2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 5
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006|
|One of the great things about studying the scripture, at least in my life it is, is that it teaches us, and this is my words, but life is like a quarry. You know what a quarry is? That’s where all that rock is chipped out. Life is like a quarry. You see, life and all the circumstances of life, are used of God to shape us and conform us into the image of Christ.|
The God of All Comfort – Part 4
Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 1, and we’re going to be looking at verses 8-11 today. This is the “God of All Comfort, Part 4”. One of the great things about studying the scripture, at least in my life it is, is that it teaches us, and this is my words, but life is like a quarry. You know what a quarry is? That’s where all that rock is chipped out. Life is like a quarry. You see, life and all the circumstances of life, are used of God to shape us and conform us into the image of Christ. Now, how do we know that? Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together, for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Now the “good,” sometimes we don’t see the good when the pain is going on in our lives, but the good comes out in verse 29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” You know, the only down side to that as far as we’re concerned, certainly not as far as God is concerned, is that the tools that He uses to chip away the old ugly flesh that is still resident in our life, they’re not of our choosing. Don’t you wish you could choose the tools that God would use? But we don’t get to do that. Not only that, the tools that He chooses to use sometimes can be painful at best to our flesh particularly.
You see, God uses life to chisel us down to where there is much less of us and so much more of Him. One of the tools that He chooses to use is persecution that comes from letting Jesus be Jesus in us. As we saw last week, it’s not persecution at us; it’s persecution that is coming to Him. We actually experience the sufferings of Christ. Persecution is never a welcome guest, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what kind of veteran you are. In persecution, it’s never a welcome guest. We don’t look forward to it, we don’t want it, but it’s going to come if we make a stand and if we make a vessel that Christ can use.
If anyone should be used to persecution, I mean, he could have a PhD in it, is the apostle Paul. We saw last week in our study, just a real brief look in 2 Corinthians 11 of what he had been through because of his just saying yes to Jesus. He says in Galatians, “leave me alone, don’t let anybody trouble me. I’ve got the brand marks of Jesus on my body.”
Well, Paul had found his comfort in the midst of all the persecution he’d been through. And that’s what we are seeing in our text. He had found that the God of all comfort is always there, and it’s such a precious thing. In fact, it’s so much so that he burst out into praise in 2 Corinthians 1:3. He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” actually it’s much more emphatic than what the English can bring out, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”
Then in verses 4-7 he begins to show how precious this comfort really is to him and should be to us. He showed us the meaningfulness of God’s comfort in our life. And the meaningfulness is in the fact that God is always there to comfort His own. It’s not like you have to pass a test; you don’t have to go through a class. God is always there. The word “comfort” in verse 4 when it says, “who comforts us in all our affliction,” is in the present active tense. Present tense means He’s always comforting us, and the active voice is so impressive to me, maybe not to you, but the active voice means this is His own choice. He doesn’t do this because He has to; He does this because this is Who He is. He’s the God of all comfort. That’s so precious.
But not only that, we saw the ministry of our comfort. Affliction drives us to the God of our comfort and when we get there we realize that when He comforts us, it’s not for us alone. No man is an island, but God uses the comfort in our life so that then we can become a vessel through whom He can reach out and touch other people with that same comfort. He says, “who comforts us in all our affliction,” verse 4, “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” And he puts the word “in” in there. That’s not just persecution, that’s any affliction. God comforts us so that we can now comfort others in any affliction.
Life is not accidental. Some people believe this and that bothers me that they don’t seem to understand that God’s in control. As far as God is concerned, He never wastes any experience in our life, even failure. He’ll weave it into His perfect plan. But God uses these experiences and these trials and these difficulties to prepare us so that we now might be able to comfort others. But we also saw, Paul shared with us the measure of our comfort. He says in verse 6, “But if we are afflicted,” speaking of he and his team, “it is for your comfort,” speaking of the Corinthians, “and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;” and that’s a powerful verse because the Corinthians had never suffered for the right reason. They had suffered because of sin in their life. The church was upside down. Yes, they had a lot of suffering, but it was self-inflicted and he said, “If you’re going to suffer, suffer for the right reason.”
