2 Corinthians 4, Part 2: Hungry – Homeless – Helpless
I saw one of our ‘professional beggars’ with this 3-word homemade sign. I was impressed with this man’s economical use of careful wording which supposedly described his dire circumstances. Paul has told us he had experienced these same circumstances and more on many occasions. Yet Paul did not lose heart, which means he did not lose hope. He possessed the secret to having a hope that did not disappoint. He had a hope, as he described in Romans 4, that Abraham had: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” In fact Paul wrote in Romans 15: “May the God of hope fill you with all hope as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
First of all before we begin our study of the secret of never losing heart and what to do when we experience the awful emotion of hopelessness, let’s review what we know about Paul, aka Saul of Tarsus and his encounter with the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. We know the story from Acts 9; Paul was on the road to Damascus. This zealous Pharisee, named Saul of Tarsus, was on his way to stamp out Christianity. He was stopped in his tracks when the Lord Jesus confronted him. Blinded, Saul of Tarsus was sent to Straight Street where the Lord sent Ananias to tend to him. Here is what the Lord told Ananias: “Go! This man is my chosen vessel to carry my name to the Gentiles, to kings, and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer.” Do you catch that last word- suffer? Saul of Tarsus was a man in his prime. A brilliant theologian who studied under Gamaliel. He was part of the elite, in-crowd of the powerful men of the Sanhedrin. His religion and career were everything to him. He had knowledge, but this knowledge only puffed up.
We read how Paul had received 39 lashes from the Jews five times, beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times, having spent the night and day in open waters. He had been in danger everywhere he went from harsh elements, (he was homeless) to danger from Gentiles, Romans, Jews, everyone, everywhere. He had gone without sleep, had known hunger and thirst and gone without food (he had known real hunger); Paul had been cold and naked. He also had been arrested and in jail and prison. In addition Paul had deep concern for the churches. Paul also told us in Asia he had experienced great pressure beyond his ability to endure. (Paul is telling us I know what it is to say, ‘I just can’t take anymore of this!) He knew despair. He said in his heart, he felt the sentence of death.
Then Paul tells us a truth he learned, which if we are not careful we will miss this all important truth. Paul said “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises, the dead.” (2Cor. 1: 9) Self-reliance is one of the most difficult things to overcome. In order to overcome this, God has to put us in circumstances over which we have no control. Now I have reviewed all of this, so we would realize if anyone knew what it was to be homeless, hungry, and in dire circumstances which would cause any of us to lose heart and thus all hope, Paul certainly knew it from experience. So when Paul says I have learned the secret of contentment, the secret of not losing heart, I want to know how, don’t you? Of course we do. Paul uses the word, ‘therefore’ quite often. He uses this word to connect the reason for his action based on knowledge and experience. Therefore is a conjunctive adverb used to join phrases, the single word can be used in place of “for that reason.”
“Therefore, since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Paul is telling us because of God’s mercy we do not lose heart. Gina knows what it is to lose heart when she faced a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in May of 2015. She awoke early on this particular May morning and the Holy Spirit reminded her of these verses from Lamentations 3 she knew and had memorized. If you go back and read the verses leading up to these verses you will read the word of a very depressed, defeated, depleted man, named Jeremiah. He might as well have stood on the side of the road with a sign that read: Defeated, Depleted, Homeless, Hopeless, and Helpless. “I well remember them, (his afflictions) and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I called to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s mercies I am not consumed for His compassions fail not, they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” Paul is saying the same thing here.
In 2 Corinthians 4: 16, Paul tells us: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” After the fall in Genesis three, all of mankind and all of nature began to decline. By now we have all faced what it means to decline. The aging process means our bodies are wasting away outwardly. At our age, we don’t need to read what Paul says to believe this – we are reminded every morning when we wake up with a stiff back and look in our bathroom mirror each morning to discover less hair, another wrinkle, and an inward groan as we bend over to pick up the paper. In fact this reminds us of how all of creation groans about us. A fallen environment with its storms, floods, tornadoes, hail, droughts, and pollution. The news on television displays the impact of the fallen nature of man in his never- ending violence, destruction and immorality. All of this can certainly tempt us to say, what’s the use? Will this never cease? We tend to be overwhelmed and then personal problems, real and scary, can cause one to lose heart, to be depleted. Paul knows this. And more importantly so does our High Priest, the Lord Jesus. He remembers our frames are dust.
So we humans, since the fall are born with these finite bodies created from the dust of the ground by our Creator. They began a process of deterioration from birth. But from the time we were born again, we had come into the earthen vessels, these jars of clay the treasure of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit.
From that moment God equipped with the means to be renewed every morning. Our source? The treasure within us, the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus told us we could expect trouble in this world, from the fallen creation, and the fallen nature of man. Between these two fallen entities we are – Hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. God allows this to show the all -surpassing power is from Almighty God and not from us.
Our fallen, declining, outwardly wasting bodies feel the pressure, but the all-surpassing power within us keeps us from being crushed. Notice the ‘ but not’ – hard pressed on every side, we feel this pressure, just as Paul did, but like Paul,’ but not crushed’; perplexed, confused about our situation, but not in despair, that is not losing heart; persecuted from those who hate the Word of God , but not forsaken ; and struck down, but not destroyed. Greater is He who is in us, than the one who is in the world.
THE SECRET OF BEING RENEWED DAY-BY-DAY
The experience of not losing heart fades and must be renewed day by day. Discovering how to not lose heart is the discovery of a fountain of life, which can be endless source of hope, strength and joy each and every day. The Lord Jesus told us He is the bread of life. In the desert, the children of Israel were fed daily with manna from heaven. This daily bread only lasted that day. You could not gather enough for tomorrow, only for today. This is why Jesus told us-‘therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’ His mercies, his compassion are fresh every morning, great is His faithfulness. Just like the daily manna which arrived without fail fresh every morning for 40 years in the wilderness to feed his children. This is why Jesus taught us to ask our Father for our ‘daily bread.’ We must gather enough each morning for ourselves and our family. Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow there will be fresh supply for the Lord Jesus Himself is our bread of life. I never have to look anywhere else! Look to Jesus, look to the unseen, which is eternal, not the seen which is temporary.
