Resurrection – An Antidote to Giving up
Paul had faced considerable criticism from a number in the congregation at Corinth. We know, don't we, that it's not all that easy to receive harsh, carping, criticism? Our hackles can so easily rise as we want to defend ourselves.
Paul had been told by these folk that he really didn't look much like a successful apostle. A successful apostle would have lots of spiritual experiences about which he would surely talk – the fact Paul didn't suggested to his critics that he didn't have any worth talking of. A successful apostle would have triumphs everywhere he turned but all Paul seemed to encounter was trial, difficulty and suffering. No, in the view of his critics Paul didn't look at all impressive so why on earth should they pay him any great attention? Why should anyone else for that matter?
Paul has already responded in some measure to these challenges:
His goal was to preach Christ not to promote himself
2Cor.4:5 "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord"
Appearances can be misleading and misinterpreted
2Cor.4:3 "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing."
Weakness, far from signalling failure, is the divine pattern to ensure God is glorified and not man
2Cor.4:7 "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."
Consequently Paul didn't feel any need to artificially make out he was different from what he was. He was quite happy to see himself as a cheap disposable object, a clay jar in fact, because it wasn't the jar that was important but what it contained. And the contents were all from God! The message Paul had to preach was from God and the ability to preach it too came from God.
But how was Paul able to keep to keeping on? After all when we look closely at his life the hardships were real and then when you add to that the fact of being unappreciated by those you're trying to help...
It might be tempting to put it down to Paul's own character and to attribute to him some superman qualities but that would be to fall into just the same trap as his critics. Paul assesses things very differently.
Belief Influences Action
At this point Paul refers to the Book of Psalms where he finds both encouragement and help. He finds there a situation that is comparable to his own and he thinks about the motivation of the suffering Psalmist who nevertheless continued to speak out.
v.13 Paul wrote (quoting Ps.116:10) "I believed so I spoke"
The Psalmist had believed in God and maintained that belief even when all seemed lost – he was able to do so because he possessed a faith that had given to him by the Spirit of God – indeed all true faith is a gift of God – and in that faith he was enabled him to pen words of inspired Scripture. In other words the difficulties of the Psalmist's position had no negative impact upon his ministry at all rather those difficulties provided the very circumstances in which he might be profitably used!
Now Paul claims that the same is true of him. Paul speaks and will continue to speak because he too believes and his faith, like that of the Psalmist before him, is the gift of God the Spirit. Paul never attributes his faith to anyone other than God himself. When Paul met Christ on the Damascus Road he hadn't been seeking for him but had been on a mission trying to eradicate all trace of Jesus' name! Paul knew he had been saved by the unmerited favour of God:
Paul could write this of others because he knew to be true of himself.
The gospel that Paul believed and preached to others was no construct of his own fertile brain. This gospel about which he had been granted such a grasp and such an understanding he would nevertheless describe as something which he had himself received:
1Cor.15:3 "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:"
Paul immediately went on to highlight two inseparable and fundamental truths of the Christian faith – the death of Christ for our sins and his subsequent resurrection.
Now here in 2Cor.4 the belief to which Paul refers and the truth which enables him to keep going and not stop is his belief in the resurrection. Resurrection is the overturning or reversing of death. Paul might well be suffering but suffering could lead him no further than death. To a man like Paul who had a firm belief in resurrection, death is certainly not the end, it cannot be.
So what does Paul have to say about resurrection here and how does his faith influence his practice and behaviour?
Firstly we must note that Paul, as he wrote to Christians, felt no need whatsoever to argue for the resurrection of Christ – it is a simple yet monumental fact of history. Jesus' resurrection was a declaration of God's power and its historical truthfulness had been established by the testimony of many eyewitnesses (cf. Rom.1:4; 1Cor.15:5-
Paul was not only convinced that Jesus Christ experienced a literal, physical bodily resurrection three days after being put to death by crucifixion he was also convinced that resurrection was not to be confined to the Lord Jesus alone. All those who were united to Jesus in a faith-
Now this belief in our resurrection didn't originate with Paul but with Jesus who pledged himself to do it and who also explained just when our resurrection would take place:
Jn.6:40 "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
Jn. 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day."
Jn. 6:54 "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
Death is certainly not the final destination for the Christian! Resurrection is to everlasting life and that life will be enjoyed in the presence of the Saviour where he will be seen in all his glory.
With such a belief Paul was empowered by the Spirit of God to maintain his ministry and to keep on keeping on.
