We come now to the study of the Word of God, and we have been looking at 2 Corinthians chapter 4. I invite you to turn in your Bible to that chapter, with apologies to those of you who haven’t been here the last few weeks. We’ve been slowly working our way through this chapter because we have been talking about the fact that as Christian believers, we are citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and our responsibility is to shine the light into the darkness. The light is in us because Christ is in us. The light is also in the Word of God because therein is the light of the gospel revealed. Verse 5 of this chapter says, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” This is the heart of the point and purpose of the church in the world, to preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord.
Now we have been discussing the fact that to preach Christ is to provide light in the darkness. Just to remind you of that, let me begin in verse 1. Follow along. “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.
“But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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.”
To pull up and above that text and get an elevated vantage point of what Paul is saying, he is saying this: “We have been given the ministry of the new covenant, the preaching of the gospel, the glory of the gospel. We preach Christ, we don’t preach ourselves. We understand in doing this that we are insignificant. We are clay pots, earthen vessels. We have no power; only God has power. We can communicate the message; we have no power to change the sinner. In fact, we have to face the reality that dominates all evangelism, and that is, if it is faithful it will generate hostility, rejection, hatred, and persecution.” And so, having risen to the heights of speaking of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God, speaking of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ, immediately he says in verse 8, “We’re afflicted,” verse 9, “we’re persecuted”—and then in three verses in a row he talks about the fact that he lives every single day with the reality of death. And what we’ve been learning is that the gospel offends sinners—necessarily, necessarily. Jesus said in John 7, “They hate Me because I tell them their deeds are evil.” Even Jesus Christ, the righteous one, the holy one, could not overcome the sinner’s anger when confronted with his own sin.
The darkness is deep and seductive; we’ve been learning that. The darkness is becoming bold in our generation, isn’t it? The darkness is protecting itself by making laws that punish the people of the Light. We have criminalized righteousness and made wretchedness legal. The devastating deception of the wicked has legalized murder and sexual perversion and the destruction of the family and the devastation of children. The pollutions in this population are widespread. We have the duty to shine the light into this. But mark it: Whatever tolerances the culture had in past generations, it doesn’t have now. Hostility is going to be the response. And because hostility is the response—naturally, inevitably, because if they hated Jesus, they’ll hate you, as He said—many have adjusted the message to remove the offense. And we hear people speaking of the gospel as if it’s some kind of social reform, some kind of a racial reconciliation.
We also hear that some present the gospel as if it is a means of discovering your own purpose or discovering your own fulfillment or discovering your own success—or anything else about yourself. Commonly, the starting point for evangelism is about you. “God loves you so much that He wants to give you everything you desire.” These kinds of non-gospel promises are so familiar that they pass uncritically. People don’t realize how utterly alien they are to the true gospel. They make the message of God about the sinner; the sinner takes center stage, and the sinner is the one that makes the demands and lays down the desires, and God is the one who delivers them to the omnipotent sinner. These are devastating, appalling misrepresentations of the message of salvation.
Just for a moment, you’re in chapter 4. Go to chapter 5; I’ll give you an illustration of this. Starting in verse 18, talking about the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel that makes one a new creation, “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He’s committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Now I read that, and I just want you to take a look at those verses without necessarily honing in on anything, and see how many times you see the word “God,” and then see how many times you see the word “Christ.” “God” appears four times in those verses; “Christ,” four times; “God” four more times by pronouns, and “Christ” two more times by pronouns—which is to say that the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel, is about God and it’s about Christ. It’s not about you. It is God centered.
Now if we’re honest about the gospel of God and the gospel of Christ, what do we say? How do we present it? If we are to shine the light, if we are the clay pots that are valueless and useless and replaceable, but we possess the glorious gospel of Christ, how do we communicate that? What do we say? Let me just give you some simple things that you need to remember:
If you’re honest about the gospel, it’ll go something like this: Be honest about sin and the cost of repentance. Okay? That’s where you start. Be honest about sin and the cost of repentance. There is a cost. The cost is so high, but sinners left to themselves will not pay it—because they have to deny themselves. But that’s where the gospel starts. Be honest about sin and the cost of repentance.
Secondly, be urgent and tell people they need to repent now. Today.
Thirdly, give them the truth about Christ, His person, and His work. Support that with Scripture. Everything you’ve said about sin and repentance and Christ, His person and work, support with Scripture.
