Opening illustration: On September 12th, 1962, President JF Kennedy delivered a speech at Rice University in Houston, TX, about the difficult challenges facing the nation. He also shared his passion for the US to place a man on the moon. In balancing the needs of his people with the desire to conquer space, Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade. We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” The nation responded. Seven years later, Neil Armstrong took a step for man but a “giant leap for mankind” in July of 1969, walking on the moon.
This morning we will look into God’s Word and see why we as believers of Jesus Christ must make the hard choices in our lives or should we be looking out for easy short cuts for our Christian life. Let us turn to 2 Corinthians 4: 5 – 18.
Introduction: Paul and his fellow apostles (4: 6 - 13) stand in contrast to these “super leaders,” who are so esteemed by some of the saints in Corinth. The Corinthians who have aligned themselves with the “super leaders” feel smug and superior to the other saints, including Paul. Paul and his colleagues have become “as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things” (4: 13). They are looked down upon as an embarrassment to the church, while their new leaders give the Corinthians a sense of pride since they are so smooth, so persuasive, and so wise. In reality, these leaders, in whom all too many of the saints take pride, are “false apostles,” as Paul spells out in 2 Corinthians 11. Because these messengers are so attractive, charming and appealing that some Christians are only too happy to give up the gospel, as preached by Paul and the apostles and to embrace whatever “gospel” these false apostles might offer (see 11: 1 - 15).
Why do we choose the hard things?
1. Depend on God’s Mercy (vs. 5 – 7)
Paul had said that his course had been open, and pure, and free from all dishonest arts and tricks, and that he had not corrupted the Word of God, or resorted to any artifice to accomplish his designs. The “reason” of this he here says is, that he had not preached himself, or sought to advance his own interest. He regarded himself as sent to make known a Savior; himself as bound by all means to promote his cause, and to imitate him. Other people - the false teachers, and the cunning priests of the pagan religion - sought to advance their own interest and to perpetuate a system of delusion that would be profitable to themselves; and they therefore resorted to all arts, and stratagems, and cunning devices to perpetuate their authority, and extend their influence. For God hath shined in our hearts - The hearts of all those whom the god of this world no longer blinds. God who is himself our light; not only the author of light (Genesis 1: 2), but also the fountain of it. To enlighten us with the knowledge of the glory of God - Of his glorious love, and of his glorious image. In the face of Jesus Christ - Which reflects his glory in another manner than the face of Moses did. But we - Not only the apostles, but all true believers. Have this treasure - Of divine light, love, glory. In earthen vessels (that have gone through the fire in the furnace) - In frail, feeble, perishing bodies. He proceeds to show, that afflictions, yea, death itself, are so far from hindering the ministration of the Spirit, that they even further it, sharpen the ministers, and increase the fruit. That the excellence of the power, which works these in us, may undeniably appear to be of God.
The best of men would faint, if they did not receive mercy from God. And that mercy which has helped us out, and helped us on, hitherto, we may rely upon to help us even to the end. The apostles had no base and wicked designs, covered with fair and specious pretences. They did not try to make their ministry serve a turn. Sincerity or uprightness will keep the favorable opinion of wise and good men. Christ by his gospel makes a glorious discovery to the minds of men. But the design of the devil is, to keep men in ignorance; and when he cannot keep the light of the gospel of Christ out of the world, he spares no pains to keep men from the gospel, or to set them against it. The rejection of the gospel is here traced to the willful blindness and wickedness of the human heart. Self was not the matter or the end of the apostles’ preaching; they preached Christ as Jesus, the Savior and Deliverer, who saves to the uttermost all that come to God through him. Ministers are servants to the souls of men; they must avoid becoming servants to the humors or the lusts of men. It is pleasant to behold the sun in the firmament; but it is more pleasant and profitable for the gospel to shine in the heart. As light was the beginning of the first creation; so, in the new creation, the light of the Spirit is his first work upon the soul. The treasure of gospel light and grace is put into earthen vessels. The ministers of the gospel are subject to the same passions and weaknesses as other men. God could have sent angels to make known the glorious doctrine of the gospel, or could have sent the most admired sons of men to teach the nations, but he chose humbler, weaker vessels, that his power might be more glorified in upholding them, and in the blessed change produced by their ministry.
