The Treasure’s All Mine (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

Apparently a lot of people are looking for COVID19 help and hope from an unexpected source: pandemic feature films.

One entertainment reporter glibly wrote, “With the world falling apart courtesy of the coronavirus, I have prepared a list of enjoyable pandemic movies.”

The Andromeda Strain, Outbreak, World War Z, 12 Monkeys, and The Omega Man are trending.

One article listed 79 pandemic movies to, as they put it, “binge watch during quarantine.”

Contagion is now the second most popular film in the Warner Bros. catalog, up from #270 last year.

Is it helping? Are people finding hope? It seems not:

A CDC report reveals what they label a “considerably elevated” mental health toll from COVID19 stresses. “More than 2 in 5 US residents report struggling with mental or behavioral health issues associated with the COVID19 pandemic, including anxiety, depression, increased substance use, and suicidal thoughts.”
In October, 37% of adults said they felt hopeless more than half of the days in the past week.

The World Health Organization says, “Bereavement, isolation, loss of income, and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety.”

In April, a survey concluded that two out of five participants reported a decline in mental health since COVID19’s inception. Anxiety, stress, fear of unemployment, being less busy, and working from home were the top five reasons for this decline among the two-thousand individuals surveyed.

COVID19 isn’t the only killer in the pandemic:

In October abcnews reported that “predictions of more suicides… during COVID19 are coming true.”

In Japan, more people died from suicide in October than from COVID19 in all of 2020.

A Hopkins-Bloomberg article said, “The pandemic has created a convergence of suicide risk factors that need a public health response.

Maybe people are looking to the movies because there is no place else to go:

The World Health Organization is reporting that “the COVID19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide.”

The Pan American Health Organization says care for mental health issues is inadequately funded in 27 countries of the Americas.

That same organization reports that one in five health workers is experiencing symptoms of depression.

Why aren’t people flocking to local churches?

Oh, that’s right: The churches were officially closed. If they were ‘allowed’ to be open, they were treated like a big-box retailer rather than the temple of God on earth. Limited attendance… Mandated to meet outdoors… No singing allowed… Masks & distancing required.

I’m talking to believers now

We are not exempt from the negative effects of the new not-so-normal. With our love of Christian fellowship, we may be even more impacted, psychologically, than others.

I want to suggest a strategy, from God’s Word, by which you both receive and render help and hope.

The passage is Second Corinthians 4:7-12. The apostle Paul describes those who are in Christ as having a great “treasure” which ought to supply you in any situation, including a global pandemic.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Inventory The Treasure You Have Received, and #2 Invest The Treasure You Have To Render.

#1 – Inventory The Treasure You Have Received (v7)

Let’s start by talking about the church for just a moment. Way back in the beginning of all this, churches were told they could not meet, except with a skeleton crew to produce live-streaming content.

It led to a sort of divide among believers as many promoted not gathering in-person as a positive

“The church has left the building” would be a way to describe their giddiness.

How is that working out? According to Barna:

One-third of practicing Christians have stopped attending entirely.

Only 50% say they have live-streamed their church services sometime during a four-week period.

Another 34% are digital church-hopping. What’s wrong with that? We have a tendency to listen to what we want to hear, rather than what God has to say to us.

In late August, the Christian Chronicle reported that “1 in 5 churches are facing permanent closure within 18 months due to COVID19 shutdowns.”

Live-streaming is a great resource. It isn’t church, however, anymore that watching Hawaii Five-O at home in your bathing suit is a vacation.

We shouldn’t expect nonbelievers to understand why our gatherings are essential. What we can expect is for them to think we are a COVID19 breeding ground that will undermine efforts to halt the pandemic.

The church is not this, or any other, stick and stucco structure. We can gather anywhere. It is wrong, however, to insist that the church is not a building.

When we gather, we collectively ‘construct’ the temple of God on the earth, as living stones, in a way we are not when we do not gather

Equipping the saints and exercising our spiritual gifts are just two of the reasons our gathering together is essential.
Jesus’ description of Himself in the Revelation as walking in the midst of the gathered church is a powerful argument for gathering.

Don’t misunderstand me. We are not saying that you must attend a gathering. COVID19, and the seasonal flu for that matter, are serious health concerns. It’s up to you to attend or not, depending on your circumstances. It’s your decision.

Whatever a Christian decides to do, however, it should be with the understanding that our meetings are essential. Like a pirate, we should be “Disinclined to acquiesce to our Governor’s requests.”

Let’s get into our text.

2Co 4:7  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

“But we have this treasure.” It is referring back to verses one through six, where Paul describes his ministry of preaching the Gospel. Albert Barnes summarizes most commentators when he writes, “The treasure [is] the Gospel; the rich and invaluable truths which they were called to preach to others.”

When I hear the word “treasure,” I’m always reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s description of the dwarf treasure upon which slept the mighty dragon, Smaug. “There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep… Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.”

The Gospel can seem like that – a vast “treasure” in general. We need to break it down – to inventory it, so to speak.

Paul gave us an inventory in another letter

The passage is in chapter one of Ephesians. You can turn there if you’d like; I’m going to list them one at a time. There are at least 10. They are called “blessings,” and we can think of them as the particulars of our treasure.

#1 You are “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (v4). Don’t get sidetracked by the Doctrine of Election and thereby miss your treasure. Before sin entered the world, God had a plan for saving you. It includes completing the work He starts in you.

In a big-picture sense, God remains in charge. His plan for the world remains intact.

More importantly, His plan for you remains intact

#2 You are “predestined to adoption” (v5). Don’t get tripped-up by “predestination.” It means that after you receive Jesus, you are destined to be like Him. The treasure here is your “adoption.” You have become like a son or a daughter to God the Father. You have full, immediate access to God.

Quarantines… Closures… Lockdowns. None of them affect you being able to immediately approach your Heavenly Father. You’re never alone.

#3 We are “accepted in the Beloved” (v6). When the Father looks at you, He sees you in Christ. He loves you exactly the way He loves His only begotten Son.

If being loved is important for your mental state, then, Wow!

#4 You have “redemption through His blood” (v7). You were a slave to sin and deserved eternal death. You couldn’t buy or earn your way out of it. The price for your freedom was the precious blood of Jesus.

You were saved to serve. The measures that have been, and still are, being implemented to combat the spread of COVID19 tend to get you focused on yourself. By new-nature, you are others oriented.

#5 You have “forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (v7). You still sin, but forgiveness is assured by grace. You shouldn’t sin that grace might abound; but when you sin, grace does abound.

Sin is a greater ‘pandemic,’ affecting every man, woman, and child. Your sins are forgiven, and you can declare to others, with authority, that if they receive Jesus, their sins will be forgiven.