Then verse 7, “and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” And that’s his point: if you’re sharers of the right kind of suffering. It’s apparent that God, through the suffering that Paul had gone through, and the comfort for which he had received, God had tenderized his heart toward these Corinthian believers. There’s been a real rift between him and the Corinthian believers. They treated him pretty toughly and so now his greatest desire is that they will glorify God and as I said, learn to suffer for the right reasons. Paul says, “If that happens, then my hope is firmly grounded. I have something I can build upon if you’re living yielded to Christ. I can help you. But I can’t do much for you if you’re going to live to yourselves.”
Well, today in our study we will see Paul’s suffering in a beautiful light that should encourage each of us. We’re going to get a glimpse of how suffering purified Paul. You know, it’s funny how we deify the Bible characters. “Paul was part of the Trinity.” No! God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. Now, he may have his application in, but there’s been no vacancy in the Trinity. He’s still down here with the rest of them. We tend to deify them. No. God used suffering to purify Paul and squeeze out the message so that it can get across to you and me even in the 21st century.
Suffering purified Paul and then, when he was purified, it stabilized his hope; but it also opened the door to the possible reconciliation between him and the Corinthian believers. It’s a precious thing: God sometimes takes pain in our life to bring us to the end of ourselves as we see today, and then He’ll give us a fresh hope. But in that moment we’re going to start seeing people in a different light. They’re no long threats, they’re opportunities.
Well, look at verses 8-11 and we’re going to begin to see what God can teach us about what I would want to call the ministry of affliction. Ron Dunn, who’s in heaven now, preached a series of sermons and he called it Strange Ministers. And the reason he called it Strange Ministers is because of the pain that we sometimes have to go through to get across the truth that God is trying to teach us. Ron’s son committed suicide. Ron was manic depressive and fought that all of his life. His other son was suicidal. His daughter was in a car wreck and had to have a leg amputated. His wife had cancer. I mean, here’s a man who had a walk through the valley, but he had learned something: in the midst of it God was going to purify him, and God would use that to deepen his own walk. He was one of the greatest preachers that ever lived here on earth.
The purification of our affliction
Well, there are several things we want to share. First of all is the purification of our affliction. Let’s look at that purification. Let’s look at the process here of what’s happening in Paul. Now I’m told, that if you put quail in an area, you stock it with quail, and there are no hunters, and there are no predators in that area that would threaten those quail, that those quail, over a period of time, will either die out or will certainly decrease in number. But they tell me that if you put quail in an area where they’re hunted and there are predators that are preying upon them, they say give it a few years and you’ll have more quail than you could possibly count. Because there is something about being persecuted that brings about a better result. Well, I don’t know about quail, but I certainly know about the Christian life. That’s exactly what Paul is saying. Persecution, affliction, in a strange sense, is necessary in our life because it is a purifying element in our walk with God.
Purification is meant to drive us to Him. Paul illustrates this in a dramatic way. Look at verse 8. First of all, he showed that he has an intention to bare his heart to these Corinthian believers. Now sometimes when you go through bad times you tend not to want anybody to know about it. But this is not the apostle Paul in this text. Paul said, “I want you to know what we’ve been through because if you don’t know what we’ve been through you won’t understand our comfort, and if you don’t understand our comfort, then there can be no ministry from us to you. Verse 8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction.” The word “want” there is thelema. And thelema is the same word we saw in verse 1 when Paul said, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will,” it’s the word for “will,” and he translates it here “we do not want.” It’s a powerful word, just as God intended to use Paul; Paul intended to tell the Corinthians about his affliction.
