2 Corinthians 5:6-9. “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”
The Christian has a strange kind of certainty, that while he lives in this world he is actually away from the Lord. Paul says it so starkly that, “we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (v.6). Paul tells us that he is quite sure about this fact. “But Paul,” we protest, “Christ has promised, ‘surely I am with you always’ (Matt.28:20), and he has affirmed that, ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ (Matt.18:20). Is there one single time or place or an activity in which we are engaged when we are absolutely by ourselves, without the Lord? He is always with us, as he will be at the very end when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Of course, all that is true. What a precious confidence that gives to us. Because he is God the Son he is omnipresent, and so we are never away from the Lord for a single moment.
However, because the Lord Jesus Christ is also a true man he is no longer in the world. He was in the world, and one day he will be returning to the world, but now he has ascended to heaven. He made that fact very clear saying “Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28), and again “I will remain in the world no longer” (John 17:11). God sent two messengers to tell the early church this fact: “This same Jesus … has been taken from you into heaven” (Acts 1:11). We know where the Lord Jesus is today. He has “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebs.1:3), “now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebs. 9:24).
So the apostle is absolutely right, while we followers of the Lord must remain in the world the man Christ Jesus is not in the world. We have to live without his physical presence every day of our lives. We do not apologise for this, or try to hide that fact from the young Christian. We are quite certain about it and we tell everyone that we “know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (v.6). We have to live our lives as Christians without any sound or smell or taste or touch or sight of the physical body of the Lord Jesus. He has a body which must be in one place, and it can and will be in that one place exclusively and for ever, and that place is not this world. It is never in this world. We would be denying the physical nature of the resurrection if we even thought that the Lord Jesus was prone to make occasional bodily visits to this planet – like some extra-terrestrial who pops in. If you do see Jesus then do what Luther did and throw an ink-pot at him. Luther thought that apparitions of Jesus were more dangerous than those of the devil at which he also threw an ink-pot. The whole church has to be ‘away’ from the risen and ascended and enthroned Jesus Christ all the years we are in these mortal bodies. Of course, we must go on to insist that the Son of God is also always with us. He indwells us by his Spirit, he speaks to us by his word and so teaches us as our Prophet; he directs us according to his providence, protects us daily as our Shepherd. He is head of the church and is head of all things for our sake. “He sympathises with our grief, and to the sufferer sends relief.” There are such constant dynamics in the living and growing relationship which we have with him, but we constantly bear in mind that always we have to be “away from the Lord.” We don’t attempt to hide that. We do not use disturbing nebulous language claiming that in times of great spiritual awakening the man Christ Jesus had for a moment stepped down from the throne of the universe and bodily came to some insignificant Welsh village or appeared to a peasant girl in Spain. How in the world does anyone know that? Let the Romanists tell their fairy stories. We never want the Lord Jesus to leave his throne until all his work is done. “Reign on King of kings and Lord of lords and only Ruler of princes! Don’t move from that place, but do send your Spirit forth upon us!” We are always confident and know that the God-man remains seated at the Father’s right hand with all authority in heaven and earth his alone. There he will remain until the day of his second coming when he will return to this planet, and all his holy angels with him, to raise the dead and set up the judgment throne. That is the next time men shall see him on this earth. While he remains in heaven then we have to live our lives in the body away from the Lord. Those are the very words that the Holy Spirit says here in our text, “away from the Lord” (v.6). But we also know that from the throne he sends forth the Spirit. Peter declares at Pentecost, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Peter did not cry out, “Jesus is here!” He said that he was there – exalted to the right hand of God and he had from heaven poured out what they saw and heard. The Lord Jesus has been doing that for the last 2000 years. He is the one who made us Christians by sending his Spirit to us in regeneration giving us saving faith and repentance, and we long for him to pour out his Spirit in more abundance upon the earth during our lifetimes.
So Paul, like everyone of us, is away from the Lord, but he tells us that in actual fact that is not his preference. He “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v.8), and as Christians mature they can enter more into that longing for death and what lies beyond. They groan with the apostle and earnestly desire their heavenly resurrected bodies in glory. There are no partings there, and no suffering, and no sin. We would prefer to be away from these lowly bodies and get home to our Saviour. But God’s decree is that every Christian must live his life in this world “away from the Lord”. How, then, are we to live our daily lives as Christians without sight or sound of the Lord Jesus? In these verses the apostle gives us two good counsels.
