Text: 2 Corinthians 1:1-13
Paul’s theme here is that God comforts those in affliction. He does so, and then those who have been comforted are able to comfort others. Thus the ministry of Christ is multiplied throughout His body.
Christ’s comfort is made manifest alongside His affliction. Todd White has said that we are given the Comforter because God knew we would find ourselves in places where we would need comfort; where the comforts of this life and self-comfort would not be enough. We would need supernatural comfort, available only from God.
So when we are afflicted, we are comforted. And when we are comforted, we can comfort others. When we afflicted, we do not afflict others, as many in the world actually do; instead, through the Holy Spirit, we comfort others. The focus in all cases is on comfort, not affliction.
The hidden key to all this is in verse 6, where Paul says we must patiently endure our sufferings. Some – indeed, many – of the good things of God are only obtained through patient endurance in His course of discipleship. Hebrews 13 brings out how discipline is grievous in its time, but afterward brings forth the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Righteousness – being fully reconciled to God, not only forensically but manifestly, practically – is exactly what we need in order to overcome the hurdles of this life. Righteousness is akin to Christlikeness, for as we are conformed to the likeness of the Savior we increasingly take on His character. Christlikeness is the be-all and end-all of our program of sactification, for God intends that we fully become sons of Light, and no darkness will be permitted in His presence in the coming Kingdom. Therefore we must change.
Time and again during His ministry, the Lord Jesus warned His followers that the way would be hard. “Cramped and narrow is the way that leads to life”, while “broad and spacious is the way to destruction” He tells us in the Sermon. We must “hate” parents, family, even our own life, if we are to be His disciples, He warns. This is not a carnal hatred of the intrinsic thing, it is a putting of God first, not allowing anyone or anything, no matter how dear to our souls, to interfere with His purposes.
And so, in Asia, for whatever reason, Paul and his company were burdened, even beyond their ability to endure. It is often said that God does not give us more than we can handle. This is not an accurate reading of 1Cor 10.13 It says there that God will provide the way out, so that we can endure it. In other words, God will add His strength to ours, so that we can endure what was unendurable. That’s a whole different ball game. Once we understand that, we stop praying for an easy life, and we start praying for strength. It’s sometimes right to pray for escape (as the disciples did when Peter was jailed), but if continuing in it is against the will of God, we will get weaker. But if we pray for strength, we will grow in spirit and overcome all obstacles. We have to test the spirits.
So Paul went through that process in Asia. He was burdened beyond his ability to endure, but Holy Spirit came and “took hold on the other side” (which is, by definition, what the Para-klete does), and aided him. He endured and ultimately overcame. And now he was writing the Corinthians, not preaching a gospel of ease and pleasure, but giving comfort and helping them to overcome their afflictions.
The affliction Paul endured was so great it felt like a sentence of death, causing Paul to despair of life itself. Have you ever been there, despite being in Christ? God allows us to fall into situations where life puts its finger on the deepest root issues of our hearts. Under this pressure, we are in great pain and our strength is taken from us. We does God allow this? He cannot share His glory with anyone. Sanctification is ultimately His work, not ours, and He reserves its deepest work for His hands alone. This is why He denied Paul’s request for removal of his “thorn”, explaining, “My grace is sufficient, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2cor 12).
Paul learned in his darkest moments to trust neither in man nor in himself, but in God alone. This is advanced Christianity. If you learn this lesson, no failure of brother or church will derail you. It will hurt to go through, but your strength will be in God, not fallible man, so you will not stumble utterly.
Paul testifies that God did deliver him from that dark trail. Then he says an interesting thing: he trusts that God will deliver him again. We should not think that Paul’s trial was a one-time affair. No, that trail had come and gone, and Paul was now faced with fresh challenges. Perhaps the current trial wasn’t as great as the one in Asia that led him to despair of life. We are not told. But the significant thing is that Paul’s life was filled with trials, and those who want to live godly in Christ Jesus should expect no different.
