2 Corinthians 13:11-13 “Finally, brothers, good-bye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings.”
Our common farewell greeting, ‘good-bye’, is a compression of the phrase, ‘God be with ye.’ Men are not aware of that when they say good-bye to one another, the origin of the phrase is long forgotten. It is something akin to that with this word translated in the NIV by ‘good-bye’ and in the AV and NKJV as ‘farewell.’ The Greek word ‘chairete’ actually means ‘rejoice’ so that some translations (such as the ESV) and some scholars do prefer this translation: “Finally, brethren, rejoice!” Let us consider Paul’s farewell greetings, and then his final exhortations.
1. PAUL’S FAREWELL GREETINGS.
The greetings begin with an expression of his own personal affection for them. He calls them his ‘brothers’ as all of them, men and women alike, are the first-born sons and heirs of God with all the entitlements to the divine inheritance. ‘Brothers’ is a term of affection and belonging, and he is speaking tenderly to every one of them as he bids them farewell.
It is not just for politeness sake that we accompany someone to the door and see them get into their car and wave good-bye to them. We are drawn to do it by our love for them. This is our last look at them for a little time, and theirs of us. When I ended my three years in America in 1964 some friends from the Franklin Square Orthodox Presbyterian Church in New York came to the great liner the ‘United States’ on the Hudson River that was to take me home to Wales. They stood waving good bye and throwing streamers as the anchor was pulled up and the ship cast its moorings and away from the quayside we began to drift. I’d caught some of the streamers while they held the other end, and then they snapped, and we laughed and waved and waved. Then I could see them no longer as the ‘United States’ sailed past the Statue of Liberty and I was going back to get married and begin my life as a pastor. I have never seen those people again, though some are still in that church, but I was warmed that they showed that affection by coming to the ship to say their goodbyes. How we value simple gestures of affection like that.
Think of the apostle Paul bidding farewell to the Ephesian elders and the congregation’s tears at the thought that they would not see his face again. Let us put this on a more sublime level. Consider the farewell of the Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples: “When [Jesus] had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven” (Lk. 24:50&51). He had prepared them for his resurrection, for his departure from them, and for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I was once saying good-bye to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the station here in Aberystwyth. Incidentally he told me that that was the platform at which the train from Tregaron would pull up and he as a small boy on a Sunday School outing would run with his bucket and spade through the streets to the beach. Then, as we were talking, one of our old members, Henry Miles, came along also to say good-bye, and he gave Dr Lloyd-Jones a large bar of Cadbury’s chocolate. I think I was as touched by that kindness as the Doctor. How important to bid farewell affectionately to our friends. Grandfathers should give a pound to small grandsons and granddaughters! You hear the rejected woman’s cry of pain, “He abandoned me without even saying good-bye,” that snub being an enormous additional insult. Or think of how we bid a personal farewell to people at their funeral service. We are often so glad we have been able to make it and be present to hear the messages, and see the coffin lowered into the ground in the cemetery, and express our sympathy with the family. It rounds off their life as far as we are concerned. So Paul bids them farewell.
Then notice how he conveys to them all the greetings of his fellow Christians (v.13). That is probably a reference to the churches in northern Greece, in Macedonia. They were vitally interested in the well-being of the church to their south at the heart of Greece in the nation’s commercial hub of Corinth. Those scattered congregation in the north joined together, saying in effect, “We are concerned about your witness and we greet you too.” We profit in this church from the godliness and strength of churches far from this congregation. We long that they go on in the faith. The greatest contribution we can make to congregations in Kenya today is our own righteousness and spiritual maturity. That will encourage them more than anything else. The congregation that met at Westminster Chapel under Dr Lloyd-Jones was known throughout the UK and became a role model for many men, and then its erratic course subsequently became a warning to them. No congregation is an island, because its activities are saying to the world, “This is the way for a church to go.” Every congregation brings pressure to bear on others, especially if they are in the same town. We cannot help being affected by churches beyond our four walls. When they are sound we are encouraged and we rejoice occasionally sending them our greetings but praying for them.
Then Paul goes beyond the circle of men on earth to the throne of the universe and the God of love and peace who reigns from there; “And the God of love and peace will be with you,” he says (v.11). “I am bidding you an affectionate farewell, and every Christian here greets you. We may not be able visit you, but the most important fact is that God is with you.” You might think that this is a rather familiar and predictable phrase, but actually it is the only place in the Bible where the words ‘the God of love’ are to be found. It had been coined by the apostle as a reality to lift these people. May Almighty God, especially in his attributes of love and peace, be with them.
