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From Nigel

Generosity

By From Nigel No Comments

[1] We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

2 Corinthians 8:1-2

Let’s start with a confession. I have rarely spoken on the subject of money, yet there are some Church leaders who rarely talk about anything else! I must admit I find it quite difficult to speak on money as it feels like I am asking for money for myself, yet some Church leaders consider wealth a spiritual birthright of all Christians.

The apostle Paul would take issue with me and them. He is unashamed to issue a passionate appeal to the Corinthians that they contribute generously to the impoverished church in Jerusalem. In doing so, he provides us with profound insight into the nature of God’s grace, our giving, and the joy that is found in both in the life of the Church.

As I said, his appeal was provoked by the crisis that had fallen upon the Church in Jerusalem. The reasons for this very serious situation were many: in addition to overpopulation, there was social and economic exclusion, extreme poverty, disinheritance following salvation, disruption of family ties, persecution, and the lingering effects of the famine of AD 45 (Acts 11:27-30).

One of Paul’s undying missions and heart is found in his letter to the Church in Galatia.

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10

Paul hopes to stir the Corinthians to contribute to their poverty-stricken brethren in Jerusalem.

From a strictly human point of view, the odds were stacked against the Macedonians from the start. Common sense would tell us that such folk were hardly the sort who could be expected to alleviate anyone else’s suffering. Their own “severe test of affliction” and “extreme poverty” would appear to excuse them from participation in any fund-raising venture, in short they could not afford to do it.

Something occurred that is both divine and of grace that changes everything. This grace had been “given” or bestowed or poured out on the Churches of Macedonia and that alone, ultimately speaking, accounts for their remarkable generosity toward their brethren in Jerusalem.

Paul appeals to what believers in Macedonia had done. But he is quick to acknowledge that what they did in serving their brethren is the fruit of what God had done in serving them!

If the Macedonians “gave themselves first to the Lord” (vs 5), it is because God had first “given” his grace (vs 1) to them. Whatever achievement on their part is praised, whatever example they may have set for others to follow, it is only because of an understanding of the lavish grace they had received.

Look at Philippians 2:12-13. This is a fantastic example of the harmony between the presence of divine grace and the accountability of human decisions. In vs 3 Paul says they gave “of their own free will,” while in vs 1 their willingness is traced to the grace of God!

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this sort of dynamic interplay between divine grace and human response.

Another example would be David who describes the remarkable fund-raising campaign that eventually subsidised the building of Solomon’s temple. (2 Chronicles 29:10-19). In vs 12 David says of God that “both riches and honour come from you.” From a purely human point of view, the money and wealth given for the building of the temple seems to come from the work and energy and savings and investments of the people. Perhaps some of them had profited from shrewd business transactions. Perhaps a few had turned an incredible profit on the sale of some land. But no matter, David says that all riches come from God! Whatever anyone worked for, earned, invested, sold and then gave, they first got it from God.

Again in vs 12, David declares it’s God’s hand “to make great and to give strength to all.” Whatever energy or accomplishments may be attributed to the people that accounted for what and why they gave, all of it ultimately came from God. Power, influence, ingenuity, success, commitment, whatever it might be, are the result of a gracious and kind God working in and through his people for their welfare and his own glory.

David then asks: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” This is David’s way of saying that God is the one who enables us to do what we do not deserve help to do. Who are we? asks David, that we should receive the help of God that would mobilise us to produce this wealth and then stir our hearts to give it away? We are sinners. We deserve nothing but judgment.

But perhaps the most stirring thing David says comes in vs 14. “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” In other words, whatever they gave they first received. He says much the same thing in vs 16. declaring that “all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.” All giving stirred in us is because of God’s giving.

This is the same principle we see at work in the Macedonians and the overwhelming generosity they displayed in contributing to the Church in Jerusalem.

Please note the use of the word charis, “grace”, throughout this section of 2 Corinthians. It is used in 8:1,4,6,7,9,16,19; 9:8,14,15, with a wide range of meaning, from divine enablement to human privilege to a monetary gift to a word of gratitude to divine favour. This should remind us that grace is more than an attitude or disposition in the divine nature. It is that, but it is also much more.

The grace of God, for example, is the power of God’s Spirit bringing us to salvation. It is the activity or movement of God whereby he saves and justifies the individual through faith (Romans 3:24, 5:15,17). Therefore, grace is not something in which we merely believe; it is something we experience as well.

