2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 25
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|Working Together With God – Part 2. Now we’ve looked at what it involves, last time, to be a worker with God, what is involved. Today we’re going to talk about “What Can We Expect?” What can we expect once we choose to be a worker together with God?|
What Can We Expect
Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 6. We’re going to look at verses 4-5 today as we push on through this. We’re talking about “Working Together with God;” workers together with God. And today is part 2 of that. Now we’ve looked at what it involves, last time, to be a worker with God, what is involved. Today we’re going to talk about “What Can We Expect?” What can we expect once we choose to be a worker together with God?
Now the apostle Paul introduced that theme in verse 1 of chapter 6. He says, “And working together with Him,” I tell you what, the thrill of being allowed to work together with God ought to overwhelm every one of us today. That God would choose us; “What is man that God is mindful of him,” the psalmist said. You see, Christianity is not going to church on the weekend and just having a Bible Study from here sometime or another, even though it involves those kinds of things. Christianity is moment by moment, breath by breath walking and working together with God. It’s that relationship that we have.
This is so different than any religion of this world. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. Christ lives in us, the life inside the coat, to do through us what we could never do ourselves. We are the vessel and He is our enabling power to be what He desires for us to be. Now, as long as we do not receive the grace of God in vain, then we have the privilege of working with Him. Paul cautioned the Corinthian believers who needed this very desperately, not to receive, in verse 1, the grace of God in vain. Receiving the grace of God in vain is when a believer becomes so focused with himself that he is not willing to yield to the will and to the way of the Lord.
God doesn’t use selfish believers who are only interested in what benefits them. He does not use them. When a believer receives the grace of God in vain, he misses out on the opportunity to see people reconciled to God. He’s not a useable part. God wants to use us, we’ve been given like Paul, the ministry of reconciliation; we’re His ambassadors in this hostile imperial province down here called the world today. And everywhere we go, everything that we do, should echo that purpose in our life.
But when we get overwhelmed with ourselves, we miss out on the greatest opportunity we could have ever had. Paul uses a quote in verse 2 of chapter 6 out of Isaiah 49 to teach the Corinthian believers that the opportunity, the opportunity, was right in front of them. He wanted them to realize that there was a wide open window. He makes a statement and quotes out of Isaiah, “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” The unique thing is today, to you and me in the 21st century, we’re still living in that window of opportunity. Now is the day of salvation because the Lord Jesus has come to make that possible in people’s lives.
The window is wide open for people to come to Christ and as, again, we’re His ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation. The only thing, the only thing that can keep us from working together with Him and to be about the purpose for which He has for us while we’re still on this earth, is when we become focused on ourselves. “What’s in it for me?” As it was in Paul’s day, there are many believers in our day that are squandering the opportunity that is ours in this time.
Paul continues to exhort the Corinthian believers by reminding them that if the selfish lifestyle is there, it’s going to show up and then that automatically discredits what we’re saying. He says in verse 3, “giving no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited.” Paul uses his own life as his example, but he teaches us that our walk has got to match our talk. We just can’t say it; we’ve got to live it.
In the phrase, “giving no cause for offense in anything,” the word offense is the word proskope, which literally means “to cause one to stumble.” You see, we don’t want to intentionally have anything in our life that causes somebody to stumble. The ministry he refers to would be the ministry of reconciliation. For us to be ambassadors, for us to have this ministry of reconciliation, we don’t want anything in the way that causes others to stumble.
Now whatever Paul had in mind, and we could make a list today that would take several pages of what could be in our life that could cause people to stumble, but whatever it was he had in mind, whatever that would cause his ministry to be discredited, he did not allow it in his life; whatever that was. Paul’s walk, once again, matched his talk.
This is what I love about studying the apostle Paul, and you notice that by the fact that I study a lot of his epistles. In 2 Corinthians 1:12 he’s already set the stage for this. He says, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.”