That is not to say the life of the Christian is all drudgery. That would be a radical misstatement. While we do have adversities, afflictions and trials in this life, we also have the comfort and joy of Holy Spirit. And the more we focus on the latter, and the more victories we have, and the more maturity we gain, the more confident we become in God’s faithfulness and in His ability to deliver. And with that confidence comes Gospel power.
One final point. Paul ends his discourse on affliction and comfort by entreating the Corinthians to pray for him and his company. It is through prayer and practical aid that the Body comforts itself and builds itself up in love. These prayers can be open and known, or they can be hidden, known only to the Throne. But it is through sharing in each other’s burdens that the Body draws together and fulfills the law of Christ, which is love, even sacrificial love.
So when we are heavily burdened, let us not despair, but let us turn our focus to Christ, who will aid us and in due season raise us out of the affliction. And let us join in solidarity, in both prayer and action, with those who are suffering – of which there are many.
May the comfort of Holy Spirit be on all those who love the Lord and seek His rightful reign.
I have quite a bit of traffic here from people looking for modules for theWord. TheWord is an excellent free Bible program that I strongly recommend. It has a learning curve, but stick with it and you will be rewarded, and the program can be used at a simple level right away. It’s under active development and there is a nice user support forum where the author is active.
So by all means you can do a search here for theword as a tag, or Bible Software as a category, to find several sources of free modules. But if you want to go directly to the largest repository there is, see David Cox’s site, http://www.twmodules.com. I haven’t counted, but there has to be over a thousand free ebooks there, enough reading to drive you batty if you let it. Seriously, this is a great resource.
Since the mid-1980s I’ve counted myself as a conservative. I spent time on the abortion barricades and in the public square, advocating for morality and for America’s return to her Constitutional roots, as the only basis on which we can survive in any recognizable or good form.
America’s founders based our government upon the unique paradoxical biblical revelation of the nature of man. Man is made in the image of God. As such, he deserves dignity, freedom, and human and civil rights.
But the Bible also holds that man is fallen, a sinner that cannot be trusted. Therefore we must have government. And because fallen man is also the one who runs the government, that government must be strictly limited.
There’s a tension between those truths, and the best solution we can come with is a dynamic equilibrium that balances them successfully. It never will be perfect, but if we keep working to maintain the center, we can survive and preserve the freedoms we have gained.
The problem is that for several decades now, the nation has been increasingly run by humanistic elites whose purpose, stated or not, is to erode the biblical foundations of our republic. They have systematically stripped the culture of as many references to God as they could. Prayer and morality left the school, and condoms filled the vacuum. How could it have been otherwise?
It’s heartening then to note that the nation of late continues in a tilt toward conservatism. Fully 40% of the population so self-identify, more than even the 33% who claim the middle, leaving liberals with less than a quarter of the count. This is a stunning reversal at the grassroots, even if we don’t see much reflection of it yet in the halls of power.
We need to keep working, with both prayer and action, to win America back. The situation is dire, but with God’s help we will succeed.
But while I continue to hold conservative political values, at the same time two important truths have been impressed on me lately, as I watch the pace of cultural decline accelerate.
First, conservativism and godliness often overlap, especially at this critical time, but essentially they are distinct entities. This was strongly impressed on me recently when a story about the detrimental effect of pornography on men’s ability to bond qualitatively to women was posted to a conservative blog I frequent. Very predictably, I’m sorry to say, the reaction from the crowd there was a bunch of snide jeering and a celebration of the joys of porn. These were conservatives.
Because of the attack on moral values, coupled with the unrestrained Internet, America and the world is awash with an unprecedented amount of pornography. And we are suffering for it. While in some ways they have obtained freedom, women are now openly objectified as never before, and often by their own choices have become their own worst enemies. The values that used to protect them – morality, fidelity and monogamy – are in short supply indeed. And women, in competition for attention, have largely allowed themselves to be degraded to the level of the culture’s expectations. They are the worse for it.
