The federal election’s coming up soon. And it seems like Kevin Rudd’s going to be the toughest opposition John Howard’s faced for a decade.
It’s certainly been a tough year for John Howard. Kevin Rudd seems to be making all the right noises to be a LEADER. I guess time will tell whether he’s got SUBSTANCE behind all the bluster.
And Howard’s way behind in the polls. And, if we believe the rumours, there’s been a groundswell of opposition from within his own party to replace him. Although I’m not sure the alternative is any better. Peter Costello hardly fills you with confidence, does he.
Did you know John Howard’s the second-longest serving prime minister in Australia’s history? More than 10 years. And the winner of four federal elections. He’s certainly got the runs on the board. And he’s a very clever operator. But that’s not stopping the knives coming out.
I wonder how he feels. The voters don’t seem to want him. His own colleagues don’t seem to want him. Does he still have the fight? The energy? Does he feel betrayed and hurt and unappreciated? After all he’s done for the party. After all the years he’s served the Australian people? He’s been the member for Bennelong since 1974!
I wonder whether he ever entertains the thoughts of just chucking it all away and living an easier life. After all, he’s 67. An age when many men are slowing down, playing more golf, watching more cricket, and working on the garden.
It’s the sort of situation the Apostle Paul finds himself in as he sits down to write 2 Corinthians.
He’d STARTED the church at Corinth. You can read about it in Acts 18. He went there, preached the gospel and people became Christians, despite strong opposition. Paul stayed there for 18 months – ages compared to many of the places Paul started churches. He’d made deep friendships, the sort of strong connections that can only come between Christians labouring together, side by side, in God’s work.
This group OWED Paul their salvation. Their new life in Christ, humanly speaking, was because of Paul.
Paul and his opponents
But when Paul moved ON, his opponents moved IN. They infiltrated the church and started to drive a wedge between the church and Paul. They criticised Paul, and they criticised his message.
And slowly but surely the Corinthian church was swayed against Paul. They started to believe Paul was worldly and insincere, that he was a coward, that he was weak, a theological deviant who preached a deficient gospel because he didn’t stress the Old Testament laws enough.
They began to think of Paul as an impostor, a false apostle, a weak and second-class substitute. Someone who was corrupt, only in the religion business to exploit people – someone who talked tough in his letters, but face to face was just a wimp.
To the Corinthians Paul was either a fool and a wimp. Or else crafty, and deceitful. And not to be trusted.
And all this came from a church that Paul had poured his life and soul into. … all this criticism from people Paul knew and loved, who he’d nurtured in the faith. It tore the heart out of Paul’s chest.
And so Paul sits down to write another letter. To try to rectify the problem. To build the bridge. To repair the bond between himself and the Corinthian church.
And he begins with a reminder of his credentials.
APOSTLE is a title the New Testament doesn’t throw around lightly. But notice it’s the credential Paul introduces himself with. v1.
Paul, AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS by the WILL OF GOD,
And it’s to the CHURCH OF GOD in Corinth, as well as all the Christians round the region of Achaia.
Paul a REPRESENTATIVE of Christ Jesus himself. Like an AMBASSADOR to the another country. Proclaiming and defending the interests of the one who’s sent you.
It’s not a job Paul VOLUNTEERED for; he was conscripted by God – struck down by a flash of blinding light on the road, and told in no uncertain terms what he was going to do. This is the Paul who used to PERSECUTE CHRISTIANS on behalf of the Jews. Now he’s an ambassador for the Christ he used to persecute. BY THE WILL OF GOD.
And this messenger of God is addressing himself in the second sentence there to the CHURCH OF GOD. God’s representative, talking to GOD’S PEOPLE.
So, before he starts repairing any relationships, Before he has to talk tough. He just wants to lay his cards out on the table. “I’m God’s envoy, appointed by God himself. And you’re God’s CHURCH.” So listen up!
But the question is, IS ANYBODY LISTENING to him? Or have they switched off Paul, because something more exciting’s come along?
As the letter goes on we’re going to see more and more clearly what’s happened. They’ve ditched him. In favour of something new. Something more impressive. Something a lot more flash.
The problem is, they’ve fallen for a USED-CAR SALESMAN sort of Christianity that promises the WORLD. And doesn’t DELIVER.
Friends, it’s a danger that’s just as real these days. It’s a danger to go looking for that little something extra. With the expectation at the back of your mind that your faith in Jesus should be delivering just that little bit more than you’re getting.
You’re doing it tough. You’re tired of being nice to people. You’ve been doing the same things at church for years and no-one appreciates you. You’re bored. You’re tired of having the same old minister preaching week in and week out, and you find out he’s just an ordinary bloke with feet of clay.
Life’s getting harder. And Faster. And busier. The kids don’t listen to you like they used to. The world’s getting scarier. But the answers from the front of church always seem to be the same. “Read the Bible more, pray, come to church, join a home group, tell people about Jesus”. And nothing much seems to change in life.
And then somebody says, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS. There’s MORE. There’s a whole new level of blessing, a whole new level of love, a whole new level of spiritual experiences you haven’t even heard of.
