In Part One we saw the glory of God displayed in the purpose, character, and results of Christ’s redeeming work. In Christ we see the infinite excellence of God on display in His purchase of unworthy sinners for an eternity of happiness in heaven. We turn now to a brief look at God’s glory in the message and messengers of Christ, the Church.
“For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Regarded as foolish by those blind to its excellence, the Gospel is, nonetheless, perfect in its glory. To disdain the greatest message, the greatest love and mercy, and the greatest gift, purchased at the cost of infinite suffering for the undeserving, speaks volumes about the nature of unbelief, but impugns nothing of the Gospel.
Consider the crowds in the Praetorium watching Christ before Pontius Pilate as the Gospel played out before their eyes. Craving the glory of Christ’s power to heal and deliver them from the rule of Rome, they saw no glory as He stood bleeding and humiliated under Rome’s iron fist. Seeking the glory of His strength to realize their earthly interests, they saw no glory in His weakness and suffering to achieve eternal blessings. And in any age where the Gospel is preached and reviled, crowds inwardly cry “crucify” as they adore the crown of gold, but despise the crown of thorns. Thus, we need not be surprised at the world’s response to the Gospel, even as it grieves us, neither should we change the message to suit a world hostile to its excellence.
Many contemporaries of the Apostle Paul, especially in Corinth, viewed him as “unimpressive” and his speech as “contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). Yet, Paul intentionally avoided “cleverness of speech” and worldly wisdom, resolving “to know nothing” among the Corinthians but “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” In deference to God and the Gospel, he preached “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” But why would he not “do as the Corinthians do” among a people that revered great rhetorical skill? In short, he wanted his worldly audience to trust the power of God, not human wisdom as they were so prone to do (1 Cor. 2:1-5). He also did not want to make the Gospel “void” or powerless to change hearts by drawing attention to the messenger and away from the message of the cross of Christ (1 Cor. 1:17). Preachers in every age are most effective when they shine the light on Christ and away from themselves.
To ensure a proper humility in Paul following his remarkable visit to the third heaven, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh.” Whatever it was, it bothered Paul enough to ask God three times to take it away. But God said no, adding, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Reconsidering his ailment from God’s perspective, Paul concluded, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9 NAS). And God calls us to view our troubles the same way.
Further, we miss a critical aspect of a fruitful and joyful Christian life if we think Christianity is all about being healthy, prosperous, and formidable in the eyes of a fallen world. “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” that we might boast in Him alone (1 Cor. 1:27-31). Indeed, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Cor. 4:7 NAS). The more we understand this, the more God will use us as part of His purpose to display His glory, and the less perplexing to us will be our difficult circumstances. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pet. 4:12-13 NAS). Suffering is neither a “strange thing” nor outside the purpose and plan of God for His children. God uses it for our good and His glory as He molds us into the image of Christ.
Consider the experience of the most faithful saints throughout the ages. Can we really say that the early church was not victorious because they were thrown to the lions or lived in the catacombs? God certainly did not view them that way, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered. But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:36-37 NAS).
Therefore, while we wait for our ultimate transformation in heaven, “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We need not confuse the present age with the age to come by the mistaken idea that God does not want us to suffer, or by an incessant boasting of the impending success of the church in numbers and worldly influence prior to Christ’s return—we stand victorious in Christ even when small in number, marginalized, or persecuted. Therefore, we faithfully serve God’s purpose by showcasing His infinite excellence in our weakness and troubles, as we look forward to the glories of our heavenly home: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2 NAS). We will enjoy Him in perfect glory forever. Amen.
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