Saturday, August 25, 2018

180826 Why do we Suffer?

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.
The word that is translated “affliction” in the ESV is translated “tribulation” in the KJV. It has a lot of different meanings: “trouble”, “anguish”, “persecution”, “burdened”, etc. So this word can be used for most any kind of difficulty in our life. Most people seem to think that any difficulty we encounter means either God is indifferent or he is angry with us. Jesus’ disciples, upon seeing a man who had been born blind, jumped to the conclusion that someone had to sin in order to cause this condition. You can read the account in John’s gospel chapter nine.
In this sermon we will try to get a reasonable answer to the question, “Why do we suffer?” First of all, we need to be assured that…
God is a comforter. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
The Apostle had certainly suffered. We will get to his specific case in short order but first, let’s look at God’s character as a comforter.
When Jesus spoke about His going away (John 15:26ff) He promised that He would send the “Helper” to the disciples. The KJV translates the word as “Comforter”. The word is used for a defender, an advocate, or a legal assistant. The word is used for the Holy Spirit who would take Jesus’ place when he ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit would lead them into a deeper knowledge of the gospel and give them a divine strength so that they could stand up under the coming trials.
Do you want God’s strength and comfort? Remember, we must suffer in order to be comforted.
We would have no need of comfort if we were comfortable. To be made comfortable we must first be uncomfortable. God will make sure we are in need of comfort. Then He will pour out that comfort. We need to have been comforted…
In order to comfort others. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 13:11. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
As Paul closes his letter he gives final words of encouragement. He begins with “rejoice”, and goes on to “restoration”, “comfort”. “agree” and “peace. Everything that comes into our lives passes by God first. Among God’s gifts is suffering and it is given to us so that we will be comforted. We suffer in order to be comforted and we are comforted in order to make us able to comfort others.
If we look at Paul’s life we see that…
Paul was familiar with suffering. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
These words are Paul’s own testimony. We do not have another source for all of these events but we can be confident they are true since we have Paul’s witness. Five times he received thirty-nine stripes with the lash. Under the law of Moses punishing someone with the whip was strictly limited. According to Deuteronomy 25:3 beatings were limited to no more than 40 stripes this was to keep from breaking the man’s will. Three times he was beaten with rods. One of those times was in Philippi. There the jailer was ordered to beat Paul and Silas with rods. The result of that beating was the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family. Paul was stoned at Lystra on his first missionary journey. The crowd believed he had died — and they knew what “dead” was. I believe he died at that time and that experience is what he referred to in 2 Corinthians 12 when Paul wrote about “a man” who was “caught up into paradise”. He was careful not to give the idea that he was boasting about himself.
He was shipwrecked three times. We know that after this writing he was in one more shipwreck. He faced danger on every side. No matter where he went he suffered. Some have suggested that when Paul came to a new town the first thing he did was check out the jail because he would certainly be there before he left. If such a place existed, I would suggest that he also would have checked out the local emergency room or doctor’s office because he would likely have need of it. He went on with his report on his ministry…   
He had a “thorn in the flesh”. Let’s read on 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
Paul’s testimony would be a strong encouragement to pastors and missionaries NOT to be conceited. The result of his conceit was “a thorn in the flesh”. We do not know what the “thorn” was but we do know it was very disturbing to Paul.
We look back at the list he gave us. Beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and in danger. He might have been reminded of the words Jesus gave to Ananias after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. The Lord told Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16
God had promised that he would be a chosen instrument! In Galatians chapter one Paul refers to his being set apart before he was born and called by God’s grace. So he was chosen even while he was in rebellion against God. He had been filled with arrogant pride through most of his life and after he was caught up into paradise he was in danger of falling back into that attitude.
So he was given “a thorn in the flesh”…
That was God’s tool to free Paul. Let’s read in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This thorn was a messenger of Satan! This may be hard for you to understand. God will allow Satan access to our lives to humble us. Paul had pleaded with God three times asking that this “thorn” should leave him. Instead of removing the thorn God simply said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You see, God does not choose us because of our power, or ability, he chooses us to be instruments of his. Our role in life is to submit our weaknesses to God’s power. We are all he needs and he is certainly all that we need.
As Paul came to an understanding of the way God was working to keep him from being conceited he could rejoice in his difficulty. Our weakness becomes the stage upon which God performs his miracles. When we are weak, God is strong! For the sake of Christ, we can be contented with our weakness. Suffering is the path by which…
God is purifying His people. Let’s look at Peter’s words on the subject 1 Peter 4:16-19. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Sometimes it is God’s will that Christians suffer. Peter encourages us to not be ashamed when we suffer in that manner. We should glorify God by our suffering. The phrase, “according to God’s will” doesn’t refer to how we endure. It is a matter of suffering for doing right if that should be God’s will. The Bible teaches us to say, “if the Lord wills when we consider plans for the future. Remember, nothing comes to us that does not go by God first! We should do good while we trust in God to care for us.
A key to understanding this whole passage of Scripture leads to an answer to the question, “Why do we suffer?” We were comforted in our suffering not so we could be comfortable but so we could comfort others. Christianity, in its essence, is not self-centered and is not focused on health, wealth and human comfort. It is focused on how we can minister to the needs of others. First, it’s important for us to know that we have really come to know Him — the Lord Jesus Christ. We came into this world as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. As such, we have all sinned. The payoff of sin is death — physical and spiritual! But, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. The gospel begins with salvation and continues with growth in grace and knowledge resulting in sanctification.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

