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By Rev Charles Seet

 

Preached at Life BPC Watchnight Service, 2015-12-31

 

Text: 2 Corinthians 13:14

 

 

 

Another year is coming to an end. Looking back, we can see that 2015 has been quite an eventful year – It has witnessed the death of our founding Prime Minister, the SEA Games, the SG50 celebrations, the General elections and a hepatitis outbreak. Then came the worst haze on record, global terrorist attacks, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the Climate agreement that was reached in Paris.

And now looking forward, we wonder what kind of year 2016 will be. We wish one another a blessed New Year and hope that it will be a better year for everyone. But uncertainties abound, as we hear indications of an impending recession, increasing retrenchments, and probably more terrorist attacks. Will we be affected by these things? How will we be affected? Only God knows the answers to all these questions. What assurance then can we receive as we face an uncertain future?

Biblical history shows that God always knows the needs of His people. He gives them strong words of assurance to strengthen them. One way He does this is through the benedictions He gave to them. Benedictions are God’s word of blessing upon His people pronounced at the end of worship. In the times of the OT, the high priest of Israel was required to pronounce the benediction which God prescribed in Numbers 6:24-26 to bless the Israelites at the end of the morning sacrifice. “The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:  The LORD make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” This benediction is still used by the Jews today to end their synagogue worship.

And as we come to the end of the year 2015, it is most appropriate for us to receive a year-end benediction from our Lord. Jesus Himself ended His own ministry on earth with a parting benediction on all His disciples: Luke 24:50-51 – “And He led them out as far as to Bethany, and He lifted up His hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven.”

Following this example, the apostles of Christ concluded the epistles they wrote with a benediction. These NT benedictions came in various forms, and they are used to end worship services in churches today. The one found at the end of Paul’s last epistle to the Corinthians goes like this: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” (2 Corinthians 13:14). This benediction is the richest and the most instructive one in all of Paul’s epistles. It is the only one that mentions all three persons of the Godhead – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Paul employed this unique benediction only for the church at Corinth. Why did he do this for them? Perhaps it had something to do with the unique history of his dealings with them. Throughout this year we have been studying 1 & 2 Corinthians in our morning worship services. We have seen that this church had many problems, including divisions, immoral behaviour, and improper worship.

Paul had witnessed how God had worked in their midst. They had been wondrously saved out of an utterly immoral environment and sinful lifestyle. But there was still a lot more to be done. In the last three chapters of 2 Corinthians he pleads with them earnestly not to be deceived by false teachers. He had to defend his apostleship against them vigorously. He had to warn the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether they were truly in the faith or not. All these combine to make this epistle the most severe and emotional one ever written by Paul.

But what he wrote at the end reveals how confident he was that the Corinthians would finally respond well. The grounds for his confidence however, was not found in the Corinthians, but in the Triune God Himself. People often think that the doctrine of the Trinity is much too theological to be of any practical use. All Christians know that the most foundational truth in the Bible is that there is only one God – the living and true God. But within that one God there are three distinct persons –the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And yet these three persons are not three Gods, but one. This is a great mystery that our finite minds simply cannot comprehend. How can the Father, the Son and the Spirit be God at the same time, and yet they are only one living and true God? It goes against all human logic. And so because of this, they think that the Trinity is too abstract or metaphysical to have any practical relevance to us. It belongs only to the theology classroom.

But this is a very false perception of the doctrine of the Trinity. It actually has much relevance to us in everyday life. There are actually many useful applications of knowing God as the Holy Trinity – it keeps us humble, it gives us a model for marriage, family life and church life, it deepens our worship and strengthens our prayer life, and it also provides the firmest basis for confidence and hope. The benediction that Paul wrote at the end of 2 Corinthians shows that he found the greatest confidence and hope in the Trinity. And because he loved the Corinthians so much, Paul wanted them to know through this benediction, that this was also their greatest source of all comfort, hope and assurance.Tonight I would like us to consider three things in the blessing of this benediction that can give us great confidence and hope. The first is:

1. The Excellent Source of the Blessing

Every Sunday we sing just after collecting the offering, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” And we end our doxology with “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Hence we acknowledge that the Triune God is the source of all blessings. Let us understand why there can be no greater source of blessing than this.

Firstly, the Trinity reveals God’s perfect harmony in all His works. In everything that God does, we see the three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – working together in perfect harmony. In Creation: the Father is the Author of creation (Genesis 1:1), the Son is the Word by whom all things were created (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16,17), and the Spirit is the Life-giver moving upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4). Each part of creation was a sovereign act of each person of the Trinity, and none of it would have been made without the work of each person.

The perfect harmony of the Trinity is also seen most clearly in the work of Salvation: It begins with God the Father choosing us to be saved before the world was made (Ephesians 1:5). In the fullness of time God the Son became a man to die on the Cross bearing the punishment for our sin (Galatians 4:4,5). Then, at some point in our life, God the Holy Spirit brings us to salvation by calling us to faith in Christ and by regenerating our hearts (John 3:5; Titus 3:5). Without the part played by any person in the Godhead, none of us would ever be saved!

