2 Corinthians 4:16-18
March 15, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 21:15 in the audio file.
It really has been an extraordinary last week, and most of the extraordinary that effects us most directly has been stuffed into the last three or four days. It doesn’t matter where you land on the spectrum of anxiety, or on the spectrum of believing the politicians or mass media. Everyone is now being affected in some way, some in very serious ways, some immediately and others potentially in the long term. It sure gives new appreciation for when things go viral, including ideas and panic.
I am a pastor, and just one of four pastors of our small church which isn’t even large enough to get banned as a big gathering. Ha. The hours that our church elders and school board spent, referenced in my Facebook message to you all, has made me wonder how many man hours have been given by church leaders throughout the world this past week, sifting and weighing and praying and communicating to their people. How many preachers are interrupting their usual series to speak on this current event? I would guess the majority of Christ’s undershepherds (among those with an internet connection and watching the news) believe that the best way of honoring the Lord and encouraging their sheep today is to remind believers of the good news of eternal life along with the immediate implications. I am one of those preachers. I wonder what the last current event was (maybe the terrorism on 9/11) that caused such national, even international change of plans for Sunday sermon subjects.
That said, I have yet to be convinced that the death rate for coronavirus, and the concerns of its contagiousness, should stop everything. And also I am thankful for the opportunity to be reminded how thankful we can be for general 21st century hygiene and cleanliness, for inexpensive soap and running hot water on demand inside almost every building for our hands and our clothes. I am thankful for modern medicine and technology, even when it spreads misinformation, as it allows a way of connection and makes it less likely to overlook someone in need. I am thankful for the wisdom and patience and love and nerve among our elders. I am thankful for the cynicism of some among us who know that we are being sold some amount of chaff in the wheat, as well as for the more tender among us who are sensitive to the hurting. As a Kuyperian, I am thankful for toilet paper: every square inch. I am thankful for the opportunity to re-examine what is essential, what is good, what are luxuries. I am thankful when I look around and see how spiritually equipped we are, by God’s grace, for if and when things get really bad, either by government overreach and/or economic depression or by physical sickness and death. I don’t say that with the stereotypical pessimism of a Dispensational, though I have been reading Revelation.
I am not a medical, economic, or political expert. I have increasing Kuyperian interests, but interest does not equal competence. What I do know is that, whether or not we are facing an emergency, whether or not the curve flattening and hand wringing (not just hand washing) peaks soon, it is a good time for some good news.
I do not love music in the way that others do, especially those who have playlists for all occasions. I do have a “textlist,” that is a list of links to articles or quotes or short videos that have proven their consistent encouragability almost every time. When it comes to passages in the Bible, 2 Corinthians 4 may be at the top of my “read in case of emergency” chapters, and the final three verses of 2Co4 is certainly among my top five favorite paragraphs.
Some of you have heard me talk about, even preach (but not since a Sunday evening in June 2013), this passage a lot. Perhaps you’d rather I had just kept trucking into Revelation 7 and distracted us from coronavirus news by identifying the 144,000. Lord willing, that will happen on an upcoming Lord’s day. But even though I don’t think we are currently in the Great Tribulation, either statistically or eschatologically, this is a time for us to practice what we believe.
The righteous shall see and fear and laugh now (Psalm 52). Various trials should be counted as joy currently (James 1). Be ruled by the peace of Christ today (Colossians 3). Be steadfast and immovable in this moment (1 Corinthians 15). Don’t lose heart.
Don’t lose heart punctuates 2 Corinthians 4. The chapter opens with it, as does the final paragraph which reasserts it. “We don’t lose heart” is a decent translation of the Greek verb; both the ESV and NASB describe it that way. Tyndale translated it as, “we are not weried” (his spelling). The KJV has, “we faint not.”
Why is such a declaration necessary? It is because that was the exact temptation, the weak spot in the wall. It was the temptation to be overwhelmed, to be discouraged, to give up, because it is hard. There are afflictions in this visible world that affect all the parts that other men see.
In the larger context of the chapter, people weren’t listening to the gospel, and others were compromising the gospel message for personal gain. That’s like trying to wash your face with a used oil filter, counterproductive. In Paul’s life it was worse, because he was actually being afflicted, both for preaching for face washing (in my illustration) and against using oil filters to do the washing. He was afflicted for ministering with integrity. He was being worn out as a clay pot, used up in service for others. He was brought to his breaking point again and again. He could even describe it as a dying, which is bad, so that others might live.
