Friday, July 17, 2015

3 Keys to Solid Christian Living

Readers, I just wanted to let you all know that I haven't forgotten that the New Testament existed. Today, we are going to look at the book of II Corinthians in particular 4:7-5:21.

What we would like to look at it that passage that is often quoted from, II Corinthians 4:8-9
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;"

Now this doesn't make much sense, given that when we find ourselves in trouble, we become distressed, and when we are perplexed, we're in despair, persecution leads to feeling forsaken, and cast down is basically synonymous with destroyed, right? What even is the apostle Paul saying here?

Well, he's saying that that's not true in his life. I guess an evaluation on how it could not be true in Paul's life is in order.

Well, let's start with the very beginning. When you want to study out a passage, you must look at context. The first context we must look at is the context of the book. When reading the book of II Corinthians, you wouldn't be surprised to find a lot of reference to service. More references are to service, it would seem than to anything else.

In addition, it is often mentioned as a part of the service question the subject of grace, both as a motivation for  the service, as well as a supplier of strength for that service. Thus, the book of Corinthians deals with service of the Lord, specifically as it pertains to the grace of God.

This is confirmed when we examine the beginning of the book, where immediately upon giving his salutations, Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3-6,
"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation."

Thus then begins out answer. The grace of God is prevalent in the suffering and trouble of the apostle Paul, so that he can say that he is not distressed because he is comforted of God and may comfort others.

II Corinthians 4:7 introduces these verses further by expressing truths about the power of God, further showing that the power of God is at stake here.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." 

So the power of God and His comfort allows Paul to see his suffering solely as good for those around him. But wait, there's more. When examining all the verses following II Corinthians 4:8-9, we see a detailed outline of three reasons why Paul is able to manage his trouble without distress. Further, these three reasons provide three key perspectives that Christians should have if they desire to live victoriously.  So let's take a look.

1. Strengthened to serve others by the power of God

II Corinthians 4:10-12 states,
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you."

The first thing to notice in the text is that the suffering isn't just "light" from our perspective. Paul is living in constant danger of his own death. Further, the suffering itself is strong, so that physically, He is bearing the marks of Jesus' suffering in his own body.

Look at a listing of some of the suffering that Paul has gone through at the time of this writing in II Corinthians 11:24-27, 
"Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
That's quite an impressive resume, don't you think? Paul suffered greatly, but note the last phrase of verse 12. "But life in you." Paul has death and suffering working in him, but because of that, the Corinthians have life.

Whether it is meant by that, prosperity and protection from suffering (seems likely due to the parallelism with death), or something more of an eternal nature is not the point. The point is that Paul suffers so that others may benefit.

And how is all of this possible? How can he say those words? Well, let's look at II Corinthians 4:13-16, 
"We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
So what does Paul mean in verse 13, where he says the "same spirit of faith." It certainly conveys that he has a faith and trust in (presumably) God, but what spirit does he refer? I guess the words it is written convey a quotation from the Old Testament that the Corinthians would have access to. Well, let's look at that passage, Psalm 116,
"1 I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. 2 Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. 3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. 4 Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. 5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. 6 The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. 7 Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. 8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. 9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: 11 I said in my haste, All men are liars. 12 What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? 13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. 14 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. 16 O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. 18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. 19 In the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord."

There are a lot of parallels between this psalm and the passage in II Corinthians. It makes sense why Paul would want the Corinthians and indeed us to think about it. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to show you all of these parallels. So let's just focus on the big picture.

This psalm is a psalm of gratitude and obligation for the Lord because of what He did for the psalmist in a time of trouble. The psalmist praises the Lord, and says that he will now walk before the Lord as His servant.

That is the context when the psalmist pens, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." The idea is that because he trusted God in his trouble, he is able to speak now about service to the Lord.

So, how is that Paul is able to talk about serving God and others? It is because he trusted in the Lord's power when he underwent his suffering and persecution. That's how he can say that he is not distressed in the midst of his trouble.