And when you have made the need for repentance clear and the cost of repentance clear and the work of Christ and His person clear and shown them in Scripture, tell them with joy that if they repent and believe the gospel, they will be saved and given eternal life. That’s the process. Tell them with joy, and then inform them of sanctification and the critical importance of life in the church.
That’s how you shine the light into the darkness. That’s no guarantee they’re going to respond; in fact, most won’t, right? But as God said to Isaiah, “There’s a remnant.” God has His people; and when you give that truth of the gospel to one whom God has chosen from before the foundation of the world, the Spirit of God may at that point give them light and life. That’s how we shine the light of the gospel into the darkness.
I said a couple of weeks ago something that people have taken issue with. I said I couldn’t fight for religious freedom because that would be fighting for Satan to be successful, because every single religion in the world except the truth of Christianity is a lie from hell. You say, “Well, isn’t religious freedom important for Christianity?” No, it’s meaningless. Doesn’t matter what laws governments make or don’t make, they have no affect on the kingdom of God. Jesus said, “I will build My kingdom, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” We don’t need the government to expedite the gospel. And you will notice that when religious freedom, sort of categorically, is eliminated, the only religion that’ll be punished is the truth.
So here we are, living in the darkness—not on the edge of the darkness, but literally in the darkness, shining as lights. And Paul says in tackling this task, it can be daunting; and that’s why he begins in verse 1 by saying, “We do not lose heart.” And then he brackets it at the end, or near the end, in verse 16, again, “We do not lose heart.” That means we aren’t cowards, we don’t quit, we don’t give in.
How is it that you can do this with boldness and courage, and endure? Well, we’ve been through a number of things; I won’t go back through them. But we find ourselves down to verse 8. The bottom line is this: In order to be faithful, you have to have strong convictions. You have to believe in the superiority of the New Covenant; we learned that. You have to understand that you need a pure heart, that you have to handle the Word of God accurately. You have to understand that salvation is a work of God. Only God who said, “Let there be light,” and brought about light in creation in Genesis 1:3, can say, “Let there be light,” in a heart. You also have to understand your insignificance: You’re a slave, you’re a clay pot, you’re powerless.
So here we are with this superior New Covenant truth, the only saving truth. We have been given the mercy, the high privilege of proclaiming it, even though we’re unworthy. We must do so from a pure heart, handling the Word of God accurately, trusting in the Lord for the results, realizing our own insignificance. And when we do all of that and do it all to the best of our Holy Spirit-driven abilities, what will happen? Do you think they’ll all believe? No.
Go down to verse 8: “We’re afflicted in every way.” If you think this is the path to popularity, you’re wrong. Paul was certain of another thing. This is the seventh certainty that we’ve looked at: He was certain of the benefit of suffering. You’re going to have hostility. You’re going to have rejection. You’re going to suffer.
We’ve already learned from our Christian experience in going through the New Testament that we should count it all joy when we fall into various trials, right, James 1, because they have a perfecting work. We’ve already heard from Peter, 1 Peter 5:10, that after you’ve suffered a while, the Lord “make you perfect,” complete, whole. So we know that just in general, suffering and trials in life benefit us; they perfect us, they make us stronger. They even validate our faith. When your faith survives a horrible disappoint, that’s evidence that it’s a real faith. And the longer you live and the more times you’ve gone through trials and your faith comes out triumphant, the more assurance you enjoy.
So Paul says, let’s look at verse 8, “I’m certain of one thing: I’m certain of suffering, and I’m certain of its benefit. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” Afflicted, thlibō, pressure coming on us, but not crushed. “Perplexed”—you could translate that “at our wits’ end, despondent, not really seeing a way out of the suffering.” But even at that, “not despairing,” not to the point of final despair. What he is saying is it’s hard, it’s very hard, but there’s no heartache that can cause us to defect. We don’t lose heart.
Verse 9 he says, “We’re persecuted,” diōkō. That verb would be used for hunting an animal with the purpose of killing it. We are hunted, hunted down for the purpose of being killed, just like Jesus was. “But not forsaken,” not abandoned, not deserted. “We’re struck down,” kataballō – that’s a body slam, slamming something to the ground; to throw down with force, used in wrestling, boxing. “But not destroyed.” We don’t perish. This is one battered apostle, right? But it never broke him. Listen, triumph is not freedom from pain. Triumph is not escaping adversity. It is surviving it.