Grace, however, is not only the divine act by which God initiates our spiritual life, but also the very power by which we are sustained in, nourished by, and proceed through that life. The energising and sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit is the grace of God (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Grace then, is a dynamic and experiential reality that empowers the human heart to look beyond its limitations to accomplish things that defy rational explanation. Grace is the power that enables impoverished and suffering believers to give when, by all accounts, they should be the ones to get. Such was the operation of grace in the giving of these Macedonian believers. And such ought to be its operation in us as well.

 

This Will Hurt, but Only for a Short Time

By From Nigel No Comments

 [8] For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. [9] As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. [ 10] For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. [11] For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. [12] So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 7:8-12

Those words “This will hurt, but only for a short while” were spoken to me on a regular basis by my dad usually before he disciplined me. It’s hard, is it not, to speak truth into a person’s life because we think this will cause hurt pain or upset. There is this idea that genuine love means you will do whatever you can to prevent hurt, pain or upset.

We are told both inside and outside the Church now that if we genuinely love someone we have to accept their behaviour or choices. If we genuinely love this person we must not say we oppose or disagree with their belief or the faith that they have and they practice.

I am supposed to not say anything anymore when I see Christians behaviour in a way that is not Christian or as described in the Bible, in fact when they post that behaviour on Facebook I am under a huge pressure to “like”.

To ignore sin in the name of love is, I believe, not only unbiblical, it also betrays the very nature of love itself which, by definition, always seeks the ultimate spiritual welfare of its object, even at the expense of immediate personal peace. It also means we are not very brave in talking about another’s sin. Therefore, I confess I am not brave, as I find that I don’t want to confront as I know that just means you will leave the Church.

This all means, in effect, that we prefer our own emotional peace and sense of well-being above another’s conformity to Christ and perhaps even eternal destiny. That hardly qualifies as “love” in any language.

Paul’s so-called “tough” letter to the Church at Corinth was very hard for him to write. It was “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.” He evidently spoke honestly and straightforwardly about the nature of their sin and the need for repentance. In doing so, he ran the risk of alienating them and ending all hope for future fellowship. Is that what we want today? Do we invite such?

Would they use the letter as another excuse to question his apostolic calling? Worse still, would they tell him that it was precisely for this reason that they wanted nothing more to do with him or his gospel.

Because of that I just won’t say the truth, I will leave well alone. A path many a Pastor has trod. I personally have experienced both, said the truth and it’s got me into trouble, not said the truth and it’s also got me into trouble.

No, it was because of an “abundant love” (2 Corinthians 2:4) for them that he gathered up all his courage and spoke the truth. I’m sure, but equally with nerves and tears. So let’s look at what Paul says.

The letter produces a grief for sin that was “godly” (vs 9-11). Meaning that it was a sorrow prompted by the conviction that their sin had offended God, and not simply Paul. He contrasts this with “worldly grief” (vs 10) which occurs not because one has transgressed a glorious and holy God but simply because one has got caught.

Worldly grief is essentially self-pity for having been exposed and having thus lost stature in the eyes of men. Godly grief is the sort that we see in Psalm 52 where David cried out, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”

We know the Corinthians were sincere in their sorrow because it bore fruit. They didn’t merely feel sorrow , but they repented. They confessed their sins to God and changed their lifestyle. This time they were eager “to clear” themselves (vs 11). We don’t want to be tarnished with this anymore.

Paul’s love, as reflected in the letter, stirred the “fear” (vs 11) of God in their hearts, perhaps something a little lacking today. Their “longing” (vs 11) for him and their “zeal” (vs 11) for the joy of renewed friendship is an example of the value of relationships and the fight for them.

I suppose some might say and do say “typical pastor.” A causer of distress and discomfort to the Corinthians, victimised by another cold and uncaring leader. If he truly loved them, or so they thought, he would have done whatever was necessary to spare them such suffering. You upset them. Paul was more than willing to endure the heartache of their short-term discomfort if it yielded the fruit of long-term transformation and more Christ likeness, but pastors are we willing to go there and Church are we ready to receive it?

So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. Verse 12

Here the letter’s purpose is being viewed retrospectively, in light of its effects. Let’s not forget that when Paul wrote the letter he was uncertain of how they would react. He was, according to his own admission, restless and fearful of how it would be received.

