Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship

Lifting Up Christ, Transformed by His Love; Serving Others

Langenburg Evangelical Fellowship - a small church in southern Saskatchewan which promotes authentic worship of God, is Christ-centered, and holds the Bible as being divinely inspired and authoritative.

 

Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

We Do Not Lose Heart

July 2, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

 

t was the first trip out of the inner city for most of the team. The basketball team of P.S. 122 was on the way to scrimmage a suburban private school. Tension filled the bus as the players stared out the windows at the rolling hills, huge houses, and lovely parks. When they pulled into the school parking lot, everyone was silent.  The manicured schoolyard had as its centerpiece an Olympic-size swimming pool in front of a new gymnasium.

        When the P.S. 122 team left the locker room for the gym floor, their hearts sank even further.  The opposition team had special warm up suits, the players were all good-looking, and they smirked with superiority.  P.S. 122 had only their playing uniforms, no fans, no band, no confidence.  In the last minutes before the game began, the coach of P.S. 122 called his team together. "Guys," he said, "they look good, but they only look good.  The question today is not who looks good on the outside.  The question is who's strong on the inside. We're not much to look at, but I know what's inside each one of you. Now get out there and play ball!"

            In this chapter the apostle Paul spoke of his life in this way. He had to admit that outwardly neither he nor his ministry was much to look at.  In fact, later on he admits he was like a fragile jar of clay. But something very special was on the inside of this jar of clay – something of infinite worth, and that gave him great confidence.  And that inner confidence is the theme that underlies this whole chapter.  The phrase “we do not lose heart” is repeated again in verse 16 near the end of the chapter.  While there was not much to see on the outside, he was a man of great confidence – a confidence that came from God that kept him from becoming discouraged.

            In Acts 18, we read the record of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.  The place was a prosperous city of commerce and trade – a crossroads of seaborne trade in the middle of the Mediterranean.  There he met a couple by the name of Aquila and Priscilla, whom he joined in their tent-making business while spending every Sabbath in the synagogues trying to persuade the Jews about the truth of Jesus.  Eventually, those who opposed him rose up against him, and so he left the Jews and began to minister to the Gentiles.  He spent a year and a half there and when he left there was thriving church.  Paul eventually landed in Ephesus where he spent over two years, and it was during this time, he received a report that things were not going well in the Corinthian church.  Apparently, some false teachers had infiltrated the church, and were stirring up trouble.  They were challenging Paul’s teaching, his authority, his character, even his abilities. (1 Cor.) Although it is difficult to piece together, there was another letter and another personal visit by Paul to the Corinthian church that did not go well – Paul describes it as a “painful visit.” 

            When things began to settle down a bit, Paul wrote what we know as 2 Corinthians.  This letter is largely a defense of his ministry of the gospel, and of his calling as an apostle.  He is on his way to Corinth and he needs to re-establish his authority as an apostle of God.  So that is the context that we find when we consider chapter 4.  He has been rejected, mocked, and considered “a nobody” – not much to look at – at least by some in this unruly congregation.  But in spite of all this, Paul is confident – “we do not lose heart.”  It is his calling and the message of the gospel that he attributes to his boldness.  So as we make our way through this chapter, we will look at three aspects of Paul’s confidence and boldness. In today’s text we will consider:

            Paul’s confidence in spite of rejection.  As I just pointed out to you, Paul faced rejection from the church he himself had started – and that must have been very painful for him.  He had been vilified by false teachers, and many in the congregation had bought into their lies about him.  However, remarkably, it did not shake his confidence.  He had:

            * Confidence in his ministry (vs.1). Paul was encouraged by the ministry he had been given.  What is this ministry?  If we go back to 3:6 we read: “He (God) has made us competent as ministers of the new covenant.”  In verse 8 we learn that it is a “ministry of the Spirit,” and in verse 9 that it is a “ministry that brings righteousness.”  In the context Paul is comparing the glory of the ministry of the law with the even greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit.  Of course, the ministry he is referring to is that of the new covenant – the proclamation of the glorious gospel of grace.  He has been called by God to take this gospel to the Gentiles.  Paul confessed that he felt so honored to have this place in God's purposes that he did not lose heart for his work as an apostle.