You have to see the intensity in this. If you just read it casually, you miss it. Paul says, “I’ve got a burden. I want you to know something and I’m going to tell you about it.” It was for their good. “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction.” The word “not” there, there are two words for “not” in the Greek language. And I know this will excite you. But one of them is a relative not, but the other one is ou and it means not in any way, shape, or form. Now when I was growing up and I wanted to go do something and I asked my mother and she said, “No,” I want to know which one she’s using. Because if she uses ou, hang it up brother, it’s over. But if she uses it in a relative sense, it could change depending on the circumstances. Usually with my mother it was the relative one. With my daddy it was absolute. So I’d always go to my mom.
Paul says, “We do not [in any way, shape or form] want you to be unaware of something.” The word “unaware” is the word agnoeo. It means to be without understanding; to be ignorant of something. And the word “affliction,” “we do not want you to be unaware of our affliction,” the word “affliction” is the word thlipsis. We’ve already seen this word in verse 6. It’s more inward, but it also involved the outward. It’s the inward, emotional stress that comes from outward physical threats and pressure in your life. Paul wanted them to know about the extreme persecution that he and his team went through when they were in Asia.
He says in verse 8, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia.” Now, we don’t know for certain what he’s talking about. We wish we did. We wish there were more details in this that would pull us into the story, but Paul doesn’t give those. What’s he talking about when he was in Asia? It could have been a lot of things because he experienced a lot of trials when he was ministering in Asia. Most probably he’s referring to what happened to him in Ephesus, because Asia in that day is today modern day western Turkey. It’s not Asia that we think of, it’s a different Asia. When you see it, don’t ever connect the two because they’re not connected. And Ephesus is the capital city of Asia, of this area. And Ephesus was also the headquarters of Paul when he was doing his work in any part of that region of the world.
If it happened in Ephesus—and we don’t know, we’re reading between the lines—perhaps it’s the incident that took place in Acts 19. Let me tell you about that because if we read it, it would take us way too long. There was a man by the name of Demetrius there that was a silversmith and Paul had really caused him some financial damage. Paul was a threat wherever he preached Christ to those who lived for themselves. Always the gospel threatens people who walk after the flesh. Paul preached Christ crucified and he preached there is no other God. Because of this Demetrius was suffering financially. Why would a silversmith suffer financially because a man is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ? Because Demetrius, among others, was selling little silver statues, the false goddess Artemis, also known as Diana. That’s the Greek name for it.
There was a great temple built for Artemis, built on top of a big hill overlooking Ephesus. I’ve been there. It’s beautiful, built up on top of that hill that overlooks the whole city. Back in the days when Paul would go there it was a seaport. Now it’s about ten miles inward because it’s filled in since that time. There was a huge business of selling these little statues. People would come from all over the world: it was one of the wonders of the world and people would come to Ephesus to see this magnificent temple to the false goddess called Artemis. Well, as you walk up the street there and it makes a turn, you pass the amphitheaters right here and you walk down the street and you make a turn, there’s the library over here, and you begin to walk up, this is probably the best archeological remains anywhere in the world. But as you walk up that street, there are little shops, you can see where little shops were, like a strip mall we’d have today, and each one of those shops had people selling these little silver statues of Artemis.
Well, the more Paul preached Christ and the more he preaches that there’s only one true God—and it certainly isn’t Artemis at the top of the hill—people were getting converted and guess what? They stopped buying those little statues. Isn’t it amazing how the gospel of Jesus Christ, yes, it will change society, but it will also threaten the society that is built upon greed. You’ve got to get rid of Christianity if you’re built upon greed, because greed comes from serving the god of the flesh and there is no other God but the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is definitely not profitable for those who sell sin.
Well, these greedy merchants in this city of Ephesus, led by the man named Demetrius, they began to spread the news that this man was in here, he’s preaching against our goddess in the temple on top of the hill and he’s hurting us in every single way. And a riot broke out. You know, Paul just seems to have that magnetism about him. A riot broke out. The people seized two of his partners, they didn’t get Paul, they drug them into the amphitheater. Oh, I wish I could take you there; i is something else. This amphitheater is almost completely there as it was in the days of Paul.