Well, we left off last week with Paul saying in verse 4, “but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God.” The word “commending” there in the phrase “commending ourselves” is the word sunistao. Sunistao means literally “to place with or to stand with,” but here means “to put on display for everybody to see.” Now here’s what Paul’s saying, “I want it to be so conspicuous to everyone that I’m a servant of God, I’m a co-worker with Him.”
And you know what it was that is really the bottom line of what made him so conspicuous was not just the hardships, that’s part of it, but the fact that he was willing to bear up under them and the strength that God gave him to do that. We’re going to talk about those hardships today. And you’re going to understand the song, “I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my sickness,” because what Paul is going to tell us today is what you and I can expect when we become co-workers with God.
But the beautiful thing about it, Christ in Paul kept him alive and well; it kept him buried up under whatever it was that came their way. And when people looked at Paul, they didn’t just see him. They saw the One he was a co-worker with. They saw Christ in him. And that’s what continued to let his walk match his talk.
The word “endurance,” he adds that little phrase to the end of verse 4, “but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance.” Now the word “endurance” there is the word hupomone. It means “to remain up under, to bear up under whatever comes one’s way.” You can say it a different way. Christ in Paul enabled him to stick with the stuff. And that’s what’s so beautiful about his life. Paul adds the word “much,” “much endurance”. Now if you’ve got “much endurance” you’ve got a lot of hardships you have to deal with and this is where he’s leading us in the text.
The word “much” is the Greek word polus, which means “a great amount.” Paul’s life was ever lived; it was lived in such a way that no one ever accused him of being a quitter. Never. Life couldn’t get too tough for him to bail out on the Lord and let God be who He is in his life. And life was hard for Paul. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “How hard was it for Paul?” Well, that’s our text today.
There are three types of hardships that Paul endured because of Christ living in him. Paul endured these three kinds of hardships that we want to look at today and really, he’s letting us know that all of us are going to have to deal with some of these or maybe all of them at some point in our Christian walk. What can we expect?
You know, when you turn on the television, recently my wife and I watched some of the religious programming and heard a man say—and it just grates on my heart—he said, “The reason our church is so big and so many people come is that we tell them things that they want to hear. We don’t tell them what they don’t want to hear. They hear enough bad stuff during the week. We don’t want to tell them anything but the good things when they come together.” And I thought to myself how unrealistic can a person be?
Do we understand that we live in a hostile world? How many of us understand that this morning? It’s a hostile world. We’re living in darkness. In his first epistle to the Corinthians he said, “We have been made light.” Now what kind of fellowship does light have with darkness? Anybody want to stand up and say, “Oh, it’s fun, Wayne. It’s wonderful.” Listen, the conflict begins the moment we surrender to Christ. The moment we become a co-worker with Him, the moment we begin to walk in harmony with Him and His will in our life is immediately when the conflict begins. And at least we can look at Paul and say, “Thank you, Paul, for telling us the truth of what we can expect if we’re a co-worker with God.
We can expect to have to endure inevitable pressure
There are three levels that he talks about. First of all, we can expect to have to endure inevitable pressure; inevitable pressure. Every believer is going to have to go through this. He begins by mentioning three things that have to do with stressful situations which are very common to most believers.
He says “in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses.” The word “affliction” there is the word thlipsis. Now we have seen this word before. It’s “to be pressed in from all sides.” It’s when the difficulties seem to be coming from every angle and you feel like you’re pushed in and you’re pushed in to a narrow place. In fact, it’s translated sometimes in some Greek texts “narrow place.” It means you’re so pressed in you feel like you’re going to explode.
It’s that which comes from without. You didn’t ask for it. It comes as a result of your walk with the Lord Jesus Christ and it begins to press in on you. Now all of us, all of us, are going to have to bear this from time to time just from the fact that we’re believers and we’re willing to confess that to others. Now at times, this kind of pressure that he speaks of, affliction, can be life-threatening. Now this was the case in chapter 1:8 of our study in 2 Corinthians. Paul had to face potential death in Asia and it really caused him a lot of concern.