It is short-sighted that many conservatives have an implicit belief that the morality they labor for in foreign and domestic policy can long endure if personal morality is jettisoned. They ought to give Washington’s farewell address a good read, in which he warned the nation that it could not long stand if it abandoned the “twin pillars” of democracy – morality and religion.
Jesus said that judgment will take place in this manner: two will be working in a field, and one will be taken; two will be grinding at the wheel, and one will be taken. Let me apply that to our current day. Two will hold conservative political values, and only one will be pleasing to God.
It’s a good thing to labor to restore the nation to its roots. But it’s not a good enough thing. It’s a terrible thing to work conservatively in the external political sphere but not attend to restoring one’s own spiritual roots.
The other issue that I think needs reassessment is conservatism’s claim to exclusive correctness. In that same farewell address, Washington also warned against involvement with other nations. That is no longer possible, and indeed it never was. It was only shortly after Washington left the scene that the Barbary Pirates – read: Muslims – began to severely harass American ships. If we were going to have any commerce with the world at all, it quickly became necessary to deal with international problems.
With increased information flow, the world is getting smaller. If nothing else, the latest Muslim incursion, on 9/11, proved that we simply cannot shut out the world.
And I’ll go one further. We are not meant to shut out the world entirely. America was blessed with resources and governance not merely for her own freedom and prosperity, but that she could bring them to others. More precisely, America, founded on Christian principles, is meant to be a Gospel light to the nations. We cannot do that by hiding our light under a bushel.
Strict isolationism will not work. God’s love and grace has been shed abroad in our hearts liberally, not conservatively, and that’s how we need to spread it to others. In this regard, the motivations of liberals are many times correct. Their mistake is their inordinate faith in the state, which becomes a substitute for the church and the individual as the means of dispensing that grace. Jesus warned, call no man ‘father’, but we have forgotten.
The point of this article is this: we should acknowledge civic virtues, and we should work to bring America back to her roots, but we need to do it all, first and foremost, for the glory of God. When we do that, we not only have the chance of earthly achievements, we have the certainty of heavenly rewards.
An added note on porn:
Those who embrace pornography are squandering their affections. They are building walls around themselves that make real intimacy with their wives impossible. They are sowing seeds of cynicism, resentment and alienation, and one cannot do that without consequences.
In this regard, a good woman is like anything else: what you put into her, you will get out of her, and more. What better is there to invest in but your family? Or for that matter, God?
If you make a commitment to avoid porn, you can get to a place where you recognize when women are using their appearance as a substitute for good character. Trust me on this, you will be avoiding a world of pain if you do so. The benefits of devoting yourself to your wife, and the detriments of squandering your affections, are both so great that the difficulty of disciplining yourself morally are well worth it.
Out of weakness were made strong – Heb 11.34
Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle –Ps144.1
The story of Gideon gives us a vivid biblical illustration of how the Lord can raise up a fearful, powerless person to be an overcomer. Gideon, you may know, was treading his wheat secretly in a secluded winepress when God spoke to him. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-armed by the Midianites, and had been “brought low” and were being badly abused. (Judges 6)
Gideon was hiding away, quite understandably full of fear, yet God chose him to defeat the Midianites, a task far bigger than he alone was capable of. The story of how God raised up Gideon to complete this task tells us a lot about how God works in His chosen vessels even today.
God’s first message to Gideon was that He was with him. And note that God addressed this fearful person as a “mighty man of valor”. In the midst of repression and reproach, God was speaking his affirming vision over Gideon. And Gideon’s first response was the classic, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Isn’t that always our biggest hurdle? To believe the good promises of God in the face of the daunting circumstances life can throw at us?
To overcome Gideon’s lack of faith, God began to give Gideon encouraging signs. First He miraculously consumed a sacrifice with fire. This terrifying event made fearful Gideon even more afraid – but it served to focus the fear where it belonged – on God. When we fear God we no longer have to fear man. Sometimes God needs to give us a jolt in order to awaken us to a new work.
