Monday, November 8, 2010

Hold on, for the grace of God

2 Cor 4:8-9 - We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Hard pressed
We are hard pressed on every side. Isn’t it so, sometimes? We feel like we cannot take it anymore; we doubt we can still hang on. But the Word says we are not crushed.

There was one I know, who was out of job, low in savings, had bills and expenses to meet, and his spouse divorced him, and he had to legally fight for righteousness, and for the care and control of his children (case of which became long drawn); he was hard pressed to be with income, hard pressed to pay for expenses bills, and to pay the lawyers, on top of his obligation to his children and his mother. He held on to the Word that says “we will not be crushed”.

The same gentleman was perplexed, really perplexed, for he was by then a Christian of many years, had served in his church in more than one ministry, faithful in his church attendance, sang, praised and worshiped the Lord mostly fervently, relative to many, in church services, took pain to ensure his children receive Sunday school teachings, and to grow with Christian inputs. When his career started to brightened up, he started to want to serve the Lord more, and had began to seek the Lord; he began a year of fasting on weekends, and went to seminars and teachings in the faith. Toward the end of the year-long fast, he lost his job and his career; things went south for him, until finally, the cruel thing happened, his wife divorced him, and wanted to take the children away, overseas. It was all so perplexing! Down, down, and down, he went to the bottom of the pit, nothing around, but darkness, and more darkness. But he had to refuse to be abandoned to despair, because the Word says despair is not our lot.

Today, if you are being persecuted, the Word says that you are not abandoned. Many people may not take notice of your predicament, many of those you know, do not understand you, your loved ones may be incapable of helping you; even your partner may abandon you. But there is one who will not abandon you. He is the Lord.

Struck down
When we are struck down, whether by calamity, by sickness, or by any others, are we destroyed? We are not destroyed.

I know of one who was struck (but not down) by stage 4 lung cancer. It has been more than a year now for this lady, and she has refused, and continues to refuse defeat, and destruction. Sister, you are struck, but you are not down, and when you are not down, you can be hard pressed and yet not crushed, you can be perplexed but you are not to be in despair; the Devil had tried to persecute in your job yet you were not abandoned, the Lord had given you back your job. Keep up the spirit, sister. Physical destruction is possible but endpoint destruction is remote, unless you allow yourself to be counted or be reckoned with Satan.

That is how it is
Until we are called home, we are to persevere as Christians, and be of good cheer; life is worth living just because Jesus lives. We have to accept that even though we have entered into salvation, we are still in this fallen world, and as much as we want it, and work toward it, this world is still far from being completely taken over by the kingdom of God, meaning perfection is not here.

In the words of the Apostle Paul, in 1 Cor 13:12, for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then {when Jesus comes back} we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. There are varying degrees of manifestations, in this world, of the kingdom of God, especially when believers will themselves to be the hands and legs of Jesus, yet full manifestation is not here. The latter will come when we reach our home in the Kingdom of Heaven. Many people did not quite get the picture that Paul was painting with the reflection as in a mirror, because, the modern day mirror is of such high quality in terms of reflection that we forget that in the days of the apostles, the commoners’ mirrors were of poor quality, giving poorer reflection of the actual thing. Today, when we look at one mirror and then look at another, it is all the same, very clear reflections, it was not so then, and so, there were varying degrees of clarity.

Paul then went on to say that, nevertheless, 3 things still remains; 3 things we need to hold fast to, and they are faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13). The context of this “3 things” should be for earthly living, NOT as some commentators had wanted to interpret it to be, for living of all time, including that in the Kingdom of Heaven. Trying to frame the “3 things” in the Kingdom of Heaven living, just confuse matter; I believe the objective of Apostle Paul was to give guidance to current living on earth, i.e. earthly living.

The Apostle Paul was saying that the scenario of 2 Cor 4:8-9, that we are hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, even struck down, are very real. Yet as gospel bearers, and having entered into salvation with the Holy Spirit indwelling our body, we are to shine for God. Paul said we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:8), and with that we are able to show the all surpassing power of God working in and through our life. We are not to lose heart; by the grace of God, even when we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed; perplexed, but we are not in despair; persecuted, but we are not abandoned; struck down, but we are not destroyed.

