The God Of Perseverance And Comfort, The God Of Hope
December 5, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. In the epistle of Paul that I read to you today, God gave expression about himself in two ways. One way is seen in verse five. "God the source of perseverance and comfort." The literal text of this is "the God of perseverance and comfort." The second way is seen in verse thirteen. "God the source of hope." Again, the literal text of this is "the God of hope." "The God of perseverance and comfort" and "the God of hope." Let's live out this week pondering these words.
The God Of Perseverance And Comfort
2. The God in whom we believe is, first, "the God of perseverance and comfort." To know that God is "the God of perseverance and comfort" holds decisive significance in our daily living. We understand why that is so from the prayer of Paul to "the God of perseverance and comfort." The [Japanese version of the] scripture says, "May God the source of perseverance and comfort grant you the same mind towards one another in imitation of Christ Jesus, and may he allow you to give praise to the one who is the father, who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, by uniting your hearts and arranging your voices in chorus!," (verses five and six).
3. "May he grant you the same mind," "may he cause you to worship by joining your hearts and uniting your voices together." This is what he is praying for, the contents of his prayer. He isn't praying that to God because it is easy. In fact, arguing around this had arisen in the church at Rome. The details are written in chapter fourteen. Simply put, it was a difference of opinions over whether a Christian could or could not eat meat. [Doesn't] it sound like a trifling matter? Yet, often times, a dispute between one person and another will arise over trifling matters, on quite trivial points.
4. Even without bringing up a discussion on the church at Rome, we know it by our own experiences. It's not easy [trying to] live [in harmony] in like-mindedness. It's not a simple matter even when it comes to worship, to worship with united hearts. In order to become one, each of us will need to be accepting of one another. So, that's probably why it says in verse seven, "Each of you accept the other!" But, each one accepting the other is not a simple thing to do. At times it requires considerable patience and perseverance.
5. None of us like to be patient [and put up with others]. Like water naturally flowing to the lowest point, a person naturally gravitates to the lowest grade pain, painlessness, in a word, comfort. [Human beings] naturally move towards tearing down more than building up, towards dividing rather than a readiness to become one with others. We seek to be only with people similar to us, who have the same basic thoughts, who have the same basic way of feeling. This works itself out in the form of community divisions, it also works itself out in the form of exclusion of those who are different. Sometimes it takes the form of our just plain leaving. Either way, we think that we had better cut out right from the start the relationships which require patience. Thus, our natural disposition dislikes patience. We seek the easy escape.
6. But God does not desire that we live running from place to place over the relationships we have with others that require patience. God desires that persons who disagree with each other live together. Moreover, he desires that persons who disagree with each other become worshippers with joined hearts and united voices. The church's existence itself has long been an expression of God's will for this. As for the church, from the start, persons with the same minds did not "assemble together." All kinds of people with different backgrounds "were assembled together" by Christ. What for? Those who were assembled together did so in order to worship the Lord with joined hearts and united voices.
7. In this way then, God is asking that we each accept the other, [even so-called opponents], and that we become one. It is precisely because God is this way that God has also been "the God of patience and comfort" towards us, too. Like it has in the [Japanese] New Interconfessional Version, this first definition says that [he is] "God the source of patience and comfort." It is saying that he is the God who grants us the comfort (the encouragement) we need, and that [he is the God] who grants us perseverance and patience. God grants us what we need in the real world that God desires for us.
8. How does he specifically grant that to us? It is through the scriptures. It is as it says in verse four. "Everything in the past that has been written was so that he might teach and guide us. So, we learn patience and comfort from the scriptures and we can continue to have hope," (verse four). However, even though it says, "we learn patience from the scriptures," it is not in the sense that we simply learn a commandment to "Persevere! Be patient!" So, even though it is about "learning patience," it is not really about "learning comfort." It doesn't mean that, but rather, through the scriptures, we learn patience from Christ. We learn patience from God. We learn from a very patient God. In that sense, "the God of patience and comfort" has the meaning, secondly, of "the very patient God who is full of comfort."
