Words are interesting things – they have always fascinated me. Take the small words which are the title of this post – ‘Be & Is’. Of course they mean very different things – but sometimes they are mistaken for one another.
If I write to you and say – ‘I believe your friend is with you’ that is a statement of belief on my part that your friend is personally in your company. However if I say ‘I believe your friend will be with you’ that statement may be understood to mean either that I hope your friend is with you at this time or that your friend will be with you at some time in the future.
I don’t know how often I have heard the ‘benediction’ in church. Hundreds of times at least. It became so familiar that I suspect I stopped listening to it a long time ago – long before I stopped attending traditional church. Familiarity breeds contempt – so they say – and I think we are all guilty of that from time to time.
The form of the ‘benediction’ in most churches I have attended in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is this –
‘And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all! Amen’.
(2 Corinthians 13:14)
There really is a world of meaning in the benediction when you stop to think about it – and it raises some very interesting issues regarding the members of what we call the Trinity. However, that is not what struck me earlier today. Rather it was the words ‘be with you’. This prayer seems to me like a prayer of hope – a prayer for something in the future, not something which is a reality in the present.
However, as I scanned this verse in various translations, I came to an old version of the Bible I find very helpful in understanding the original meaning of the text – Young’s Literal Translation (1862). In that translation the original text here is recorded as –
‘ … the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, is with you all! Amen’.
Not ‘be with you’ but ‘is with you’. And there is a world of a difference!
These words are the very last words of Paul to the Church he had founded at Corinth. They are words of truth, important words and above all words of encouragement. I believe they are words, the truth of which, give the recipient the ability to stand strong, to mature and grow in the christian life even in the absence of human leaders and teachers. Why? Because we have, as a present reality now (not some vague future hope) the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the ongoing fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is all already ours!
In these strange days of separation and loneliness this truth is more important that ever. We are not alone – even if we are denied the fellowship of our fellow christians. We have, if we will only appropriate it, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit! I believe it is possible for us to survive, even thrive without the fellowship of our fellow christians – but we cannot do either without the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Please note I am not denying the importance of the fellowship of believers – but I believe that it is at times like this God is able to take us apart from the normal routine of our religious lives in order that we can enjoy fellowship with Him. Although many struggle with this – it is in fact a place of great opportunity and a place where we can know afresh the presence and fellowship of God.
I want to encourage you today, as Paul encouraged those early believers, to lay hold, to apprehend, to live in the present blessing of, the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.