            Paul is very aware of God’s mercy; after all, he was at one time a persecutor of the church.  He had approved of, and maybe even participated in, the stoning of Stephen.  He had been instrumental in persecuting many of the early believers and dragging them off to prison. Because of that, Paul never lost his amazement of God’s grace in his life, for God had now given to him this very important ministry.  And because of God’s mercy, because of his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he never lost his confidence in spite of rejection.  The very existence of his ministry was evidence of God’s reality in his life.

            *Confidence in the truth (vs. 2-4: Read). Paul’s confidence in the face of rejection was based on transparency and the truth.   He (they) had renounced “secret and shameful ways,” and he refused to use deception (cunning, trickery) in his ministry and in his teaching.  It is apparent from his statements here that these were the kind of tactics that his opponents were using.  They had a deceptive message, and used underhanded means to secure their position and influence in the church – and it seems they also demanded payment.  Back in 2:17 Paul writes: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit.  On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.”   Paul’s ministry was one of openness and honesty.

            Paul goes on to say, “Nor do we distort (tamper, adulterate) the word of God.”   Boy, do we live in a time when the Word of God is being distorted!  Things are taken out of context and meanings are arrived at in dubious ways. 

            Two friends met after not seeing each other for a long time. One had gone to college and was now very successful. The other hadn’t gone to college and never had much ambition, yet he still seemed to be doing well.  The college graduate asked his friend, “How has everything been going with you?”  The less-educated man replied, “Well, one day, I opened my Bible at random and dropped my finger on a page. The word under my finger was oil. So I invested in oil, and boy, did the oil wells gush.  Then I tried the same method again, and my finger stopped on the word gold.  So I invested in gold, and those mines really produced. Now I’m as rich as Rockefeller.”  The college grad rushed to his hotel, grabbed a Gideon Bible, flipped it open, and dropped his finger on a page. When he opened his eyes, he saw that his finger rested on the words Chapter Eleven

            We distort the Word of God when we take it out of context, when we try to make it say what we want it to say, or when we read it through the lens of our culture – instead of the other way round.  This is common in the world and in the church today.   Deception and distortion are invading the church – and false teachers are trying to run truth out of town.

            In light of what he renounces, Paul claims that we are “setting forth the truth plainly, and that we are so confident of this that we are ready to commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.   That’s quite a bold statement.  “Because of his own clear conscience, he can boldly appeal to the conscience of others.”  Paul has no skeletons in his closet. 

            He goes on to say, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” (Chp.3)  Some of Paul’s opponents claimed his message was too difficult to understand – that he made no sense.  Is the gospel veiled?  In 1:3 Paul says: “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.”  Any “veiling” comes from the unbelief of those who are perishing – who are blinded by Satan (“god of this age”).  Paul (HS) makes it clear that it is Satan who blinds the minds of the unbelievers, “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image (likeness) of God.”  So we see from this text that this is clearly a spiritual battle – Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to the light of Christ, and it is only the Holy Spirit who can remove that blindness.

            The truth of this spiritual blindness and spiritual warfare is evident everywhere in our world today.  It is obvious in the rise of atheism, the rejection of absolute truth and in the utter confusion/chaos in the many moral issues of the day.   The blindness seems so blatant in the often wholesale rejection of what should be the obvious.  So what do we do?  We do not lose heart; we do not fret.  Like Paul we put our confidence in the truth of the Word of God.  We do not distort it, we stand on it – and we put on the armour of God.  (List)

            *Confidence in the message (vs.5-6: Read).  Paul had complete confidence in his message.  In Romans 1:16 Paul writes: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  He was also not preaching for his own status and fame, he was preaching Jesus Christ as Lord and himself as the Corinthian’s servant (slave) for Jesus’ sake.  This was his message, and it was a message he had complete faith and confidence in.