And they went in this amphitheater, and the book of Acts 19 says they began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” And the scripture even says in chapter 19 that there were many in that crowd who didn’t have a clue why they were there. Isn’t that kind of the way it still is? People rally for something negative and people just jump in. They don’t really care what’s going on. And so they’re all in this amphitheater, and you say, “Why would you say the noise is deafening?” Because I have been there and the way they were constructed is incredible. They didn’t have microphones like we have today and you can get 125 or so feet from somebody and it was built in a semi-circle and you can face the stone of that wall that goes all around and up above were the seats, and you can whisper, and somebody can be on the other side, I’ve done it, and you put your ear down to the stone and you can hear what he’s whispering 150 feet away and all that he’s doing—that’s the way the sound, the acoustics of those amphitheaters were incredible. And here are people not whispering, they’re shouting. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”
To make a long story short, it became so bad, and the murderous and hateful attitude of the crowd became so violent, that Paul, you know Paul, he was going to jump right in the middle of it, and his disciples grabbed him and said, “Don’t you dare go up there.” And they had to sneak him out and he was taken over to Macedonia. Had they gotten their hands on the apostle Paul they would have ripped him to shreds. And we don’t understand the thlipsis. We don’t understand the pressure, the stress that he was under, but it appears that he might be bringing it out here in 2 Corinthians; the fear that was in that crowd.
Maybe he was referring to this event. But the problem is that we just don’t know. That gives us an idea, but we just don’t know. The account in Acts only gives brief details of the horrendous time that Paul had with his team. But what we do know is that it was life threatening. We know that for a fact: verses 8-9 tell us that. Look at verse 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,” listen carefully to each phrase, “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”
Now Paul says, “I want you to know this, Corinthians. I want you to understand: you’ve been suffering because of sin. I want you to understand what suffering for the sake of Jesus is all about. I want you to understand the depth that you can be driven to because of persecution in your life.” The word “burdened” is bareo. A similar word is barus which is a form of that word, which is talking about something that is so heavy on top of you that it is crushing you down. You know, he says in another place, “bear one another’s burdens,” and it’s the word barus , when you see a brother that is being crushed and oppressed and he can’t carry the load.
Then there’s another version that says, “Every man should bear his own burden.” That’s a different word, phortion, and that means every man has his own backpack to wear. But when it comes to this word right here, there are times in everybody’s life it is crushing them down and they can’t seem to handle it and he tells us to go and help that person bear that burden. That’s the word barus. Something so heavy on top of you that it’s pushing you down and down and you can’t stand it.
The word “excessively” is kata here, which means down, or against. To be pressed down to the point you just can’t take it anymore. And remember Paul has already opened the door: this is persecution, what it can do to you. And it’s a very human emotion. And they are human people we’re dealing with here. It’s coming from everywhere.
The rest of the verse explains things for us, “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.” Now Paul says, “We didn’t have the strength in ourselves to bare up under it. It was beyond our strength.” You know, we live in this macho day, don’t tell anybody you can’t do something. Are you kidding me? Suck it up, boy. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And that’s the way we’re brought up. And the apostle Paul says there are going to be times in your life you better admit that you can’t do it because if you can’t admit you can’t do it, what’s going to happen is that you’re not going to receive the comfort that God can give to you in that situation. You’re not going to be enabled.
It’s kind of like in the book of James. He says, “If any of you lack wisdom.” Now the first key to that is that you have to admit that you don’t have it. You see, what’s happened to us in the 21st century is that we have to prove ourselves to be something we know good and well we’re not. We’re trying to live a standard and we can’t even live up to it ourselves. But here’s Paul saying “we despaired even of life,” and the words there mean we were at a total loss to know what to do to save ourselves. They thought they were going to die. Verse 9 says, “indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves.” Some people say that sentence of death could be that there was a warrant out for their arrest after this riot and they were going to arrest them and put them to death. Possibly, but when he says, “within ourselves,” I think what he’s saying is “we have come to the conclusion within that we were going to die. We were at the end of ourselves. There is not one single thing we can do to help ourselves.” He knew and expected death to be the result of what was going to happen.
