2 Corinthians 13:11–14 (NIV) 11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings. 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
My dear friends in Christ,
The Bible is full of words. Of course! It’s a book, right? God used words and language to convey his story of salvation. As we read through the Bible, and in particular the New Testament, we run across some key words that explain who God is and what he has done for us. Some of those words are pretty tough to understand. Our summer sermon series is called The Basics—The Christian Faith, One Word at a Time. We will be working our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans and focusing on one word each week. Each word will help us learn a little more about the Christian faith and what life with Jesus is all about!
We won’t find our first word anywhere in the Bible. It’s the word “Trinity.” It comes from an old Latin word trīnitās which means “triad, or trio.” It is equivalent to trīn(us) “threefold.”(trinity. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 9, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/trinity) It’s also closely related to the word “Triune.” Triune combines the Latin word “tri” which means 3 and “une” which means one.
Bible scholars “put the word together” to help describe the way God refers to himself throughout the Bible. God himself declared that he is the one true God. He told Moses, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV). There’s the “une” part of the Trinity.
Genesis 1 records one God with three persons carrying out the work of creation. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV). God the Father was hard at work at the very beginning of creation—the first person of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit was there too, watching over the new creation like a mother bird protecting her chicks. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2 NIV)—the second person of the Trinity. Jesus was there. He was also active in creation. John wrote at the beginning of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1–3 NIV).
Let’s stop and make sure we have this straight. One God. Three persons. God doesn’t stop being one God and at the same time doesn’t stop being three persons. Clear as mud. Does anyone here understand how this works? Here’s one attempt—an apple. It’s one piece of fruit but three different parts—skin, flesh, core. Still doesn’t quite work! We can’t explain it. We can’t prove it. So maybe this God isn’t real.
What kind of god do we want? The Canaanites worshiped the lightning god Baal. He looks like a child’s doll. Centuries later, the Greeks invented their own lightning god—Zeus. He looks like a strong man holding a lightning bolt in his hand. These ancient people made gods who looked like human beings. They wanted gods who would provide good weather and plentiful harvests. They wanted gods who would keep them healthy and strong. They wanted gods who would protect them as they travelled. They wanted gods they could see. They wanted gods they could understand—gods just as prone to temper tantrums and mood changes as any human being. What kind of god is that?
What kind of god do we want? Do we want one that we can understand? One who makes sense to us? Last Sunday on my way to church I caught the end of an NPR program called On Being. The moderator interviewed Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. He is the author of The Elegant Universe. When asked about God and divine reality he said,
“Well if you use the word ‘God’ to mean a being that is composed of the same stuff that we see in the world around us, governed by the same laws that that stuff is governed by, then God is a perfectly coherent and sensible idea. And if that’s what you mean by it, then we’re talking the same language. But if you mean what traditionally is meant by God, which is a being that can intercede, that can cause things to happen that are not governed by the laws of physics, then we are talking different languages.
And I should say I’m not saying that that idea is wrong. It may be right. It may be that God is behind it all. Maybe God set it all up, and there’s some variations of these ideas where God sits back and lets it all play itself out. And that could well be what’s going on. What I really mean to say is not that the idea is wrong, but as a scientist, I find it profoundly uninteresting because it gives me no new insight into any of the deep questions that we’ve been talking about here. Doesn’t help me calculate anything. Doesn’t help me gain some insight into these big mysteries. It simply takes one mystery and uses another three-letter word to re-label that mystery. And that is why I don’t find it interesting. Not that it’s wrong; I don’t find it interesting.” (https://onbeing.org/programs/brian-greene-reimagining-the-cosmos-2/)
What kind of god does Brian Greene want? One that makes sense. One he can measure with the equations of physics, math, and science. He wants a god he can understand. Even though he is an incredibly intelligent man, he has chosen the same god as the ancient Canaanites and the Greeks. He has chosen a god of his own design.
Science and mathematics are an incredible gift from God. They give us the ability to see how God made things work. Do we have doubts? Even Jesus disciples’ did! We all struggle with faith. We can’t prove that God created everything with his Word. That doesn’t change the wonders we see in a lab or in a classroom! If God could be proven by our best efforts, would he be a God worth following, worth trusting, worth believing in? Here’s what Paul had to say: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:20,25 NIV). Does anyone want to debate with the all-knowing God? Does anyone want to arm wrestle the creator of the universe? Those are battles we can’t afford to fight. If we pit our wisdom and strength against God, we will lose, and we will lose mightily. The sad truth is we will lose our souls!
Only faith can comprehend the impossible. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 CSB). Faith believes that our God is three in one, and faith reaps the benefits of following the true God. Listen again to Paul’s closing words to his friends in Corinth: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV). Each person of the Trinity, working together as one God, offers something that we need.
First we need “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” There’s another word that could be part of our series. Grace. It’s a gift. It’s a gift that only comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. A few chapters earlier Paul defined that grace: “that though [Jesus] was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). Jesus did a crazy thing, something that no human being ever imagined a god would do. Sure, the Greek gods mingled with human beings, but they never gave up their immortality and power. Jesus gave up everything. He gave up his authority. He gave up his ownership of everything. He gave it up to save us. Jesus’ death paid for sin. His resurrection smashed death’s power. He takes everything he has done and gives it. We don’t need to buy grace. We can’t earn grace. Grace is a gift. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ…be with you all!”
Jesus can’t offer his grace apart from the Father. Paul wrote, “May the love of God…be with you all.” There’s no way to clearly define God’s love because words fail miserably. God’s love isn’t a feeling. God doesn’t define his love as a relationship. God’s love is action. “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” (John 3:16 NIV). Isn’t that what the whole world looks for and craves—love? God the Father freely gave it. He gave it when he parted with his most highly prized possession—his only Son. We can’t measure his love. God’s love is too high, too wide, too deep, and too long to measure (Ephesians 3:18). God’s love will never run out!
Let’s not forget the work of the one sometimes called “the silent member” of the Trinity—the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “May the … fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The Holy Spirit calls us by the gospel. He brings light into our dark hearts. He kindles the fire of faith in our hearts. Without him, we can’t believe. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NIV).
We need the Trinity to be with us and to do its work so that we can carry out Paul’s encouragement: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). Paul wrote this to a congregation that struggled with unity, and peace, and spending time together as fellow believers. He urged them, with the Triune God’s help, to get rid of any divisions they had. Paul wanted them to encourage each other and to live in peace.
That’s God’s encouragement for Salem congregation. In the middle of successful ministry, the devil wants to sow discord and disharmony. He wants opposite opinions to cause divisions among us. He wants us to fail miserably. With the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ driving us forward, the love of God to guide us, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit binding us together, nothing can stop us. We can forge ahead with our school to teach children about our incredible God. We can make plans for the future with our property and land. We give the Lord the best of our offerings to support this ministry. As we celebrate this Trinity Sunday, remember what a blessing that one word, “Trinity,” is for us every day! Amen.
To God alone the glory!