Summary: Our response to God in the hard times tells the world who we really are.
June 13, 2004
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15
Subject: Suffering for God
Title: Thanksgiving in All Things
You know that one of my favorite bible passages come from Acts 16. I love the story of Paul and Silas being thrown into a Philippian jail and put into stocks in the inner prison, the deepest, darkest, and most vile part of the prison. They had been stripped and beaten and stretched out and put into stocks. And Luke tells us in his recounting the story, that at midnight, Paul looked over toward Silas,
“Silas, you OK?”
“I’m a little sore and bleeding, and these stocks aren’t the most comfortable things in the world…”
“You feel like singing?”
“I feel like praising the Lord. You want to sing along?”
“Sure. What do you want to sing?”
“Let’s start with ‘Praise the Name of Jesus…”
They began singing. You know the story. An earthquake came. The chains fell off. The doors to the prison flew open… and not one prisoner wanted to leave. What a wonderful testimony of suffering and grace!
It was episodes like this that made Paul understand that he was nothing and that God is everything. Today we will look at Paul’s philosophy of ministry and see how it relates to you as Christians.
I. THE PURPOSE OF OUR WEAKNESS (Verse 7)
A. God Uses the Most Common Vessels. Paul considered himself (and therefore every Christian) to be an earthen vessel. In other words, you are just a jar of clay. There is nothing significant about you. You are not the best looking, smartest, wearing the finest clothes, and having the most money. You are a common person. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? – For you see your calling brethren that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. – God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” The Lord himself spoke to Paul these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” God has never chosen the greatest to do His work. He chose a murderer – Moses! He selected a bigot – Jonah. He collected together fishermen, tax collectors and political zealots to be His disciples. We fit right in.
B. God Has Given the Most Precious Treasure. Even though we are clay pots, God has chosen to pour into us His most precious treasure – the message of hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul had just written about in the previous section of His letter. “For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We are not laying up treasures here on earth, but are storing them up in heaven. The light that is shining out of us is God’s light. It isn’t ours. God has poured it out into us through the blood sacrifice of the Lamb. And even though we are merely the most common of household utensils, we carry the most precious cargo – the truth of the gospel. And it is not our to keep or store up or hoard. It isn’t any good unless we give it away.
C. God Supplies the Most Awesome Power. We need power to be effective witnesses. Remember when I told you last week that the baptism in the Holy Spirit gives you not only power to witness, but power to live out your witness, lest it be made of no consequence. And the people that knew you before have to know that it is God’s power working in you. Look at Paul after He was saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Acts 9:21, “Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who call on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” They couldn’t believe that Paul was now preaching the gospel. What a change in his life! But it is not his power. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might…” (Ephesians 6:10) So if we are vessels God wants to use, and He has poured out on us the greatest treasure of all, and has given power, what is left for us to do?
II. THE POWER OF OUR TESTIMONY. (Verses 8-12)
A. Suffering in the Flesh. In verses 8,9, look at the things that Paul says are taking place in his life, on a continuing basis. 1) He is hard pressed. The word that is translated hard pressed means, “To crowd, to afflict, to narrow, to suffer tribulation, to trouble.” Not only was Paul suffering troubles, it was closing in all around him. Yet he says he isn’t crushed. 2) Perplexed… Do you think Paul understood why he went through so many trials? He asked God to take away his thorn in the flesh. How often he must have wondered why he was doing this to himself. But he was not in despair. I doubt that he understood why, yet he still wrote, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) 3) Persucuted… Paul was continually being pursued by the Judaizers – those who insisted that the gentiles be circumcised. They are the ones who stoned him at Lystra and left him for dead. Still Paul could write later, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He was not abandoned. 4) He was struck down, but not destroyed. Paul suffered. But he still sang hymns in the Philippian jail. Do you have a testimony?