Series: 2 Corinthians
Do you know the story of Elijah? He suddenly appears in Israel’s story and announces that there will not be dew or rain, except at his word. Then God promptly sends him into hiding by a brook and feeds him by ravens. Ah, what a life! To experience God’s power in action and to be provided with bread and meat by the “Raven Catering Company”. But then one day, the brook dries up, because Elijah prayed that there would be no rain. So the Lord sends him out of Israelite territory to a Gentile widow, who only has enough oil and flour for one more meal. Yet in God’s providence, he sends a daily supply of oil and flour. It might sound exciting, until you realize that all he had to eat was pancakes—with no syrup. Is this “your best life now”?
Fast-forward in the story of God’s glory to Paul the apostle, suffering to the point of death for Jesus’ sake. Paul’s life is one real calamity after another. He is flogged, whipped, jailed, and shipwrecked again and again. Is this “your best life now”?
It is easy to multiply such examples from the Bible. And I want all of us to think about what we really assume that the Lord “should” be giving us in this life. Or better, we ought to think about how we should be living. Do we have such confidence in God that we are ready to live our lives for his honor and glory and praise?
I. The intensity of Paul’s troubles (1:8-9a)– We should understand that Paul is not telling them about his troubles at this point, since he doesn’t give any information about what caused him such despair. So it is useless to conjecture what exactly happened to him. If you must have some idea, read his journal of his troubles (11:21-29). We only know that they happened in the Roman province of Asia, and that they were very serious. They probably knew by other communication. Instead, he wants to stress the intensity of his troubles.
A. Paul shares his troubles out of a concern for their benefit.
1. He uses a standard phrase of his when he wants other believers to grasp something of importance. Literally, it is “we don’t want you to be ignorant.”
2. He addresses them as “brothers and sisters”. Paul does not use this form of address much in this letter, since he is being more directive. But we should not forget that he loved them as brothers and sisters in Christ and expected them to love him in the same way.
B. Paul was looking death in the face, and it disturbed him deeply. He understood the preciousness of life, and he felt hopeless before the king of terrors.
1. Whatever his troubles were, he did not feel that he would be able to endure them. Having the great spiritual gift of being an apostle of Christ did not delude him into thinking that he was in control of his life. He thought he was going to lose his life. Clearly, he wants them to know that being an apostle did not guarantee worldly success and prosperity.
2. This great trouble shook him to the core of his being (his heart). When we realize our own mortality, it shakes us up. Paul says that he received “an official report” or “decision” that he was going to die. It is pointless to ask from whom he received this “official report”, since he is talking about how he felt in his heart. What matters is that he felt like his time was up. He felt “great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure”.
Apply: What we must grasp is that this was all according to the sovereign will of God. God’s plan was not that everything brought Paul personal happiness, success, and pleasure. Though he had the highest spiritual gift of being an apostle, he had to suffer in God’s will.
II. The purpose of Paul’s troubles (1:9b-10a) – Since God is holy, wise, and good, the troubles of his people are not random or capricious events. The Lord our God does what is best for his honor and our good.
A. To develop a greater trust in God
1. Paul clearly was a man of much faith. However, he still needed to grow in trusting God. The Lord led him through such a terrible trial to learn that he needed to rely on God rather than on himself. We all need to go through such experiences. No one is a perfectly trusting Christian. We tend to overestimate ourselves. Severe trials make clear our spiritual condition, regardless of our function in the body of Christ. When we suffer, we must keep this reason in view. God has a purpose in our sufferings.
2. Paul learned more about God as the resurrection life giver. Yes, he knew that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead. He had seen our resurrected Lord! But when he felt in his heart like he was going to die, he grew in his knowledge of God. The living God is able to give life to dead people. Long before, Abraham had learned to reason according to this attribute of God (Heb 11:17-19). Paul was able to face his severe affliction. “I am going to die. I feel hopeless—but God! But God raises the dead! That’s right! God raises the dead. I can go forward with confidence.”
Point: God expects us to live in conformity with the revelation he has made of himself in the Holy Scriptures. What do you know of God, his attributes, and his works? Have these truths become part of the way you live? Examine yourself on this point. How is your fear or anger or depression or frustration or loneliness consistent with what you know about the living God?
B. To rekindle hope (confident expectation) in God
1. You and I will probably never understand what Paul suffered for Christ’s sake. He had been through much physical suffering and spiritual anguish for the Lord. We get upset if there’s ice on the driveway or we have to put new brakes on our car. It has been said that American Christianity is 3,000 miles wide and one inch deep. It is very hard to disagree with that evaluation, especially when we have plenty of food, many changes of clothing, and beautiful homes to live, while our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering persecution and enduring hunger and poverty for the sake of the Name. But through this experience, Paul was able to grasp anew that God had rescued him from death. “Wow! I thought I was dead. Wow! I’m alive, because God rescued me!”
2. This led him to realize that God would rescue him again. Past experiences of God’s grace led him to confidently anticipate future grace. “Wow! Since God has worked for my good in the past, I can expect him to do it again! Double wow!”
Apply: We might have a lot of possessions, but do you think we might lack experiences of God’s rescues, because we have not been relying on God? Are we living to be safe and pain-free? Or are we willing to take risks to depend upon God to rescue us? Mark 8:35
III. The prayers about Paul’s troubles (1:10b-11) – Paul did not write these words in order to have them join a pity party for “poor old Paul”. He has two other matters in mind.
A. He wants them to be partners in prayer. In can be hard for our minds to grasp all that is involved here. The truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility meet.
1. Paul has confidence in God. He expects God to continue to deliver him. The Lord’s power gives him a bright outlook on the future.
2. At the same time, God has chosen to work through the prayers of his people. Prayer is significant. Yet many churches and Christians have given up on prayer. But Paul was not one of those. He looked for God to rescue him through the prayers of God’s people. And so Paul seeks to have the Corinthians join him as prayer partners.
B. He wants many people to worship God.
1. Giving thanks to God our Maker and Preserver is one of humanity’s greatest obligations (Rm 1:18-25). When the heart of someone starts to turn away from God, one of the first things to go is thankfulness. It is no small matter to thank God for one’s health, food, clothing, shelter, and the numerous blessings we receive daily. Everyday we should express our appreciation of and enjoyment in what the Lord is doing for us.
2. Since Paul is confident that God will rescue him through their prayers, he sees this as an opportunity for the Lord to receive more glory and honor and praise.
Conclusion: So what is required to set you hope on God?
1. You must believe and rely on the true and living God. You must trust that he is able to deliver you.
2. You must repent about what you want out of this life. Is the Lord Jesus Christ your treasure? Or do you value things and a lack of pains and problems far more than you want Christ? What is really going on in your heart—in the core of your being?