Learning to Minister throuth the Tough Times
Learning to Minister through the Tough Times
II Corinthians 1.1-11
A cowboy on the western frontier came across an Indian lying flat with his ear to the ground. The Indian said, “Wagon, four horses, two passengers, woman wearing calico gown, heavy man driving, thirty minutes away.”
“That’s amazing!” the cowboy said. “And you can tell all that just by putting your ear to the ground?”
“No!” replied the aggravated Indian. “Him run over me half hour ago.”
Have you ever felt like that Indian? Maybe people have deliberately run over you. Or maybe your circumstances have flattened you. And just when you need encouragement, people seem oblivious to your hurt, or they misinterpret your actions and ask, “Why are you so down in the dumps?”
The Corinthian church was a troubled church full of hurting people. In his first letter to them, Paul had to confront all kinds of problems—everything from division to immorality among their members. Unfortunately, after they received his first letter, matters grew worse, and Paul had to make what he called “a painful visit” to confront the troublemakers. Still the problems were not resolved, so Paul sent Titus to Corinth to help them get things straightened out. Finally, after several months, Paul received word from Titus that the church was improving. Paul then wrote what we call 2 Corinthians to express his appreciation for their improvement and to encourage the church to remain faithful. He emphasized the special resources available to Christians who are hurting.
At one time or another everyone needs encouragement. That is a key word in this letter. Sometimes translated comfort, the word is used 29 times in this letter. Paul was able to write a letter of encouragement because Jesus Christ had transformed their lives and his attitude. If we are going to make this house a home we will have to learn to minister through the tough times.
1. Hardships are part of every life
a. The two greatest human needs met by God are forgiveness and comfort. Everyone is a sinner and needs God’s grace; everyone is a sufferer and needs God’s peace.
i. Suffering is a normal part of every life, just as sin is. “The sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives” (2 Corinthians 1.5).
ii. Jesus said that in the world we are going to have trouble just as he had trouble.
b. Our culture today is trying to convince us that we should never have to hurt.
i. Some parents try to solve every problem for their children. “I don’t want my kids to have it as rough as I did.” “I don’t wan my kids to hurt.” So children’ don’t learn the pain of discipline, the unpleasantness of hard work, or the disappointment of denial. They grow up thinking that all of life should be fun.
ii. People in our society abuse a variety of substances trying to escape suffering and find the ultimate pleasure.
iii. There are some who even what to teach us that that is what the Bible says. They say that if we really trust Jesus we will never suffer and we will always be happy.
c. But the truth is that the Bible teaches us from the very beginning that suffering is a natural part of a life lived in a sinful world.
i. Just after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children” (Genesis 3.16).
1. I remember vividly working in OB & Delivery when I was in paramedic training and after about 15 hours of labor a young woman delivered a 10lb baby! Her husband was so excited when he brought the baby around for her to see. He was so proud. She looked up and said two words, “NEVER AGAIN!”
2. Every one of us is here today because a woman suffered to bring us into the world.
ii. The man was supposed to suffer, too.
1. God told Adam that, because he had eaten of the tree, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through the painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” Genesis 3.17-19).
2. Every time we sit down and eat a meal, we’re eating because somebody suffered to provide that food.
d. Paul used two examples to illustrate that no one is exempt from suffering.
1. God had one son without sin, but He had no sons without suffering.
e. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5.7).
2. Hardships provide an opportunity to receive God’s comfort
a. We are so egotistical we think we can be self-reliant. We think if we just make enough money, buy enough insurance, and have enough savings, every future contingency will be covered and we won’t have to depend on God.
i. The whole philosophy of humanism is simply that people can rely on themselves.
ii. But Paul said, “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1.9).
iii. God occasionally allows hardships in life to remind us that, in Jesus’ words, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).
b. Not all troubles are God’s discipline of His people. Many troubles that come in life are just the natural consequences of living in a sinful world.
i. Some people contract AIDS because they disobey God’s commandments, but other people get AIDS from having a blood transfusion. They haven’t been disobedient; they just live in a contaminated world.
c. We shouldn’t interpret every hardship that comes along as God’s disciplining us, but God can use any hardship as a means of developing maturity in us.
i. As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? 8 If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. 9 Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever?10 For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. 11 No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way (Hebrews 12:7-11 NLT).
d. When suffering comes it is important that we turn to God and not run from Him. It is crucial that we rely on God and not resent Him.
e. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46.10).
