The Gates Are Made of Pearl -- 6/21/2020
I want to read you a quote. It is from the late 1700’s so it can be difficult to understand in our modern language. But it is worth it:
When the professed friends of God forsake the ministers of Christ, it is attended with circumstances peculiarly aggravating. The sweet counsel and communion they have taken together are now interrupted—mutual confidence destroyed—the parties exposed to peculiar temptations, which renders it difficult to retain that forgiving spirit manifested by the holy apostle when all men forsook him: “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.”
— Lemuel Haynes, from “The Suffering, Support, and Reward of Faithful Ministers”
It is impossible to understand Christianity without a deep, even theological understanding of love...
The Bible teaches that God loves us, yet also teaches that God is love. First John 4:7-9 reveals, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."
In the original Greek used to write the New Testament, there is more than one word for love. The Greek word agapos, often referred to as agape love, is the word used in 1 John 4. It is used when speaking of an unconditional love. This love of God is boundless.
God does not only give love; He is the source of love. As the Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1), He is the One who created love. It is because of His love that we are able to love. As 1 John 4:19 notes, "We love because he first loved us."
As Christians we have a dual role:
1.) To receive God’s love. (Ephesians 2:4-9) 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace
you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
2.) Demonstrate that divine love 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Did you notice verses 9 and 10?
Not saved by works...
But created in Christ for works...
Our goods works have little to do with salvation and everything to do with demonstration... Church is not an enforcement system... It is a demonstration system...
Among the most famous of Bible passages on love is 1 Corinthians 13. In these verses we find a picture of God's love expressed in poetic terms that displays many of the aspects of God's love toward us. We are told, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Love never ends. Why? Because love is divine.
But Love can be hard. There is pain in love.
Remember the quote I read to you at the beginning?
Lemuel Haynes is a historical figure you may not have heard about but should have. By any standard, his life was remarkable.
Haynes, who was born in 1753, was an indentured servant as a child, a veteran of the American
Revolution. He’s the first African American ordained by a religious body in America and the first black pastor of a mostly white congregation. That’s not extremely rare today. But it was unheard of then.
The first substantive biography of him, by Timothy Mather Cooley, is full of wonderful anecdotes,
vignettes of things Haynes did and said. He was so funny; he had tremendous wit. He was a political-minded guy but kept that out of his pulpit preaching. His theology was very rich. He preached like Edwards, points within points. People thought well of him. His family loved him. He doesn’t require doing any triage on his character.
Haynes’s life was anything but easy, and his ministry at a church he had led for 30 years ended with him being forced out. The quote I read to you is from his last sermon to the church.
We don’t know exactly what led to his resignation/dismissal. The reasons he was forced out aren’t entirely clear. Publicly he attributed it to sort of outliving his usefulness.
There were some discipline issues with members of his congregation, and there was a long conflict he had with one deacon. One historian cites changing political tastes. So there was a sense that his style of ministry and his politics weren’t in fashion anymore.
It’s also likely racism played a role. He alluded privately to some friends that racism played a part in his ouster. But he didn’t mention that in his sermon.
Half of the sermon is a straightforward teaching from Acts 20:24, where Paul talks about finishing his course. Rev. Haynes uses that to talk about what a faithful minister is like. The title of the sermon was “The Suffering, Support, and Reward of Faithful Ministers.” He said that to be a pastor is to engage in suffering and conflict.
This sermon is as good a model as any of a pastor addressing hurts and conflicts in a public way without being vindictive. He cares about their souls—for example, he says, “That man that does not appreciate the worth of souls, and is not greatly affected with their dangerous situation, is not qualified for the sacred office”—and points them to grace and the promise of heaven.
“Here lies the dust of a poor hell-deserving sinner, who ventured into eternity trusting wholly on the merits of Christ for salvation. In the full belief of the great doctrines he preached while on earth, he invites his children, and all who reads this, to trust their eternal interest on the same foundation”. “quote from his tombstone”
We want to be used of God... but we don’t want to hurt too much...
1. If you love, you’ll hurt. But it’ll be worth it.
From a logical point of view, it would seem that God would reward those who do good with less pain. Certainly it would seem that God would give those in Christian ministry a free pass from pain. After all, missionaries, church planters and pastors work for God! Wouldn’t it be a good idea, when it would be in your power, to take special care of those who work for you?
Life starts with a good slap to a baby’s bottom, and in some aspects, goes downhill from there.
2. Pain isn’t spiritual dying. Pain is spiritual birthing.
From Joseph’s point of view, most of his life showed nothing but pain. Sold by his own brothers, betrayed by an employer’s wife, forgotten by friends in a prison, and ignored by the God who once had promised him a position of leadership and power. If Joseph had been 16 or 17 when he was captured, how many years of suffering passed before he understood God’s hand in the process? We can tell the story in a minute or two. But for Joseph, time was moving in agonizing, painful slowness. Perhaps 10, 15 years pass.
That's a long time to spend in a waiting room.
As it turned out, God was very much at work, right in the middle of the pain. God was working in the courts of Egypt. God was working in the weather patterns that circled the globe. God was working in his brothers’ lives. And most importantly, God was working on Joseph’s own heart, testing and probing and forming a young man who simply would not waver from his faith in God, even if life took him to the bottom of the dungeon, or the height of power and prosperity.
3. Pain can be a portal to God’s power. 2 Cor 12 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to [b]buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities,
in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The beauty of a single pearl, or a string of the precious stones, is unmistakable. Few Jewels capture the eye quite like a perfect pearl. Know how the pearl came to be? In the beginning, it’s only a grain of sand. That tiny little irritant slips inside the tight seal of an oyster’s shell, and immediately causes discomfort. With no way to expel the grain of sand, with no way to ease the pain, the oyster coats the sand with a layer of the inner lining of its shell to make the sand smooth. This still does not ease the oyster's suffering. Again and again the oyster coats the sand, but all the attempts to get rid of the irritant have little effect. As far as an oyster is concerned, what we call a “pearl” is nothing more than great suffering. But one day the oyster is fished from the water and opened. The gem inside has amazing beauty and holds great value– all because the oyster had great suffering.
Maybe it’s no accident that the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:21) are made of pearls. It’s the suffering of our Savior that allows the gate to be there in the first place ... and more than likely, all who enter those priceless gates will have also known the personal cost of great suffering.
Research credits: Drew Dyck, Jared C Wilson, Marissa McKenna, Andy Cook