Thankful for That?!
2 Corinthians 2:14-17
Illust: The Apostle Paul spent roughly one-quarter of his missionary career in prisons. John McRay wrote in Christian History:
Roman imprisonment was preceded by being stripped naked and then flogged—a humiliating, painful, and bloody ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated as prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains. Mutilated, bloodstained clothing was not replaced, even in the cold of winter.
Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of a prison, like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable. Because of the miserable conditions, many prisoners begged for a speedy death. Others simply committed suicide.
In settings like this, Paul wrote encouraging, even joyful, letters and continued to speak of Jesus. Citation: Elesha Coffman, Christian History Connection (6-1-02), from Christian History (issue 47
Frankly, what is happening here is that Paul was so concerned about the spiritual welfare of the Corinthians and about the whereabouts of his fellow-worker, Titus that he broke off his ministry in Troas. That provided fodder for his critics. He suffered blunt criticism for his actions. Yet Paul moved on confidently yet humbly.
Perhaps Paul, in a smaller way than Job, models for us how to handle sufferings. We may be able to identify with his circumstance because it doesn’t seem to be as extreme as Job’s.
I. Like Paul, we ought to express gratitude to God no matter what the circumstances 14-16a
Paul fairly shouts, “But thanks be to God…” His response to the circumstances in Corinth and the unexplained absence of Titus is thankfulness to God.
I’d like to pose a question? What kinds of things are you thankful for? What do your prayers of thanksgiving look like?
I assume you are thankful for your job, your children, your husband or wife, your health, your savings account, your house, a secure home in heaven, the success of your children vocationally, their salvation and spiritual growth, the good Christian friends you have, wonderful holidays you enjoy with your family, a car that runs, the privilege of giving your money to Christ’s work, the USA, warmth and shelter from the cold, quiet evenings in front of the fireplace, boisterous parties with your buddies, a retirement plan, vacations - sometimes even expensive ones, nice clothes, leisure time, unprecedented long life spans, modern medicine, possession of the Bible, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to you personally, and etc.
Is this similar to your list; probably so if you are a typical Christian.
Not many would include “suffering or death at the hands of God himself.” But that is precisely what Paul writes. He thanks God as the one who “leads us in triumphal procession.”
A. We ought to be grateful when God brings suffering our way no matter what it is 14a
Illust: Do you have days like this: A young paratrooper was learning to jump, and he was given the following instructions: First, jump when you are told; second, count to 10 and pull the ripcord; third, in the unlikely event that it doesn't open, pull the second chute open; and fourth, when you get down, a truck will take you back to base.
The plane ascended up to the proper height, the men started peeling out, and the young paratrooper jumped when told. He counted to 10 and pulled the cord, but the chute failed to open. He proceeded to the backup plan. The second chute also failed to open. "Oh boy," he said. "When I get down, I suppose the truck won't be there either." Unknown
The phrase “God…leads us in triumph in Christ…” establishes the notion that God brings trouble our way. It is problematic however. Note that the KJV translates, “God…causes us to triumph in Christ…” This rendering leads to just the opposite meaning. Let’s sort it out.
The picture is a reference to the Roman practice of a victory parade (qriambeu,w lead (someone) as a prisoner in a victory procession). After a military conquest there would be a huge celebration; including a lavish parade in which the spoils of war and the conquered foes were herded in front of the victor’s chariots. The whole procession was lead by a leading general or the emperor himself. The prisoners were lead away to be publicly executed or sold as slaves as a grand statement of the might and power of the conquering Romans. .
So, here’s a staggering implication. God is the one who is described as leading Paul in such a procession! This is hard to swallow. God is leading him to death in a display designed to glorify His greatness! The same concept is in view in the only other usage of the term in the NT - NAS Colossians 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
So what in the world is this all about? Perhaps Hafemann captures the thought best, “As the enemy of God’s people, God had conquered Paul at his conversion call on the road to Damascus and was now leading him, as a “slave of Christ”…to death in Christ in order that Paul might display or reveal the majesty, power, and glory of God, his conqueror.” (109).