#6 You have an abundance of “wisdom and prudence [understanding]” (v8). You have a new, heavenly perspective on earthly matters. You understand that human wisdom is foolish, while the foolishness of God is wisdom.

There’s a LOT to talk about during this pandemic. You have the Gospel to talk about. Bring Jesus into your conversations.

#7 You know “the mystery of His will” (v9). People like to blame God by saying, “God moves in mysterious ways.” In the Bible, a “mystery” is something God has revealed. One commentator said, “In a fallen world of war, suffering and disease; a sinful world where bad things happen to good people; God has revealed His solution to us.”

What is the solution? God is longsuffering, not willing any should perish without eternal life in Christ.

#8 You have “obtained an eternal inheritance” (v11). First Corinthians 2:9 reads, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” Some of those preparations can be seen in the last two chapters of the Bible.

Your hope is in the future – written in advance by God. When we’re talking about a disease that kills, the afterlife is on the table.

#9 You are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”(v13). In Bible times, ownership was proven by sealing something with a was imprint. When you are saved, God the Holy Spirit came to reside in you. He “seals” you as belonging to God. You are secure in your salvation.

#10 You have “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (v19). The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is the power you have through the indwelling Holy Spirit to “do all things through Christ Who strengthens you.” You are enabled, powerfully, to obey God.

There are a few other treasures in the first chapter of Ephesians. You might list them for yourself. And the list there is certainly not exhaustive. Treasure is scattered throughout the Bible for you to discover.

The current pandemic is a good time to make withdrawals from your treasure. Take all you need, because it is unlimited.

Loneliness… Depression… Anxiety… Worry… Fear… Suicidal ideations. All these and other mental effects of the quarantines, the lockdowns, the restrictions, are ‘treated’ by your spiritual blessings in the heavenlies.

Don’t let “that great dragon, Satan,” keep you from your treasure (Revelation 12:9).

#2 – Invest The Treasure You Have To Render (v8-12)

It’s Christmastime. Every gift we give or get ought to remind us of God’s “indescribable gift” (First Corinthians 9:15).

Jesus was given by God the Father… Jesus freely gave Himself… After ascending into Heaven, Jesus gave His church the gift of God the Holy Spirit… God the Holy Spirit gives every believer one or more spiritual gift(s).

Do you see a pattern of giving?

There is a two-verse parable that is often misunderstood. It’s the Parable of the Pearl.

Mat 13:45  “… the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,
Mat 13:46  who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

At first hearing, you might conclude that Jesus was the pearl, on account of His preciousness. That would make believers the merchants, giving their all for Him.

As we used to say, “Not!” If you are the merchant, you are contributing to your salvation. Salvation is no longer by grace.

You are the pearl of great price

Jesus is the merchant. He gave all – He gave His life – to purchase your salvation.

God gives. You are to give, to others, out of your treasure.

That’s pretty obvious (although it’s good to be reminded). What isn’t so obvious is the way you share your treasure. I should say, the way God shares His treasure in you with others.

He does it by your brokenness. Let’s see if we can get a handle on what that means. We can start with the words in verse seven we haven’t mentioned: “In earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”

The idea here is that the light is hidden within the clay pot. Almost all Bible commentators believe Paul is thinking about the Old Testament story of Gideon and his victory over the Midianites, recorded in Judges chapter seven.

Outnumbered by about 450 to 1, Gideon’s army nevertheless prevailed. Each of Gideon’s men had only a trumpet and a clay pot with torches hidden inside the pots.

When they blew the trumpets and broke the pots so that the torches could shine, the Midianite army was routed.

Paul was referencing that history to illustrate that light can only be revealed by us if we are broken.

How are we “broken?”

2Co 4:8  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
2Co 4:9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed –

You can count on being “pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “pounded” in ways that nonbelievers are not

Definitions are good, but all these terms can have multiple meanings. Just know that in addition to the effects of COVID19 on everyone, you have additional, unique stressors because the world hates Jesus.

On account of your treasure, you can overcome being “crushed,” being in “despair,” being “forsaken,” and being “destroyed.” It’s not positive-thinking, or psychotherapy. It is truth for you to believe.

As you are “pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted” and “pounded,” nonbelievers will see that you are not
“crushed,” “in despair,” “forsaken,” or “destroyed.”Although they are spiritually “blinded” (v4), they are enabled by God to see a light within you – a supernatural source of strength that can only come from God – which keeps and sustains you.

In the things that break you the Person Who blesses you is revealed

There is a prerogative:

2Co 4:10  always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

One Bible paraphrase translates this, “In any and every circumstance where there would normally be a reaction that reveals self, there is instead a reaction that reveals the character of Jesus Christ.”

E. Stanley Jones said, “The early Christians did not say, in dismay, ‘Look what the world has come to,’ but, in delight, ‘Look what has come to the world!’”

It’s really too bad we overused the phrase, What Would Jesus Do?

What is “the dying of the Lord Jesus?” I see it as His whole humility and humiliation in His coming to earth as a the God-man, setting aside the prerogatives of His deity, being the Suffering Servant, doing only what His Father told Him to do, being led by the Holy Spirit, and submitting willingly to His cruel death on the Cross at Calvary.

There is no possible situation you or I could ever be in that would be a worse humiliation than Jesus experienced during His first coming

We CAN respond the way Jesus would, because we have the Holy Spirit within us. When we do, people see Jesus and not us. If you “[bear] about in your body the death of Jesus Christ, [then He will be revealed].”

2Co 4:11  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2Co 4:12  So then death is working in us, but life in you.

Christians who shine through this pandemic baffle the strategy of the god of this age who has blinded nonbelievers. The light of the gospel gets through.

Speaking of pandemics… Do you know why people say, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes? I looked it up on the Google.

One of the symptoms of the bubonic plague was coughing and sneezing. It is believed that Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed in hopes that this prayer would protect them from an otherwise certain death.

Truth is, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:1).

“God’s blessed you” is our help, and our hope.

The Light-Weight Champions Of The World (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)

A bride and groom planning their wedding chose as their Bible verse First John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; for perfect love casts out fear.”

They decided to have it written in its entirety on their wedding cake.

Everything went well… Until the reception, when they walked in to find the cake decorated not with First John 4:18, but with John 4:18, “For you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband.”

I have doubts that story is true, but it serves as a good illustration. When you share God’s Word, you want to get it right.

You should be looking for a text that in its context really speaks to the situation; hopefully one that has been brought to your attention by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

This is nowhere more essential than when you are sharing with someone who is suffering. It would be better to share nothing rather than to share the wrong ‘something.’

For us, as a body of believers, 2018 was undeniably a year of intense suffering for many of our members. I’m not going to reference anyone in particular; but if you are on the prayer network, all you need do is read down the list to see the discouragements, and the diagnoses, and the deaths.

