Sunday, October 30, 2011
A Word on/of Encouragement, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
A Word of/on Encouragement
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
• Last week we spoke about the idea that true power may be found in weakness—we investigated the idea that every rose has its thorn
• In that lesson we acknowledged that it is often in our lowest moments that God works his greatest gifts and reveals his all sufficient grace and perfects his power in us
• The problem is that it is often at the lowest moments that we get the most discouraged and render ourselves incapable of seeing God’s great kindness
• That has certainly been true in my life
• Finishing a PhD with no place to teach
• Going back to “retail” instead of doing ministry
• Being humbled when I thought it was time to be exalted
• We often experience trouble or afflictions at our low moments
• Isn’t that why we call them low moments?
• When life is tiring, when you are struggling, when family members aren't where you want them to be, when bills aren't paid, when school is difficult, when work is exhausting, when your health is failing, when your loved ones are hurt, when the future is unsure, and when a good friend leaves, in our time of weakness, it is easy to be discouraged
• Discouragement blinds us, but encouragement enlightens and enlivens
• Anyone here need a bit of encouragement in hard times?
• Our passage today speaks of encouragement (using the word “comfort” some six times in three verses). In 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, Paul tells us four important things about encouragement:
• It is a person
• It has a place
• It has a purpose
• It has a point
1. The Person
• 2 Corinthians 1:3—Here Paul identifies encouragement or comfort as coming from a person
• Okay, strike that, not just any person, but the Person
• Paul describes God as the Father of “mercies”
• The word for “mercies” here refers to “pity” or “compassion”
• Paul also describes this person as “The God of all comfort”
• The word “comfort” here translates a Greek term that means “encouragement” or a calling to the aid of someone
• It is a word used to describe our “Helper” or “Comforter,” the Holy Spirit (John 14:26)
• It is the idea of someone who is there to help by encouragement
• Too often we look for encouragement in a host of other places
• Sometimes we compare our problems to other people’s problems and try to find comfort
• Sometimes we just try to have a positive “attitude” that things will get better
• Sometimes we fill our lives with other things in an effort to “forget” our problems
• Sometimes we try to find “comfort” in the pleasures of the flesh
• Sometimes we simply complain
• When Paul wants to discuss “comfort” or encouragement, he points his readers to a person—to God himself
• This is the God and Father of Jesus—just as he cared for his own Son, so Paul reminds us that God has compassion and care for us
• The idea of “Father” here has to do with origin or source
• God is the source of all mercy and the true source of encouragement or comfort
• There is no limitation to the amount of mercy or comfort God offers
• He is the source for all the mercies we need
• Encouragement is one of the mercies God gives
• If God is the true source of comfort/encouragement, then the question arises as to where we may receive it?
• The place of encouragement may surprise you
2. The Place
2 Corinthians 1:4a—Paul now reveals the surprising place where we may find encouragement
Encouragement comes “in all of our afflictions”
Read that again—Pay close attention to the words
Comfort/Encouragement comes from God and reveals itself in “all our afflictions”
What are “afflictions”?
The word here has to do with tribulations, anguish, or distress
Encouragement is often revealed in our deepest valleys
Think of the people of the Bible
Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Daniel and the three Hebrew young men
Timothy and Paul
In all of these situations and to all these people God proved faithful
Although he did not always remove the problem (remember, every rose has its thorn), God is faithful to show mercy and to encourage
What are your “afflictions”?
What is the darkest valley you face?
Where do you need the most encouragement?
