God’s Priorities for His Churches (3)
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1.7
Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. Romans 3.4
“Being alert to all aspects of the difference between true and false teaching, and of behavior that expresses the truth as distinct from obscuring it, is vital to the church’s health.” J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy
Christianity changes everything
I have in my library two volumes of letters from the time of the apostles. Not letters by the apostles or even by Christians, but just samples of ordinary communications – business, personal, and otherwise – that transpired between citizens of the Empire.
There’s nothing remarkable about the letters; in fact, they’re all rather mundane. Interesting, in that they shed light on life in the Roman world, but nothing earth-shaking.
Like letters today, these letters all share a common format: an introduction and greeting, the body of the letter (containing its substance), and closing plans or salutations. The most interesting part of these letters for me is the greeting, which invariably is something along the lines of “Greetings and good health.” Like we today say “Dear…” in opening our letters, even though we may not even know the person we’re addressing, so correspondents in the Roman world followed their names and those of their addressees with the boilerplate, “Greetings and good health.”
Until, that is, the apostles began writing letters. In their epistles, even in the way they greeted their addressees, we see the transforming power of the Gospel. “Greetings and good health” does not get at what Paul, Peter, John, and the others wanted for the churches they addressed. “Grace and peace” did – grace and peace that can only be known under the umbrella of God’s truth. What the apostles sought for the churches entrusted to their care was not that they should do whatever they could to get their numbers up, but that they should submit to the truth of God, Who cannot lie, and within that framework, know the grace and peace of the Lord in all their ways.
Grace, peace, and truth: These, indeed, are “vital to the church’s health.”
For the apostles, the truth churches need for health and maturity is the truth that is in Jesus. That truth is revealed in the Scriptures, which is why all the apostles drew from the Old Testament, either by quoting or alluding to it, and why they insisted their writings should be regarded as on equal footing with the rest of Scripture (cf. 2 Pet. 3.1, 2; 14-16; 1 Jn. 4.6). Churches and believers can flourish only to the extent that they are grounded in the truth, that the truth dwells in them richly, and that they do not go beyond the revealed truth of God in any of their ways.
The world, the apostles explained, has chosen the way of the lie; and the only antidote to being deceived, misled, or deprived of the blessings of God is to cling to the truth and resist everything that suggests other ways of being pleasing to God.
Unless we are a people of the truth – the whole truth and nothing but the truth – we shall not be able to know the grace and peace which are our birthright as followers of Jesus Christ.
The grace of God comes only by His truth, and only by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the truth (Jn. 14.6). God intends to flow His grace upon us in wave after wave, with transforming power and effects. Grace brings growth in Christlikeness, abounding even in the midst of sin, and issuing in virtues and gifts that create new people and new communities in the world. Where the grace of the Lord abounds, evidence of its presence is visible, and can be observed and experienced.
The grace that comes from the truth that is in Jesus is varied and powerful. When we understand the rich tapestry of grace with which the Lord intends to robe His Church, we can seek and nurture that grace, so that what the apostles desired for the churches they served can be our possession as well. That grace provides a hope nothing can extinguish, and that piques even the most hardened unbelievers to ask a reason for what they see in our lives.
No wonder the apostles sought the grace of God to abound within and from the churches to whom they wrote.
Peace is the condition that obtains where truth is received and grace abounds. Peace is far-ranging and transforming. The presence of peace – in the soul, among brothers and sisters in the Lord, and toward the people of our community – reifies the Kingdom of the Prince of peace, and shows the world an alternative to its troubled, fretting, uncertain ways.
Even in the midst of great trouble and harassment, the peace of the Lord can dispel our fears, soothe our souls, and bond us to one another in the Spirit. We have to work hard to realize and maintain this peace, but its pervasive presence in our souls and churches speaks to the watching world of a Kingdom and Prince of peace this world cannot understand but eagerly desires.
Peace issues from grace, which is grounded in truth. Where these three obtain – grace, peace, and truth – there a church and its members are realizing the hopes of the apostles and the Lord for all who follow Jesus.
Seek these – grace, peace, and truth – in all their fullness, and you and your church will grow and increase in significant and lasting ways.
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Prayer for Revival
“If every man is a liar and God alone is true, what else ought we servants and bishops of God to do except to reject human errors and lies and to remain in the truth of God, obeying the precepts of the Lord?”
- Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 67.8 (Ancient Christian Commentary Series, InterVarsity Press)
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.