And what do you say? You say, YOU BEAUTY. And you wander off and try it out.
That’s what’s happened in Corinth. And Paul’s writing this letter with tears in his eyes. You can almost still see the ink smudges on the page.
Turn over to chapter 11 and verse 3 and 4 and you’ll get a taste of what it’s all about. We’ll look at it more closely in a few weeks time, but here it is. And it’s a key to the whole letter. 2 Corinthians 11 verse 3. He says
“But I’m afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpents cunning, your MINDS MAY SOMEHOW BE LED ASTRAY from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus OTHER than the one we preached, or if you received a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, YOU PUT UP WITH IT EASILY ENOUGH.”
In other words they’re saying “It’s no big deal to try something new. Give it a go… doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW MESSAGE. That’s what we want. After all, isn’t God the god of surprises? Isn’t God the God of New things.”
Friends, let me tell you… NO HE’S NOT. And there’s only ONE GOSPEL. Once you’ve got hold of it, HANG ON TO IT. There’s only ONE SPIRIT. And once the Spirit’s come into your life and brought you to your knees before Jesus and started growing fruit in your life, HANG ON TO IT.
And there’s only ONE JESUS. The suffering servant. Who went to the cross for your sins and mine. And ROSE AS OUR MASTER AND KING. If you haven’t committed yourself to him yet, DO IT NOW. But once you’ve done it, DON’T MOVE FROM THAT. No matter what anyone else has got on offer.
Turn back to chapter 1 for a taste of what Paul’s saying.
It’s hardly the sort of sales pitch that’s going to win you an election. But that might just be because it’s TRUTH. And people don’t always LIKE the truth.
Pick it up from v3. And notice that Paul’s praising God. Not for making all his troubles GO AWAY. But for giving him COMFORT.
He sort of gets stuck on that word. He uses it nine times in the space of five verses. Now you don’t need COMFORTING unless you’re DOING IT TOUGH.
Which Paul certainly IS. Read from verse 3. He says
“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 OUR TROUBLES, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves has received from God. For just as THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST FLOW INTO OUR LIVES, so also through Christ our COMFORT overflows.
Following Jesus means following him right into TROUBLES. Into SUFFERINGS. Taking up your cross, just like Jesus. DOING IT TOUGH is the mark of a GENUINE APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST.
Which is not the most OBVIOUS mark of authenticity to the Corinthians. Because they reckon they’ve found some BETTER Apostles.
As we work our way through this letter, we’re going to see THE SUPER APOSTLES have come to town. Smooth operators, out for a quick buck; slick hairstyles, Ray ban sunglasses. And when it comes to public speaking, they can really hold a crowd. And these guys make it all sound so appealing. These guys know all the answers. You name it, they can FIX IT.
And their message is that whatever God’s PROMISED/ is available NOW. No need to WAIT. No need to HOPE. No delayed gratification. All there for the asking.
Which is a pretty attractive message!
And then there’s Paul. The original version. Writes good letters, but gee he’s a boring speaker. A bit like the John Howard of the ancient world.
And he’s bedraggled looking, he keeps getting beaten up all the time, he’s got no idea at all about PR. Talks about SUFFERING. Talks about TROUBLE. Talks about PERSECUTION. Instead of healing. And power. And VICTORY.
I mean, tell me the truth. Which one are YOU going to sign up with?
Read from verse 8. We don’t want you to be uniformed, brothers, about the HARDSHIPS WE SUFFERED in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of LIFE. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of .
Who’d sign up with a guy like Paul, when you can go down the road and sign up for success and victory?
The big question – who looks more like jesus?
Well, folks, before you make up your mind about that, there’s just one question I want you to ask. Which one looks the more like JESUS? I mean, if the apostle is meant to be REPRESENTING JESUS, if he’s meant to be the AMBASSADOR FROM JESUS, which version looks more like a SUFFERING SERVANT.
Cause that’s what JESUS WAS, isn’t it? And when you look at Jesus writhing there in agony as the raw flesh on his back rubs up against the splinters of the cross, as he heaves for breath as he pushes his weight up against the nails through his feet, as he suffers the weight of GOD’S REJECTION because he’s taking our sins on himself… then you shouldn’t be surprised when someone says FOLLOWING JESUS isn’t all beer and skittles. And Jesus said it himself. Being a disciple means TAKING UP YOUR CROSS and FOLLOWING ME.
Which is exactly what Paul’s doing. And which is why he says in verse 5, the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives. And he fully expects if the Corinthians are going to be faithful, it’s going to be tough. And he says in verse 7, you’ll share in our sufferings.
What a sales pitch! Become a Christian – follow Christ. And the sufferings of Christ will flow over into your life! Whoo Hoo!
At the very least, Paul’s thinking about PERSECUTIONS. But there’s also the anxiety that comes from being passionate about the Kingdom. The sleepless nights worrying about a brother or sister in Christ who’s falling away and you’re at your wits’ end to try and bring them back. The hurt that can come from being misunderstood by someone, when, in all honesty, all you’re trying to do is help them follow Jesus. But they think you’re judging them – looking down on them.