They are not going to keep the ‘super-apostles’ and their supporters unless they repent, and so the congregation is going to be smaller (which is always going to be sad), but the God of love and peace is going to be with them. They may never see the face of this apostle again, but the God of love and peace is going to be with them. Their leaders are getting older and nearer the grave. One day the men who mean the most to the church are going to be in this world no more, but then the God of love and peace is still going to with them. As they face growing persecution from Greek, Roman and Jewish anger the God of love and peace will be especially with them. If death summons them away, while they walk through its valley, this loving God will give them his peace.
I suppose this fact needs to be pointed out, that the peace of God does not mean the cessation of religious controversy. These two letters of Paul to the Corinthians, like so many of his other letters, and like the life of his Lord also, show that when the world is most full of Jesus Christ and the activity of his Spirit that such a period is characterised by earnest religious debate. Yet we are being bombarded with propaganda that tells us we should be getting into structures and sharing meetings with those who have no sympathy with the New Testament gospel, and which discourage public argument or any indication how serious are some of the denials of biblical Christianity. That whole ecumenical movement is not serving the peace of the God of grace. Rather it is a wretched truce with error which is designed to hasten the end of the historic faith in our land. When Paul says that the God of peace will be with you all he is not wanting biblical surrender and compromise. A new book has just been translated from Welsh into English by a man who was raised in Aberystwyth, Dr John Aaron. It is entitled, “The Atonement Controversy in Welsh Theological Literature and Debate, 1707 – 1841” (Banner of Truth). Those years were the most vital decades for Christianity in Wales in all its history. The whole culture of the country was changed by the Christian faith. There was much love amongst Christians of all denominations. There was much prayer and godly living. The preaching was the greatest in our history, and there was much earnest theological controversy in which ordinary people were vitally engaged. I met an American in Pwllheli two weeks ago and he was reading this book with great interest. He said, “It is fascinating to read of the mighty works of God, and powerful evangelism going hand in hand with doctrinal debate by the preachers during the revival itself.” The debates were on such subjects as these: if Christ died to redeem all those whom the Father had given to him how can you preach the gospel freely to every single person? What an important question. So Paul’s assurance that the God of peace will be with the Corinthians was not intended to clamp down on their contending for the faith once given to us.
“The God of love and peace will be with you Christians in Corinth,” he assures them. It is mere orthodoxy to believe that God is omnipresent, that there is no place we can go to discover his absence, but that is not the particular comfort of these words. It is in his attributes of measureless love, and with a peace that passes all understanding that he is with his people. He is thus with them when two or three gather together in his name. He is thus with them in the preaching of the Bible when he speaks through his servants, and saves, and sanctifies. He is thus with them in the offer of the gospel making that love and peace freely available to any who will receive it. As the God of love and peace he is with them by coming into their hearts and lives, taking up his home within them, so that they have illimitable access to an indwelling Saviour. He is with them to assure them of his love, and keep them in his peace, and all his people can testify of the reality of that
There were two great brothers in Scotland in the 18th century, Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine, the finest preachers of their age, strong supporters of George Whitefield. Ralph Ebenezer was the first to die in 1752, and his last words were, “Victory! Victory! Victory!” His brother Ebenezer commented, “He’s twice got the start on me. He was first in Christ, and now he’s the first in glory.” Both brothers were kept by the God of love and peace when death parted them. When it was the time for Ebenezer Erskine to lie on his death bed he told someone, “I have known more of God since I came to this bed than through all my life.” The God of love and peace was with Ebenezer Erskine as he lay dying.
So there are these greetings from the apostle, from all the saints, and then this assurance to the congregation that the God of love and peace was going to be with them. Those are Paul’s farewell greetings. And now:
2. PAUL’S FAREWELL EXHORTATIONS.
“Finally, brothers, good-bye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace … Greet one another with a holy kiss” (vv. 11&12). Let us look at these final exhortations.