Thus, because God is glorified by means of Paul’s suffering, Paul offers thanksgiving to God. For Paul, it didn’t matter whether God delivered him from suffering, which he on occasion did, or whether God strengthened to endure suffering. Either was okay so long as God is glorified.
You see, Paul is convinced that the God he serves is the Sovereign One over all circumstances of his life. So bring it on. His God is Daniel’s God. In his own way he audaciously declares with the three Hebrew youths, NAS Daniel 3:16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 "But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up."
" Wow! How about you?
And besides, maybe we have it too easy. Too much comfort is dangerous. Perhaps we ought to pray for strength to endure, rather than for escape. It might do us good. And the gospel might be more effective. I fear that all of us have a bit of health and wealth mentality in us.
As one author confessed, “At least our marriages should work and all our children should be Christians.” (Hafemann 122).
So, when are you going to add to your list of thanksgiving things such as ill health, betrayal of friends, slander about you, spiritually stagnant children, loss of your job, disaster on the highway, and etc. Do you get it? I didn’t say enjoy or desire such things. I did say thank God for them.
B. We ought to be grateful whenever the knowledge of Christ is proclaimed through our suffering 14b
In the same way God is the one who drags Paul as a slave, so He uses Paul to make Christ known to others. The focus is on what God does, not on what Paul accomplishes.
So, through Paul’s suffering the “fragrance” of the knowledge of Christ is everywhere. His suffering generates knowledge of Christ.
This is probably a reference to the OT sacrifices. Paul’s suffering is really the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that rises up as an aroma pleasing to God. So Paul’s life and ministry are closely identified with Christ. What a great thing to be able to say!
All of this speaks to Paul’s character doesn’t it! That is the key. It also points out to us that Christian ministers dare not tailor their ministry around technique or personality; no matter what the citizens of our consumer culture demand. As David Wells states, “a genuinely biblical and God-centered ministry is almost certain to collide head on with the self-absorption and anthropocentric focus that are now normative in so many evangelical churches.” (No Place for Truth 256)
C. We ought to be grateful for the simple privilege of representing Christ regardless of the outcome 15-16a
It is important to note that Paul is grateful for the opportunity to make Christ known regardless of whether his life and message is accepted or not. In fact, he assumes that his ministry will turn some away from Christ and drive others to Him. But he is concerned about the whether he does what is right.
He gladly leaves the outcome to God. He knows he is merely a message bearer. If a battered one and if an ignored one – so what!
II. Like Paul, integrity in spite of suffering ought to characterize our life and ministry for Christ 16b-17
After describing such a demanding ministry, he poses the question, “who is equal to such a task?” He uses i`kano,j( signifying adequate or sufficient. Who can do this anyway?
We might expect the answer “no one”. But probably Paul’s answer is “I am.”
Of course the secret is found in 3:4-6 where he uses the same word, translated “competent” to suggest that God makes him adequate. Therefore, Paul is not exhibiting arrogance; just reality. He depends wholly upon God. And yet with God, there isn’t much he won’t tackle!
Paul cites the reason for his boldness in v 17. He knows he has a clear conscience (sounds a lot like Job doesn’t it). Unlike the false apostles who have recently arrived in Corinth, he is not out to fleece the sheep or make a profit off spiritual ministry. Rather, he operates from a perspective of moral purity or integrity (“sincerity = same term used in 1:12 there meaning unmixed or unalloyed).
Martin and Gracia Burnham, New Tribes missionaries, were held captive for 376 days by Muslim guerrillas in the Philippines in May 2001.
Just before a Philippine military raid on the kidnappers that led to Martin's death and Gracia's freedom, the two huddled together in a hammock under a makeshift tent. "Martin said to Gracia, 'The Bible says to serve the Lord with gladness. Let's go out all the way. Let's serve him all the way with gladness.'"
The two then prayed in their hammock, recited Scripture verses to each other, and sang. They laid down to rest. Then the rescue assault began and bullets began to fly, puncturing Gracia's leg and Martin's chest.
Citation: Ted Olsen, "Martin Burnham Went Out Serving With Gladness" ChristianityToday.com (6-10-02)
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.