1. We Live By Faith.
“We live by faith, not by sight” (v.7). Those one-syllable words, how simple each one is, and yet all the challenge to Christian discipleship is here. True happiness and contentment is found in living by faith and not by sight. We do not see Jesus because he is in heaven, but we may live fulfilled and useful lives without a sight of Christ because we live by faith. What does it mean to live like that?
i] Firstly, to live by faith requires us to know what we are to believe. Paul asks that great question, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Roms. 10:14). This street urchin only knows the words ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ as oaths. He knows nothing at all about the Saviour, just those swear words, so he first needs knowledge of who the Lord is. He will never live for the Lord until he knows the Lord. You have to tell him that once a man walked this earth and the winds and the waves obeyed him. The sick came to him and he healed them every one. He claimed that he was the incarnate God – “I and my Father are one”. He told men that he had come into the world not to be served but to serve, and the greatest service he would perform would be to die as our ransom price. He came from heaven as the Son of God to search for sinners, and to save them by becoming the Lamb of God dealing with the world’s sin. Almighty God actually laid on him the iniquity of us all. Jesus paid the wages of sin in our place. He bore our own condemnation in his body on Golgotha’s cross.
Because the sinless Saviour died, My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the Just, is satisfied,
To look on him, and pardon me. (Charitie L. Bancroft)
We know that this is so because God raised him from the dead on the third day. So there is forgiveness and sonship and new life found through trusting in Jesus Christ. Then we also give to them as much of the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as they are able to receive.
That is the sort of knowledge we want men and women to have. We are to give them information about the living God by every legitimate means. There are long-term evangelistic activities which every Christian church engages in. We may display a verse from the Bible outside our building. We may distribute through the neighbourhood calendars with texts for each month, or a church leaflet. We may give to an individual a pamphlet, a book, a gospel, a New Testament, a Bible, a book of sermons of Dr Lloyd-Jones, even a tome refuting atheism. We are to be thoughtful and flexible about the materials we distribute, but we have to spread abroad the knowledge of God. We organise Sunday Schools, children’s meetings, young people’s meetings and women’s meetings. There are special events, but above all we preach the Bible at every service. Our first responsibility is to teach the rudiments of Christianity, and to live out the Christian message by consistent loving and godfearing lives.
May His beauty rest upon me
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him. (Katie B. Wilkinson)
Before pagans can live by faith they must know who the Lord Jesus is, what he has done, and what are the blessings which God promises to give.
Consider the humble tract: I stood next to Des Roberts of Swansea a couple of weeks ago at his post outside Swansea market on a Saturday afternoon, seeing him handing out tracts as he has done for forty years. I worked out that he has distributed about one and three quarter million tracts during that time, giving the people of Swansea the knowledge of who Christ is. How can they live by faith if they do not know the One in whom they are to place their faith? In the story of William Gibson Sloan, the missionary fisherman to the Faroe Islands, Fred Kelling, his biographer, writes about the last week of the evangelist’s life and a young man to whom Sloan often witnessed, who said, “Always he spoke to me about eternity, and of how much the Lord Jesus loved me; but I only laughed at him and didn’t want to be affected by what he said.” It was late one evening as these two men, the preacher and the scoffer, after their conversation, were walking to their homes on different sides of the street. Sloan was going on his way with a handful of tracts and he was giving them out to people who walked towards him on the road. His eyesight was failing, and it was getting dark. Then Sloan spotted what he thought was a person standing by the roadside so he moved across the pavement with a tract in an outstretched hand, but when he came up to the man he discovered that it was merely a stone pillar. The young man was watching all this from over the road and the incident made a deep impression on him. He said, “When I saw this, it was if I had been struck by lightning, I thought to myself, ‘You are just like that rock. Just as dead, cold and hard as that stone.’ As I followed that old warrior of the Lord Jesus Christ to his home, it came to me with tremendous force how necessary it was for me to be saved, and how dangerous it is to harden your heart against the calling of the Spirit” (“Fisherman of Faroe: William Gibson Sloan,” Fred Kelling, Leirkerid Publications, Gota, Faroe Islands, 1993, p.232). Two days later, September 4, 1914, William Sloan died, but not before the young man had told him, “I too am saved, and have found forgiveness of sins, peace, and eternal life through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.” To live by faith men must first have information about the one they must believe in, and the very manner in which we give that knowledge to them is as important as the message itself.
