There is Always Hope

29 May 2024

7.1 MINS

Popular films can sometimes remind us of important truths.

Do you ever feel that your life has been a failure, a mess, a disaster, a waste? Do you ever get discouraged and think you have nothing to offer to anyone and you might as well just give up now? Well, many of us do, including myself. If so, there is great news to be found in Ephesians 2:4, “But God, being rich in mercy…”

There are some more of these “But God” phrases found in the New Testament. And this one is so comforting on so many levels. Thankfully, He IS rich in mercy. That means no matter how low a view we have of ourselves, no matter how many times we fail God, no matter how many times we think we have no more reason to keep going, God continues to pour out His mercy and grace upon us.

Let me tease this out by mentioning a recent film I had come upon. As some of you know, I sometimes find useful spiritual lessons and truths in modern films. No, I do not watch many movies at all, but some of those that I do view I can draw out some sermonic material. Or, at the very least, I can relate to some of the characters.

Here, I have in mind the 2022 film A Man Called Otto, starring Tom Hanks. I had seen parts of it a few times by simply switching channels on the television. But randomly flicking through the channels means that you might stumble upon something that is halfway through.

Twice this happened with this film, so I only saw portions of it. I had not seen the beginning. Not long ago I noticed that it was being shown again, so I determined to tune in to watch the beginning. The trouble is, it began at 12:30am, and once I began watching it, I ended up viewing the entire film. So I got to bed quite late that night.

But the film involves various things I can relate to: a grumpy old man, a wife lost to cancer, and how things can progress in such a life. If you have seen the film, you know whereof I speak. If not, I can share some of it with you, without giving too much away if you do decide to see it.

A Man Called Otto

Otto, 63, has been laid off his job, his wife died from cancer 6 months earlier, and he has no desire to live without her. Three times he tries to take his life, but each time he fails, or is interrupted. He has become a real curmudgeon, and he sees nothing worth living for now that Sonya is gone.

But some new neighbours befriend him and help him to see that life is still worth living, and that thinking of others – not just being fixated on self – is crucial. Several times we see Otto in bed, reaching for his wife on the left, but she is not there anymore of course. I too still do this. I will slightly awaken, think of her being next to me, but within a second or two, realise that she is now gone.

Like Otto, I might be a rather grumpy old man. And like Otto, I am hurting now that I am home alone. But also like Otto, I hope I can get better over time. He does in the end, with a little help from his friends. And I am working on it! Even after being a believer for decades, I still see that I have such a long way to go.

But God…

When I despair overly much about my life and my progress, or lack thereof, that is when a passage like Eph. 2:4 pops into my mind. It being such a tremendous text, I thought I would just pull a few of my commentaries off the shelves and see what a few folks say about this short but powerful phrase.

But first, I really should present this in its context. Here, then, are the first seven verses of Ephesians chapter two:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

As can be seen, the context here is all about the great gift of salvation we are freely offered in Christ. We all can take some personal application out of Ephesians 2:4. Whenever we are overcome with despondency and despair, and wonder if we really are doing much for the Kingdom, these six words can really lift our spirits and get our perspective back in order.

Of interest (and often God seems to providentially bring diverse things together at the right time), I was just talking to a friend online. He, too, was feeling flat and discouraged and was wondering about keeping going. As I had just happened to be reading in the book of Esther this morning, I shared Esther 4:14 with him: “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Perhaps only in the next life will we really learn how much good we had done, how many people we had helped, how much of an impact we had, and what encouragement we in fact brought to others. So if I can do my bit right now to encourage others in what they do for Christ, that alone is worth it. That alone is a good reason for me to keep going.

Anyway, back to Ephesians 2. There would be so many terrific quotes that could be offered here. But just four of them will have to suffice. My first quote is from the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones. As to these first seven verses of Eph. 2, he reminds us that the good news only makes sense after we have faced the bad news:

[M]ost of our troubles are due to the fact that we are guilty of a double failure; we fail on the one hand to realise the depth of sin, and on the other hand we fail to realise the greatness and the height and the glory of our salvation. Oftentimes we are content to think of our salvation merely in terms of the forgiveness of sins. Not that one wants to depreciate that, for there is nothing more wonderful or more glorious. My point is that to stop at that is surely tragic. And I verily believe that the whole condition and state of the Church today is largely due to the fact that we fail at both points. It is because we never realise the depth of the pit out of which we have been brought by the grace of God that we do not thank God as we ought. And then there is our failure to realise the great heights to which He has raised us. That is what the apostle is dealing with now.

In his new commentary on Ephesians, Constantine Campbell says this:

The bleak, seemingly hopeless state of affairs of 2:1-3 is dramatically interrupted by the first mention of God in the chapter: “But God.” … [T]he purpose of 2:4 is to offer the grounds for God’s action. He is “rich in mercy,” and he acted “because of his great love that he had for us”: In other words, the action of God is predicated on his character — his rich mercy, his great love. God did not act because the spiritually dead zombies were somehow so overwhelmingly attractive or impressive that God was compelled to intervene. No, his actions flow from his character and, fortunately for the spiritually dead, his character is one of love and mercy.

The ever-reliable John Stott has written this about the passage:

Verse 4 begins with a mighty adversative: But God These two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were the objects of his wrath, but God, out of the great love with which he loved us had mercy upon us. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God has raised us with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonour and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand, in a position of honour and power. Thus God has taken action to reverse our condition in sin.

It is essential to hold both parts of this contrast together, namely what we are by nature and what we are by grace, the human condition and the divine compassion, God’s wrath and God’s love. Christians are sometimes criticized for being morbidly preoccupied with their sin and guilt. The criticism is not fair when we are facing the facts about ourselves (for it is never unhealthy to look reality in the face), but only when we fail to go on to glory in God’s mercy and grace.

And a few words from James Montgomery Boice:

But God! It is wonderful to discover that although we run from God, preferring wickedness and death to righteousness and life, God has not run from us. Instead, he has come to us, and has done for us precisely what needed to be done. In a word, he has saved us. He has rescued us from the desperate, deplorable condition described at the beginning of the chapter…

May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words — “but God” — they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.

The truths expressed here are more than enough to help us overcome in all situations. Whether we have lost a loved one; or whether we have become a grumpy old man or woman; or whether we are easily depressed and overwhelmed; or whether we are so readily tempted to just opt out of life: whatever situation we are in, meditating on these amazing words of Scripture should be more than enough to give us hope and help us keep going on.

I know I daily need to be reminded of such magnificent truths, and let these words bring me peace and comfort and rest and hope. Yes, I am still such a selfish and frail and imperfect creature – BUT GOD.

___

Republished with thanks to CultureWatch. Image courtesy of ChurchArt Online.

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