On the one hand, he hoped the letter would stir them to apply discipline to the one who had done wrong. On the other hand he also hoped that the letter would vindicate the person who had been wronged (which was Paul). Having said that the main aim was to make it clear to the Corinthians themselves, in the sight of God, that they were genuinely devoted to him. How they responded to the letter thus served as a measure or gauge of their affection towards Him.

All told, it was initially an unpleasant experience for everyone concerned. But what it does show is that we have much to learn about, love, truth, integrity, honesty, vulnerability, and Church. The question is about our willingness to press through together to all that God has for us.

 

Lessons on Leadership

By From Nigel

 [2] Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. [3] I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. [4] I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

2 Corinthians 7:2-4

There are so many books, seminars, conferences, and online webinars on principles of leadership today. “Try this book or that book” as if each was a panacea to Church success. If I do have a concern about this abundance of resources it would be that most of them come from the board room or the office, they are management principles. In fact from my perspective on looking at Church leadership many Pastors are really CEO’s of companies.

If I were to suggest to someone desiring leadership or a current leader that they could learn from Paul here in 2 Corinthians, I guess I would get a very patronising tap on the shoulder before they asked for something more substantial, more up-to-date, more relevant, more in touch with contemporary culture and the prevailing trends in the market place.

I seriously believe that what we read in 2 Corinthians about Paul and the people of that city is the most insightful, practical, wise, and edifying biblical advice for how to lead and be led available in this or any age of the Church. I will continue to believe this, so I apologise. If you haven’t already read verses 2-4 again do so very carefully and slowly.

The first thing that stands out is Paul’s determination to do everything within his power to facilitate reconciliation with the Corinthians. “Make room in your hearts for us,” he pleads with them. This is a resumption of his earlier appeal in chapter 6:13, “In return (I speak as to children), widen your hearts also.”

Paul refused to settle for the status quo. It wasn’t enough that he had deep affection for them (2 Corinthians 6:11-12) he also worked so hard to persuade them that there was no good reason to close their hearts to him. Mutual love and mutual commitment was the goal. How tragic is it when leaders and their people become entrenched in long term grudges, which are, more times than not, based on misunderstanding and miscommunication that could easily be resolved if humility was the foundation of Church life. How sad, and unnecessary, when Christians feed off relational wounds and simply assume that reconciliation is either too difficult, not worth the effort, or completely beyond the realm of possibility. We just leave and find another church. So many times folk have turned up to my Church with tales of disagreements. Paul wouldn’t have it, and neither should we.

To prove that the rift was groundless, and that he was deserving of a place in their hearts, Paul insists that he has “wronged” no one, “corrupted” no one, nor “taken advantage” of anyone. I and all Church leaders should take note that integrity is foundational to all levels and expressions of leadership.

Paul insists he had “wronged” no one, this was a possible response to the charge that he had been unduly harsh in dealing with the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians 5 or the offender mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

In saying he had “corrupted” no one, it’s possible he is alluding to finances, or morality or even doctrine. There seems to be an invitation to anyone in Corinth to investigate Paul’s behaviour which is interesting. Look at my life, behind closed doors if you like, our lives and leadership are more than just the pulpit.

The words “take advantage” might mean exploit or defraud.

It’s possible that some suspected he manipulated for his own benefit the offering taken up for the Jerusalem Church (2 Corinthians 8:20-22). Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just interesting that there are always rumours surrounding leadership. I was once accused of playing golf regularly and having been seen playing it. I wasn’t, I can’t play very well, and haven’t any golf clubs, yet people believed it.

I also find it helpful in how careful Paul is about his use of words. He knows how prone people are to twist things to their own advantage, so he quickly qualifies his words in verse 2 with his affirmation of love in verse 3. In fact, Paul was not only willing to live with them, but to die with them as well (vs 3). What an incredible affirmation of the depth and sincerity of his commitment to them. Sounds like,

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Paul is declaring his heart, he is now and always interwoven with the Corinthians. Neither the arrival of death nor the changes of life are going to stop his affection for them. Paul does not leave it there he takes his leadership further, and gives us some wonderful examples.

Firstly, he was determined to be utterly and altogether open in his speech with them. The force of the words translated in verse 4 “I am acting with great boldness toward you,” meaning his words are not a cloak for some self-serving agenda or a means to protect a wounded ego. He speaks his mind candidly, fearlessly, and without regard to what consequences might happen to him personally. He will not hide his intentions or his feelings or his beliefs about what is right and wrong in the Church. Whether his words encourage or rebuke, they are the accurate expression of what’s in his heart.