ii] Secondly, to live by faith requires us to conclude that what we have come to know is true. We have to give our assent to its veracity. Take this great statement:- “Jesus of Nazareth is the long-promised Messiah:” Paul had to defend and demonstrate that that assertion was true from the Scriptures as he got to his feet in the synagogues and as he presented that fact to his hearers. He couldn’t shout out, “Jesus is the Christ!” and expect them all to say, “Amen!” We are told this, “As his custom was, Paul went into the Synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas” (Acts 17:2-4). He did not mortar bomb them with one explosive statement after another and then stand back to see what effect his words had had. He explained the Scriptures and reasoned with them and sought to persuade them all that this was true. That is Christian evangelism. The apostle writes from prison and says that he was put there “for the defence of the gospel” (Phils.1:16). Much of the preaching in the book of Acts, and the letters written in the New Testament, are for the defence of the gospel. Peter at Pentecost is defending the gospel from charges of drunkenness. Paul is writing to the Galatians to defend the truth of the gospel of God’s grace. They are seeking to remove every excuse and obstacle which men and women plead as preventing them believing that the Christian message is true.
Janice MacLellan, a member of the Rosskeen Church in the north of Scotland narrates in the centenary story of that congregation (which she herself wrote) how she came to live by faith. She came from a completely non-church-going stock, in fact a New Age background, into that congregation drawn by remarks she heard that their preacher was good and by the number of cars parked outside the building. She came initially at a time of personal loss in her life. As the months went by she came under growing persuasion that what she was hearing was God’s message. She and her boy-friend were living together and after some time in the fellowship they decided that they had to get married, so they spoke to the minister Kenny MacDonald about it. Then one evening a week or so later as they were arranging the wedding he asked them, “‘And how is your relationship with God?’ Stumbling over my words, I replied, ‘We don’t really have one, but we want one.’ ‘Keep you eyes on Jesus,’ was his simple answer. As we drove home, I pondered what he had said: ‘What had Jesus done for me?’ As I asked the question, an image of a man on a cross burned into my mind. Just like that – quite simply, no emotion, just my answer, ‘Jesus died on the cross for my sins. That was how everything could be made right with my Heavenly Father – Jesus had paid the price for my sins, instead of me. I was free!'” (“Ordinary People, Extraordinary God,” Janice MacLellanan, Christian Focus, 2000, p.124). She heard the message about Jesus, and then she came to realise that it was true. He had paid the price for her sins, and she was free. We must know contents of the gospel of Jesus, but we must agree to the truthfulness of the message if we are going to live by it.
iii] Thirdly, to live by faith is to wholly commit ourselves to the one we have come to know as the living God. It is essential to know the message. How can we believe in Jesus without hearing about him? But knowledge alone is not enough. We must go on to acknowledge, “This Christian message is true!” But just assenting to its truth is not enough. The devils believe that Christianity is true. We have to go one step further, and entrust ourselves, body and soul for time and eternity to this faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ alone. There is no other way that we can live by faith than that way.
There is a famous incident in the life of John G. Paton a 19th century missionary to the South Pacific. He was engaged in translating the Bible into the language of the people but he found when he came to the word ‘faith’ he couldn’t find a word in their vocabulary to express it. He was sitting in his room and one of the local Christians came in and said to him something like, “You’re sitting down today?” Paton knew the phrase, and then he changed his posture leaning hard against the back of the chair, and he turned to the man and asked him, “Now what am I doing?” The man said in the language of the people, “You are resting your weight on the chair back.” Paton was entrusting himself to that chair to hold him up and support him. It was a vivid word, and Paton was delighted to get it because it was a splendid translation of the New Testament term to ‘trust in’ someone. You rest your entire self in Jesus Christ. You lean exclusively without depending in the least on any resources of your own – not that you have any such resources. ‘I will trust in God. I will trust without depending in the least upon anything else.’ There is that great hymn, ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to me.’ Go through it. It is describing saving trust in Christ. Start at the end:
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all, for Thee.