That is the first exhortation. The NIV translators have seen fit to make the word, ‘Good-bye’, and they can justify that translation, but the whole structure in which Paul sets the word suggests that here something more than a mere farewell is intended. “Finally, brothers, rejoice,” sounds far more natural than, “Finally, brothers, good-bye.” I am saying that Paul is going back to the underlying meaning of the word, and he is warning these Corinthians not to take their joy in the Holy Ghost for granted so that it starts to die. This theme is often found in his letters. He writes to the Philippians and most emphatically as he closes he urges them, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phils 4:4). He tells the Thessalonians, “Be joyful always,” (I Thess. 5:16). He tells the Romans, “Be joyful in hope,” (Roms. 12:12). Again, our text is this, “Finally, brothers, rejoice!” The verb is in the present tense so that Paul is reminding us that at this present moment, here and now, our spirits should know that as the God of peace and love is with us then the only proper response is to rejoice in that reality. The whole congregation is being exhorted to be joyful. Not to sing, or clap, or shout, or dance, but to rejoice. Having a good time and rejoicing are not only un-synonymous activities, but may be as different as heaven and hell.
The Christian duty of rejoicing is frequently put in terms of a command, whether Paul is writing to the church at Philippi, Thessalonica, Rome or Corinth. This is an order to us from our Master as much as the command to honour your father and mother, or not to lie, or steal. It is as much a sin not to rejoice as not to love one’s neighbour. If you are frequently long-faced and flat then why is this so? Has God the Son for our sakes left the Father to be born of Mary, lived amongst men, fulfilled all righteousness, achieved in dying the propitiation of a sin-hating God on our behalf, risen from the dead and now lives in heaven to intercede for us, in which place one day we will meet him? Has he set up a kingdom characterised by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost? Is this Lord of love and peace with us today? Is he working all things for our good? Will he allow anything in the world or above the world or under the world to separate us from his love? Then why are we not rejoicing in this always? Is it not unbelief? Why are we allowing petty things that men do to rob us of our joy?
In the current Gideon News (Spring 2002) there is the story of the conversion of a man from Oldham named John Smith. His life had been one long horror story of institutionalisation as a child, abuse, bitterness, anger, injustice and years in prison. A Christian named Peter Major witnessed to him for some years, giving him tapes to listen to, and John Smith began to attend church. After some time he was converted. Now, we are told, “he never stops witnessing and always has a big smile on his face when he greets people. In a very loud voice he says, ‘I’m Bible John. I am a Christian. For forty years I tried it my way. Now I am doing it God’s way,” and people listen to him. He has been surprised by joy. His step-mother and sister have both been converted and he goes from strength to strength.
Rejoice, brothers! Strengthen your joy. Do not choose to go on being unhappy for one day longer. Rejoicing is not an accident of temperament, or an unpredictable providence. Joy is largely a matter of obedience to God. Go to him and tell him why you are discouraged. Ask him to transform you. Ask him to tell you in what specific ways you can grow in happiness. The secret of rejoicing lies in Christian thinking. Spend time each day reading the Bible and thinking about what you see there. Forgive others rather than hold any grudges. Make sure you have meetings with other members of the church and especially with your family. Get a good routine each day of work and rest. Develop new interests and activities. Find out how you can serve the congregation. What are you doing to help others? What good works are you zealously doing? We will know no joy if we are failing in our works. Remember that your actions are going to determine your feelings, not your feelings determining your actions. Think of all the blessings you enjoy each day. Remember that the Lord knows everything about you, all your sad failures – he has seen the file – but he loves you as if you were the only child of his to inhabit the entire universe, in other words, he loves you with the same love as he loves his Son Jesus Christ. You cannot believe it, but you truly are in Christ Jesus, and God will not separate his love for Jesus from his love for you. It is the same love! Is not that reality the most marvellous foundation for your joy? Rejoicing is delight at God’s grace in Jesus Christ which enables us to keep going. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. Rejoice!
ii] Aim for Perfection.
Paul is talking here about mending their ways, in their relationship with God and with one another. The Corinthian church was getting divided, theologically, spiritually and practically, and Paul was longing for restoration. That is what he means when he urges them to aim for perfection.
Now let’s pause a moment. We are being urged to rejoice, and now we are being told to mend our ways and aim for perfection. How can this happen? How do we change from being a lazy argumentative person to a sweet-natured contented person. How do you change from whining to rejoicing, and from being mean-spirited to generous-hearted, from being lustful to pure, from holding grudges to forgiving? “Aim for perfection”? Easy to say but how do you do it? Again, we are told to rejoice. That is not easy to achieve. How can you attain that?