            The reason for Paul’s confidence in the message is because it was God Himself who called light out of the darkness at creation (Gen. 1:3).  And this light of creation that dispelled the physical darkness has now become the light of re-creation dispelling the spiritual darkness in the hearts of those who believe the gospel message.  Paul defines this as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”  This light of the glory of Christ had been revealed to Paul in his Damascus road experience, and the glory of this light was greater than the light of creation.

            In spite of facing the rejection of the church which he had started, Paul remained amazingly confident.  No doubt he was hurt, but he did not give in to discouragement.  While he may have not looked that good on the outside, he was strong in the inside.  We live in a world where we may face increasing rejection because of our faith in Christ – hopefully not from our church, but from our unbelieving family, neighbours, friends and our culture in general.  And while we, as Christians, may not look that good on the outside, we must remain strong and confident on the inside.  Like Paul, let’s be confident in our ministry (we all have one), let’s be confident in the truth of God’s Word, and let’s be confident in the message of the gospel – for it is the light that has the power to overcome the darkness and transform lives.  “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (3:12)

 

Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

Cracked Pots

July 9, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

I suppose that most of us here can identify with the idea that we are – at least at some point in our lives – cracked pots.  Our life in the flesh, both body and soul has this propensity for being fragile and weak.  “Jars of clay” is what our text for today suggests.  Outwardly, we often don’t look that good, in spite of our efforts to hide that reality.  But inwardly, we have at least the potential to be bearers of a treasure of infinite value. This treasure, this hope, is what gave the apostle Paul his great confidence and what made him declare, “We do not lose hope.”

            As I pointed out last week in the first sermon from this chapter, inner confidence is an underlying theme of the whole chapter. In spite of the personal attacks from his opponents, the challenge to his teachings, Paul remained bold and confident – and was quite prepared to defend his ministry to the Corinthian church.  So what we gave consideration to last week in verses 1-6 was Paul’s confidence in the face of rejection.  The false teachers who tried to rock his world and turn the church against him were unsuccessful because he was confident in his ministry, in the truth and in the message of the gospel.  So as we move along in the chapter today – verses 7-12 – we see another aspect of Paul’s unswerving confidence:

            Paul’s confidence in the midst of suffering (vs. 7-12).  Who likes to suffer?  This is not a subject we like to think about or deal with.  However, it is a reality of human existence and of the human condition.  The short answer to the “why” of suffering is simply sin – a fallen world.  As we shall see, Paul came to understand and accept suffering as a part of his call to be an apostle for Jesus Christ. In fact, he came to the place of maintaining full confidence in God even in the midst of suffering.  So let’s look at ways he was confident and did not lose hope:

            A. Confidence in weakness (vs.7: Read). This is a very well known and well loved verse of scripture.  The first question we need to ask is, “What is the treasure?”  The most obvious answer is from the verse before – this treasure is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”   The treasure is knowing that the fullness of God dwells in His Son Jesus.  The treasure then is also the light, the light of the gospel – which displays the glory of Christ (4) and the message of salvation to all humanity.  Paul says he has been given this amazing treasure, this incredible ministry and calling, and yet where is it? - In jars of clay, cracked pots.

            The idea of picturing humans as “jars of clay” was apparently a common metaphor for in the ancient world.  The imagery can have two meanings.  First, clay pots were fragile and could easily be broken – so they were a symbol of frailty and weakness.  And yet God had chosen weak human vessels to be the containers of the world’s greatest treasure.  Typically, we don’t keep our most valuable possessions in containers that are easily breakable.  We store them in steel vaults or something that can be locked and made secure.  The second meaning of the imagery is one of low value/worth.  Earthen, clay jars, as opposed to bronze, were readily discarded because clay was always available – it was cheap and it was disposable.  They were also very common, often used for garbage or even sewage.  This imagery would provide a contrast between Paul’s lack of significance and the surpassing value of the treasure.  Both metaphors could be at play here in Paul’s mind – human vessels are fragile and weak, and they are of relatively low value.  In spite of these things, God has placed a treasure of infinite value into these jars of clay.  Because of this, Paul remains confident even in his weakness.