Secondly, he boasts to others about them, vs 4 “I have great pride in you” the meaning is he shouts it aloud. The suggestion is, what he says in public he says in private. Now that one is a challenge. Can you imagine the changes in our Churches if we were honest with and about one another, both in private and in public?

He is not simply happy about hearing good news of these Christians (2 Corinthians 7:7) he is “filled with comfort” there is a deep emotional connection, they are a part of his heart. I was once asked about my feelings for a Church I had previously led and when I replied that I felt they were a part of me, the person cautioned me to move on. They were wrong! People are not numbers, lives given are privileges , let’s not get into running a Church.

Finally in verse 4 “ in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy,”

whether his afflictions are the cause of his joy or, more likely, that in the midst of them he yet finds reasons to rejoice, he wants them to know that whatever he endured to bring them the gospel, whatever he suffered to see Christ work in them, whatever pain and loss he incurred so that Christ might look good in his life, and thus become the treasure in theirs, he did it joyfully. He was happy to pay the cost so that they would benefit. This is not promotion, influence, money or power.

In a day when some self-appointed and self-serving Pastors and leaders either fleece their flocks and burden them with the responsibility of providing for a lavish and opulent lifestyle, or are there just so they can move on to something bigger and better and it’s all about them we are reminded that Paul joyfully embraced whatever hardship might come his way if it produced harvest in the lives of those entrusted to his care.

This is the calling and character of those entrusted with the care of God’s people. You will not find it an example of leadership popular today.

[5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

You don’t read much about leadership like this today, it’s all process, statistics and methods. This is heart, but thanks be to God for his timeless and true revelation from scripture of what makes for godly Church leaders. Last appeal: can we stick to the Bible?

 

In the World but Not of it

By From Nigel
[14] Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? [15] What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? [16] What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “ I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people”.

2 Corinthians 6:14-16.

As a young Christian in a Baptist Church my pastor would warn me quite frequently about my love of football, Tamla Motown music and clothes, saying that I was in the world but not of it. This for me always raised more questions than answers. How was I to relate to those who only used Christ as a swear word. To what extent was I to engage with or ignore the culture of my day.

Whilst I was a Pastor leading a Church in Sussex, a shop appeared in our high street selling crystals. Some members wanted to protest, others to write to their member of parliament and so on. So what about other things such as gender issues, immorality, abortion, the things that the Bible speaks so clearly about, should we make placards, chain ourselves to gates etc?

These are tough questions for which quick answers are unwise, and usually wrong. It’s very complex is it not?

Yes the culture has changed and the circumstances have changed but the approach advocated by Paul in the first century, I believe, still has relevance and is really helpful to us today

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (verse 14). Now there’s a verse much quoted to me in my teens and probably as famous as “ For God so loved the world”. It struck fear into my very being, yet I believe it it is much miss quoted. What does Paul have in mind here? What is the background to his words , and how does it apply to us in 2021.

The subject was not a new one for Paul, having addressed it earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and in chapters 8 to 11.

Some Christians in Corinth were visiting temple cults of any number of the pagan religions in the city, perhaps even engaging in the sexual activities (temple prostitutes) associated with their type of “worship”.

This problem was most likely the reason for Paul’s emergency second visit to Corinth and the follow-up “affliction and anguish letter” (2 Corinthians 2:1-4).

The “ unbelievers” that he describes in this passage were unsaved Gentiles who were involved in worship at the Greek Roman mystery, mystic cults of Corinth. His command is for Christian men and women to withdraw from such unholy and immoral practices and associations. But does that principle extend to other issues that we face today? Yes, I believe it does but we must proceed cautiously, and sensibly in our application.

Although Paul is not thinking about marriage in this text, certainly the principle would apply to marriage. A Christian entering into such a covenant with someone not a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

Using the language of the marriage ceremony, just as we are commanded not to put asunder what God has joined together, we must be diligent not to join together what God has put asunder!

Sadly though, some (my church when I was a child for instance) have applied this passage in ways that Paul never intended which would, in effect, make it difficult to live, much less work, in a secular society. (Avoidance was preached from the pulpit by some).

There is no indication that Paul here is forbidding or condemning contact and association with non-Christians, something he declares impractical, if not impossible, in I Corinthians 5:9-13. In fact he anticipates the presence of unbelievers in the worship services at Corinth and instructs the believers not to do anything that might drive them away (1 Corinthians 14:22-24).