Go over a few chapters to chapter 12, 2 Corinthians 12, and I will have you look at verses 7 to 10. Paul opens his heart. He’s been talking all through this letter about his suffering. Go back to chapter 6; the opening ten verses lists all the things he suffered. Then in chapter 11, the most complete list of external, and then even internal suffering starts in verse 23 and runs all the way down to verse 29, all the things that he suffered. And there were critics of him who would say, “Well, pretty evident that God is not pleased with you because of all the suffering.” That would have been the extant version of Job’s friends’ counsel. You’re suffering, you’re sinful.
But notice what the Lord says in chapter 12, verse 7. This is personal testimony from Paul, inspired by God, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He said to me”—repeatedly—“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” That is so counterintuitive to the culture of today in even the evangelical church. “I don’t become powerful until I’m weak, until I’m persecuted, until I’m distressed, until I’m insulted.” He puts himself on the altar of sacrifice. And he says suffering is beneficial.
First of all, it humbles us: “To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me”—he says it again—“to keep me from exalting myself!” That messenger of Satan, I believe, was the leader of the false prophets who were tearing up the church at Corinth. A messenger of Satan, an angelos of Satan. A satanic angelos, an angel, is a demon. God used suffering to humble him because of the many revelations he had.
God also used suffering to draw him to the Lord, verse 8, “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” It drove him into deep prayer; that’s what suffering does.
Also, suffering allowed God to display His grace, verse 9, “He has said to me” over and over again, “‘My grace is sufficient for you. My grace is sufficient for you.’” It allows for God to put His grace on display.
And finally, suffering not only humbles us, draws us to the Lord, allows Him to display grace, but perfects His power in us. You’re only as powerful as you are weak in your own strength.
What is wrong with people who want to truncate the gospel? What is wrong with people who want to alter the gospel? They’re too invested with their own power. It’s when you know you are impotent and utterly powerless, clay pot, that all the power resides in the truth of the gospel. Preachers, I see them on television with massive crowds of people. They are impotent. They are weak. They have no effect on anyone in any eternal sense. They draw crowds, people laugh, clap—full of sound and fury, signifying, spiritually, absolutely nothing. And as long as you think you have the power, you are powerless. When you have been broken and recognize your own impotence, you’re useful. Paul understood that. He understood that.
And so, back to chapter 4, and picking it up at verse 10. He says, “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” You know, the reality was that they really were not so much offended with Paul. It wasn’t something about his style they didn’t like, it wasn’t that his words were, on their surface, offensive. It was Jesus that was the offense. And I want you to understand that no matter how winsome, no matter how kind you may be, no matter how loving you are, when you preach Christ and the gospel, it’s an offense. To the degree, “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus”—what is he saying? He is saying, “I live continuously in the reality that this could cost me my life.”
Paul was stalked. Everywhere he went, he was hunted like an animal. They wanted to kill him. But he did what he did so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. In other words, both in his character and his preaching, Christ was on display. I love that. Christ in Paul was made visible by his courage—get that. Christ in Paul was made visible by his courage, by his enduring sacrifice. By risking death for the gospel, he showed that he loved Christ, and he also showed that Christ was alive in him.
Parallel statement in verse 11: “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Literally, he’s saying Christ is on display when you are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice—even facing death, for preaching the gospel. I mean, it’s actually an amazing truth. It’s what Paul described as entering into the fellowship of the Lord’s suffering.
First Corinthians 4:9, he says, “God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death.” We know the story of the apostles, right? They were executed, exiled, and they had the best news the world had ever heard. It was all for Jesus’ sake. It was a life of persecution because he was faithful to proclaim Christ and to let Christ live through him.
It’s not just your message. Listen, it’s not just your message that is a rebuke to the world, it’s your life. It’s your life. It’s Christ in you that comes through in your love for the truth, for the church, for righteousness. So the glory of God shining in the face of Christ shines through the clay pot, the believer, as that believer proclaims the gospel of Christ; and the higher the price and the greater the cost, the more Christ is put on display. That is to say, the weaker you become and the less confidence you have in your own strength, the more powerful you become. The world doesn’t like it.
Nobody’s tried to take my life, that I know of. One time, one person did, on an Easter Sunday morning in the office. But they’re doing everything they can on the Internet to take away my reputation, to silence me because they have convinced people that I am, like so many others, just another spiritual fraud. You sort of leave your life out there; it’s the way it is.