At times, and I’m not exaggerating, the suffering seemed almost Job-like, in that one tragedy followed another and another and another in rapid succession.

We all are members of one body. That means “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (First Corinthians 12:26). Is there an appropriate text in its context that can comfort all of us?

There is such a text; it’s found in Second Corinthians 4:7-18. Here is a sampling to show you its appropriateness for us:

2Corinthians 4:8  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair
2Corinthians 4:9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed –
2Corinthians 4:10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Then the author, the apostle Paul, brings it home:

2 Corinthians 4:16  Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

In 2018 we were “hard-pressed,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” and “struck down.” We want to experience the promise of not losing heart.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 If You Realize You Are Dying, You Will Not Lose Heart, and #2 If You Remember Your Destiny, You Will Not Lose Heart.

#1 – If You Realize You Are Dying, You will Not Lose Heart (v7-15)

There is a big push towards human immortality. What was once strictly the stuff of SyFy is within our reach.

One recent article, in a serious publication, suggested three ways you might achieve immortality in the near future:

By putting your consciousness into an android body.
By replacing your organs with replicas created by 3D printers.
Or, by living (for real) in a cloud-matrix.

One researcher boldly predicted that, with advances in technology, anyone currently under 40 years of age will not die of natural causes.

As per usual, the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. While nonbelievers try to extend human life on earth indefinitely, God urges us to realize, and thus embrace, that we are dying.

2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

Your “treasure” is your knowledge of, and your relationship with, God through Jesus Christ.

It is the Gospel, and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit.

It is everything that is yours if you are in Christ; everything you once lacked in your natural birth that has come to you in your spiritual birth.

What on earth could be more precious? More valuable? More necessary? More sustaining?

Paul’s point is that, this side of eternity, you are as fragile as an “earthen vessel,” which translates as “jars of clay.” You might say we are a bunch of cracked-pots. Such containers are easily broken through daily wear and tear.

As remarkable as the human body is, it is easily broken. And by “body” I’m including your mind and emotions; they, too, are frail.

A neuropsychologist wrote, “Bodies get ill, age, and die. Milk spills, glasses break, people mistreat you, good feelings fade. One’s sense of calm or worth is easily disturbed. A life is like a house of cards, and a single gust – a layoff at work, an injury, a misjudgment – can knock it over.”

For us, 2018 wasn’t hypothetical; the suffering has been real, and it has been intense. It’s helpful to realize, from the outset, we are frail in our current condition. Suffering is not unusual; it is, in fact, the norm for humans.

What sets us apart from nonbelievers is that we reveal “the excellence of the power” of God working in us. One poet put it like this:

Earthen vessels, marred, unsightly,
Bearing Wealth no thought can know;
Heav’nly Treasure, gleaming brightly –
Christ revealed in saints below!
Vessels, broken, frail, yet bearing
Through the hungry ages on,
Riches giv’n with hand unsparing,
God’s great Gift, His precious Son!

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
2 Corinthians 4:9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed –

There are four things you can count on:

Being “hard-pressed on every side.” This phrasing could describe grapes being pressed. So you can count on being pressed, but are simultaneously promised you will not be “crushed” by it.

You can count on being “perplexed.” It means confused with no clear understanding of your path. But you are simultaneously promised you need not “despair.”

You can count on being “persecuted.” We probably experience this the least, but any action against you for simply being in Christ is persecution. But you are simultaneously promised you will not be “forsaken.”

You can count on being “struck down,” which can have a number of applications, including losing the battle. But you are simultaneously promised you will not be “destroyed.”

Again I’d stress that prior knowledge is key. You will be hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. These are unavoidable given the current condition of creation.

But when you are, you can know you aren’t being crushed or driven to despair or forsaken or destroyed. They are promises that you will be sustained.

In each case the suffering is very real, but it cannot affect your treasure, and though it feels like you can’t take it, you are promised that you can.

Here is what I’m saying: You will be “struck down” at some point in your journey to Heaven. But no matter its severity, you are not, and cannot, be “destroyed,” because (as we will see in a moment) the ‘real’ you is spiritual.

How do we appropriate these promises?

2 Corinthians 4:10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2 Corinthians 4:12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.

Paul referred three times to his dying. He also reminded us that even Jesus died, as far as His physical body.

Paul never knew if he would make it through one more day. One author wrote,

Paul knew that he was dying – and that everybody is dying. He experienced tremendous suffering, and in it he saw the decay and the wasting away of his earthly life. There were weaknesses and sicknesses and injuries and hardships and pressures and frustrations and disappointments. And every one of them cost him a piece of his life.

We need to realize that death permeates creation on account of sin.

Dying is a way of life. Not just physical death.

No, we must deal with the death of dreams and hopes and plans as suffering dramatically alters them as well.

While suffering understandably troubles us, it should be expected. It’s why Jesus came and died – to overcome sin and death, reversing the curse upon this planet and this universe.

Paul also mention “life” three times. He said the life of Jesus is shown to others through us in our suffering.

Our frailties are the backdrop for people to see the power of life in Jesus Christ. The “treasure” must be revealed; and apparently its excellence is in and through our enduring suffering in the strength of Jesus’ resurrection.

2 Corinthians 4:13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,

“I believed and therefore I spoke” is Psalm 116:10. The entire verse reads, “I believed, therefore I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted.” ”

I think God gave it to Paul in his suffering – just like we are discussing having verses to encourage and strengthen us in our suffering.

The psalmist prayed for deliverance, believing it could come in this life, but knowing it will come in the afterlife.

What I am about to say I do not want to be misunderstood, or to undermine anyone who is suffering. God absolutely can and does deliver and heal. Pray for healing; pray for deliverance.

We must nonetheless admit that God doesn’t heal or deliver as often as we ask. People we pray fervently for remain sick; they die.

It is NOT from a lack of faith on anyone’s part. It is the nature of the dispensation in which we live.

Paul has already said we carry, “about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus” (v10). In his letter to the Colossians he wrote something similar, saying that we “fill up in [our] flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church“ (Colossians 1:24).

Here is what those verses tell us about the church age in which we live: Believers are Jesus’ “body” on the earth. He is in Heaven, but we remain on earth and, as His body, it’s as if He never left. Men still afflict Him through us, and in that way we carry about His dying, and “fill up,” or complete, His afflictions.

It’s an era, a dispensation, where God can and does heal; where He can and does deliver. But most often He does not. He is glorified as we carry His dying and fill up His afflictions.

It takes incredible faith to say, “Not my will, but Your will be done.”
2 Corinthians 4:14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.

Now we’re getting to it. We have something to look forward to; something that will cancel-out every tear we’ve shed prior to it. The resurrection of Jesus in His glorified human body guarantees that everyone of us in Christ will likewise be raised.

