When the Rev. Dan Claire returned home from the 2017 Intersection Conference, he continued to work out the actionable implications of the conversation. Here, he reflects on how a reorientation to biblical telos can equip believers with endurance.
Paul begins with what is most important when he says:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2:1)
Paul’s starting point is Jesus–not himself or Timothy, not you or me. Jesus is the foundation for Christian endurance, and that’s very good news. If you’re like me, as soon as you get that admission letter from your dream school, there’s a lot of anxiety mixed in with all the celebrations. I wouldn’t get to the end of the letter before starting to wonder whether I have what it takes to graduate. Am I smart enough for this program? Will I make it through? Thankfully Christian endurance is different. When you become a Christian, there is 100% certainty that you do have what it takes to go the distance because Jesus himself is the basis for Christian endurance. You certainly couldn’t do it without him. But you certainly can do it with him, and that’s very good news.
What do you think Paul means by grace when he says to be “strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus?” He’s referring back to his opening chapter, when he summarized the grace of the Gospel this way:
…share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (1:8-10).
In these verses, Paul is talking about the Gospel, but let’s make sure that we understand what Paul means by the word, “Gospel.” In v10, when Paul speaks of the “appearing” of Jesus, he uses the Greek word epiphany, which we typically associate with the birth of Jesus. But in this case Paul’s talking about Easter rather than Christmas. Easter was when Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to hundreds and hundreds of people. By his appearing Jesus demonstrated the truth of his entire message, the Gospel of his kingdom. Jesus had been saying all along, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” and even though he had a lot of followers, he didn’t have many believers because it still wasn’t clear whether Jesus would succeed. In all his teaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus was promising the moon. Would he be able to deliver on such grandiose promises? Especially on Good Friday, when Jesus was brutally tortured and crucified, it looked as if he had failed. But on Easter Jesus appeared as the triumphant king, alive and healthy again, and there was no longer any question about the Gospel Jesus had promised. Like Paul says in 1:10, Jesus’ appearing proved that he indeed had “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” That’s why the foundation for the Christian life is not “our works” (1:9) but Jesus himself. Are you smart enough and strong enough and holy enough to abolish death and redeem everything that is broken in our world? Of course not. But by the purpose and grace (1:9) of our Father, Jesus came to do what we could not do. When Jesus appeared as our triumphant, risen King, there was no longer any doubt about his ability to deliver everything that he had promised.
What then does Paul mean when he says “Be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus” (2:1)? At first it may seem a little contradictory, like Paul is saying, “try harder by grace.” But in fact what he’s doing is re-orienting us to a Gospel vision, the only vision that will hold our attention for a lifetime.
I recently participated in a conference with other Anglican leaders sponsored by the Telos Collective. We gathered to talk about cooperating on the basis of our shared telos, which is the Greek word used in the Bible to describe the end, or goal, or outcome toward which a movement is being directed. We came from all the country to attend this conference, and we represented a diversity of thought and practices, but the idea was that we are united by a common telos, a common vision of the consummated kingdom of God.
When Paul says “be strengthened by the grace that is in Jesus,” he’s re-orienting us to the Bible’s telos, the whole beautiful big picture of Jesus’ kingdom in its fullness, when death is no more and every tear is wiped away. If you follow the trajectory of all of our desires, whether big or small, for achievement and love and pleasure and knowledge and peace and justice, they ultimately point towards the consummated kingdom of God. Becoming a Christian essentially means embracing the hope of this telos. It means saying, “Yes, the Kingdom of God is the treasure I really desire more than anything else. I will follow Jesus regardless of whatever hardship and persecution that may come, because I want to be with him forever in his consummated kingdom.”
Recent generations in the church have lost sight of the telos of the consummated kingdom. The Gospel has been compressed down into something more personal and therapeutic, a Gospel of “accept Jesus into your heart and go to heaven when you die.” For many years now, King Jesus and his coming kingdom haven’t been at the center of the Christian imagination. What has been forgotten is what our world is longing for most of all: the renewal of culture-arts, music, science, architecture, politics, agriculture, economics–all thriving in a world without sin, a world of love and peace under King Jesus. That’s our telos! That’s where we’re heading! So why aren’t Christians talking about it? Why aren’t Christians preaching this gospel to one another all the time? This is the grace in Jesus that Paul says is foundational to Christian endurance. We’re weak without it. What the church desperately needs today is a renewed vision of Jesus and his glorious kingdom.
This blog is an excerpt from the sermon “God-Given Endurance” delivered May 21, 2017.