Then work your way through the commitment of every part of yourself, and give the lot to the Lord: ‘Take my moments and my days … my hands … my feet … my voice … my lips … my silver and my gold … my intellect … my will … my heart … my love.” That is salvation. To trust is the very first act of a new-born soul. ‘I will trust.’ If you do not trust God for your salvation, you are not a Christian. The first thing you do in becoming a follower of Christ is to entrust yourself to him. You cease trusting in your own hunches, your own feelings, your own good life, your own religion, your own faith. You cease trusting in your praying. There was a fine Christian man on the island of Lewis named Norman MacDonald. He was born in 1853, and throughout his Christian life he was known as Happy Norman. He had made a sort of profession as a teenager, but he quickly went back into the world. He still continued to pray, but looking back he had no happiness about that praying. He said, “When I was young I expected to be saved because I was able to pray, but I discovered at the last that in my prayers I was giving the first place to the world, the second to myself, and the tail of it to the Lord.” You do not trust in the exercises of religion, in the hand of the bishop on my head, on my being plunged into the waters of the baptistry, on going to Mass or Holy Communion, in your ability to pray. You make a bundle of all that and flee from it all to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Consider how this assurance of trusting in Christ’s grace alone came to one young man. In the year of the French Revolution, 1789, an 18-year old American named Archibald Alexander was climbing the long slope of a hill near the town of Lexington in Virginia. He had a Bible in his hand and he came to a large rock on the side of the forested hill where he knelt and prayed for his own salvation. He had been in deep spiritual struggle of soul for months. “He wished to have the conscious feeling within his own heart that his soul was redeemed. Then a passage was read from the Bible and another prayer was offered. Thus he read the Word and prayed, and read and prayed again and again until his strength was gone, for the young man had not tasted food that day. Weak as he was and in despair it seemed to him that God would not hear him. His own heart seemed to him to become harder and more and more devoid of every serious emotion. He knelt again on the ground and uttered one broken cry for help, ‘when, in a moment,’ he tells us, ‘I had such a view of a crucified Saviour as is without a parallel in my experience.’ He went on to say, ‘The whole plan of grace appeared as clear as day. I was persuaded that God was willing to accept me, just as I was, and convinced that I had never before understood the freeness of salvation, but had always been striving to bring some price in my hand, or to prepare myself for receiving Christ. Now I discovered that I could receive him in all his offices at that very moment, which I was sure at the time I did. I felt truly a joy which was unspeakable and full of glory.” (Henry Alexander White, “Southern Presbyterian Leaders 1683 – 1911,” Banner of Truth, pp.181-182).
You are given grace to put your trust solely in the living God and you come to an assurance that he has accepted you for the sake of Jesus only. You trust in the blood of Jesus who bore your punishment on the cross, and you believe that because he became the sin-bearing Lamb you will not bear any condemnation. That is trusting God. That is the beginning of living by faith, and you never move from that place for a single day of your life. You are never going to see Jesus Christ with your eyes while you are at home in the body, so you live by faith in him. So, saving faith is true knowledge. Saving faith is believing the truth for yourself. Saving faith is entrusting all of yourself to all of Christ – the Prophet who teaches you, the Priest who ever lives to intercede for you, and the King who protects and governs you. That is living by faith and not by sight.
2. We Make it Our Goal to Please Him in Everything.
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it” (v.9). Now this theme is often emphasised in Scripture. Paul prays for the Colossians that they may please the Lord in every way (Cols.1:10). He reminds the Thessalonians of his purpose in teaching them: “we instructed you how to live in order to please God” (I Thess. 4:1). He tells Timothy how widows should behave and he says that that, “this is pleasing to God” (I Tim 5:4). He exhorts the Ephesians to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephs.5:10).
A Christian is a person whose desire everywhere and always is to please God. Peter on the day of Pentecost quotes David: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Acts 2:25). That is a Christian. His eyes are always on the face of his Master. We occasionally hear, for example, of someone being described as a ‘born-again Christian.’ But this is a needless use of words. What other kind of Christian is there? One cannot be an un-born-again Christian. To belong to the generation of the once-born, to be born only of nature and of blood and of the will of man, is not to be a Christian at all. A man cannot be a child of God at all until he has been born twice and entered into a saving, evangelical experience of grace.
In the same way, just as ‘born-again Christian’ is a needless multiplicity of words, so also is the description ‘committed Christian.’ What other kind of Christian is there? Can one be an ‘uncommitted’ Christian? Surely if a man is unsurrendered, unyielded and unavailable for the Master’s use one has every right to question whether he is a Christian at all. God once said about the northern kingdom of Israel, “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hos.7:8). We would say a half-baked pancake, raw on one side and cooked on the other, inedible and useless. You cannot be neither cooked nor raw, neither saved nor lost, neither for Jesus nor against him, neither seeking to please him in all things nor seeking to please him in nothing and be a Christian. A Christian has this goal in life, how can I please the Lord whether I live or die?
