A Devotion from Pastor Ron
Gathering together each Wednesday for our 50+ Bible Class has been a source of joy, growth in the Lord, and strength for daily living. This is true of all our gatherings as a community of believers in Christ, just as the writer to the Hebrews said it: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together. . .” (Heb. 10:24-25). No doubt, the hearts of all of us are saddened and troubled by the current conditions that have disrupted all of this for us and for so many across the nation and the world. Our prayers for and with one another continue. I thought, therefore, since we were so near the conclusion of our study of 1 Corinthians, that I would share some devotional thoughts with you on the basis of Paul’s final words to them. He wrote: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you in Christ Jesus. Amen.”
It was Paul’s custom to often have a scribe to write his words as he dictated them. As an act of personal sincerity, concluding a rather long letter that included some strong, but quite necessary admonition, he chooses to pen the last words himself. At first look, it might seem a bit strange and even harsh that he should issue a condemnation to “anyone” who “has no love for the Lord.” But his letter should have made it quite clear to them, to us as well, that a community of love is NOT inclusive of anything anyone wants to believe or practice. Who and what we are as a distinctly Christian community must be centered clearly and always around “Christ and him crucified,” the message of the cross whereupon “Christ died for our sins” and through which, as we gather around the table of his very real presence in the Holy Supper of his body and blood, we also love one another. All must be, as he has repeatedly said, “according to the Scriptures,” the unfailing fountain of truth. There must be sure and certain proclamation that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” There can no equivocation in the least about the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit, without whom no one can know the true God as revealed in Jesus Christ, and through whom our bodies are the living temple of the living God. We will rejoice in the washing of Holy Baptism, by which we are sanctified through the Spirit to be “in Christ” and, in the power of that same Spirit, we are gifted in grace to serve the common good. We are bound together in love, not merely the love of warm and pleasant feelings, but the love of decisive acts that imitate Christ, love that acts with “grace” and “peace,” as mature believers. There can be no other Gospel, for living together in Christ is not a way of setting ourselves over one another in a spirit of competition or arrogance, but together, as one body, adoring the Lord and Maker of all. All of this, and more, is summed up with the words, “love for the Lord” and quite necessary for standing “firm in the faith.” (16:13)
“Our Lord, come.” These words he wrote, not in the usual Greek, but in Aramaic – “Maranatha.” It shows that acknowledging Jesus as “Lord” goes to the earliest form of Christianity, in which Aramaic was the standard language. It also reflects the early view, and underlying expectation of this letter, that the Coming of the Lord would be very soon. That is both encouragement for this life and joyful expectation for the imperishable and immortal life that is to come.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” He ends as he began. In verse 3 of chapter one, he blesses them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a common apostolic greeting, in similar form often used prior to our sermons in our Lutheran tradition. The word “grace” expresses the essence of the Gospel as perhaps no other. It means love that is not earned or deserved, love that is freely given, love that sacrifices without counting the cost, love manifested in “Christ and him crucified,” love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things;” love that lasts into eternity. This he does not merely speak or write to them, but, with the words themselves, gives to them and to us.
But there is more! Love has the last word. “My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.” He has addressed their divisions and hostilities. But as he began, giving thanks to God always for them “because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” and reminding them that they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” so he ends by extending his love to them “in Christ Jesus,” that love which is demonstrated so clearly in the outstretched arms of his cross. To that he adds, “Amen,” or, as Luther wrote in his catechism, “This is most certainly true.” Although Paul seemed to have plans to visit them in person again, we do not know if that ever happened. It’s likely that it didn’t. But this stands as his final word to them – “my love be with” – not just those with whom he had no quarrel or those who may not have opposed him – but “all of you,” including those who were at the root of dissension and division. Can we do the same as a community of believers, as husbands and wives, as family members, as friends and co-workers? Can we let love be the final word? “In Christ Jesus,” in the Christ, the Messiah, who is none other than Jesus, yes, definitely yes, we can and we will. Amen. So be it – now and always.
“My love be with all of you.”
Pastor Ron Flentgen