You have to keep asking yourself, why is Paul being this gut honest? Why is he telling them this? He says, “I don’t want you to be unaware in any way shape or form. I want you to understand what we have been through: suffering for Christ.” What is the message he’s trying to get across to the Corinthians? Well, if you’ll continue in verse 9 he answers that: “so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” Paul is so clear. Paul is saying, “‘these horrific experiences that happened to us, Corinthians, are good things because God has used them to drive us to the point we couldn’t do it anymore.” One of the biggest problems of Corinth was fleshly wisdom and doing it in their own strength and he said, “God had brought us to this point to where we would learn to trust Him. He drove us to the end of ourselves to purify us of ourselves so that we would learn to trust Him.”
All they’re saying is that their hope was, and they did have hope, they put their hope in the One, in God, who raises from the dead. Their hope was this: that even if they were put to death—what affliction are you going through today? Maybe it’s not persecution, maybe it’s sickness or illness, or something else—but even if it brings you to the point of death, God is the One Who raises the dead. Now that ought to light your fire. Isn’t it interesting: we know these things in our head, but when we’re in the midst of a trial we act as if we don’t have a clue.
Paul and his team believed God could deliver them from death
There are two things that are involved here. First of all, Paul and his team believed that God could deliver them from the jaws of death. Now that’s my term, that’s nothing scriptural. That’s my term: the jaws of death, or the actual death itself in my mind. In other words, if they died, they knew they’d be with Him. And death could not hold them in its jaws.
At the funeral of a 26-year-old man the pastor said something I’ll never forget as long as I live. In a funeral he got up and he said, “Oh, death! Where is your sting?” Kind of like, “come on, death, answer back.” “Oh, death! Where is your victory?” What is he doing? He’s quoting out of 1 Corinthians 15 and, of course, it goes on to say, “Thanks be unto God for the victory that is in the Lord Jesus Christ.” But I will never forget, and I’ve never been in a funeral where somebody started it that way. He just put his hand on his hip and he said, “Oh, death! Where’s your sting? Oh, death! Where is your victory?”
Why would he do that? You see, Jesus has conquered sin and death and if we get to the point of death, if we’re in any affliction, particularly persecution and it brings us to the point we think we’re going to die and there’s not a single thing we can do to save ourselves. At that point it begins to be overwhelming to us that Jesus is the resurrection. Jesus has conquered death. Death is nothing more than a homecoming for believers. It’s graduation day for those that have been believers down here on this earth and have walked faithful before God. So the jaws of death, they weren’t afraid of it anymore because they had been driven to the end of themselves, God had purified them and brought them to the marvelous understanding of this truth.
Paul and his team believed God could deliver them from the threat of death
But secondly they also believed that God could deliver them from the gates of death, the threat of death. The point is that because of tribulation He did do that this time. He rescued them from death. But the point is because of tribulation they were purified of trusting themselves. You know there is something to be said about a person who is driven to the end of himself and he cannot do one single thing: it’s in that moment he realizes that Jesus is everything he needs.
There is a purification of trials and afflictions
You know, when Jesus is all that you have, that’s when you realize that He’s all you want, all you need. So there’s a purification of trials and afflictions. God uses it to drive us to the end of ourselves. Whatever is over our head is under His feet. And that’s when we begin to understand it. We don’t understand it in a setting like this. Oh, we do mentally, we comprehend it. But when we’re there it drops in there and makes an 18-inch journey from the head down to the heart. And we begin to understand what is going on.
What is it that is afflicting you? In any area, is it persecution? Is it a trauma that you’re going through? Is it a sickness that you’re facing and what God says is, “What could be the worst thing?” You say, “Well, if I die.” And God says, “Excuse me? You’re just a vapor.” You know, isn’t it amazing we’re spending all of our time trying to keep people down here while God is spending all of His time trying to get them up there. We talk as if we understand. I’m telling you, I don’t think I fully comprehend it. You won’t fully comprehend it until you have been to the point where there is nothing else you can do and then God says, “Now let’s go back to what you used to talk about to others and tell them. Let’s make sure you understand this. I’m the One Who raises from the dead.”
