Over two millennia many have tried to explain how to understand the Trinity: ice, water, steam; or some clever pictures like the triquetra. In reality they all fall short, simply because we can’t hope to put God in a frame. Humans can’t describe the indescribable God who is beyond anything that we can comprehend. As Paul says: we see through a glass darkly.

For interest (but certainly not for a sermon) the expression of more than one personage of God is not Paul's invention: the Hebrew Bible abounds in references to differing expressions of God.

The Trinity is, in its fullest revelation, a matter of faith. But not blind faith! Rather, faith experienced, lived, expressed in love. So, you will be pleased to know I’m not going to spend 20 minutes giving you a neat image to take away, a satisfying nugget to digest with your lunch.

The Trinity is not learned, it is lived. And Paul certainly experienced the Trinity in his life. Listen to him: (my translation)

Having been put into right relationship by faithfulness we have shalom with God.

Note the ‘having been’ is past tense: in the Greek the 'past' is one that is once for all (aorist tense). Jesus has done it all, there is no more to do.
More than that, the Greek phrase translated ‘by faith’ in most Bibles does not necessarily mean what the Reformation wanted it to mean - it can imply not our faith but faithfulness (a very concrete Hebrew action); not our struggle to believe, but faithful willingness to submit to our Father’s will. This is, of course, is most fully expressed in the life of Jesus and is our calling also:

'…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.'

(Hebrews 12: 1b,2)

We have shalom peace with God: Paul is, and will always be a Jew; but one who has come into the full experience of the good news looked for in the Hebrew Bible:

'How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
: says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.'

(Isaiah 52: 7f)

This is the peace that will extend over the whole earth; it is the peace that exists when all our conflict and strivings cease. Our chapter in many Bibles begins with ‘Therefore…’ because In the previous chapters Paul portrays sin as the entrenched human denial of God or rebellion against God. Peace with God emphasises recognition that such rebellion is at an end. This is a special kind of peace, and God has already given it because of what Jesus Christ has already done once and for all.

Through Jesus we have freedom to enter into the kindness and grace in which we all find ourselves…

Not through our own abilities or strength or striving; but through Jesus (who, as Hebrews 11 reminds us, is our great hight priest who has entered into the presence of God). Because he has entered, so have we. We find ourselves showered with the kindness and unmerited favour of God. I sense Paul is saying "Wow, this is amazing. Look where we are, we're in the presence of God, amazing".

…and we boast in our hope of the glory of God.

We have already been brought into the presence of God, and we boast of his glory.

Not, mind you, of our glory or any abilities we have in getting into God's presence: we boast by living out the light of the gospel:

'God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”'

(I Cor 1: 28f)

This ‘hope’ is the result of a lived experience. "Now faithfulness is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of unseen realities" says Hebrews 11. Let me stress again that, to Paul, the Trinity is not a concept but a lived experience, evidencing 'unseen realities'. In writing, Paul is trying to express what is inexpressible and yet real. This is why he says that we rejoice in our sufferings…

…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,

(I might just note here how the peace, the shalom expressed earlier does not preclude suffering for the gospel.)

So, we have shalom with God; freedom to enter God’s presence through Jesus Christ; and finally:

Because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

Here then is the action of Paul’s third experience of the Tri-unity. 'Has been' is in the indicative tense, this is something that has actually, already, been experienced.I love it that the love of God has been poured out. In Acts 10: 43 Luke uses the same ‘poured out’ word:
"While Peter was still uttering these words, the Spirit, the Holy One, fell upon all those listening to the discourse, And the faithful among the circumcised, as many as had accompanied Peter, were astonished, because the gift of the Holy Spirit has been poured out even upon the gentiles; For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God’s greatness."

The full good news prophesied in Isaiah has been fulfilled: all the ends of the earth see 'the salvation of our God'.

And in Luke’s gospel we read:
"But love your enemies and do good and lend without despairing of it; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Become compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. And do not judge, and you surely shall not be judged, and do not condemn, and you surely shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. Give, and you shall be given: Into your lap they will pour a goodly measure, pressed down, shaken together, and spilling over; for in whatever measure you measure it shall in turn be meted out to you.”

(6: 35-38)

Poured a godly measure, pressed down, shaken together, and spilling over. The Holy Spirit's pouring never stops: Paul is expressing his experience of the Breath of God inhaled and exhaled to the blessing of others.

To sum up: in this passage the members of what would eventually be called the Trinity provide the basis for Christian experience.

  • Christians live in peace with God because of Jesus Christ.
  • Christians know the love of God because the Holy Spirit has poured out that love to them.
  • Christians boast in God’s glory, which they know through Christ and the Spirit.

It’s not for us to ever seek to talk about the Trinity in abstract and remote terms because for us, as for Paul, the Trinity is as close as life itself.


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