The Key – We can attract the grace of God
Revelation? When we hold fast to the 3 things, faith, hope and love (1 Cor 13:13), we can attract the grace of God.

The grace of God cannot be demanded, cannot be merited, yet it can be attracted. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that grace of God is not poured out to his children all the time. God is extending grace all the time, different grace, and different degree of grace. This, I called the quiet grace of God. There are streams and streams of quiet grace of God extending out from Him all the time.

There is also the exceeding grace which God also extends out to people from time to time, in various occasions, like a supernatural healing of a sickness. A miracle is an exceeding grace at work. Do not be mistaken, even non-believers are recipients of certain quiet grace of God. God’s grace is truly an amazing grace!

So, if grace of God is given, and cannot be earned or merited, is there nothing that is of Man’s part that we should do? It is not that God MUST, or God SHALL do it, but I believe, we can ATTRACT the grace of God; and for that we need to hold fast to the 3 things the Apostle Paul referred to – faith, hope and love. The exercise of faith attracts grace of God. Living in hope attracts God’s grace, and in loving, we attract grace.

Exercise of faith attracts grace
The opposite of faith is doubt. When we are hard pressed from every side, it is very easy for us to begin to doubt whether we can make it through. We will be crushed when we doubt. In order, not to be crushed, we have to hold fast to our faith, and in our actions, we act out in keeping with that faith. We pray and move, or not move, accordingly. We are to do the right thing that we can do, for those we cannot do, we trust God to take care.

Faith without action is dead, and is not a complete unit of faith that would be pleasing to God. For example, a belief that God can heal is not yet a complete unit of faith that is pleasing to God! It is merely a right belief, not yet a faith; there is still another element, and that is conviction. A right belief with a strong enough conviction, will move you to act in keeping with the belief, and the whole thing becomes faith, a complete unit pleasing to God.

Faith in action, or living faith is what can possibly attract grace (and hopefully exceeding grace) of God. You can be of right belief all you want, that God can heal, but if you are not going to pray for the sick person, your belief will just stay as your belief, a dead thing. When you go into action, and that reflects your conviction, we have a faith, capable of attracting the grace of God, coming as healing for the sick person, for example. Why are Christians not crushed when we are hard pressed from every side? It is because we hold fast to our faith, not doubting our making it through.

Living in hope attracts God’s grace
When we are perplexed and very tempted to repeatedly ask why and why, yet we do not despair, why? It is because to despair is to be without hope. We do not despair because we have a strong hope. What hope? Are hope and faith the same? Obviously, as used in 1 Cor 13:13, they are not the same.

The first way of looking at “hope” in 1 Cor 13:13 is to view it as the living hope, i.e. the hope that we, Christians, have, of making it to Heaven to dwell with God there. Viewing it this way does help us to keep things in perspective, that what we are facing and living through here, on earth, is a short and temporal experience; and when we fix on eyes on the after-life, worldly things fade into the background, set-backs and sufferings are more clearly seen as temporal, and more easily accepted, and need not be unduly fret over, or be anxious about.

Another way of viewing it, which I like, is not to view hope as “the looking forward to something happening according to expectation” (common definition). There is another meaning of hope that can help us weather through storms of life. But this meaning is not referring to confidence of outcome, for that too closely resembled faith, and would make it meaningless for the Apostle Paul to include hope as one of 3 things, since faith was already listed. Let me elaborate:

When one is sick, he may say he has faith that he will be healed by God (when someone prays for him). He has faith that he will be healed. That is his faith (that he will be healed), even though undoubtedly, his faith is in the Lord. If faith and hope are the same, then we could word the same sentence as “When one is sick, he may say he hopes that he will be healed by God.” But that is not exactly the proper thing to say. It will be ok to say, “When one is sick, he may say he has faith that he will be healed. His hope is in God.”