It brings a stabilization of our hope
So the purification of our affliction; there’s a purifying element of being afflicted no matter what area it comes from. But secondly, what this does is when we come to the end of ourselves, it brings a stabilization of our hope. What happens is that our hope begins to get threatened. It becomes uncertain when it should be certain. But when we get to the end of ourselves, when we get to that place, then God stabilizes our hope. Hope springs eternal in the heart of one who has been to the end of himself and God has revealed Himself afresh as the One Who raises the dead. He understands that even death cannot conquer us. You know, you can kill the messenger, but you can’t kill the message, so God’s work is going to continue right on. And we’re going to be with Him. The stabilization of our hope.
Verse 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; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will delivers us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.” Paul says in the midst of that awful trial, God delivered them from impending death. That’s the first thing he says.
He says, “Let me give you the end of the story. I’m not giving you all the details but it was so bad we were at the end of ourselves, we knew we were going to die, but God rescued us; He delivered us.” But the word “delivered” is perhaps a word you don’t fully understand. I didn’t. The word “delivered” is the word rhoumai. This is the word meaning “He drew them to Himself.” It’s the most beautiful word in Scripture. Paul is even talking about “He’ll deliver me,” and yes, he was put to death, but God still delivered him. He drew him to Himself. Sometimes it means, contextually, “he was taken away from the danger.” Sometimes he was rescued in the midst of the danger. God simply drew him to Him. And you see, once you’re in His presence, it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. It’s like you’re in a raging river and it’s sweeping you down in its current and you can’t do a thing. The coldness of the water is just about to bring you to the point of hypothermia and you can’t move and you’re weak and you’re sucked into that current and you’re trying to cry out and it’s feeble. “Help! Help!” You can’t help yourself and suddenly a pair of giant, strong hands and arms reaches out and He pulls you out of that current, but not only pulls you out of the current. Oh, no, no, no. He pulls you to Himself and wraps His arms around you and holds you there until you can quiet and until you understand you’ve been delivered. That’s the word.
I tell you one thing that will go home with you. When God rescues us it doesn’t mean necessarily He took us out of danger. He may have left us in the midst of it. He may even let us go to the point that we die; and in death His arms are still there and takes us right on to be in His presence forever. It doesn’t necessarily mean He rescues us from danger. However, in this particular context, it does. This word has more a meaning of “drawing to Himself.” It’s a beautiful.
Talk about comfort. You think Paul hadn’t received the comfort of God? He’s explaining it now. “But at the very end when I thought I was going to die, God drew me to Himself.” I’ll tell you one thing: some of those few times in my life I’ve understood any of this to any degree, just being in His presence is all I want anyway. If you study the book of James, that’s really what it’s saying. It’s not saying that you’ll be delivered from everything. What it’s going to say is you can find yourself complete in the midst of it. God will draw you to Himself.
Verse 10, “who delivered us from so great a peril of death.” Look at the hope now that has arisen within Paul, this eternal certainty of hope. The word “hope” means that which has absolutely no uncertainty whatsoever. Affliction has driven him to a point that he cried out and when he cried out, God was right there. He’s the God of all comfort; He’s always there and immediately showed him that there was nothing that could happen to him that hadn’t already been taken care of when Jesus died on the cross, resurrected, and came to live in his life. There’s nothing that can happen to us that He cannot conquer. He’ll draw us to Himself.
Paul, having been afflicted to the very depths of his soul, having trusted in Christ, now has his hope stabilized. He’s back on his feet. Do you see how the process of affliction produces this awesome result? I don’t know if, when we studied Philippians, if you caught it or not, but what grabbed me was the apostle Paul had been in prison approximately four years, maybe even five, when he wrote Philippians. And yet he says in that book, “I can’t speak for you, but as for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Do you understand that he didn’t just live this way all the time? You know, we still think of him, we still deify these guys. No! What I see is, ‘I have counted all things lost, because I have lost all things.’ Actually he counted them lost before he ever lost them.
