2 Corinthians 13:14 “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
What familiar and beautiful words! Let me ask this question by way of introduction: may a preacher declare them to the congregation just as they are written? In other words, does the preacher have the authority to bless the people in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit? One vital tradition in the history of evangelical Christianity says he does. The Presbyterians who met in London in 1654 to defend themselves against Anglican claims said that it belonged to ministers to pray for and bless the people in the name of the God. They affirmed that the Lord wouldn’t allow the blessings of his faithful servants to be frustrated. The Westminster Assembly said, “It belongs to the office of pastor to bless the people from God.” That conclusion was reached only after long discussion. So those Christians encourage a minister to say the words of the grace in exactly the same way as they were written by the apostle, and you know that I have been influenced by that, not saying, “May that grace be with us all,” but “with you all.” I hope I have come to that conclusion not out of some mean ego-reinforcing motive – but who can know his own heart? So I believe that the benediction is not a prayer, it is a blessing. The blessing contains no magical power, but it is the proclamation, by every one of God’s ministers, of God’s grace for his people. It is one of my uses of the keys to the kingdom which God has given me. If you are believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ I use the keys this way, in assuring you that the door to heaven is really open for you, and if you are not trusting in Christ I affirm that the door is shut to you. So when I pronounce this benediction I am affirming in Christ’s name that the Triune God is with all of you whose trust is in him.
I believe that there is a divine call to the work of the pastor-preacher and because of that each minister has some special authority in saying these words but without any pretense at all of possessing the apostolic authority of Paul. So even at the commencement of the service I say, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” But, what is most important is that every minister, whether he says ‘you’ or ‘us’, say these words with spiritual earnestness. Let him never be daydreaming as he is saying the words … “another service over,” or “what a poor sermon that was. I wish I didn’t have to go to the door and shake hands with them.” Perish the thought! It may have been the very worst sermon he ever preached (such a sermon will come from all of us), but at that time let the minister exert every particle of his faith, and put his whole soul into each one of those great closing words: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
This is one of the key New Testament statements concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. I don’t suppose any Kingdom Hall gathering ever ends with these words of blessing. There is one God and he is Father, and he is Son, and he is Holy Spirit; each person is divine, each one is equally God, but there is only one God. Notice the order of the names. In the ‘Great Commission’ at the end of Matthew 28 the order is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians 12 the order is Spirit, Son, Father: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men” (I Cor. 12:4-6). In our text the order is that Jesus comes first, then comes the Father and finally the Holy Spirit. You see how even the rearranging of the order of the persons indicates quite incidentally the equality of all three in the eyes of the New Testament writers.
Here it is the Son of God who has priority: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” How Paul exalts him! You could not imagine him writing, “The grace of the apostle Paul and the love of God” and so on, or, the grace of Timothy, or Peter, or all the apostles, and then conjoin such names of sinful redeemed creatures with the Creator’s love and with God the Holy Spirit’s fellowship. It would be unthinkable. It would be blasphemy. But it is absolutely natural for us to hear at the end of each service, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” because this is the only place to put Christ, exalted above every other name, reigning supreme from the midst of the throne of God, the preserver and governor of the whole universe, head over all things to the church.
So Paul is taking leave of the Corinthians, as a most beloved visitor takes leave of you, kissing you good-bye, but leaving something delightful behind him for you to look at with thankfulness, maybe it is a beautiful bunch of flowers or a basket of fruit or a book. It would be embarrassing if the proof of a friendship were always an outward gift. Often it is the very presence of the person that has been the blessing. But Job left his children with a sacrifice he had made for any possible sins they might have committed. David’s mighty warriors left him with a pot of water they had brought him from the well which was behind enemy lines in occupied Bethlehem – the sweet waters of David’s boyhood. The Magi left gold, frankincense and myrrh with the little Lord Jesus and his family. Here Paul leaves the assurance of this triune blessing resting on the people. John Calvin says, “Paul closes his epistle with a prayer which has three parts in which the whole of our salvation is contained.” You have come here today, and what, most of all, should you want to take away with you? The undeserved and unmerited grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the participation of the Holy Spirit in your life, with you personally, strengthening and keeping you. It is certainly here where two or three gather together in the name of Christ. It is here in the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. It is here in the promise of the indwelling of God to all who believe. It may be yours if you turn from your unbelief and cry mightily to God to save you. Let us look at these three great New Testament blessings.