            However, there is a purpose for this – “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  Cracked and chipped pots are poor receptacles for valuable treasure.  And yet God uses this improbable situation to reveal that it is God’s power that is at work and not human strength or ingenuity.  God’s power finds its full scope in human weakness.  Paul recognizes that, and Paul gains confidence from this truth – when I am weak; He is strong.

            We can all identify with the “cracked pot” imagery.  We are all well aware of our human weaknesses and frailty.  And yet we are taught here that if we have received Christ, we have within us this precious treasure – the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.  It is a light that has the power to transform us to be like Jesus, and it’s a light we can pass onto others.

            B. Confidence in affliction (vs. 8-9: read). In order to illustrate what he has just said, Paul offers up a set of four pairs of terms that portray his own experiences.  Paul had suffered through numerous experiences of persecution for the sake of the gospel. Here he describes specific ways in which the lives of he and his associates were like earthenware that contained treasures:                             - Clay pots: they were hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down.

- Treasure bearers: not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, and not destroyed.

These contrasts illustrate the weakness of Paul in fulfilling his commission and the power of God in preserving his life and his spirit. As cracked pots they had been hard pressed (to crowd, narrow), perplexed, persecuted and struck (thrown) down.  But as bearers of treasure, they had  not been crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed.  There had been some close calls, but in the end the power of God had delivered them. So “Paul was encouraged because life had not thrown more at him than he could handle.  Even though life had knocked him down, it had not knocked him out.”

            The mission given to Paul by Jesus included much suffering.  After Jesus confronted him on the way to Damascus, a prophet by the name of Ananias was sent to him to pray over him in order to restore his sight.  The Lord also said the Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”  How would you like to receive a prophetic word like that?  I wonder how much he was shown!  Paul was afflicted more for the sake of the gospel that possibly anyone in history.  Later on in 2 Corinthians he actually lists his many sufferings – Read 11: 23b – 28.  That is an unbelievable litany of suffering – more than we can even imagine. 

            However, it needs to be said that Paul did not call the Corinthians to suffer more.  While suffering and martyrdom have been a part of Christian faith all through the history of the church, nowhere do the scriptures call us to seek out suffering.  In fact, it is assumed that we will try and avoid suffering if at all possible, as long as escape does not involve denying Christ or anything else contrary to the teaching of scripture.  On the other hand, if suffering comes to us and there is no means of escape, then the NT teaches that we must be willing to accept it – even embrace it.  If we cannot escape, is there not some purpose of God in it?  “Paul's not being done in by his circumstances, suffering, or persecution is to be attributed directly to God's ability or ‘power’ to sustain him in the midst of his adversity.”   As we faithfully endure suffering, when we put our trust wholly in him, God is glorified and we are strengthened.

            But wait a second!  Aren’t we here to be happy, healthy and wealthy?  Aren’t we the King’s kids who should be living like princes and princesses?  I have yet to find a NT scripture to back up that kind of teaching that is so rampant in the church today.  Many commentators believe that was the kind of context that Paul was dealing with in the Corinthian church.  The city was very prosperous, and the pursuit of wealth and health were everyone’s aspiration.  Success in the church would be identified in the same way.  And yet here was Paul, the founder of the church, constantly being persecuted and often in need.  His opponents were questioning his ministry and his authority on that basis.  If this guy was such a great man of God, where’s the evidence – he doesn’t look that impressive on the outside!