My car has to have gas and the tank has to keep being refilled. My physical body and its metabolism require me to keep feeding it daily. And our spiritual bodies need to be fed as our spiritual metabolism can be depleted. Our days are filled with daily pressures, confusing events which perplex us, persecution from a world culture which despises us, and being struck by the daily collisions in a world which seems intent on crushing Christianity and Christians, like we were in the bumper cars at the fair. Now remember, God has promised He would never place more on you than you can bear. Jesus told us you Father knows you have need of things which includes – vacations, a time away from the pressure, a time of enjoying life, food, family, and rest.
As far as I can tell, the word, renew is used only one other time in Paul’s writing. In Colossians 3: 9, 10 we read: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
Our new inner self, our new man is always being renewed in knowledge. Knowledge alone without the Holy Spirit puffs up, but love builds up. Not losing heart is connected to not losing the truth. To engraft the word into our soul requires, we read it, study it, memorize it, meditate upon it and obey it. This is how we feed upon the daily bread which renews us. The Holy Spirit was able to help Gina recall those verses which she had memorized, meditated upon and even sung about so the treasure within these clay jars is the Holy Spirit who brings to mind everything Jesus causes us to remember. But we can only remember what we have repeatedly put into our minds. Renewed in knowledge. Jeremiah remembered, David remembered and we must remember and to remember we have to be renewed in knowledge of our position, our promises, our Provider. Faithful is He who called you who will also do it.
Remembering comes from reminding ourselves what we have stored in our minds through meditation of the word which can serve our hearts and keep them from losing hope. This is why the first thing each morning is to collect your daily bread to feed you mind so your heart will be reminded of the truth which sets us free.
What is the truth Paul is telling us to put in our minds in these passages? It is that our troubles are light and momentary. Now your first reaction is to say- this problem is not light and it is ongoing and has been for years. Paul certainly knows what it is to feel that way also. But he is reminding us of eternal truths. Our problems, our burdens send us running to Jesus, Our Great High Priest who says, ‘come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden (burdened) and I will give you rest.” Our Creator made our earthly bodies out of clay, so He, Our Potter, could shape them. He also made us jars or vessels for the purpose of filling them with Himself. And one of the reasons we come to Him is out of our weakness. Weighed down by our problems our sorrow, we might as well be standing on the roadside with a sign which says, I have lost all my hope. I am sick and tired of life. Jesus pulls up alongside us, and says come unto me and I will give you rest.
Notice what Jesus then tells us “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The yoke is where we learn how to trust the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.
Did Jesus tell us, you will never have trouble? Never get sick? Never be tired and hungry? Physically and spiritually? Know He told us He would help us carry the burden. How? By yoking our lives with His – so He become an ever- present help in the time of trouble.
Feel that ache in your shoulders, that tension headache, the fatigue which comes from sleepless nights of worry? You are trying to shoulder the problems that belong on His Shoulder. The government of your life will be on His shoulders. Spiritually Hungry? He is the bread of life, fresh every morning. He is the Living water. A fountain a spring which never runs dry.
Paul is not saying our light troubles are not troubling- but put in your mind this treasure- these troubles which are light and momentary are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory which eye has not seen which ears have not heard, nor entered into the hearts of men what is in store for us who love the Lord. Your afflictions are preparing, in fact are producing even now an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Momentary? Lord this problem has been for 15-20 years- what is that compared to 10,000 years, to a million years in which you will enjoy the outcome of these trying moments which also strengthen, purify, magnify and expand your faith today.
How do we do that? Paul says look not at the things seen, for they are temporary. Look at the things unseen, but promised, for they are eternal. Keep your eyes fixed on things above.
Paul is telling us to experience this heart-renewing power; we must fill our minds with these truths. We must put these glorious truths in our minds, so that as we focus our minds upon these truths, it opens the eyes of our hearts to the hope to which we are called. To the very God of all hope and comfort who provides us with rest, with comfort and hope.
Expect the unexpected. And expect it to come in the most inconvenient times. Jesus wants us to learn to live this way. Jesus teaches us how to live this way and not lose heart by placing us in situations where we realize our inability to meet the unexpected, inconvenient needs to drive us to Him. To His Yoke where we learn how to live. He wants us to learn He is faithful. His mercies and compassion are new and fresh every morning. Our Lord Jesus is eager to help us.
Paul tells us three truths about our troubles: they are light and momentary and are achieving for us an eternal glory. These troubles are light, because we come to the Lord Jesus and get under His yoke which is light and easy. Paul tells us they are momentary- they are limited in time. And they have a purpose- to achieve for us an eternal glory which outweighs them all. There is a time limit, a weight limit and an eternal purpose. Remember and remembering is what the Holy Spirit helps us do; God will never place more on you than you can bear. When you go through the flood, you will not be overwhelmed; and when you pass through the fire, you will not be burned.
Few things honor God more than our willingness to really trust Him to provide all our needs. It shows the world around us the ability to withstand the pressures of our afflictions, no matter how great they are can only be attributed to the all-surpassing power of God Almighty who indwells us, this Treasure in these clay jars.
All I have needed, thy hand had provided, Great is your Faithfulness!!
So we should be standing on the corners of our busy city with a sign which reads:
I have HOPE WHICH CAN FEED YOUR HUNGER AND AN ETERNAL HOME FOR THE HOMELESS.