2 Corinthians 1:1-11

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

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going on in spite of whatever, by faith

By faith we understand (Hebrews 11), yet at the same time our faith is based on the faith, having roots in Jesus’s resurrection in history, which in an American court of law would surely pass muster in being accepted as true beyond any reasonable doubt. That latter point would be debated by some, but for those who have faith, it is a powerful reason to believe, and has moved more than one skeptic to faith. And the witness of God’s Holy Spirit to us helps us through the inevitable bumps and roadblocks in our journey of faith, along the way.

There are times when we are at a loss, maybe rather off our feet, or perhaps wobbly in our own personal faith, even if we may be doing well concerning the faith itself. Or this could well apply to us when we do have some genuine doubt or at least question in regard to the faith in general. By faith we proceed, even when we don’t know where we’re going (Hebrews 11, again).

That means that while we may not feel altogether inside, indeed we may be rather disheveled, or even quite a bit so, we go on the best we can, by faith, certainly an act of faith, itself. And rather defiant of whatever troubles us, in a way, but more like an entrustment of that concern to God, who certainly can take care of whatever problem it is, and no matter what, promises us the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

The devil’s strategy is to get us to grovel in the dust, and perhaps even eventually abandon faith altogether. Or at least to sideline us, so that our faith is not effective for ourselves or anyone else. But it’s a great opportunity, in the face of such opposition, to simply proceed in all of our weakness, by faith finding God’s ever present grace in Jesus. And we will, no doubt, if we simply go on by faith. God will keep all of his promises to us in Christ Jesus.

our one safety: in God

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46

One of the most basic fears of humankind is the fear of death. In fact in Eastern Orthodox Christian teaching and liturgy, that fear is at the heart of our sin, the gospel in Christ’s death and resurrection having destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

I think most all of my lifetime I’ve struggled with the fear of death, and have not always made good decisions in the process. It’s not like we’re to be foolhardy, and careless, so that we live recklessly, thinking God has our backs (and fronts, and every side) not matter what we do. We want to act wisely and prudently, and make the best decisions we can. But in the end our confidence can’t lie in ourselves, or in anyone else, but in God alone.

This presidential election season in the United States has exposed, I think, what could possibly be, though I don’t believe in every case is, an idolatry at play on both sides, exposed well in this article.

Over and over again in my life, I find that the one refuge to whom we should turn is God himself. We turn to God through the gospel, through the word and the sacraments, through the church, through prayer, and through a basic commitment of faith and ongoing repentance. We are not assured in this life that bad things won’t happen, in fact we can be certain that difficulties, including persecutions from living for Christ, troubles from simply living in this world, and at last death, barring our Lord’s return before that, await us in this life. Of course God has not promised to remove us from the trials, but to be with us through them.

It’s not like we will no longer be subject to possible fear in this life, but that through faith in the gospel, worked out through daily being in the word, God will help us to find our one refuge in him. A large part of our life and witness in this life, as we look forward to the life to come when in God through Christ by the Spirit, we will live in an existence in which no fear is possible. A taste of which we receive in this life, brought to perfection and completeness in the life to come, in and through Jesus.

the need for humor

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

I have heard (or, read) that Jews make the best violin players, and the best humorists. It is likely that many of them are among the best of those. It seems like the people who suffer the most, can have the most appreciation of something which not only takes such suffering seriously, but honors it, such as a good violin piece. And the gift of humor is especially important for those who can find little or no humor in life at all, or who have suffered much.

They say that laughter releases endorphins which are good for one’s physical well-being. At least there needs to be a sense that all is well, or at the very least that one does not have to be on the edge of disaster, but is somehow taken care of. Faith lends itself these gifts. When I’m beside myself over some matter or another, usually one at a time, I simply keep plugging into scripture, into the word, and sooner or later such trouble dissipates. What eventually replaces it is a sense of well being because of a faith that God will take care of it, more precisely usually a mind that is turned toward some truth about God through the gospel in scripture, and therefore a mind off the troubles.

And out of no where can come the gift of humor and laughter. As long as it’s not coarse, as in dirty, or denigrating of others, as well as not profane, then I think it’s open, and surely in some measure a gift from God. It is not something I try to force. It comes and goes. I take it that there’s a time for abject seriousness, and there’s a time for unbridled laughter. We need both. And we need a regular dose of the laughter, because the serious side is the default and place where we all live. But we can trust in the God who laughs, and know that in the end all is well in and through Jesus.

