May 24, 2020 Death Turning to Life and Life Springing to Speaking

 

Death Turning to Life and Life Springing to Speaking

Scripture reading: 2 Cor. 4:8-15

 

There were moments of glory in the life of Paul. He raised a man from the dead (Acts 20:9). He was bitten by a deadly viper and he was unharmed (Acts 28:5). He made a sorcerer blind (Acts 13:4-12). Those displays of power were a kind of glory. But they did not characterize his life. In fact, they were only incidental to him as he carried out the ministry of the new covenant. Rather, his life was characterized by affliction. He describes how he and Timothy lived:

 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;[1]

 

He says they were afflicted. But they were not just afflicted. They were afflicted “in every way.” Much of his affliction was because he was carrying out the ministry of the new covenant. He was proclaiming the gospel. For example, in the incident when he made the sorcerer, Elymas, blind, it was due to him opposing Paul and trying to turn people away from the faith. The Jewish leaders actually tried to murder Paul so that he had to escape Damascas by being lowered in a basket at night through the wall surrounding the city (Acts 9:23-25). It was because Paul was speaking the word of God that he was oppressed and opposed so strongly.

 

Nothing has changed in 1,950 years. If you speak the word of God to others you will be opposed and oppressed. Here in the Bible belt, people will not try to murder you, but you will still be opposed. In some parts of the U.S. people will still physically attack you. I was punched in the face for just sharing the gospel in Seattle. A pastor was hit on the head by and knocked unconscious by a rod in Wisconsin.[2] But, even in conservative states, like Missouri, you will still be afflicted if you are vocal. This is why, sad to say, most Christians do not share the gospel. They do not want to be opposed. They do not want conflict. They do not want affliction. They are fearful.

But God’s word says that the fearful, or cowardly, will go to the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). “That seems harsh, Pastor.” Well, I didn’t write it. God did. All I am doing is proclaiming what God has already spoken. And, Revelation is not the only book that reveals that the cowardly will be punished.[3] Now is the time to overcome your fears. Once we pass this veil, it will be too late to do anything about your fears.

So, Paul boldly proclaimed the truth and he was afflicted because he did. But this is not the only source of affliction in the life of a disciple. Affliction arises everywhere. You can try to avoid it but you will not be able to. You will experience affliction from your spouse, your parents, your children, your siblings, your boss, or your coworkers. It comes from everywhere. You will experience affliction because of sickness, because of death in your family, because of accidents, because of health, because of a lack of resources. It comes from everywhere.

One man of God made this observation:

 

“Brothers, is it not your experience that your wife grinds you much more than the opposers do? Her criticism is a grinding. If it were not for the dear ones around us, the opposers would not be able to grind us. The real grinding comes from those close to us.”[4]

 

Whatever the source of affliction, we are nor crushed by it. Paul was not crushed, and we are not crushed, because of the surpassing power that is within us. We have this surpassing, excellent power that enables us to endure the hardship and not to be crushed. The people of the world do not have this surpassing power. They fall more easily into despair. Paul says, we are “not crushed.” If you are crushed then you are not relying on the excellent, surpassing power. You see, disciples of Christ are supposed to live by faith, not by feelings. But not all disciples do. We need to believe the divine facts, not the demonic deceptions! Choose to believe the divine fact that this treasure, the Triune God, is in the jar of clay – that is you! - and that the surpassing, excellent power is rearranging and reconstituting you. He is! If you trust Him!

Paul goes on to write, “perplexed, but not driven to despair.” We know what it means to be perplexed. It means to be confused, puzzled, or bewildered. I tell you, this is the common experience of most people. We come across situations in life where we just don’t know what to do. If we think about certain problems that arise, it seems that, no matter what course of action we contemplate for ourselves, the results are all bad. In those situations, it is easy to fall into despair. It is easy if we do not have the surpassing greatness within us!

Maybe you are perplexed right now. You are not sure what to do. It’s OK that you are perplexed! Paul was perplexed. Timothy was perplexed. You will be perplexed but there is no reason to be in despair! You might even be in despair. Even Paul experienced despair (1:8) but it was only temporary. It was fleeting. As soon as you trust in the surpassing greatness of the treasure within you then your despair will be gone!

