I still remember the celebration and solidarity that the 1971 Super Bowl Chiefs brought to the tense city of Kansas City. The heroes were white and black, native born and immigrants. Our civic and racial divisions were (momentarily) reconciled in the common celebration of a victorious team who belonged and reflected us all.
The subtext of Paul’s argument is that God has demonstrated his love by reconciling all of humanity through the death and resurrection of the Messiah, his son. The church, in its common life, is to model the kind of relations God wishes for the world. The church is made up of people who are exchanging identities rooted in native land, blood and ideology for an identity shaped and informed by the victory of God in Jesus. We are united by the celebration of Jesus’ victory for us. Three times Paul states the basis of our celebration or rejoicing (cf. boasting – 2:17, 23, 3:27):
1. We rejoice in hope of future glory – our true end (v.2)
2. We rejoice in the reality of present suffering – our normal means (v.3)
3. We rejoice in God’s past victory of reconciliation in Jesus (v. 6-11)
This comprehensive celebration, if practiced continually and with understanding, will encourage the Church to experience the new humanity that God is creating around Jesus. Let’s consider how that can be.
Instead of boasting in our heritage (Jewish, Greek, etc. - Paul’s argument in chs. 2-4), we are invited to boast rather in God’s accomplishment in Jesus. We have access to a peace that his death makes possible. We now stand in grace – an environment of costly and unmerited love. The imagery is possibly of the temple, where a worshipper is invited into the presence of God through the atoning sacrifice of his offering. The presence of God in the temple portends a future life of unbroken connection and pleasure in God.
Our present and difficult experiences in life might make such a celebration short-lived. So what do we do? Paul places them in the context of our guaranteed future – our unbroken fellowship and connection with God – as an essential preparatory experience. We need the testing of suffering to strengthen our character and hope for the wait is often long and arduous. But God’s love in our hearts reassures us that we are part of God’s future, new people.
The validation of God’s love is not merely experiential; it is historical and rare. A person might die for a good person but Jesus died for us when were sinners – separated and separating from God. And if his death reconciled us to God how much more will his life in us prepare us for the future. The contemplation of this should lead us to rejoice in God.