Yesterday, we had a guest preacher at our church since our pastor is on a mission trip, and it was as if the Lord specifically chose this preacher to preach this message just for me. (Well, He in fact probably did.) I'm not saying it gave me all the answers or that I'm magically all better. But I have more to think about, and I'm encouraged to keep running the race and believing in God's sovereignty and goodness.
The text from the sermon was 2 Corinthians 4:1-10. I'll only copy verses 7-10 here:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.Some other Scriptures referenced were 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.And 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.I'm not going to go into a long exegesis about the life of Paul or my great revelations from these Scriptures. I'm still meditating on them myself and seeking to find the depths that God has for me in them. However, the basic thing I took away from the message yesterday is that Paul's life sucked. Paul, who is held up as one of THE greatest standards of the Christian faith, who poured out his life as a drink offering in service for Christ, who is known as THE Apostle, who carried the Good News of the Gospel all over the world, and whose work is still being carried on today. His life was so bad that he said in 1 Corinthians 15:19:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.None of the above Scriptures are new to me, but I guess I've never considered them all at once or considered what they really indicate that Paul's life was. It was miserable. Not only did he suffer physical hardship, but the vast majority of his missionary work was unsuccessful in his lifetime, and he was rejected, beaten, stoned, and chased out of town most of the places that he went. So my first reaction to this is that I really don't have much to complain about.
But my second and deeper thought is related to the above Scriptures. I guess I'd always thought that they meant that God is glorified in our weaknesses by delivering us from them in a victoriously overcoming manner. We walk in victory, acknowledging what God has delivered us from, and that is what brings Him glory. However, the preacher yesterday and the Scriptures above don't actually say that. They say that God is glorified in the weakness and failure itself, not in our deliverance from them. That doesn't make sense, and it's counter intuitive to our modern culture. But maybe that's the challenge of faith here. I don't yet know exactly what that means, but I thought I'd share the journey. Any thoughts would be welcome.