REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 5: Letters are worth reading and sending
I continue to be amazed at Easter’s marvellous ramifications, both challenging and comforting. Two things have got me thinking about this reflection. The first an observation of J Alec Motyer commenting on the majestic Philippians 2:5: “the story of the cross of Christ is told in each of the four gospels; the meaning of the cross is the preoccupying theme of the epistles…we do well to remember that this privilege is given to us not to satisfy our curiosity but to reform our lives.” What is true of Philippians 2 is relevant to many others. The second was an ABC interview of a writer who was encouraging us to write (not type) letters (epistles) to others. Given the length of this reflection, I feel that a quick summary is needed: we read the NT epistles for explanation and application of the Easter events. We discover that we are living epistles, whose transformed lives are the epistles others will read, and may attract them to the apostolic epistles.
What follows are some passages from the epistles that explain and apply the great events we have just remembered. God is doubly kind to us in that He not only sent His Son but He also tells us what we are to make of Him. While it is right for us to reflect on and ruminate on the gospel narratives, it is not an option for us to imagine what we are to make or take from them.
The meaning of the Cross is seen in passages like:
- Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2 &4:10 that sees our Lord’s death as the propitiation for our sins. This word means that Jesus’ death makes the erasing of our sins possible because on the Cross He absorbed His Father’s righteous wrath on account of our sins.
- Galatians 3:13-14; 1 Peter 3:18 & 2 Corinthians 5:21 picking up on Isaiah 53:5-6 and our Lord’s words in Mark 10:45, remind us of His death being in our place.
- Romans 5:8, 1 John 3:16 teach us that this is where God’s love is most clearly seen.
The application of the Cross is seen in passages like:
- 2 Corinthians 8:9 as a challenge to our tight-fistedness and the reason for our generosity
- Philippians 2:4-11 challenges our self-interest in our congregations
- Ephesians 5:25 as the pattern for husbands to love their wives (and vice-versa)
- Ephesians 4:32-5:2 as the antidote to bitterness, un-forgiveness and half-hearted service.
- 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 as the supreme motive for sexual fidelity
- Galatians 6:14 as our only ground for boasting and compelling reason for dying to the world
- 1 Peter 2:23-25 as the pattern for non-retaliation and grace when insulted and persecuted
- Hebrews 4:14-16 & 10:19-25 as the ground of our confidence in approaching God
- 1 John 4:10-12 where we learn that God’s love for us must be replicated by us to others
Turning now to our Lord’s bodily resurrection on the 3rd day we are similarly comforted and challenged.
- Jesus is marked out as the way, the truth and the life, since His promises ( Luke 9:22.18:31-33, 24:6-8) were vindicated by His resurrection (Romans 1:4,10:9) which means we too can confidently give ourselves to our obligation to live for righteousness (Romans 8:9-11)
- By which we can be assured that our labour for the Lord will never be in vain (1 Cor 15:58)
- We affirm the resurrection as the chief reason to believe in our Lord’s return (Acts 17:30-31)
- We know that Jesus was not only raised but that He continues to live in Heaven as our Advocate (1 John 2:1-2), understanding High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), Intercessor (Romans 8:34) and Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). We can come to Him in confidence therefore, as penitents for pardon (1 John 1:8-9), children in prayer (Romans 8:15-17) and for nourishing fellowship, especially after failure (Revelation 3:20)
- He also dwells in us as individual believers (Colossians 1:27). As a way of understanding the Trinitarian nature of God this is normally described as the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (Eph 1:14-15; 2 Cor 1:21 as promised by our Lord in John 14-16 and among us (Ephesians 2:22 and 1Cor 3:16-17). Incidentally this is why the NT can ascribe the resurrection of Jesus equally to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (John 10:17-18, Acts 13:30-35, Romans 1:4).
- Our Lord’s earthly absence gave way, after His ascension, to His abiding presence. The ascension as His coronation and His Spirit, His coronation gift to all believers (Acts 2:1-28).
- It is to the risen Lord that we are to set our minds and hearts (Col 3:1-3). We are filled with hope as we wait for His return in glory (Col 3:4) and allow ourselves to be shaped by Christ rather than the world (Col 3:5-4:6). There is life before and after death for believers.
- Our Lord’s resurrection is the reason for our assurance of a new fully transformed body, fit for Heaven when we die (2 Cor 5:1-10) and then fit for the New Heavens and New Earth at His return (Phil 3:17-21,Rom 3:18-21, 1 Cor 15:20-58).
- As with our Lord’s death so with His resurrection, there is encouragement to persevere and an obligation to live differently than we used to, distinctive from the world around us (1 Cor 15:32-34, 1 Thess 5:8-11,Eph 5:14). For our (Jn 8:12) and the world’s good (Matt 5:13-16).
And there are two more thoughts about epistles.
- That is exactly what we are (2 Cor 3:1-3). As believers we are the living testimony to the work of Christ. We are pardoned by faith in Jesus and we are alive, living for and like Him, as brothers and sisters seeking to serve and encourage each other, as lights in this world (described by Leenhardt as “this tottering stage”). In the apostles priceless language: new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), in the ongoing process of conformity to Christ by the ministry of His Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). Could there be a greater calling than his? And a greater opportunity to be living for eternity now in this pandemic world? I think not. We do well to remember that we are being watched, read if you like (2 Cor 3:3), by a watching world of people, especially our children, many who are uncertain and afraid. The African poem has always been a challenge to me: You are writing a gospel/A chapter each day/By the words that you speak/And the works that you do./Men read what you write/Disturbing or true./What is the gospel to you? There are 6 gospels: the canonical 4, you/I and our churches.
- And with the writer from the ABC here is an opportunity for us to be incarnational (an essential pre-requisite to Easter) in phoning, visiting within the pandemic guidelines and writing a good old fashion letter. I suggest this not because I have shares in the PO, but because a letter written brings us hidden benefits ,like thinking thoughtfully how we might shape words of encouragement [Eph 4:29b], but more importantly conveys our love in the act of writing, giving the receiver the joy of receiving when they go their letterbox.
This has been a long epistle though somewhat shorter than Hebrews author’s short letter of exhortation/encouragement (13:22)! I hope it proves to be a help to you, who have glanced at Christ and in so doing found salvation, might see these straightened circumstances as opportunity to continue to gaze at our crucified and risen Lord, as you prayerfully read the canonical epistles. In so doing we are bound to find an ever increasing sense of satisfaction with the Lord Jesus who so loved us at the Cross, along with a growing joy in our ongoing sanctification allowing His Spirit to transform us as we obey His Word written. As this happens His Spirit will confirm in our hearts and minds just how good it is to be His epistles as His Word is increasingly deeply upon our hearts.
Peter Brain 12th April, 2020