And what a power of God it is! II Corinthians 4:14 reminds us that this power is one that is not just any old power, but the power that raised Christ from the dead! Any suffering that Paul or any of us go through will pale in comparison to the scale of unlikelihood to the resurrection of the dead.

No wonder Paul is ok with his suffering and able to see it as a benefit for others. But even further, the power of God is a very personal force. Verse 16 reminds us that "though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day."

Day by day, our soul is strengthened. Constantly, the Lord is right there to strengthen us, as He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Trials are typically seasonal, but God will always be there to pick you up if you should fall!

2. Not worried about temporal state because focus is on eternity

The second key is one that has been close to my heart for a little while. One that I have even shortened to two words so that I could use it to sign letters and emails. We must all live for eternity. However, I must say that the words, "For eternity," are not actually a good way to end a email to a member of the opposite sex. Talk about the wrong messages...

This key is introduced first in II Corinthians 4:17, 
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;"

Now, we've already made a discussion above about how Paul's suffering was hardly "light." But here he calls it light. How can that be so? This wording is as confusing and strange as the wording of verse 8-9. Troubled, but not distressed? Light affliction? I don't know, fellows, I just don't know.

But Paul's perspective is seen pretty clearly when we see the final phrase of the verse, "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The affairs of this world, and our position within them should matter less to us because eternity if truly our goal.

It's as Dr. Jason Lee, dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University, explained in a class lecture. The end of the Christian life is eternity. By this, he means both that the final outcome and resting place for a Christian is heaven and that the goal of the Christian life is to further the cause of Christ in eternity. That's all there is to it.

Continuing in our text, we find II Corinthians 4:18-5:4,
 "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. or we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."

This verse expresses more of the idea that we should focus our eyes upon heaven. This is seen very clearly in verse 18 as it directs us to look at what is not seen, as that is what is truly important.

Now we've all heard the typical rhetoric on this. Governments and regimes fall, families break apart, and our favorite televisions series get cancelled! (wait, that's not right), but God remains forever. And the work you do for God will also remain forever. Consider the words of II Timothy 1:12,
"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."

Why focus on our outward temporal condition and let our troubles cause us distress when there is a war to be won which has eternal consequences for all the participants?

Paul uses the illustration of our bodies as seen in temple/tabernacle imagery. Right now, our bodies are temporary. When these forms die, we will receive new bodies in heaven which will last for eternity.

And we should yearn for those eternal bodies, and we should not be so wrapped up in our temporal bodies, that we fail to provide clothing for our eternal bodies in the first place.

Now I don't want to give you the impression that we stop taking care of our earthly bodies, or stop caring about life on this earth altogether. It is still important, and we have a role to serve now for the cause of eternity. Let's not get too heavenly minded that we're no earthly good. Look at the words of Philippians 1:21-26,
 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again."

With that established, let's continue in our text to see what might be the most important thing we should look for in heaven, which also supplies our meaning, confidence, and satisfaction here on earth. II Corinthians 5:5-8 explain,
"Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."

The earnest of the Spirit. It's an interesting term. One of my current internship mentor's favorite biblical phrases. With that in mind, I think it would be remiss not to pause on it for a little bit.

We all know that we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. We all know that we can have fellowship with the Lord now through the Holy Spirit. But what does this term "earnest" mean?

Now maybe you are all more savvy at financial terms than I am, but I had to learn this term. Earnest money tends to be given as a pledge. You give a portion of the money on your house, which is to show your interest in paying the rest.

The earnest of the Spirit. Hmm... Are we then given by the Lord a little fellowship with Him as a promise and commitment to an even greater fellowship with Him when we make it to eternity? I think yes.

And I think that that can indeed gives us confidence as Paul expressed here, knowing that we are absent from the Lord now, but we are still going to be present with Him in the future, and you know what? That pure fellowship with the Father is what we should yearn for.

3. Whether in the body or absent from the body, goal is to please the Lord. 

Continuing in the text, we find the absolute most important key for Christian living. One that solidifies why OUR condition wouldn't lead us to distress. And that key is that we are all about being accepted of the Lord. II Corinthians 5:9 explains,
"Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him."