            But Paul takes the opposite side; his ministry is authentic because of his suffering.  Paul's suffering provides the platform for the display of God's power.  We live in a fallen, broken world, and Jesus said we would know trouble here.  While we rarely suffer for the sake of Christ in our world, if we do, we should be encouraged that our suffering honors Christ and advances the gospel.  However, most of the suffering we experience is through physical illness, emotional and relational distress – and these can easily be as difficult.  And if the Lord does not remove it, we must learn to endure our suffering for his sake, and to seek his power at be work in our lives to help us through it, and that he would be glorified in it.  I know, easy to say; much harder to live, but that is the call here in the face of suffering.

            Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this to his sister: “It is good to learn early enough that suffering and God are not a contradiction but rather a unity, for the idea that God himself is suffering is one that has always been one of the most convincing teachings of Christianity.  I think God is nearer to suffering than to happiness, and to find God in this way gives peace and rest and a strong and courageous heart.”

            Paul was confident even in his afflictions.  God had been faithful to rescue him in the past, and that helped him endure the present.  But even if God didn’t deliver him, his ultimate hope was somewhere else.

            C. Confidence in revelation (vs. 10-12: Read).  Paul was confident that what he suffered in his body revealed something much greater.  Verses 10 and 11 are almost parallel:

- “We always carry around in our body the death (dying, corpse) of Jesus, (so that) the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

- “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, (so that) his life maybe revealed in our mortal body.”  (Notice all the repeated words)
            The term “carry around” was typically used for pallbearers – implying that Paul not only preaches but also carries around Jesus’ dying in the persecution he faces.  He sees his suffering to be a divinely orchestrated death that, like the cross of Christ, performs a function of revelation.  And what does his life of “dying” and suffering reveal?  - The life of Jesus in our bodies.    Paul views his own suffering as his participation in the sufferings of Jesus, and for his sake, in order that the life of Christ may be revealed.  And that life of Christ is what gave Paul the ability to endure and rejoice even in the midst of adversity. It is the life of Christ in us that empowers us to rise above our suffering – even experiencing joy in our adversity.  That can only come from the Holy Spirit!

            Finally, Paul did not want the Corinthians to forget that they benefited from the sufferings of the ministers of the gospel.  The pain and trials endured by Paul and others made it possible for the Corinthians to have eternal life in Christ, and they should have realized that their new life in Christ came at the cost of suffering by those who ministered to them.

            Maybe you are experiencing a season of suffering right now – you feel like a cracked pot.  We all experience times of some level of suffering.  But let me remind you this morning that you also hold within you a precious treasure – the life and power of Jesus.  And he will be there to walk with you in your suffering and to help you endure – giving you the confidence you need to trust in his purposes for your life.  I would encourage you to read through the entirebook of 2 Corinthians – Paul went through much,  more than I can imagine – but remained bold and confident in God’s call and purposes for him.  God can do that for you, too!

Link to Audio Recording: https://lefchurch.podbean.com/e/cracked-pots-1499913626/

 

Sermon: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18

It Will All Be Worth It in the End

July 16, 2017

Pastor Dennis Elhard

One commentator wrote these words:  Mothers amaze me. The pain and hardship they go through to bring a child into this world is astounding. They should be applauded for their strength and commitment. Frankly, I just do not know how they do it.  When I witnessed my daughter's birth, I gave thanks to God for two things. First, I praised him for my new baby. What a precious gift to hold in my arms! But after a moment or two, a second praise came to my lips. I thanked God for not making me a woman.  Yes, that is right.  After I had seen what my wife went through bringing our daughter into the world, I was grateful that I was the husband.

        I have asked a number of mothers why they chose to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and delivery time and again. Many of them have told me the same thing. "I made it by telling myself over and over, 'It will all be worth it in the end.'”

        In our passage for this morning, Paul talks about how his suffering for Christ will all be worth it in the end.  While he is speaking specifically about his own ministry, it is also true for all believers. Paul gained confidence in his suffering by remembering that it would all be worth it in the end; we can also find the same comfort in our own troubles.