All the believers of the church age in which we so suffer will one day be personally presented to our Father in Heaven.

Does it sound like Paul had given up hope in being raptured and knew he would be martyred and was instead looking forward to being resurrected? Not at all. Our attitude ought to be to expect the Lord’s coming as imminent, but unpredictable.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

These words encourage you – encourage us – to endure suffering on account of four things:

First – We endure for the good of others. In Paul’s case, we see the immediate effect of his suffering as he continued to preach the Gospel and win converts to Jesus.

In our case, we need to take God’s word for it that in our suffering we have a positive effect on others – both believers and nonbelievers.
The effect we have will mostly be intangible. By that I mean we may not see immediately results, e.g., people getting saved.

It will be to build-up those surrounding us, going through it with us.

Second – We endure by the sustaining grace of God. Paul himself reported elsewhere that he had prayed about what he called a thorn in his flesh, and the messenger of Satan. God refused to heal him from the thorn, or to deliver him from the messenger, but promised Paul that His sustaining grace was sufficient.

If God refuses to deliver… Refuses to heal… Then His grace is sufficient – nay, abundant – for you to endure.

Third – We endure because our trust in the Lord inspires others to “thanksgiving.” When God brings beauty out of ashes, and triumph in spite of tragedy, it inspires the giving of thanks.

Fourth – We endure to bring God glory. If our purpose in life is to glorify God, and since He can be glorified in and through our suffering, then so be it.

In one of the situations that we as a church body endured in 2018, one that ended in death, I kept being drawn to Jeremiah 17:14, “Heal me, LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”

If God chose to “heal,” He would be the One we praised.

If God chose to “save,” meaning to bring his son home to Heaven to complete his salvation, He would still be the One we praised.

#2 – If You Remember Your Destiny, You Will Not Lose Heart (v16-18)

Nobody here this morning wants to lose heart. Nobody came in here saying, “I sure hope we sing some songs and hear a Bible study that helps me lose heart.”

In the midst of such intense pain and suffering, how can we not lose heart?

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart…

I think it was Dr. J. Vernon McGee who I first heard say, “Know what the ‘therefore’ is there for.”

The “therefore” tells you that what Paul has just said – what we’ve just read – is the reason to not lose heart.

Again the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world:

The world says the kind of suffering Paul described is precisely why you do lose heart.

The Word says the kind of suffering Paul described – when properly approached – is precisely why you do not lose heart.

The truths we are encountering in these verses – they are why you do not lose heart in your suffering. You are to believe them.

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.

Paul never lost sight that his “outward man,” his earthly body, was wasting away. The more it did, the more it magnified, and amplified, that the “inward man” is constantly being renewed.

The “inward man” – that’s the ‘real’ you. It’s your soul and spirit, that part of you that will be resurrected or raptured in an eternal, glorified body at the coming of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

There are people in our body that might be offended at having their “affliction” called “light.” Except for the fact it was Paul who said it. A little later in this letter he describes a few of his “light” sufferings:

2Corinthians 11:24  From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
2Corinthians  Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
2Corinthians  in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
2Corinthians  in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness –
2Corinthians  besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

Paul was definitely a ‘light-weight,’ as we are using the term. He considered any and all pain and suffering insignificant when weighed against the glory of eternity. He gave glory more weight. Someone said, “Compared to the glory coming, afflictions are like feathers on the scale.”

2 Corinthians 4:18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

This is telling us to not do something, but to do something else:

Do not “look at the things which are seen.” That is the material world in which, as strangers and pilgrims, we are merely passing through.

Do “look… At the things which are not seen.” That is the spiritual – everything laid out about us, and for us, in a relationship with Jesus.

Albert Barnes wrote,

Paul here has stated the true secret of bearing trials with patience. It is to look at the things which are unseen. To anticipate the glories of the heavenly world. To fix the eye on the eternal happiness which is beyond the grave; and to reflect how short these trials are, compared with the eternal glories of Heaven; and how short they will seem to be when we are there.

In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the Lord dictated letters to seven churches. Only one church received no criticism from Him. It was the church in Smyrna. It has been called “the suffering church.” Jesus told the pastor of that church to deliver the following message:

Revelation 2:10  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

I feel a little bit like the pastor at Smyrna, in that I’ve pretty much told you that suffering is inevitable. It is, whether we say it or not.

But that’s not the takeaway. The takeaway is to be a light-weight, like Paul and myriads of saints who have gone before you.

We are naturally heavy-weights. We consider our suffering heavy, and we put greater weight on the material present rather than our spiritual destiny. Get out of the heavy-weight division.

Your affliction is light, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt; that you won’t cry rivers of tears.

It means that in spite of it, and in large measure on account of it, you are being renewed day by day.

Be a light-weight. Tell yourself, and tell one another, “Do not lose heart.”

You Can’t Handle The Trial (2 Cor. 1:8-11)

If you have ever been told that God will not give you more than you can handle, then this will be encouragement for you.

If you have ever been the one to tell someone else that God will not give them more than they can handle… This study is for you, too, I suppose, only it won’t be as encouraging.

You absolutely do find yourselves in situations you cannot handle.

Before you think I’m a heretic, listen to these words of the apostle Paul:

2Co 1:8  For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.

I generally prefer the NKJV, but it’s a little weak translating those words into English.  Let’s hear the verse in a few other translations.

NIV – 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.

ESV – For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.

Berean Study Bible – We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about the hardships we encountered in the province of Asia. We were under a burden far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.

NASB – For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.

The J.B. Phillips paraphrase of this verse is insightful: “At that time we were completely overwhelmed; the burden was more than we could bear; in fact we told ourselves that this was the end.”

Elsewhere in scripture we can find similar sentiments:

Ps 38:8 CEB  “I’m worn out, completely crushed; I groan because of my miserable heart.”
Ps 38:4 CEB  “My wrongdoings are stacked higher than my head; they are a weight that’s way too heavy for me.”

We read of Elijah being told by an angel: “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (First Kings 19:7).

If Paul could be “so utterly burdened beyond [his] strength that [he] despaired of life itself,” so can any believer.

I’d go so far to say, so will every believer, at some point or another.

When I tell that burdened believer “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” not only is it false, it heaps a greater burden upon them.

I understand that we mean well, that we are not trying to over-burden them.  But that’s no excuse for our lack of compassion.

If I give you a task, and you ask for help, and I say, “You can handle it,” aren’t I refusing to come to your aid and laying it all on you?

Besides, that particular phrase is not in the Bible, and it’s always better to use Scripture than clichés.

