Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (New International Version)
We all face times of adversity and seasons of life which stretch our faith and press the limits of what we can handle.
You will find no promise within Holy Scripture that believers will avoid trouble. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Jesus promised that those who follow him will experience trouble. (John 15:18-20; 1 John 3:13; 2 Timothy 2:12)
The pressures of life can sometimes be so overwhelming that we may lose heart. We might blame ourselves for the adversity we’re experiencing and wish things were different. Or we may blame others for our troubles and believe that if they would just get their act together, all would be well with my soul.
Yet, no matter the source or nature of the problem, believers need a point of focus to direct their troubled hearts. We all need to be reminded of the grace we possess in Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is both a spiritual and a physical reality. If we believe this truth in our hearts we will be raised both spiritually and physically (Romans 10:9-10). This faith in Christ gives shape to the hope that, although we might be experiencing the effects of mortality and the fall of humanity, we are, at the same time, being spiritually renewed day by day.
The same afflictions that cause our bodies to degenerate and dispirit us are the means to achieving a glorious, resurrected existence (2 Corinthians 4:13-18). There cannot be the glory of spiritual and bodily resurrection without a shameful death. The way of Jesus was to absorb the shame of the world’s violent ways on the cross so that we might be raised with him in his resurrection.
However, this victory through Christ’s cross and resurrection does not mean that the church will never experience difficulty in this present life. In fact, daily spiritual renewal can and does happen through adverse circumstances.
There must be suffering before glory, both for Jesus and for us. Just because we have spiritual deliverance, does not mean we are inoculated from daily stress and pressure. That’s because it’s the troubles of this life that teach us to trust God; it is the adversity which weans us from all that we have previously trusted upon to cope with those troubles. All of this begs several questions for each believer and every church:
- Do we give inordinate attention to either the tangibly physical or the intangible spiritual?
- How does the gospel impact us today?
- How do we interpret our earthly troubles?
- What place does faith in God have in our daily decisions?
- As we become older, are we being renewed in Christ?
- Does the Lord’s Table, as a tangible sign and seal of our intangible faith, shape our hope?
We must learn to embrace our troubles as the means of growing our faith. And the first step to this is by acknowledging those troubles. There is no accepting, coping, and transcending difficult circumstances apart from this awareness. Troubles only have power over us for ill if we ignore them or put up a false front to hide them.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NIV)
The Apostle Paul wasn’t asking anything of the believers that he himself hadn’t already faced. Paul’s Christian experience sometimes resulted in beatings, stoning and shipwreck, hunger and poverty, danger and trouble, not to mention all the pressures of his concern for all the churches he established. Yet, through it all, Paul was transparent and named his troubles so he could apply the poultice of God’s grace to his afflictions.
Over and over again, Paul described his life and ministry in apparent paradoxes: strength in weakness; glory through shame; life through death; riches through poverty. Although we experience the fallen nature of the world, God bends each situation for divine purposes so that what seems to be our downfall becomes the means to our spiritual renewal.
Every church is inherently paradoxical, a strange amalgam of victory and defeat, faith and doubt, full of sorrow and joy. So, let us then embrace this reality and allow God to use whatever means to shape believers in Jesus for good and benevolent purposes.
May it be so, to the glory of God.