II Corinthians 1:18-22
When Jonathan flew into Winnipeg several weeks ago, I went to pick him up. It was a very cold day and he came from Abbotsford where he didn’t need a winter jacket. My assignment was to go and pick him up and bring his winter jacket. Well, I remembered to pick him up, but I forgot his winter jacket. It was a rather rude welcome to Manitoba for him. I failed him at that point.
We do fail each other from time to time. Sometimes deliberately and sometimes by accident, and as we grow older, we learn that you cannot always count on everyone.
We know, as a theological truth, that God is faithful; but when disaster strikes, when healing doesn’t come, when our loved one doesn’t come to Christ, we often wonder “where is God?” In Psalm 89:49, the psalmist expresses such thoughts, “O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David?”
As we stand at the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often reflect on the year past and make decisions about how we will live the new year. We may ask, “Was God faithful in the past year?” We may also ask, “Will I put my confidence in God in the new year?” The two questions are related, of course because as we recognize the faithfulness of God in the past, we will be encouraged to put our trust in God in the future. So today as we stand at this gate between the old year and the new, let us consider the faithfulness of God.
There is a wonderful passage in II Corinthians 1:18-22 which assures us of the faithfulness of God, demonstrates how we have experienced His faithfulness and calls us to say “amen” to His faithfulness. Let us read the passage.
The topic of the faithfulness of God arises out of a concern which the people of Corinth had. Paul speaks in the previous verses about his travel plans. It seems that he had some plans to come to Corinth and then he changed his mind about exactly how he would be coming and when he would come. Some teachers who opposed Paul took this as an opportunity to cast doubt on the character of Paul and worse yet, to cast doubt on the message of the gospel which Paul had preached to them. Paul defends himself in 1:17 by saying, “When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?” In this context, he goes on to speak about the faithfulness of the message he had preached and the faithfulness of God.
When our children were younger, they would sometimes ask for things and we would answer, “maybe.” That was good news, it meant that the answer wasn’t “no.” But it was also bad news. It also meant that it wasn’t “yes.” So the next step was for them to guess what we meant by “maybe.” One time I remember one of the kids asking, “do you mean ‘maybe-yes’ or ‘maybe-no?’” Although in human relationships, this is often done and sometimes necessary, with God, there is no ‘maybe-yes’ or ‘maybe-no.’ God is faithful and sure and Paul says the message of the gospel is not “yes” and “no,” it is “yes!”
When the Bombers score a touchdown or the kids hockey team scores a goal or we get the letter we have been waiting for or the test results are in our favor, we might be heard to utter an enthusiastic, “Yes!” God is “yes!”
“Yes” depends on the fulfillment of promises. There are some people whom I know I can’t count on. I know that they will show up barely on time or late, I don’t expect them to return my call and so on. Over the years they have promised to show up at a certain time and they have consistently been late. I call and I have to keep calling in order to speak to them. You come to recognize that they are not able to keep the promises they make and you don’t expect it of them. Other people are utterly trustworthy. By always keeping promises, they have earned a reputation of faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness is based on the fulfillment of His promises. We do not only know that God is faithful because it is a theological statement, but because God has demonstrated his faithfulness. The text tells us how the faithfulness of God is demonstrated when it says in verse 20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” We know that God is faithful because He has kept the promises he has made and he has kept them in Jesus. We have just come through the Christmas season and so the understanding of the fulfillment of these promises should be fresh in our minds.
As soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin, because of the evil temptation of Satan, God promised that he would destroy the serpent. In Genesis 3:15, in speaking to the devil, God says that the offspring of the woman will “crush your head.” That promise of God has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. In the preaching of the gospel and in the death of Jesus on the cross, Satan is now a defeated foe who is powerlessly roaring out his final days until Jesus returns and destroys him completely. After the disciples returned from their preaching tour, in Luke 10:18, we read the words of Jesus, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” God promised and that promise is fulfilled in Jesus.
In II Samuel 7:16, God made a promise to David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” If we examine this promise and the possibility that it would be fulfilled, it is rather amazing that it should actually happen. The royal line of David was severely jeopardized several times because of the sinfulness of the descendents of David who failed to stay on the throne because of their disobedience. Israel as a nation could have been totally wiped out so that there would not be any people of David’s descent left. They spent 70 years in Babylon and could easily have been assimilated into that nation. So when the angel announced to Mary that God would give her child the throne of her father David, it is an amazing thing that this promise was actually fulfilled. God keeps his promises.
A further promise that God made in Isaiah 53 was the coming of one who would bear our sins. We read in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” The promise God made was that one would come who would forgive sins by taking those sins upon himself. When Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room just before his death on the cross, he spoke of his coming death and indicated to them in Matthew 26:28, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” When Jesus died on the cross, this promise was fulfilled.
Another promise is contained in Isaiah 53:10 when it says, “…he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” Although the servant of God who was to come would die, he would not remain dead. In this promise, there is a promise of life and resurrection. This promise has also been fulfilled. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
But what about when God doesn’t answer our questions the way we want? In the context of this passage, Paul is being accused of being fickle. God is implicated, but Paul’s answer deals with this. He has changed his mind for good reason. In the same way, when we do not get what we think we should get, God has a reason. We may not always know or understand that reason, but we must put our confidence in the demonstrated faithfulness of God.
God has fulfilled all the promises he has ever made. Whenever we are tempted to doubt the faithfulness of God because we do not see Him work, we need only examine the promises God has kept to know that He is faithful. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” This is the record of his past faithfulness and the reason why we can continue to trust Him in the future.
But it is even better than that. God‘s faithfulness is also demonstrated to us personally.
God’s faithfulness is seen in that he keeps us. We read in vs. 21, “it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.”
