I write this letter just 2 days after the funeral of our brother, Joe Leighfield, another reminder of our mortality. It seemed that Joe had somewhat extended the brevity of life, having reached the grand age of 98, but on Monday we had to remind ourselves of the fact that “it is appointed for man (humans) to die once” (Heb. 9:27). At the funeral Mr. Harrison reminded us that for the believer death and entrance into the presence of God is ‘far better.’
With that in mind I want to remind you of how the Apostle Paul helped new believers cope with the demands of life.
I will begin in the chapter that Mr. Harrison used, Philippians 1. There believers are told, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) True Christians know that they have no personal merit with God. The only thing that makes us acceptable with God is the fact that Christ has died to pay the consequences of the sins of every believer. Anything that we are able to do in the service of God, is because God lives in us and is at work in us. Christ is in heaven, therefore every believer has the security of knowing that they too will end up there, but the facts are that for some of us life will continue until we are 98+ and life on earth is not always straight forward.
When Paul planted churches he did not avoid this painful truth, but from the start he built up Christians using “a three cord rope that is not easily broken.” His approach to discipleship is summarised in Acts 14:22- “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Let’s look at these individually.
Strengthening The Souls Of The Disciples
Disciples are like students – they don’t have all the answers. They’re not yet complete. As Christians we should never think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We need the help of God and of God’s people. Paul gives a wonderful example of this in his own life in 2 Cor 6:7 ‘But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus’. It is often said that there is strength in numbers. The gathering and fellowship of God’s people is always a great comfort.
Encouraging Them To Continue In The Faith
As Christians we can easily become down or overwhelmed when we, like Peter see the wind (Mt. 14:30). When Peter had faith and looked to the Lord Jesus Christ he was able miraculously to walk on water, but as soon as he became overwhelmed by his circumstances, he began to sink, and Jesus had to say to him, “O, you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:31)
The Christian life from start to consummation in heaven is an act of faith. We are saved, because we trust that Jesus has made us right with God; we grow in grace as we have faith that the Holy Spirit will teach us through the Word of God. We are lifted up after failure by trusting again that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. If we look at ourselves and our own efforts, it is easy to be ashamed. If we look at other people we will often feel let down, while some have such a close walk with God that we feel ‘I could never be like them.’ However when we look in faith to Christ we are reminded ‘By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.’
Through Many Tribulations We Must Enter The Kingdom Of God
The Christian life however is not a walk along a velvet carpet. Paul says that while we are secure, there are also battles. ‘Tribulations’ can be translated “persecution, affliction, distress”. Thankfully at this stage in our experience persecution at a formal level is still very limited, but many cope with various forms of affliction, often related to illness. These do not separate us from God, but God is able to use them in our lives. Often we have been through a particularly testing time we are then able to help others. These are not to be seen as evidence of God’s disapproval. On the contrary these are a fulfillment of Christ’s promise.
Distress again is a type of trial. Often it is caused by another person or circumstance, but we are not to let these blind us to the great work of God in our lives. They are all preparing us for that entrance into God’s Kingdom. Again this is not simply heaven when we die, but such an experience of the rule of God in every event in our lives that we can be at peace with Him – The Lord Reigns.
The Christian life is a reflection of Christ’s own painful journey, but it is a journey that is completed in the company of God and His people. May we each enjoy the benefits of Christian fellowship in trial and the assurance that nothing is allowed to come into our lives beyond the will of God.
In The Comfort of His Care
Bernard Lewis April 2013