Have you ever felt like giving up? You know those times when everything just becomes too much? Sometimes, and especially when we are under great pressure or stress, in times of great challenge and adversity, we may feel like giving up, especially when the source of that adversity is from people we might least expect.
St Paul had invested a huge amount of time in building up the church in Corinth; he remained with them for over a year and a half, had been in dialogue with them for around three years; he had invested of himself, exercising apostolic oversight, pastoral care, leadership and nurture. And now in our reading today we learn how he finds himself in bitter conflict with those who had become his opponents in Corinth.
People who Paul had cared for and loved accused Paul of giving up on them and losing heart, despite his visits and his letters and all his efforts. I don’t know about you, but if I had been Paul I would have been so tempted to have said in a huff “Fine then, you’re on your own!” I would probably have given up.
But sometimes, sometimes we can’t walk away. Sometimes we shouldn’t walk away, and I say that as one who does not like using words like shouldn’t, or ought not! We always need to step back and remember why we do what we do, why we are what we are and actually who we really are. You see, we don’t exercise ministry or try in our brokenness to live out our Christian faith for ourselves. It is not about us; it never is. We exercise ministry, albeit with faltering steps, in the hope that somehow in God’s grace He might be glorified, and when we stumble and fall, that yes, in his grace He might even be glorified by that too!
Paul remembers that it is by God’s mercy and God’s mercy alone that he exercises the ministry he is called to. If you are confident in your calling and faith in God’s mercy, no matter how the world might buffet you with storms, you may be able not to lose heart. Have you ever met someone who has lost heart? Have you ever lost heart yourself? Try and remember what you might have said to them and perhaps what people said to you if you have found yourself in that place. Have courage, do not lose heart, God is with you and will not leave you.
And then Paul sets out some of the areas which the church in Corinth was in error and had drifted away doctrinally. They became arrogant and proud and began to align themselves with false teachers and false prophets, and they called into question with Paul the very things that they themselves were guilty of. They projected their own issues onto Paul rather than acknowledging or accepting that those issues were their own:
- a) They engaged in secret and shameful ways
- b) They used deception
- c) They distorted the word of God
Furthermore, some members of the Corinthian church that Paul was dealing with had, like Paul, come from a Judaic background – but unlike Paul they had not had a Damascus road experience. They had not had that revelation of or encounter with Christ and I want to be clear here that Paul did not simply have a vision – his writing makes it clear that he was a direct witness to Christ – he had gazed into the face of Christ himself. We too need to gaze into the face of Christ and embrace that light and glory of God.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to hold fast to Gospel truth…and to declare it plainly. Paul wanted them to see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. If you want to see God, look at Christ. No wonder God the Father said to his son “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Paul wanted them to have that light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. In what we say as preachers and pastors, are we faithful to Gospel truth, hard sometimes as that truth might be to hear? We are to exercise a ministry of righteousness that comes from God, a ministry of reconciliation, and a ministry in the Spirit. If we commend ourselves that commending should point to God and God alone, and not to us. Paul has a spirit of openness, transparency and honesty. He declares that he is their slave for Jesus’ sake. Paul’s apostolic work required that he should share in his Lord’s humiliation in the confidence that he will also share in his triumphant life.
Christ’s messengers are consigned to a life of humiliation and risk but knowing that whatever may be thrown at them they are not alone and Christ is with them. Christ is with you. And this is in order to leave the unmistakable impression that the power of the message we proclaim does not derive from the ingenuity and skill of the pleaders but comes solely from the inherent truth of the message as God’s word. There is nothing in myself that commends you to this; but may you know the grace and mercy of the Lord in my life that you might believe.
So do not lose heart. It isn’t simply about some far off distant hope; it is the reality of Christ being with us right here and right now. Our troubles, heavy as they may seem, are light and momentary. They will pass. Sometimes the fear and anxiety we feel outweighs the worst possible outcome we might face. I have had the privilege of walking with people in their faith as they have approached death and for many I have been humbled by the joy and the expectancy that they have shown – they were ready to meet their maker and that veil between heaven and earth was so very thin. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
And now for a moment, I would like to invite you all to close your eyes and imagine if you will that we stand together and journey slowly to the foot of the cross of Christ. You can feel the ground beneath your feet, and you can feel the wind on your face. Eventually we reach the cross and there we kneel. We can reach down and run our hands through the earth which holds the cross. And slowly we lift our eyes up to the cross, and there is a momentary shock because our Lord is not there. But we are aware of his presence and suddenly we see him there beside us. He stops by each one of us in turn, places his hand on our shoulder, and we feel compelled to gaze into his face. As we gaze into his face, he speaks something to each of us. They are his words for you…his truth. A truth to hold, a truth to carry with you. Finally he has stopped with each person and then as we all gaze at him he says “Do not lose heart. I will be with you to the end of the age.” So come Lord Jesus…come into our lives, come into our hearts, and may we shine with your light.
As you have come before the face of Christ, gazed into the face of Christ and heard the words of Christ, hold on to whatever those words were that were said to you and for you. And remember that 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.
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. Amen