1. MAY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ refers to a number of things: to his mercy and active love. He completely forgives a woman of her many sins and accepts her as his own disciple so that she weeps before him, pours fragrant oil over him and dries his feet with her long hair. He promises a thief dying alongside him, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – his mercy. May that grace of Jesus Christ be with you! It also refers to his wonderful attractiveness of character, that he was free from any meanness or awkwardness of personality, but accessible to everyone taking the initiative in going to people, holding children in his arms, entering their homes for a meal. There was a leper who had been exiled for years from being with people. The Lord Jesus not only went up to him and spoke to him but he put his hand on the leper’s skin. That man felt the warm touch of another human being for the first time in years. That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – his winsome attractiveness. May that grace of Christ be with you! It also refers to the strength of Christ to totally change a brash young fisherman like Peter, a Pharisee like Nicodemus and a cruel bigot like Saul of Tarsus. It was his omnipotent grace that transformed those men. That grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you!
It is not the justice of the Lord Jesus Christ because that is getting what you deserve. It is not the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ because that is not getting what you deserve. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which is getting what you don’t deserve. It is by that grace men are saved, not by works. Grace and works are like two buckets in a well, when grace goes up then works must go down. It is the grace of Christ that opened Lydia’s heart, that enabled her to believe, that joined her to himself. It is that grace that declared her righteous. It is that grace that adopted her into the family of God and made her a joint heir with him of a glorious inheritance. It is that grace that kept her persevering until the end.
It is the grace of God the Son who is also the God-man, the God who has been touched by the feeling of our infirmities, who sympathises with us in our griefs. It is omnipotent grace, omnipresent grace, omniscient grace. It is infinite, eternal and unchangeable grace. So it can uphold you, strengthen you, comfort and keep you and make you more than triumph in every trial. This grace of the Lord Jesus Christ can keep you from falling and present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy. Whatever is good for you the grace of Christ can supply. Whatever is bad the grace of the Lord Jesus can prevent. Whatever you desire his grace can provide. It is sufficient grace, abundant grace, inexhaustible grace. It is an insult to that grace to imagine that you will find yourself in any circumstances in which that grace cannot keep you. Can you imagine the Lord Jesus looking at Peter sinking in the waves and he wrings his hands in horror unable to deliver Peter? Can you imagine the dying thief asking Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom and Jesus forgets him? Can you imagine blind Bartimaeus pleading to Jesus for his sight and the Saviour being unwilling or unable to help him? This grace is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free – just like the ocean.
Walk five minutes to the seaside with a bucket and spoon and start to dip your spoon into Cardigan Bay to fill the bucket. After you have taken ten spoonfuls out of the Atlantic Ocean do you begin to panic? “I am using up all the water! It will soon be exhausted.” Carry on with your spoonfuls! There is a super-abundance there for you, more than you can ever use or even imagine. The immense grace of One so great as our Lord Jesus is more than sufficient for so insignificant a being as you.
Spurgeon says, “It seems to me as if some tiny fish, being very thirsty, was troubled with fear of drinking a river dry and Father Thames said to him, ‘Poor little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee.’ I should think it is, and inconceivably more. My lord seems to say to me, ‘Poor little creature that thou art, remember what grace there is in me, and believe that it is all thine. Surely it is sufficient for thee.’ I replied, ‘Ah, my Lord, it is indeed.’
