For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, "THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO THEE AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO THY NAME." And again he says, "REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE." And again, "PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM." And again Isaiah says, "THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE." Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Two Steps to Hope
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
'Hope' is an important word in the Christian faith. It is the word often used to describe the content of the Christian faith. I have frequently explained how the word 'hope' has different meaning for a Christian than for a non-Christian. The secular hope is a sort of positive and yet powerless wishful thinking, while the Christian hope is much more. It is a knowledge and a possession of something real that is not yet fully experienced. We possess the things in which we hope, but we do not experience the fulness of them until we enter eternity and leave time behind.
Our Epistle lesson, this morning, speaks about that hope, and describes what I would call the two steps to hope. Those two steps are, in the words of our text, perseverance, and the encouragement of Scriptures. So, this morning we will look at those two, and, guided by our text, consider the two steps to hope.
Many Christians drive themselves to distraction trying to find and feel the joy and the excitement of the Christian faith that they hear about, and that some people appear to exude as Christians. Unfortunately for them, many don't find it and they feel cheated, or, worse yet, they feel like it must be their fault and they must somehow be defective. They must not really believe. Their faith must be inadequate or there must be something wrong with them!
Let me put those thoughts to rest. Our text tells us that the joy and peace of the faith is the gift of God. The first verse of our text says that God gives us the hope. The second verse says that God gives us perseverance and encouragement and unity in the faith - you know, that "you be of the same mind with one another." The third verse of our text says that we derive our ability to glorify God with one voice - with a common praise and thanksgiving from that unity in faith. Then the final verse of our text says that the God who fills us with hope also fills us with "all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope." So, the feelings that some might be chasing around, and trying to work up in themselves, are the gift of God - or they are simply not genuine.
Many of the people you might have seen that seem so excited and cheerful about the faith are faking it. Some are doing so to pick your pocket. Some do it to deceive you into listening to them, maybe even following them. Some are faking it because they think that they are supposed to feel that way, and they don't, so they pretend, so that they won't look like hypocrites - which of course, they are, at least as far as those feelings go. And some actually feel something, but it is temporary, and fleeting, or they have managed to 'work it up' inside themselves so that they feel 'about' the faith rather than thinking about what the Word of God is addressing.
This is not to say that Christians don't feel real things. They do. Sometimes they feel joy. Sometimes it is sorrow. Sometimes the thrill of the Gospel is almost enough to make you walk on air, and sometimes it has no "feeling" component at all. Most of the time, Christians feel the burden of the hatred of the world, the persecution that follows those who are faithful, and the cross which Jesus promised would accompany those that believed. You remember when Jesus said, "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me."
The message about feelings is, when they are good, enjoy them. When they are bad, be patient and endure them with prayer and faith. In either case, do not learn to depend on them, or trust them. Our faith is built on the Word of God, not on our emotional response to it. Faith is trust, not a "feeling". It is hope in Christ, not a sense of well-being or satisfaction with life. It is also the gift of God, not something we manufacture for ourselves. It is the 'hope'.
The first step to the hope is perseverance. The word in Scripture means to continue to bear up under a difficult condition. It means that even when things become too unpleasant, we hang in there. We remain steadfast. Heaven knows that there is plenty to endure - frustration, pain, sickness, irritating people, sorrow, and death. It almost seems like it is too much to endure. And if it were up to us, just by our own strength, it would be.
Perseverance is the gift of the God. Our text tells us that He is the one who gives it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, Jesus once said. It is still true. We tend to want to avoid pain, to run from trouble, to fold up our tents and leave when the going gets tough. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" means retreat, unless God gives us the perseverance.
And God gives us perseverance. Paul is praying for that blessing in our text. God works it in us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word, preached and heard, and then by us facing the life God sets before us with faith. We learn perseverance by persevering, just as Christ learned obedience by obeying and humbling Himself before God. God places us in the situations we face so that we may act out the faith we confess, and actually do the believing part in the face of reality, trusting God for all that we confess that He is and that He will do. Enduring the hypothetical and standing firm in the face of the fictional and imagined threat is simple - boring after a while, but easy to do. The true test, and the way that God gives and demonstrates the gift of perseverance is in the furnace of experience. It is by persevering that you discover perseverance and experience perseverance and learn about your own perseverance.
