By Mike Treneer
First published in September 2000
Writing out of a time of great personal difficulty and stress, the Apostle Paul tells of hardships he endured in Asia, so severe that he “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Then on his arrival in Macedonia, he says that “this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5).
Describing himself as “downcast, perplexed, hard pressed on every side,” he tells of “troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights” and “hunger.” But Paul remembered four great realities which kept him going during that dark time. He commended these four motivating truths to the Corinthians—and to us.
God’s mercy: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). Perhaps for most of us the greatest area of discouragement is with ourselves. Besides the everyday difficulties of life, we struggle with our own failure, foolishness and sin. We need to remember it is God’s mercy, not our wisdom or goodness, that makes us His servants.
God’s power: “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 the glory of God 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” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7).
We who have a passion to see the Gospel advance are often discouraged by the unresponsiveness of those we are trying to reach. Paul reminds us that our confidence should not be in our own ability, skill or cleverness. In fact, it is not in anything about us at all, for we are only the vessels containing a wonderful treasure. Rather, our confidence rests in God’s all-surpassing power.
Jesus’ death: “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” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).
Paul looked at the difficulties of his life through the lens of Jesus’ death. When we face difficult circumstances, we need to remember the death of Jesus and that He calls us to share in His sufferings (Philippians 1:29). We were never promised freedom from suffering, for discipleship involves taking up the cross and dying to self (Luke 9:23). Without this, our lives can never be truly fruitful (John 12:24-26). Remembering this can transform the pain and the difficulties of life from meaningless struggle to opportunity for Jesus’ life to be revealed in us.
Jesus’ resurrection: “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus. . . . Therefore we do not lose heart. . . . 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 what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).
Our confident expectation of our resurrection with Jesus transforms our attitudes toward life’s trials and troubles. Knowing that we will be presented in God’s presence, we do not lose heart, for no difficulties in this life can compare with the joys of the life to come.