In 1:8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” You see, it can come from very hostile people. It can put us in life-threatening situations. But it doesn’t have to be that particular type of stress. There are other kinds of anguish and stress that come and press us in, causing us much grief on the inside. This is the kind of affliction that Paul had varied experiences with.
For instance, he was so concerned for the believers in Corinth because they wouldn’t obey God. Now you wouldn’t think that it would cause affliction, but it does. If you’re a teacher, if you’re a pastor, or if you are a leader of any kind, you know exactly what he’s going to talk about right here. The affliction is like you can’t take it personally. You’re teaching people what it means to walk with God and then you witness what comes out of their mouth and you witness the way the behave and it just kills you. It’s like a crushing blow from each side pushing you in and it’s hard to endure. It’s hard to bear. Only Christ in us can enable us to do that.
Second Corinthians 2:4 Paul mentions this kind of affliction. He says, “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.” There’s something tender and precious that crushes a person that wants the best for somebody else. Imagine how Jesus felt in John 8 when He spoke the hard difficult things and the crowd left and would never come back. I mean, it’s a crushing blow. You may have children in your family that you want to know Christ and you want them to walk with Christ and they turn and spit in your face and walk away and it crushes you. It’s that affliction that comes from without.
But the interesting thing about Paul is because Christ lived in him, all of the affliction he had to bear whether it be life threatening or whatever, the apostle Paul called it “light affliction.” He had a bigger picture of what was going on. It didn’t matter what he had to go through, it mattered what God was doing through him. It says in 4:17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Even though it was difficult, even though it was hard on his life, he said, “I just want Christ to be seen in me.” That’s the eternal weight of glory that God was producing in him.
A worker with God can expect these kinds of stressful conditions to come. But in the midst of it, because Christ lives in him, he doesn’t quit. He doesn’t bail out just because it’s tough. He allowed Christ to manifest His life in and through him no matter what he had to go through.
The second word he uses here is the word “hardships” which in the Greek is the word anagke. It’s oddly enough kind of interesting. The word means “that which is necessary.” You mean hardships are necessary? Yes, let me show you what I’m talking about. It a good sense it’s the necessary hardships we endure because of what compels us to live the way we live. When we simply obey, this necessarily brings hardships many times into our lives.
You say, “Give me an example of that.” I’m glad you asked. Paul was warned in Acts by many of the people but especially the prophet Agabus came down and said, “Listen, if you go to Jerusalem, buddy, let me tell you what’s going to happen.” And he bound his hands and bound his feet. “They’re going to treat you in a bad way.” But you see, the apostle Paul felt led of the Spirit to go on to Jerusalem. He went anyway, knowing, knowing, that necessarily because of the choice he made, there were going to be hardships that were going to come in his life. And surely that’s when he was put into prison and you know the rest of the story. That’s when he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and Colossians. I mean, he was there almost five years in prison. They warned him, they told him, but he went out of obedience and the hardship that came was necessary because of the choice that he made.
Now in a negative sense it can be the hardship that we go through when someone tries to force us to do what would not please God. You see, when we choose not to go with the world, automatically there’s a necessary hardship that is going to go along with that choice. We’re going to have to take the blow. We’re going to have to take the consequence of making the choice not to go with the world but to obey God.
The pastor a church in Romania, Cornell, when I first met him was a deacon and his wife contracted leukemia, a beautiful, beautiful lady. And they tried everything to get her some medical help. Well, under Communist countries, I’m sorry, but there’s not a lot of help for the people even though they say it’s for the people. So they found a place in London and he went to the Communist authorities to say, “Listen, will you allow us to go over to London to get a special treatment for my wife because she has leukemia. We want to get a transfusion and perhaps that will give her longer time to live.”