Paul's hope must not be restricted as though he was merely focused upon a purely individualised resurrection. His focus, while being personal, included the resurrection of a whole community – the whole community of Christian believers. Paul simply couldn't envisage a resurrection for himself without sharing it with his "converts" in this instance the believers in Corinth.
Knowing that every believer would thus be raised along with himself Paul was eager to see others brought to share the same wonderful outcome. He believed and continued to speak because that was so very very good for his hearers who heard what he had to say and who then believed for themselves. But even the salvation of large numbers of people was not in itself the goal of everything. Paul's logic placed the emphasis elsewhere.
Yes, Paul would go on and on proclaiming the gospel as God supplied him with the strength to do so. And yes, as he proclaimed the gospel more and more people would believe the gospel and be graciously brought to life by the Spirit of God. And all this would serve to increase thanksgiving and praise to be given to God himself.
A New Perspective
From the perspective of Paul's critics they thought he might as well shut up shop – he was wasting away as was plain for all to see, all that suffering which was afflicting him was wearing him out. They couldn't see that he was achieving any good whatsoever.
From Paul's perspective those critics couldn't have been more wrong had they tried!
With faith in God and an unshakeable confidence in his plan and purpose to raise his people from death Paul knew that the final enemy was already a defeated enemy. So then why on earth would anyone want to lose heart? You might lose heart if the outcome was uncertain but when victory was secure only a fool would lose heart and Paul was no fool.
Paul knew that appearances might well be unfavourable and, yes, he knew that in reality his outer nature, his physical material nature, was slowing down and showing inevitable signs of wear and tear. But he also knew that this wasn't the whole story! In the light of eternity Paul knew that his sufferings which might appear very great, very painful, and very significant now would be seen to be oh so different then!
Yes, the sufferings he was experiencing then were real but he wanted to maintain a sense of proportion to it all – these sufferings when compared to the wonderful weight of glory that God was preparing for him (and for all his fellow believers) were utterly insignificant and soon to be over. They weren't even worth thinking about. Listen to how Paul put it:
How easy it was then and how easy it still is for us today to focus all attention on what we can see and then to imagine that what we are looking at is the really important stuff. How we need to have the eyes of our faith opened that we can "see" spiritual realities!
We look on the growing weakness and frailty of a suffering person and fail to see what is going on in their soul. We fail to see how God is renewing that person on the inside day after day, creating faith, sustaining faith, developing and maturing faith. We fail to see just what God is doing in refining and purifying faith, in putting sin to death and in causing increasing Christ-
Paul's critics were one-
There are many Christians in the world today who are chasing after the transient things and who are in danger of losing the eternal things altogether. We live in a world where material possessions count for so much and we are probably much more influenced by it than we care to imagine. Don't most of us long for physical health and well-
The apostle Paul calls upon us to think in a Christian way about Christian truths as we seek to live Christian lives.
Most of us I guess have heard at some time or another these words "too heavenly minded to be any earthly use". It's a clever catchy sort of phrase isn't it? But its advice is deadly poison being the complete reverse of what the Bible actually teaches us:
"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Col.3:2
The apostle Paul tells us here that he didn't lose hope but kept on going in his ministry even though that brought him no apparent end of trouble and suffering. He was enabled to do so and not to lose heart precisely because he was heavenly minded. He tells us that he was thinking about the resurrection of believers, about everlasting glory to be enjoyed in Jesus' presence, he was constantly thinking about unseen yet eternal things.
And it all made him tremendously useful on earth!
His ministry, energised by the power of God, was used by God to bring many to faith in Jesus Christ – even the Corinthian church owed its very existence to Paul's ministry. Many of our Bibles contain maps of Paul's missionary journeys whereby he spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean region. As the NT came to a close the apostle Paul still had plans for further travel to Spain where once again he aimed to preach Christ where he had not been named before.
Was Paul really too heavenly minded to be any earthly use? The suggestion is ludicrous – it was his very heavenly mindedness that helped keep him on track when discouragements came his way. It was having an eternal heavenly perspective that put backbone into this particular 'earthen vessel' enabling him to regard what to others would have been 'crippling adversity' as 'momentary light afflictions'!
We must remind ourselves that Paul was no superman. It wasn't because he was special in himself that he was able to be so useful in God's service. No, Paul was but a jar of clay and if he was enabled to do anything it was because he was made special by what he contained, by what had been poured into his life. You too may not be a superman or a superwoman but if God is at work in your life and you have the gospel in your life then you too can be useful in God's sight.