“Put one mouse down in all the granaries of Egypt when they were fullest after seven years of plenty, and imagine that one mouse complaining that he might die of famine. ‘Cheer up!’ says Pharaoh, ‘poor mouse – my granaries are sufficient for thee.’ Imagine a man standing on a mountain and saying, ‘I breathe so many cubic feet of air in a year. I’m afraid that I shall ultimately inhale all the oxygen which surrounds the globe.’ Surely the earth on which the man was standing might reply, ‘My atmosphere is sufficient for thee.’ I should think so! Let him fill his lungs as full as ever he can, he will never breathe all the oxygen, nor will the fish drink up all the river, nor the mouse eat up all the stores of the granaries of Egypt!” Nor will you with your spoon and bucket ladle out all the water from the Irish Sea.
“Doesn’t it make unbelief seem altogether ridiculous so that you laugh it out of the house? Our Lord feeds all the fish in the sea and the birds of the air, and the cattle on the hills. He guides the stars and upholds all things by the power of his hand. Isn’t his grace sufficient for thee? And if your burden were 10,000 times heavier wouldn’t it then be sufficient?”
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ keeps coming and coming and coming to us. He gives and gives it to us, and we do nothing but take, take, take, and then he gives more, and yet more. The risen Christ met his disciples on a mountain in Galilee. They had all forsaken him and fled leaving him alone in the hands of his enemies. Then Peter with swearing denied him, and Thomas denied the possibility of his resurrection. What did he say to them when he met them? Did he scold them? Did he say to them, “You’ll never find me trusting you lot again”? No! He sent Mary with a message to his ‘brothers’. He is not ashamed to own weaklings as his brethren. To those men who had seen his miracles and heard his teaching and then meanly abandoned him to his tormentors the Lord Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. I will trust you with my message to sinners.” Here is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only does he forgive us but he gives us work to do and strength to do it.
This grace of Christ protects us day by day. How embracive is that protection? To the hairs on your head, says the Lord Jesus. It is all embracive. In the microscopic world of the cells of our own bodies the gracious Jesus is there constantly monitoring and scanning us destroying all that is life-threatening, and preserving us day by day until our life’s work is over. I was in the hospital on Friday visiting our brother Richard recovering from Thursday’s gall bladder operation. “There were two wonderful providences,” he told me. “Firstly that I just came to hospital in time. A stone was blocking the bile duct and if I had not had this operation soon it might have burst. Secondly the surgeon was trying to perform keyhole surgery but the gall bladder was not coming out, and he was preparing for one more attempt before opening me right up. Then it all came out! The surgeon told me yesterday that I was ‘lucky.'” We know it was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ protecting our dear brother.
How often have our possessions been kept by the grace of Christ? We have gone off on vacation and left the back door not only unlocked but ajar. No one discovered it. The grace of Jesus Christ kept us and ours. A man was working for Rowland Hill in Wotton under Edge as his gardener and he was arrested for many burglaries. When Hill went to see him in Gloucester prison he confessed to many other serious crimes. He had been a perpetual thief. “How was it that you never robbed me?” asked Rowland Hill. “Do you remember that juniper bush in your garden?” the gardener replied. “I often hid behind that waiting for you to go to bed and your house would be in darkness, but each time I became afraid. Something said to me, ‘He is a man of God. That is a house of prayer, and if I break in there I shall surely be caught.” That was the grace of Christ protecting Rowland Hill. Then the thief continued. He said to Hill, “You remember Mr. Rigg?” Mr. Rigg was a member of the congregation. “He used to carry a lot of money about with him, and many times I hid behind the hedge in his lane waiting for him to come. He passed within a yard of me when coming home from the prayer meeting but I dare not touch so holy a man. I was always afraid. I began to tremble whenever he came near.” That is the protecting grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is always active, never for us to presume – men are sinners and a thief and rapist and murderer lives in the heart of everyone here – but prevailing enough to give us peace. How encouraging that is when we think of our children going off to work in a distant place or on vacation far from Wales, or to go as students to settle in a university town, and we know that in those places there is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ protecting them.