That is the place that the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort wants to meet you
Notice that it doesn’t say that God encourages us in “some” of our afflictions (cf. Psalm 23:4; Heb. 13:5)
The word “all” covers a lot of ground
There is no place of trouble that God’s mercies and comfort cannot reach
On the other hand, he will not force his grace or encouragement on us
“Your love is too pure to force me to love you” sings Dennis Jernigan
The same may be said for his mercies and encouragement
God meets us in “all our afflictions” to offer us his mercy and encouragement, but he does not simply swoop in with a provision (Heb. 13:5—he is always there)
No, God has a purpose
If you are in distress, if you face affliction, God offers to you today his mercies and comfort
But these things come with a purpose in mind (James 1:2-4)
3. The Purpose
2 Corinthians 1:4b—Paul continues his thought by moving beyond the place of comfort to its purpose
Simply stated, Paul tells us that encouragement is given to us so that we can in turn give it to others
That is, God comforts us in our afflictions/distresses so that we can then do the same for others
Sounds like a no brainer, right? The purpose of your afflictions may have something to do with preparing you to be a help to someone else
As you are afflicted, so are you prepared to encourage
Your “problems” become the mission field into which God will pour mercy and encouragement for others
You think it is a “hindrance” or some kind of “obstacle,” yet your very place of affliction may be your future mission
Where you suffer today, where God wants to meet you with his mercies and encouragement may well become the place of greatest ministry for you in the future
Remember, every rose has its thorn—true power is found in weakness—the place where you are suffering, struggling, aching, or even in despair can be the spot where God perfects his power and shows his all sufficient grace
There is a pattern here, so what’s the point?
4. The Point
2 Corinthians 1:5—Paul reminds us that Jesus is the point of all these afflictions and God’s mercies and encouragement
Remember, God worked in Jesus’ life in a similar way
Hebrews 2:14-18 reminds us that Jesus became one of us so that he might give us freedom from the fear of death
Jesus stood in solidarity with us, even to the point of death, and by his suffering and death provided for us the victory
His “afflictions” provide comfort for us
As God comforted him, so God comforts us
Hebrews 5:8 reminds us that Jesus even “learned obedience from the things he suffered”
If Jesus suffered (with loud cries and tears, Heb. 5:7), how can we expect any less?
But by his suffering, Jesus becomes for us the very comfort and power we need to stand strong in our “afflictions”
Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15-16 remind us that through Jesus we receive help
The point is this—as our Lord suffered and received his Father’s mercies and encouragement, so also we receive mercies and encouragement from him when we suffer “afflictions”
What’s the point of all this? Jesus is the point
God works in our afflictions to make Christ’s image known in us and shown through us
Paul has gone out of his way to remind us that some of the afflictions we face are actually the sufferings of Christ
We may have an abundance of these issues, but in many cases they are not “ours” alone, the afflictions or sufferings belong to Jesus
That means that our afflictions are not meaningless, there is purpose and meaning to them
That means that many of the things we face are actually God ordained and God given
They belong to Jesus and are not our property
Therefore we need to see Jesus suffering with us (Acts 9)
He also reminds us that encouragement is abundant in Christ
If the afflictions belong to Jesus, then we can rest assured that encouragement or comfort will also come from him
We are not alone, we face these things with and in Christ
Whatever your affliction, Jesus is with you in its midst
You do not face these afflictions alone, you have help
As a result, we can be confident of encouragement and grace (Hebrews 4:16)
The point is that God intends to use our afflictions as a means to work in us the character of Christ
In our times of “distress,” God works his grace and mercy in and through us
By this work, he then reveals his grace and mercy to others
By encouraging us, he empowers us to encourage others
In light of all this, how should we respond?
If God is the person of encouragement . . .
If he shows that encouragement in our afflictions . . .
If the purpose of our afflictions and our encouragement is to comfort others as Christ comforts us . . .
Then how can we receive and give comfort/encouragement this week?
First, make sure you understand God’s character and God’s purpose for your afflictions. If you have any doubt about God’s intentions, this week spend some time with God and his Word. Read Hebrews 1-5 or 2 Corinthians 1. Spend some time seeking to understand God’s character as an encourager and one who comforts. Act on what you know about God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Stand firm on Romans 8:28-39 (try memorizing these verses). God’s encouragement is received just like his mercies, by faith. Remember, faith acts on what it knows
Second, take time to show gratitude to God for his mercies and comfort. Say “Thank you” to God a lot. Develop an attitude of gratitude
Third, look for opportunities to encourage or to comfort others
Show genuine interest in another person and his or her situation (especially the afflictions). Spend time with them in their situation and let them know you care. Express genuine interest by asking questions. Get them talking. Like Jesus, be with them.
