Sunday, 25 June 2017
The Benediction (2 Cor. 13:12)
We are all familiar with the benediction at the end of 2 Corinthians because it is the one that is usually repeated at the close of a service. As we know, a benediction is not so much a prayer but a statement of what we can expect from God. Of course, we can pray for the blessings highlighted in the benediction. Still it is more an expression of confidence that God will meet our spiritual needs.
One obvious deduction that can be made from this benediction is that God is unique because although there is only one God there are three equal divine persons in the Godhead. The three persons work in harmony and not in competition. Nevertheless, each has his own contributions to make in the fulfilling of the benediction. This also means that we can have an interaction that focuses on each divine person in certain ways.
Another introductory matter concerns those who can expect to receive the blessings mentioned in the benediction. Is the benediction available to everyone or is it confined to a certain group? The answer to the question is that the details promised are only for those who already trust in Jesus for salvation. So, the blessings promised here are aspects of Christian experience.
Having said that, we should remember that the Trinity has a message for those who are not yet converted. For example, the best-known verse in the Bible (John 3:16) is a statement that the Father sent his Son so that sinners could be saved. The Son freely came to provide that salvation. And the Holy Spirit will convict individuals of their sins and enables them to believe in Jesus.
As we know, there is an unexpected order here, with the Son mentioned first. We are not told why that is the case. Yet some suggestions have been made. One is that the Son is mentioned first because he purchased the blessings by his death. Then the Father is mentioned second because we enter his family after trusting in Jesus. Once we are in the family, we receive blessings from the Spirit or through the Spirit. So there could be an order of our experience of salvation here. After all, if Jesus had not died for his people, they would not receive anything from the Father or through the Spirit.
Of course, it would be possible in other contexts to exchange the words and speak about the love of Jesus and fellowship with the Father and grace of the Spirit. The relationship we have with God is so big that it is impossible to describe all of it in one sentence, no matter how great the sentence might be. We have to approach it in smaller amounts, as it were.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
As we think of the grace he can provide, we are urged to think of the position that Jesus occupies now. Here he is called Lord, which is a reminder that he has been exalted in heaven to the highest place possible, the throne of God. This was a reward for him connected to his amazing work of atonement on the cross. Of course, his coming to engage in that work was connected to his grace as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6. The fact that he is Lord of all is a reminder that he is charge, we might say, of the heavenly storehouse, which is full of the riches of his grace.
At the same time, we should remember that his kingship is different from other rulers. Often we get our impressions of what something is like by thinking about situations with which we are familiar. So when we think about a king we think on one from a western country. When we think about the kingship of Jesus it is much better to think about it from how the Bible describes a king. In its description of such rulers, the ideal king would also be a priest. As a king, he would rule over them and protect them and as a priest he would offer sacrifices to God for them and intercede for them as a people. Jesus as our king protects us and governs us, and as our priest he has offered a sacrifice for us and represents us in God’s presence. The intercession of Jesus is a huge subject and we are not to imagine that Jesus is pleading in heaven. After all, he is on the throne. His presence there guarantees that he possesses continually grace for his people. He gives it sovereignly and he gives it sympathetically.
Peter encourages his readers to grow in grace which he connects to an increasing knowledge of Jesus. This implies that we get to know him more as we discover his competence in meeting our needs day by day. While Peter mentions that as a duty, surely it should also be a delight to find out what is in his storehouse of grace. He has grace for us as a shepherd feeding his sheep, as a physician healing his patients, as a teacher instructing his pupils, as a guide leading his travellers, as a friend sharing his secrets.
Paul mentions the grace of Jesus when writing about the thorn in the flesh that bothered him. He prayed about the thorn and was told by Jesus that his grace was sufficient for that difficult situation. The prospect of receiving grace from Jesus caused the apostle to be confident about his circumstances. We can do the same. Each day, we should remind ourselves that the grace of Jesus is appropriate, abundant and available.