In that mess he says with CONFIDENCE, “We do not lose heart.” Whatever drill bits scrape and gnaw and gouge into the bottom of the hope-tank, they cannot make a hole that will empty the tank, not totally, not finally.
It doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Paul CONCEDES, “our outer man is decaying” (NAS), “our outer self is wasting away” (ESV), the part of us facing outward is being destroyed. Age, sickness, persecution, fatigue, pressure, it all takes a toll. It may be in the form of acute persecution, like a sledgehammer blow, or it may be systemic, like rust, or a virus.
However, “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” It is day after day, it is day in and day out. Every day God feeds oil into our faith lamps. Every day He sends metaphorical blood to our inner man for repair and strength and rebuilding.
Both processes are at work. One is easier to see, but that does not make it more important, certainly not final. Verse 18 explains otherwise.
Look at the CONSIDERATION in verses 17-18. For the Kids’ Korner I chose verse 16 as the key verse because, it’s good, and it’s the first sentence in the paragraph. But verse 17 is quite orienting. Here is a signpost to head toward, a ballast to keep you from capsizing, even a sail to catch the wind.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,”
You cannot call your breaking point “light” and “momentary” without faith. The first half of the sentence demands the second half unless Paul is crazy or calloused. “Affliction” means trouble, and trouble does not mean vacation or profit or paradise. Recess and recession start out sounding the same, but that’s as far as the similarities go. Body aches and business attrition, loss of investments of time, dollars, relationships, those things hurt and are hard. They also cannot compare to the unending, almost unbearable joy God is getting us ready for.
I still like illustrating this by imagining a thimble. Our capacity for the eternal weight of glory, for divine joy, is the size of a thimble. It is the afflictions that He chooses for us, afflictions through the cells in your DNA, afflictions in the laws of your governor, afflictions in the criticisms of your coworkers, afflictions in the germs through cold and flu season, that heat up and hammer out our small thimbles into honker buckets for joy.
If we choose stupidity in order to suffer more so that we will have more glory, we’re just stupid. But if God sends us stupid newscasters and stupid politicians and stupid social media mobs, it is His prerogative to give them the fruits of their stupidity and to give us greater capacity for glory through the real suffering that their stupidity has caused.
It requires us to look at the invisible.
“as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
I wish that we could say the same principle worked when it came to the seen and unseen of our current coronavirus scare. What is seen are massive societal shut downs for precaution of a minority, and what is unseen (by many) are the very significant, and just as real, dangers to many who will lose business or paid hours because of the scare. Abortion does not get this sort of coverage, and NBA athletes and team owners are not teaming up to donate dollars to support mothers in order to keep them out of Planned Parenthood. I am not encouraged that we’ve switched to scaring people with a virus rather than letting them see how scary the dementia among Democrats really is.
There are real problems, and all are yours, in the sense of a time to laugh by faith, to just conquer. This is your time to gather stories to tell in heaven about how God made your joy bucket so big. Maybe Moses will want to hear your personal testimony about the plagues that destroyed our nation’s idolatrous and rebellious ways.
Of course, this only works for those in Christ. Can you trust modern medicine? Can you trust mass media? Can you trust government groups, whose jobs depend on crises? We are being called to make decisions on the ground day by day, listening to talking heads that make us wonder when their feet were last on the ground.
You can only go with the information you’re given, but there is information that is sure: Jesus Christ is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). In His death we have life. God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:14). As the grace of repentance and faith extends to more and more people it will increase thanksgiving to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:15).
As believers in Christ, we faint not. We wash our hands like Kuyperians: every thumb’s-width. And we keep being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal flesh. We remember that God requires us to love our neighbors, sometimes by reducing our contact with them and sometimes increasing it. We remember that He is accomplishing things we can’t see just yet. Huge amounts of wealth are being created, not through business, but in eternal glory.
Beloved, we really don’t know what these next days will bring. But that is not new. Our illusions of stability and predictability for any schedule or world system have just been exposed, not created. We do no better at predicting the future of weather than stock prices than virus-spreading. The narrative is that humans stink not just at controlling the future, but even trying to calculate it. God alone is God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
And God is testing us. We are always being tested, just sometimes the fire is hotter. Don’t be surprised at the testing. Recognize what God is doing and give thanks for all you can, and look for ways to serve one another as you already are, and day by day faint not. You who hope in Jesus will not be ashamed.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6–9, ESV)