Of course le us be sure you are truly converted. You must be born again. You must begin to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You must get a new heart. You must be made a new creation. God the Holy Spirit must come into your life. There must be an inner change. It is absolutely impossible to rejoice and mend your ways without that birth and new life that comes from above. Imagine you are driving across Plunlumon mountain one day and your car splutters and stops. The needle on the fuel tank is on empty and a warning light is on. What do you do? Do you get out and clean all the insect marks off your windscreen? Do you then get down on your hands and knees and clean the tires? Do you then brush the dirt from the outside of the car, and get a duster out and polish the wings and door and roof? Do you then stand back and admire the sparkling car and think you have solved the problem? Of course not! You can clean the outside for all you’re worth but if there is nothing in the tank you are not going anywhere.
The same is true with every man and woman. People can clean up their lives. Street gangs are being taught to learn and act in the plays of Shakespeare. Addicts are put in groups where they are encouraged to help one another not to drink again, ever! People with rocky marriages go to counsellors. Overweight people go to health farms. All those things can help people but there are far more fundamental problems than those cures are dealing with. All men and women have lost touch with God because God has given us over to sin. People are dead in their sins and the proof of that is they don’t want the living God, and they are bored with the man who rose from the dead!
That is why you are in the state you are, without God and without hope. That is why to tell you to rejoice is simply to tantalise you. How can you aim for perfection when you can’t obey your own conscience let alone the will of God. You must have the life of God in your soul. This then shows itself in a real and vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. If I told a corpse to rejoice, and aim for perfection, and listen to my appeal, and live in peace there would be no response at all. It would be impossible. The only way to keep these commands is by the supply of an energy totally outside yourself.
The divine delivery tanker has pulled up here again today, and God has come at this moment and may choose to insert into your heart and soul power from above which will give you new life which you have never known before, just as he did to Bible John from Oldham, making you a new person, putting a smile on your face after years of despair, and giving you a reason to rejoice and strength to aim for perfection. That power is not a force but a Person, God the Holy Spirit, coming right within you propelling you and guiding you on, enabling you to do what you could never do before.
When little babies come to church with their parents, did Mum and Dad tell us how they taught them in the first few hours after they were born, how to breathe? No! When our farmer friend at the end of lambing reminisces about this years’ lambs will he tell us of his first responsibility when an ewe gives birth to find the lamb and teach it how to breathe? Not at all. Automatically all creatures begin to breathe. It is the sign of life. We didn’t say to our hearts, “Now pump, pump, pump!” Our hearts just beat automatically as they have been for months in the mother’s womb. The result of birth is life and breathing and heart beat. So it is with you. The result of the birth from above is faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance about our sins, and new strength in serving the Saviour and our fellow men. If you are going to keep these final exhortations of Paul then you will need an ability and enabling outside yourself. This can only come from the Holy Spirit. Maybe you are not making progress in rejoicing and in aiming for perfection because there’s no life of God in you.
But if you are a new creation, then remember you need to discipline yourself to aim at perfection. Last week Paula Radcliffe won the women’s race in the London marathon in one of the most perfect races a woman has ever run, a race of beauty and modesty in virtually the fastest time for a woman. She had been training for months for this her first marathon, and certainly focused on it for the entire winter. Imagine people moved by the sight of that frail body running on and on, mile after mile, her head moving from side to side, and so motivated by that sight that they decide they will run in the London marathon next year. But they never train. They sit on their favourite chairs in front of the TV set each evening and all the week end for 52 weeks talking about running in the marathon. When Marathon Day April 2003 comes along they are not going to get very far are they? If they want to run competently according to their own ability they have to train, make sacrifices, get off that seat and be committed.
So it is in the Christian life. There are disciplines of godliness which we have to address if we are aiming for perfection. The guide to do this is the Spirit-breathed Scripture, and the strength to do it comes from that same Spirit indwelling us, helping us to keep training and keep going making us strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ. In the new biography of John Stott he is asked by his biographer how he begins the new day. His alarm clock rings, and John Stott pulls the blankets off the bed and sits on the side with his feet on the floor, and then he presents his hands to God, and then his arms, and his legs, and his mind and heart. He consciously presents himself as a living sacrifice to God. That day, as every day, his priority in the body is to aim for perfection, and not for anything less.
iii] Listen to My Appeal.
