GREAT EXPECTATIONS

I love the novels of Charles Dickens. I've not read all of them but among the ones I have read (and seen movie and TV productions of) is Great Expectations. It is the story of a boy named "Pip" who is apprenticed to a poor blacksmith. As he is about to enter upon young manhood, he is visited by an attorney who tells him he has "great expectations", a Victorian expression for being an heir to a life of wealth and ease, that is, the life of a "gentleman". This is because a very wealthy person who wishes to remain anonymous has chosen to set him up in London with a generous stipend until the time when the full and very substantial fortune will be given to him. He must leave his humble rural family and learn how to live in high society. This leads to many disappointments and ultimately, great tragedy.

This novel attacks the prideful pretensions of the upper crust and exposes the emptiness of worldly success. This is very much in keeping with the Christian worldview shared by Charles Dickens and many of his contemporaries. But as every evil is really the perversion of a good thing, there is a way of having "great expectations" that is not corruptive but rather the very life of good character and conduct in this world. I am speaking of the "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13) offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ. The Greek word we translate as "hope" in the New Testament is elpis and might more accurately be rendered as "expectation" or "pleasurable anticipation". The English word, "hope", is often a qualified or conditional expectation, as when we speak of a "forlorn hope." It is a prospect whose certainty may be quite dubious. Not so with elpis. It is really the idea of a certainty, a conviction that elevates one's mood and animates one's behavior.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have a truly blessed hope, very great expectations indeed. We expect to inherit a life next to which all the riches, power, honor and pleasure of this world are but emptiness and misery. The Apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah 64:5 shows how overwhelmingly great are the things God has prepared for His people, describing them as "things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9) He elsewhere compares our future inheritance with the troubles we have to endure in this life: "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Remember that these "momentary, light afflictions" for Paul included "labors", "imprisonments", being "beaten times without number", "often in danger of death", "five times" receiving "from the Jews thirty-nine lashes", "three times" being "beaten with rods", "once… stoned", "three timesshipwrecked", "a night and a day… spent in the deep", "frequent journeys… dangers from rivers…dangers from robbers... dangers from... countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren… labor and hardship… many sleepless nights… hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure… and apart from all these external things… the daily pressure of concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) Paul goes on to speak about his chronic illness which, though he prayed three times for it to be removed, remained with him (12:7-10; compare withGalatians 4:13-15; 6:11; this was probably an eye ailment). Nevertheless, Paul called such things "momentary, light afflictions" when he compared them with the "eternal weight of glory" that awaited him at the end of this life.

But is our inheritance only something we will enjoy after we depart this life? Remember that in Dicken's novel, Pip received an immediate upgrade in his material circumstances when he was informed of his coming legacy. His benefactor wanted him to learn to be a gentleman and so gave him a regular allowance that enabled him to buy new, fashionable clothes, take up residence in London in a respectable apartment, take lessons in dancing, etiquette and fencing, attend plays and music concerts and to throw lavish parties for other young gentlemen, thus forging advantageous connections for a future in high society. All of this, however, did not improve his moral character; rather, the reverse.

But the glorious future God has in store for those who are saved through Jesus Christ is one in which we become holy as He is holy, good as He is good. The reward we are anticipating is not something that will make as an insufferable egotist, but will remove every obstacle and hindrance from our God-given desire to love as God loves. Yes, heaven will be beautiful beyond description, a creation as only God can make it, but it will be filled with those whose overwhelming ambition it is to know God and glorify Him forever. They had that ambition on earth but now there will be no obstacle, no opposition, no limitation, no hindrance and every opportunity to achieve what their hearts had longed for.

While we await the full inheritance, God gives us a generous allowance of His Spirit and truth that we might prepare for our eternal life as glorious sons and daughters of God. We too have our lessons to learn and that is why we study our Bibles and wait upon God with other believers, that we may learn the ways of the country and kingdom for which we are bound and begin to practice those ways now, even though we encounter great opposition from the flesh, the world and the devil. We also throw "kingdom parties" where we invite others to enter upon the way to the Celestial City, for this is no selfish ambition. So we see that these "great expectations" do not corrupt us but purify us and render us not only fit to receive the final inheritance but to be of the highest earthly good to our fellow creatures. Do you have "great expectations"? You should have, for God has freely offered them to you. Will you meet the terms? Receive His Son, receive His Spirit and begin to learn the ways of heaven.