You know, God strips us down to where there is nothing else left and it’s in that moment when we’ve been stripped down, whether it be persecution, whether it be sickness, whether it be anything else, and He brings us to the end of ourselves, and at the end of ourselves is when we look and for the first time perhaps we see Him. Then His Word suddenly takes a meaning that it’s never taken before and the things we’ve sung and the things we’ve carelessly shared suddenly become so real to us that we can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, I don’t want anything else. And to die is gain.”
Paul said He will continue to deliver us even if we die: He is our deliverance. And then Paul says something else: “and yet He will deliver us.” He says it three times. “He has delivered us.” Then he puts it in the present tense, “He continues to deliver us.” And then he says it again, “And yet He will deliver us.” Boy, that is hope that has been stabilized.
How many are living as if they even expect Him today? But I’ll tell you what, when God puts you in the throes of distress and He puts you in the valley, all of a sudden that becomes a truth that you want to sing and will ring in your ears. You begin to say, “Home! Home!” You begin to see it for the first time.
You see, what Paul is saying is something for us to be encouraged by. He was comforted by the God of all comfort. He was at the end of himself; he thought he was going to die. God revealed Himself: I’m the One Who is the Deliverer. I’ll deliver you even if you die.” And now his hope has been so stabilized he says, “And yet He will go on delivering me. And yet,” and I think he points to the end now, “and He will deliver me.” His hope has been stabilized.
It brings a reconciliation of our prayer
So the purification of our affliction, the stabilization of our hope, but finally, the reconciliation of our prayer. Now this verse 11 is not an easy verse. Certainly prayer is involved in praying for others. And don’t hear me wrong when you don’t hear me say it as emphatically as you want me to say it. I think there’s something else going on here. Listen to me; you can’t pray for someone when there’s animosity and division between the two of you on your part. When you still have that hatred, when you still have that contempt, when you still have whatever it is. It’s very difficult to pray and have that at the same time. When a believer who has hurt another begins to sense the softening of God in his heart and begins to realize the depths to which this person has been through, and that believer begins to pray for this someone, then reconciliation has either occurred or it’s on its way to occurring.
The Corinthians had hurt Paul deeply. Don’t ever forget this. This is not a church like Philippi; this is not a church like Thessalonica. This is a different church. This church had bruised and beaten this man. He spends the last four chapters of this whole epistle defending those at Corinth who had questioned him being a true apostle of God. But Paul has been so purified; Paul has been brought to the end of himself. Paul has received the comfort of God, and because of this it has tenderized his heart towards the very people that have hurt him. But can the same be said of them towards him? They don’t even understand what he’s been through. This must be factored in to verse 11.
He says, “you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many.” The phrase, “you also joining us in helping us through your prayers” is an interesting one. It’s really one Greek word mainly. It’s sunupourgeo. It means to work together up under somebody. And it describes the manner in which you do this. In other words, how can they come up under Paul, how can they help him, how can they undergird him? With prayer, and certainly that’s a beautiful picture of what prayer is. It’s an undergirding. But it’s in the present tense. You pray, and you keep on praying. This is the way you can work with me.
But it’s the active voice, and this to me is important. Active voice means you do it of your own choice. Don’t let it be because I’m telling you to do it. You see, because of the way the Corinthians had treated Paul, I do not believe Paul is thanking them for praying for him when he was going through his affliction. They could care less except about themselves. Nor do I think he’s begging them to pray for him. There’s nothing that we know in Paul’s relationship in the Corinthian believers that would even begin to suggest that.
But I believe what he’s saying is that he has greatly suffered and in that suffering, his suffering was for the right reason because he was a believer that let Jesus be Jesus in him. The Corinthians had suffered because of their own self-infliction: they because of their own sin and their own worldliness. Yes, they’d suffered but it wasn’t the right kind. And then Paul says, “I was comforted. In the midst of it, at the point of death, I was comforted.” And that comfort from the God of all comfort, he’s now passing on to the Corinthians. I believe he’s saying “This enrichment that I’m sharing with you, I really want you to see the worth of it. It ought to lead you at least to pray a thanksgiving for what God has done.”
