By Pastor Glenn Pease
Bob Harrington tells of how he was standing on the street preaching when an angry bartender took a mug of beer and poured it on his head. He said to the bartender, "Come here." When he came over he said to him, "I want to thank you for that." The bartender said, "You want to thank me for that?" "Yes," said Harrington, "I want to thank you for that because it makes me realize I am saved. If I didn't have the Lord in my heart I would have stomped you through that blacktop." The bartender responded, "I'm glad you are saved too preacher."
The real test of your Christian character is how you react to negatives. If you meet negatives with negatives, your life has not risen above the level of the world. To get angry at one who is angry at you is the path of least resistance, and is a path the weakest can travel. It takes spiritual strength to be kind to one who is angry, and to be patient in a time of affliction. Anyone can say praise the Lord and hallelujah when all their dreams are coming true, and they don't have an enemy in the world. Unfortunately, that state of life doesn't last long, if it ever comes. Therefore, the real test of Christian optimism is seeing in how a believer reacts when the road gets rough.
This letter to the Galatians gives us a beautiful opportunity to see how a great optimist like Paul reacts to negatives. His labor is being undone, and all his fruit is threatened. Everything seems to be going against him, and he is under heavy attack from the Judaizers. There is no question about the fact that he is deeply disappointed at the turn of events in the Galatians church. He is clearly aggravated and angry. Now is the time to look at Paul's attitudes to see the foundation for his optimism. It was easy to be optimistic in his letter to the Philippians. He could overflow with rejoicing, for they were doing wonderful in their growth in grace. The Galatians church is a different story, and it is here that we should look for the clues as to how to be an optimist in negative circumstances.
In verse 5 Paul ends his introduction with a doxology. He reaches a high note of positive optimism before he plunges into the negative task of rebuke and defense. This doxology is the point from which Paul launches his attack, for it is the basis for his incurable optimism. He has to fight a battle on the level of this present evil world, but as he just stated, in Christ we are delivered from this present evil world. In any battle the forces that control the high points have the advantage. Paul makes it clear in his introduction to this battle that he is about to enter that he does so from the high point of advantage. The very Gospel he is defending is a Gospel of deliverance from the world. He will not be fighting on the level of those who attack him with their narrow, limited, and pessimistic views, but on a level far above that, which is made possible by Christ who enables us to rise above the world.
This deliverance from the low level of the world, which is bound by sin, to the heights of freedom in Christ is, says Paul, according to the will of our God and Father. Just knowing it is God's will that the Gospel of deliverance is a reality assures Paul that he cannot lose in his fight for its defense. He ends with the doxology in which we see three attitudes expressed which become the foundation of an incurable and unchangeable optimism. First is-
I. THE ATTITUDE OF PRAISE.
"To whom be glory forever and ever." The glory is for both the Father who willed it, and the Son who won it. What has been accomplished by Christ is a fact that can never be altered, and whatever evil perversions enter the world, nothing can change the fact that the Gospel of deliverance is a reality. Knowing this, Paul gives this victory shout of praise, even before he begins the fight. You cannot defeat a man who knows he cannot lose, and the man who knows that is a perpetual man of praise. As long as a believer maintains a proper perspective on what God's will has already accomplished he cannot help but have an attitude of praise.
Glory has many meanings in Scripture, but here it is synonymous with praise. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, means praise be to the three Persons of the Godhead. Glory often refers to the dazzling splendor of His nature also, but that never changes. Paul is not referring to unchangeable glory of God, but to that glory or praise that God receives from men because of their deliverance from the present evil world. This is a glory that can vary in quantity, quality, and intensity. Paul uses this phrase so frequently it is as if it was his constant prayer that believers enter more often into the realm of praise. If the Galatians would have constantly praised God for their deliverance in Christ, they would not be tempted to rely on the law for their deliverance. A breakdown in praise can lead us into all kinds of foolish things, but an attitude of praise keeps us ever dependant upon God, and every in a state of optimism.
In Rom. 11:36 Paul ends that chapter with these words: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen." He ends the letter to Romans in 16:27 with, "To the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen." We cannot look at all the praises which Paul offers to God, but just a few of them show why Paul was an optimist no matter what. Every time he thought of the completed redemption he had in Christ, that no circumstance on earth could ever change, he broke forth into a doxology of praise. When he wrote to Timothy about how God chose him as the chief of sinners to be an example of His grace to others who would believe and receive eternal life in Christ, he could not hold back the praise, and he concluded in I Tim. 1:17, "To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
When he thought of his own deliverance from the present evil world he praised God. In the second letter to Timothy he faced so many negative circumstances. He faced death in prison, and he knew the time of his departure had come. Demas had forsaken him, and others had departed also. He was almost totally alone, and no one was there to defend him. He had left his books and parchments behind at Troas and apparently had nothing to study. If ever a man had reason to be down in the dumps and pessimistic it was Paul in those circumstances. Everything seemed to be against him, but how does he end the paragraph? Listen to II Tim. 4:18, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for His heavenly kingdom, to Him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen."