Acknowledge what’s important in their situation. Most of us crave an acknowledgement about our situation. If the person is mad at God (or if you are mad at God), admit it and discuss it. Sometimes the simple act of affirmation or validation provides encouragement and builds confidence.
Finally, encourage others by offering to lend a hand. Show someone you care by doing something to bless them. Surprise them in their “affliction” with an unexpected kindness.Thanks for reading!
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Every Rose Has Its Thorn: The Power of Weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
The Power of Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Today’s topic is Paul’s thorn in the flesh—in other words, we will be discussing the power of weakness in the life of a Christian
As I struggled with the opening for this lesson, I realized how hard it is to explain this idea—in weakness we are strong
Can you think of any illustration of strength being shown in weakness that isn’t a biblical illustration?
Some ideas came to my mind as I wrote the introduction
Copper and Gold—these are two metals that on their own do not have much tensile strength
You aren’t going to manufacture an entire building out of copper or gold
On the other hand, you won’t find two metals that are worth more
They are very rare and valuable, yet they aren’t very strong
Copper is has a high conductivity rate—it conducts electricity well
Copper also is 100% recyclable (it is said that 80% of all the copper ever mined is still in use today)
The point here is this—copper is valuable even though weak on its own, but when combined with other things it is amazingly useful and strong
Sometimes a weakness may actually be a strength
That is the point of our lesson today
Paul’s Experience with the Corinthians
Planted the church with Aquila and Priscilla
Stayed there a long time
Turmoil and division
The “super” apostles
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul discusses the idea that true power is revealed in weakness
He does this by offering an illustration of his own life
In this illustration, he shows that with an appearance of strength there may also be an underlying weakness that God is using
Just like a rose has both its beauty (the bloom) and its pain (the thorn), so also our spiritual life will reveal true strength in weakness
We will look at Paul’s Bloom and Thorn
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
True power is shown in weakness
1. The Bloom
2 Corinthians 12:1-6—the bloom is the part we see that seems to look good or beautiful or nice
It is the part of the Rose that attracts us by appearance or scent or some other “positive” aspect
Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul had boasted about some of his apostolic experiences
So, in these verses Paul continues the “boasting” he began earlier in the book
Earlier he boasted in the things he suffered on behalf of the Corinthians
In other words, he boasted in the things he did and endured for them
However, since the Corinthians were interested in people with great credentials, Paul decides to list some of his credentials (cf. 2 Cor. 11:21-29; Philippians 3:2-6)
Paul’s opponents were more interested in appearance, titles, and prestige than in the power of God (2 Corinthians 10:12-11:33)
They measured themselves by themselves (they were conceited—too important to “fail”)
They expected the Corinthians to take care of them financially (something Paul refused to do)
They mistreated and “enslaved” the Corinthians (i.e., they expected to be waited on and to be served)
They took advantage of their position to demand perks and privileges
They demeaned other leaders who did not agree with them
Paul’s opponents focused on the beautiful, the prestigious, and acted in arrogance—they were interested only in the bloom
The Problem of Pride, Self-Confidence, Focus on Personal Image (Self)
Pride leads to putting us in the place of God
Our “image” becomes more important than his
Paul makes his list because his opponents were focused on “what looked good”
Paul “brags” to show how he “rates” in comparison
Paul kept this “vision” secret for 14 years
Paul didn’t feel the need to brag
He wants to brag primarily in his weakness (cf. 2 Cor. 11: 30-33; Phil. 2:5-8)
Paul sees this kind of “authority” or “boasting” as foolish and a waste of time for God’s people—the boasting of image or great accomplishments
Paul wants no more credit than what people can see in his life or hear in his teaching
His focus was on the message and the power of God
Paul wanted Jesus to be the focus, not the “accomplishments” of Paul
As a result, he sees this attention to “prestige” as foolish
What Looks Good isn’t always Best