And they said, “Oh, that will be fine if you’ll just sign this little piece of paper.” And he read through it and what it said was that you must deny the Lord Jesus as being your Lord, as being God. You must deny. And basically everything he’d preached, everything he had stood for he had to sign a paper that said he totally disagreed with it and that he completely disavowed that in his life. He took the paper in front of the Communist officials, there was his wife as sick as she could be, tore them up, put them in the trash can and his wife hugged them because they were together. They walked out of the room and they necessarily had to endure hardship because of the choice they were willing to make to please the Lord God and not disavow what they believed.
That’s what the word is: it’s the hardship that comes because of the choices we make to be co-workers with God and they’re necessary. You can’t live in a hostile world without having them and unless we’re going to make those kind of choices, then we don’t understand the hardship that he’s talking about.
The third word that Paul mentioned that all of us can expect is the word “distresses.” He says, “but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses.” Now the word “distresses” in the Greek is stenochoria. Now this word means “the inner anguish and the discomfort that one goes through when pressure comes from without.” Now make sure you understand the difference. Stenos, narrow, chora means a space. It’s a “narrow space.” Now this is very similar to the word “affliction,” very similar. But the difference is this: whereas “affliction” is talking about what’s coming in is putting the pressure on us from the outside, stenochoria is the inner anguish that is caused as a result of what’s going on out here.
So Paul says basically what he has had to go through, and this really put the stamp of approval on him from God, that he was a co-worker with God. That Christ in him enabled him to bear up under. He didn’t quit, he didn’t bail out, he didn’t get mad at God, he didn’t shake his fist in God’s face. He didn’t become bitter because of the difficult things in his life. But he endured. In Christ we’re able to endure, to bear up under. Why? Because he saw the ministry of reconciliation as a much bigger picture. He wasn’t focused just on himself; he was focused on what God was doing as a result of the suffering God had allowed to come in his life.
So inevitable stress, somebody becomes a brand new believer in our church and wants to know, “What can I expect?” Inevitable stress. If you’re going to walk with God you must understand affliction, hardships, and distresses that are going to come in your life.
We can expect to have to endure undeserved persecution
Secondly, he moves it to a different level. Here he talks about we’re going to have to endure undeserved persecution: undeserved persecution. In verse 5 he says, “in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults.” Now in our first group Paul dealt with the general stress that every believer is going to have to go through when he gets serious about being a believer and trusting God. But in this list he deals with three things that sometimes we may have to deal with but it’s not as common as the first list that he mentions.
Sometimes we’re going to have to go through the pain that’s going to be caused because we’re believers; from the legal authorities and also from the religious authorities. “In beatings” is the first thing he mentions. In Acts 16:22 Luke describes how Paul and Silas were beaten with rods before the Roman magistrates in Philippi. It says, “And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.”
Now the interesting thing is that in that instance Paul could have demanded legal protection because he was a Roman citizen. And if you know that passage you remember when they found that out after they had beaten him, they quickly wanted him out of town to save face. They didn’t realize he was a Roman citizen. You could not beat a Roman citizen until he stood trial and they didn’t stand trial; they just went ahead and beat him. But to save face they wanted him out of town.
But in chapter 11 of our text, 2 Corinthians, Paul reveals that in total, now listen to this, the religious Jewish authorities were worse in their torture of him than the Romans were. The Jewish leaders flogged him five times while the Romans only beat him with rods three times. Now he was referring to the Jews in 2 Corinthians 11:24, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” Now that was a cat-o-nine tails and had all the metal in it that would just rip the skin right off a person’s body. Forty lashes was considered the death sentence and he said five times they only gave him thirty-nine each time, because 40 would have killed him. Referring to the Romans in that passage in verse 25 he says, “Three times I was beaten with rods,” so Paul could claim that he’d been flogged more severely than anybody else that you’ve studied except for Jesus by both religious and legal authorities of that day.
But not only flogging, the next thing he mentions is imprisonments. He says in verse 5, “in beatings and imprisonments.” We know that Paul was jailed frequently because of 2 Corinthians 11:23; “Are they servants of Christ?” Speaking of the false apostles. “(I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments,” in the plural. Now what were all these imprisonments? We don’t know them all. We know, however, that he was in prison when he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon; we talked about that.