Let’s start by asking, “What happened to Paul in Asia?”  There are at least five suggestions commentators give for his trouble:

In Acts 19, we read of a city-wide riot in Ephesus when the silversmiths accused Paul of ruining their business of making idols to the goddess Diana.

Paul mentioned other troubles in Ephesus, describing them as as “fighting with “wild beasts” (First Corinthians 15:32).
He had recently suffered by being beaten with thirty-nine lashes after being brought before a Jewish court (2Co 11:24).
There is a hint in First Corinthians of a particular but unspecified persecution shortly before he left for Troas (Acts 20:19;First Corinthians 16:9).

It may have been his recurring physical malady, perhaps his infamous but unknown “thorn in the flesh.”  Or some acute, but deadly, condition.

We can’t be certain, and that is, I think, on purpose, so that we can apply his words to a variety of trials, instead of the one he was going through.

He described the intensity of his trials in three ways.  First, he was “burdened beyond measure, above strength.”  Physically and psychologically, he could not cope with his situation.

When you go to the doctor they have those charts of emojis to gauge how much pain you are in.  Paul said his pain was off the charts.  It was a 20 on the ten-scale.  And he meant his psyche as much as his body.

Second, “despaired of life” captures the thought that his life was dominated by these troubles so that he could not see the way out.  In fact, the word for “despaired” can be translated “no exit,” or “no way out.”

Third, he fully expected to die as a result of his troubles.  He said so in verse nine:

2Co 1:9  indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves…

“Sentence of death” might mean that Paul knew of death threats; or simply that martyrdom was a constant reality for him; or, if his trial were a physical malady, that it was threatening to kill him.  Either way, he fully expected to die.

I’d wish that most of you never experience trouble so severe that you feel crushed and despair of life, but I’m betting most of you have already.

Maybe you’re going through something like that now and see no way out, no exit.

Paul has the proper encouragement for you in such times.  But first he describes something he has learned by going through such times.  God can use them to a particular purpose, namely,

2Cor 1:9 … so that we would not trust in ourselves…

For as long as I remain in this body of flesh, I will need to learn how to quit trusting in myself, and how to rely on the Lord.

When I tell someone “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” I’m encouraging them to trust in themselves.  We all need to be taught how to rely solely on God.

If I am to rely solely on God, what is it, exactly, that I am to understand about Him?

2Cor1:9  … so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;

God has the power to raise the dead.  It’s no small thing, and it can be quite powerful in motivating us to trust God.

We all recall Abraham’s willingness to obey God by sacrificing Isaac on the altar.  In the Book of Hebrews, we’re told, “[Abraham concluded] that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (11:19).

Being told to sacrifice your son on an altar.  Talk about despair – about no way out.  God’s power to raise the dead ministered to Abraham.

2Co 1:10  who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,

We, too, have experienced the power to raise the dead.  God has already “delivered us from so great a peril of death.”

Now that you are a Christian, you can look back and understand the peril you were in from death.  If you had died without receiving Jesus Christ, you would have been lost forever, consigned by your rejection of Jesus to spend eternity in conscious torment in Hell.

Instead, you have been “delivered” from that peril.  You might still die, but then you will be absent from your body and immediately present with Jesus.

Then again, you might not die – if you are alive, remaining on the earth, at the rapture of the church.

You have been delivered, in the past; you will be delivered, in the future, through resurrection or by the rapture

This all powerful God, Who has already delivered you from such great peril, can, and will, deliver you either from or through your present trials.

I’ve had trials that ended so suddenly I couldn’t believe it.

Ah, but other trials, God wants to deliver you through them.  Those are the ones I don’t like.

If I have a messenger of Satan buffeting me, I don’t want to hear God tell me that His strength is sufficient in my weakness.  I don’t want Him to tell me that what I cannot bear, He will strengthen me to bear, so that it is evident to all onlookers that the power comes from Him.

But then, it’s really not up to me, is it?  My life is no longer my own; I belong to Jesus.

There is another necessary source of help when I cannot bear things, and when I despair of life.  It is the prayers of other saints for me.

2Co 1:11  you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

The “favor bestowed upon” Paul and his companions was  deliverance.  Since we do not know what trial or trials Paul meant, it could be that, by their prayers and with God’s strength, that Paul had been delivered from the trial.

Or it could be that the trial was continuing, but that by the prayers of the saints and with God’s strength, that Paul was being delivered through the trial as he endured it as unto the Lord.

God involves other saints, praying, to accomplish His deliverance in your life.

I’m always saddened when saints withdraw from fellowship in the midst of their trials.  God will deliver you – but He wants others involved.

All this brings us to a catch-22 moment.  A huge part of my being delivered from my present burden and despair is the prayers of other saints.  But too often those other saints only offer me cliché comfort, like telling me God won’t give me more than I can handle.  So I don’t share my burdens.  Or, worse, I withdraw.

If someone shares their burden, their despair, with you, it’s probably better for you to talk to God about them, rather than talk to them about God.

If Paul is right – and he is – prayer is better than counsel.

I’m not saying you can’t talk about the situation.  You should.  Just make sure you’re also talking to God about it.

I’ve seriously considered turning the typical ‘counseling’ session into a prayer meeting.  In light of this verse, I may yet have the courage to do it.

I’m not sure if there is a more clever way to word it, but I should tell burdened, desperate saints, that the God Who has power to raise the dead, and Who has delivered them in the past, and Who will deliver them in the future, can and will deliver them from or through their present trouble.

Then we pray!

Map Quest

Luke Skywalker thought he was ready to face Darth Vader.  Ignoring the warnings of both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda that he was heading into a trap, Luke confronted Vader, only to have his hand cut off and hear the iconic words, “I am your father.”

Although the light saber was “an elegant weapon for a more civilized age,” Luke’s real weapon would be something totally unexpected.  In their second confrontation, it wasn’t until he abandoned his weapon altogether and was willing to lose his life that he defeated his enemy.

I’m not suggesting that Star Wars is in any way a Christian allegory.  The scenes I just referenced are a common literary device, found in lots of books and screen plays, to emphasize that we can go off half-cocked, thinking we are proficient with our weapons.

Spiritual warfare can be like that.  We can go off half-cocked if we don’t understand the weapons of our warfare.

You may have heard Christians talk about spiritual mapping.  It started with John Dawson’s book, Taking Our Cities for God, published in 1989.  The book’s subtitle is: “How to Break Spiritual Strongholds. ”

The author taught that demonic forces block the Gospel.  His thesis: the power and influence of the “principalities and powers” over a city must be broken before the Gospel will significantly advance.

Spiritual mapping involves some, or all, of the following techniques:

The history of the city must be studied and understood. Certain key questions must be answered.  For example, How and why did the city begin?  Who were the founders and what were their intentions and spiritual condition?  What presently characterizes the city, or, what is it known for?
The latest demographic study of the city should be analyzed.
The history of race relations must be studied along with any traumatic event the city had experienced like an earthquake, a flood, etc.

