Good evening, friends. It’s a great joy to be with you again this Lord’s Day evening to look into God’s Word and see what the Spirit has for us. I was reminded after the service this morning that I failed to mention – I kept talking about me and our family being kicked out of our mission field and I never mentioned why we were kicked out. And so somebody said, “Hey, you should probably tell everybody because people are wondering, ‘Why were you kicked out of ———-?’” And so real quick, just in June of this past year, on returning to our country I was not permitted to enter. They deported me to ———-. My wife and kids were in the country. They were there for about six weeks while I was trying to get back to them from ———-. I finally made it back in and the government permitted me to stay for six weeks but then they finally kicked us out and sent us back home to The States. And the reason they gave for doing that was our missionary activity, our ministry that we were doing. So currently, we are in the middle of a court case. I’m trying to get back in and seeking permission to return. So please do pray for us. Our court case was heard, finally, on February 14, and we’re just waiting for the verdict. It could be any day now. Would you bow your heads and pray with me as we come to the Lord and hear from His Word.
Father, indeed You have called us, Your people, to be Your light in this world that we should shine before men, that they might see our good works and know You and praise You and worship You. We pray that even tonight as we hear from Your Word that our hearts would be pricked by Your Spirit, that we would see Jesus, that we would be encouraged by His grace and motivated by His grace, that it would compel us to be ministers of this Gospel, to this world that desperately needs it. It’s in His name that we pray, amen.
Would you open your Bibles, if you have a copy of God’s Word with you? We are looking at 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. We looked at the first half of that chapter this morning – 2 Corinthians 4:13-18. In the pew Bible it’s page 966. Paul writes this:
“Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
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.”
Friends, the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of God is forever. And this is God’s Word. It is inerrant, without flaw, it’s for us and to His glory. Amen.
Randy Alcorn, in one of his books, writes about a young missionary man named William Borden. William Borden was a Yale graduate, an heir to a great amount of wealth. His parents gave him everything; withheld nothing from him his whole life. After graduating college, he rejected his life of ease. He gave away almost all of his wealth and he moved to Cairo, Egypt to share the story of Jesus with the Muslims of Cairo. After about four months as a missionary in Cairo, he contracted spinal meningitis and he died at the age of 25. If you go to Egypt, if you go visit the pyramids, in the shadow of the pyramids of Egypt, the great tombs of the pharaohs, there is a graveyard of missionaries. And on one of the tombstones of those missionaries is William Borden’s name with the dates 1887-1913. And the epitaph on that stone under his name reads this: “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life as this.” “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life as this.”
You see, friends, the implications of what we’re talking about today and what you’re going to be hearing, really what you hear every week from the pulpit, the implications of this – that we are believing in a resurrected Savior and that we are called to be His messengers in this world, to bring this good news of the Gospel to this world – should change the way we live. Shouldn’t it? There should be no explanation in our lives for lives of faith. There should be no worldly explanation for lives of faith. So my question for you this evening is, “What about you? What in your life, what is God leading you to do in this city, in your career choice, in the way you engage injustice or racial reconciliation or loving your neighbors or radical hospitality? What are you doing? Could it be said about you that ‘except for faith in Christ, there is no explanation for the way that you are living your life’?”
And I’m helped by Paul again in this passage because Paul really does give us a glorious vision of what faith in Christ produces in a believer on mission with God in this world. He gives us this glorious vision of what faith in Christ produces in a believer on mission with God in this world. Two things in this text that he says are inexplicable for a believer, and third, he says how this grace strengthens us to not lose heart as we endure with perseverance.
