Further Up and Further In
In his book the Last Battle, C.S.Lewis has Jewel the Unicorn exclaiming:“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
Lewis expressed so much of his Christian faith in the writings of Narnia and here he writes of our hope in the world yet to come.
It is amazing how much of the human experience (and the promise of Christianity) is summed up in these few words. It encapsulates both the finite, mortal nature of humanity, and it screams out the promise offered to those to whom Christ will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Christianity stands on an amazing promise:
Our story, short as it is, is not over with death. We will be translated into a new world that has no end. There will be time to truly understand, to experience, to love, to build, to create…and we will do so basking in the light of the One “by whom all things were made” and the One who loves us enough that He suffered and died to ensure that we have the chance to experience mortal life and what lies beyond it.
As I navigate my faith through the stormy waters of the news, particularly the awful plight of so many people seeking sanctuary from war and terror, this future is my hope.
There will be a time when God’s Kingdom will come in all fullness and He will wipe away every tear. There will be no war, no pain, no horror. There will be no perilous journeys to find sanctuary. There will be no debt, no illness, no heartache.
Yet in the mean time, this time between times, we must stand as followers of Jesus. What does that look like? How can I do that? What does Scripture tell me? As an insight to answering these questions I want to start a series that focuses on 3 things – Faith, Love and Hope.
I have called the series Further up and Further in because it sums up the essence of these gifts from God.
Many of you are very aware of Paul. A man who in his early years was firmly committed to eradicating the fledgling faith of the ones who followed Jesus. After a powerful vision of Jesus, his life was transformed and he became a leader for so many Christians and he planted churches.He suffered beatings, persecution and imprisonment as he carried out the task given to him by the Lord yet he continued to preach about Jesus.
In Acts 17 chapter 1 we read:
1 Paul and Silas then travelled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. 3 He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” 4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.
The passage goes on to describe how some of the locals formed a mob to find and attack Paul and Silas and so the believers helped them to leave and they went to Berea.
So Paul preached in Thessalonica for 3 weeks in the local synagogue. Paul was forced to leave after this due to the mob, but wrote to the church, probably from Corinth in about 50-52 AD.
1 Thessalonians 3 tells us that Paul had sent Timothy to the church in Thessalonica to discover if their ‘faith was still strong’ (3:5) and Timothy had returned with encouraging news. In his opening comments to the Thessalonians, Paul commends their faith, love and hope.
Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 1:
2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The NLT translation has it this way: Faithful works, loving deeds, enduring hope.
These three things are Christian Graces. They appear elsewhere in Paul’s writings – the most famous being 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul extols the virtue of love above all else, finishing with
…and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Here in Thessalonica, Paul is applauding them as they are seen in as active, energetic operations.
It is the fruit of each that is the subject of Paul’s gratitude:
- the work produced by faith – when we believe and trust in our maker, we learn to obey and to surrender ourselves and our earthly wants to Him. What if we took that risk and surrendered, yielded to God? How would our lives be transformed? If we surrendered our need to control the outcomes of our lives.
- labour that comes from love – labour is more than work, it is toil. The love mentioned here is agape. God’s love, divine love. Love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
- This is challenging and inspiring. What if our world yielded to this description of love and walked it out everyday? What if our understanding of love as sex or attraction, or object motivated was transformed by this vision of agape? How would our relationships, our experiences, or word be different?
- Endurance that is bred through hope – Hope looks forward not back. It gives us patience for what we cannot yet grasp. We need hope as we need strength for endurance as much as we need strength for action.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. It has strength. We need these three Christian graces in our lives. They are often called Cardinal Virtues. The word Cardinal here means hinge.
Faith without love is wanting – as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, without love we are a clanging gong. It is empty.
Love can overcome if not supported by faith, we spiral into hopelessness when we cannot have faith for those we love.
Hope is just a dream if it is not rooted in faith and love.
Faith and Love are gloomy (as W. F. Adeney describes it) if not cheered on by hope.
Together, Faith Hope & Love achieve more, they develop a Christian character that reflects the person of Jesus.
A man named Professor Harless described it like this:
Faith makes the heart firm,
Love makes it soft,
Hope expands it.
These three helps us to move further up and further in! Yet they are active – beautiful in themselves but not existing solely for themselves. They effect a change and an action in us. We cannot grow them or generate them ourselves, they are Graces – gifts of God, they involve the in working of God in our hearts.
Let us then be receptive to the work God is doing is us and ask for more. As we navigate the difficulties of life let us pray for more faith, more love and more hope.