180819 The Grace of God at Work in Us

The Apostle began this section of his letter by talking about the gospel that he preached and they had received in the Corinthian church. He saw that the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. To establish the resurrection, Paul set out to list several of Jesus’ appearances between his crucifixion and his ascension into heaven. This list is certainly not comprehensive in the sense that it refers to all Jesus appearances. These were the appearances that the Holy Spirit led Paul to tell about. I assume that these might have been most important to the Corinthian Christians. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
The apostle, led by the Holy Spirit, introduces his magnificent teaching concerning the resurrection of the dead by pointing out the power of grace. God’s grace is revealed in relation to all people everywhere. Everyone is affected positively by God’s grace. His grace held his hand back in the Garden of Eden. He let Adam and Eve live so that we could live in order that many could be saved. God’s grace revealed His goodness and mercy, even to unbelievers. God’s grace demonstrates God’s justice that will be revealed. Finally, God’s grace is designed to demonstrate God’s glory.
Ending the list of those who were eyewitnesses of his resurrection…
Paul was the least and the last Apostle! Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:12. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
Paul desired that the church in Corinth recognize his apostleship. In order to establish his claim without a doubt, he pointed to, “the signs of a true apostle” that were done by him. Signs that were patiently presented by him. He was an apostle by the grace of God!
You will recall that after Judas’ betrayal and suicide there was a need to replace him in the group of apostles (Acts 1:21-26). Many have argued that the choice of Matthias was not God’s best plan. I hold to the position that God was in charge of the decision as it’s recorded in the Bible. Therefore it was not a bad decision. Other individuals are referred to in the Bible as apostles. Paul and Barnabas were both referred to as apostles on their missionary journey (Acts 14:14).
There is no doubt…
God’s grace works in the least. Now let’s turn to Ephesians 3:7-9. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.
Paul viewed himself as the least and last of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ because he had persecuted the church. It was Paul who led in the persecution of the church after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1-3).
Peter’s statement before the choice of Matthias was, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to the resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22). After his choice, Matthias was numbered as one of the twelve.
Paul did not meet the requirements set forth by Peter. He had not been with the group of disciples that followed Jesus. However, he was definitely a witness of the resurrection since he had seen the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Paul’s view was that the grace of God had chosen him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter had been the first to bring Gentiles into the church (Acts 10) but he was not going to be able to be the leader in that project. He was just too much of a Jew to continue as a witness to the Gentiles.
By the grace of God Paul was the chosen witness to the Gentiles. Peter might have been considered the leader of the apostles but Paul considered himself the least. Paul considered himself to be unworthy. We all feel that way about ourselves from time to time. So we should be encouraged by the fact that…
God’s grace works in the unworthy. Let’s turn to Galatians 1:15-16. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
Paul was unworthy due to his arrogant persecution of the church. He never fully recovered from the reputation he had earned. When he first arrived in Damascus he could not have been elected to any position in the Christian church. God had to convince Ananias to go and bear witness to Saul of Tarsus. With the support and encouragement of Ananias, Paul was able to begin preaching and teaching in Damascus. When he went back to Jerusalem, some three years later, the Christians avoided him. They could not believe that he had actually changed. They thought he was only pretending to be one of them so that he could find them, have them arrested, and put them to death.
