Summary: Finding hope, even in difficult time.
Does a New Millennium Offer Hope?
Happy New Year! Happy New Century & Happy New Millennium! Congratulations! You‘ve made it to the year 2000 – the long dreaded Y2K bug has proved to be less nuisance than the average mosquito.
In the midst of my unpacking, I watched just a little bit of the televised New Year’s celebrations throughout the world. In every corner of the globe, there were extravagant and exuberant celebrations: fireworks, parties, dancing. Have you ever wondered why we celebrate the coming of a new year? There is something about a New Year that makes people feel they can make a new start. It is the season of resolutions, the time when we promise ourselves that this year will be different. It’s January that’s the best sales month for gym memberships and fitness gimmicks.
People seem to feel that a new year gives a clean slate, that it holds the promise of hope. Since this is not just a New Year, but a new century and even a new millennium, that sense is heightened.
False hope vs. true hope
Those who are struggling will grasp at anything that seems to offer hope. But is hope really found in a new calendar? Down deep, you know the answer. What happens to all those New Year’s Resolutions by February?
Well, if we can’t get hope from the coming of a new millennium, where do we get hope?
Perhaps you could use a little hope. Maybe you’re losing sleep over crushing financial problems. Maybe your job is squeezing the life out of you, but you’ve got a family to support and you can’t just quit. Maybe you are watching someone you love as disease drains the life out of them drop by drop. How do you take heart, instead of losing heart? Where do you find hope at the dawn of this new millennium?
Context: Why did Paul not lose heart in the midst of suffering?
In the Book of Second Corinthians, we find the Apostle Paul walking in the shadow of suffering and death. Perhaps more than any other book in the New Testament, we get a picture of the hardships Paul endured:
There were the sufferings inflicted by his persecutors: beatings and periods of imprisonment.
He was constantly on the move in a world where travel was difficult and dangerous.
He had a physical affliction, his famous "thorn in the flesh."
He suffered emotionally through the strife and rejection of the churches he loved so deeply.
In the first chapter of this letter, he tells us “the burdens laid upon us were so great and so heavy that we gave up all hope of staying alive.” Both he and his companions felt like they had already received a death sentence.
Paul knew what it was to suffer. But in the midst of his suffering, he did not lose heart. In fact, he had hope. That’s the kind of hope I want to have: not the wishful thinking kind that imagines that a new calendar will change my life, but the kind that enables me to persevere even in the midst of my struggles. If we can find out how Paul had hope, we may be able to find that same hope for ourselves.
Why did Paul not lose heart in the valley of suffering?
Meaning of the word discouraged
Paul says in verse 16 that he never becomes discouraged. The word he uses for discouraged means, "to give up out of despair" or "to quit prematurely."
It was even used to describe the experience of a woman who is giving birth and becomes so afraid and discouraged during the process of labor that she wants to give up. Of course, by then, it’s too late to give up! You’ve got a job to do and you have no choice but to persevere ’til the end.
Paul knew he had a job to do
Paul knew that God had a job for him to do, and despite the difficulties he endured, he refused to lose heart, he refused to give up before his mission was accomplished. Paul was in it for the long haul. And he knew that if he was to achieve God’s purposes in his life, he had to have an eternal perspective, he had to get a God’s eye view of life.
When I was in high school, I was involved in a Christian organization called Young Life. We used to sing a song with a haunting melody, that began "You’d better hold on... You’d better hold on... Why don’t you build your hopes on things eternal?"
Paul knows that if he’s going to hold on, his hope must be built on eternal things. In our scripture this morning, he introduces us to these eternal things -- which are the foundation of true hope -- in a series of three contrasts.