Everyone who has faith in me also has faith in the one who sent me. And everyone who has seen me has seen the one who sent me. I am the light that has come into the world. No one who has faith in me will stay in the dark.
I am not the one who will judge those who refuse to obey my teachings. I came to save the people of this world, not to be their judge. But everyone who rejects me, and my teachings will be judged on the last day by what I have said. I do not speak on my own. I say only what the Father who sent me has told me to say. I know that his commands will bring eternal life. That is why I tell you exactly what the Father has told me. (CEV)
Everybody has a philosophy of ministry of how to proceed with the actual doing of Christian works and service to others. We might think of philosophy as a theory about how to gain knowledge and what we are supposed to do with the knowledge we possess. We all have philosophies, even if they are not written down for others to see.
Ponder the thought that Jesus had a philosophy of ministry… which he did. If Christ’s words carry a lot of weight for us, then perhaps he articulated what he believes about the nature of knowledge; what to do with that knowledge; and, how to handle humanity. Contained within today’s Gospel lesson is the heart of Christ’s philosophical (and thus practical) approach.
Here are several observations about Christ’s philosophy of ministry:
True faith is Trinitarian faith.
Jesus came to dispel darkness by deposing its ruler.
Jesus did not come to nit-pick, harangue, or reject people.
Jesus came to save the world.
Jesus has the authority to save the world.
Belief in Jesus brings deliverance from sin, death, and hell.
Yes, there is a Day of Judgment coming – but that day is not today. Today is the day of salvation, of availing oneself of the opportunity to discover the life, teaching, claims, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. Jesus has declared (in a loud voice so we can hear him) that he is the light of the world, the path to God, the Savior of humanity. Those are some very audacious assertions! So, before tomorrow comes, we need to consider the claims of Christ today.
Those whose philosophies include generous portions of people-pleasing and posturing for people-praise will not be judged or rejected by Jesus today (and, so, ought not to be rejected by us, as well!) but will be judged by the words and message of Jesus on the Last Day. According to this philosophy of ministry, there is neither a precedent nor a need to step in and (attempt) to do the Spirit’s work. Rather, we place our faith in Jesus and allow that belief to shape our conversations and interactions with others. A Christian philosophy of ministry does not need to be complex; it just needs to be Christ-centered.
Great God of deliverance, thank you that you sent your Son, Jesus, to save people from their sins. I believe in you and what you did and what you stand for. Each time I open my mouth, may you form my words so that they are not judgmental, but helpful in bringing others to realize life-giving faith through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts, and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
As for other matters brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (NIV)
As with most sections of Holy Scripture, if we merely focus on this singular passage from the Bible and seek daily to live into its message, it is likely we would live a consistently rich and full spiritual life. As the Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, and indeed to us, standing firm and holding a solid grip on apostolic teaching will mean a daily life of loving words and actions.
Notice the many elements of this Scripture for us to spotlight for our spiritual lives: gratitude; salvation; sanctification; truth; spiritual calling; sharing in God’s glory; love; grace; hope; encouragement; prayer; faithfulness; perseverance; and, deliverance. We could even highlight just one of these words and, if seeking to do a deep dive with it, could spend unending days learning and living into its multi-faceted dimensions.
I want to pause here and do a bit of a check-in with you. How we approach this passage of Scripture, as well as any other verses which encourage us to hold onto sound teaching and living, will likely determine our level of joy, satisfaction, confidence, and success. It all begins with our view of self. If we come at the Christian life and Holy Scripture with a view of self as a mere tool or object for God’s use – then we are truly objectifying ourselves.
The key point of awareness to realizing whether we have such an objectifying view is if we continually “should” ourselves. The word “should,” brings self-hatred. We primarily see only shortcomings and original sin – and are blind to the majesty of being in God’s image. In such a view there is typically boat loads of shame for not living up to the ideal form of a devoted Christian. Belittling ourselves inwardly only transfers outwardly to looking down on others for their failures. Any exhortation from me or anybody else would be seen in this view as a demanding duty.
Instead, we can come to Scripture’s admonitions, encouragements, and exhortations with the glasses of grace. After all, our text for today says that God loved us and by his grace gave us this teaching. The dense amount of Christian living in such a few verses, when viewed through the lenses of grace, are merciful words communicating support. God wants to strengthen us with grace just because he loves us. God does not objectify us by seeing us as pawns in some twisted divine game for his own cosmic pleasure. Rather, God is looking to direct our hearts toward a delight in his love. Because it is only with love and grace that we can really persevere throughout our Christian lives.