The love of God the Father
There are many areas in the Christian life that have a focus on God the Father. We can think of three. The first is assurance of adoption into his family. As we know, when we believed in Jesus two benefits came our way and they were provided by the Father. We speak about them under the doctrines of justification and adoption. Justification means that we are pardoned by the Father and accepted as righteous in his sight because the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to us. Obviously, to be justified is a great blessing and if God had only provided this for us we would be saved wonderfully.
Yet God has done even more and this additional area of blessing is called adoption. As we think about it, we will see that adoption highlights the distance between what we were before conversion and where we were placed at conversion. In Roman times, a wealthy person would adopt a suitable slave as his heir. This is the picture of adoption that Paul uses, except that the slaves whom God adopted were not commendable because they were the slaves of sin, and happy to be so. But when they trusted in Jesus they were elevated from that very low position and brought into God’s family as joint-heirs with Jesus. So the love of the Father points to the greatness of the distance between where they were and where he took them to.
The doctrine of adoption also indicates the degree of delight by which the heavenly Father enjoyed the occasion of blessing a forgiven sinner. At the same moment as, but following on from their pardon, he joyfully brought them into his family. We get an insight into this by considering the parable of the lost son and what his father did for him when he returned home in repentance. Everyone would have recognised that he was restored by his father. But the point I am making is that the Father did it with joy.
What else can be said about knowing the love of the Father? Another area of his blessing is answered prayer. We know that Jesus taught his disciples to pray to the Father in heaven, and that he stressed in his teaching on prayer that the heavenly Father would reward openly those who pray to him in the secret place. In Psalm 91, the author mentions the possibility of dwelling in the shelter of the Most High, of dwelling under the shadow of the Almighty. That is a location, wherever it may be physically, where the love of the Father is known. Prayer is a communication of love, whether in the petition or in the answer.
The last area of knowing the Father’s love that I would mention occurs when he chastises those who need it. I wonder who they are. According to the author of Hebrews, chastisement is a mark of every believer. The author points out that although chastisement is never pleasant it is always profitable. And God does it for our good, out of his great love for his people. His aim always is to make us like our elder brother.
The fellowship of the Spirit
One question that arises from the previous comments concerns how the blessings of the Father and the Son are brought to us. The answer to that question is that the Holy Spirit enables believers to receive them and to enjoy them.
Jesus promised his disciples that when the Spirit would come after the Ascension he would take of the things of Christ and reveal them to his followers. The Spirit does this through the Bible, of which he is the author. He enables us to understand what it means, to think about the promises and find spiritual treasure in them. When he enables us to understand its instructions and obey them, he is enabling us to function as sheep of the Good Shepherd. Through the Bible, the Holy Spirit can make Jesus so real to our hearts that it can seem that he was physically present.
The Holy Spirit is also present as the Spirit of adoption leading God’s people to cry ‘Abba, Father.’ Whatever else is involved in that interaction, it is obvious that one of the roles of the Spirit is to lead his people to talk reverently and intimately with the heavenly Father. Prayer does include presenting our requests to God, but it is also a means of communication in other ways as well.
The work of the Spirit in our lives is the thrust of sanctification. He is at work in our souls to bring about this ongoing change. We know what the model to which he is working – his aim is to make God’s people like Jesus in character, to conform them to his image. This is happening day by day provided we are not grieving him.
Another important aspect of the fellowship of the Spirit is to give glimpses of the glory to come to God’s people. He does this in many ways. I would suggest that one of them is the Lord’s Day. We could say that on it we are asked to climb a hill in a spiritual sense and take our telescopes out. He enables us to climb the hill and the telescope is the Bible. From this vantage point we can look back to the cross and we can look ahead to the world to come. It is a good thing, and I would say it is an important part of the work of the Spirit, for God’s people to read about both events often. For example, today we could read Isaiah 53 and the first part of Revelation 14. There are many other examples.