        So as we finish off this chapter this morning, a quick review is in order.  Because of turmoil and false teaching on the Corinthian church, Paul is writing this letter in order to defend his apostolic authority and his ministry. He has been maligned and rejected by the church he started.  In spite of this and in spite of all the persecution he has experienced, he remains bold, confident and encouraged.  He was truly quite a man who was transformed by the gospel of Jesus!  The overall theme running through this whole chapter has been Paul’s confidence.  First, we saw his confidence in the face of rejection; last week, we saw his confidence in the midst of suffering; and today we see:

         Paul’s confidence in the light of eternity (vs. 13-18).  Paul was able to deal with his rejection, persecution and suffering because he had a future oriented perspective.  He was confident that no matter what he had to face, no matter what the Lord allowed into his life, it would all be worth it in the end.  In the light of eternity, all this was bearable.  Paul’s confidence in this light is seen in two ways in our text for today:

        A. Confidence in the resurrection (13-15).  First of all, his confidence in the resurrection gave him the confidence to speak.  Verse 13 reads: (ESV) “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believe, and so (therefore) I spoke’, we also believe, and so we also speak...”  The quote is taken from Psalm 116:10 – and Paul is drawing a parallel with his own situation.  The writer of the psalm had been experiencing affliction – a near death experience from an enemy or an illness (meaningful to me during my recovery).  Through his own afflictions, Paul can relate to the psalmist’s situation.  With the same spirit He, too, believes in the midst of his afflictions.  The point that Paul is making is that when he was going through his times of affliction, he did not lose his faith, and continued to speak out the truth of the gospel.  His sufferings did not rattle his faith nor did they muzzle him.  The assurance in Paul’s heart because of faith caused him to proclaim the gospel with utter confidence in its truth.

        The reason he continued to believe and to speak was because of his complete confidence in the resurrection of Christ.  And the truth of that fact was the grounds to believe in the resurrection of Paul, his ministry team and the Corinthian Christians.  Throughout Paul’s writings the resurrection of Christ is seen as the evidence of the resurrection of the believer.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we who believe can have full confidence that we will rise too and be with him forever.  Jesus is the prototype (original, primary) and grounds of our being raised with him.

        As can be seen from the book of 1 Corinthians, some in the Corinthian church were skeptical of a resurrection in the future – particularly the idea of a bodily resurrection, which was foreign to Greek thought.  (Dualism)  But to Paul, the resurrection was an essential element of his confidence in his own faith and his eternal destination, and his complete confidence that the Corinthians would be presented with him before the presence of God.   Paul reminds the church that all this – his suffering and preaching, were for their benefit, and as more and more people are touched by the grace of God, more collective thanksgiving is being raised to God and that ultimately He is glorified.  That is what matters most to Paul. 

        Paul’s confidence in light of eternity is grounded firmly in the truth of Christ’s resurrection – and that same power that raised Christ would also raise Paul and every other believer.  That truth allowed him to endure incredible hardship.

            B. Confidence in a future hope (16-18).  As was just said, this confidence in a future hope was grounded in the resurrection of Jesus.  In Christ, death does not mean end of life.  In fact, Paul would probably argue that it actually means the beginning of real life. 

            Verse 16 reaffirms Paul’s statement at the beginning of the chapter – “Therefore we do not lose heart.”  Everything that he has said in this chapter gives his reasons for not giving up – even in the midst of some terrible hardships.  Even though on the outside he and his ministry partners were “wasting away” (decay), on the inside they were they were being renewed each and every day.  Paul was encouraged by God’s ability to renew his spirit when circumstances got him down.  The Holy Spirit was strengthening his inward resolve.

            Verse 17 is an amazing statement by Paul: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (ESV – “An eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”)  How could he say that?  Given what Paul had experienced in his life of ministry (lashes, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck), how could he call those things “light” and “momentary?”  Would you define them that way??  He had suffered much, and yet when compared to the future eternal glory that would be his, it would be worth it all!  While Paul recognized that his toil and suffering had taken a toll on him physically, there was, however, a splendid compensation.  He could call his troubles “light” when compared to the “weight” of glory that exceeds all comparison.

