‘Far more labours, far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep, frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles …’
2 Corinthians 11:23-26
You think, this guy might know a bit about pressure! ‘A day and a night in the deep’ is a verse I often recall when I have an extended delay at an airport. You can feel a bit vulnerable at times, but it’s nothing by comparison with the experiences of Paul. And he’s learned the secret of being content.
Unbelievers are under the impression that Christians are forced into morality, obey rules and go to church. If they really understood that we’d found the secret of being content they’d wonder where we got it. And they’d queue up outside our churches to find the secret for themselves. Paul’s great claim has been tested through the centuries, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
It’s about fellowship and communion with Christ. Now we must distinguish between these two different things: first ‘being united with Him and declared righteous as a gift’ and second ‘enjoying communion with Him’. In his book, ‘Communion with the Triune God’, John Owen speaks about union and communion with Jesus.
Righteous yesterday, today and for ever
First, he says that we are united with Jesus and have received his righteousness for ever and that this is the basis of our relationship with him. Our relationship is never based on how much we’ve enjoyed his fellowship. Sadly, many believers think that if they have a season of remoteness from God, he’s unhappy with them and they end up in condemnation. Jesus is our righteousness for eternity. God poured out his wrath on his Son and we escape. We never move from our righteousness in Christ. Even if we don’t have an extended time of fellowship with him, we can still say, ‘Thank you, Lord. You’re the same yesterday, today and for ever, my righteousness.’ That’s union with Christ.
Second, Owen says that once we have union with Christ, we go on to have communion with him. We talk to him and listen to his voice. We hear him through the Scriptures and sing praises to him for the sheer joy of knowing that he’s our God. This is how we get strengthened with might in our inner being. We have fellowship with Jesus.
When things go wrong..
Day after day we experience fear, battle, hurts, sickness, wounds, unkindness and perplexity. We didn’t expect what’s happened to us. How do we get through? ‘Well, pull yourself together!’ No! Our strength comes from Jesus. Isn’t He the Saviour? Doesn’t He save? Fellowship with Him!
Salvation is a huge thing. Jesus saved me back in the ‘50s and has been saving me daily ever since. One day he’ll save us when he presents us to himself in glory. But while we’re on earth things will go wrong. And then we’ll need to draw close to Jesus to be daily, continually, repeatedly saved.
‘I must take care to cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace, mark that, yet it will be the channel of it.’
If you haven’t had amazing experiences of communion for a little while are you losing your peace? No, because the basis of peace doesn’t lie in communion with Christ, but in his righteousness. It’s by being justified by faith that you have peace with God. Communion with Christ will be the channel of peace, reflected in your enjoyment of him and his strength.
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010