Not everyone has faith, and that saddens the heart of God. It also puts us, at times, in awkward situations. Again, the love of God does not leave us alone. Divine love will strengthen and protect us. The Apostle Paul never wags his finger and levels the “should” on us like some uptight legalist. Paul expresses confidence, knowing that we most certainly have the capacity to live the will of God. The Scriptures are given to engender strengthening of faith and spiritual growth rather than self-hatred, which has a nasty tendency to come out sideways in a lack of compassion and grace toward others.
This letter was written by Paul to the church because they were finding it difficult to endure their hard circumstances. The Thessalonian Christians began longing for heaven to such a degree that they were losing their grip on living presently in the moment of now. This is part of the reason why Paul encouraged them to pray for him and his colleagues. The people needed to put some focus on the now of spreading the message of God’s grace.
To be rather frank, truth be told, the chief reason I write these daily reflections on Scripture is because I need God’s Word. Yes, I do write for the reader. I want to contribute to people’s growth in grace and I have a deep desire to make the message known. Yet, honestly, I write more for myself. This is a way for me to remind myself of God’s love and grace and utilize it every day.
When I hear Paul talking in biblical texts like these, I detect some of the same reason – Paul himself wants to continue growing in grace, and when writing to and for others he is very much writing to himself. The reading of the Bible and the dedication to living its message is meant to be life-giving, or rather, eternally life-giving.
So, today, I leave with this blessing:
May you take refuge in the wondrous grace of God, and all the little miracles of mercy which he bestows each day.
May you always be inclined to rush into God’s Holy Word and discover its life working within you.
May you imitate the flower as it opens to the day’s sunshine in receiving all that God has for you this day.
May you be in solidarity with brother stone, who sits in silence, calm and secure, and be excessively gentle with yourself.
May you wisely steer clear of those vexed in spirit with only God knows what; and, when in that space of others walking all over your boundaries, may your confidence surge and God’s protection deliver you.
May you return to the glory that is yourself, learning a new respect for your heart, and the joy that has always been there, given graciously to you by a God who has invited you to share in Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It’s primarily a story of grace and new life. The main character, Jean Valjean, spends nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. The experience in prison caused him to become a bitter man. By the time he is released, he is hard, angry, cynical, with nowhere to go. In desperation, he seeks lodging one night at the home of a Catholic bishop, who treats him with genuine kindness, which Valjean sees only as an opportunity to exploit. In the middle of the night he steals the bishop’s silver and runs. The next day, however, he is caught by the police. When they bring Jean back to the bishop’s house for identification, the police are surprised when the bishop hands two silver candlesticks to Valjean, implying that he had given the stolen silver to him, saying, “You forgot these.” After dismissing the police, the bishop turns to Jean Valjean and says, “I have bought your soul for God.” In that moment, by the bishop’s act of mercy, Valjean’s bitterness is broken.
Jean Valjean’s forgiveness is the beginning of a new life. The bulk of Victor Hugo’s novel demonstrates the utter power of a regenerated and redeemed life. Jean chooses the way of mercy, as the bishop did. Valjean raises an orphan, spares the life of a parole officer who spent fifteen years hunting him, and saves his future son-in-law from death, even though it nearly cost him his own life. There are trials and temptations for Valjean throughout his life. What keeps him pursuing his new life is mercy. Whereas before, Valjean responded to mercy with a brooding melancholy and inner anger, now – after being shown grace – Valjean responds to each case of unjust suffering with both mercy and joy, deeply thankful for the chance to live a new life full of grace.
Suffering and joy. Those two words, at first glance, may seem to be opposites. Yet, Christianity views suffering as an occasion for joy, and not as empty meaningless grief. Followers of Jesus imitate their Savior through walking the way of suffering. We are told in Holy Scripture that these sufferings are trials to our faith, that is, they are the means by which our faith is developed, used, and strengthened. Just as gold is refined by being put through fire, so our faith is refined and proven genuine through the purging fires of life’s trials and troubles. Walking in the way of our Lord Jesus, adversity becomes our Teacher, helping us to know Christ better and appreciate the great salvation we possess in Jesus. (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Back in the first century, the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to Jewish Christians living in a Gentile society. They were strangers and aliens in the ancient world. These were people who responded to the preaching of Peter at Pentecost and gave their lives to the risen Christ. When persecution broke out after the stoning of Stephen, the church was scattered, and many Jewish Christians went to live in Gentile nations very different from their home in Jerusalem. In that Gentile environment, they were often looked down upon simply because they were Jewish. What’s more, they were alienated from their families because of their commitment to Jesus. They were alone and faced both the social and economic hardships that came with being Jewish Christians. So, Peter wrote to encourage these suffering believers in their hardship. He reminded them of what they possess and to use that precious possession rather than focus solely on their poverty and difficulty. Peter let them know that their adversity has the positive effect of making their faith genuine.
