Summary: Church life is full of disappointments, but it can be equally full of hope and fulfillment. The key is to stay together and see what God will do. God is a God of abundance and not of scarcity.
We serve a God of abundance and not a God of scarcity. Ours is the God who possesses the cattle on a thousand hills. He is not a dilettante deity with nothing in His hands; He is the God who flung the stars into space and who has made all things. All things are made by Him and all things are at His disposal. He gives His gifts in abundance to His people, and asks us to place these things into the service of His will. He does not force us; He does not threaten us. He simply asks us to trust Him to provide us with an abundant life, and out of faith to provide for His work. He is an abundant Lord, giving us an abundant life, and He wants from us an abundant church. We serve a God of abundance and not a God of scarcity.
Dr. Robert Jones was chairman of the Department of Religion at George Washington University. He was also a dedicated member of a Baptist church, and became a good friend of mine back in my campus ministry days. One day there erupted in the newspaper headlines a scandalous story about the pastor of the church which Dr. Jones attended. It was a story of infidelity, of lies, of deceit, of selfish greed, and much more. When that story broke, it was messy, and the headlines grew worse every day, with implications of lawsuits and countersuits. We had to wonder whether this church would even survive a scandal like this.
And so one day I stopped in to see Dr. Jones, and found him staring into space, his back turned to the door. I knocked gently and identified myself. He swiveled around and I saw tears in his eyes. “Bob, what’s wrong? Are you all right?” “My church,” he said. “My pastor”. And then, calling that pastor’s name, he cried out, “He has been the greatest single disappointment I have faced in my entire Christian life.”
Disappointment! Yes, we do have disappointments in our Christian lives. None so dramatic, usually, as a flagrant scandal. But disappointments nonetheless. A brother who is found in a half-truth. A sister who indulges in gossipy judgments about other church members. A deacon who fails to show up when there is a death in the family. A Sunday School teacher who is seldom prepared to teach. And maybe even an interim pastor who preaches too long and says a few things we’d rather not hear! Disappointments, all across the spectrum. It is just a part of church life.
The apostle Paul certainly had his share of disappointments with the church at Corinth. You may know that in his First Letter to Corinth Paul had taken up a whole range of topics about that church. He had written about their dividing into factions, he had spoken about how some lorded it over others, he had dealt with their disorderly conduct in worship, and, of all places, here at the Lord’s Table. He had even had to admonish them for permitting a member to live in an incestuous relationship. Paul had spent lots of time and energy trying to correct the church at Corinth.
And now, here in the passage for today, he refers to a painful visit and to a stern letter; he speaks of dealing with them again on a variety of issues. And, most of all, Paul confronts their challenging his right even to speak at all. They have questioned whether he is a genuine apostle, they have suggested that he is collecting money under false pretenses, and they have written off his teachings as useless. Paul has been in the fight of his life with this church.
But now, here in this passage, it sounds as though the fight is nearly over. It feels as though Paul is finally getting somewhere. And what he now wants them to know is that even though his disappointment has been huge, so great also is his hope for them. And if they have been irritated with him, so also will they now learn much from him. If – and this is the key element – if they stay together. Together, joined in community. If they have been able to stay together through all their disappointments, so also will they come out together in hope.
For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.