What is the difference? The difference is this: his faith that he will be healed is referring to his confidence that he will be healed (Heb 11:1, NIV), whereas hope is the ground of that confidence that he will recover. Hope as the ground, got to do with who God is. Let say the sick man is in need of a surgical operation, and I am to perform it. He has better not hope, for I am no surgeon, not even a doctor. He has no ground to be optimistic. We do not despair because we know our God, and that is the ground, that is the hope.

Hope is the ground, and is the ground of our confidence (faith). In another definition of faith, found in Romans 10:17 (KJV), it is said that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. The Word of God is about God. From the hearing of the Word, we get to know God; in other words, faith comes from knowing who God is. Who God is, is the ground, and is the hope. In other words, Romans 10:17 implies that faith cometh from hope in God; faith cometh from the ground of who God is (It is possible that faith and hope are used synonymously, but used in 1 Cor 13:3, they were obviously referring to different things).

So, I repeat, even though we are perplexed, we do not despair, because we are with hope – we know who our God is. And when we live our life always with hope, always knowing who God is, with personal knowledge of Him, even, and act consistent with that knowing, we can attract His grace in our life.

In loving, we attract grace
Why do I say when we are persecuted, we are not abandoned. Firstly, there is the category of people being persecuted for their love for God. Our living in love for Him attracts His grace. Secondly, in general persecution, we are not abandoned, because we acted as instruments of His love. He is watching, and we are not alone; he is right beside us. When we are persecuted, we can rest in knowing that He loves us, and in His love for us, He will use other willing instrument of His love to comfort us, and if none was available, He Himself shall manifest to bring comfort, and assure us that we are not abandoned. As Christians, we should be ever ready to be God’s instrument of love, extending comfort to others, even to those being persecuted. And when we do that, moving in love, we can attract the grace of God for ourselves when we face persecution, and for those in persecution. If you want to see and perceive more of God’s grace, go, move in love. Perhaps, then and only then, can we appreciate why the Apostle Paul said that the greatest of the 3, is love, for though the very foundation of God's throne is justice and righteousness, He moves in love and faithfulness (Ps 89:14).

For those struck and down – the grace of God is there, to carry you home
When the temporal end comes, i.e. for those going to be struck down, the perspective to hold is this: Satan cannot destroy us if we do not allow ourselves to be counted or reckoned with him.

In John 10:10, we read that the Devil came to steal, kill, and destroy {notice destruction is put after killing}; while Jesus, the Lord, came that we might have life, and life abundant. Both had come (on earth). It is the Devil who aims to destroy; he came first, and he hatched out a deception, and Man had fallen for that deception in the Garden of Eden, and so, every man is already condemned to destruction. Through that deception, every man became counted with Satan, to share his destiny, which is destruction by the burning lake of fire in Hell.

The destruction in John 10:10 is not a mere physical destruction, but is one that includes both physical and spiritual destruction, with the latter being the endpoint. This endpoint destruction is not a reduction to nothingness; it is the eternal “roasting in the burning lake of fire” away from God, and is the eternal spiritual death, and is the destruction that Man must fear, and which we, as Christians, are being rescued from, by the Lord, Jesus.

The Lord came to give life, to deliver us from this eternal death. Before becoming Christians, we were first of all, condemned to that eternal death, because of the Original Sin, but by our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the Lord gave us life; we are no more condemned by that action of Adam and Eve. So, today, we may be struck down, even through accident, calamity, and sickness, we are not destroyed. We may suffer physical destruction, physical death, but in our journey into eternality, that is, but a transition, for after this corruptible body is gone from us, our soul and spirit (Man is body, soul, and spirit) will, in His time, acquire an incorruptible body, and at that time we will be complete once more, and will dwell in the presence of the Almighty God, forever. We may be struck down, but we are not destroyed.

Anthony Chia – Hold fast to faith, hope and love, exercise them, live in them, and live them out; in this way, the grace of God may be attracted for our lives and for the lives of those around us.

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