3. Hardships equip us to comfort others
a. God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received” (2 Corinthians 1.4).
i. Until you have experienced hurt in a similar way, you really don’t sympathize with hurting people the way you do afterwards.
ii. The truth is that when you are in the hospital facing heart by-pass surgery, someone who has had heart by-pass surgery will probably bring more comfort than your preacher. (Depression, caesarian section, etc.)
b. When you go through hurt, God enables you to identify with somebody else who had a similar experience.
i. This is the whole theory behind support groups.
ii. God allows all of us to suffer so that we are able to comfort others who go through similar experience.
c. Paul gave praise to “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1.3).
i. I think there is a different between compassion and comfort. Compassion has to do with understanding; comfort has to do with sharing. You can be sympathetic but not be of any help. Comfort puts compassion into action.
ii. ILLUSTRATE: A little girl took first aid training. Several weeks later, she burst into the house all excited and said, “Mother, I saw a terrible accident and I used my first aid training.” “What did you do?” the mother asked. “I saw all that blood and I sat down on the curb and put my head between my legs so I wouldn’t pass out!” She answered.
d. The training that God has giving us is not for ourselves, but to identify with the problems of others and to assist. The word comfort means “to call alongside.” The comforter listens, encourages, shares.
i. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless (James 2:15-17 NLT).
ii. Compassion, if it is not accompanied by comfort, is dead, too. The comforter comes alongside. The comforter takes initiative to make a phone call or a contact or write a note or make a visit or to give the sufferer a tap on the shoulder saying, “I’ve been there. I can help. I care about you.”
iii. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:7 NLT).
e. If you are experiencing a deep hurt and you don’t understand it, there’s going to be a day in the future when God will use that hurt to comfort somebody else if you will be alert to it.
4. Hardships enable us to testify of our faith
a. Any kind of hardship you go through puts the spotlight on your faith. The world is watching to see whether you are consistent, and they especially notice how you react when you are in trouble.
i. Stephen Brown suggests that, for every pagan who undergoes cancer, there’s a Christian who goes through cancer so the world can tell the difference. For every pagan who goes through bankruptcy, there’s a Christian who goes through bankruptcy so the world can tell the difference.
ii. That’s the reason Paul said, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation.” Since Paul was faithful, a lot of people were able to be saved, “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us” (2 Corinthians 1.11).
iii. Peter said it this way, 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV).
b. ILLUSTRATE: A construction worker climbed up on the superstructure of a tall building under construction and started doing some welding at night. It was damp and he slipped. He caught himself by his fingertips on a ledge. He tried everything he had to pull himself up, but he didn’t have the strength to do it. He just hung there screaming for somebody to help, but the traffic noise was too great and nobody heard. His arms ached and his fingers become numb. Finally, he couldn’t hold on any longer, and he let go, expecting to fall to his death—not knowing that just a foot below him, unseen in the darkness, was a platform. Instead of falling to his death, he landed safely on the platform.
c. Maybe you’ve been hanging on for dear life. Maybe you’re going through a hurt you’ve been desperately trying to pull yourself up and resolve the situation on your own. Or you’ve cried out to other people, and they can’t help you either. Maybe it’s time to release yourself to the Lord and trust Him what He will provide.
d. That comfort is available to you. It’s the promise of Jesus, who promised not to leave His disciples alone, but to send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with them (John 16.7).
e. When you surrender to Jesus Christ, the Comforter comes to pick you up when you fall, to soothe you when you’re hurt, to strengthen you through your suffering. God wants to call you alongside himself, but you have to humble yourself and not rely on your own strength.
f. You have to rely on God and turn it over to Him, believing that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8.28).
Through it all