character

Five Components for a Gospel Resilience

A gospel resilience sees the momentary afflictions in light of glory to come.   

We tend to despair and lose heart when it comes to our Christian faith.  Paul alluded to the afflictions, the perplexing, the persecution, and the striking down (2 Corinthians 4:8) that Christians receive due to their faith in that which is unseen and faith in the One who is now at the right hand of the throne, interceding for the saints. 

Paul writes to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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. 

From the text, we see five components needed to maintain a gospel resilience in your walk with Christ.

Conversion

The key sentence in this passage is, “Therefore, we do not lose heart.” Notice who he includes. He does not say, “Therefore, I do not lose heart.” Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We, our, our, us, we. Plural. More than one. Here, he refers to the church, the people of God, the bride of Christ.

The apostle Paul did not always identify with the church. In Philippians 3, we see that Paul identified with his Jewish heritage and his ascending the ladder of the Pharisees’ world. “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). He followed the covenant of circumcision, thanks to the obedience of his parents, both Hebrews. He even came from the tribe where Israel’s first king, King Saul, came from. But he was decidedly conservative when it comes to the law. Any heresy against the law of Moses had to go, and he had the zeal and permission to do so.

But something changed. Paul could then say, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” He wanted to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and share in His sufferings! Where did this change come from? Why did he go from wanting to identify with the Pharisees, to then identifying with the very people he tried to destroy—and spend a lifetime suffering for it?

Conversion! He had been changed! He no longer wanted to conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed. His mind had been renewed. He renounced the old self, the “outer man.” As he wrote the Ephesians, outside of Christ, “you were dead… but God made you alive.” You are no longer a child of mercy, but a child of grace—it is a gift, not of yourselves, not of your own works, but of His work in you.

Calling

Paul’s resilience remained through his calling from Christ. The phrase, “So we do not lose heart” is the second time we hear this, the first being in 4:1. The purpose of saying this was because this ministry he had from God was ‘received’—given by God. He did not ascend to this on His own. By God’s grace, God called him to salvation, and now God called him to service.

If Paul had decided to do this on his own, then when he grew tired of it, he would move on. When people began to afflict, persecute, and strike him down, he would see it as against him, and would be tempted to remove himself from situations where he would receive such grief. But God saw him, saved him, and sent him into His service.

When Paul (then Saul of Tarsus) encountered the risen Christ, he was led into Damascus because “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). But the scene switched to another part of town to a follower of Christ named Ananias, whom God called to go and lay hands on him so he might receive his sight. As you may imagine, since Paul was a Christian-oppressor, he had reservations. The Lord then told him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). So he as a Jew would go to the ‘unclean’ Gentiles and preach to them the resurrection of Christ?

When God called me into the preaching ministry, I ran for about 18 months. Why? Because I worried. What about my music ministry? What if I have to leave my church? What about my students? Would I have to pack up and move to school? Where would God take me? I love these people—why should I have to leave them? My main issue was, who? Me! And He used those 18 months to bring me through much internal clarity about my motives. He brought me to a point to where I had to serve Him or I didn’t think I would make it.

When I surrendered, I felt this peace. I did not know what was in store for my family and me, but I know I had to surrender to God’s call.

Comprehension

Everywhere Paul went, he preached that which is of “first importance”—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After Ananias’ visit, it says that “And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” Later, it says, “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (9:22). He did this everywhere He went. Why?

He recognized that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection were the foundation of the Christian walk.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he also appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

Paul received this teaching, but also experienced seeing Christ. There was a comprehension to where he saw and understood that since Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity stands. If he didn’t, then Christianity falls! So him saying, “We also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (2 Corinthians 4:14), this is not wishful thinking.

Consecration

Paul noted, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

Our outer body, that is, our flesh, is wasting away. There are two ways to think about this. One, is that our flesh in the physical sense is indeed wasting away.

But we can also look at this from a spiritual aspect. In biblical terms, the flesh is often referred to in a spiritual aspect as well. The flesh often means our sinful nature.

Paul goes on: “For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Earlier, we listed off all that Paul endured for the sake of Christ. These, he calls ‘light’ and ‘momentary.’ Why? He recognized that the affliction and the tribulation and the persecution were the preparation. Consider how things are now:

  • Outer man wasting away –> inner man renewed daily
  • Light/momentary affliction –> eternal glory
  • What is seen in transient –> what is unseen is eternal

The more we rely on our ‘flesh,’ the more we rely on our outer man, the more we rely on what is seen, and the more we focus on the afflictions we face in this world, the less gospel resilience and perseverance we shall have. Yet, the more we recognize the treasure as opposed to the clay pot of ourselves, the more we focus on the unseen, this provides the perspective needed for gospel resilience.

Comfort

Paul continually brings in eternity. Our afflictions for Christ are preparing an eternal comfort in and through Christ. There are things for the believer that we cannot see. But it’s eternal and beyond anything we can compare with here.