2. Draw Strength from God in Difficult Times (vs. 8 – 12)
The apostles were great sufferers, yet they met with wonderful support. Believers may be forsaken of their friends, as well as persecuted by enemies; but their God will never leave them nor forsake them. There may be fears within, as well as fighting’s without; yet we are not destroyed. The apostle speaks of their sufferings as a counterpart of the sufferings of Christ, that people might see the power of Christ’s resurrection, and of grace in and from the living Jesus. In comparison with them, other Christians were, even at that time, in prosperous circumstances.
We are troubled, &c. - The four articles in this verse respect inward, the four in the next outward afflictions. In each clause the former part shows the "earthen vessels;" the latter, "the excellence of the power." Not crushed - Not swallowed up in care and anxiety. Perplexed - What course to take, but never despairing of his power and love to carry us through. In vs. 8 - 9 there are four pairs of contrasts which show the frailty of the instruments and the greatness of the power: (1) "pressed on every side" (Revision), but not hemmed in by the pressure; (2) in apparently overwhelming difficulties, but never reduced to despair; (3) persecuted by their enemies, but not forsaken and delivered over to them; (4) overthrown and cast to the earth, imprisoned, and threatened with the severest tortures, and death itself even being dashed to pieces as an earthen vessel; it is surprising that earthen vessels should bear and suffer so much, and not fall, or be dashed to pieces. But our God never leaves us nor forsakes us; though we are followed close by evil men, and left by our friends, we are not forsaken of God: but even then rescued from the enemy, standing over them prostrate, so that they are not destroyed. For we who yet live - Who are not yet killed for the testimony of Jesus. Are always delivered unto death - Are perpetually in the very jaws of destruction; which we willingly submit to, that we may "obtain a better resurrection." We are exposed to death. The preaching of the gospel exposes us to trials which may be regarded as death working in us. Death has energy over us; it is constantly employed in inflicting pains on us, and subjecting us to privation and trials. This is a strong and emphatic mode of saying that they were always exposed to death. We are called to serve and glorify the Redeemer, as it were, by repeated deaths and by constantly dying.
3. Hope of Eternal life (vs. 13 – 18)
We have the very spirit of faith which is expressed by Abraham or David and Paul or Peter. The grace of faith is an effectual remedy against fainting in times of trouble. They knew that Christ was raised, and that his resurrection was an earnest and assurance of theirs. The hope of this resurrection will encourage in a suffering day, and set us above the fear of death. For our thanksgiving invites more: abundant grace. Also, their sufferings were for the advantage of the church, and to God’s glory. The sufferings of Christ’s ministers, as well as their preaching and conversation, are for the good of the church and the glory of God. The prospect of eternal life and happiness was their support and comfort. What sense was ready to pronounce heavy and long, grievous and tedious, faith perceived to be light and short, and but for a moment. The weight of all temporal afflictions was lightness itself, while the glory to come was a substance, weighty, and lasting beyond description. If the apostle could call his heavy and long-continued trials light, and but for a moment, what must our trifling difficulties be! Faith enables to make this right judgment of things. There are unseen things, as well as things that are seen. And there is this vast difference between them; unseen things are eternal, seen things but temporal or temporary only. Let us then look off from the things which are seen; let us cease to seek for worldly advantages, or to fear present distresses. Let us give diligence to make our future happiness sure. [Ref: 1 Corinthians 2: 9]
Conclusion: Today’s world is filled with energy-saving devices that make life easier, but there is something to be said for embracing life’s challenges. The apostle Paul found serving Christ hard, but he didn’t see it as a cause of discouragement. He continued to focus on Christ, and wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Cor. 4: 8). Paul knew that “He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Christ, and will present us with you” (v. 14). The goal was worth the pain.
By the grace of God, may we commit to serving Christ – not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.
Reflection: Jesus gave His all to save us – are we giving our all to serve Him?