 

the grace of trouble

The last thing any one of us wants is trouble. We would like a trouble free existence. But a healthy acceptance that each day will come with its own set of problems, and that there will come some major issues along the way, is surely a part of growth in maturity. It is almost certain that we will shrink back from what we perceive to be major trouble. That is when we purposefully need to apply our faith, all the more.

And that is at the heart of what I’m calling (and probably heard/read somewhere, as) the grace of trouble. There is no question that the challenges of life can help us grow. We hone our skills, and do what we have to do, not only to survive, but hopefully even to thrive. But it doesn’t come without a cost. The cost often is pain, and sometimes having to work through certain limitations so that we are stronger, or know better how to cope with the difficulties which come our way. This can be part of the “common grace” God bestows on the human race, a gift to help people through their troubles. But we need to not only acknowledge “the Giver of all good things,” but come to that Giver to receive help in our time of need.

The Bible, and I think particularly of the psalms is loaded with passages pertaining to the faithful believing being hard pressed in this life with all kinds of trouble coming their way, sometimes self-inflicted, oftentimes suffered from the hands of others. When trouble comes our way, especially the kind which can be debilitating to us in the fear and anxiety which set in, we need to avail ourselves of prayer and the word of God. And we need to do so in the communion of the church, our regular participation in that, which might call for our request for special prayer and counsel.

It is just as important to have a healthy acceptance that trouble is part and parcel of life, as it is to come to God again and again with our trouble. We don’t want to live as those who are taken up all the time with our own problems. But we have to deal with them, and after doing so, yes, even in the midst of that, we can find that God’s help for us can extend into the lives of others. Each one ordinarily is having their own trouble. As God gives us help and relief even if that might be unbeknownst to us, we can end up being a blessing to others in similar trouble. Even if that blessing is in nothing more than an empathetic sigh and tear, and an offering to God in prayer concerning their plight, along with a plea for their blessing. As we look forward to the day when all the troubles of this world will be past in and through Jesus our Lord.

the blessed assurance that is ours in Jesus

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Jesus’s words to his disciples was the climax of what he spoke to them on the night in which he was betrayed and just before his “high priestly prayer” (John 17). His overcoming or conquering (NRSV) of the world took place through his death and resurrection.

Life is sure to have its difficulties, both in terms of following the Lord, as Jesus made clear that night to his disciples, and simply in terms of the troubles we all face in the daily bumps we encounter, and in the potentially life-changing issues we run up against.

In all of this we have to ask ourselves where our confidence lies. Yes, we want to make good decisions, and we don’t want to be foolhardy. We want to live in the wisdom God offers, for facing the immediate difficulties, and for living well and growing in the long term. But in some ways we will fail. And along the way we may have failed significantly. Whether or not that’s the case, our confidence surely does not at all lie in ourselves, but in the one who alone can make us confident and able to go on and do well in that one’s eyes, no matter what.

And so let us hope in the Lord so as to gain new strength (Isaiah 40:31) to continue on, and hopefully do well in the Lord’s eyes, together in God’s will and work in Jesus in the world.

the perspective the Bible, better put, the gospel gives

The Bible, better put, the gospel, since the gospel is the entire point of the Bible and is as big as all of life. The gospel, meaning good news in Jesus, gives us a perpsective which addresses all of life. Somehow, somewhere— Scot McKnight makes what I think is a compelling argument to say this came through the Reformation since what was being addressed primarily, in reaction to Rome/the Roman Catholic Church was the issue of salvation (see Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church)— the gospel seems to have become all about salvation. The gospel is indeed the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1) and we’re saved by that gospel by holding on to the word that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again from the dead according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15 and the historical accounts we find in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). But the gospel is not simply about individuals being saved. Read the New Testament book of Colossians. The gospel of Christ is about nothing less than a new creation replacing the old, and includes needed judgment in making all wrongs right.

The gospel gives us a perspective which addresses all of life, not only in terms of our view of things, but also in how we should live. It’s good news not only for “the sweet by and by,” but for the here and now. No matter what takes place in the present, we can rest assured that the good news in God through Christ by the Spirit is at work in the world, yes, even through the brokenness of the church, and can make all the difference in the world, yes, even in the brokenness of it all (like the terrible shooting last night in Hesston, Kansas). We hang our hats on one thing: not in who is going to win in November in the US Presidential election. Not on trying to avoid trouble in this life, even tragedy, the former being a daily occurrence, the latter at least affecting us all. No, we put our confidence in and stake our lives on one thing, and one thing only: the good news of God in King Jesus.