June 10 & 11, 2017 Trinity
2 Corinthians 13: 11-14
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Familiarity breeds contempt. And sadly, such familiarity often leads people to hurt those closest to them. The young man was sick and tired of all of dad’s rules. He was tired of all the work dad constantly nagged him to do. Why couldn’t he leave him alone? Why couldn’t he just let him have some fun? He wanted to see the world, he wanted to experience life, not be chained down. So the privileged son took a large withdrawal from his father’s bank account and ran away. And what a wonderful life it was. Well, at least, at first.
But before long, the money was spent and the high life was over. With no job, he couldn’t sustain the lifestyle he was so accustomed to and his so-called friends left him when the party was over. Then the regret came like a flood, the guilt nagged and ate away at him and he resolved to go home. And you know the rest of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father of the prodigal son had been waiting for him. He ran to him and before his son could finish the speech he’d rehearsed, he threw his arms around his son and commanded that a party be thrown giving his very best gifts to honor his son. The son deserved nothing, but the father gave him everything. The point of Jesus’ parable is: This is exactly how God treats us.
Familiarity breeds contempt. We hear the invocation and the blessing in our services often, and so, perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to it that we cease to marvel at it. But that invocation/blessing reminds us that The Triune God Gives Us His Very Best. We read our text, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-14
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (NIV 11)
The last verse talks about the grace of Jesus. In a minute we’re going to read a portion of the Athanasian Creed together. But the last lines of that Creed, which we won’t be using, says: “Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire.” Do those words perhaps cause a bit of alarm? After all, we haven’t always done good. We have done evil. Even as Christians we say with the Apostle Paul that the good that we would we don’t do, but the evil we don’t want to do we keep on doing. The truth is, I do deserve hell for my sins just like that prodigal son. And so do you. But we won’t get thrown in it. Instead you and I will get the opposite of what we deserve: eternal life. Why? Not because of what we’ve done or will do, but because of grace. What is grace? The catechism answer you’ve all learned is “undeserved love.”
In exchange for our selfishness, taking large withdrawals of blessings from God and using them only to serve our sinful appetites, Jesus gave us his very best—way more than a party, robe, and ring. He gives you all of God’s riches at his expense. He gave you his life. He purchased and won you, from sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. Why? For no reason at all! He just loves you even though you don’t deserve it. That’s grace.
Now, by that gift, you are sinless and holy in God’s sight. God looks at you and sees no trace of evil. He sees only good works. So the verdict for you when you stand before the judgment seat of God is, “Not guilty! This one’s perfect and will receive eternal life.”
And the only natural response we can have to such a wonderful gift is laid out in verse 11: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.” Now, normally, I think the 1984 edition of the New International Version does a fine job of translating the Greek. But the updated version of 2011, which I used for the sermon text, has some big improvements on this verse. The new New International Version replaced “Good-by” with “Rejoice,” which is literally what the Greek says. “Aim for perfection” has become “Strive for full restoration.” And they replaced “Listen to my appeal” with “Encourage one another.” And that last word comes from the same root used to describe the Holy Spirit; the Paraclete, literally the one who’s “called to the side,” that is “call another to the side to give a word of encouragement.”
The natural response to having the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to rejoice in this awesome gift that Jesus gives, to strive for full restoration with your brothers and sisters in Christ, to forgive and to seek forgiveness, to make amends and right the wrongs, to be encouraged that our sins are forgiven and to be a comfort and encouragement to one another out of thanks to God for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But God’s undeserved gifts to us don’t end there. The next gift of our Triune God that Paul mentions in the closing verse of this letter is “the love of God.” And again, a quick Greek review helps us understand this verse better. There are four Greek words all translated simply as “love”. The first is eros, the love of opposites. That’s the butterflies in the stomach when opposites attract. The second is philos, the friendship you have with your buddies who share common interests. The third is storge, the love of lesser—a parent for a child, a family for their dog. Now all three words are similar in the fact that this love is caused by the object of that love. The girlfriend or spouse, the friend or buddy, the child or pet, all have qualities that endear one to them. In other words, they are lovable.
But the fourth word for love is agape. Think of this word as the “there’s no reason at all for this love” kind of love. It’s love for a rebellious kid that tries to physically harm mom or dad. It’s love for the prodigal son that robs his dad of his wealth and squanders it on wild living. It’s love for the one who isn’t very lovable, who abuses the love, who is loved anyway. It’s the love that God has for you and for me.
He has loved you so much that when you were his enemy, he sent his Son to the cross in your place. Parents think about this: If two kids are about to die in some horrible and excruciating way and you can save only one, which would you choose: your own child, or the one who’s bullied and hurt your child and hates you with a passion? God chose the latter. And he sent his child to hell on a cross. Why? Because he loves you, as rebellious and unlovable as you are in your sin. Why does he love you? I don’t know. That’s agape love.
And as if that weren’t enough, God now promises that he won’t leave you alone in this life. Paul says, “The God of love and peace will be with you.” There’s no question about it. This is not some wish, but a stated fact. He will be with you. He will never leave you or forsake you. He created you and gave you all you have and promises to continue to preserve you by daily and richly providing you with those things you need in this world.
The natural response to having the love of God the Father is to rejoice in this awesome gift that God gives. What a great gift to be at peace every day, confident of God’s help, assured of his constant presence. And you can thank God for this awesome gift by being peaceable and loving toward others, showing them an agape love, loving those who don’t deserve your love, making big sacrifices for them, just as God has loved you.
And God’s undeserved gifts to us don’t end there. He gives us still more. The last gift of our Triune God that Paul mentions in the closing verse of this letter is “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” What a gift this was to the Corinthian congregation, so full of divisions and factions and problems. What a blessing for a church who couldn’t get along and had little fellowship with one another. For their sinful pride and the petty arguments they deserved to be sent away from the Holy Spirit, not be brought into fellowship with him.
And that’s what we deserve too. We don’t always get along with one another, do we? We let our sinful pride and arrogance get the best of us in our own homes, let alone at work, or with strangers. We selfishly fight to get our way. And we deserve to be sent away from God.
But instead, the Holy Spirit has brought us into a special relationship with God. When we hated him and wanted to run away from God, when we wanted nothing more than to squander God’s gifts on wild living, when we could not by our own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus or come to him, the Holy Spirit called us by the gospel and enlightened us with his gifts. He’s made us holy and keeps us in the one true faith, and thus, in fellowship with God, and not only with him, but with one another as well.
Paul encouraged the Corinthians in verse 13, that through this fellowship of the Holy Spirit, “All God’s people here send their greetings.” What joy to know they were a part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than their local congregation, a part of all the saints. And what a joy we have, too, since we too have fellowship with God and with each other.
And the natural response to having the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is to rejoice in this awesome gift that he gives, to “be of one mind,” to “live in peace” with one another. We show concern and love toward each other, offering a phone call or an email with a word of encouragement. We rejoice in our fellowship in Bible class and worship, and especially around the altar as we kneel side by side and confess our common faith.
What undeserved blessings we receive from our Triune God! The next time you hear the invocation in the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or the next time you hear that familiar Trinitarian blessing, don’t just let it go in one ear and pass right out the other without giving it a thought. Take a moment to ponder it, to let it sink in, and to rejoice! For “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit [are] with you all.” Amen.