We Proclaim the Gospel to the Lost
Look in your Bibles at verses 13 and 15. So the first thing he says that’s really inexplicable about a believer is that we proclaim the Gospel to the lost. Look at verse 13 with me. Paul has just finished talking about the principle of how the kingdom of Jesus comes in the world. We looked at that this morning – through weakness and suffering. And then he transitions to this discussion of how death produces life, and life death, and he says, “Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, ‘I believe and therefore I spoke,’ we also believe and so we also speak.” What’s he doing here? The Bible’s hyperlinked text. Right? Paul, when he is quoting from the Old Testament, Paul in this sense is quoting from the Old Testament, Old Testament writers, and he is interpreting their experiences of suffering and proclaiming the kingdom of God through the lens of the cross. And in this case, he’s referencing Psalm 116:10, a psalm where the psalmist is living the life of faith in the midst of suffering just as Paul was. And he’s identifying with that suffering and applying that psalm to his life now.
Believing Leads to Speaking
And Paul is saying, "Because we believe, we also believe, we also are to speak." Paul assumes that if you believe, you should speak. You can't help but speak. There's a connection, a causal relationship between the faith that the Spirit gives you to trust in the life and the death and the resurrection of Christ and to be a recipient of His grace, and then to proclaim that, to speak that to others. You might have heard the famous aphorism attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary" – what? "Use words." Our society, I think though, has this allergic reaction to the Gospel, to the preaching of the Gospel, particularly to the exclusivity of the claims of Jesus but also to everything that He spoke about sin, about repentance, about our weakness, the judgment, hell, even His resurrection. It's quite simply offensive to the world that is perishing. It's not just offensive. Many say it's hateful. And so it's pretty inexplicable that we would speak these things that go against the grain of the culture, that goes against the grain of what society says.
But what it seems to me, unfortunately, is that the church has capitulated to some degree. We simply don’t share with anyone else that which is of ultimate value to us, that which we believe to be true. Why is it so hard for us to speak? Why is it so hard for us to share this good news? Whose job is the great commission? Who is supposed to be proclaiming it? And Paul’s understanding in this passage and Jesus’ understanding in giving the great commission to the church is that the whole church is to be proclaiming the whole Gospel to the whole world. When you signed up for Jesus, you signed up for mission; you signed up for this job! But why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we doing this? Why is it so hard for us?
And I think Paul gets at this at the very end of this chapter – verse 18 and 19. He says, “For we do not look to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” There are some that look to the things that are seen and there are some that look to the things that are unseen. And I think one of the biggest deceptions, and such an easy thing to believe, is that this world is our home, that this world is our home. That what we see, that which is transient, is what we live for. And what Paul is saying is, “Absolutely not. We live for another world. We are people that are bearing a message from eternity and proclaiming it into this temporal world.”
In a recent Barna study on evangelism – it came out last month on the church and evangelism – it found that 50% of millennials, that’s the generation just below me, 50% of millennials don’t just not talk about Jesus with their friends, they actually believed – and these are Christian millennials by the way, churched millennials – they believe it’s immoral to share their faith. And that’s incredibly scary to think about the future of the church being without an evangelistic witness. Not just without an evangelistic witness, but with a people that are actually turned off by that and think it’s immoral to talk about your faith.
Several years ago, Maggie and I were in The States visiting some of our really good friends from seminary and my good friend, Hutch, he's the husband, we went through a lot of life together, he sits me down and he says, "I need to tell you about something that's absolutely changed my life, something that's helped me, it's transformed me, it's transformed our family. It's called CrossFit!" How did I respond to him? "Mind your own business, you bigot! Don't you try to force your cultic fitness regiment on me! How dare you!" No! I wanted to hear about. I wanted to hear about. And he was eager to share it with me. Why would he do that? Why would he want to share that with me? Well, because it changed him. It made a difference in his life. And he wants me, his dear friend, to experience the joy of CrossFit. Here's something that is big for him, here's something that is important to him. It's not immoral to share that. There's nothing wrong with that. Of course, he would share that. That's obvious. Of course, I would want to know about something that he loves so much. I wanted to experience it with him so he took me to his gym. I experienced CrossFit with him. And I threw out my back and it took a whole month to recover!
My friend, Hutch, believed, and so he spoke.