The image of God’s keeping that comes to my mind is that of a child in a parent’s arms. Does a child have to hold on to the parent to make sure that it does not fall? Not at all! The child is kept safe by the parent. The parent holds the child and makes very sure that it is safe. As a child gets older, it may fight against the parent and one can imagine that it can even fight so hard against the parent that it is able to release the caring grip of the parent. But as long as the child rests in its parents arms, it is able to stay safe, not because of its effort, but because of the caring concern of the parent. I think that this is a good illustration of a very difficult Biblical issue which is raised by this statement. The question of eternal security or personal responsibility is a difficult theological issue. I believe, from what I have read in Scripture that the illustration of the parent helps us understand that issue. Can we lose our salvation? Only if we fight against God and struggle against His care so much that we ourselves walk away from him in a deliberate way. Other than that, we are kept in the arms of God, much as a resting child is kept in its parents arms.
God’s faithfulness is seen in this. We are much more secure in our relationship to God than we have sometimes thought. God’s faithfulness has kept us and continues to keep us. In this keeping care, we see the faithfulness of God.
God carries out this promise by giving us his Spirit. The Spirit of God in our hearts is the guarantee of His faithfulness.
First of all it says that “He anointed us.” In the Old Testament, we read in Exodus 30:25 that the tent of meeting was anointed. The purpose of this anointing was to set it apart as belonging to God. We also read about prophets, priests and kings who were anointed for a task. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus being anointed with power and with the Holy Spirit. I John 1:20 indicates that we have an anointing from the Holy One. It seems that the anointing we have is from the Holy Spirit.
The anointing has several meanings. Anointing meant separation. God’s faithfulness is seen in that by giving us the Holy Spirit, we have been set apart to God. The anointing also means commissioning for service. As Christians have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and are empowered to do the work of God.
God’s faithfulness is seen in this anointing. He has indeed set apart those who are his own for special relationship and for service.
Whenever we go to the mail, we receive letters that are sealed. They have been stuck shut and the only person who has a right to open them is the person whose name is on the front of the envelope. When Jonathan was in BC, we received several letters for him. Whenever that happened, we waited to phone him and ask him if we should open it just in case it required action.
Verse 22 says that he has “set his seal of ownership on us.” God’s seal of ownership is on us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. God is living in us and so no one else, Satan included, has any right to us because we belong to God and are protected by the Spirit of God. This is a demonstration of God’s faithfulness to us.
In the early times when land was sold, the owner cut a section of turf and cast it into the cap of the purchaser as a token that it was his--or he tore off the branch of a tree and put it into the new owner's hand to show that he was entitled to all the products of the soil. And when the purchaser of a house received possession, the key of the door or a bundle of thatch from the roof signified that the building was yielded up to him. The God of all grace has given to his people all the perfections of heaven to be their heritage forever, and the down-payment of his Spirit is to them the blessed token that all things are theirs. The present looks to the future. What we now possess assures greater possessions in the future.
“To be continued” is a promise of more to come. Our life ends with the words “to be continued” because the Spirit is the deposit of what is to come.
God’s faithfulness to us in the gospel message is demonstrated in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in establishing, anointing, sealing and being a deposit.
And so as we end this year and look at the word of God, we see that God has been faithful. He has demonstrated his faithfulness in that he keeps his promises and in that he has given us His Spirit to help us understand that he will not leave us today and that there is more to come.
What is our response to the faithfulness of God? The text says, “And so through Him, the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” God is faithful. He does not say, maybe. He says “yes!” How do we answer to His yes? With a “yes” of our own. How do we say amen to God’s faithfulness?
God is faithful. This is a part of his character and as we consider it, we say amen as we bow down in worship. Earlier we read Psalm 89 and I chose it specifically because it praises God for His faithfulness.
One of the best ways we can say amen to the faithfulness of God is to give thanks to Him. There are two times of the year when we particularly should say thank-you. Giving thanks is always right and we should live with a thanksgiving attitude, but we should say thank-you, especially on the day we celebrate thanksgiving and today as we come to the end of a year and reflect on the past year. It is good to look back and think about God’s faithfulness in salvation and in His sustaining grace, and also in all the things that have happened in the year. This evening, we want to gather to say “amen” by sharing our experience of God’s faithfulness in the past year. I invite you to prepare yourself because it is good to say “amen” to God’s faithfulness by expressions of gratitude.
A third way we can say “amen” to God’s faithfulness is to make a decision that we will trust Him in the new year. I once had a teacher who was very interested in helping me. He offered that any time I had problems, I should just come to him and we could talk about it. I told him that I would, but I never went to him. I did not feel comfortable going to him for some reason or other. I did not have the courage to tell him that I would not go to him, but I demonstrated my lack of confidence in him by not going to him. We may loudly proclaim that we believe that God is a faithful God, but if we do not obey him or trust Him, we demonstrate by our actions that we really do not believe that He is faithful. Our “amen” to God will be most powerfully demonstrated when we put our trust in Him in all the details of our life.
Will we trust Him to recreate us into the image of Jesus? Will we trust Him and go to Him even if we have a flood again? Will we trust Him with our physical health even if we get sick? Will we trust Him enough to desire to know and do what He wants of us as a church?
God is faithful and we are called to respond with a firm “amen.” “God’s ‘Yes’ in Christ is the firm foundation for the ‘Amen’ of the community.”
A college man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph: "My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed "Diane," and it contained a P.S.: "If we ever break up, I want this picture back."
We are used to such fickleness in our world, but we do not see such fickleness in God. He is faithful. He is “yes!”
As we conclude the year, we must give thanks for the “yes” of God and worship Him.
As we begin a new year, we are challenged and encouraged to rest fully on the faithfulness of God. What we have experienced in the past and what we know to be true from Scripture assures us of His faithfulness. Will you, will I rest fully on the faithfulness of God in the new year?