Think of the grace of Jesus Christ protecting us as we travel. We are aware of how Paul’s sea-voyage to Rome was overruled by the Saviour, but in all our journeys too. A.A.Hodge once repeated a story of the great Dr Witherspoon President of Princeton who lived in the countryside of New Jersey two miles north of the Seminary. One day a man rushed into his presence, crying, “Dr. Witherspoon, help me to thank God for his wonderful providence! My horse ran away, my buggy was dashed to pieces on the rocks, and behold! I am unharmed.” The good doctor smiled at the inconsistent, half-way character of the man’s religion. “Why,” he answered, “I know a providence a thousand times better than that of yours. I have driven down that rocky road to Princeton hundreds of times, and my horse never ran away and my buggy was never dashed to pieces.” “Undoubtedly, the deliverance was providential,” was Hodge’s comment, “but just as much so also were the uneventful rides of the college president.” The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ protects us in our travels, but not that any of us might presume.
Again consider that grace of Christ upholding us in the greatest trials. There was a Christian called Polycarp, who lived in Smyrna where the fires of persecution broke out in Asia Minor in the year AD 155. He was brought before the magistrate and accused of being a Christian. The magistrate was greatly moved by his age and was reluctant to condemn him. He pleaded with Polycarp to offer incense to the image of Caesar. “What harm is there,” he asked, “to say Lord Caesar, and to offer incense and all that sort of thing, and to save yourself?”
Polycarp was unmoved by such considerations of self-preservation. He quietly replied: “I am not going to do what you advise me.” He was led to the arena where again the proconsul urged him to deny the faith. “Have respect for your age,” he said. “Take the oath and I shall release you. Curse Christ.” Polycarp testified to the grace of Christ: “Eighty six years I have served Him and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” So they brought him to the stake where he prayed: “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy well beloved and ever blessed Son . . . I thank Thee that Thou hast graciously thought me worthy of this day and this hour.”
From whence came such submission? Such trust? Such courage? Such constancy? The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – grace to suffer and grace to die. Hugh Latimer and Nicolas Ridley were notable martyrs of the English Reformation. They died in circumstances of harrowing brutality. The words of the older man to the younger, as the procession reached the funeral pyre in Oxford, are worthy of perpetual remembrance: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” That is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is power that sustains us in the greatest trials.
Scholars have recently discovered, among the disbursements of the Oxford bailiffs, Winkle and Wells, the following items chillingly listed: For three loads of wood faggots to burn Ridley and Latimer 12 shillings
Item, one load of fir faggots 3 shillings 4 pence
For the carriage of these four loads 2 shillings
Item, a post 1 shilling 4 pence
Item, two staples 6 pence
Item, four labourers 2 shillings 8 pence
What painful reading. Another job to be paid for. A little later Thomas Cranmer was burned at the same place. The memorial inscription in Oxford reads:
“To the glory of God and in grateful commemoration of Thomas Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Prelates of the Church of England, who, near this spot, yielded their bodies to be burned, bearing witness to the sacred truth which they had affirmed and maintained against the errors of the Church of Rome, and rejoicing that to them it was given, not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for His sake, this monument was erected.” It is a monument to the sustaining grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. MAY THE LOVE OF GOD BE WITH YOU ALL.
God is a God of love. What amazing information to millions of people on this planet. In a growing numbers of places in the British Isles today disillusioned Muslim asylum seekers are accepting invitations to attend gospel churches, and the great discovery they are making is that God is love, and he is loved by his people. They have never met so revolutionary a concept. We know that God is much else. The Lord is righteous, holy, just and true. Yet Paul singles out this particular perfection and he tells us of God’s love. Why should this attribute be given pre-eminence?
Firstly it is singled out because it emphasises so firmly the personality of God. The old Greek religions saw their gods as simply one of the forces of nature, or the sum total of those forces. The principle of fertility was one of the chief concepts of deity in Corinth. The people of that city worshipped the moon, the mountains, the rain, and the thunder because to them God was not a person. God was an abstraction, a force and simply a power. They were worshipping a principle, or beauty, or God as the prime mover or first cause. In all those conceptions God is not a person but an abstraction.
