“A Call to Serve”
Make no mistake about it, life is tough. Every day we face challenges and struggles that seem to test our faith and cause us to wonder about our future. Every day we hear about some tragic event or we encounter some obstacle that seems to make no sense. In the midst of it all, we try to not give up or lose heart. No matter who we are or where we live, that is the challenge that is before us. A man named Paul faced all kinds of challenges and struggles in his life. People did not like him, for one reason or another. He dealt with physical problems, like hunger and imprisonment. Yet through it all, he kept going. He never quit. He kept looking to the Lord for the strength he needed to make it, one day at a time. Perhaps the most interesting thing of all, he kept serving the people God set before him. In spite of the hardships he faced, he kept loving others and ministering to their needs. And that is the message of the letter called 2nd Corinthians. It is about serving others while anticipating a better life that is to come. Can you relate to that? Are you getting tired of the problems and struggles of life that seem to take away your breath? Are you ready for a change? Our study, today, reminds us that through Jesus Christ we can handle the challenges that come our way. Paul invites us to do what he did. He encourages us to serve others while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ. I hope you will be blessed by the message of 2nd Corinthians.
A common question among many churches today is, what kind of church do we want to be? Oh, many churches seek to find their identity in their community, or perhaps halfway around the world. They create some sort of vision or directional statement that gives them some guidance regarding what kind of church they want to be. And that was a question facing the church in Corinth, a number of years ago. Paul's approach in writing the letter called 2nd Corinthians was to help them find their identity. He wants them first, however, to decide what kind of Christians they are going to be, and once that is determined it will help determine their identity as a church. Many people, today, who question Christianity, are more interested in the genuineness of those who call themselves Christians than in their Christian doctrine. Yes, it's easy to say the right things, but to do those things really is the 'matter.' In this letter called 2nd Corinthians, Paul wants these Christians to consider a life that is shaped by the cross of Jesus Christ. He wants them to consider who Jesus was, and the example He left behind, and then to follow that example. He emphasizes several ways in which they can do that. And that is what I want us to focus on in our lesson today, several ideas that come from the letter of 2nd Corinthians that help us determine who we are as Christians. The first one is Christians encourage those who need comfort. In fact, that is the way, Paul begins his letter, with these words in chapter 1 beginning in verse 3: <Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.> The word comfort, or a form of it, appears nine times in the passage we just read. And Paul could use that word over and over again because he has experienced the comfort of God. Oh, many times throughout his ministry, Paul faced all kinds of difficult and trying challenges, and yet he relied upon God's comfort and God's protection to help him through it. In chapter 11 of 2nd Corinthians, he identifies things like being alone and cast out from his own people; he was hungry; he was imprisoned; he was shipwrecked; he was all alone. And all of those things concerned Paul. Yet, it was God who provided the comfort he needed in the midst of those trying and challenging times. We too can experience the comfort of God when we experience things that cause us a great deal of anxiety or concern. Knowing what Jesus himself suffered enables us to realize that our Father has been there and He sees and He knows what is going on in our life, and He offers that comfort we need. We also notice in this passage that God's comfort comes through other people to those who need it. Often times we try to deal with the problems and trials of life on our own, and they can quickly get us down. And yet for those who have been through the troubles and struggles that other people might experience, they can in turn share the comfort they have received from God and be a blessing to those who need it the most. Yes, Christians have the opportunity to share in the pain of those who need help. A number of years ago I went through some difficult times in my life, and God comforted me and helped me work through them. Not long after that, a lady called me from out of town and she said, "My son, who is your age, lives in your city. He's going through some of the very same struggles you have gone through recently." And then she said some words I will never forget: "You have been there, you can help!" Indeed, that is one of the roles Christians have in the world today, to encourage those who need comfort. Here's something else that Paul addresses in the letter of 2nd Corinthians that applies to us today: Christians endure hardship. Oh, people criticized the apostle Paul and his role as a minister. They said he was not acting like God's servant. They said, "Paul, you are weak. You do not have any kind of credentials about you. You do not have a commanding presence or a persuasive speech. In fact, we don't even think that you have come from God and that you are one of His messengers. For if that was the case then there would be something special about you, but we don't see that in you." Well, Paul does not want to compare himself with other people, and yet he finds himself doing so. He gives his credentials. He lets the people know that, indeed, he has come from the Lord and he has a commission from God to be among them and to share the Good News story of Jesus. And yet, they still wondered why he did not have some kind of letter of recommendation from other people, a resume is what we might call it today. And yet, Paul says, "I don't need that because you know who I am and you know what I have done among you." He addresses that very issue in the 3rd chapter, as we begin reading with verse 1: <Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.