            Matthew Henry writes: “If the apostle could call his heavy and long-continued trials light, and but for a moment, what must our trifling difficulties be?”   The difficulties of this life are minor when compared to the wonder of our eternal salvation.  Boy, they sure don’t feel that way, do they?  And I don’t want to appear to minimize those who are suffering, nor do I believe that Paul is suggesting this for a moment.  He knew suffering better that anyone, and there are many in this world who suffer much – whether it comes from persecution, illness, or broken relationships.  Suffering is everywhere.  But the point Paul is making here is not to minimizes suffering, but to declare that there is a future hope of glory beyond all comparison, and that it all will be worth it in the end.  That truth is what can sustain us when we go through times of suffering, and the power of God can transform our experiences into glorious expectations of future blessing.

            The chapter closes with this verse: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  So how did Paul and his ministry partners cope with the suffering they had to endure?  They did that by focusing on what is unseen and eternal.  They had learned to cultivate a perspective that was future and eternal.  (Quote) “An orientation towards the future is an essential aspect of a biblical worldview.”  In Colossians 3 it says to set your hearts and minds on things above.  This world is temporal, it is passing away, and so as believers our ultimate hope, our ultimate desire, our ultimate perspective should be on what is eternal.  And that’s not “pie in the sky” thinking, we still have to live and work in this world while we are here, but our ultimate focus/goal should be on another world.

            Paul had complete confidence in his future hope.  And because of that incredible promise from God, he was able to endure much suffering – and not only to endure it, but consider his times of suffering as “light” and “momentary” – a least in comparison to the weight of glory he would receive.   This perspective takes the power of the Holy Spirit at work in his life, and an incredible amount of spiritual maturity.

            For two years, scientists sequestered themselves in an artificial environment called Biosphere 2. Inside their self-sustaining community, the Biospherians created a number of mini-environments, including a desert, rain forest, and ocean. Nearly every weather condition could be simulated except one: wind.  Over time, the effects of their windless environment became apparent. A number of acacia trees bent over and snapped. Without the stress of wind to strengthen the wood, the trunks grew weak and could not hold up their own weight.

      Though our culture shuns hardship, we would do well to remember that God uses hardship “for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

      We must remember that God does at times use hardship and suffering to refine his children.  Nobody likes to be refined by fire, but it is very effective.  In Paul’s case his sufferings molded his character to the point that he minimizes his own hardships in order for the church to advance and for God to be glorified.  But he was able to do that because of his confidence in the resurrection and his confidence in the future hope of eternity which will far surpass anything that he had experienced.

            The knowledge of the blessings we will receive in the end times should comfort us in our present sufferings.  That is the message here this morning. When we go through seasons of suffering, the primary way that we are taught to endure is to cultivate a perspective that sees the long view – the eternal view.  We, even as Christians, are so caught up in our temporary pervasive culture of materialism.  One commentator writes: “Anything less than peace (at least within the nuclear family), prosperity (at least a middle-class lifestyle), and health (at least most of the time) becomes a disappointment with God.  Within this context, it is imperative that we constantly remind ourselves that endurance with praise, not avoidance of pain, is the evidence that the kingdom of God is here.”

            Whatever we go through here will pale in the light of eternity – where there is unending glory, and unending peace, and unending beauty - and God Himself with us!  We must learn to look beyond our outward circumstances, because “it will all be worth it in the end.”

 

 

* Outline: 2 Corinthians 4: 1-18        
 

I. We Do Not Lose Heart

            * Paul’s confidence in spite of rejection

            A. Confidence in his ministry

            B. Confidence in the truth

            C. Confidence in the message

II. Cracked Pots

            * Paul’s confidence in the midst of suffering

            A. Confidence in weakness

            B. Confidence in affliction

            C. Confidence in revelation

 

III. It Will All Be Worth It in the End

            *Paul’s confidence in the light of eternity

        A. Confidence in the resurrection

        B. Confidence in a future hope