Summary: Suffering is a reality. Where can we gain strength from when we suffer?
New years are time to generally reflect and to look forward to new things. Despite the fact that it repeats every 365 days, it is still something to look forward to. We all have heard multiple jokes about New Year resolutions. Today is the 7th of the month and, if we had made New Year resolutions, we certainly would have broken many, or all, of them by now. But immaterial of all of this, we all hope the New Year to be better, isn’t it? Each of might have a different understanding or definition of the word “better”. Today I am going to take a “worst case scenario” and look through how they made it better. And I am choosing this since I am aware that many of the BBF family, and the BBF as a congregation itself, have gone through the valley of life last year. A leadership vacuum, a loss of job, an uncertain future, a near divorce situation, complete loss of direction, illness of close ones, the list can go on. Each of us have gone through the valley in our own way last year. For some of us, the chaos has ended, but for some of us the darkness still prevails, we are still unclear about what lies ahead of us.
What helped us get through all the difficult situations? What can help us survive the days of uncertainty that still prevails?
Let us go to the book of 2 Corinthians. There are a few themes that run through this Epistle. One of them is the recounting of the manifest sufferings Paul and his fellow laborers met with during their journey to Asia, and what kept them going, amidst all those sufferings. Let us look at that.
Paul introduces the topic in 2 Corinthians 1:8 (NKJV) 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. And then in many occasions he touches upon this and explains what helped them during those sufferings, or how they “overcame” such sufferings. One of the most powerful statements that has always encouraged me is found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NKJV) We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed--. We are going to stick around in this statement and see how Paul and his companions managed to do that, managed to not only survive, but thrive under such circumstances. What helped them? Could it be just be possible that we might be able to survive and thrive among our troubles by following their example?
As I thought about answers to these questions, God revealed to me a few things, which I hope will be encouraging to all of us.
First is the fact that Paul had the right frame of reference about who Jesus is. A true understanding of who Jesus is and in Jesus who we are. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NKJV) For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Paul knew for certain that whatever it is that he did, he didn’t do it for himself, but for Jesus Christ. And to establish who Jesus Christ is, in this context, he goes back all the way to the beginning of the world, the creation itself. “the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness”. This is worth studying a little deeper. For many of us, the story of Jesus Christ starts with Christmas. This is especially true since we just celebrated the season Christmas. But is it true? Does the story of Christ start with Christmas? We know what John says John 1:1-3 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. We cannot limit our understanding of Christ to Christmas alone. Christ was there before everything began, He is there when creation took place. And we know that creation is the greatest story of conversion of chaos into orderliness. Genesis 1:2 (NKJV) The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God subdues the greatest void, the greatest symbol of chaos , waters, to make this beautiful place that we call earth. He creates light. It is as if He is saying to us, don’t worry about the chaos around you. I rule over all of it. I am in control, I have subdued all of it to give you abundant life. Paul explains the role of Christ in all this powerfully in Colossians 1:16-17 (MSG) For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. This should bring comfort to us, isn’t it? The Christ whom we celebrated as the baby who was born in a manger just a few weeks back is the one through whom everything was made, and even more beautiful is the calm assurance that “holds it all together upto this moment”.