With proper research, the demonic spirit or spirits in control of the city will be identified and thus their power can be broken by the use of some appropriate spiritual effort.  For instance, if a city is characterized by pride, then the Christian response ought to be humility.

(I thought humility was supposed to characterize us all the time?)

That sounds great – even spiritual.  But I’m suggesting it’s more like Luke Skywalker getting his hand chopped off.

Let me give you two reasons why spiritual mapping is not part of our spiritual warfare.

The first reason is that it simply is not taught in the Bible.

There is one clear text that describes territorial spirits or demons.  It’s in the Book of Daniel.  We’re going to study it in subsequent weeks, so, for now, a brief overview will suffice.

In Daniel ten, the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that he was sent to give him a message, yet it took him twenty-one days to get to Daniel because he was restrained by a demon called the Prince of Persia.  He finally broke through with the help of Michael the Archangel.

Daniel wasn’t doing any mapping before this demon was revealed to him.  After he was made aware of this territorial demon, it had no effect on how he prayed.

No cities were set free; no mass evangelism took place.

I’m not being cynical – just factual.

One scholar summarized this, saying,

That the Bible attests to the existence and activity of territorial spirits does not constitute grounds for thinking that Christians can or should attempt to identify them and the areas they control.  The presence and influence of the princes were disclosed to Daniel, but not because he sought to discover their identity or functions. Nor is there any evidence that Daniel prayed for their defeat. Proponents of spiritual mapping run the risk of indulging in the sort of speculation that Scripture consistently avoids.

A second reason we don’t want to get caught-up in this kind of thing is because it comes from a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word “strongholds” in Second Corinthians ten.

2Co 10:3    For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
2Co 10:4    For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
2Co 10:5    casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

I like the sound of “pulling down strongholds,” don’t you?

Trouble is, we tend to think of a stronghold as if it’s a rats-nest of demons, led by a more powerful demon; and that we need to make an assault on their territory.  That’s not it by a long shot.

Paul defines for us what he meant by “strongholds” in verse five.  He says they are “arguments,” and then qualifies them as “every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”

William MacDonald said,

Paul saw himself as a soldier warring against the proud reasonings of man, “arguments” which oppose the truth.  The true character of these arguments is described in the expression “against the knowledge of God.”  It could be applied today to the reasonings of scientists, evolutionists, philosophers, and religionists who have no room for God in their scheme of things.  The apostle was in no mood to sign a truce with these.  Rather he felt committed to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

MacDonald mentioned evolution.  It is an “argument” that seeks to explain origins without any need for God and His creation.

Mormonism, and every other false religion, is an argument against God as He is revealed in the Bible.

These “arguments,” lame though they may be, hold nonbelievers captive.  They think they are free thinkers, who have thrown-off the bondage of believing in God.  The “arguments” are the doctrines of demons, and “every high thing” sounds like a wall behind which they are prisoners held captive.

In some cases, the “arguments” are directly attributed to what we’d call a demon; like the angel Moroni who gave Joseph Smith Mormonism.

The question is, How do we cast down those strongholds?

Let me further qualify that question by using the words we find in the Bible text: How do we pull down those strongholds in a way that “brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ?”

It seems, to me at least, there are three common approaches to the pulling down of strongholds.  One I’m going to call ‘legislation,’ although that might not be the best descriptor.  What I mean is that we try to keep laws on the books, or pass new ones, that are in line with the truth taught in the Bible.

Let me say, I see nothing wrong with this; and there is much value in it.  For example Prop 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative that established that only marriages between a man and a woman would be recognized in The Golden State.  The voter-approved amendment to the state’s constitution overturned a California Supreme Court’s ruling from the same year that had granted same-sex couples of the state the constitutional right to marry.

Unfortunately, United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who is openly homosexual, overturned Proposition 8 on August 4, 2010.

Many people don’t know that the folks who really led the Prop 8 initiative were Calvary Chapel of Chino Hills, pastored by Jack Hibbs, as he was stirred-up by The Lord.

We live in a society governed by laws and should exercise our rights as citizens to see laws passed that reflect God’s government.

You’ve probably heard someone say, “you can’t legislate morality.”  On one level, that’s not true.  Laws are the very means by which societies do, in fact, legislate what they consider right and wrong.

On a spiritual level, laws cannot change the heart.  No legislation can “bring every thought into  captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

We want to pull down strongholds in a way that affects the heart.  Legislation is good, but it stops short of our objective.

A second common approach to the pulling down of strongholds – again, a good one – we can call debate; it’s really apologetics.  It is to meet the arguments of the enemies of the Gospel head-on with the truth of God’s Word.

Creation science would be a good example of this.  Believers who are scientists who seek to have creation taught side-by-side with evolution; or who debate prominent evolutionists; are to be commended.  Creation decimates evolution, and nothing in the Bible contradicts good science.

But, again, please notice: winning a debate does not, by itself, “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” because the problem is with the heart.

Apologetics might clear the way, if a person is sincere; but it is not the way of obtaining our objective.

The third approach to the pulling down of strongholds is evangelism.  It’s the one – the only one – that affects the heart and renders it possible for the saved person to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

Ultimately, then, the weapons of our warfare are the usual, but extraordinary, spiritual disciplines – like prayer and the proper use of the Word of God as a spiritual sword to discern between the soul and the spirit.

We can certainly show how societies who have devalued marriage have crumbled; we can easily prove evolution cannot be true; but it doesn’t deliver anyone from behind the barricades.

We must approach this spiritually so that the Holy Spirit can convict the hearts of nonbelievers of sin, of righteousness, and of the judgment to come, and be saved.

Let’s legislate!  Let’s debate!  But, foremost, let’s pray and share the Word, which is the power of God unto salvation.

Please Please Thee (2 Corinthians 5v1-10)

As some of you know, I’ve been experiencing a fun visit with bacterial pneumonia for the better part of a month this summer. I’m finally feeling a little better and able to again do things I need to do.

And many, if not all of you, know that it’s a discouraging thing to be struggling in life, whether it’s illness or financial concerns or marriage trouble or some other kind of trial. It can be very demoralizing. Because life isn’t easy.

But a few weeks ago when I was in the thick of it, I was blessed and encouraged by a passage in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. It’s the passage we’re going to be looking at this morning, and I hope that all of you will be encouraged by it as I was. Because there we find a wonderful revelation from God, first that He knows exactly what is going on right now in your life and my life, He is with us, and second He has a purpose and a prescription for us right now as we live this life.