Gideon now was encouraged enough to face the first challenge Lord asked of him. He was to pull down the town’s idols and replace them with an altar to the Lord. Gideon needed every bit of his newfound courage to do this (and indeed he did it under cover of darkness), because pulling down the town’s idols of choice was not a terribly effective way to make friends and increase one’s life expectancy. Predictably, the neighbors were up in arms afterward and aiming to kill him for offending their religious sentiments (remember, this was Israel, so you can see how far the people had fallen spiritually). It was only Gideon’s father’s intervention that saved him. His father essentially told the townspeople that they would have to go through him to get to Gideon, and then he had the wisdom to challenge them to let their gods punish Gideon if those gods really were so powerful (v. 31).
Gideon’s father’s courage and wisdom saved the day, at a point when Gideon was just starting out in his walk of faith and he was very vulnerable. If we see our brothers striking out against the idols of today and in a vulnerable position, we ought to do the same for them.
Gideon was strengthened by his success, and now the Lord was ready to call him to fight the Midianites. For this new task Gideon would need an extra dose of encouragement. He prayerfully put out a fleece one night, and the next day it was drenched with dew while everything else was dry. But to be absolutely sure that he wasn’t imagining the whole God thing, he repeated the experiment. This time the fleece was dry but everything else was wet. At the mouth of two or three witnesses every thing shall be established.
The Lord was raising Gideon up, and He was doing it by mixing affirmations with challenges. First He would show Gideon His mighty power, and then He would challenge Gideon to do some risky faith-stretching exploit. If God had given Gideon support with no challenges, Gideon would have grown complacent and would never would have grown up spiritually. And if He had given challenges with no support, Gideon would have been spiritually paralyzed and also would not have grown up spiritually.
Father knows how to balance our spiritual “nutrition and exercise” in just the right way in order to work what is best for us. While we are going through the discipline, at times it doesn’t seem balanced to us at all. It seems hard. But that’s inherent in the definition of testing faith. By nature we crave the familiar status quo, and God sometimes has to make us uncomfortable in order to get us to move forward.
It behooves us to get into agreement with God early. The more in harmony with God we are, the less disruptive and painful our spiritual growth will be.
Now the battle with the Midianites loomed. This was big. Gideon must have felt relieved when some thirty-two thousand men showed up, forming a significant army. But God had a problem with that – the job had to be done with fewer men, so that the glory clearly would be His. So He had Gideon thin the ranks. Those who were afraid were allowed to leave, and twenty-two thousand did so.
That left an army of ten thousand brave men, but that was still too many. At the Lord’s direction, Gideon separated out three hundred more men. That wasn’t such a lot of soldiers to lose, Gideon may have thought. But if he was thinking that way, he was much mistaken – it wasn’t the three hundred that were to be sent home, it was the 9700! God was going to send Gideon into battle with a mere 300 men! Clearly, God was VERY intent on receiving the glory Himself!
This was a challenge, indeed. Do you see the dynamic here? When God chooses one to be a vessel of His glory, He begins a process of stripping him of his natural strength. This forces him to rely on God alone – not man, not his own abilities, but God alone.
At this point, Gideon understandably began to question and fear again. And so the Lord shifted back to Affirmation Mode. He sent Gideon sneaking into the enemy camp, where he “just happened“ to overhear two soldiers discussing an unlikely dream whose interpretation confirmed that an impending victory awaited Gideon.
This would be the last bit of encouragement that Gideon would need. His assurance was complete, and he went on to execute his bold battle plan magnificently. The fearful man initially alone and hiding from his enemies had been transformed into a military leader whose breathtaking boldness shocked, confused and terrified the enemy into self-destruction.
Very often when God raises up a person out of strongholds such as fear, depression and despair, He will use a process similar to the one He used with Gideon. He will demonstrate His protection and power, but at the same time He will lead His wavering warrior into challenges previously undreamed of, where new levels of overcoming faith are required.
