. He is saving hell deserving sinners like us, from eternal condemnation in hell, for everlasting life in glory. And He’s doing it through the gospel. This gospel offers the perfect righteousness of Christ for all who’ll believe.

It’s no wonder that when Paul thought about these things he was moved to spontaneous praise. He gave credit where credit’s due. And God is to be credited with strengthening the churches, revealing the gospel, saving the nations and all in accordance with His eternally wise plan.

Though our words may not be as carefully crafted or as theologically precise as the great Apostle why not put this down for a moment and praise God with the language that immediately comes to mind for all that He has accomplished. We have much to praise the Lord for. So in amongst the latest offerings from Grisham, Rowling and Hosseini why not do yourself a favour and pick up a bestselling classic and read a thrilling true story from the greatest author of all time?

With best wishes in Christ