Thursday, July 30, 2015

Do you find even your friends distancing themselves when you say "Jesus?"

DESPISED FOR YOUR GLORY

And so I ask you not to lose heart over my tribulations on your behalf, which are for your glory. Ephesians 3:13

WHY did St. Paul make this unusual statement? Why did he tell the Christians in Ephesus that the things he suffered in his ministry were for their glory, and ask them not to lose heart? The answer is simple, dear Christians: because there can be no gain without pain. It is true in our present lives, and true regarding our eternal lives as well. When Paul wrote this letter he was in prison for preaching the gospel. His arrest was engineered by Jews who were angry about the things that he taught. He taught that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and that His death atoned for the sins of the world, including those of the Gentiles. He explained that salvation could not be obtained by observing the Jewish Law, but only by repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21).

While most people hope in their lifetime to win friends and influence people, Paul seemed to make enemies wherever he went because of the Gospel he preached without compromise. He knew as a result that only imprisonment and afflictions awaited him in every city. (
Acts 20:23) But even though this was the case, even though he had already suffered many things for the name of Christ, and even though he would eventually give his life for it, God’s good and gracious will was being advanced, and we are the beneficiaries of it still today.

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells us that St. Paul spent 3 years (
Acts 20:31) in Ephesus and that he was very dear to these people, and they to him. So it was only natural that they might lose heart when they heard about the things he was experiencing.  It is easy to lose heart, always easier to become discouraged over our suffering than to remain courageous in the face of tribulation, so like a good father Paul soothes his children. He encourages them to be strong in the Lord, and he tells them that the things he is suffering are for their glory. Was he just being noble? Not in this case. Instead, he knew that when Christ’s people suffer for the faith that their struggles are never without meaning or purpose, but that they always must and always will accomplish the good of the church.

He is saying that there is no gain without pain, and that suffering is the price that must be paid for glory. The most important suffering was Christ’s. His suffering and death have eternal merit, and they give us eternal glory, not the temporary glory we seek through sin. Our sufferings, however distressing they might be, are not redemptive. They can provide us with many blessed benefits if we view them through the lens of Scripture, but they cannot redeem us. Only the sufferings borne by the Lamb of God take away the sins of the world. Only they can reconcile us to God, and give us peace in the face of tribulation, sorrow and death.

When Jesus said “it is finished,” the long night of sin ended, but the things men would suffer for his name did not. The message of new life in Christ was propagated by the Lord’s disciples at great personal cost. Though they did not suffer as intensely as our Lord but they paid a great price in order to bring the glory of forgiveness to sinners. Christian tradition tells us that ten of the Lord’s original disciples died in the line of duty, and that John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, where God gave him the most extraordinary visions; visions we still read today in the Revelation of St. John, and which still show us glimpses of glory in the midst of earth’s tragedy.

Nothing has changed throughout the ages by those who follow in the apostolic train. The great saints of church history – men like Athanasius, Jerome, Augustine, Luther, Chemnitz, Cranmer, Gerhardt, Nicholai and Watts – who taught us theology, penned our prayers and wrote our hymns, all endured hardship to give us what we count as our glory and the beat goes on. Today men give their lives to do the difficult and thankless work of the ministry. They forego lucrative careers and come out of seminary with burdens of debt. They work, study, suffer and pray. They are misunderstood by most, despised by many and not very highly valued by the economic system of the world yet they are the ones who preach the word, teach the faith, administer the sacraments, hear the confessions, give the absolution and bring heavenly hope to people when every earthly prop gives way. Yet suffering to further the gospel is not only the domain of the clergy, but of all faithful Christians as well: those who erect the churches and build the organs, those who play the music, sing the anthems, count the money, attend the meetings, take the offerings, pay the bills, write the constitutions, sweep the floors and do the many thankless tasks necessary to keep the church doors open so that the glory of the Gospel might raise the sons of men from death to life. And let us not forget the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who wake up the children every Sunday, teach them how to dress for church and how to behave in God’s house; and who by their own living example teach them what it means to live a godly life as Christ’s holy people.

No good thing comes to sinners without Christ’s suffering, or without the tribulation, anguish, tears, frustration and sacrifice of His people, so St. Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians and Christians ever after, that the tribulations men suffer for the sake of the Church, large or small, redound to their glory because it is through these troublesome tasks that sinners are gathered to hear the Gospel, to receive the sacraments and to offer right praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus unto all the generations, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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