Neither is he forbidding or condemning business relations with non-Christians. In fact I believe Paul seems in other places to say it’s Ok to do business with a non-Christian, but that it will require discernment and caution.

Paul is neither forbidding or condemning friendships with non-Christians. If anything, I believe he would encourage them and promote them but again by using wisdom and discernment.

There is certainly nothing here that would forbid or condemn association and cooperation with other Christians who may disagree with you on secondary issues (again which on occasions as a young Christian I heard from the pulpit “ be careful of the…….. down the road”).

And contrary to what some have suggested, if two unbelievers marry and then one is saved, he is not instructing the latter to terminate the relationship (1 Corinthians 7).

As far as an application is concerned, the separation Paul has in mind between Christians and non-Christians is spiritual and moral, not spatial. The principle is this: enter into no relationship or bond or partnership or endeavor that will compromise your Christian integrity or weaken your walk with God or cause you to compromise your faith (James 4:4-5).

All this does cause us to ask further questions and “what if’s” Like…

“When I am with non-believers, what do I do if I find myself in situations where I am exposed to temptations that may get the better of me?”

“When I am with non-Christians, I find it easier than at other times to compromise on ethical matters. I find myself judging as ‘grey’ what I would call ‘black’ if I were with Christians.”

“When I am with non-Christians I tend to be less vocal about my faith and less visible in my stand for Christ.”

“When I am with non-Christians, my conversation focus easily on things of the World, and I don’t take opportunities to discuss Christ.”

“When I am with non-Christians, they have no idea I am a Christian!”

There are probably more, but I think they help us to examine the dynamic, strength and robustness of our faith.

Going back to the passage, there then follows five points, rhetorical, questions, each of which the answer is: “None whatsoever!”

For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

These are designed to explain why it’s important for believers to be, discerning, cautious, and wise with their relationship with non-believers. Those committed to righteousness have no partnership with people given to lawlessness. Those who live in the light of God’s revelation are not to be yoked with those who walk in spiritual and moral darkness. Obviously Christ and the devil agree on nothing and have no harmony with one another. This is the only place in the NT where the word “Belial” occurs. The Hebrew word occurs in the OT with the meaning “worthlessness” while here it is used to describe a personal opponent of God. We have to remember there is no spiritual common ground for the believer and unbeliever. In fact it can be quite stark as the unbeliever’s life is centred on self and the believer’s on Christ; the treasure of the one is here on earth, of the other in heaven; the values of the one are those of this World, of the other those of the World to come; the believer seeks the glory of God, the unbeliever the glory of self and men.

However, Paul is not denying that we are all created in God’s image or suggesting that there is literally nothing that we share. As Calvin wisely reminds us, “when Paul says that the Christian has no portion with the unbeliever he is not referring to food, clothing, estates, the sun, and the air, . . . but to those things which are peculiar to unbelievers, from which the Lord has separated us.”

Finally, we move on to “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” We read in the OT that the introduction of idols into the temple of God was prohibited, how much more horrendous is idolatry in the life of the believer (v. 16a)! Are we not ourselves the only temple in which God shall ever dwell? (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19, Ephesians 2:20-22, I Peter 2:5). We are carriers of the presence of God, we take God with us into every and any situation. We invade the differing places we find ourselves in with the presence of God. Once the temple was fixed and in a particular place, now it moves into families, work spaces, neighbourhoods and nations.

What is most important to remember then, is that this is not a call to create a Christian ghetto, but Paul does want us to see the responsibility and the blessing we carry.

 

 

 

Can I be Happy and Sad?

By From Nigel

as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

2 Corinthians 6:10

Can we be both happy and sad? Or even can I be happy whilst I am sad? This is confusing stuff!

If you search the internet for a definition of “schizophrenia” one site defines it as, “a situation or condition that results from the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities.” Another says “a state characterised by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.”

Given these definitions, there is a sense in which Christianity gives every appearance of being schizophrenic! There are in the Christian life, and in that of the apostle Paul in particular, situations or conditions or states of mind (I think that’s the best way to say it), that seem to those outside the church (and a few on the inside of the church as well) as being disparate or antagonistic or contradictory or incompatible.

So, if we meditate for a few moments on Paul’s description here in verse 10 there it is; “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

Can we have it both ways? Sorrow and joy are incompatible, there is a huge gulf between poor and rich. What accounts for Paul’s odd perspective on life? Is he emotionally unstable, a man who’s lost touch with reality, or someone who has a deep and profound grasp on what is of ultimate value? I am convinced it is the latter.