We note that Paul was not a Pollyanna optimist-one who says all is well, and everyday in every way its getting better and better. Paul could face honestly the facts of life, and admit that everything was rotten and all wrong. Sometimes the circumstances of life were almost totally negative, but still he was an optimist because he had an attitude of praise. He could praise God, not for the circumstances, but for the fact that circumstances cannot alter the fact of what was accomplished in Christ for our salvation, and for the fact that no matter what we endure in this life, we will enter into the fullness of our salvation in the heavenly kingdom. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and that is what we see Paul doing in every aspect of his life. He would have enjoyed singing-
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above;
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.
That phrase, "Praise Thee without ceasing," is so characteristic of Paul that it leads us to a consideration of the second attitude that he expresses that is a key to his optimism.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF PERMANENCE.
Forever and ever are the recurring words in Paul's praise. Paul's concept of praise to God is never temporary. It is never based on what may be today, but gone tomorrow. Christian optimism must be based on permanence. This is what we mean by living with eternity's values in view. You can remove some parts of objects and still have the object. You can remove the arm of a chair and still have a chair; you can take the cover off a book and still have a book; you can take a bumper off a car and still have a car. There are some qualities of an object you cannot remove, however, and still have it. If you take away the length of a book you have eliminated the whole book. If you take away one side of a triangle you do not still have part of a triangle-you have a non-triangle. It just isn't a triangle anymore. All sides of a triangle are essential to its existence.
The point of all this is to make it clear that the Christian faith ceases to exist once you remove permanence. Permanence is as essential as Paul's optimism as is any side of the triangle. Remove permanence and all is gone. Forever and forever is what makes Christian optimism relevant in the present evil world. Paul said in I Cor. 15 that if Christ had not conquered death, and if our faith in Him is for this life only and not forever, then our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins. In other words, if there is no forever and no permanence, then we are not delivered from this present evil world. Without an eternal perspective there is no basis for Christian optimism.
Since our dying race began,
Forever was a leading light of man.
The good, the true, the pure, the just,
Take the charm "For ever" from them,
And they crumble into dust.
As Christians we need to challenge the world with this attitude of permanence. It is the basis for our hope, but it is also a necessity for men to be logical. If there is no forever in man's concept of the future and his destiny, then he is forced into some very pessimistic conclusions. If time is all we have, then there are turtles and trees who have more life than man, and man cannot be considered the highest and most noble creature on earth. He is the most complex, but the great redwoods of California lived for centuries longer than man, if he has no forever. That means they have achieved a life span far superior to man.
Even greater yet are inanimate objects. They never need to die at all, and so they come closest to what man hungers for, which is perpetual existence. Louise Untermeyer expressed this paradox in poetry.
"Eternity it thrust upon a bit of earth, a senseless stone,
A grain of dust, a casual clod. Receives the greatest gift of God.
A pebble in the roadway lies-It never dies.
The grass our father cut away Is growing on their graves today.
There is no kind of death to kill the sands that lie so meek and still.
But man is great and strong and wise And so he dies."
Man does not die because he is great and strong and wise, however, but rather because he has fallen. But Jesus has delivered fallen man, and He can reverse his downward destiny and enable man to rise to newness of life, and eternal life, and glorify God forever. If a man denies this hope, he must confess to be less than the sand in his shoes, and the rocks in his driveway. Forever is what enables the Christian, like Paul, to praise God even when the present evil world threatens to crush them. The now can never rob us of the forever, and so we can rejoice and be optimistic under any circumstance.
"To whom be glory forever and ever, Amen." Paul had an attitude of praise, and an attitude of permanence which kept him in a state of perpetual optimism. You note that Paul always ends his doxology with an amen. That final word expresses the third attitude which completes the trinity of attitudes that Paul has as the foundation for his optimism.
III. THE ATTITUDE OF POSITIVENESS.
Amen is a word we use often, but seldom think about as to its meaning. For all practical purposes it simply means the end. We use it as a verbal period to indicate we are done praying. It is the last word. Sometimes it is used to conclude a sermon also. One pastor had a message that went on until it was getting unbearable. At last he paused and said, "What more my friends can I say?" Someone in the back shouted, "Amen!" Amen can be a very positive word even when it is used this way, for it can mean, thank heavens its all over. We will now conclude, is a phrase that cause many of mind to utter amen.
This is not the way Paul is using the word, however. He is just begun his letter, and it is far from over. His prayer was only a couple of words, and so obviously no one could be weary of its length. Paul's amen is an expression of his positive conviction concerning what he has just said. Paul is glad and thrilled that God should be praised forever and ever, and the amen is his commitment to be one who gives God the glory forever and ever. Amen means, so be it, or let it be so, and let me be a part of what I have just prayed. It is a positive affirmation. You only use the word to express a firm commitment. If I said a few scholars have speculated that there is a remote possibility that we will praise God in heaven, no one will shout amen, or even think it. Amen expresses a certain conviction, and not a speculative hunch.
Amen is an expression of positiveness, and not a mere verbal symbol of signing off, like saying goodbye on the telephone. It means, what I have prayed I believe is authentic, and so be it. What you are saying by your amen at the end of a prayer is, I really mean it. When John Knox cried out, "Give me Scotland or I die!" his amen at the end of his prayer meant, "O God, I mean it with all my heart, let it be so." Paul ends his prayer with this amen as a positive attitude of optimism that is assured of an answer. Optimism is not saying that God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world. It is never all right with the world. Optimism is saying that even when all is messed up there is hope for the world, and certainty for eternity. We are Christian optimists, if we, like Paul, can have these three attitudes at all times in this present evil world.