We know that he was imprisoned right before being martyred for the faith. In 2 Timothy, and it’s the saddest thing, he wrote Timothy and he said, “Oh, Timothy, I’m lonely, come see me before it’s winter.” He was in a hole; Onesiphorus couldn’t even find him when he went over there. I mean, it wasn’t like the first imprisonment. They just stuck him in a rat-infested hole in the ground before they martyred him, took his life. He said, “Timothy, send me my coat, I’m cold. And Timothy, bring me some parchments, bring me something to read or to write on. I’m just so bored. I’m here by myself.’
When I hear this “health, wealth” junk, “oh, you can be healthy, you can be wealthy,” you tell that to the apostle Paul who died without a penny in his pocket, poverty stricken in our world’s terms today, but full of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Imprisonments,” he says.
The word “tumult” is the word akatastasia, and it refers to public disorder and to riot. Anytime you ever wanted to find Paul in the New Testament, just look for the nearest jail or listen for the riot that is going on somewhere. He’s right in the middle of it. The world either responds or reacts to the message of reconciliation. Specifically to the fact that God was in Christ, Christ was God, reconciling the world to Himself. People can’t stand that. They rebel against that and it causes a lot of pain to the people who preach it. Riots were common occurrences in Paul’s life as a reaction and it was from hostile religious groups, it was from legal groups, it was from everybody that was there because of the message that Paul faithfully preached.
An example of this was what happened to him in Ephesus. I know you know this story. In Acts 19:29, he had seen so many people come to Christ that they stopped buying those little statues of Artemis. I’ve been to Ephesus and they had those shops going up to the top where they had that big temple up there. And they stopped buying the little gods because they got saved. She’s not their god and the people cried out, “Artemis, Artemis, the god of the Ephesians,” and they had a big riot. And it says in verse 29, “And the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.” They couldn’t find Paul so they got his companions and drug them into an arena, a very hostile crowd.
Another example of this is in Acts 21:30-32 when the religious leaders could not stomach the message of grace. I want to tell you something. People that love religion cannot stand the message of living grace. They cannot stand it, because they still want it to be up to them. “We can do it, we can do it, we can do it, we can.” And the same attitude was going on in Paul’s day and they couldn’t stand it and some Jews from Asia Minor saw Paul at the temple and they spread a lie. They spread a lie, and they knew what was going to happen. And that lie said that he had taken a Gentile beyond the wall of partition. The wall of partition was where a Gentile could not go beyond, inside the temple. It had a sign that said, “Any Gentile that goes beyond this wall is under the penalty of death.”
And they lied; they said he took a Gentile by the name of Trophimus and took him beyond that wall. Stirred up the city. It says in Acts 21:30, “That all the city was provoked and the people rushed together; and taking hold of Paul, they dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut. And while they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. And at once he took along some soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.” And the soldiers arrested Paul to protect him. Then a plan got out to assassinate him and they discovered it. Two hundred soldiers at night took him down to Caesarea. At Caesarea he was stuck there, left alone, forgotten, for two years. Then he was taken to Rome and four years of his life was spent as a result of a crowd that couldn’t stomach the message of grace.
So you way, “I’m a brand new believer. What can I expect?” I can tell you that you’ll have joy liked you’ve never known before because it’s all in Christ. The fruit of His Spirit is love, joy, peace, and I can go through the characteristics there. But I can also say to you by the authority of the Word of God, when you start living and being serious with God, working and walking together with Him, you can expect inevitable pressure, the stress that’s going to come to you whether it’s hostile or whether it’s agony in your heart because of believers that won’t walk with God, but it’s also that you may have to endure undeserved persecution.
