GOD’S GLORY FOR OUR GOOD

Photo by Jaime Reimer on Pexels.com

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download God’s Glory, Our Good

3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. 4 For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6, HCSB)

11 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.
13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14, HCSB)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:4-7, HCSB)

I want to share some things this time that the Lord has been showing me. I don’t want to pretend that this is something new. Many, many people have written about what I am going to say here. Even so, it is a subject that is often neglected in churches these days. Also, I think I have a piece to share that makes the main lesson a bit more concrete and personal.

I have highlighted several phrases from the first two chapters of Ephesians. Here’s the first thing I want us to notice from the verses above: God wants to display his glory and his grace to the universe he created.

God is the best, most beautiful, most wonderful, amazing, superlative being in all of existence. There is nothing better than him. Nothing more beautiful. Nothing more wonderful. Nothing more worthy of praise or attention. He is the highest and best good. Therefore, the highest and supreme good, the most wonderful thing that can ever happen at any time, is that God’s wonderfulness and goodness and amazingness is displayed to, and known by, all of creation. For short, we can call this: “God is glorified.” When God is glorified, it means that his goodness, wonderfulness (and so on) is being displayed, and recognized.

Think of it like this. Just as we should seek to honor and glorify God because he is the Supreme Good, so he should seek to bring honor and glory to himself – for the same reason. That is God’s focus. That is His continual, ongoing activity. In a big-picture sense, this is always what God is up to: bringing glory to himself. This is always the end result that he has in mind, because it the best thing that can happen in the universe, and it is the best thing for the universe. The best thing that can ever happen, in any situation, at any time, is that God is glorified. This is always God’s end-goal, in every situation. Scripture tells that:

10 at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, HCSB)

25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28, NLT)

33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, NLT)

Stay with me here, because I think the end result will bless you. We have a bit of mind-work to do first, however. If God’s main purpose is to show his glory, then that is the thing that will most certainly happen. Nothing compares to God, and the scripture says he does not change or waver. So, we can count on the fact that God will be glorified. It is more certain, even, than death or taxes. Nothing will prevent God from ultimately being glorified in all things. His own nature and his own purpose guarantee it.

Now, if you are a self-centered creature like me, or maybe even if you are just hurting, you might say, “I can recognize that God’s goal is to be glorified, and, with my mind, I can even agree with that goal. But I don’t see how it helps me when God is glorified.” I know this is a shallow, selfish approach, but I can’t help feeling that way at times. I might think: “Good for God, that he gets the glory that he deserves. But in the meantime, I’m suffering.” If you know me, you know that I mean that part quite literally. I am physically suffering right now, as I write this. But even if you aren’t suffering, you might wonder: “What does God’s glory have to do with me?” It’s nice for God that his purpose will not be thwarted. It’s great for him that ultimately he will be glorified. But life is hard right now. Sometimes, I wonder if the idea of God working so that his wonderfulness is displayed to all creation really does much for me.

But it does.

You see, what the verses I quoted in the beginning (from Ephesians) tell us is not just that God is glorifying himself. They tell us the way he goes about bringing glory to himself. And, simply because he chose to do so, he has decided that he will make loving us a central part of his own glory. The foundation of God’s glory is his love. So, when he glorifies himself, he does it through love. Particularly, he does it by loving human beings. Even more specifically, he does it through loving you and me.

This means that God’s love is not based on something so shallow as our own lovableness, or even our own need. No, he has connected loving us to the eternal good purpose of showing his glory. He will never stop loving us, because he will never stop showing his glory. He has made his love for us central to his own nature, and integral to his own best purpose for the universe.

So now, we can say that because God will always be glorified, God will always love you. Not because you deserve it. Not even because you need it. But because God’s love for you is built into the very purpose for the universe.

This has several implications for us. First, and I mean this is a very positive way, life is not about you. This is in contrast to the message we generally get from our culture, which is all about people being the “best authentic selves” that they can be. However, for Christians, self-fulfillment can be a by-product of trusting God, but it should never be our goal. God does not exist to help you become a fulfilled person. He does not exist to fix the people around you, or to make your circumstances better. He exists to glorify himself. But because of his very nature, when he glorifies himself, you will be loved. We are safe to live not for ourselves, but for God, because God has us at the center of his own purpose. When we let God become the center of everything, our own lives in are in their proper place. It frees us from being focused on ourselves. God’s got us, because we are part of us his purpose and plan. We can relax, and let him do his work in us and through us.

Second, it means that we can trust that God is working for our good in all things. In fact, he has tied our own good to the highest good and purpose of the universe – his own glory. So Paul writes:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.
(Romans 8:28-30, HCSB)

Not only does God love us for his own glory, but he invites us to partake in that glory! This is not theoretical for me, and I don’t want it to be theoretical for you, either. Simply put, it means that no matter what we might experience – even very difficult things – it will be used for God’s glory, and for our good.