We need to grab hold of the fact that the Bible promises us struggle. Whether you’re a Christian here this morning or whether you’ve never entrusted and surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, we’re all going to struggle. There’s suffering and difficulty and confusion in this world. Because we as human beings introduced sin into humanity and with it we brought decay and destruction and death. People get sick. People hurt other people. People die. All because of the sin that Adam and Eve brought into the world and the sin that continues to multiply today.

But, even as Christians who have been saved from sin, we’re promised that in this life we will have tribulation and struggle and difficulty. There are a number of reasons why. First of all, Jesus said plainly that since the world hated Him, of course the world is going to hate the people who follow after Him. But second, the Bible explains that God allows His people to experience suffering because it benefits and evaluates our faith. Our faith is tested to discover if it is genuine. When a storm comes, will I be the kind of person that cuts and runs or do I have a faith that endures? The Bible says that when our faith is tested our endurance has a chance to grow and our lives are purified. And, of course we understand that faith untested is not faith at all. We are called to live by faith and not by sight.

And so we each come here this morning with different struggles. Different difficulties in our lives. Some are to a greater degree, some are to a lesser degree. But every person comes here today with some confusion, some hurt, some trial either presently impacting your life or one that’s about to show up. That’s something for us to remember as we interact with one another.

But, luckily for us, just as we are promised suffering in God’s word, God’s people are also promised the strength and the ability to rise above our suffering and our struggles in newness of life. We’re promised that our trials and difficulties can have a purpose and that they can be used by God. We’re promised a route to glory if we’re willing to put our trust not only in God but in the things He asks us to do.

So, this morning, as we look at a text which talks about suffering, we’ve been given an invitation to evaluate how we are responding to the difficulties of life. Because, yes we’re promised suffering in God’s word, and yes, God’s people are promised the tools and empowering needed to live above that suffering, but we have a part to play, we have a response to make to this gracious God.

And our response is key. Because in the midst of this life we can respond different ways to the Lord, especially during times of trial and suffering. Like Job, are we saying to God, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”? Or, like Job’s wife, when struggle comes along, are we saying, “Curse God and die”?

Our text is 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 1 through 10, which say:

2 Corinthians 5.1-10 – For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

This text was an encouragement to me as I saw God saying, “I know what you’re going through.” But, more than that, it’s an exciting passage of Scripture because of the promises and the look into the future that we receive.

But, like we’ve already talked about, intertwined in all those promises is the idea that we have a part to play. There is a call to action for us.

So, this morning the 2 ideas we’re going to be looking at from this text are these: Are we longing for the Lord and are we living for the Lord?

First, in these verses we see our longing for Christ.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians a second time, he gets into this section and talks to them about suffering. Back in chapter 4 he talks about how fragile we are, here in these mortal bodies. And, now, in our text, he talks about our bodies sighing and groaning. And, of course we understand that suffering isn’t just limited to physical illness. There are all sorts of problems and hurts that we face.

But Paul points out that we have something very definite and very real to look forward to as Believers. He talks about an eternal body we will receive, made by God Himself. A body free from weariness and sickness. A perfect, eternal body crafted by the Creator. We think about that and we can’t help but think about another promise Jesus made that, after His resurrection, He would ascend into heaven where He would prepare a home for us. God is fashioning for each of His people a body and a home to live in when we meet with Him in heaven.

But not only that, throughout Scripture we learn more about what is waiting for us in eternity. Heaven itself is described not as harps and clouds, but a massive, beautiful city with unimaginable depth and detail. A place where there is no sorrow and there is no pain.
On top of that, in eternity we will be finally, fully set free from sin. No more desire to sin. No more effects of sin. No more temptation or anger or resentment. No more decay. Perfect freedom.

If that weren’t enough, the Bible says that God’s people don’t just get entrance into heaven, but that we will be rewarded for the service to the Lord that we render in this life. Lavish, Kingly rewards.

But more than all those things, more than the body and the city and the reward, we know waiting for us in heaven is Jesus Himself, the One who saved our lives. The One who gave Himself that we might not have to pay the debt that we owed.

Everyone’s talking about the federal debt right now. It’s estimated that if you divided the federal debt evenly to every man, woman and child in America right now, every one of us would owe more than $45,000, not including personal debt like houses, cars, students loans, credit cards.

Now, let’s say someone came to you tomorrow morning and said, “You have to the end of the day to pay me all of that debt.” I’m guessing most of us wouldn’t be able to settle the score. Maybe some, but not many.

But, spiritually speaking things are much worse for us. Because the Bible says that the wages or, in our analogy, the debt for every individual sin is death. That is the penalty for one sin. Just one. And as we think about what is piled into our account, the judgment we deserve, and then to realize that Jesus Christ came, died and rose again on our behalf so He could take that debt away Himself, is amazing. He is who waits for us in heaven. That Person. That Savior. That Forgiver and Friend.

As Christians, knowing what we know about heaven and eternity, there should be an expectation in our lives and a longing for eternity.

1 Peter 1.3-4 – All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.

Our struggles and our sufferings serve as a reminder to us that there is something waiting for us. And, like Paul said in verse 4, it’s not that we want to die, it’s that we eagerly await the moment when we will be swallowed up by life. A longing to thirst no more. A longing expectation to be perfected and completed and united with Christ in eternal life.

And so the question that comes to us is this: Right now, today, what am I longing for? Can I evaluate my life and honestly say that I have a longing for eternity, not just philosophically, but actively?

Or, put it this way – what does my heart desire right now?

The things we long for, the things we desire, set the course of our lives.

It’s clear from Scripture that God is sovereign and that He has a plan and a will for your life and for my life, but He also allows us to set our own course either toward Him or away from Him. We’re given free will to do so.

Jonah is the prime example. God said go right, Jonah went left. God followed him and worked to get his attention with a storm on the sea, Jonah tried to kill himself. God intervened and set Jonah on a beach. Jonah finally went and followed in the way God had made for him.

Or, think about it this way – Abraham and Lot. Both are considered righteous men in the New Testament. There came a point where they had to choose which direction they would move in their lives with their families. Lot desired wealth and power and luxury above other things. Abraham desired God. Lot moved toward Sodom. Abraham moved wherever the Lord wanted him to go.

The things we long for and desire in our hearts will determine the course of our lives. God will never abandon us, but He will allow us to go left when He wants us to go right. And that mis-direction can cause incredible tragedy in our lives. Look at Adam and Eve. Look at Jonah. Look at Lot.

Mark 4.18-19 – (Some seed fell among thorns) The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced.

Contrast that with:

Psalm 37.4 – Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.

When flying an airplane, the accuracy of your course is very important. For every degree that you fly off course, you miss the place you want to land by 92 feet for every mile you fly.