At the beginning of this epistle, Paul begins the epistle with this beautiful passage:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Notice how prolific the word ‘comfort’ is. False teachers said, “If you’re faithful, comfort will happen in this life.” The gospel comforts those who need comforting, so they in turn will comfort others with the gospel. A gospel resilience sees the momentary afflictions in light of glory to comeWhat we seen here is temporary, so we comfort one another by that which is ‘unseen’—that which is eternal.

There’s an old hymn that I just absolutely treasure:

Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder;
Why it should be thus all the day long?
While there are others living about us
Nevermore rested, though in the wrong

Farther along, we’ll know all about it.
Farther along, we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine.
We’ll understand it all by and by. 

When death has come and taken our loved ones;
Leaving our home so lonely and drear.
Then do we wonder how others prosper
Living so wicked year after year?

Farther along, we’ll know all about it.
Farther along, we’ll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine.
We’ll understand it all by and by.

The Spirit of God helps provide the resilience while we are here, giving us the mind of Christ and understanding the thoughts of God.  This line to the counsels of heaven, along with the revelation of His Word gives us that holy perspective.

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Why a Clean Conscience Matters

What the world needs are men and women of character and integrity. It’s been said that who you are in private is who you are. What the church needs are men and women of a gospel-gripped character. D.L. Moody noted that character is what you are in the dark. In a day of scandals, backroom deals, retraction of false statements, followed by retractions of retractions, one wanders the earth to find a person, much less a leader of character. Even Calvin Coolidge, one of our presidents, noted, “We do not need more knowledge, we need more character.”

It’s easy for us to display character when things are going smoothly for us, when things are going as we wish. But when the adversity hits, when something comes up in your life that you did not expect, that speaks volumes. C.S. Lewis once said,

Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. If there are rats in a cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.

I provide these quotes from secular and religious sources alike to show that there is a worldwide craving in all corners for people of character. But the question is, do we wish to possess that integrity as well? Or are we willing to do whatever it takes (lie, cheat, steal, keep up appearances, etc.) in order to maintain our outward reputation?

As we approach 2 Corinthians 4-5 for the next few weeks, the Apostle Paul gives us some needed characteristics for what a man of character should be. This morning, we are going to look at how a believer needs a clear conscience, or to put it another way, clean closets.

A person of character …

1. Refuses to dilute the truth for personal gain (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

The apostle Paul received a particular ministry by God. What was that ministry? In 2 Corinthians 5:18, we see that this is a ministry of reconciliation! Paul’s entire ministry was to show us the only way we may be in good standing before God, and that is to be reconciled—where the warring sides no longer war. In fact, the stronger of the sides has set forth the terms for reconciliation. And Paul would serve as an ambassador of the victor’s side to bring forth the terms.

How did Paul receive this ministry? “By the mercy of God.” You see, he too at one point was on the wrong side of the war. Paul tells the Galatian church:

12 For I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 2:12-14).

But Paul goes on: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15-16a). By the mercy of God, Paul is now in a position of favor. And he recognizes the nature of his ministry.

In the previous chapter, Paul speaks of this ministry. In verse 6, he notes that the ministers of the old covenant were about the letter which kills, while the ministers of the new covenant is of the Spirit which gives life. He was a part of the ministry of death, now he is a minister of life (vv. 7-8). He was a part of the ministry of condemnation, but now the new covenant is the ministry of righteousness that God provides us in Christ.

You see, one is received by our ability to keep the letters, the other is about Christ ability to give it to us by His mercy. Because of this great mercy bestowed on Paul, we remains strong. How so? By staying true to the Word of the one who called Him. He has “renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word.” Many were simply “peddlers of the Word” (2 Cor. 2:17)

Thomas Watson wrote:

Though sin lives in him, yet he does not live in sin. . . . In this sense, a godly man does not indulge sin. Though sin is in him, he is troubled at it and would gladly get rid of it. There is as much difference between sin in the wicked and the godly as between poison being in a serpent and in a man. Poison in a serpent is in its natural place and is delightful, but poison in a man’s body is offensive and he uses antidotes to expel it. So sin in a wicked man is delightful, being in its natural place, but sin in a child of God is burdensome and he uses all means to expel it.[1]

Do you see here the connection? Those truly outside of Christ have no qualms with their sins. But those who are in Christ or are convicted by the Spirit to see who Christ is, do not want anything in their hearts or minds to take away from the glory of him—for sin is, as Watson eloquently put, poison to our systems.  We look to kick it out by prayerful, Word-driven means.

Some questions:

  1. How do you view sin in your life—something to tolerate because “you’re only human” or something to kick out because you are a follower of Christ?
  2. Do you preach the Word in order to glorify our Savior and to bring eternal good to the listener—or do you peddle the Word for personal gain and a tangible return?
  3. Do you see your calling as a believer in Christ one received by mercy, or something you believe you deserve?  Why?  How does this passage change or reinforce what you already believe?  


[1]Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992—first published 1666), 146.

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