If you believe, as verse 14 says, in the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus, if you believe that He died on the cross for your sins and was buried for three days and rose again from the dead, that His resurrection precedes your resurrection, that you will be risen with Him one day, that you too will pass through death unscathed to eternal life, wouldn't you talk? Friends, for a Christian whose life has been radically changed by Jesus, it's perfectly natural, it's, in fact, impulsive and reactionary for you to share about it. You have to. We believe, therefore we speak.
In our church in —————-, we actually find that non-Christians, when they become Christians, are more compelled to share the Gospel for that first year of their Christian life than those who have been Christians for a long time because it’s new, it’s fresh. They are experiencing that transformation at a rapid pace.
Speaking Leads to Salvation and God’s Glory
But the speaking, according to Paul, is not in and of itself the end. Look what he says. You don’t speak and preach and evangelize and send missionaries just for the sake of doing it. It is the God-ordained means to accomplish the ultimate purposes of God and the salvation of sinners and ultimately for “the earth to be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” Look at verse 15 with me. Paul says this, “For it is for your sake, that as grace extends to more and more people, it may increase thanksgiving to the glory of God.” Why do we preach? Why do we evangelize? Why do we share the faith? Why do we do Missions Conferences? Why do we bother spending millions of dollars every year on missions and ministries of mercy and justice? Because if we believe in the resurrected Christ, if we believe that God has called His church to be the evangelization of the world, the mission of God on earth, the sharing of the good news of the Gospel to all those who do not know it, if we believe these things, how could we do anything else? Friends, this is the mission of the church. This is the vision that God has set – the course, the trajectory of all of history. This is where history is going – to the worship of God. This is what everything is moving towards. Missions is not a committee. Missions is not a budget item. Sharing the Gospel with your neighbors is not a type of Christian. It’s not the weird kid. It’s not reserved for InterVarsity of CRU or Campus Outreach or RUF. It’s something that churches do. It’s something that churches have to do. It’s what we’re called to do. It’s what we’re all called to do.
You think that all of this is just for us? No, follow Paul’s thinking with me. “It’s for your sake, so that, so that grace extends to more and more people. So that God will receive more and more glory.” You see that? God cares about His glory and He wants more of it. He wants more of it from all of His creation. This, my friends, is the purpose. This is why we preach the Gospel.
Christians Endure Suffering with Joy for God’s Glory
But he gives us a second, inexplicable thing in this text – that Christians endure suffering with joy for the glory of God. We looked at this a little bit this morning but there's a bit more on here that Paul speaks about. Living a life far from pain and suffering for the Gospel is actually quite easy if you keep your mouth shut. But when you open your mouth, there's friction. Right? When you open your mouth, there's friction. So Paul says, "We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day." Now, remember Paul is in the thick of persecution for his ministry. And part of the context of all of this is that Paul's apostleship is being questioned by skeptics. They're saying that "Since Paul is suffering and he's claiming to be a messenger of God and that God is with him, then why in the world is he going through all of these trials? If God is so great, then why has He not delivered Paul from his suffering?" Those are the questions.
And later on in this book, Paul describes the extent of what he has endured. He says this. “Five times the forty lashes minus one. Three times beaten with rods. Once stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. A night and a day I was adrift at sea. On frequent journeys in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles and toil and hardship through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food.” And then later in his life at the height of his career, Paul is plucked out of ministry, thrown into jail – trial, execution eventually. Anybody looking at this man’s life would say, “God cannot possibly be with him. What’s the explanation for all of this?” But Paul recognizes that his sufferings are actually serving the purposes of God in this world, that the sufferings themselves are actually a confirmation of God’s work in him and through him. Not a dismissal but a confirmation of it.
The first sort of way we are to understand this is that we should not be surprised that you are being persecuted when you open your mouth about the Gospel. You should not be surprised by that. One of the results that your work is good is that there is worldly opposition. We looked at this a bit in the morning service. In Philippians, when Paul is in prison, he says, "My chains have actually served the purpose of advancing the Gospel." In Acts, he says, "Through many tribulations, we enter the kingdom of heaven." See, living in a society where the Gospel is mainstream and accepted is not the norm. That's the exception. Paul's expectation is that if you rub your hands against the grain of wood you're going to get splinters. The norm is for us to experience persecution when we preach the Gospel. The norm is for us to experience the roughness of this world when we preach the Gospel. And that's what we should expect.