Paul has written to them about 30 chapters in these two letters, some of the greatest prose that this world has ever known, or ever will – think of the opening chapters of the first epistle, or chapter 13, or chapter 5 of the second letter. It has been a demanding exercise, and Paul is referring to all of that when he asks them please to “listen to my appeal”. He is urging them not to stand in judgment on his word, whether they are going to heed it or not, but to be exhorted and be encouraged. Let them not be stony ground hearers showing some initial enthusiasm and then growing cold. Let them reaffirm their love for the wrongdoer. Let them not receive the grace of God in vain. Don’t force Paul to act boldly towards them. When he comes he doesn’t want to tear down but build them up. Let them give proof of their love, and cleanse themselves, and widen their hearts. Many such appeals he has been making through these inspired letter. He is urging them to be not mere hearers (as an elder would read the letter to them), but doers of that word. “Listen to my appeal!”
He is pleading with them not to become a mere fact-filled Christian – “Were you there when Paul’s letter arrived and old Andronicus read it to us?” “Yes. I was there.” “What a moment. You could hear a pin drop.” “Yes. I’ll never forget the look on Epimenedes’ face.” “Quite so, and what do you think about Paul being caught up to the third heaven?” “Amazing. I was telling my wife all about it…” and so on, an awareness that the letter was wonderful, but were they going to listen to Paul’s appeal? Were they going to use the truths they had got or neglect them? James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). Wisdom is not knowledge. It is knowledge meekly used in life.
F.B.Meyer was once sitting in railway station in Canada waiting for his train to arrive. He took out his Bible and began to read it. Another passenger noticed this and spoke to him: “Excuse me, sir, but what is your reason for trusting the Bible the way you do?” F.B. Meyer thought for a moment. He said, “I have been travelling across Canada for the last weeks by train, and I have taken with me this timetable of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. I have found it be amazingly accurate.” “I was asking you about the Bible,” the man interjected. Meyer continued, “I have come to trust this timetable after just a few weeks of using it. But I have been using this Book since I was a boy. The end of my journey is in sight. I have found the Bible to be completely trustworthy until today. Should I begin to doubt it for the short stretch that lies before me?” “I guess not,” said the American.
Think of the example of Abraham how God had spoken to him and Abraham did what God said. Then one night God told him to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and go to the region of Moriah, and sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. We are told, “Early the next morning Abraham got up” (Gen. 22:3). God had told him what to do and where to do it, but God had not said when Abraham was to do this. Certainly Abraham had no warmth about doing what God commanded. He didn’t feel like listening to God’s appeal, but above all else, even above the life of his own son and certainly above his own feelings, Abraham had to please God by obeying him. So Abraham determined to do this difficult deed as soon as possible. He may have known that if he put it off till a later day he would never do it at all. So the next morning early he saddled the donkey, woke up two servants and the wee boy, cut some wood for the burnt offering and set off straight away. He listened to God’s appeal and acted on it. That is what all the children of Abraham must do.
At the end of a particular message a man in the congregation got up and said to his wife, “Well, the sermon is over.” His wife smiled, “No, now is when it begins.” This particular sermon is the sixtieth message from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. It may be many years before you will hear a series of sermons on this letter again, and many of us will never hear it preached on. It is almost over, yes, but its impact has only just begun on our lives. Hearing is worthless unless we listen to the appeal. There is an old proverb which puts it this way: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
The Lord through his apostle has been telling us things to do for Jesus’ sake – the one who shed his blood for us. You are members of the body of Christ. The members obey their head. Let’s say I want to pick up this hymnbook. The head flashes a command to the hand, but the arm and the hand and fingers don’t move. What does this mean? I go along to the casualty department in the hospital and see a doctor. “I can’t move my arm,” I tell them. He says, “Incipient paralysis,” and he prescribes some treatment and ensures everything possible to effect a cure. We gather here each Sunday and the Spirit of Jesus Christ lays his commands on our lives. Do we always respond? Do the members heed the counsels of the Head? If we don’t then our spiritual lives are paralysed. “Listen to my appeal,” says Christ’s apostle.
Let me ask again whether we are all Christians here. Listen to this apostle who once said to the jailor at Philippi, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” How long does it take to change from death to life? Just as long, and no longer, as it takes you to turn around. Your back has been to God. You turn, and your face is towards him. It will take no longer for a sinner to become a living son of God than that. Listen to my appeal. Renounce your sin and rebellion. Take the salvation that is offered to you as freely as the sun gives its light, or the spring gives forth a stream. Before you turn round to go out the church door you may have this salvation and even a consciousness that you are saved. Listen to our appeal.
iv] Be of One Mind; Live in Peace.