We work hard to keep weakness out of our lives. We desire no deficiencies
We want to be physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and relationally strong
So we work out, get counseling, practice spiritual disciplines, read books, and spend time with others to improve ourselves
This isn’t necessarily wrong, but with strength unfortunately comes some problems
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
True Power is shown in weakness
2. The Thorn
2 Corinthians 12:6-10—the thorn represents the hidden part, sometimes even the “least appreciated” part
This is the negative side of the issue, the part that many of us would prefer to live without
The “thorn” is the part that sometimes hurts, but it is also a part of the total package of the Rose
Remember, with great privilege comes great responsibility
Paul’s initial call includes a mention of what great things he would do and what he must “suffer” for God (Acts 9:15-16)
Paul’s ministry included both the “bloom” and the “thorn”
The Nature of the Thorn
÷ Some say it was a physical condition (e.g., bad eyesight, Gal. 4:12-16; 6:11)
÷ Some say it was emotional or spiritual
÷ Some say it was other people
÷ Maybe it is kept a “secret” so that we might realize that issues like Paul’s “thorn” in the flesh come in many forms, and God want us to see that his work with Paul here is one he can do with us as well
The Purpose of the Thorn
Whatever the thorn, it served to bring Paul low, to keep him humble, and to keep him looking up to the Lord of glory and grace
÷ The thorn’s purpose was to serve as:
A reminder of weakness—he needs God’s power to do God’s work
A means to keep Paul humble—he is an instrument for God, not God
÷ Thorns are painful—they are uncomfortable
÷ The word here means “stake” or something on which to impale a person
This is not a mere splinter
÷ Geoff Thomas: "The thorn was a humiliating disability acting as a counterpoise to enforce the great truth that a Christian can only survive and achieve anything for God by a sense of his natural helplessness…God subjects us to a regimen of suffering because our usefulness is to be much greater"
Paul’s Thorn Didn’t Disappear
Even though Paul asked to be delivered from the “thorn,” God said “No.”
Prayers answered in this manner are not often seen as a blessing. In fact, if we are honest, we tend to see this answer as a challenge to our faith. We think God will always answer in the affirmative for some reason, but sometimes thorns are necessary to produce in us what God needs to complete his plan
The Result of the Thorn
÷ Sufficient grace
÷ God’s power
÷ Contentment—Paul resigns himself to the fact that with a bloom comes a thorn
Weakness can be a source of great power
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
True Power is shown in Weakness
"I discovered an astonishing truth; God is attracted to weakness. He can't resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him. The first step in any spiritual awakening is DEMOLITION. We cannot make headway in seeking God without first tearing down the accumulated junk in our souls. Rationalizing has to cease.“ Jim Cymbala
"Every believer must learn that human weakness and divine grace go hand in hand together.” Philip Hughes
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
True power is shown in weakness
The apostle Paul learned that a position of power and prestige is not necessarily the place of God’s greatest accomplishments
Humility is God’s favorite starting point for ministry that matters
True power comes in weakness
In our weakness, God shows his strength
How can we put these truths into action?
This week, let your weakness be a starting point for God’s power by being willing to start with humility
Be willing to acknowledge your weakness, your vulnerability, your “kryptonite” to God (and to others where needed)
Take a look at your image and ask, “Who am I trying to impress?” If the answer is anyone but God, repent
Allow God to use your weakness this week to show his grace to someone else—if you aren’t good at something, ask for help, etc.
What do you think of a community of believers who are more interested in image than in character? Do you want to belong to that group?
How can we move from image to substance? What can we do to avoid the trap of self-reliance or pride?
What happens when we rely on our own abilities to do God’s work?
What would the church look like if we dropped our masks, quit pretending, and actually engaged in honest conversation with each other?
What “weaknesses” do you see in your neighborhood or place of influence (don’t name names please)? How do you contribute to it?
Where do you need God’s strength to work in your weakness?
How will you humble yourself this week so that God’s power can shine through you?
Thanks for reading!