Let’s say one thing first. If there is no life beyond the grave then Paul is mad! If this World is all there is, or ever will be, it is senseless to speak of joy in the midst of suffering or to regard oneself as wealthy in the face of poverty. The value system that accounts for Paul’s point of view is one shaped by a belief in the reality of eternity, a life everlasting in which never-ending good triumphs over evil, an existence in which the beauty and splendour of Jesus Christ provide ceaseless and ever-increasing satisfaction that goes beyond anything this life can offer.

Having said that Paul’s “sorrow” was very real. His anticipation of eternal joy did not excuse him from the hardships of life, but it did make them bearable. We misunderstand the apostle, and Christianity as a whole, if we believe the Bible is telling us to ignore pain or pretend that it is less than it is. Sorrow hurts and can hurt for a lifetime. If I may indulge myself and you for a moment. My brother died a few years back and it still hurts, I miss him so much.

Also, the source of his sorrow was multi-faceted. He felt “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Romans 9:2) regarding the state of the Jewish people. His often rocky relationship with the Corinthians was the source of “much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Corinthians 2:4). Then there was “the daily pressure” of his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28), not to mention the sadness he felt upon seeing Christ scorned and mocked, as well as his own sufferings from persecution. He had much to cause him sorrow.

Yet, we are told, he was “always rejoicing”! “Come on Paul, really!

There can only be two things to explain this. Firstly, he must have believed that even the worst of circumstances and the most oppressive of trials were subject to an overriding and gracious grace. Were it not for his belief that “all things work together for good” for those who love God and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28) he could not have rejoiced whilst living with sustained sorrow. It was not wishful thinking or mind over matter. The love he knew and felt from God overwhelmed him.

Secondly, there must have been a deep and abiding well of spiritual refreshment from which he regularly drew that provided his heart with incomparable and life-sustaining satisfaction, something so fascinating, enthralling, and captivating where no root of bitterness could thrive or disillusionment could raise their ugly heads. As we’ve just seen, it was the goodness and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ himself (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He kept drawing upon this.

Paul laboured to make sure his heart was in the right place, he would delight in God but also he knew that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

This is huge for everyone, in that true joy is not dependent on pleasant circumstances. It is possible to rejoice in a way that is genuine and real and sincere whilst still enduring trials that in themselves have the potential to bring only misery and despair. It’s there for each believer, what an amazing resource. I’ve gone on a bit long on that first bit, may have to whiz through the rest.

Paul describes himself “as poor, yet making many rich.” What does he mean by this? Obviously both can’t be literal for Paul would never have thought of himself as increasing the financial wealth of the churches where he ministered. That would simply have never been a factor in his apostleship.

Paul probably meant that he was “poor”. In 1 Corinthians he wrote: “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands” (vs 11-12) an important reminder for all aspiring modern day apostles! Paul’s work as a tentmaker only provided him with a basic living at times, but his main aim was that he did not want people to think he was in ministry for the money (2 Corinthians 11:7-12).

Yet he has a view on riches and what makes one rich, and how one enriches another. This verb is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:5 where he describes the believers in that church as “in every way” “enriched in him [i.e., in Christ] in all speech and all knowledge” (see 2 Corinthians 9:11). Although Paul himself lacked earthly riches he delighted in imparting to others “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)

and the “surpassing worth of knowing” Christ Jesus as Lord (Philippians 3:8). He worked hard among the Colossians to make known “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Nothing could be more obvious than this: if Christ is not himself a treasure of incomparable worth, a person of incalculable value, a source of endless satisfaction, material hardship will only serve to embitter and harden your heart.

Finally, though I have nothing, said Paul, I possess everything!

We know Paul did not have much “stuff” and would never have used his apostleship to gain more “stuff.”

This is, as the commentators tell me, a rhetorical hyperbole, designed to highlight the infinitely superior blessings of Christ and the age to come. Although he owned little in terms of worldly goods, Paul considered himself wealthy when it came to things eternal and of infinite spiritual value.

[21] So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, [22] whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, [23] and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23

If we are able to take on board a thoroughly biblical World view, a perspective in which the values of eternity break into the present, we will always appear a bit schizophrenic to those who do not know Christ. Without him, sorrow trumps joy, and material gain becomes our only goal. With him, joy flourishes in the midst of all, even financial lack or physical pain.

 

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