You Are Truly Blessed
2 Corinthians 13:14
“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
The word “doctrine” sometimes seems to make people’s minds shut down. Say “Doctrine of the Holy Trinity”, for example, and faces may cloud up as if a dry, lengthy lecture detailing all the philosophical assertions given about it by the ancient Church Fathers is expected! (Ask any Seminary student who’s had such a class, and he’ll tell you that can be pretty daunting.) “Doctrine” just means “teaching” as many probably know, but sometimes technical words are necessary vehicles for expressing the meanings of Biblical teachings. Their meanings are made more real for us, though, when we can actually experience what they’re intended to convey. Teaching a young person the concepts and details about driving a car is a necessity, but it’s no substitute for getting behind the wheel and actually “having a go at it.”
The Benediction from Aaron that we so often use to close our services may seem like the traditional pious wish of a Pastor for a Christian congregation, “The Lord bless you and keep you...”, but it’s more than just an expression of his personal desire. It is and does what it says(!) according to God’s certain promise that, by speaking it, He would place His Name upon His people and would bless, keep, shine with graciousness, smile upon them and bring them into His peace. (People who leave worship services early deprive themselves of having those promises of God pronounced upon them!) What I mean to say is that God’s Word is living and active. It bestows what it proclaims! (Jesus taught that His Words are Spirit and life, and Peter once confessed that Jesus had the words of eternal life.)
Today we’ll be exploring another Benediction which was given by St. Paul as he signed off writing to the Corinthians. He used the terms “Grace” and “Love” and “Fellowship,” but, far more than mere dry doctrinal assertions, these words and their meanings express important realities for God’s people of faith.
The blessing begins with “the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. That’s the source of all that a Christian is and does! The technical definition of “Grace” would be something like: The conferring of favor or blessing, regardless of the merit of the receiver. Or, more simply, it’s an undeserved gift.
Not so long ago was a news story of an infant boy falling down some twenty feet through a hole in the ground. It triggered memories of the girl Jessica in Texas in the 1980s who had also fallen into an old well. In both cases the downward shafts narrowed to the point where the children became utterly stuck with their arms pinned in place. Yet, even if they could have moved to any extent, they still would never have been able to climb out. (But they weren’t old enough to even come up with a plan to try.) In a word, they were helpless! Now, the thing we need to think about here is how those children were rescued. It was cold and damp with stale air in their little prison tunnels, and they could have become quite feverish and ill, perhaps been seriously injured, and even died if not rescued soon enough. The task required extraordinary ingenuity, time and effort on the part of large crews of emergency workers and engineers. No risk was considered too great, and no expense was spared to finally effect the rescues! (In the little boy’s case they actually drilled another tunnel and came up underneath him to accomplish the feat.)
There was nothing the rescuers wouldn’t have tried or done to complete the task; and that gives maybe just a tiny real glimpse of what “the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” is like toward you and me, who were spiritually blind, dead and enemies of God until that Grace touched our hearts and souls and lives!!! Jesus Christ spared nothing of Himself in going to the Cross and suffering for our sins until it was finished! And He even went beyond that by rising again and thus ensuring our hope of resurrection even from the grave. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” is an incredible statement of Grace!
Sometimes I’ve told the story of how I had once personally disobeyed strict orders not to leave a retreat compound in the mountains of Colombia when I was in the Army. Late one night I finally let another guy pester me into going out, though, and a half mile outside of the compound he was in the act of buying some drugs when a truckload of National Police pulled up. I could have been hauled off to life in prison right on the spot, and I deserved it, but the Police ignored us! A day or two later I was on a plane taking me up and away from that country, and the feeling of freedom that gave me was as if I was flying on my own. I escaped without punishment or consequences. No one knows better than you, yourself how you deserve God’s anger and punishment. What He gives instead is “the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Someone once made an acrostic for the word “Grace”, G.R.A.C.E.: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense!!! It’s an amazing Grace in which we stand. At the great cost of the life of the very Son of God, by that Grace we’re saved!
Next comes the doctrine of “the Love of God”. The blessing of Grace flows from and is sponsored by the Love of God. Volumes have been written to express that attribute of God’s very Nature, but no description we might give could ever be adequate.
Luke 15 pictures for us a Father’s Love that took in both extremes of the despairing prodigal son and the obedient but self proud one. God loves the whole world, we’re taught, and nothing you could ever do could make Him stop loving you. God’s Love is what absolutely controls His will and disposition toward us. He grants it with no conditions expected from us. It is unending and as high, deep, wide and long as God’s own Being.
Scripture says: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God.” Or again: “In this is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (or reconciling factor) for our sins.” Or once more: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What could cause Him to so love us only God knows! What we do know, though, is that beyond some mushy sentimental feeling, God’s Love is His commitment put into action to restore us to His family and to preserve us as His own into eternity.
And thirdly is “the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit is who brings God’s Love and Christ’s Grace to us, not only ‘touching’ our hearts and lives with Love and Grace but moving in with them!
“Fellowship” can be loosely defined as “sharing together” or “participating” in something, but more precisely it’s the same word St. Paul used to teach the Corinthians about the Lord’s Supper. Ultimately it’s an intimate, literal “being one with”, as should be taught in Confirmation classes. It’s God the Holy Spirit Fellowshipping, dwelling in His people, being one with them that does connect them to Love and Grace. The Spirit’s job description is to plug us into the real Love and Grace of God through the instruments of God’s Word, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
God’s Spirit is also the Sponsor of those things we confess in the Creed: “...the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting.” Having part in all those things is assured by the Holy Spirit making Himself one with each believing heart. His fellowship is a doctrine, yes; but, long before we had much understanding about it, He was there working and bringing it about!
The Holy Triune God wants each of us to experience it all(!): His Grace AND Love AND Fellowship!! It may have been that these were the last words St. Paul ever communicated to the Corinthians, but they are also the Word of God for us: “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Know that those aren’t just a string of irrelevant words. As God couples these things with your hearts by faith, they are a reality for you. And as the words are proclaimed, YOU ARE TRULY BLESSED!! AMEN.