Set your mind on the same thing, says Paul to the Philippians and to the Romans, and here to the Corinthians. Live in peace! There are many matters of indifference concerning which we have all the liberty under heaven to hold our own individual opinions, and I have no right at all to force you to think what I think. But in such matters as our understanding of the faith, and in an awareness of the new covenant, and what is a true apostle, and in our duty to give to the work of the gospel, and in Jew and Greek living together in one congregation then we are to be of the same mind, and so live in peace. That is why Paul has written at such length about matters such as these in this letter, that we advance together in obedience.
After Scott Fitzgerald, the American writer, died, they discovered among his papers a list of plots for possible future stories. This was one of them: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live forever.” That is the plot for the Christian church. Our congregations are all made up of very diverse personalities whose one point of unity is our mutual relationship to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That keeps us of the same mind.
There is a famous Agony Aunt syndicated in the American newspapers called Ann Landers. A reader wrote to her, “My two grown boys (in their 30s) fight so much it is impossible to have them to family parties. They don’t get along with their sister. She barely speaks to them … It’s not worth all the hate that’s been generated … Any suggestions?” Ann Landers replied, “Those stubborn fools will probably stay mad until there’s a death in the family.” That’s all! Wait until somebody dies, the world advises. Even then, when the children walk away from the grave, will there be genuine reconciliation? Often there’s not, but further squabbles over the inheritance.
That is the world, but Someone in God’s family has died: God’s Son has freely shed his blood for all whom he loves. Because of that there is hope for us. Christ’s death has reconciled God to ourselves, and it also can reconcile you to your brother. Think of two New York firemen’s wives who were not particularly close, whose husbands were both heroically killed on September 11. The death of the men they love has bound them to one another. They now live in peace with one another. So it is with the Saviour who loved us all and gave his life for each of us. How can we, by any negative attitudes, hurt a brother for whom Christ died? That death in which we too died unites us in love and service.
There is a Book we all agree to be the very Word of God. We are reading the same words. They are all Spirit-breathed. If we are alike seeking to obey them then we are going to be drawn together, aren’t we? The sacrifice of Jesus is our bond of unity, but so are the Scriptures. There are two supremely important questions we must all answer, What is true? and What is good? God answers both those answers for all of us in the Bible. To reject those answers is to be like a ship adrift in an ocean in a storm without a rudder or compass. But we are not at sea. We have a deep underlying agreement on the most fundamental questions. I recently received a letter from a Canadian friend who has just returned from being at sea on a cruise to Hawaii. What made the holiday such a happy one was the fact that they shared their meals with a number of other Christian families they had never met before. They were of the same mind and were at peace, not because of any decision they had made to let bygones be bygones – they had no bygones – but because for years they had trusted in the same salvation through Jesus Christ, and been hearing the same Book preached to them in pulpits in different parts of the continent of North America.
Again, let us remind ourselves that God the Holy Spirit lives in each of us. He has achieved for us what is called ‘the unity of the Spirit.’ How many Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit? Every single one of them. We all have not 75% of the Spirit, or even 95% but God the Holy Spirit himself makes his home in the mere believer. He does not do half a job or undertake only some of his functions or engage in a partial ministry in the life of any Christian. He comes in all that he is to do all that he can. He is the seal and down-payment of the certainty of glorification. The God who has begun a good work in us will most certainly complete it in the day of Christ, and the proof is the Spirit’s presence in us all, strengthening and illuminating and leading us on the same narrow path to life. He comes to sanctify us all, to mortify sin in us all and to stir up his gifts in us all. That is the glorious fact about every single Christian, that this divine person lives in each one of us. We sometimes find it hard to believe. We look at some of the puny Christians we know, and at some of the difficult men and women that providence that leads us to, or we look into our own lives and become so aware of our own inconsistencies and failures, and we ask, How can Someone as great at the Holy Spirit live in such personalities? But we dare not go down that road of unbelief because the simple fact is that God does come into our frail limping lives in the whole of his personal glory and we become temples of the Holy Spirit, and experience the whole range of the Spirit’s ministry. This is an experience shared by all Christians. In other words, the cross of Christ gives us a full salvation. In him we have every spiritual blessing. The church is filled with all the fulness of God. So we must be of the same mind and live in peace.
v] Greet One Another with a Holy Kiss.