You know, when I talk about this, most people in America back up and say, “Whoa, I sure am glad we’re living over here,” and we forget completely that more Christians have been martyred for the faith in the last 25 years than in the history of Christianity. And here we sit and we’re healthy, and some of us are wealthy, whatever, but we’re living in a country where we’re free to come to church. And one of the interesting things to that is people don’t even want to come when they have the freedom to come and yet right across the ocean it is entirely opposite.
You know folks, we don’t have religious freedom in America, I don’t care what anybody says. We have religious tolerance. And I don’t know if you know it or not, but the fuse is getting shorter and shorter and shorter. I wonder what’s going to happen to churches that entertain everybody when the real crises comes to our country? You see, we need to start waking up and understanding what you can expect when you walk together with God and when you work together with God. It’s not fun. I don’t even enjoy preaching it because I’m in the midst of it, too.
We can expect to have to endure bodily privations
Thirdly, we can expect to endure bodily privation. Paul adds in 2 Corinthians 6:5, “in labors, in sleeplessness, and in hunger.” Now the last three comprise these intense bodily privations that we will all face at one time or another simply out of our willingness to obey God and be a co-worker with Him. It’s voluntary. It comes as a choice. Paul says, “labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger.
First of all Paul mentions labors. The word “labors” is the word in the Greek kopos, which means “weariness from heavy toil.” It’s when one works so hard that his body is weary. You know, since I’ve been here there have been many people that misunderstand living grace. I hear people tell me, “Well, you preach it as if it’s passive.” If you’re hearing that, that’s not what I’m preaching. I have said a hundred times: you get in touch with God, you yield to Him, He’ll wear you out. You’ll never be burned out but you’ll be worn out because He will absolutely put on you the heavy responsibility that He lives within you to enable that obedience to Him. It’s not passive at all.
Paul is talking about his own laboring until he was dead tired and totally worn out. And by the way, just because you have a work ethic doesn’t mean you’re a believer. A lot of people have work ethic because work has become their god. That’s not what Paul’s talking about. Paul’s just simply trying to show the credibility of what Christ has been doing in his life. Paul labored to support himself. Isn’t it interesting, he championed churches paying their pastors: he championed that. He taught that, but he violated his own rule by choice. He said, “You know, I go to pagan people, they don’t understand what I’m doing so I choose not to be paid by them. I choose to be bi-vocational. I’m going to be a tentmaker to provide funds for what I do.”
And he worked until he was worn out. Paul labored to support himself because he wanted to be financially independent. Acts 18:3 when he me Priscilla and Aquila, this is right when the church of Corinth originated there, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tentmakers. They worked hard.
It says in Acts 20:34-35, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” In Ephesus he labored to defray expenses, he labored to help the poor, and not only that, he taught the disciples in the hall of Tyrannus there daily. He was a busy man.
Acts 19:9-10, “But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them,” this is interesting: he didn’t waste his time on them. If they don’t want to hear, fine; “and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” At the same time God had him doing something else. God had him going from house to house to exhort both Jews and Gentiles to repent and to believe. Acts 20:20-21, “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jew and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So these things can be expected. It can be tiresome. And some of you are going on a mission trip down to Long Beach and you’re going to see some tiresome days. It’s a lot of sweat that goes into this but it’s all according to the power that works within you. Paul says in Colossians 1:29, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” So it’s not just his strength, it’s God enabling him and strengthening him. Paul writes that he never stopped warning the Ephesians night and day with tears. This was the mental focus of this. It was much harder than the physical; always is.
It says in Acts 20:31, “Therefore be on the alert, remember that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” And from his own testimony, trying to come against the false prophets of the day he says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am,” so don’t ever credit Paul, don’t ever pat him on the back. It’s by the grace of God; “His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
So what can you expect? If I’m going to be a worker together with God there’s going to be some tiring days, there’s going to be some weariness that’s going to come as a result of what God leads me even in that which He strengthens. But not only in labors, Paul mentions in verse 5, “sleeplessness.” Paul knew what it was like to lose sleep. Second Corinthians 11:27, “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights.” That “sleepless” word is only used twice and it’s Paul who uses it, so we don’t know specifically what it was that caused him to go night after night without sleep.