Every generation of Christians needs to see that their faith is not only a matter of confession with the lips; faith is also proven primarily through suffering. Faith is much like a new car – it is meant to be used. It’s not just something we own and possess – to only sit in the garage and be admired. A car is meant to be on the road, and if it does not perform well, we say it’s a lemon and we get another car. Cars are the vehicles that get us from point A to point B. And, hopefully, we enjoy the ride without being frustrated and having road rage. It is unrealistic, as drivers, to believe we will never have to drive in adverse road conditions. We recognize that it is silly to believe the weather must always conform to our driving habits. We will have to drive through snow and thunderstorms. We will need to deal with traffic and road construction. We will have to drive defensively and continually be vigilant to the other drivers on the road. We might always have a plan for how to get from point A to point B, yet, we must deal with whatever conditions we find along the way. This isn’t optional, unless we decide to let the car sit in the garage and never use it.
Good drivers are good drivers because they drive a lot and have driven in nearly every type of road condition. Mature Christians are those followers of Jesus who allow their faith to take them places, have seen all kinds of adversity, trials, and suffering along the road of life. What makes them mature is that they have learned through all their troubles and trials to enjoy what God is doing in their lives instead of being frustrated and have faith-fury. Such Christians have the confidence that they are receiving the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls. They understand that their faith grows and develops as they face the challenges of life every day with a firm commitment to their Lord Jesus.
The most miserable people are those who have not been taught by mercy, and, therefore, do not know the joy of extending mercy to others. Peter could praise God because his life was transformed by the grace and mercy of Jesus. Peter went from an impulsive and fearful fisherman who denied the Lord three times, to a confident and courageous witness of Christ because he was regenerated, restored, and renewed by grace. He joyfully endured suffering and opposition because his faith was precious to him.
There is a tendency for many Christians to show a stoic attitude through the trials of life. We try and keep a stiff upper lip and simply endure. Taking the approach of “It is what it is” only works for so long. Eventually “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is a more appropriate response to trouble. It is precisely during those times when human hope fades that we rejoice – even though the rejoicing is through tears – in the living hope kept for us. This gracious inheritance of hope is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. That means we can live through a difficult day or week or month or even, dear God, a year or longer with spiritual endurance. We can do this, friends. We can persevere through our worldwide trial of pandemic. We can even do more than survive – we can thrive through having our faith muscle stretched and strengthened. We are not alone. We all suffer together.
Our shared value of the risen Christ is the fuel that keeps our car of faith running. It is what transcends the stoic attitude of unfeeling endurance to a joyful flourishing of faith. Suffering is central to living for Jesus Christ. Suffering is not something to continually avoid, go around, or bemoan because it is God’s means of forming us spiritually to be like Jesus. I can say that the sufferings I’ve experienced in my own life I never want to go through again. I can also say that I would not change those experiences for anything because they have formed and shaped me in ways that would probably not have happened apart from adversity.
Our goal in this life is not to escape the world. There is a time coming when our salvation will be consummated, heaven comes down to earth, and both are joined forever.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of god is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
This is our inheritance in Christ. First, however, we must come prepared for the future by undergoing grief in all kinds of sufferings in the present. These trials to our faith are a sort of pre-marital session that prepare us for our marriage with Jesus.
Eventually, suffering will have done its work and we will be with Christ forever. Until that day, let’s not stay in the garage of life. Let us explore all that God has for us, embracing both the meaning and the mystery of faith. Since our salvation is assured, let us live with confidence and run the race marked out for us. Let us not be complacent or slow in doing the will of God, but work for God’s kingdom purposes on this earth. And let us allow our trials to do their work in us, responding to them with joy knowing that our faith is being strengthened for the benefit of blessing the world. Even in suffering, God is good all the time; and, all the time, God is good. To him be the glory.