9. As a matter of fact, the God we meet through the scriptures, the God we find in Christ is "a very patient God who is full of comfort," isn't he? God first of all has been very patient with us. God has forgiven us in Christ. God has accepted us in Christ. We are now here in this place as if it were nothing, however, the fact itself that we are assembled in this place is actually a gift from the God of perseverance and comfort. It would not be odd if we had been struck down and destroyed long ago, would it? But God has certainly been "the God of perseverance and comfort" towards us. In this way then, Christ has first accepted us. God has first accepted us.
10. Our studying this God's perseverance and comfort is the source of our patience. Thus, as we receive patience and comfort from God the source of patience and comfort, we live accepting others who are different from us. We live in the direction of becoming one and not in the direction of being apart. "The God of patience and comfort" is indeed the source. We must not forget this. The river that is cut off from its source of water dries up. Whenever our patience is cut off from God, it only turns into a shriveled up patience, a fake patience we showed off out of pride. Not only doesn't the shriveled up and faked patience have the strength to get the victory over the opposition, but it only increases the ill-will and deepens the divide. Let's receive from God the patience and the comfort that is truly filled with strength, that is filled with life, and not with a shriveled up faked patience! Let's seek God! -- Because God is "the God of perseverance and comfort."
The God Of Hope
11. Then, the God in whom we believe is, secondly, "the God of hope." Paul prays to this "God of hope" as follows. "May God the source of hope fill you with every joy and peace that is obtained by faith, and [may he] make you to be overflowing with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit," (verse thirteen). As seen in this prayer, "joy," "peace," and "hope" are indispensable for us to live. The one who gives us them is "the God of hope." The God in whom we believe is this "God of hope."
12. But we must not forget that "the God of perseverance and comfort" is actually the [very same] "God of hope." It is not different gods. The one God is [both] the God of patience and comfort and the God of hope. You can't cut hope off from patience. We also see that because it is already written in verse four: "So, we learn patience and comfort from the scriptures and can continue to have hope." Because we know "the God of patience and comfort" we can know "the God of hope."
13. As I mentioned earlier, God desires that persons who disagree with each other live together. He desires that persons who disagree with each other become worshippers with joined hearts and united voices. As far as the best example of people in disagreement with each other in Paul's time, it is "the Jews" and "the Gentiles." The first church only had Jews. But, within God's vision from the very beginning existed Gentiles too, in addition to Jews. God desired that both peoples worshipped together with one heart. Paul quotes the following words from the Old Testament scriptures. "O Gentiles, rejoice with the people of the Lord!," (verse ten). "O each and every Gentile, praise the Lord! Let all peoples give praise to the Lord!," (verse eleven). The figure that these words from the Old Testament describe is that of the whole world worshipping the Lord with joined hearts and united voices. You could say that Christ actually came for that purpose. The scripture says, "It was for the purpose of giving proof of the promises to the ancestors, and for the purpose of getting the Gentiles to praise God for his compassion," (verses eight and nine).
14. But at the same time, as we look around at the real world around us, there is a world exactly opposite to that. There is a world out there that is torn to shreds because of human sin. There is a world where [people] hurt each other, hate each other, and kill each other. It is often difficult even for the family, which must be the smallest unit, to live together with joy. A child is torn apart from a parent, the relationship of husband and wife is also torn apart. That is the figure of this world.
15. But, we should never lose hope again. We should never give up, run away, or throw away again. -- Because this world is the world for which the blood of Christ was shed. -- Because it is the world for which God has even shed the blood of his own son, and he is ready to forgive, accept, and patiently carry [its] burden. Thus, he will also forgive us, accept [us], and patiently carry our burdens [for us]. Therefore, as it is already within God's vision, we should wait with expectant hope for that time when we will be one and worship with joined hearts and united voices, both in [our] close relationships with others, and also in the whole world. We should live rejoicing with hope because "the God of perseverance and comfort" is also "the God of hope."
16. Our overcoming the small confrontations near to us and our accepting of one another may, in a certain sense, be a tiny thing in a corner of the world. However, our living with "the God of perseverance and comfort" in that small bit of reality also points to "the God of hope" in this world. The church's worshipping with joined hearts and united voices as it prays to "the God of perseverance and comfort" also points to "the God of hope" in this world. Let us receive from "the God of perseverance and comfort" the perseverance and comfort that is filled with life, that is truly filled with strength from God! Shall we not first of all know "the God of hope" and become [persons] who point "the God of hope" to this world!?