For centuries metals have been refined by heating them above their melting point and scraping off the slag that rises to the surface. The purer metal that results is of greater use to the craftsman. Gold can be beaten thinner, copper becomes more malleable and iron much stronger.
Later methods of refining put much more stress on the metal than merely heating it. The Bessemer converter (1856) blows high-pressure hot air through the molten iron and burns off the impurities in a spectacular shower of sparks. This violent treatment produces a steel of much greater strength and consistency. Bessemer steel and the alloys developed from it became the materials from which the immense bridges of the world have been built.
It was impossible to build these great structures before the advent of high strength alloy steel as the weight of iron required meant that the bridge could not even support itself let alone a load of trains and vehicles. So the Golden Gate, Sydney Harbor, and the Auckland Harbor bridges could not have been constructed without the refining of pig iron into high-grade alloy steel.
Likewise, God can build nothing of value with us together as His church, until we become compliant to His will. While we resist, we remain apart from Him and He cannot subject us to refinement. We remain weak and polluted; disjointed individuals with no corporate cohesive strength in community.
In the yielding there is great risk, for God will light His fire and begin to sanctify. There will be pain, for Christianity is not the easy happy life portrayed by some. There is the stillborn child, the son in prison, the incurable disease, the spouse who walks away, the personal “unwinnable” battles with stuff that horrifies us and the impossibility of understanding what God is doing in all this. Christianity is not a game or a club; it is the same cross for us as it was for Jesus!
Yet in some unfathomable way (if we submit to it) this refining morphs us into the Body of Christ. Self-centeredness fades to be replaced with servant hood and love. Blessing others displaces the need to be noticed. And the closeness of God’s presence sneaks up on us when we aren’t looking.
Iron needs harsh treatment if it is to become steel for great bridges. I guess Jesus needs to do the same with us if He is to ‘Build His church so that the gates of hell will not be able to stand against it!’
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