Paul was only able to minister among the Christians of Jerusalem because there was a sensitive believer there named Barnabas to introduce Paul to the church. Barnabas responded to the move of the Holy Spirit in his spirit. Paul recognized that God had chosen him before he was born to be the witness to the Gentiles. God had chosen to reveal his son, Jesus, in Paul’s life! Paul did not choose Christ — God chose Paul! Paul was careful not to go seeking advice from others until he understood God’s call in his life. We must remember that…
God’s grace determines who we are. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 4:7. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Paul appealed to God’s grace as the basis of his ministry. He was unconcerned about man’s opinion of him and wanted to encourage the church to hold the same attitude. Even if he had been judged by people and failed the judgment he would still be the minister that he was because God had chosen him.
We need to remember this for ourselves. We don’t have anything in our lives that we did not receive from God. It was James, the Lord’s brother, who told us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights,” (James 1:17). It is God’s grace, and his gifts, that determine who and what we are. The minute we begin to think that we have made something of ourselves we will fall into the devil’s trap. Pride goes before destruction! (Proverbs 16:18).
Paul would later write to the Romans, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment,” (Romans 12:3). We need to guard ourselves and not become self-centered. We have nothing that God did not give us. In every way, it is God’s grace that decides who we are and what we do. We are totally dependent upon him. This does not mean that we are an unimportant part of the process. As human beings, we are inadequate in ourselves to strengthen our ministry in any way.
We must remember that…
God’s grace produces powerful results. Let’s turn to Colossians 1:28-29. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Christian maturity is absolutely essential to our ministry in this world. Paul had written to the Corinthians challenging them to grow up, become mature so that they can process the spiritual truths that he had to share with them (1 Corinthians 3:1).
This challenge to the church came after his assurance that the Corinthians had everything they needed. Since they had received Christ Jesus as Lord, God had given to them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that the one who boasts must boast in the Lord not in themselves (1 Corinthians 1:30). We need to remember that…
God’s grace never fails. Let’s look at Philippians 1:6-7. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve the love of God in Christ Jesus? Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t! Before you think that I’m condemning you I assure you that I don’t either. Some people think it’s a negative thing for me to say that we all deserve death and hell rather than Christ and heaven. This is not intended in any way to be negative. It’s a very positive statement. We do not get what we deserve we get what God gives to us.
Look at verse six. “He who began a good work in you” is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not saved by our good works. We are not saved because we are worthy. We are saved by the grace of God through faith. We did not come to this idea on our own. Let me quote Charles H. Spurgeon’s (1834 – 1892) description of his coming to faith:
“One week-night when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord. “But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”
Our salvation depends on God not on ourselves and for that I praise him. We receive what we do not deserve because of God’s choice! He is the giver of salvation for us. God does nothing halfway. He did not bring the children of Israel out of Egypt to abandon them in the wilderness. God did not lead millions all around the world to believe in him just to abandon them! He did not lead us to establish this church unless he intended it to make a major difference in this community! He never fails to complete what he begins.
Fanny Jane Crosby, though physically blind, wrote these words more than 100 years ago:
To God be the glory, great things he has done; so love to the world that he gave us his son, who yielded his life an atonement for sin and open the life gate that all may go in. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! Have come to the Father, through Jesus the son, and give him the glory, great things he had done.
The Giver gets the Glory!

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.