Paul goes on: persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; [5]

Have you ever been persecuted? Paul was referring to being persecuted for the sake of the gospel. If you are persecuted because of the gospel you are blessed. It doesn’t feel good, of course, to be persecuted. It is miserable. But, you are blessed because those who are persecuted for the sake of the gospel will be rewarded in the next age.

You can also be persecuted for other reasons. People may persecute you for simply standing up for what is right. People may persecute you because they are jealous of your success. People may persecute you because you offended them, even though you didn’t mean to.

I was persecuted just a couple of months ago. I was still feeling quite down because of my wife passing away and this person, who was aware that she passed and never said one word to me about it, accused me of ruining this church. They told me that I was the reason that people had left, and I was the cause of the declining membership. I tell you, losing your wife and then having someone accuse you in that way made me feel very sad. But, I didn’t believe I was forsaken. Not long after that, I sensed the Lord’s presence and comfort. It was almost as if the Lord said to me, “I am with you and everything will turn out well.”

John Donne, a 17th century poet, experienced great pain. Because he married the daughter of a disapproving lord, he was fired from his job as assistant to the Lord Chancellor, yanked from his wife, and locked in a dungeon. (This is when he wrote that succinct line of despair, "John Donne/ Anne Donne/ Undone.") Later, he endured a long illness which sapped his strength almost to the point of death. In the midst of this illness, Donne wrote a series of devotions on suffering which rank among the most poignant meditations on the subject. In one of these, he considers a parallel: The sickness which keeps him in bed forces him to think about his spiritual condition. Suffering changes us for the better if we belong to him.

 

Here is one of John Donne’s poems in part:

 

As due my many titles I resign

My self to thee, O God, first I was made

By thee and for thee, and when I was decayed

Thy blood bought that, which before was thine;

I am thy son, made with thyself to shine

 

He was decayed, that is, he suffered. But then he shined! This is the divine order. Suffering then shining. Death, then life. This is the order to which Paul refers. Paul and John Donne were both attuned to the divine order.

 

No matter how we feel, we are not forsaken. The Lord is with us. He is rearranging us and reconstituting us!

Do you know what? You will even be struck down. There will be times in your life when things happen that lay you out either financially, emotionally, or both. You may even think everything is over. But, if you are still alive then it is not over. You have been struck down, but you haven’t been destroyed. Maybe your wealth has been destroyed. Maybe your emotions have been destroyed. But you haven’t been destroyed. God is not through with you. You’ve been struck down, but it is time to get back up, shake the dust off and press into the kingdom! Do you know why you can get up? Because of the surpassing power!

always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.[6]

Paul is saying that these experiences – being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down – amount to a death like the death of Jesus. Following the death of Jesus, what happened? He was resurrected! Thus, when Paul writes, “so that the life of Jesus may be also manifested,” he is referring to the resurrection life.

Jesus also spoke of the experience he expected his disciples to have regarding “carrying in the body the death of Jesus,” only he used a different metaphor.

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.[7]

If we count ourselves as disciples of the Lord Jesus, then this is not optional. It is not optional! This means that there are many who think they are Christians simply because they believed a set of facts, but they are not. Unless you are taking up the cross you are not a disciple of Christ. Jesus said, “If anyone”…no exceptions…”would come after me”…would come – many people desire to come after Christ, but only few really do. “Let him deny himself”…we must deny the desires and wishes we have for our own benefit and put Christ’s desires first. “And take up his cross:” this is the metaphor for carrying about death. The cross is an instrument of death. We must “deliberately choose a pathway of reproach, suffering, and death.”[8]

This suffering and death on the cross is symbolic of the kind of treatment that you will get when you are living faithfully. When we choose this path, this path of self-denial, what feels like death turns into life – the resurrection life of Christ! In other words, self-denial results in resurrection power! But it is not a result of human effort. It is the result of the surpassing power that is already in us that wants to burst forth! And, it will! If you don’t run away from affliction and persecution.

This principle is so important that Paul repeats himself, using slightly different words, in verse 11. Whenever a biblical author repeats himself, you must pay special attention because it means that what he wrote was important.