In John White’s book “The Cost of Commitment” he cites a letter written by an American Marxist in Mexico City in which he breaks off his engagement with his fiancee:
“We Marxists suffer many casualties. We are those whom they shoot, hang, lynch, tar and feather, imprison, slander, fire from our jobs and whose lives people make miserable in every way possible. We live in poverty. From what we earn we turn over to the Party every cent which we do not absolutely need to live. We communists have neither time not money to go to movies very often, nor for concerts, nor for beautiful homes and new cars. They call us fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one supreme factor – the struggle for world communism. We communists have a philosophy of life that money could not buy.
“We have a cause to fight for, a specific goal in life. We lost our insignificant identities in the great river of humanity; and if our personal lives seem hard, or if our egos seem bruised through subordination to the Party, we are amply rewarded in the thought that all of us, even though it be in a very small way, are contributing something new and better for humanity.
“There is one thing about which I am completely in earnest – the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, my meat and drink. I work at it by day and dream of it by night. Its control over me grows greater with the passage of time. Therefore I cannot have a friend, a lover, or even a conversation without relating them to this power that animates and controls my life. I measure people, books, ideas and deeds according to the way they affect the communist cause and by their attitude to it. I have already been in jail for my ideas, and if need be, I am ready to face death.” That is a man whose one goal in life is to serve the cause of Karl Marx. Our goal is always to please the Saviour who gave himself for us
Then what are some of the ways we please God? Let me select four examples our of scores:-
i] We please the Lord by our evangelistic compassion. We are told of the Lord Jesus that when he saw the multitudes he had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. That is the attitude that pleases God. Hudson Taylor was the father of the evangelism of China, but before he left England he found his own heart growing increasingly compassionate for sinners. It was not a trip overseas that made him a missionary. In the year 1853 he was 21 years of age and assisting a London doctor, going to his patients in their homes and helping them. There was one man who had senile gangrene with no hope of recovery and every day Hudson Taylor went to his home to dress the wound. The man was a complete atheist. He would allow no one to speak to him about religion, and when the local vicar had called he had spat in his face. His temper was not under control, and he was a very violent man. How did Hudson Taylor react to this man? These are his words:-
“Upon first commencing to attend him I prayed much about it, but for two or three days said nothing of a religious nature. By special care in dressing his diseased limb I was able considerably to lessen his sufferings, and he soon began to manifest appreciation of my services. One day with a trembling heart I took advantage of his grateful acknowledgements to tell him what was the spring of my action, and to speak of his solemn position and need of God’s mercy through Christ. It was evidently only a powerful effort of self-restraint that kept his lips closed. He turned over in bed with his back to me, and uttered no word.
“I could not get the poor man out of my mind, and very often through each day I pleaded with God, by his Spirit, to save him ere he took him hence.
After dressing the wound and relieving the pain, I never failed to say a few words to him which I hoped the Lord would bless. He always turned his back looking annoyed, but never made any reply.
“After continuing this for some time my heart sank. It seemed to me that I was not only doing no good but perhaps really hardening him and increasing his guilt. One day after dressing his limb and washing my hands, instead of returning to the bedside, I went to the door and stood hesitating a moment with the thought in my mind, ‘Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone.’ Looking at my patient I saw his surprise, as it was the first time since opening the subject that I had attempted to leave without saying a few words for my Master.
“I could bear it no longer. Bursting into tears, I crossed the room and said: ‘My friend, whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, I must deliver my soul,’ and went on to speak very earnestly, telling him how much I wished that he would let me pray with him. To my unspeakable joy he did not turn away, but replied: ‘If it will be a relief to you, do.’ I need scarcely say that falling upon my knees I poured out my soul to God on his behalf. Then and there, I believe, the Lord wrought a change in his soul.
He was never afterwards unwilling to be spoken to and prayed with, and within a few days he definitely accepted Christ as his Saviour.
“Oh the joy it was to me to see that man rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. He told me that for forty years he had never darkened the door of a church or chapel, and that then, forty years ago, he had only entered a place of worship to be married, and could not be persuaded to go inside even when his wife was buried. Now, thank God, I had every reason to believe his sin-stained soul was washed, was sanctified, was ‘justified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.’ Often in my early work in China, when circumstances rendered me almost hopeless of success, I have thought of this man’s conversion and have been encouraged to persevere in speaking the Word, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear. The now happy sufferer lived for some time after this change, and was never tired of bearing testimony to the grace of God” (Dr and Mrs Howard Taylor, “Hudson Taylor: In Early Years,” pp.179&180). How pleasing to the Lord was Hudson Taylor’s compassion and perseverance and courage.
