Text: 2 Cor. 4:7-18
by Robert J. Young *
Adversity comes into our lives, perhaps for several reasons--growth, God's loving discipline, a reminder of our sonship, to purge evil, as declaration of the true God. For Paul, adversity was ultimately a sign of the presence of Christ in his life which made his ministry possible. Facing adversity was an essential part of his ministry to proclaim the gospel.
Reading: 2 Cor. 4:1-18
Today we revisit 2 Corinthians 4. Relate this chapter to where we live life. Focus on vv. 7ff, esp. Paul's experience with adversity. But on our journey, allow me to stop a few times in the early vv. to make comments, assist understanding.
Desire to say some words today about the real nature of our ministry. We have religiousized our ministry. We have isolated it from the world in which we live. We have Sundayized it, localized it, materialized it, despiritualized it, deevangelized it, altered and redefined it in just about every way we can. Indicates, rather not have ministry. Ministry for others. Not me, || Moses. But we have this ministry. Perhaps editorial we, but no, we have a ministry. We got it the same way we got God's mercy. Gratis, free. We have a ministry, and ministry can be disheartening. It is not always easy to keep on. Keep on keeping on. Easier to quit. Easier to coast. Easier to give it less than full effort.
Paul believed full effort required openness, no secret shameful ways, no manipulation, only relationship. No deception, no distortion, rather a plain setting forth of truth, so that we are sincerely seen, honey through and through the sun shines, without impurity, without the honeycomb, every man's conscience can bear testimony. This is our ministry.
If every man can clearly see our sincerity, our ministry, our message, our methods, why do not all accept. Because Satan is at work in this world. Some are blinded. Such continues in our world today. [Article: "Who is corrupting our children?"]
Some cannot see, do not want to see, the light of the gospel. Some do not see the glory of Christ, the image of God. But God's image is also on us, we are being transformed, some cannot see the glory of Christ because our ministry is unfulfilled. Two reasons people are not Xns: they do not know a Xn, they do know a Xn.
Our ministry is not to preach ourselves. It is to preach JC as Lord, we are servants. Our ministry is a servant ministry. We are servants, lit. Slaves. Of all. God's light shines, and we reflect that light in our own hearts, and this is ministry, giving knowledge of the glory of God through JC and his presence.
Paul thus comes to what is often seen as conclusion, but I suggest it is our beginning point today: 2 Cor. 4:7.
Illus: Bicycle--every time you fall down, you learn something new. Words about life. If you're not falling down, you're not learning anything. Wonderful philosophical lesson--living out this life on earth is about learning and becoming. Life is about life-long learning, growing, changing, developing, becoming. Not about having, not about doing, but about becoming. [Illus: David Mason book.] If you take no risks, make no mistakes, try nothing new, live in comfort and safety and assurance, have everything under control, if you aim at nothing, hit it every time. To take risks is to grow and become, not because we always succeed but because of what we learn through falling down, through our mistakes. Never time to give up, always time to grow up.
Paul's application in this passage is intimately connected to his ministry. The adversities we face in life may have to do with growing up so we can serve others. Some aspects of our Christian walk seem almost to require us falling down in order to learn, grow and become. Adversity in our lives may serve that very helpful purpose. [Poem: "Stepping Stones."] The Greek philosopher Epictetus: "It is difficulties that show what men are." Twentieth century pop philosophy: People are like tea bags, real strength comes out in hot water. Difficulties met and overcome with the disciplined power. Paul echoes this theme when he writes, "We rejoice in our sufferings because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Romans 5:3-4).
Perhaps we all recognize then that adversity comes--even if we see it only in hindsight--as God's way of disciplining his children. The Hebrews writer talks about this notion of God disciplining those whom he loves.
Sometimes then, the discipline of the Lord is as stake in the adversities of our lives allows God to take out of our lives things that are not pleasing to him.
Other times in our lives adversity is a gift from God to remind us of our need for him, to remind us that we are not gods unto ourselves, that we are not in control of our world. There are times when adversity seems to temporarily halt our success. Hindsight usually reveals that the power shifted to God's power and success was even more certain.
Other times adversity is God helping us see the truth about our lives. The real problem is our Adversary who is already at work in our world. Those who love us, really love us, tell us the truth about the messes we make our life. Sometimes you have to love enough to tell the truth.
Having observed that adversity is often about learning and growing and maturing, or at times about God's discipline, or a reminder of sonship, or God purging our lives of evil, or God's gentle or not so gentle reminder that only He is God, or a truth potion that demands our attention as we see life's realities--having observed all of these, these are not Paul's point about adversity in our text.
Paul has a different understanding of his sufferings. Paul's sufferings, vv. 8-9, are not about God maturing him as an apostle, not about God fixing him by eliminating the rough edges in his life, not even about God trying to strengthen his faith. What's happening to Paul through his adversity is the proclamation of the Gospel. The treasure in earthen vessels is declaring the gospel. Not the earthen vessel declaring the gospel, the treasure in earthen vessels declaring the gospel.
Paul's sufferings are the sufferings of Christ, Phil. 3:10. Gal. 2:20, if Christ lives through Paul, then v. 10-11 are true. Somehow in all the hardships he is enduring, he is a participating in the cross of Christ. But more than that; it is also his participation in the resurrection of Christ. It is the power of God at work in him that overcomes all these adversities. We have this treasure in ostraca so that the death of Jesus, the life of Jesus, immortality out of mortality, may be seen in us. God's resurrection and hope are demonstrated through us. Whatever our terrible problem, resurrection life is the outcome.
Adversity is finally about declaring Jesus Christ. We see it clearly in vs. 13-15. And, we do not lose heart, he says, though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed everyday." The gospel is not about living on earth, old or renewed, forever. And adversity is not the enemy of the gospel but the strength of the gospel. Adversity as proclamation of the gospel.
This requires us to rethink adversity. Adversity as means of developing character and perseverance--I know that kind. Adversity as a work of the devil to discourage us--I know that kind. Adversity as God's way of rooting out what he doesn't like in my life--I certainly know that kind. But adversity as proclamation of the gospel, having such a keen awareness that I no longer live but Christ lives in me; therefore, the adversities of my life are not just mine, they are borne by Christ--he shares in my sufferings as I share in his. Can that possibly be ministry?
The "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." What does the adversity that Paul is talking about look like? What adversity leads to proclamation of the Gospel?
Is this not what this verse, this chapter is declaring? That a man trying to do right despite the all too obvious truth that his wife will probably leave anyway is involved in ministry. [Give multiple examples.] That the suffering of pain, death, divorce, disagreements, discouragement, aging, that these are ministry declaring the gospel, because we are waging the battles, and we are winning, either way, Phil. 1:23. Is that not proclamation? Do you face adversity? Reread vv. 8-12.
Now, since we have the same spirit of faith as he who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke, " we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
We speak, not always with verbs and words, but we speak, by faith we speak. We declare the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. We declare that light has shone out of the darkness, even when the darkness does not comprehend it.
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart!
Can my adversity, with the power of God in a mere human vessel, extend grace to more and more people? Such is Paul's point. Therefore, since you have this ministry, a ministry of adversity, a ministry that uses frail humanity, a ministry that buffets in an unfriendly world, a ministry that depends on truth but is rejected by many, a ministry that at its best only strengthens the adversity because of the opponents, since you have this ministry, you declare Christ.
And ultimately, we declare hope, because all of this is going somewhere--achieving an eternal glory that outweighs every adversity. Eternity is in view.*
*Suggested and developed in part from notes from John York.
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*Suggested and developed in part from notes from John York.
Return to Sermon Index