You see, these sincere prayers would then result in God getting all the glory, and this was the heart of Paul all along. When he writes the hard things to Corinth, he just wants God to get the glory instead of man. And he said, “you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many.”
Paul’s ultimate concern for the Corinthians was that they be rescued from danger, but the right kind; that they come to the place in their life that when they do suffer it’s for the right reason. And he said then God can be honored and your prayers will cause many to give thanks for what God has done. Paul’s not praying for himself, he’s not confined to his own little world. It stretches to the entire world and he wants people to understand where he’s been and he wants people to understand what God has done for him. But they can’t understand it if they’re going to live after their flesh.
I personally believe that beside the danger he faced in Asia, one of the things that burdened him down excessively was the way the Corinthians had treated him. I believe it broke his heart, drove him to the very ends of his self. But Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that he has given his life to a great and powerful God who supports and comforts him no matter what is going on in his life. But the most beautiful thing that reveals his heart is that now he’s letting them know, “I need you. I need you, Corinthians.” The ball is now in their court because until they begin to live a yielded life they will never even begin to understand the suffering he’s talking about and therefore cannot know the comfort he wants them to know.
When the Corinthian believers are joyfully giving thanks to God for His intervention in Paul’s life, having understood because of their own experience the depths of suffering he’s been through, and when that happened, then Paul’s hope had been fully grounded. He knows then that they’re where they ought to be.
You see the picture of this whole thing is that if we’re suffering and in affliction, let’s make sure it’s the right kind of suffering. And if it’s a disease we face or if it’s death we face, listen, we didn’t ask that to come on us. Let’s make sure we go through it the right way. And that’s what Paul would say to us today. Because if you will allow yourself to get to the end of yourself, you’re going to see truths that you’ve never seen before. They’ll become more important to you than ever. You’ll see Him as your deliverer. Maybe He’ll rescue from the situation, maybe He won’t: He’ll take you on to be with Himself. But He is the eternal Deliverer of all and He’ll draw you to Himself in the midst of whatever you’re going through.
I love what Michael Bolton said. He said, “God is not concerned about our happiness but He’s concerned about our holiness.” Our relationships, and that’s what Paul’s concerned about because that’s God’s heart in him. He wants the Corinthians to get up off their good intentions and start living the way they should be living and stop suffering from the consequences of sin and start suffering for the right reason. And when they get to the end of themselves he wants them to know the same comfort he had because now he’s comforting them. It’s being passed on to someone else.
What are you going through today? What’s facing you today? What affliction is facing you, whether it be persecution or something else? How has what you’re going through driven you to Jesus? How has it purified your heart towards others? How has your hope been restored? How now could you carry a grudge against anyone when you’re in that place? You remember John Mark? Remember Paul and John Mark had a little bit of a problem? John Mark bailed out on him and he came to the point that Paul said he wasn’t taking him with him. Barnabas said, “Oh, come on.” And Paul said, “I’m not doing this.” And there was a rift between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas took John Mark, Paul took Silas and they separated. I mean, Paul could not take it that a guy would abandon and bail out on him in the midst of difficult times when he needed him. But in 2 Timothy, when he’s about to die, he says, “Timothy, come see me, come before winter. Bring my coat because I’m cold and bring my parchment because I’m bored to tears. By the way, bring John Mark. He’s useful to me.”
Who is it right now that is on your top ten hit list? Who is it? You mark my words: you get to the end of yourself and you’re going to face the Maker. I guarantee you there’s not going to be one bone of contention in your life because suddenly you’ll realize that wasn’t worth fooling with. You’re now seeing what’s real. And, folks we need to get hold of this truth, I’m telling you; because in heaven there’s not going to be anything but relationships. You better deal with them now. And if we won’t deal with them, God will put you in the fires to burn off that old flesh and he’ll bring you in to yourself and He’ll reconcile you with a brother. The pressure will push you to the truth.