Most of you know that I am in a very difficult season of life. Every day I experience hours of excruciating pain. Doctors cannot figure out exactly way – the best they come up with are guesses. Doctors can’t make it stop, either – they can only provide medicine that eases it a bit, a couple times a day.

If I did not have the confidence that God was using my suffering for his glory, and my good, I would be going crazy. I would feel like these hours and hours of pain (more than 61,000 hours at this point. Not that I’m keeping track) are pointless, meaningless. I would be angry, and bitter, and I’m sure that would filter into my relationships, and make my life even worse.

But as it is, because of God’s word I know this: God will use my pain for his own glory, and for my good. He will do so not because I am worthy, but rather, because it is according to his own nature, and his own unchanging purpose.

I certainly hope you aren’t experiencing physical pain like mine. But you might be experiencing other difficult things in your life. It might be grief and loss. It might be uncertainty, or fear. It might be broken relationships, or a struggle of some other sort. You can have confidence that in every situation, God will be glorifying himself. That means that every situation, he will be glorifying himself by loving you and blessing you. Glory for him means goodness and grace for us. So in every single situation, God will bring goodness and grace to you.

I cannot guarantee that you will always understand exactly how God is making that happen. I can’t guarantee that you will always feel like God is doing good things through our pain, sorrow and struggles. But God himself guarantees that he is, in fact, glorifying himself, and bringing grace to you. He guarantees it by his own nature.

16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. (Hebrews 6:16-18, NLT)

God has got this. He’s got it because his very nature means that he will glorify himself by being loving and good to us. Therefore, we can be patient in difficult times. We can be at peace and trust God.

16 That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day. 17 Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine. 18 We don’t look for things that can be seen but for things that can’t be seen. Things that can be seen are only temporary. But things that can’t be seen last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, GW)

COLOSSIANS #10: FILLING UP WHAT IS LACKING IN SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST

person s hands covered with blood

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com

When we Christians suffer well, trusting God and his purposes, even when we don’t understand them, it is a powerful testimony to the world. It shows the world that there is something so good, so powerful that even suffering is redeemed. It shows the world that suffering and love can, and do, go hand in hand. When we suffer well, it is like we are teaching the world about the sufferings of Christ.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Colossians Part 10

Colossians #10. Colossians 1:24-26 (Part B)

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. Colossians 1:24-26

This is the second sermon on the same set of verses: Colossians 1:24-26. If you have not read the first sermon on this passage (Colossians #9), please go back and do that now. Some of what we learn in this sermon absolutely depends upon what we already received from the previous one.

We began last time by examining Paul’s words: “I rejoice in my sufferings.” Those are powerful words. Until we understand how it is possible to rejoice in our sufferings, we cannot understand this next phrase: “I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

If you stop and think about it, this is a very puzzling phrase. What does it mean to fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? How can Christ’s afflictions be lacking? Does this mean that the death of Jesus is not enough, and we need to suffer in order to be saved?

Paul uses some unusual language in this little phrase, but there is one other place that uses almost exactly the same Greek wording. That other verse comes in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The Philippian church collected some money and sent it Paul  to help support him as he worked for the kingdom of God. Paul was in Rome at the time, a long way from where they lived, so they sent the gift with a man named Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus arrived in Rome with the money, and he also assisted Paul in the work, but at some point, he got sick, and almost died. Paul says that he considered this sickness of Epaphroditus to be suffering for the sake of Christ, and he wrote this:

Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with great joy and hold people like him in honor, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me. (Philippians 2:29-30)

The phrase “to make up for what was lacking” is almost exactly the same in Greek as our verse today where he says, “I am filling up what is lacking” in Christ’s sufferings.

In the first place, it is interesting to note that Epaphroditus was not persecuted.  “He came close to death for the sake of the Lord” because of an illness. This should show us that anything and everything that happens to us as we try to live for Jesus is “for the sake of the Lord.” His suffering was no less suffering for the Lord, even though it was not persecution, but “ordinary sickness.”

Next, let’s consider how Epaphroditus “made up what was lacking” in the ministry in the ministry of the Philippians to Paul. He didn’t raise the money himself. Also, Paul does not mean that Epaphroditus added the last, needed twenty dollars. What was lacking in the Philippian gift was a person to deliver it, to make sure that Paul got it. Epaphroditus made up for that lack. He provided the delivery, and the personal touch. He personally represented the love and fellowship the others felt for Paul.