Or the ANGER you can feel when a false gospel is preached. The FRUSTRATION you feel when people don’t seem to want to take Jesus seriously enough.
This is what Paul was going through with the Corinthian church.
SHARING IN THE COMFORT
Now that’s not to say it’s all bad news, cause it’s not. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Remember Paul’s PRAISING God in v3. Because we get back to the word we started with. COMFORT. And the fact is, says Paul, we’re dealing with a God who’s the father of all compassion, and the God of all comfort. V4 who COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES.
But not just Paul and his companions. The Corinthians too. Paul says to the Corinthians there in verse 7, just as you share in our sufferings, so you also SHARE IN OUR COMFORT.
And it’s exactly the same for US. And in a very real way, what ever sort of troubles YOU find yourself in the middle of, you can look to GOD FOR COMFORT. And you’ll find it.
The comfort comes from knowing that God has got it all in control. And you’ve only got to look to Jesus to see how THAT worked. It seemed like his suffering and were the worst possible outcome. That God was nowhere to be found. The disciples were heart-broken. But God was right in the middle of it. What man intended for evil, God intended for GOOD. And after the CROSS, came the CROWN. After the PAIN, came the PLEASURE. After the CRYING came the COMFORT.
And God promises it will work the same for YOU. As you FOLLOW Jesus.
ANOTHER part of the comfort comes from seeing God’s PURPOSES in tough times. Look at what Paul says in verse 9, when he and Timothy were at their wits end, it was the perfect reminder of the fact that we’re not meant to be relying on ourselves anyway. We’re meant to be RELYING ON GOD.
It’s easy to forget, isn’t it? And what I always find is, when things are going well, I’ll pat myself on the back; I’ll be self sufficient. I’ll rely on the things I can do on my own. And God gets pushed to the side til I need him.
There was a great line in the Purpose Driven Life. What are the areas you’re relying on God for? They’re the exact same areas you’re PRAYING about. If you’re not praying about something, you’re not trusting God for it.
Have a think about the things YOU’RE praying for. And the things you’re NOT praying for.
Be careful! Because if you’re not praying about all sorts of things, God may need to TEACH YOU A LESSON. A lesson that you need to be relying on him. And his chosen method of education is suffering.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of . BUT THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, who raises the .
He says God delivered us, and we’re convinced he’ll keep doing it. Time after time after time. Because God raised JESUS FROM THE . No trouble. Which means we can have confidence he’ll do the same for us.
That’s the confidence that comes from having been through the valley of the shadow of . And made it out the other side. Still in one piece. Still following Jesus.
Paul says, No worries. I mean, there we are at the point of . But what’s it matter? ‘s the end for us – but for God it’s just A BEGINNING. He raised Jesus, which was just the beginning. So Paul’s absolutely confident that whatever happens, it’s all under control.
And when you make it through your troubles with THAT sort of perspective that puts you in a pretty special position. You’ve got a pretty clear view of how the world works. And that’s a view that other people need to share. And so Paul can say in v4.
3 Praise be to God … 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES HAVE RECEIVED FROM GOD.
When you’ve seen God’s purpose in things. When you’ve known his strength. When you’ve learnt to rely on him. When you’ve faced square in the eye, and not blinked. When you’ve begun to see the crown that comes after the cross. Then that’s a lesson worth sharing.
We saw that yesterday at the breakfast at the Workers Club. You missed a beauty if you weren’t there. The best yet. David Perrigault was the guy in the car who had the metal post through him.
And when Ben Johnson asked him what he’d LEARNED. He said two things. I’ve learned to be Thankful. Thankful for all the things God gives me. And I’ve learned that I’m not scared of .
And that makes Pez in a position to be a real comfort to those who are going through something similar.
Friends, can I just say to you, if you’re doing it tough, if you’re struggling, if you’re just holding together – remember that you’re serving a God who’s the God of all comfort. Who doesn’t promise he’ll take us AROUND all our problems. But he promises he’ll take us THROUGH THEM.
Stick with the God of comfort, who if you’re a Christian, you already know. And don’t be sucked in by the offer of anything else.
And I know plenty of people here who can say AMEN to that. Who’ve been through terrible times. And are STILL struggling through.
And if you’re NOT doing it tough right at the moment, there’s a message for you, too. Be a COMFORTER. Paul says in verse 4 that God comforts us in our own troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.
Which is just a complicated way of saying, PASS IT ON. If you’ve been through hard times and you’ve made it, it’s your turn to be a comforter. And a PRAY-ER. Share the burden.
That’s what makes a church a REAL church. And we need to be doing that more and more – in PRACTICAL ways. If someone’s hurting, don’t sidestep the issue. Don’t cross the road so you don’t have to talk to them. Bear one another’s burdens. Encourage one another to stick with it when it’s tough. Because that’s what the REAL Christian life is made of. Not the FAKE one.