The perfect harmony of the Trinity can also be seen Prayer: The Father receives and answers our prayers (Matthew 6:6-9). The Son intercedes for us as our Advocate before the Father – that’s why we always pray in the name of Jesus (1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34). And the Holy Spirit helps us to pray with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26).

And now here in the Benediction which Paul wrote to the Corinthians we see the three persons of the Trinity working together just as perfectly in blessing us, since it pleads for, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost,  [to] be with [us] all.” The same three persons in the Godhead who work together so well in creation, in salvation and in prayer, are also working in perfect harmony to bless us! What a great assurance and joy this ought to give us.

Besides revealing God’s perfect harmony, the Holy Trinity also reveals God’s perfect unity in all His works. The unity shared by the Father, the Son and the Spirit is indivisible. They are one in essence and can never be put asunder. There is also no conflict, or difference of opinion, or disunity within the Godhead. This perfect unity which characterises the Trinity becomes a powerful example for us to follow.

We are all one body in Christ and we must preserve the spiritual unity that we share in Christ. This means that if you have any outstanding grievance against a fellow brother or sister in Christ, you need to get it resolved quickly so that it will not disrupt the unity of the church. This is what our Lord Jesus prayed for in John 17:11,21 – “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as we are… That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.”

The Corinthians especially needed to build such unity among themselves because of the problems of divisions in their church, as described at the beginning of the first epistle: Every one of them was saying, “I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:12) How could they ever proclaim the unity and harmony of the Trinity to the world effectively, when there was so much strife and division among themselves?

However, by invoking all three persons in the Trinity in his benediction to them, Paul was not merely encouraging the Corinthians to work together in unity and in harmony. He was also assuring them with the strongest possible assurance that they will have success in doing this. Why? Because it is the Triune God Himself who will work in them and enable them to accomplish His will, if they keep trusting in Him. This should also be our source of comfort – whenever we feel downhearted or frustrated by our own inability and weaknesses to resolve our difficulties and problems, we must remember that nothing is impossible with God.

In Genesis chapter 12 God promised to bless Abraham and make him a blessing, and Abraham believed God even though his own circumstances would indicate completely otherwise. Today we are the ones who joyfully reap the blessings that God gave through Abraham. Thus, we must believe in God’s promise to bless us as given in the benediction. Let us therefore proceed to consider…

2. The Effective Substance of the Blessing

In this unique benediction there is a trinity of blessings – grace, love and communion. And just like the Trinity of God, these three are actually one great blessing. They flow together in one mighty stream from the same source. They are like a full spectrum of colours which come from one ray of light. The first component of the blessing is…

Grace – and not just any kind of grace, but the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ! This indicates God’s favour on Jesus. As God’s only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus always enjoyed God’s favour. This is stated in Luke 2:52 – “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” This increased favour is seen when Jesus was baptised and God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) It is seen again when Jesus was transfigured before His disciples and God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” (Matthew 17:5)

The Good news for us is that by being in Christ, we too can enjoy this special favour of God. God will be as favourable and gracious to us as He is to Christ – all because we are in Christ. How can this help us to face all the uncertainties of the future? Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we have privileged access to God at any time. It assures us that God will hear us when we pray, and that He will respond to us favourably. What a wonderful privilege it is to have the grace that Christ enjoys. Now, that’s not all that we can have. The grace of the Lord Jesus which we receive in God’s blessing grows into…

Love – and this is not just any kind of love, but the fatherly affection that God lavishes upon His children. Through faith in Christ we have become God’s adopted children. 1 John 3:1 tells us – “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” Now we have every right to call Him, ‘Abba, Father!’ As our loving heavenly Father, God blesses us, keeps us, guides us, and He even chastises us whenever we are unruly. How can this help us to face the uncertainties of the future? It assures us that no matter what happens to us, our welfare is securely in God’s hands. He will take good care of us because He loves us. How blessed it is to be a child of God! That’s not all that we can have. In God’s blessing, the love which we receive from the Father grows into…

Communion – and this is not just any communion but the sweet intimate fellowship that we can enjoy with God through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us. This is the best part of the entire blessing! It is through the Spirit’s presence in us that each of us can know God personally, and experience His love, joy and peace deep within our hearts. The Bible teaches us that the Holy Spirit is just like a down payment of all that we shall have in heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 – “the earnest of the Spirit”). This includes the glorious eternal fellowship we shall have with God up there. What a sheer delight it is to be able to enjoy a foretaste of such sweet fellowship with God now!

Hence we have seen how this three-fold benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 imparts a blessing that progresses from the enjoyment of grace or favour to love, and from love to fellowship with God. There is really no greater bliss for our soul than this! This is the happiness we all should be seeking for, rather than the momentary pleasures this world offers. To enjoy fellowship with God is so much more meaningful than partying for hours at Marina Bay or Siloso Beach or at any of the 23 other countdown parties that are going on tonight.