The main thing that should be accepted here is not so much that we are striving to be accepted of the Lord. The idea of pleasing or being accepted of the Lord is something that we've heard enough that it is ingrained in our very identity.

No, the point that should be seen is that we are striving or labouring to be accepted of the Lord. Being accepted of the Lord is not something that will just come to us. We can't magically expect all things to work out beautifully for us if we don't put in the effort.

Obviously, we need to remember that acceptance of God at salvation is by faith alone and no labor is required, but as Paul writes this passage to Christians, his focus and idea is that to please the Lord after salvation, we must work. But why would we bother? II Corinthians 5:10-13 explain,
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause."

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That provides us with a terror, knowing that the truly eternal actions that we committed whether we were storing up treasures in heaven, or treasures here are going to come back and haunt us.

We don't want to glory in just the appearance we can show off to other Christians because that won't truly serve us when we get to heaven and the Lord who knows our hearts is there to judge us for our wrongdoing. Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul is so interested in serving the Lord and others with his life.

Or maybe it goes deeper. Maybe the real reason why we should be ok with suffering for Christ's sake is what he has done for us. II Corinthians 5:14-17,
"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

When we become in Christ (another of my mentor's favorite biblical phrases), we become a new creature. We are called into living a different life. Paul described this in verse 15 above that we are not to "henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again."

The love of Christ in out lives constrain us. We know that we were all once dead. That no matter how many good deeds we did (or how rich we were), we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and needed the Lord to do something miraculous.

And He did. He owed is nothing, but He loved us so that He came down in human form to die for our sins. And when we accept Him, we are repenting of our sin. We are to stop serving ourselves and commit to serving God. We are to live, as Psalm 116 expresses, in complete obligation and thanksgiving to the Lord.

You all have heard before how at a competition for preaching, singing, and my personal favorite, Bible Quizzing, there was a banner that read,
"He died for me; the least I could do was live for Him." 

You also might remember my Iron Man illustration. Quoting from the post, "Internet, Iron Man, and Indebtedness," 
"In the movie Iron Man. Mr. Stark is fatally injured and should very well die. Through the surgery of one Yinsen, Tony's life has been saved. Stark and Yinsen plan a daring escape from their imprisonment (by the way, they've been imprisoned), and in the process, Yinsen dies. His last words to Tony are simple.
          'Don't waste it. Don't waste your life.' 
Tony's life has been spared twice by the man Yinsen, and the last words seem to have an effect on Tony. He understands that he is greatly blessed, and responds accordingly. In an important point of the film, he tells Pepper simply,
          'I shouldn't be alive... I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do.           And I know in my heart that it's right.'
I know the deepness of what I'm about to say is going to blow your mind, but here goes anyway. Jesus gave Himself to give us a blessing far greater than Tony's. Instead of having a chance at happiness in temporal life, Jesus died to give us guaranteed happiness for all eternity.
Tony responded to his blessing with a changed outlook and different behavior choices to pass on a better world to those around him. We as Christians should respond to our blessings with a different focus in life, and a strong desire and great boldness to better people's eternal (and temporal) situations."

We are indebted to Christ, and we ought to labor for the sake of being pleasing to the Lord. And we ought not to think it too big a deal to do so. We ought to be willing to bend over backwards to be accepted of the Lord. To quote Psalm 116:12,
"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?"

I'm glad you asked. The Lord doesn't leave us hanging on what specifically would be pleasing to Him. Obviously, there would be a large part of the Bible, revealing God's character, and what would thus please Him. But our text has an answer for that as well. In what I promise to be the last part of our text today (thank you for reading this far; I am kinda impressed), let's look at II Corinthians 5:18-21, 
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors of Christ, evangelists fulfilling the Great Commission. I guess that's how we are able to please the Lord. And with that mission, I guess we can look at trouble, and see it as a benefit for others because we are living our live to please God by serving others.

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