> Paul said, "You know who I am. You know what I have done among you. I don't need a letter of recommendation from anyone." Oh, the apostle Paul's confidence was different than the confidence of the false teachers. It was based on a spirit of gentleness and meekness. Paul served out of a spirit of humility, just as Jesus served people out of a spirit of humility; and, that was his motivation for serving Jesus Christ and advancing the kingdom of God. No doubt, these people in Corinth experienced that gentleness and that meekness and that humility in their association with him. Oh, gentleness and meekness are signs of weakness in the eyes of the world today. And yet, in the eyes of God, they are signs of submission. When one is meek and gentle, it lets other people know that person is willing to submit to the Lord's rule and control in that person's life. Oh, Paul faced all kinds of hardship and criticism throughout his ministry, yet he never allowed any of that to take his focus off of Jesus Christ. He continued to have that spirit of gentleness and meekness and humility, and to allow God to work through that as He advanced His kingdom. Some people train really hard, today, in order to be great athletes. They discipline themselves. They watch what they eat. They exercise. They practice. They go to great extremes to be the very best kind of athlete they can possibly be. And they allow those difficult, trying situations of that training and that discipline to guide them and to mold them and to shape them into that great athlete. The same principle is true spiritually; that, we allow the hardships and the persecutions and the difficulties of life to discipline and train us to be the kind of servants God has called us to be in this world. Notice those words in the 4th chapter, beginning with verse 16 and reading through verse 18: <Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.> Yes, Christians use the hardships of life for an even greater reward. We allow those things to discipline and train us, as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus and the eternal reward that awaits. And with eternity in mind, often times those hardships diminish in intensity. Yes, when times get tough, Christians recognize that God is in control and He is the one who empowers them to do great things in His ministry. Yes, Paul, in 2nd Corinthians, let's Christians know that there are times when you need to endure hardship. Here is a third principle he mentions: Christians express great joy. And that is where he goes next in 2nd Corinthians chapter 2, beginning with verse 14: <Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.> Christians rejoice in having the salvation that has come from Jesus Christ. At times Paul was on the defensive in this letter, defending who he was and his ministry, yet now he expresses his great joy for the salvation he has received from the Lord. And now he is able to spread the knowledge of God wherever he goes. He is thankful for that privilege and that opportunity. Wherever he goes, he tells the story of Jesus Christ, over and over again, and he lets people know how important it really is to him and his salvation. A Christian's ministry and service and obedience is a demonstration of God's ultimate victory, even in our own life. And wherever the story is told, we have the opportunity to share what Jesus has done for us and therefore it is a fragrance of life. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul invites Christians to think of their life and their ministry and their service as a sweet smelling fragrance. That just as the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a great offering, so too, our life is an offering and sacrifice to the Lord, as we let other people know what He has done for us. Sometimes, a person may not think that his or her influence in this world is all that important, and yet no matter how we might think it is, God can use it in great ways. He can use our influence and our life to accomplish great things as we spread the sweet smelling fragrance and aroma everywhere, of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Something else here, Paul recognizes that it is through his weakness that he is made strong. It is God's power at work in him to bring about great things. Still today, God's power makes His children strong so that we can spread the fragrance of Jesus Christ wherever we go. Oh, Paul reminds Christians to not be intimidated by the challenges that lie ahead. At times, they may feel perplexed and overwhelmed and overcome by the problems and difficulties of life. No doubt, that is the way Paul felt on a number of occasions, but listen to these words of encouragement that are found in the 4th chapter that begin in verse 7: <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 be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.> Four times in this passage, Paul writes the words "but not;" hard pressed, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. Paul could write those words because he had something that other people did not have. He had the power of God working in him so that when he faced those difficult times he would not be completely destroyed by them. All of that came from an every day relationship with the Lord, and Paul says that can happen to you as well. And so, therefore, rejoice and be glad. Be happy that you had the opportunity to suffer those hardships and to represent the Lord. The valuable treasure Paul refers to here in this passage is the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is the messenger of that Good News, and yet at the same time, he realizes he is nothing more than a clay jar. Now, those clay jars, in ancient times, were little vessels that held a person's valuable possessions or perhaps coins, and yet, those clay jars could easily be destroyed. Paul says that's the way it is with me. I can easily be taken down, but yet it is God's power that is at work in me to do all of these things, and that is what I rely upon. In a similar way, we have to be dependent upon God in this world. When hardships and trials and difficulties come, we know that we can be easily crushed, but God's power enables us to overcome those difficulties and to continue on in our service to the Lord. The final thing I want to mention here in 2nd Corinthians is that Christians excel in giving. Paul writes quite a bit about giving here in 2nd Corinthians, and there is one passage in particular I want us to notice. It is found over in the 8th chapter, as we look at verses 7 through 9: <Just as you excel in everything -in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us -see that you also excel in the grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.