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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Giving Thanks in the Midst of Trials

          In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, Paul told the readers and hearers that suffering is part of being a follower of Jesus. He also told them that they are the cause for Paul’s giving thanks because he considered them worthy to suffer trials as Jesus did. We, as the future readers of Paul’s letter, give thanks because all things we endure abound to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:15). Christians understand that Jesus can be seen in people during the times they go through trials if they are following near to God. Instead of being bitter, the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit is apparent and God is glorified when others see the Christian’s reaction to trials.  

Paul, in this letter, gives descriptions of what his apostolic ministry has been. One aspect of that ministry included suffering; however, Paul did not consider suffering to have been an awful thing. He spoke of trials as a way to show God in human weakness. Paul juxtaposed God’s strength against human strength, the former allowing us to endure this Christian life with triumph through God’s grace. Maybe, as thoughts have been expressed, God permits suffering to mold the life of Christ living within the believer. Our lives now on earth, with the Holy Spirit embodied in our bodies, show the life of Christ to others around us. 
In 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB), Paul compared “this treasure we have in earthen vessels” to the treasure Christ brought to us through the powerful, immortal Godhead. When Paul spoke of this earthen vessel, he also pointed to the immortal vessel of God’s grace, Jesus Christ. In this we can see and know the “surpassing greatness of the power” of God. When God shows His power through the indwelling of Christ in our weak human state, we deign not consider to claim that the ability to withstand trials comes from ourselves. We acknowledge that we are not strong enough to withstand the fiery arrows and darts of the evil one. Christ gives us the grace and power to endure the trials from the world. By ourselves, we have little power; with God, we each have His almighty power at our disposal because the life of Christ dwells within us. 

Verse 8 shows us a few trials Paul and other believers experienced. They were afflicted in many ways but their spirits were not crushed. This means simply that they experienced very hard and troubling times. Paul speaks of this twice in 2 Corinthians, here and in chapter 7 verse 5. Paul then stated they were not “crushed.” The trials did not crush their spirits. These believers’ spirits remained strong in Christ though tormented and beaten. They knew in whom they believed and His power to sustain them. These followers trusted in the knowledge that God is faithful to His children. They heard of God’s faithfulness through the stories that passed from generation to generation regarding how God protected and provided for His chosen people. Paul continued and said they were perplexed, but did not despair. They may have wondered why people could do these evil things to them, but they did not believe God would ever leave them. The followers of Jesus were without resources by their own internal and physical strength; yet, they were not entirely at a loss. They understood that when they were at a loss, God was never at a loss. He is all-powerful. He is the sustainer, protector, and victor for His children. They understood God’s chosen ones have been, are being, and will be tried, just as  His Son, Jesus, was tried. Jesus became a conqueror over everything the world threw at Him. He even conquered death. Why should they despair? They experienced nothing that Jesus did not experience.    

Verse 9 continues the list of trials. Paul said he was persecuted, but not forsaken. He was scourged, beaten, imprisoned, and put to death, but knew God had not forgotten him. Paul understood he would ultimately not lose the battle because Jesus had already beat Satan and his evil by His own death and resurrection. Paul talked about this reality in Romans 8:35 when he said, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Will tribulation or distress or persecution or famine, or nakedness or peril or sword?” (NASB). There is nothing, people or world disasters, that could separate Paul or us from God; God is an everlasting, all-powerful God. In verse 9, Paul continued writing saying he was struck down but not destroyed. He was knocked off his feet and lost his balance, but Jesus had paved the way and made sure his end would not be ultimate destruction. Jesus kept him standing strong in the faith. Remember in Hebrews 13:5b, the writer said we are not totally abandoned. The Hebrews write said, “He Himself said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (NASB). This is not a new idea created solely for New Testament believers as encouragement. This came from Yahweh’s mouth. You can read it in Deuteronomy 31:6 and 8 and in Joshua 1:5. These are the words God spoke to Israel which He promised to His chosen people before they crossed the Jordon River to take the land Yahweh had promised them. 

Nothing men or evil beings can do will separate Paul (or other believers) from the love of God. By being afflicted with trials, Paul said he carried in his body, through his wounds and injuries, the dying of Jesus so that Jesus' life was apparent through Paul’s body. Jesus said a servant is not greater than his master is, hence, because Jesus suffered, His followers can also expect to suffer. If we suffer as He did, Jesus promises us eternal life as He has eternal life in heaven. Romans 6:8 says, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with Him.” (NASB). “We are constantly being delivered to death for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:11, NASB). Paul trusted that his suffering and that of other believers served to make other believers strong as they withstood their own trials. It made the other believers strong mentally, knowing they were not the only ones standing for Jesus. It made them strong physically and spiritually because they trusted they would inherit eternal life because they followed the Master even to this extent. Jesus promised strength to get through the hard times and He promised eternal life. 

 Victorious living is more than this, though. It is more than just getting through the ordeal. Paul  spoke about being thankful during these trials and persecutions. Look at verse 15: “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (NASB). Why did Paul say that? Does it appear odd he wanted to be thankful at these hard times? Consider in Romans 5:3-5 when Paul wrote,  

“We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings perseverance and perseverance brings proven character and proven character brings hope and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (NASB).  

Paul is praising God, raising Him up, because he has been through trials. He is doing this for a couple of reasons. Paul followed in Christ’s path so closely that people considered him a threat as they had Jesus; they consider him a strong follower of Jesus. Paul considered that an honor. He praised God that he went through these things because it could make other believers stronger in the face of trials when they realized they were not alone. Paul considered suffering a joy because he knew the ultimate outcome; he trusted he would be with the Father and Son in heaven when his earthly life was finished. This is his hope. Finally, he praised God because these trials gave him the opportunity to grow in his faith as Romans 5:3-5 states and 2 Peter 1 says.  

Is it odd or wrong to consider difficult times as possible good things to occur? Not according to Paul. James agrees with Paul.  James says in James 1:2-4,  

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (NASB).   

Here is another point we must consider, which James brings out. We must let these tests and trials produce these Spiritual fruit in us. If we look at them as negative events which keep us from getting what we want, then we will not grow. We will not gain endurance or the fruits of living with Jesus, self-control, moral excellence, knowledge, godliness, brotherly kindness or love for others of which Peter speaks in 2 Peter 1. These attitudes are in the mind; our attitudes are learned. We must make them habits by acting purposely and intentionally in ways Jesus wants us to act . After a while, those “chores,” those intentional actions we made ourselves do, are no longer chores but acts of love in the name of Jesus because of our attitude change. These acts of love become habits; they provide a solid foundation. This progress, then, allows us to say with Paul in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (NASB). Even when in the midst of trials, we can pray with thanksgiving trusting God is working in and through that difficult time. 
We must choose for ourselves this day who we will follow, God, or ourselves. We can face trials and persecutions with joy knowing who is in control and who is more powerful with the hope of our final destination being with God in heaven. Or, we can butt up against the trial. We can scratch and kick at it but gain nothing except a bad temper and attitude, which does not allow people to see the life of Jesus. The choice is up to each of us to make. I have no doubt, though, that people would rather be joyful even in the midst of difficult times because, if nothing else, we are happier and more at ease knowing the problem may be out of our control, but nothing is out of God’s control. Suffering is a part of living. It appears even more so for Christians nowadays. We must make the mental decision to allow our suffering to show the glory of Jesus Christ within our lives. Will we allow God to show His strength and power through our lives as we go through trials and problems in life? Will we endure suffering with joy knowing God is shining through this circumstance? Or, will we become bitter and grumbly and only show our weak human self? We must decide this day who we will serve, Jesus or ourselves.