Again, for the third verse in a row, verse 12, Paul says, “Death works in us, but life in you.” We have to be exposed. I mean, we’ve got to be out there proclaiming the truth, right? You can’t say, “Well, I’m afraid that it might cost me my reputation if I’m bold about the gospel. And those who hate the gospel are going to try to destroy me, and there are a lot of ways they could do it without killing me, especially in this Internet era.” But you don’t really have a choice. The glory of God is shining in the face of Jesus Christ, and Christ lives in you, and shines through you as He puts Himself on display in the evident virtues of your life. And those virtues sum up this way: Love—love toward God, love toward Christ, love toward truth, love toward Scripture, love toward the church, love toward the lost. Humility, brokenness over your own sin, sense of unworthiness. And thirdly, obedience. You put Christ on display, and then you proclaim His gospel. And this is unacceptable in the world.
Paul says in Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake”—not only for the Lord’s sake, but your sake—“and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What an amazing statement. Paul is saying this: “Christ isn’t here. They can’t do anymore damage to Him; they can’t inflict anymore wounds on Him, so they inflict them on me in His place.” What a privilege, right? He took the wounds for us; can we take the wounds for Him? That’s how it’s going to be if you’re faithful. It’s going to be “death working in us,” verse 12, “but life in you.” What an amazing promise.
Paul endures faithfully, then, shining the light of the gospel into the darkness even if it costs him suffering, and it does; even if it costs him death, and it did. The suffering was the way to refine him, the way to break his self-confidence, the way to humble him, draw him to the Lord, and perfect divine power in him. So he was certain of the benefits of that suffering.
The next certainty that steeled Paul for endurance is that he was certain of the need for integrity. He was certain of the need for integrity. Do I have to say how desperately we need integrity? What is integrity? It’s acting consistently with what you say you believe, right? You’re not duplicitous. You’re not a hypocrite.
But look at this how it is laid out in verses 13 to 15: “But having the same spirit of faith”—Paul operates by faith—“according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak.’” That is so simple. People ask me through the years, “Do you worry about people’s reaction to what you say?” My standard answer has been no. Why would I worry about what people think? There’s only one person I’m concerned about, and that’s God. I’ve never had the thought, sitting in my study preparing, “Oh, I don’t want to say that, that’s going to make somebody mad.”
People have said to me, “You know”—written me notes—“I brought my Catholic friend, and you offended him. I’ll never come back. I brought my Mormon friend, and you offended him. I brought my wife, and you offended her.” And I’m saying, “You want to paralyze me? Then tell me you’re having 3,000 people sitting in front of me, and my job is to not offend any of them.” No, I am here to offend all of you! And in so doing, I have offended my own heart.
No, don’t come to Grace Church if you don’t want to be offended. We are nice people and loving people. In fact, I was introduced at the National Religious Broadcasters by a well-known charismatic pastor that I’d gotten to know on a personal level, and he introduced me this way: “This is my friend John MacArthur, who is much nicer in person than he is in his sermons.” It’s not that I’m trying to be unkind, it’s that I must be truthful. That is integrity; I can’t say I believe something but I don’t have the courage to say it.
Verse 13, “I believed, therefore I spoke.” That’s integrity. This is the spirit of faith. You say you believe? This is how faith operates. It operates according to what is written. And Paul borrows a statement from Psalm 116, verse 10: “I believed, therefore I spoke.”
Psalm 116 is an incredible psalm. The psalmist lays out his severe difficulty; has so much difficulty: verse 3, verse 6, verse 8. And then he launches into prayer in verse 4. And without any change in the circumstances, in verses 5 to 9, he just rehearses how he trusts God. And so, then in verse 10 he says, “I’m speaking words of trust because that’s what I believe.” And the psalm ends from verse 12 to 19 with praise. He just launches into praise—and the circumstances haven’t changed. But he speaks of his trust in God. “What I believe compels me to be confident.”
Well, the apostle Paul sees that as an analogy to his own situation. The psalmist believed in the mercy, the care, the power, and the salvation of the Lord—and he spoke about it, and he praised God for it. And Paul borrows his words and says, “I have the same kind of faith in God as that Old Testament psalmist; a confident conviction that I cannot be silent, because this is what I believe, and this is what I speak.” By the way, Jonah in chapter 2 borrowed, I think, from this very psalm when he was praising God inside the great fish.
So Paul said what he believed to be true, said what God revealed to him. He believed, so he spoke. You can reverse that. What you hear people speak is what they believe. And if they don’t speak the truth, they don’t believe the truth. They might want to tell you they believe the truth, but it’s not a conviction. What you’re afraid to say, you don’t believe. Or you don’t believe you can say it and be protected by God. So you don’t trust God. If you don’t speak the truth, if you put some other message in, then either you don’t believe that truth; or if you do believe that truth in some superficial way, you don’t believe the God of truth can protect you when you say it.