Remember when Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Saul, Acts 9 – “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name.” What if we told our new members or new converts that when they became Christians? Expect to suffer for the name of Christ. Let me show you what that looks like in our context in ———. A young man in our church in ———–, upon becoming a Christian from the Hindu faith, converting from the Hindu faith, is cut off from his family inheritance, loses all his land, loses all his finances, simply because he became a Christian. A young formerly Hindu woman in our congregation who was recently baptized and married to one of our pastoral interns, was recently married to one of our pastoral interns, she was cut off by her father and mother and they refused to have any relationship with her anymore. One of our elders in our church leads a major technology team at one of the biggest software companies in the world. He’s a quiet, soft-spoken man. He wanted to be a witness at his workplace so he started simply keeping a Bible on his desk every day. His coworkers noticed and started mocking him and jeering at him. He’s been punched for it. He’s almost been fired for it.
An older woman in our church had been serving as a medical missionary doctor in a jungle tribe in —————. She’s an ————— woman. Her husband died within the first few years of their ministry there. The village she was working in tried to kill her; the villagers tried to kill her multiple times by poisoning her, by releasing cobras in her home, accusing her of forcing conversions, beating her. She’s been there faithfully serving for several decades now. She’s suffered multiple heart attacks through the years because of the dismal conditions she lives in and because of the stress of her work. The doctors say the next heart attack will kill her. She left our church recently to return to the village where she says she is willing and ready to die.
Countless others all over ————– have lost family, friends, finances and many of their lives for following Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said that “When Jesus bids a man to follow Him, He bids him come and die.”
Jesus is Better
But is it worth it? Is it worth it? How do we not lose heart with such opposition? And here’s the promise that Paul gives us – how God’s grace strengthens us to help us not to lose heart. See, friends, this is why we do not lose heart. We are not witnesses of Christ and His death and resurrection because we have some sick desire to suffer, to be persecuted, to find glory in being rejected by the world. We do this because Jesus is greater, Jesus is sweeter, Jesus is better. Look at Paul’s progression of thought. In chapter 3 he speaks about the giving of the law that has nothing to compare with the glory we already have in the Gospel. Now Paul is saying that this glory we have in the Gospel, which is like treasure of immense worth in a clay pot, is worth nothing compared to the glory that has yet to be revealed. And here’s his thought. Believing the Gospel means proclaiming the Gospel, which extends more grace to more and more people, which in turn brings more and more glory to God, which brings more and more suffering to us, which is preparing more and more an eternal weight of glory beyond anything that we could ever imagine. That’s his glorious vision.
Made More Like Jesus
There are two ways this is happening. The first way God is using the suffering in Paul’s life to make him more like Jesus – he is being renewed day by day. This is so important, friends. What I want you to see is that it’s not despite Paul’s present circumstances that he is experiencing transformation but it’s in fact because of his present circumstances. The persecution that he’s facing is changing him, it’s transforming him, it’s making him more sanctified. See, it’s the evil itself that is used by the Spirit of Christ that is the means of transformation for Paul. He is being persecuted for preaching the good news of the Gospel. He knows that. He’s confident that these trials are themselves being turned by the very hands of God into the instruments of His sanctifying work in his life – refining him, growing him, changing him, making him more like the man that he needs to become, more humble, more loving, more forgiving of his enemies. More like Jesus.
You know most of us experience sanctification as a slow, incremental sort of gradual growth in the Lord from one degree of glory to the next. But it seems to me, from Paul’s life and from the lives of many believers that you and I may know who have gone through intense suffering and persecution in their life, that God uses those things to accelerate the growth in His children, the growth of sanctification.