The distinctive feature of the Christian concept of God is its repudiation of that whole idea as utterly inadequate. The moment we say that God is love we are saying that he is not an abstraction because abstractions cannot love. But when we talk of the love of God we are saying that God has a mind, a consciousness and a heart. He is not simply a principle or a law. God is a person with thought and will, not a conditioned reaction. He can embrace and give himself to other persons. He is a God with a heart. That is the great thing that Paul says about God the Father, that he is love, a person to whom we can relate as to a father. He is not simply an influence or power like nuclear fusion or electricity. They are unaffectionate like all our New Age gods. He is not logical deduction, nor an intricate mega-computer, nor a philosophical necessity. They have no love. He is different in his being from the vast universe he made and fundamentally he has a heart and life and personality extending himself in love to the people he has made in his own image.
Again, Paul singles out God’s love because this is the innermost nature of God. This is what the Lord is. This is his essence and being. This is the core of God. Right in the depths of his being this is what he is. He extends himself in blessing and kindness and good will to those he has made. You consider the whole implication of the incarnation. God is the one who determines to take the form of a servant, and in the very depth of his heart looks not upon his own things but upon the things of others. You go into God and he is love; and you go in and in and he is love; and you go in and in and in and he is love; and you go in and in and in and in, and he is love; and you go in and in and in and in and in, and he is pure love.
God is love in all that he does. His love is never contradicted. There is no dark background in God. He has no past: he is not recovering from anything. There are no depths in God that are contradictions of his love. Love is what he is in the depths of his being. Love is what he is through and through. Love is what he has always been and what he will be eternally. He never grows cold. His love never waxes or wanes. Love is what he is consistently, and Paul wants to impress that upon the Corinthians and ourselves.
Again, Paul singles out God’s love for this reason, that for us in our condition it is the greatest possible thing about God. What are we as men and women? We stand in our creaturely frailty and utter insignificance as mortals. How quickly the waters close around us. Life goes on, and soon we are forgotten. We are tiny specks on a small planet in a little galaxy in an immeasurable universe. Sometimes it is so oppressive to think of ourselves in this immensity, and then God’s word comes with its comfort and tells us that there is meaning, that this world is not a chaos of irrationality and blindness, but it all has a purpose because God is. The world is filled with the heartfulness of God, but it tells us more. Not only is there rationality and affection, but a heart that passionately pulsates with love. There is fervour and ardour concerning the love of God like a man’s jealousy for the singular love of the wife whom he adores. It tells us that the ultimate reality who made this world made it in love, and the reality who sustains it sustains it in love, and the reality who guides it to its own pre-chosen goal and destination is a reality of love guiding it to a goal of love. Jonathan Edwards reminds us that heaven is a world of love.
What tremendous comfort it is as we face for ourselves the calamities and tragedies of this life, to know that we are not simply little creatures on a tiny planet in an insignificant galaxy the product of the chance evolutionary survival of the fittest beings over billions of years, but rather we stand here now so inestimably precious to Almighty God. This God who created this universe loves me. He has a heart, and he is in love with the world, and he gave himself for me – this great Mathematician, this incomparable Physicist, this tremendous Engineer, this Thinker with his awe-inspiring creativity and instinct – he has a heart and he loves me. He can sing such words to me as these:
How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
How many times in a day do I think of you? How many roses are sprinkled with dew?
How far did I travel to be where you are? How far is the journey from here to a star?
I’ll never lose you, I tell you no lie. How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
Doesn’t that transform every agony we meet, and comfort every sorrow? That such a God exists with such a profound commitment to men and women. He came from heaven to be where we are. We are not insignificant. We are not lonely beings trapped in an impersonal cosmos aching for some bizarre contact with extra-terrestrials to offset our aloneness. We are not buried in the darkness of a vortex of irrationality and despair. Our lives have been caught up in the benign and loving purposes of Almighty God.
But Paul singles out the love of God for one other pre-eminent reason, because it is the marvellous and definitive word spoken from the appalling darkness of Calvary.
“Inscribed upon the cross we see,
In shining letters God is love;
He bears our sins upon the tree,
He brings us mercy from above.” (Thomas Kelly).
God loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. There is something in the very nature and being of the only true and living God that requires atonement for forgiveness. With that light we illuminate the darkness of an event like the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus the Son of Man. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is what all that pain means. Love is triumphing there in that suffering. Meaning is victorious over the anarchy of such unparalleled wickedness – religious men nailed to a cross and let die slowly the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount! He was God the Son! Think of it! Yet in that place we meet God’s love as we meet it nowhere else. Calvary is the tremendous achievement of an accomplished redemption. It is the conquest of all the powers of evil. That cross did something of eternal glory, but more than that, it said something. A voice came from Golgotha which said God is love, that he had so loved the world as to give his only Son to all of that and not spare him. It said, not vaguely but so precisely, that the Creator is love and that the death of his Son has reconciled God to favoured sinners. Now God can make an offer of the most extravagant love to the world, to its profligates and prodigals, to its atheists and Pharisees, that if they but come to him and plead the death of his Son he will love them as he loves Jesus Christ. The love of God will be with them all for evermore.
No Christian has the right to conclude, “I have behaved in so sub-Christian a manner, I have spurned God’s love by my indifference for so long, I have sinned against such kindness and longsuffering that God has ceased loving me.” Sinner, the love of God will not let you go! It reached the prodigal and brought him to himself. What jolted him out of his despair and got him home? It was not an awareness of what a wicked fool he had been. It was a glimpse of his father’s love. “If I return he won’t snarl at me, ‘What do you want?’ He wont say, ‘You don’t expect anything from me, get out.’ He may have me back as a servant in his home. There is nowhere else in all the world I can go to but my father’s house.” That persuasion brought him to himself and drew him home. The love of God reached him in the fields while he was eating pig food.
I must say to every single one of you without exception that if you belong to this world then there is good news of the love of God for you. I am offering that love to you now. The arms of love that compass me would all mankind embrace, and so they would embrace you. Two hands crucified for sinners would lift you up and grasp you, because this love of God is for the world. It is Almighty God who in love is offering his own Son to be the Saviour of anyone who comes to him. The most magnificent blessing men can know is being offered to men now freely because of the love of God in Jesus Christ. God is offering himself to you. I believe I speak with all the authority of the living God when I say that in his love for you he wants to be your Saviour, your refuge, your shepherd, your keeper, your husband, your friend, your guide, your king, your strength, your fortress and high tower, your teacher, your sovereign protector, your all in all. He is making this proposal to you now, that he will take you just as you are, forgiving you and lifting you up to be his bride. The divine offer is nothing less than that. He has shown his love to you in bringing you here to hear this, and now he is beseeching you to act in the light of it, not to say, “The preacher was eloquent. What moving concepts. I must think about it. Perhaps I will come again.” None of that. His love would embrace you today. Don’t spurn God’s love. He is offering to place you in the very glory of his own Son. He will make you an heir of God; you will share the inheritance with Christ. He will place you in the righteousness of his Son, in the reputation of his Son, in the standing of his Son, in the blessed eternity of his only begotten Son. In his presence is fulness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures for evermore. That everlasting bliss is what the love of God is offering you.
God in his love is stretching out his hands and holding out to you himself. That love which did not shrink from Golgotha and the taste of death, that love which did not count the cost but loved to the very uttermost is involved in everything that has happened today, and it was that love, I say, that brought you here to hear these words of life. We know today the limits of our own love on a human plane. We know the boundaries beyond which in self-denial and sacrifice we are not prepared to go. But there were no such limits to the love of God. He gave himself. God the Father gave God the Son, and the Son gave himself for the life of the world, and from that cross – and from there alone – there come these words, “I give you myself! I have been broken on this cross. I have been made sin in this place of darkness. I have become the righteousness of God, and I can save to the uttermost.”
