Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 Corinthians 4:1
How do you battle with discouragement? Do you hit it head on, refusing to be shaped by it or perhaps by being stoic. Maybe you just plough on regardless or crumble and give up under the pressure of it.
I have known people who, in the face of great disappointment, have carried on but done so carrying hurt and bitterness and frustration which is projected on everything that moves. You keep out of their way!
I have also know others who, in the face of great disappointment, have withdrawn, or taken to alcohol, justifying their actions by pointing out how badly they have been treated by the church or even blaming God!
Do we have a right to, ‘not be disappointed’ in this fallen world of ours?
Surely, if anyone had a right not to be discouraged it was Paul who, in the course of his life, seemed to get more that his fair share of things seeming to go wrong.
24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;
27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28
Yet he declares “we do not lose heart,” however, many look at Paul as being super human and different to us (which is wrong). We could be tempted to say, “of course he does not lose heart, he was eloquent, strong, gifted, he had been transported to the third heaven, encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. I could probably cope if I had what he had!”
It is true that Paul was uniquely called and gifted by God but that’s not what kept him going. That’s not what accounted for his ability to resist the temptation to throw in the towel.
To understand his refusal to “lose heart” we need to look at verse one as a whole. There are actually two reasons Paul gives for why he overcame discouragement. They are related and distinct.
He had been entrusted with “this ministry,” a reference to the ministry of the New Covenant in the power of the Holy Spirit (described in chapter three, see previous blogs). He had been called to a ministry with a promise of the power and help of the Holy Spirit. Without the “helper” I doubt he would have survived persecution, imprisonment and shipwrecks, he too would have thrown in the towel. What sustained him, at least in part, was the fact that he proclaimed a message of grace and the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence of which he was a recipient.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
Had Paul thought that those who would follow Christ as Lord would be left to themselves, dependent on their own resources, asked to live by a set of external rules, I doubt very much we would be looking now at the man we have come to love and see as one who, believed that all things are possible with God. He was never alone, he had help, no not just help he had the third person of the Trinity as his help!
There is another reason why Paul did not lose heart. Paul, like you and I, was a recipient of mercy! He certainly didn’t deserve to be saved or to serve in any capacity. Paul again like you and I was gifted his salvation, he was gifted his ministry by God’s favour, God’s grace and God’s mercy. He was not deserving of anything at all.
The phrase translated, “by the mercy of God” is similar to Paul’s statement in Romans 11:31 where he speaks about being “shown mercy” which is translated “we were shown mercy”. Neither his salvation or his ability to serve in the role as an apostle had anything to do with his ability, intellect, initiative or recourses. It was simply and solely and sufficiently the fruit of having been made the object of divine mercy.
If you and I should ever think that our position in the kingdom of God is a reward rather than a gift, there will be little to sustain us in seasons of hardship, disappointments and sadness. What we have is solely based on grace. Instead of death and hell we have received eternal life therefore, will you find power to persevere with the help of the Holy Spirit and the wonder of mercy?
But how can mercy be a remedy for discouragement? The answer is found (bear with me!) with the truth that mercy is just incompatible with both boasting and disappointment.
Let’s start with what Paul says in 1 Corinthians,
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7
He is simply saying everything you received was by mercy and not your own merit, so act like it!
Knowing the truth of this text will turn your life inside out and upside down. So, the reality of mercy transforms your view of both success and failure, both praise and persecution, both triumph and tragedy.
If your life, and it’s ups and downs are, as Paul says, “by the mercy of God,” you can neither take credit for what you’ve achieved nor complain about how you have been treated. All credit goes to God for the good and all blame to yourself for how you perceive the bad.
If I ask you, how are you? Then the truthful answer is not good or bad but as a Christian , I am “better that I deserve.” So again Paul says,
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 1 Corinthians 15:10
Let’s hit this hard using Paul’s logic.
Yes, this long term friend hurt me, but I never deserved friends in the first place. Yes, this person has said bad things about me, but I have no right to be spoken well of. I am the chief of sinners, but I have been shown kindness. I deserved death but what I got was eternal life.
I deserved nothing. But God, who is rich in Mercy…….
Paul’s understanding of the role of mercy was the sustaining power in his soul that left no room for discouragement and gave no space to bitterness: “How can I possibly ‘lose heart’ when I deserved nothing and got……..
Do you see your life in the same terms that Paul understood his? What about your family? Your career? Perhaps the effective use of some spiritual gift or your status in the church? Are you in good health? Are you finances stable, even flourishing? What of the praise of your peers?
Can you look at everything in your life and honestly say, “It was by the mercy of God?”
If not, you are a likely candidate either for self congratulation or for discouragement and the disheartening frustration that breeds bitterness and resentment. Mercy is medicine for the discouraged heart .The recommended dosage is daily, no hourly, instruction found not on the bottle but in the Bible.