Maggie and I recently had the privilege to visit a church planters' meeting in —————. And our friends from all over the world were there sharing about the Lord’s work in their countries. And one of our friends from China got up to share. It was probably the most sobering testimony I’ve ever heard as they shared about the immense suffering and persecution the church is facing at the hands of the government. The imprisonments – many of you have probably heard of these in the news. The intimidation, the re-education camps where they took Christians and locked them away; many of them are still even there. But then he said something that shocked me in his report. The Chinese church leaders, he said, do not want you to pray that God would bring an end to the persecution. “We do not want you to pray that God would bring an end to the persecution. We want you to pray that God would use that to further refine the church. We want you to pray that we would remain faithful to God through the suffering. Not to remove the suffering but that we would remain faithful to God in it.”
What a perspective! What a perspective! But isn’t that true? What we really need is not for our circumstances to change – they, Paul says, are “light and momentary.” But for our perspective to change to see that no matter what is happening to us, we have a loving heavenly Father who means only good for His children and who will only give them good gifts. And this is His plan for you. This is His story for you. Whatever it is that you are going through right now, I know it’s hard to believe and hard to trust, but what God is saying to you is that it is renewing you. It is making you more like the person you need to be in Christ.
An Eternal Glory
But it’s not just a present transformation that Paul’s sufferings are achieving. He says that when he sees all the suffering here on earth, all the pain, all the death, disease and heartache, all of it – and he’s seen a lot of it – it is worth it, he says. It is more than worth it because of what it produces in eternity – “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” These are momentary and light afflictions when set next to the eternal weight of glory.
This morning in the worship we sang a wonderful missionary hymn, “O Zion, Haste!” And the last verse says, “Give of thine own to bear the message glorious. Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way. Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious. In all thou spends, Jesus will repay.” That’s a wonderful hymn but it’s not fully true. It’s not just that you live and you die and then you get heaven as a consolation prize for enduring the difficulties of life. That’s not what Paul was saying, that heaven somehow makes up for all that you had to go through, that you get back what you put in. That’s not what he’s saying. Paul is saying that the evils themselves, the evil of life themselves, that one day we’ll look back on it and see that everything we’ve gone through were being turned in the producers of greater glory and greater joy for us and glory for God. See, we don’t escape the evils of this world narrowly. The suffering and evil that you and I experience, it presses us deeper and deeper into an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. God doesn’t cancel the suffering. He doesn’t repay you for what you put in. He leverages us to serve His purposes in bringing greater glory to Himself and greater joy to us. That’s why Paul says, “I rejoice in suffering. I desire to know Christ and the power of His resurrection that I may share in His sufferings.” Because he knew that these sufferings were preparing something far greater for him.
My wife’s favorite author, Frederick Buechner, captured the idea beautifully when speaking of similar things. He says this – “I cannot tell in full but this much I will tell. What’s lost is nothing to what’s found; in all the death that ever was, set next to life would scarcely fill a cup.” And isn’t the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ proof of that? Here the Lord and Creator of the universe, the only one not deserving to die, dies a sinner’s death. The greatest evil of history is slaying the only innocent man in history. But look how God turns that on its head. The greatest evil in history becomes the center of history and the means by which God accomplishes His purposes in bringing many sons and daughters to glory. He faced the greatest evil so that you and I wouldn’t have to. He traded His eternal weight of glory to be crushed under an eternal weight of sin of this world. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer. And though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” That’s Isaiah.
You see how that evil is leveraged to achieve God's ultimate purposes in the redeeming of sinners for Himself? "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all these things?" Because of the cross, friends, we know that all suffering is worth it. Because through it, we get Christ. And apart from faith in Christ there is no explanation for why we would not otherwise lose heart. Amen. Shall we pray?
Father, we thank You so much for the world that You have created, for Your desire and intention to redeem it, to change it, to transform it into a new creation, and that You choose to do that through us – broken and sinful people who You've given the Gospel to. We pray, Lord, that even today as we go from this place that, Father, our lives would be lived as a people whose faith apart from which there is no explanation. We thank You for this time together. In Christ's name, we pray.