God has met the whole cost of our fall. The wages of sin have been paid to the last penny. There is no debt outstanding. Love has taken every liability of the bride and borne the entire bill. The whole implication of redeeming the cosmos has been met by God. Because of his love Jehovah Jesus’ manhood has been shattered in my place. His life has been poured forth. His heart has been broken. God says that that is his love for the world. Love that homes in on favoured sinners by the countless millions and then never lets them go. That is the fundamental heart-beat of God. This love is his instinct, his essence, his form, his glory, and his being, and that love is with us for evermore.
3. MAY THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL.
Paul doesn’t say, “May the Holy Spirit be with you.” Paul writes to the church in Rome about “the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom.5:5). Every single Christian in the Roman church as much as Paul himself had the Spirit as God’s great gift to every one of them. Paul makes the privilege very clear, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). No Christian can exist for a second as a believer without the Holy Spirit. Paul has told the entire Corinthian congregation, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (I Cor. 6:19). Paul tells them, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to every man which seals that man as a Christian. So Paul does not say, “May the Spirit be with you.” They had the Spirit already. The God-given Spirit dwells in the mere believer. Those who suppose that the Spirit may not be given to a person till some time after he becomes a Christian are mistaken. Through the Spirit we’ve been given life. Through the Spirit we were made new creations. Through the Spirit the blood of Christ was sprinkled on us. Through the Spirit we turned from our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ. Through the Spirit we change. So the gift of the Holy Spirit is something we owe to God the Father or to God the Son. By either Father or Son every single Christian receives this divine personality.
How many people? Everyone who is a believer! Not those alone who have high assurance, or been Christians for twenty years, or those with blessed experiences of God, but every ordinary believer is indwelt by the Spirit. There is no Christian without him. How often do we live in the Spirit? We live in the Spirit permanently, and absolutely all the time, not only when the Spirit moves upon the Word in preaching, not only during religious awakenings, not only when we are living as we ought to be living. The Spirit is in us 24 hours a day and seven days a week. And the believer is to reckon on this, that our union with the Spirit is an irreversible condition of all our subsequent life. It is the whole context of our human life. If we trust in Christ it is because of the Spirit. If we worship God, it is because of the Spirit. If we do a small good work it is because of the Spirit. If we stutter a word of testimony for Christ it is because of the Spirit.
Marriage is valid, not only when the partners are overflowing with love and devotion to each other, not only when they are close in marital fellowship and communion, but it is there, permanent and irreversible. They cannot pretend if there are days when things are not what they should be, then they cannot say, ‘the marriage is not valid today and we do not need to live within the framework of our marriage.’ It is always valid. It is always the context of the life. There are days when the believer is backslidden, when he is in the depths, when he is in darkness and has no light, but he is still indwelt by the Holy Spirit. He is still under the obligation to behave as a Spirit-indwelt man. That is something we have to remember and apply. When our faith is weak, when our lives are in some kind of declension, if our husband hits us, if our wife leaves us, if our parents abuse us, that does not lessen the obligation to constantly invoke the indwelling Spirit. We can only survive in any credible Christianity by him. When our church life become irregular then we ask ourselves, what are we, as Spirit indwelt people, doing behaving like this? When I sin I am going to sin as someone in whom the Spirit lives, because the union is there all the time. I cannot evacuate the Spirit in order for a spot of worldliness. The Spirit is still in me when I am defying my Saviour, and I am disgracing my profession.
So Paul does not say in this benediction, “May the Spirit be with you.” He is with every Christian. But neither does Paul say, “May the power of the Holy Spirit be with you,” or the unction, or the gifts, or the blessing, or the illumination of the Spirit be with you. It is not wrong to desire and even covet any of the Spirit’s true operations. The Spirit we have but the Spirit we desire more and more. Go on being filled with the Spirit, Paul exhorts the Ephesians, but Paul makes reference to none of those functions of the Spirit. That is also quite significant. In fact Paul writes of the Holy Spirit’s fellowship, his koinonia: the word means having something in common. There is a participation created by the Spirit. Paul tells these Corinthians that “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (I Cor. 12:13). None of us is a mere individual Christian. Christians in isolation don’t exist. When a man joins a firm he becomes a company man. When a man enlists to fight for his country he is put in a regiment and given a rank in an organised structure. When a young professional joins a football club he is given a place and taught to work in a team. When an instrumentalist is employed by an orchestra he is given a chair and a music stand in a certain place, and a schedule of rehearsals at which to turn up. There is no place for free spirits who can come and go whenever they feel like and choosing what they want to do. Those who play penny whistles and beg for cash in Aberystwyth all turn up on the same day in the same Post Office waiting for their giros.
