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Increasing in wisdom and favour

Bishop Nicholas Sykes

Bishop Nicholas Sykes

The Son of God came into a world that partly resisted and was partly accommodating to His presence.  The world was then, and still is now, a world of setbacks and disappointments and of what people blandly call “negative” influences.  Looking back on our own lives, we can also no doubt discern certain “negative” influences on them. We may love our parents but yet still wish, perhaps, that they had made some different decisions. We might wish that we had had a brother or sister that we did not have, or been brought up in a different neighbourhood, or gone to different schools or learnt different musical instruments and so on. Looking back also on the choices we ourselves made, we might regret some of them.  Running through any negatives or regrets however, many of us can see even a tenuous line of circumstances that unknown to us as we walked into them, had a profoundly positive guiding influence on our life. They as well as the immediately positive things witness to a Fatherly presence that, as it were, holds up our universe.  Now, a life submitted to Christ in God enables us to live consistently with our universe, that fabric of Fatherly guidance with which our lives have been directed to their present point.  Sin causes us to break that universe.  The grace of God in Christ enables us to hold it together or make repairs where it is broken.  If we break our universe and do not get it repaired, our own path of self-destruction proceeds unchecked.  We cannot ourselves increase in wisdom and stature and favour before God and men, as we read both the boy Samuel and the young Jesus did (1 Sam 2:26 and S. Luke 2:52), if we are not engaged positively in building and caring for our God-given universe.

Colossians 3:12-14 counsels us to “put on” various ethical and moral virtues such as compassion, kindness, meekness, holiness and forbearance.  This teaches us that to build and repair our God-given universe requires action arising from positive intention.  It doesn’t happen automatically.  We do not, for instance, progress in such virtues if we do not mean to “put them on” (in St Paul’s phrase) and make them controlling factors of our own behaviour.  At the same time it is important that St Paul, a few verses back (Col 3: 1 – 3), makes it clear that he is addressing those who have put off the old man or old nature, and have put on the new nature.  He is referring to the theological change of being faithfully within the fellowship or communion of the body of Christ through baptism.  The moral and ethical progress that St Paul outlines for us is only in view if the theological change has already been accomplished.  That theological change puts us in touch with the restored universe that has been granted to us in Christ. The ethical and moral progressive change is necessary now to deepen and extend and make repairs to that restored universe over all our life and relationships.

Our Lord’s growth in wisdom and years and favour before God and man and the boy Samuel’s growth in stature and favour with the Lord and with men, provide good pictures of the growth we are all called to as children of God, members of Christ and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The boy Samuel’s growth, according to the account, was within the sanctuary at Shiloh, ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli the priest.  His mother also continued to show her care for this special child but there were negative influences on his life too, such as the contemptuous and dissolute behaviour of Eli’s sons.  Samuel had to distinguish the path of life he was called to from the path of life of Eli’s natural successors, and as the account unfolds we see the grace of the Lord in a personal revelation to Samuel strengthening him to continue making good choices and judgements.  The whole life of Samuel as recounted in the Old Testament demonstrates the primacy of the theological influences over the ethical and moral influences in the growth and progress of this remarkable man of God. For him as for us, to be guided by principles of goodness is good, but it is within the gift of God Himself to grant the power to perform the principles.

In the case of the Lord Jesus, as if to remind us about Samuel, St Luke refers to His growth in wisdom and stature after the incident of the 12-year-old Jesus listening to and questioning the rabbis in the Jerusalem temple.  The overwhelming factor in Jesus’ life and development to adulthood was the fact and his consciousness of who His Father was, and keeping to our theme, we can describe that as the great theological influence upon His life.  No doubt the discussion between Jesus and the temple rabbis went through ethical and moral questions too, but when Mary and Joseph arrived after searching for Him, He was surprised that they did not know that He must be in His Father’s house.  God’s Son had perspectives on God that even his closest family could not fully share, and it was this theological difference that was paramount in his unusual behaviour. In spite of this great theological difference, or in a sense because of it, after having surprised the rabbis with His intelligence and answers, He went home to Nazareth with His parents and was obedient to them.  His theological insight did not break the universe of the Holy Family, but strengthened it.

God’s people are also called, just as our Lord was, to apply the newness of the grace of God in their lives to all their relationships.  They should differ from the neighbourhood around them primarily in their theological perspective.  They know who their Father is, so to speak.  By faithfully identifying with Christ in baptism and with the Church, a new nature, a new man, has been granted to them.  Now they have the opportunity and the exhilarating privilege of “putting on” and exercising the virtues proper to the new man, so that not only they but their neighbourhood too, their village, their country, their civilisation and their world, get built consistently with the universe that God has given them.

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