Perhaps it was due to his burden to pray. This is a beautiful thing about Paul. Like the Lord Jesus in Luke 6:12, “And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” He told the Philippians, “I pray for you always.” And so maybe that was what caused his sleeplessness. I don’t know. But he knew it. Whatever the situations were that caused sleeplessness, it came as a result of Paul being a worker together with God.
And the last thing that Paul mentions is hunger. Again Paul brings this up in chapter 11 and he adds thirst to the list there. He says in verse 27, “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food.” You know, Paul was a unique guy. In 1 Corinthians 4:11 it says, “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless.” Boy, it just really commutes to the 21st idea of where Christianity is, doesn’t it?
As a coworker with God, the beautiful thing about Paul was that he had learned to go with the flow. Whatever God wanted was fine with him because he saw the bigger picture: the ministry of reconciliation; his being an ambassador for Christ. It didn’t matter what he had to do, it didn’t matter the pain he had to endure. He says in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity;” he’d been on both sides of the fence, “in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
You see, Christ in Paul led him at times in his life when he didn’t have anything. Other times in his life he had a lot. Sometimes he had food all over the table, couldn’t eat it all. Other times he didn’t have a crumb that he could eat. Paul had been in both times. He knew that wherever God led him, remember back in the early part of 2 Corinthians he’s chained to the chariot, so it doesn’t matter: he’s always walking in the victory that God gave to them.
Well, he lets us in on the fact, I believe, in this passage of what we will have to expect to face at some point in time as we walk and work together with the Lord Jesus. Inevitable pressure, undeserved persecution, and mainly from the religious crowd, bodily privation as co-workers with God, but whatever comes our way, God in us enables us to endure which puts a stamp of approval on the fact that we’re genuine and we’re truly called to do what God has called us to do. We bear up under.
Paul was a co-worker with God and no matter what came his way he kept his focus because, again, he saw the bigger picture. I don’t know about you, but I love Romans 8. It may not bless you this morning, but just kind of humor me because it blesses me when I read it. These are my favorite verses in Scripture. They’re so precious. Romans 8:30-39. Listen to what a man who’s real, a man who truly understands where Christianity is. Not a man playing games and wanting church to serve him, but a man who is a co-worker with God. Listen to what he wrote:
“And whom he predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and who He justified, these He also glorified. [He sees way in the future.] What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us [and the emphasis here is on the word “who”], who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [And then he puts the “what”] Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ [a quote out of the Old Testament] But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us form the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
No matter what we have to face, no matter if it’s the common stresses that come in, no matter if it’s the undeserved persecution from people and places of authority, whether religious or legal, whether or not it just be those hardships that come from saying yes to Christ. Nothing will separate us from the love of God; nothing. Therefore, in Christ we are able to endure and we stick with the stuff and we don’t bail out just because it’s hard. He saw the bigger picture.
In western Africa it was 14 years before one convert was received into the church. In east Africa it was ten years before one convert. In New Zealand it was nine years before one baptism and two more before another came. In Tahiti it was 16 years before the first harvest. William Carrey labored seven years before the first Hindu convert was baptized. In Burma, Judson toiled for seven years before he had one convert. Once writing to England Judson said, “Beg the churches to have patience. If a ship were here to carry me to any part of the world I would not leave my field. Tell the brethren success is as certain as the promise a faithful God can make it.”
Do you see the bigger picture: ambassadors for Christ with a ministry of reconciliation? “But, Wayne, look at all the hardships you go through in being a part of this.” And Paul would say, “Glory, glory.” Always see the bigger picture. Don’t ever look at what’s happening to you. Paul says it’s not even worth talking about compared to the glory that is going to come one day. He saw the bigger picture, and that’s the beauty of being a worker together with God.
So we need each other, don’t we, to pray for one another? Because all of these things we’ll all go through from one time or another. What can you expect? What can you expect?