92 feet may not seem like much until you think about it this way – fly 60 miles just one degree off course and you’ll miss your target by an entire mile. So if you were flying from JFK to LAX just one degree off course would put you about 40 miles out in the Pacific Ocean.

A Christian who doesn’t long for eternity, who doesn’t delight in the Lord is in trouble. Because, like Jonah or the plane from JFK, they’re on course toward the ocean. They’re moving their lives toward something that is temporal and tragic and dying. Not toward the abundant life God wants for them.

God wants life for you. He wants your life to have eternal value.

2 Corinthians 5.5 – God Himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee, He has given us His Holy Spirit.

Our Creator and Savior and Friend and Lover has guaranteed us the future hope by giving us His Holy Spirit, to dwell within us, reminding us of where we’re headed.

Do we long for the Lord?

Remember when you were in middle school and it was Valentine’s Day? Remember being excited about getting valentines from people?

Or when you’ve had to spend some time away from your spouse and there’s that card or that email that comes through and you get that excitement to hear from them and think about being reunited with them?

If there’s no spark when that happens, we understand that a marriage is in trouble.

Now think about your relationship with Jesus. The ultimate Friend and Lover and Savior. If there’s no spark, no longing, no desire, then there’s something wrong. God has written us and told us that He’s coming back soon. Does that make a difference to us or have we become detached from our relationship with Him?

Charles Spurgeon once said:

“My horse invariably comes home in less time than he makes the journey out. He pulls the carriage with a hearty good will when his face is towards home. Should not I also both suffer and labour the more joyously because my way lies towards heaven, and I am on pilgrimage to my Father’s house, my soul’s dear home and resting place?”

If we evaluate our longings, we will find whether we’re distracted by some suffering, deceived by some worldly pursuit or right where we need to be. The Bible says that you are a slave to whatever controls you. Whatever fills your life, that’s what controls you.

Don’t be swallowed up by bitterness from suffering or materialism in this world, but be swallowed up by the life God has offered to you.

How do we do that? By living for Christ.

The Christian life isn’t just about looking forward to heaven. It’s about carrying out God’s will for us and setting a course toward Him in our daily lives.

It’s the second half of our verses, but it’s all brought home and given right to us in verse 9:

2 Corinthians 5.9 – So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please Him.

Our goal is to please God. That is the Christian life.

How do we do that? God sets the standard, but He also gives us the instructions.

First, from our text (verse 7):

2 Corinthians 5.7 – We live by believing and not seeing.

We live by believing what God has said about Himself and what He has said about how we are to go about our daily lives.

The Bible is not just the detailing of who God is, but it is also the explanation of how we please the God who made us and saved us. And as we go to the Scriptures, we discover who God really is. Not who we’d like Him to be or who our culture says He is, but who He actually is. And then we learn what honors Him, what angers Him, what pleases Him, what He has required of us, what is good and what is evil.

Right now, because of the revelation of God and because of the Holy Spirit that God the Father sent for my benefit, I am able to evaluate my life and know whether I am pleasing God or whether I am not.

And, here’s the thing we need to remember as Christians who live in a time and place where it isn’t very hard to be a Christian: Being a disciple isn’t just about flying under the radar. What I mean by that is, being a Christian isn’t just about not murdering people. We see something like that on cop shows a lot, right? The ex-con gets let out and the authorities tell him something like, “Just keep your nose clean and out of trouble.”

But the Christian life isn’t about flying under the radar. Our goal is to please God.

Jesus once told a parable about 3 different servants. The master gave each one money and ability to do business for him and then the master went on a journey.

When the master returned he found that 2 of the servants had gone out and worked with that money, creating a profit from what they had. The 3rd servant took the money he was given and just buried it in the ground. When the master came to him the servant said, “Here’s your money back. I didn’t do anything with it.” That master wasn’t happy.

If you were the master, would that have pleased you? A dormant Christian does not please God. Remember, when someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He said, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those are action commandments. Those are callings. The Bible says, “Those who love God keep His commandments.”

We know how to please God, because He’s told us how. We’re given 66 books of instruction. We’re given the life of Jesus, which we are to follow. His teachings and His methods and His example.

Paul, one chapter over from our text, explains how he lived life to please God:

2 Corinthians 6.3-10 – We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

And so the question is: Am I doing any of those things? Am I actually living for Christ? Am I following God’s commands or am I ignoring the ones that I find inconvenient? Am I loving my neighbor or am I avoiding them? Am I enduring troubles and hardships or am I blaming God for them? Do I ever preach in the sense of sharing my faith or do I hide it? Am I living the Christian life or am I just trying to fly under the radar?

These can be challenging questions, but God doesn’t want us to feel defeated and He doesn’t want every one of His people to be martyred. That’s not the point. So let’s talk about today.

Today, do I see my life as an opportunity to lay bricks in the Kingdom of God? The Bible says I can.

Today, am I enduring the struggles I’m facing to bring God glory and show the world that I have a hope and future? The Bible says I can.

Today, am I praying and sharing and working to help snatch the lost from the grip of sin? The Bible says I can.

Today, am I hastening the coming of Christ by the way I live my life? Because the Bible says I can.

Our culture and our generation has too many undead Christians. Christians who are like zombies. Brought out of the grave, but uninterested in becoming truly alive. Uninterested in pleasing God. Not thinking about the future. Living for the pleasures and pursuits of this world instead of the next.

Here’s where we close. As this text points out, life isn’t easy. We all struggle. We all suffer. We all have to contend with the sin in and around us. We all can feel confused at times about what’s going on in our lives.

But God knows all about what is going on in your life and my life. He knows your hurts and your pains. He knows what’s coming down the road. And He is with us so that our lives can have purpose and passion, even when we’re suffering. And how we respond to those struggles is key. Because our response is the difference between rising above those difficulties or falling down underneath them.

Here in this text we see that God has given us light to see life clearly and properly. He’s guaranteed His love for us and His plan for the future by giving us the Holy Spirit.

None of us want to be like Lot or Jonah or the 3rd Servant in the parable, but when we struggle, it’s possible for us to react like they did. To stop longing for Christ and to stop living for Christ.

2 Corinthians 4.16-18 – That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Our part is to open our lives to God. To fix our eyes on Him. To long for Christ and live for Christ.

We don’t do these things perfectly, but that’s not what we’re called to. God doesn’t expect perfection from us. That’s why He provides all that we need. He provides the help and the vision and the filling. That’s what He’s promised.

We may not do these things perfectly, but are we doing them presently? That’s the question. Today, right now, am I living to please God or am I living for something else? Only you can answer that question in your heart as you spend time in prayer with the Holy Spirit.

This life, though difficult, is full of promise and hope for those people who are willing to please God and follow after Him. People who the Bible describes this way:

1 Peter 2.9-10 – But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.