What we are given …
“ … for it is the God who said, ‘let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
St Paul declares that the supreme gift God gives to all who seek it is the enlightenment that is to be found in the face of Jesus Christ. Like all gifts this gift is designed to be received, valued and treasured but unlike most other gifts it is also given to be handed on to others.
Christianity is really quite simple. There is a gift, Jesus Christ and we are called to receive Him. In receiving Him we shall know Him and thereby taste of the glory of God. God the Father offers this gift of his Son to each and all every day. Some accept and are born anew as children of God; some do not and continue to walk in darkness. Some, having received the gift, neglect the treasure and almost imperceptibly wander away toward the shadows. Their condition is parlous, dangerous. Let us not then be numbered amongst those whose love for God grows cold!
St Paul continues:
“but we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.”
In our Christian lives we must always remember that we are clay being transformed into gold, but that much of the clay remains no matter what level of virtue and holiness we attain. In our fallen state we are often tempted to think that true goodness in ourselves is our own doing. Those who have the grace to know how deep the roots of sin go in the human soul acknowledge that this goodness grows through the power and grace of God alone and not from within ourselves. It lies with us the power to choose to cooperate with God’s grace and grow in virtue and holiness or to lay aside that challenge and opt for the corrupting mediocrity that leads to perdition and death.
St Paul again:
“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us but life in you.”
St Paul goes on to describe in terms of his own apostolic experience what it is to be resilient by God’s grace in the face of suffering and adversity. The way of the cross means that the resurrection power of Christ is available to all who seek to do great works for God and bear the brunt of persecution, affliction and bitterness. In the sacred Person of Christ these sufferings are utterly transformed so that even great joy befalls those who embrace the cross. We may recall that in ancient Rome in the arena, when Christians were awaiting their death at the claws and teeth of the beasts, the crowds were astonished to see such happiness in our Christian brethren who resorted to joyful hymns of thanksgiving to God even in the midst of their terrible sufferings. This perhaps more than anything else drew the contemptuous and hateful mob to Christ. It is the same today and will be until Christ comes again. St Paul reflects that the sacrifices that he makes for the sake of the gospel actually lead to resurrection in the lives of others to whom he ministers. Again the same principle is at work in anything that we do for Christ. We embrace the cross and others, including ourselves, are raised to newness of life.
St Paul concludes:
“since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we to believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
There is a positive virtuous circle of grace here that we are called to make our own. St Paul’s apostolic work was to lift people up into the presence of God, to know His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. When this happens, anytime, anywhere, the more rapidly the contagion of love spreads, bringing more and more people into the Kingdom: a great crescendo of thanksgiving and glory as the world is made new.
Now we know of course that the world is mired in death corruption and decay, however beautiful it is for a time. The creative power of God’s Resurrection life can only come to this world through the witness of those friends of God who are prepared to follow Christ in the way of the cross and generate through the sacrifice of their lives a powerful and glorious renewal in both humanity and creation itself. St Paul’s apostolic experience is one that he shares with us if we are prepared to follow his example. We are not only saved for mission but we are saved in and by mission. We are born again as others find new birth. We find indestructible joy in the renewal of the whole of creation in Christ. Even, so come Lord Jesus!