In the Christian church. God puts every one of us in a congregation. There is immediate involvement with one another, and a depth of affection and sympathy required. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (I Cor. 12:26). This is where we as members of a church are being challenged: “May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” What is our involvement in the participation created by the Holy Spirit? Are we performing our proper functions? If we are not then everybody is weaker. The church is a body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, and a church can grow only when each part does its work.
As someone has said, “We have no right to be in each other’s way and even less in each other’s hair”, but the Holy Spirit has created a fellowship and from the very beginning the Spirit set us in that participation. So I ask, where is the commitment, concern, involvement and intimacy? Are we grieving the Spirit because of our estrangement from the body? Christ and the church are called ‘one flesh’. There is clearly a close bond between Christ and ourselves, but there must also be a very close bond between the various members of his fellowship. They are one flesh. They are deeply involved in one another and must express it in their whole collective lifestyle.
So what are the marks of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit being with a Christian?
Firstly, we avoid anything that grieves the Spirit. If we are not sparkling as we should be or as we once were there is usually no mystery about this. The loss of dynamism or lack of love are easily explained. There are plain commandments from our Father and we have violated them. We knew what God’s will was and we’ve steadily been saying no to it. We’ve preferred our own will.
Again, we must look at the implications that our decisions have for the church. What if everyone behaved as I did? What if everyone gave as I did? What if everyone witnessed as often as I did? We are members of the fellowship of the Spirit and our decision-making cannot ignore that. So to maintain that Spirit-given fellowship we must do what is edifying, refrain from what weakens others, from what divides and impoverishes, from what injures weaker brothers and sisters, from what exposes the church to scorn.
Again, a mark of the fellowship of the Spirit is to acquire every grace that is positively beneficial for the whole body. Let me use this illustration: I know a church in Derbyshire where the organist, who was the preacher’s mother-in-law was getting frail and had to retire, and then the preacher’s son, Malcolm who was a married man, took it upon himself to go for piano lessons and he practised until he became competent to take over at the organ from his grandmother. What are we doing to extend the influence of the church, and develop useful contacts, and ensure that the congregation has enough Sunday School teachers and visitors and friendly homes for informal fellowship and hospitality for preachers. The fellowship of the Spirit will enable us to say that we have something to offer others indwelt by the Spirit. It will make us see that ours is not a church with an embarrassment of riches where we can become passengers. We will have a contribution to make which is ultimately of the Spirit.
If the fellowship of the Spirit is going to be with us then we must keep walking in the Spirit. There was a definitive time when we were born from above by the Spirit. We can think that that was in the past, but the Bible keeps on saying, “No! It must be continuous.” Think of the three thousand on the day of Pentecost how they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ fellowship. That was the result of being filled with the Spirit. It is a matter of tenaciously binding ourselves to God, keeping in step with the Spirit. Think of the platoon and how important it is for everyone to keep in step. Similarly we all have to walk to the beat of the Spirit’s drum.
So let’s pray this prayer for ourselves all the time. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with me! May the love of God the Father be with me! May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with me! May that blessing be known in our church in every member. May it be known in every gospel church in a richer and fuller measure than ever before. May the whole professing church be stirred by the grace, love and fellowship that comes from the only true and living God. Only then will this dying world be aroused to the sad reality of its despair. Grace! Love! Fellowship! From the living God! Upon us all, for evermore!
May the grace of Christ our Saviour,
And the Father’s boundless love,
And the Holy Spirit’s favour
Rest upon us from above.
Thus may we abide in union
With each other and the Lord,
And possess in sweet communion
Joys which earth cannot afford. (John Newton)
28th April 2002 GEOFF THOMAS