New years are time to generally reflect and to look forward to new things. Despite the fact that it repeats every 365 days, it is still something to look forward to. We all have heard multiple jokes about New Year resolutions. Today is the 7th of the month and, if we had made New Year resolutions, we certainly would have broken many, or all, of them by now. But immaterial of all of this, we all hope the New Year to be better, isn’t it? Each of might have a different understanding or definition of the word “better”. Today I am going to take a “worst case scenario” and look through how they made it better. And I am choosing this since I am aware that many of the BBF family, and the BBF as a congregation itself, have gone through the valley of life last year. A leadership vacuum, a loss of job, an uncertain future, a near divorce situation, complete loss of direction, illness of close ones, the list can go on. Each of us have gone through the valley in our own way last year. For some of us, the chaos has ended, but for some of us the darkness still prevails, we are still unclear about what lies ahead of us.
What helped us get through all the difficult situations? What can help us survive the days of uncertainty that still prevails?
Let us go to the book of 2 Corinthians. There are a few themes that run through this Epistle. One of them is the recounting of the manifest sufferings Paul and his fellow laborers met with during their journey to Asia, and what kept them going, amidst all those sufferings. Let us look at that.
Paul introduces the topic in 2 Corinthians 1:8 (NKJV) For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. And then in many occasions he touches upon this and explains what helped them during those sufferings, or how they “overcame” such sufferings. One of the most powerful statements that has always encouraged me is found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NKJV) We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–. We are going to stick around in this statement and see how Paul and his companions managed to do that, managed to not only survive, but thrive under such circumstances. What helped them? Could it be just be possible that we might be able to survive and thrive among our troubles by following their example?
As I thought about answers to these questions, God revealed to me a few things, which I hope will be encouraging to all of us.
First is the fact that Paul had the right frame of reference about who Jesus is. A true understanding of who Jesus is and in Jesus who we are. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NKJV) For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Paul knew for certain that whatever it is that he did, he didn’t do it for himself, but for Jesus Christ. And to establish who Jesus Christ is, in this context, he goes back all the way to the beginning of the world, the creation itself. “the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness”. This is worth studying a little deeper. For many of us, the story of Jesus Christ starts with Christmas. This is especially true since we just celebrated the season Christmas. But is it true? Does the story of Christ start with Christmas? We know what John says John 1:1-3 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. We cannot limit our understanding of Christ to Christmas alone. Christ was there before everything began, He is there when creation took place. And we know that creation is the greatest story of conversion of chaos into orderliness. Genesis 1:2 (NKJV) The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God subdues the greatest void, the greatest symbol of chaos , waters, to make this beautiful place that we call earth. He creates light. It is as if He is saying to us, don’t worry about the chaos around you. I rule over all of it. I am in control, I have subdued all of it to give you abundant life. Paul explains the role of Christ in all this powerfully in Colossians 1:16-17 (MSG) For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. This should bring comfort to us, isn’t it? The Christ whom we celebrated as the baby who was born in a manger just a few weeks back is the one through whom everything was made, and even more beautiful is the calm assurance that “holds it all together upto this moment”.
And this is foretold even in the old testament. Proverbs 8:23-29 (NKJV) I have been established from everlasting, From the beginning, before there was ever an earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, Before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields, Or the primeval dust of the world. When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep, When He established the clouds above, When He strengthened the fountains of the deep, When He assigned to the sea its limit, So that the waters would not transgress His command, When He marked out the foundations of the earth.
You see, Paul had the right frame of reference when he faced struggles and sufferings. He knew that he was serving Christ who is the creator of everything, the one who rules and subdues over all the chaos surrounding us. Who drives away darkness in our lives, through shining the light in our hearts through His face. This morning, this new year beginning, let us ask that hard question? Do we have the right frame of reference when it comes to the question who is Jesus Christ?
The second thing that helped Paul and his companions to get through the sufferings is faith. Paul admits to this in 2 Corinthians 4:13 (NKJV) And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,. We know what faith is Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Paul believed in the scriptures, and the Gospel and that helped them get over the sufferings that they were going through. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NKJV) For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. Paul sees the things he faces now as light affliction, which is momentary. Paul has faith that though he is afflicted, it is meant for a far more exceeding weight of glory. Some times we might be tempted to think that may be Paul’s afflictions were actually light as he called them. Is that so? It is good for us to be reminded of the extent of Paul’s sufferings. 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 (NKJV) From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–. It is good for us to remember that when Paul says “light affliction” is it really not light in comparison to what we might be facing at all. Yet, Paul says it by faith that he is able to sustain himself for the glory of the gospel that has been entrusted to him. Paul has faith that 2 Corinthians 4:14 (NKJV) knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.
So that is the second major aspect that helped Paul in the face of the great sufferings he had to bear. Paul exercised his faith when he faced sufferings. He made little of the sufferings and looked up to the things that are unseen, things that are permanent, things that are to come, than focusing on this sufferings.
The third and last thing that we will look at this morning about what helped Paul not to be crushed, not to be destroyed, not to be in despair, not to feel forsaken is the fact that Paul had mastered the art of Thanksgiving. 2 Corinthians 4:15 (NKJV) For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. He says let the sufferings cause grace to spread, so that thanksgiving may abound. And again, if we think that Paul had reasons to always give thanks and praise God, let us think again. Let us look at the incident in the book of Acts 16: 19-25. Please keep your bibles open to this section as I read from my bible. “As the masters of the girl realised that the girl has been cured of the evil spirit, they were overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. They invited Paul and Silas to come and have a meal with them in a five star hotel nearby. They took them to the Hotel in a luxury Mercedes Benz vehicle, praising them all the time. They gave them fine cloths to wear, a great banquet to eat at, and after the sumptuous meal, they provided a luxury room for them to take rest. They even appointed a dedicated valet to take special care of them all the time. Paul and Silas had hot showers, changed into very comfortable cloths and sank into the soft beds that they had. And then, Paul and Silas were very thankful to God and praised Him and sang hymns to him.”
No??.. why are you looking at me like that? Oh. Your bible tells a different story? Ok. Let us read your version of the bible shall we? Acts 16:19-25 (NKJV) But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. You see Paul had mastered the art of Praising God, praying to Him and singing Hymns, in the most unkind of situations. For Paul, all situations were opportunities to praise God. “so that thanksgiving may abound” he says.
So we have unlocked Paul’s secret to getting through sufferings.
Have the right frame of reference as to who Jesus Christ is (not limited to Christmas)
Have faith in Him and His resurrection
Give thanks in all circumstances/ situations
If you have tried all other means, if you are about to give up, can we try Paul’s recipe for strength this new year? Let this be our promise for 2018. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NKJV) We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–.
Let us Pray