So when Paul says he makes up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ he does NOT mean that the suffering of Jesus was not enough to bring forgiveness of our sins. The whole New Testament is quite clear that the death of Jesus was entirely sufficient to forgive our sins, to make us holy and restore our relationship with God:

11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. (NLT, Hebrews 10:11-14, bold formatting added for emphasis)

18 Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19 Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous. (NLT, Romans 5:18-19)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (NLT, Romans 8:1-4)

So, the sufferings of Jesus are entirely enough to save us. We cannot add to the salvation that Jesus obtained for us. His sufferings are not “lacking” in power to save us. But there is one thing that Christ did not accomplish while he was here on earth. He did not tell every human being about himself. He gave that assignment to the apostles, and to the whole church. Therefore, what “is lacking” in Christ sufferings is that not everyone has heard about those sufferings, nor understood what they mean. Just as the Philippians needed someone to deliver a generous gift, so Jesus needs Paul – and us – to bring the good news of his gift to the world. What is lacking is, in essence, the delivery of the gift.

Paul, and the other writers of the New Testament, take it for granted that bringing the good news to others will involve suffering.  Epaphroditus became physically ill while serving Jesus, and it is counted as suffering for the sake of Christ. So, in essence the sufferings of Christ – in his body, the church – will not be complete until all the world has heard the good news.

John Piper puts it like this:

What is lacking is that the infinite value of Christ’s afflictions is not known and trusted in the world. These afflictions and what they mean are still hidden to most peoples. And God’s intention is that the mystery be revealed to all the nations. So the afflictions of Christ are “lacking” in the sense that they are not seen and known and loved among the nations. They must be carried by the ministers of the Word. And those ministers of the Word “complete” what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others…

…Paul exhibits the sufferings of Christ by suffering himself for those he is trying to win. In his sufferings they see Christ’s sufferings. Here is the astounding upshot: God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of His people. (John Piper, Desiring God)

Let me give it to you in a different way. When people suffer, mostly, they just want it to stop. Suffering is seen as universally bad. Suffering creates problems for most people. Many people even turn away from the idea of God, because they feel that a good God would not allow anyone he loves to suffer.

Certainly, the Bible says that God the Father loves his Son, Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus Christ experienced a terrible, eternal quality of suffering that we can only begin to guess at. However, The suffering of Jesus was an act of love, because it saves those who trust him. The suffering of Jesus also shows us that Jesus was looking beyond temporary pain into eternal glory.

When we Christians suffer well, trusting God and his purposes, even when we don’t understand them, it is a powerful testimony to the world. It shows the world that there is something so good, so powerful that even suffering is redeemed. It shows the world that suffering and love can, and do, go hand in hand. When we suffer well, it is like we are teaching the world about the sufferings of Christ.

I am utterly convinced that many people have been encouraged by seeing me navigate this life of pain in faith. I think it has had a deeper impact on both me, and others, than there would have been from a miraculous healing. When people see that even in my suffering I find Jesus to be a good, all-sufficient savior, then I am, in a sense presenting the sufferings of Jesus to them. Because I am a  member of the body of Christ, it is not my suffering, but the suffering of Jesus.

Again, from John Piper:

Since Christ is no longer on the earth, He wants His body, the church, to reveal His suffering in its suffering. Since we are His body, our sufferings are His sufferings. Romanian pastor Josef Tson put it like this: “I am an extension of Jesus Christ. When I was beaten in Romania, He suffered in my body. It is not my suffering: I only had the honor to share His sufferings.”  Therefore, our sufferings testify to the kind of love Christ has for the world. (John Piper, Desiring God)

Suffering is an opportunity. It provides us with a chance to experience the grace of God in a special way. In addition, it allows us to present the worth of Christ to the world in a very compelling manner.

Just a few weeks ago, a prominent Christian singer from Bethel church lost her two year old daughter to sudden death. This was a terrible tragedy. It was also an opportunity for God to give that family special grace, and for them, by trusting that grace, to show the world the surpassing value of Jesus Christ. Instead, they chose to very publicly pray for the resurrection of the child. Though I have my small share of suffering, I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a young child suddenly. I am not judging them, but I want us to use their example as a thought experiment.

Suppose God had answered their prayer for the resurrection of their child. What then? Yes, it would be a great miracle. But it would also leave hundreds of thousands of other stricken parents wondering why God did not choose to raise their child. It would tend to make people believe that the value of trusting God is mainly in what we can see, mainly in him making our lives better here and now. But that is not a Biblical viewpoint.

What if these parents had responded differently? What if they had immediately leaned into the grace of God to trust, even when they cannot understand? What if they had been able to say, “This is the most horrible thing I have ever experienced – and yet, I find that God’s grace is enough. I don’t understand, but I trust him, anyway.” I believe that would have been more powerful, and more helpful to others, than the resurrection of a single child among the millions of those who die young and tragically.

Between these past two weeks, we have learned that it is possible to rejoice in suffering, and also that suffering is a means by which God’s people can show the world that He is good, and He can be trusted. It would be foolish to go and look for ways to suffer. However, if and when you do find yourself in hard times, press into Him, trust Him. Once more, I leave you with one of my new favorite bible quotes:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (ESV, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)