> Early on in his ministry, Paul committed himself to helping the poor Saints living in Jerusalem. He also challenged many others to do the very same thing, and there were other individuals and churches who stepped up to that challenge and who gave generously to the poor. And now he addresses the church, the Christians here in Corinth, to do the same thing. He wants them to follow through on their commitment to help those who are in need. Oh, many people looked to improve their lives in various ways. They want to excel at being a great employer, or employee, or parent, or a host of other things. Christians excel in giving. And that's what Christians do, they are changed by what Jesus gave for them upon the cross and now they in turn give as much as they can to others. That is just part of the ministry that belongs to those who claim and who call themselves Christians. Paul was involved in the lives of the people, the Christians, here in Corinth. He invested lots of time helping them mature. He sent letters in hopes of solving problems. He sent ministers encouraging the people to keep their eyes focused on Jesus. He inspired them to endure persecution and rejection. He challenged them to live with great joy, even in the midst of difficult times. And, he also inspired them to lift up their eyes and to see the needs of those around them. And there is one reason why Paul did all of that. It was because Paul was transformed by what Jesus had done for him. By Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, it changed Paul's life. He went from being the worst of all sinners to perhaps the greatest of all evangelists, and he relied upon God's power and strength that lived within him in order to do those things. And if Christians are changed by what Jesus has done for them then it will transform their lives as well, still today. And we can share in that boldness and confidence that Paul expressed. There is now no reason to lose heart or to give up or to get discouraged, because we know that God enables us to go on and to move ahead and to do great things for His cause because of the relationship that we have with Him. I really believe that Paul's message from 2nd Corinthians is this; that, the life of a Christian matters. It matters so much so that it will transform who we are in this world; that we will see the needs of those around us; that we will excel in giving; and, endure hardship; and, that we will encourage those who need comfort; and, that this will become a part of our everyday life and that in turn will translate into the kind of church that we will be, collectively. Oh, my challenge and my encouragement for you today is that as you continue to read and study the letter called 2nd Corinthians that you would think very seriously about who you are as a child of God and allow that to change your life, to transform your ministry, as you are called to serve in God's kingdom.
From Paul's second letter to Christians living in Corinth, we learn the importance of staying the course, even when things get difficult. In spite of opposition or criticism, we are to stand firm on the hope we have in the Lord. This letter challenges believers to become ministers and servants to those in need. Paul himself set that example for us to follow; and, it is based on the example of Jesus Christ. Even in the face of painful accusations, false teaching, or difficult days, the message is, do not lose heart, stay focused on the Lord, and anticipate the time when He will make all things right. Through God's Son, we have the necessary power to hang on in the midst of challenging times, while serving the people around us.
Thank you for joining us for today's lesson. I trust it encouraged you to know that through the strength we receive from the Lord we can endure the present while anticipating the future. Here at "Key to the Kingdom," we want to encourage you to do just that, as we offer a free Bible study. This is a correspondence course consisting of six lessons. You can work through them at your own pace, and they require no commitment of any kind. Will be happy to send it to you in a few days when you call the number on the screen and leave your name and address. The same free Bible study can also be downloaded through our website, keytothekingdom.com. You might also be interested in some of the other lessons or teaching materials we offer. You will find inspirational videos and short devotional thoughts. Again, they are all free from any charge or commitment. I hope you will spend a few minutes on the website and that it will be a blessing to you. Other ways to access our ministry are through Roku television and a free app for your smart phone. Both of them will allow you access to our website, previous lessons, and much more helpful information. You can also find and follow us on Facebook. We simply want to offer as many opportunities as possible for you to grow in your relationship with the Lord. Please know that it is our privilege to offer these weekly messages. We trust they are beneficial and that they enrich you spiritually. Thank you so much for tuning in each and every week at this same time. And, I hope you look forward to our next broadcast on "Key to the Kingdom."