Look, I’m not unaware of what’s been going on at Grace Church. They’ve been trying to shut us down week after week after week after week behind the scenes; you don’t know all about that. And we just keep speaking the truth and speaking the truth and entrusting the results to God, right? True belief in the Word of God, and true belief in the God of the Word are the foundations for courage. You just speak the truth.
And Paul has two reasons to speak the truth. Number one, I love this, verse 14, “Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.” He was willing to preach the truth even if it cost him his life—why? Because what would happen? He’d be raised from the dead. He believed in the resurrection, “knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus”—who is that? That’s God the Father, Acts 2:24, “But God raised Him up again.” Or 1 Corinthians 6:14, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”
Why are we worried about what can happen to us—persecution, hostility, and even death—when that’s just the fast track to the resurrection? We wait, don’t we, for the redemption of the body. Can we say with Paul, “To live is Christ, to die is”—what? “gain.” Would it not appeal to you, 1 John 3:2, to be like Him when you see Him as He is? Haven’t you had enough of yourself? There’s no fear when death is gain. He’ll raise up Jesus and “present us with you”—we’ll all be together in the resurrection. “We’ll”—the verb there means to come and stand in the presence of someone. And that someone is Christ.
So the first reason he’s willing to suffer and die is because he knows the resurrection is a reality and, secondly, is salvation. Look at verse 15: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” The indomitable courage of Paul, the integrity of his life: He believed it, and he spoke it, and even if the price was death, that was not a problem because resurrection was awaiting him. And secondly, because in preaching the truth, the grace of salvation was spreading to more and more people who were being added to the heavenly hallelujah chorus that would forever give glory to God.
The goal of gospel ministry is never comfort, never wealth and popularity, it’s always the salvation of those lost and alienated from God. And as we proclaim the truth, we count our lives as nothing, except that we would be used for the gathering of God’s people, through believing the message preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. He says saving grace is spreading to more and more people so that the ultimate goal can take place, which is the glory of God. Ephesians chapter 1, the whole redemptive plan of God summed up in that opening chapter, “for the praise of His glory,” “for the praise of His glory,” “for the praise of His glory.” Paul has God’s glory in mind; he’s incidental. He’s overwhelmed at such a mercy, to be used in such a way to bring glory to God.
So the believer who is faithful as a witness to the gospel, shining the light of Christ into the darkness, fills his soul with the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ; and selflessly reflects that glory in what he says and how he lives, so that more glory can be ascribed to God as people see his life and hear his gospel, and be saved. And he does all of that confident that if they kill him, it’s the fastest path to heaven.
Finally, one more certainty anchored Paul to faithfulness, one more reason he didn’t lose heart. He was certain that eternal glory far outweighed earthly suffering. Look at verse 16 to the end: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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.”
He makes three points. We don’t lose heart because, number one, spiritual strength is more important than physical weakness. We are decaying—the outer man. And we all know that, right? Life is a terminal disease. Every day you live, you’re closer to death. It was escalated for Paul because of the brutal way he was treated. He died at about 60; he probably would have lived longer if he hadn’t been so mistreated and abused. But it really wasn’t the issue. “The outer man is decaying, yet the inner man is being renewed day by day.” I can tell you from this vantage point—you know, I’m at the end, I’m giving you the view from the hearse, as it goes down the road. And I will tell you this: The inner man, by the grace of God, has never been stronger in me. And that is because I have a history of seeing the power of God, the grace of God, the mercy of God, the sustaining of God. The older that you get, the more history of God’s working in your life you have.
I can praise God for all the things He did through Old Testament history. I can praise God for all the things He did through New Testament history. I can praise God for all the things He did through redemptive history, church history, up to now. But I also, on this end of life, can praise God for how providence has unfolded in my life purely as a matter of mercy and grace. Utterly undeserved. And worship for me is just rehearsing providence. If you want to know how to worship, worship is rehearsing providence. It’s going back and saying, “God, this is who You are; this is what You’ve done.” And you can start at the beginning of divine revelation, go all the way through the Scripture, all the way through church history, and then you can start going through your own life. You’ve seen the hand of God.