ii] We please the Lord by doing our daily work to his glory. Every day we seek to please him, not just in evangelism but in our vocation whether we are a housewife and mother, or a student, or if we have retired as a pensioner. We want to please the Lord in how we do our duties each day. William Tyndale said that if we look externally “there is difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” William Perkins said, “The action of a shepherd in keeping sheep … is as good a work before God as is the action of a judge in giving the sentence, or a magistrate in ruling, or a minister in preaching.” Some of you have men over you who are demanding, pointing out your every failure, even imagined ones, and never praising you for anything done well. To think that tomorrow at this time you will back in the office, or teaching in the school, or working at the factory, then that thought fills you with apprehension, but it is possible for you in that place to please the Lord and know his blessing. Listen to Paul as he exhorts Christian slaves about their duties:-
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (Ephs.6:5-8). How do you win your masters for Jesus Christ if you are dishonest and lazy and rude and threatening to them? You win them without the word when they can see that your life is different from the life of every other slave in the house. When Joseph was a slave in Egypt working for Potiphar we are told that the Lord was with him and he prospered, The Lord gave him success in everything he did. Joseph was promoted, and “The blessing of the LORD was on everything that Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field” (Gen. 39:5). Isn’t that what we want? The Lord’s blessing on us in the school, in the shop, in the business, repairing burst pipes, fixing lawn-mowers, ironing our family’s clothes, and the Lord being with us and giving us success? We do our daily work for his sake. This conviction bring divinity to drudgery. We do everything with all our might – whatever our hand picks up. How pleasing to the Lord was Joseph’s daily work as a slave.
iii] We please the Lord by keeping Sunday special. You remember that there was a pattern to the weekly life of our Lord. We are told that he had just one ‘custom’, and he invariably kept it without exception, and that was to attend the synagogue one day in every seven. Now we please the same Lord if we also have a pattern to our week. Sundays are different for us. Once a week an opportunity is given to us to gather with other Christians and be taught the Word of God, and witness a baptismal service which we will never forget, and break bread around the Communion Table, and encourage other Christians by spending time with them showing that we love them.
On Sundays the house is closed, and the computer is shut down, and the doors of the factory and office are locked, and the washing remains unwashed, and the clothes unironed, and the car stays dirty, and the weeds can grow in the garden, and our text-books on mathematics and Welsh literature and the history of the Napoleonic wars remain unstudied, and our dissertation on economics or international politics is unwritten. We spend the day with other followers of the Lord Jesus pleasing him by our custom of meeting with other Christians and worshipping God. That pleases the Lord.
iv] We please the Lord by having a Christian home. God invented the family. If unfallen Adam could have been quite happy by himself and thought “I like my space,” God would have said “No! That is not good for you. I have made you for communication and relationships and sharing.” There was then no sin in the world, but it was bad for man to be a loner. Nothing has changed. You need help from someone else. You rely on someone else to get through life, and there is someone who is relying on you, if only the fact that you are at the end of a telephone to speak to. Independence doesn’t please the Lord. There is the Clint Eastwood figure of the man without a name, the lone avenger who comes into a town, sorts everything out and then rides off alone into the sunset – that is not a good role model. Neither the Levite walking by the hurting man, nor the priest walking past him pleased the Lord. The one who stopped and got involved with the man in his pain pleased the Lord. Marriage is a load of stoppings and helpings. Sometimes it is the husband stopping and helping and sometimes it is the wife. Marriage is a load of carings and cherishings. Marriage is two people raising children together. Marriage is two people washing dishes together.
Marriage is two people sharing everything in their lives with just the other one. Marriage is a man saying, “I love you so much that I don’t want to go to bed with you just tonight, but I want to share a bed with you alone for the rest of my life, until death us do part. That is how much I love you.” That is the promise the husband makes: “I’ll always be around to look after any children that the Lord gives us.” And that sharing of our bodies is in the context of sharing our money, and frustrations, and possessions, and grandchildren, and senility, and in-laws, and deaths. We are one. And when the husband loves his wife so much that he would give his life for her, and nourishes and cherishes her, then he is showing something of Christ’s love. And the same tender, true love and submission is also to be shown by the wife. That is a Christian home that pleases the Lord.
So Paul is saying here that, firstly, we live by faith, and, secondly, we make it our goal to please the Lord in all of this life (and I have given you four concrete examples of that) as also in the life to come. That is how Christians live their lives.
April 1st 2001 GEOFF THOMAS