Paul repeats here what he tells the Corinthians to do at the end of the first letter he wrote to them. He reminds the Roman church and the Thessalonians to do the same thing. But this was not an exclusive Pauline exhortation. Peter also gives the same charge and he calls it the kiss of love. It was the greeting of friendship commended five times in the New Testament. Jesus tells Simon the Pharisee that when he came to his home Simon gave him no kiss. The kiss is a token of Christian love. A kiss alone was no proof of love. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The kiss must be an outward and visible sign of an inward invisible affection. This is not the affectation of heads coming close and a kiss is launched into the air with a ‘mwhaa’ sound as you see people greeting one another today. This is the holy kiss of love between the members of the family of God. John Murray says, “It betrays an unnecessary reserve, if not loss of the ardour of the church’s first love, when the holy kiss is conspicuous by its absence in the Western Church” So much for the dour Scot!
So if the holy kiss is absent from our fellowship let us ensure that other signs of love are present. For example, could we resolve to do one loving act every day? You may not be able to witness to one person each day, but is one act of kindness each day beyond any of us? A man said, “For years I have made it a rule to do at least one kind act every day, and one night, no longer ago than last week, I got into bed, and suddenly remembered that I had done no consciously kind action that day. So I got up, put on the light, wrote a letter to a woman in trouble, and enclosed a sum of money.” Maybe you are thinking that he is a very precise man, but we serve a precise God. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. Love is always rolling up its sleeves.
We may not give a holy kiss (though I am not sure why), but personally we have to love one another. There are lost opportunities and occasions where we could have shown our love for another Christian and we failed to do so, precious moments in which you could have shown your affection but you missed out. But many more times like that will come. Under the Word and Spirit at this moment we must resolve that things are going to change, and we are going to show our affection to the people we meet. We are not going to have futures with more regrets.
I was talking with the writer and preacher Brian Edwards recently, and he told me how faithful his wife Barbara had been in filling an anniversary book with special dates for members of the congregation and the family. Dates of births and deaths and wedding anniversaries and notable occasions were recorded. She would diligently write these down in an anniversary book, and after her death he has inherited it and now he himself is adding to it, keeping it up to date. What an invaluable book! He checks it each week and sees who may be meeting a tough anniversary and then he writes to them, or he calls them that day. How greatly such thoughtfulness is appreciated and how the spirit of love in a congregation is increased when people remember such occasions. In our family we have regrets that we have not done that. But it’s not to late to start is it?
Let’s be very practical now, because although the word ‘love’ is often on the tip of our tongues the godly actually love at their fingers’ ends. Two Christian students are taking the same course. Both would like to be accepted for an M.A. but there is only one scholarship available. One student doesn’t understand one aspect of the course while the other has grasped it well. The weaker one goes to the stronger one and asks for some help, in effect, for some tutoring. If he should learn this theory then there is a good chance that he will get the grant for the M.A. and not the wiser one. You as the wiser Christian must love this weaker neighbour as yourself. You must help him to your own loss, and leave the matter of the M.A. in God’s hands. In other words, you must greet him with a holy kiss! You must not make him your rival. Here is God’s word for you in that situation: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phils.2:3&4).
Again, there is a woman in the congregation and she is renowned for a certain cake she makes. In fellowship teas those cakes always disappear. Another lady in the church asks her for the recipe. She must give it exactly as she makes it: all the ingredients in the exact proportions, with the exact oven setting. She mustn’t keep back certain important details so that she alone can make this very delicious cake. In other words, she must greet her with a holy kiss!
There was a minister who came to retire and he remained living on in the town where he had his home, where he lived for many years. In an attempt to assure the new minister of his love and backing he said to him, “I want you to know that I shall do everything I can to support your ministry.” What was he doing? He was greeting him with a holy kiss. But the new guy ungraciously replied, “I’m not threatened by you.” He saw the older minister as a rival and for the rest of his time, by various devices, he made him his rival.
Let us not love in word only but in deed and in truth. We must greet one another from our hearts. Soon in heaven the sight of one another will make that glorious place even more glorious, but here on earth precious moments are lost. God has spoken to us. His mind and his heart are so against this coldness, aloofness, rivalry, jealously and lack of forgiveness. Are your minds open to hear the word? Is it not a serious thing to know God’s will and to refuse to do it? Men and women, while you still possess these moments God addresses you while I address you. Don’t expect these times to last for ever. Make use of them in the exercise of a prompt repentance. So be it, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
21st April 2002 GEOFF THOMAS