To walk with God requires courage, but to seed that courage He goes out of His way to reassure us of His faithful providence. As with Gideon, often our fear is not completely taken away initially. There may be a period in which both fear and courage are present together, working against each other, and godly character develops as courage dynamically overcomes the fear.
It’s a growing process, and as our faith grows our heart becomes more healthy. God knows exactly what we need. If we give Him our willingness, He will work in us to bring about godly change, even dramatic change. And it’s a win-win all the way around. God builds His character into us and sets us free from our strongholds, and at the same time we become useful to Him in setting others free and in building up His Kingdom.
The story of Gideon is a fascinating, vivid study in how God can work in even the most fearful person to overcome extremely daunting odds. The good news is that the story is not about Gideon alone, because what is written of him was written for our instruction, as an example to us. Whatever obstacles you face, what God did for Gideon he will do for you, if you will believe the promises and rise to the challenges He allows in your life.
There’s a well known story in the Bible, about a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She came to Jesus from behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment, and was healed. It seems like a simple story, but there’s much going on beneath the surface that you might not be aware of. When we examine the story, we find that both Jesus’ and the woman’s behaviors seem strange, until we understand the religious and cultural context of Israel back then. And in finding that key, we will come to see what is really the most important part of the story. First let’s take a look at what actually happened.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.
She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”
And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34
The scene is one of near chaos, as crowds throng around the Savior. Just previous to our excerpt, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jairus had come up to Jesus and fallen at His feat, pleading with Him to come and heal his young daughter who was dying. The girl was fading fast, and Jairus was uptight and in a hurry, so Jesus tells him “fear is useless; only believe”, and they start off to the girl. But then this woman with a chronic bleeding problem comes up from behind, touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus senses that power has gone out of himself, and, despite Jairus’ desperation, stops and makes an issue of it. The disciples are incredulous – with all the people thronging around, many of them must have been touching Jesus. So what’s the big deal? But Jesus is intent on finding the person who was healed. Finally, the woman comes in great fear and falls to the ground trembling before Jesus, telling all. Jesus blesses her and continues on His way with Jairus.
There are some interesting questions here. Why did the woman come up to Jesus from behind? If she wanted a healing, why did she even from the outset intend on only touching Jesus’ garments rather than His person? Why did Jesus make an issue of this healing, when almost certainly many people in this vast crowd must have similarly been coming up, touching Him and being healed? And lastly, why did the woman finally come forward in fear and trembling, rather than with joy and exaltation at being healed of her long-standing disease? Indeed, the Gospel of Luke expands on why the woman even come forward at all:
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. -Luke 8:47
According to Luke, the woman was not merely lost in the crowd, she was actually hiding in that crowd! What then was this woman so afraid of?
When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. -John 19:30
When Jesus cried out, “It is finished”, He wasn’t saying that His personal ordeal was over. He was proclaiming that the task He had been sent to perform had been accomplished. All the suffering and sin of lost man had been poured out on Him, and now the price of our redemption had been eternally secured. The doorway to heaven had been opened, and we had gained the right to become partakers of the Divine nature.
And when Jesus gave up His spirit, He was not overcome by death. In the Greek, paradidomi means “to give into the hands of another; to deliver to one something to keep, use, or take care of; to permit, allow”. And it is recorded in the active tense, meaning that Jesus’ spirit didn’t just leave Him; His task being done, Jesus dismissed His own spirit into the hands of the Father.
Think of that. All during His passion, Jesus was in complete control. Every tearing of flesh by the lictor’s whip, every driving of thorns into his head, each nail, each unending agony of heaving breath while on the Cross – at any time, Jesus could have ended it at will, with one word (see Mt 26.53). He endured the unspeakable agony of not only the physical pain, but far worse, the righteous wrath due our separation from God.
He did it all to free us from the captivity of satan, sin and death, and to reconcile us to Himself forever. As has been written, it wasn’t the nails, it was Jesus’ love that held Him on the Cross – and when He was on the Cross, we were on His mind.