It’s a continual renewal. Every day of my life another providence unfolds in my eyes that could only be accomplished by God. Sometimes joyous, wonderful providences; sometimes painful, agonizing providences—but providences nonetheless. Yes, life is a terminal disease, we’re all dying. Paul died probably before his time, had he not suffered so much. But all that was happening on the inside was far more important to him.
I can honestly say—somebody told me, a doctor told me recently I won’t die of cancer, and I said, “Why do you say that?” He said, “Because you haven’t had it yet; you’re too old to get it.” Now you know you’re old when you’re too old to get cancer. Well, I said, “Thanks, Doc. Now if I can just dodge trucks in the freeway I might survive.”
That’s never been the goal, right? The goal is to be renewed on the inside. So Paul understood that spiritual strength was far more important than physical weakness. Secondly, that future glory was far more important than present humiliation. Verse 17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” “Momentary, light affliction”—that’s how he viewed his sufferings. You might say he was underestimating them; he would say, “Not at all. Not at all.” “Momentary, light afflictions.” He makes contrasts: inner over the outer in verse 16, momentary over the eternal in this one, light over heavy. The word “light” afflictions, “light” is elaphros, it means weightless, inconsequential. These afflictions are inconsequential. But there is an eternal weight of glory. And even the word “glory” is related to the Hebrew word “weight.” What matters to Paul is eternal glory. And it has a weight far beyond all comparison; it exceeds all limits. He says in 1 Corinthians 2, “Eye hasn’t seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him,” right?
Thirdly, he says invisible realities are far more important than visible realities. Verse 18, “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.” “While we look”—his focus of his whole life. His vision was fixed not on things which are seen, not on temporal things, not on the visible world.
I heard the testimony of someone—it was sent to me, a well-known evangelical leader who has been advocating critical race theory and all of those things—and he declared to the world in this latest interview that he was no longer an evangelical, and he didn’t want that label. Then he went on for about an hour to talk about what mattered to him, which was all the racial issues. And at the end of it all it was weightless, it was meaningless. I said to somebody it was like reading the phone book—didn’t matter, had no eternal consequences whatsoever. That’s not the side you want to pick. All the objects, all the philosophies, all the social issues are temporal. It’s like, as I’ve told you before, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. What’s the point of that?
But Paul constantly kept his focus on things that are not seen, and they are eternal. It’s really an echo of Moses that the writer of Hebrews picks up in Hebrews 11:27. Moses, it says, endured because he had his eyes on Him who is—what? Invisible. Set you affections on things above and not on things in the earth, right?
So with those kinds of convictions, Paul was faithful to the end. And in his last epistle he gives a testimony. He says, 2 Timothy chapter 4, in verse 6, “I’m already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course”—I love this—“I have kept”—what?—“the faith.” That’s how you want to end up, isn’t it? So, “in the future is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” To you as well. His vision was always heavenward, like we heard Honoria play, “Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.”
I confess to you these are challenging times in many ways, but I don’t recall in my entire ministry a more exciting time to be proclaiming truth. Or a more black and white time, when evil is flaunting itself, when the truth is terrifying to the ungodly. But it also is the only hope of salvation, right? So “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.” And be lights, as Paul said, Philippians, shining in the darkness, with the light of the gospel of Christ. And be faithful to the end. And you will be if you have these same certainties that gave Paul undying courage. Let’s pray.
Our Father, we’re so blessed to have the revelation that You’ve given us, and that even as we hear it read and explained, it comes to us with a kind of supernatural power. It both offends our weakness, offends our sinfulness, offends our indifference, offends our worldliness, offends our preoccupation with what is lightweight; and at the same time calls us, as a mercy, as a gift of love, to live high, elevated, noble, heaven-focused lives. I pray that You will do through the lives of these people who are here a work that will bring You glory and renown, not only in heaven but even on earth, that You would be glorified.
We grieve over the dishonor that comes to You. The reproaches that fall on You fall on us when You, O God, O Christ, blessed Holy Spirit—when You are dishonored we feel the pain. We desire that You would be exalted and honored. And if we are truthful about that, then we know that that is a calling in our own lives to so live that that is true. May we honor You with our life, and may we honor You with our convictions by living them and speaking with love and compassion.
Lord, I just pray that You’ll fill our lives with the unexpected providences that show that You are at work in ways that are only explicable if we understand the kingdom of heaven and the power toward us by the Holy Spirit in us. We thank You for this immense and undeserved privilege of being the clay pots from which the glory shines. Be glorified, we pray in our Savior’s name.
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