The next step in the pursuit of hope is Encouragement. The word, 'encouragement', means the same thing, basically, for a Christian as it does for anyone else, except that for us, the encouragement is to come from the Scriptures, by both exhortation and teaching. Encouragement is the gift of God also, but He has chosen to give it to us through the Scriptures. I say it that way, because a lot of people today think that how they feel, or how the liturgy manipulates their emotions is the important part of their religion. If it feels good, or feels pious, or feels "spiritual" then they are convinced that God is with them, and that He is encouraging them to fight the good fight. But feelings are fickle, and if it were true that the good feelings were a message to us, then it would be likely also to be true that, the days when we feel helpless, weak, or depressed would mean something important and very tragic for us also. But that is just not true. Such thinking is the opposite of faith, in fact. We call it sensuality - living life by what feels good or feels right rather than what we know from God's Word to be right and good.
There is only one way to get encouragement - genuine encouragement from God - be in the Word. So we need to hear it, study it, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. We need to know God's ways and understand just exactly what He has promised us if we are to be empowered to wait faithfully, enduring all that life and the devil throw at us. St. Paul makes the point in our text that the Scriptures were written for our instruction for the precise purpose that we might find encouragement in the Word of God and in the history of God's faithful and gracious dealings with His people, and that because the Word of God works these things in us, we might actually possess the hope of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
There is a process here. God instructs us by His Word. Then, the life He gives us teaches us endurance and perseverance, because life hurts in this world of sin and evil, particularly for the faithful child of God. Sometimes we recognize that the pains of our lives come to us because of our faith, and sometimes we don't. When the pain comes from our fellow-Christians, it is hard to remember that they - or their sinful flesh - might be responding to Christ in us, and not just be reacting to our personalities. It is hard to tell the difference when you are the final target. And God doesn't expect us to tell the difference.
He teaches us patience and perseverance in all circumstances, and encourages us to hold fast and stand faithfully by the Word of God preached and read and by the fellowship of the saints. But make no mistake, God is the giver of perseverance and encouragement. That is the substance of our text's second verse. He also grants us a shared faith - "to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus." This common faith and united doctrine helps us hang on. It helps us experience the encouragement. It permits us to see God at work around us in the lives of others, so we can better understand how He is at work in our lives, even when we cannot feel His presence.
You can also see how this one mind works - or frustrates us when it doesn't work - when other churches use different words in the Creeds or in the Lord's Prayer. It causes you to stumble as you confess your faith, and to be self-conscious at a time when you want to be thinking of God and not yourself. It makes you feel unsure of yourself precisely when you expect and hope to feel the greatest certainty and confidence. Being of one mind helps us to glorify God with one voice, just as our text says, rather than stumbling over new words to an old, familiar hymn or creed. How we long to be of one mind, so that we may with one accord (or one will) glorify God with one voice, united and full of hope.
But what really fills us with joy and peace - the Hope that we are looking for - is the Gospel - and divinely-worked faith in it. The joy comes from understanding and believing the love of God for us, that He sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh for us. That love is so deep that Jesus endured the cross and pain, the mocking and rejection of men, and chose to die in my place and yours for the sins we have committed - while we were still enemies of God and haters of all that is holy. Jesus decided to do that. He chose to do that for us in love. That is real decision theology - His decision, not ours.
And He decided to make us is own through Baptism. Now that God has claimed us to be His own people, now that He has shown us that His great love was aimed right at each one of us personally, we know - or can know - joy. The Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, is our Benefactor and Provider and Protector! It doesn't get much better than this. And then, because of all that Jesus did on our behalf, God has forgiven us our sin. He has forgiven us each sinful thought, word, and deed, and He has forgiven us the perversion of our nature that is Sin with a capital "S". The wall of hostility as been ripped down by God. "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" - Romans 8:1. So we have nothing to fear. That is what the Bible calls "peace". Certainly we have nothing to fear from God, because He loves us so much, and has forgiven us all of our sins, and shown us His great love. And we have nothing to fear from life, or the world, or even our satanic foes, because the Almighty is on our side. Psalm 118 says, "The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?"
But all of this perseverance and encouragement is the work of God in us - "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ." And when we believe, we have hope - Christian hope, that is, the confidence and certainty of those things promised by God, even though we do not see them or sense them immediately. And so, as God works that faith in us through is Word, He gives us the 'joy and peace in believing.' And all that joy and peace is our experience of the Hope, arrived at by the two steps laid out for us in our text - perseverance and the encouragement of Scriptures. Through the troubles, and through the blessings, and by His Word, the God of hope does fill you with all joy and peace in believing - just as our text says - and that is the Two Steps to Hope.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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