Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 9: Maintaining the Faith (2)
Rom 12:11,12 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
We started considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move from focusing on relationships with other Christians to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervour and serving God, about maintaining a bright and vibrant spiritual life if you like, that comes from obedience to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
The second mini-exhortation simply says, “Be joyful in hope.” Hope is all about the future and the truth is the Christian is always looking to the future as well as living in the present. This is another of those things where there are two aspects to the Christian life and if you only have one you are missing out. Yes, we are called to live in the present and the danger can be that we are so dissatisfied with the present and look for something better in the future that we fail to enjoy all of the Lord’s provision and goodness here and now. But living in the present is only one part of our lives; there should be and always will be a ‘future dimension’ for the Christian who is alert to their Lord.
This ‘future dimension’ again has two goals. The first one is in respect of the person I am changing to become. We have recently noted at one point, the fact that our lives are a process where God is changing us into the likeness of Jesus, but it is a gradual thing (2 Cor 3:18). The truth of the Christian life is that it should be changing all the time as we allow the Lord to work in us and make us more and more like Jesus. Many of us forget this, but this is a central truth that is taught in the New Testament. The second goal is that we are looking forward to eternal life, the life that goes on with God in heaven after we die here on earth. However hard and however difficult life is while we are here on earth, and especially if we have to suffer illness or disability, we know that there is coming a time when we will be made anew and given a new body in heaven where there is no pain and no tears or anguish.
But all of this is in the future and, if I am honest, the reality of this future dimension varies and comes and goes, so there may be times when I am very much aware that I have a different future and times when I forget it. But, I suggest, we think more about it when we realise the limitations and frustrations of our present life, when age, infirmity, illness or whatever press in and make life difficult. Perhaps it is when we look at the church or at one another’s lives and long for something better in the future. Speaking of Abraham, the writer to the Hebrews said, “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” (Heb 11:10) and then of Old Testament people of faith in general he wrote, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one.” (Heb 11:13-16)
Thus all of us live with a certain measure of frustration with the present world. We see the sinfulness of mankind, we see the folly of human beings making godless decisions that only bring hurt, confusion and more upset, especially as nations struggle with one another and bigger nations threaten smaller nations, and so-called ‘world leaders’ struggle to know what to do as they look down on smaller nations behaving badly. In the lifetime of most of us, we have seen big nations fighting for or over Iraq, over Pakistan and over Syria and again and again question marks are raised as to the wisdom of courses chosen by ‘world leaders’. At a domestic level we watch the dissolution of marriage, the removal of boundaries around male and female and so much more and we look on and wonder, “Where is all this going?” We live with the frustration of the folly of sin, and sometimes we ourselves give way for a moment and say or do foolish things and need to receive God’s forgiveness all over again.
And all the while we have, deep down, this yearning for something better and the reason we have it is because the Holy Spirit is working within us to reveal just what is going on now and to give us a glimmer of something better in the future.
Hope is all about the future and Christian hope is a strong assurance of what WILL come. But the call is to “be joyful in hope.” There are the Christian futurologists who talk about the world getting worse and worse towards the Last Day, and with their pronouncements seems to come a heavy gloom but Paul calls us to be joyful and there are a number of reasons to be so.
Number One: whatever the future holds, we know that we are established in God’s love by the work of Christ on the Cross and the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives. That love, as Paul shows in Romans 8 means that nothing can separate us from this wonder. Number Two: as we just noted, we have the Holy Spirit within us and He is working out God’s plans and purposes in and through us and that also is a wonderful thing. Number Three: as we have been saying all through this meditation, God is working towards something better for us who are His children and we can be confident in that. Whatever happens to the rest of the world, your future and mine is assured by the work of Christ. Hallelujah!
So, whatever clouds the world seeks to waft over our horizon – be joyful! He is with you and will never leave or forsake you and His plans for you will not be thwarted! Remember Solomon declared, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) That is the reality of God’s purposes for you and me. The world may be getting darker for godless, self-centred sinners, but for the righteous, the children of God, the path just gets brighter, and it does so because we get nearer and nearer to meeting with God and His purpose is that His glory shines in and through us and before us more and more. May it be so!