Then: “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” [9]

The life that is made known is not just for the benefit of the one taking up the cross. It is to minister to others. They will see the life of Christ and they will be benefited by it, as were the Corinthians through Paul’s sufferings. As we grow in faith and life, we minister life to others. We minister life by speaking words of life.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak,[10]

The apostle writes that we have the same spirit of faith that king David had. This “spirit of faith” is not the Holy Spirit but, rather, it is our human spirit joined to the Holy Spirit who imparts faith. It is our human spirit together with the Holy Spirit. The “faith” is not the faith that we initially have when we first come to the Lord (Although that faith, too, is a gift of God through the Spirit [Eph 2:8].); it is the faith, or trust, that a believer has in the words that God has spoken. It is an on-going trust in what God has said.

Paul then quotes the Old Testament. Sometimes, when the New Testament writers quote the OT they cite a passage nearly word for word. Other times they simply cite that to which the passage alludes. In other words, they sometimes either paraphrase a passage or they combine two verses with each other. Of course, since the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit as they wrote, their paraphrase or combination is true.

There is no verse in the OT that says, “I believed, and so I spoke,” word for word. The apostle is applying the truth found in Psalm 26.

Vindicate me, O Lord,

for I have walked in my integrity,

and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. [11]

 

Here, David says that he trusted in the Lord. Trust is a synonym for belief. While in contemporary English usage belief can mean a vague hope or mental assent, in the Bible it almost always means trust.

Then, in verses 2 through 6, he tells what his belief moves him to do and not do. Verse 7:

proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,

and telling all your wondrous deeds. [12]

 

David’s belief, or trust, will cause him to proclaim thanksgiving out loud and he will speak of God’s wondrous deeds. If you put verses 1 and 7 together you find Paul’s reference here.

I will never forget the first year that I was a Christian. I was 20 years old and in the service. The Lord saved me from my sins and I was so thrilled to have a new life with new faith that I spoke to my fellow airmen very often about the Lord. “I believed, and so I spoke!” About 18 airmen made professions of faith and were baptized that first year or year and a half that I was a babe in Christ. I didn’t know 2 Corinthians 4:13 back then, but I lived it! To speak is the outflow of the spirit of faith.

Every Christian has this spirit of faith. Some may suppress it because of their timidity. Some may lack faith, that is, they had genuine faith when they first came to the Lord, but they are not fully trusting in the Lord’s words now.

We must see that there is a progression here. Paul experiences death through affliction and persecution. But this death issues in resurrection life in the present. It is Christ’s resurrection life overcoming and even brought about through Paul’s suffering. Don’t fear suffering! It is our calling and it is temporary. Once the suffering has done its work there will be resurrection life bubbling from you! Our suffering is in seasons, like Paul’s was. We will suffer but then there will be joy in the morning.

The life that flows then causes a springing forth, like flowers in the springtime, of speaking. The normal Christian life is a speaking life. It is not a silent life. Isn’t this what Paul said? “We believe and so we also speak.” If you trust in the Lord you will speak. If you lack trust in the Lord you will not speak. It is that simple. Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust the Lord? Do you trust him?! Then speak.

knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.[13]

There is a hope that Paul had. He knew that he was going to be raised one day. Not only raised, but that he would see the Corinthians raised too. And they would be with him to meet the Lord. We have this same hope! Let this hope energize and motivate you as it did Paul.

Finally,

For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. [14]

Why is Paul writing these things? Is it just to let people know how God is using him? No! It is so the Corinthians will take up the ministry! It is so they will experience the resurrection life! It is so they will exercise their spirit of faith. It is so they will speak. When they speak more and more people will give thanks to God and give him glory!

Listen, many will persecute you when you speak. But there will be some whom the Spirit will enliven. They will receive your words and give thanks to God for them.

Will you trust the Lord? Will you exercise your spirit of faith? Then you must speak. For this is the divine order of things. “We believe and so we speak.” Get into the divine order! Allow the life that you have to spring forth into speaking! Not tomorrow. Today.

“Lord, may you work in each one of us the same way you worked in Paul and Timothy. We believe, make us to speak. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Pastor Ralph Ovadal.

[3] Ezekiel 33:7-9

[4] Witness Lee, The Life-Study of Second Corinthians (Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA, 1984) p. 90.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 8:34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary New Testament (A & O Press, Wichita, KS; 1989) 157

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 26:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 26:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:15). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.