Remember the embarrassing passage in Genesis, in which Jacob, working for the finagler Laban, set his wages to be every “speckled or spotted sheep”? Laban thought he was getting a deal, and set out to defraud Jacob. It was all so easy. But Jacob outwitted Laban by setting up an environment for the sheep that graphically mimicked how he wanted the new lambs’ coats to look. The result was:
When the sheep mated in front of the [color-contrasting] branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. -Gen 30.9
“Oh, what a rip. Genetics are entirely independent of environment! This Jacob story is just more evidence that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales and its believers are anti-scientific, irrational yokels.”
So the ridicule went. But it seems that after centuries of evolution theories, science has just made a reversal and taken a small step to catching up with the Bible in this matter.
Take a look at this article over at the Guardian. The young field of “epigenetics”, which is the study of the protective layer surrounding the chromosome chain, and the effects of that layer on gene sequencing, has found that environmental factors do affect the surrounding matter, and they in turn influence which genes are switched on and which are not. Or, in other words, and I quote:
“Today,” notes David Shenk, “any high school student knows that genes are passed on unchanged from parent to child, and to the next generation and the next. Lifestyle cannot alter heredity. Except now it turns out that it can . . .”
Considering the pummeling the scientific community is rightfully taking on shoddy and dishonest global warming methodology, you can imagine that questions about basic evolution orthodoxy have the potential to create another, and even greater, scientific bombshell.
I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to work that angle. And neither am I going to try to prove that the Bible is true. But I am going to suggest a practical benefit that the Christian can take away from this unfolding story.
Consider these wonderful promises from the beginning of Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. -Ps 103:1-7
Among other things, the Lord here promises us that He will heal our diseases, restore our youth, and redeem our life. Now, let’s say you had neurological damage. For decades medical science told us that nerves and brain tissue cannot be regenerated. We only have a certain number of these cells, and once they were gone, that was it. – Until last year, that is, when they suddenly found out better. For in another reversal, scientists now have proof that human nerve tissue can replenish itself.
If you didn’t believe – or didn’t know – what the Bible says here, what hope for healing would you have had all those years? None. But if you knew the Word, and took God at his Word, believing Him over medical scientists, and taking your stand for your healing – you may have been laughed at by sophisticates, but you would have had hope.
And hopeful, you would have filled your mind with positive, expectant thoughts. You would have meditated on the Word day and night. You would have prayed affirmations aloud, according to passages such as Mark 11, where Jesus tells us to pray believing that we are, right now, as we are praying, receiving, and John 15.7, where we are promised our prayers will be answered if we abide, and so many other places where we are exhorted to pray through to victory. In effect, you would be filling your soul with the reality of your healing even before that healing was manifest to the natural eye.
Your faith would have been anticipating the result you wanted to obtain. Or, put scientifically, you would have been altering your environment in order to affect your genetics. And isn’t that just exactly what Jacob did when he wanted to change the appearance of the baby lambs?
Folks, this faith business is a matter of life and death. Indeed,
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. -Pro 18.21
Whatever your need is, are you going to believe the world’s report, or are you going to believe God? Ancient Israel chose to believe their natural eyes and logic rather than have faith in God, and their lack of faith forced them to futilely circle a desert mountain for forty years rather than enter the promised land after what would have been a mere eleven day journey.
If we fail to enter into the realm of faith, we too risk wasting precious time. The good news is that with the power of the Word, we have the faith option. We can choose to believe God. And if we have failed in the past, it is not too late to repent (which simply means to rethink) and to get on the faith track and begin to reverse the damages. Get serious with God, get in the Word, and you will see His rewards.
One day science will catch up to the Bible, and we’ll know and understand the awesome wisdom which emanates from the God who brought Creation into being. But currently, to the extent that it is at odds with the Bible, fallen science is out in the desert, futilely circling mountains. Thankfully, we don’t have to join it. The choice of whom to follow is up to us. In this age we must walk by faith rather than sight if we are going to take the Kingdom and bear fruit. There is no other way.