In a short while, we will be having the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is also called Holy Communion because it provides an opportunity for us to enter into personal communion with God. As you feast at the Lord’s Table take time to listen to Him speaking to your heart through His indwelling Spirit, so that you may be strengthened to keep on living for Him and serving Him. Focus your thoughts on God, until your soul is able to testify, “in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

And through such communion of the Spirit, you are also being changed from glory to glory. You can look forward to the day when you will be fully conformed to the image of God. You may remember that our church theme for this year is “Being Sanctified for Service.” Have you experienced this sanctification? How much have you been sanctified this year? I hope you have grown much spiritually.

But perhaps you feel that you have not grown as much as you should. Perhaps there are certain sins in your life that you are still struggling with. Perhaps you fear that God may leave you out of His blessing because of those sins. If that is your present state, please take comfort from the last four words of the benediction: “…be with you all.” This shows that all believers without exception are included in this blessing regardless of their state of sanctification. It brings us to consider…

3. The Extensive Scope of the Blessing

This benediction was meant not only for the good and obedient Christians in Corinth, but for all Christians in Corinth, many of whom were still in dire need of correction for their sins. This can be seen in the strong warning Paul gave them just a few verses earlier – “…I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare… Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.” (vv.2,10)

Then soon after giving this warning to the Corinthians, Paul utters the blessing of God’s grace, love and communion for all of them. There is a comforting lesson for us here: Although we may be weak and imperfect Christians, the Triune God still welcomes us if we seek His help to change our sinful ways. His blessing is meant for everyone who has trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. He is ever ready to forgive us and bless us no matter how broken or sinful we may be.

Tonight, the Lord wants you who are weary with failures and burdens to come and receive His blessing. He says to you, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Will you come to Jesus to receive His blessing tonight?

But perhaps many of us here may think, “I have done quite well this year, and I do not really need God’s blessing (though it would be nice to have it). I have been attending church regularly. I am enjoying a happy, peaceful life and everything seems to be going well for me.” Please listen to the words of our Lord in Revelation 3:17-18 – “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Will you come to Jesus to receive His blessing tonight?

Please be convinced that whatever state your spiritual life may be in right now – whether it is good or not so good, cold, warm or lukewarm – you still need the Lord’s blessing. Then you will be most grateful for the extensive scope of this blessing. It is meant for all who belong to Christ. And through it you will have all that you need to respond well to God’s Word with obedience.

Now let us find out what effect this blessing had on the Corinthians. Paul had warned them very strongly to change from their sinful ways. Did they respond well to his warning? Yes, they did. Earlier on in 2 Corinthians 10:15-16 he had written, “…but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you…” Here Paul expressed his desire to move on to preach in the regions beyond Corinth, but only when their faith had increased. This means that he wanted to have all the problems in Corinth resolved first before moving on to other areas.

Well, after writing this epistle, Paul made his final visit to Corinth (Acts 20:2,3). And while he was with them he wrote his epistle to the Romans. And in that epistle he revealed his plans to bring the Gospel westwards to Rome and Spain (Romans 15:23,24). This indicates that the problems of the church at Corinth had been resolved. Besides that, the Corinthians had also obeyed Paul’s instructions about the collection of offerings for the needy saints in Jerusalem (8:1-15; Romans 15:26). They had apparently grown in their faith and had changed their sinful ways. There is no record that Paul ever faced any more problems from the Corinthians after this.

About eighty years later (in AD 135), a historian named Hegesippus visited Corinth. He reported that the Corinthians were a faithful, thriving church, known for their obedience and generous giving to help others. What a wonderful testimony this is to the power of God to bless His people there with the grace, love and communion they needed to overcome all their problems! God’s blessing on them through the benediction had borne much fruit indeed.

And so, the next time you hear the benediction pronounced at the end of a worship service, please do not regard it merely as a word of dismissal. Receive it just like a child receiving a birthday present from his father, or like a bride hearing the bridegroom’s vow of love to her on their wedding day. Listen carefully to the words of blessing being uttered, and express your wholehearted agreement to it by singing the three-fold Amen at the end. Pray silently from your heart that the Triune God will surely grant His glorious blessings not only to you but to every believer who is present.

However, it must be emphasised here that this applies only to believers. Unbelievers who may be present at the worship service when the benediction is pronounced will receive no blessing from it. They have no part in it because they do not have Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Only Jesus can unlock the door to all these blessings of God. This may well be the reason for the unusual order where Jesus is mentioned first before the other two Persons in the Godhead. The usual order of Persons is given in Matthew 28:19 – “…the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” But the benediction reads, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.” This follows what Jesus Himself said in John 14:6 – “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.”

If you are not a believer yet, the only way you can experience God’s blessing in your life is by turning to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. You must acknowledge that you are a sinner and that Jesus Christ alone can save you from sin and eternal death. And you must trust only and entirely in Christ alone. Before the New Year begins, please ensure that you make Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour so that you may begin to experience the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Ghost.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25