2 Corinthians 4: 8, 9
I’m been thinking lately about the fragility of life. In a deep sense, we are all born dying. We are born saying hello, and the rest of life is one long goodbye. The way we respond to the trials of life reveals a great deal about the strength of our Christian faith. If we deny our troubles, or if we give in to anger or bitterness, or if we blame others for our problems, we miss what God intends to teach us through what happens to us. It is a great advance spiritually to be able to say, “I believe God has allowed this difficulty for my good and his glory.” In 2 Corinthians 4: 8, 9 Paul makes 4 statements that describe how Christians respond to the trials of life. These 4 statements describe the true condition of believers in the world. They are always true, even though our experience of them varies. We are not always pressured, but we often are. We’re not always perplexed, but it happens more than we think. We do not always face opposition, but sometimes we do. Not every day are we struck down by the circumstances of life, but it does happen to all of us eventually. No one is exempt from these things.
1. Pressure Will Not Defeat Us
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed” (v. 8a). The word “pressed” was sometimes used for walking through a crowd where people surround you and literally press against you. Or we may think of grapes in a winepress. The pressures of life may squeeze us but we are not utterly crushed. Here are some ways this phrase has been translated or paraphrased: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed” (NLT). “We catch it from every direction but we don’t let them squeeze the life out of us” (CP). “Hard-pressed on every side, we are never hemmed in” (NEB).
2. Confusion Will Not Discourage Us
We are “perplexed, but not in despair” (v. 8b). Sometimes we just don’t know which way to go. Life has a way of throwing us a curve ball now and then. Sometimes we face circumstances that are so confusing that we honestly don’t know what we need or what we want or what would be best. Paul himself said in Romans 8:26 that sometimes we don’t know how to pray. There are moments when the pressure is so great and we are so tired and worn out and life has become so confusing that we honestly don’t know what to say to the Lord. Fatigue wears us all down eventually.
I have found in those moments that if all I can do is cry out, “O God, O Jesus. Have mercy, Lord, have mercy,” then that is enough. The Lord who knows all things can fill in the details. People sometimes ask for more information so they can “pray more intelligently.” I’m all for that, but it’s not like the Lord needs more information from us or that better information will somehow make our prayers “better” with the Lord.
When we are confused, Jesus is not confused. Sometimes we are puzzled and perplexed by life. Sometimes we are bewildered and unsure. That’s okay.
We are not driven to despair because life doesn’t depend on our knowledge of the big picture. When we are at our wit’s end, God is just getting started. Often he does his best work when we have given up completely.
3. Opposition Will Not Deter Us
We are “persecuted, but not abandoned” (v. 9a). The Greek word translated “persecuted” means “to pursue,” as a hunter pursues his game. The word conjures up movie scenes where the hero knows he’s being followed wherever he goes, but he can’t quite see his enemies. They’re out there, he knows they’re after him. When will they strike next?
Paul knew about this from personal experience. Everywhere he went his Jewish opponents followed him. They stayed on his trail, attacking his character, maligning his preaching, mocking his message, and stirring up opposition inside and outside the church. They never gave him a moment’s rest. NLT - “We are hunted down.”
“The door of opportunity swings on the hinge of opposition." Opportunity. Opposition.
They do go together, don’t they? 1 Corinthians 16: 9 - “A wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” If you set out to do anything good in this world, someone is bound to oppose you. And if you decide to devote yourself to the cause of Christ, you can expect that some people close to you will not appreciate your decision.
We are not abandoned by God. We are not deserted and left to stand alone. We are never abandoned to our fate. We are never left alone. Even when we are rejected, hated, mocked, ridiculed and vilified, the Lord Jesus is right there with us. As Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found out when they were thrown into the fiery furnace, the Lord Jesus himself went with them.
4. Hard Hits Will Not Destroy Us
We are “struck down, but not destroyed” (v. 9b). J. B. Phillips - “We may be knocked down, but we are never knocked out!” If you live long enough, you’ll be hit with a “sucker punch” sooner or later. The term “struck down” refers to the sudden emergency, the unforeseen incident, the late-night phone call, the crisis that seems to come out of nowhere, the catastrophe that overwhelms us, the earthquake of trouble that rocks our world.
Most of us feel like we can handle “moderate trouble.” We can handle a cranky boss or a sick child or a prickly neighbour. We know what to do when we have a fender bender or when the electricity goes off. We can scrimp for a few days when the money is tight, and we know when we’re sick enough that we need to see the doctor. We know where to find the umbrella when we see the dark clouds gathering.
As Mike Tyson famously remarked, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you live long enough, you’ll be punched in the mouth more than once. Sometimes you’ll see the blow coming. More often it seems to come out of nowhere.
It’s a big mistake to think that God promises to shield his children from the “slings and arrows.” What happens to others happens to us too. We get sick, our children get sick, we get retrenched, the recession takes away our savings, the chemo doesn’t always work and sometimes we end up in divorce court.
What then? More and more I am convinced that our best apologetic to the world is not some clever argument we make to prove that Jesus really rose from the dead. Clever arguments can only take you so far. Our friends will judge our Christianity mostly by how we respond when we take it on the chin. Tim Keller says we need a theology of suffering if we’re going to reach this generation. If Christians are truly the light of the world, when is the light most likely to be seen? In the bright sun of midday or in the darkness of the night? The answer is obvious. And it’s not as if we have to choose. We are the light of the world 24 hours a day. But our testimony given in the midst of hardship and sorrow will resonate more loudly because it comes at midnight.
Anyone can sing when the sun is shining. If you can still sing at midnight, the world will hear you in a different way.
Are we under pressure? Yes! Do we get confused sometimes? Yes! Do we face harsh criticism? Yes! Are we knocked down sometimes? Yes!
That’s life, that’s reality, that’s the truth for every follower of Jesus. If you thought anything different, you better go back to the recruiting office and have a chat with whoever signed you up because being a Christian doesn’t mean getting a free pass through life. Far from it.
“Taken together, these four images tell us that Paul was a hard-headed realist with no romantic illusions about his service for God. Far from depicting himself as a spiritual superhero blazing a trail of success like a comet across the first-century sky, Paul portrayed himself as a groggy fighter reeling from a succession of near-lethal blows, surprised to find himself still on his feet and sure that if he was still standing, it was only by the grace of God.”
What does this mean for us? We talk a lot today about the “victorious Christian life.” I’m all for that as long you understand victory the same way Paul did. Sometimes when I hear people talk about “victory,” it sounds like they want some sort of experience that will deliver them from the trials and struggles of life. They want to be lifted to a higher plane and a “higher life” that will preserve them from trouble. It doesn’t work that way. Life is hard. We face danger around every corner.
Paul’s view of “victory” means, “Yes, I face trouble every day, and sometimes I despair of my own life. I’m under pressure all the time. I get confused. People attack me. Sometimes I get knocked down by life. But that’s when the power of Christ shows up to help me. If I have victory, it is victory through trouble not victory apart from trouble.” That’s the message we need to hear today.
We don’t get to choose our troubles. It’s not as if we can say, “I’ll take some light tribulation but let’s hold off on the persecution, and if you don’t mind, I think I’ll skip the part about being knocked down.” But life isn’t a buffet where we can pick what happens to us. We take what God sends us. But by God’s grace though we are knocked down, we are not knocked out.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
So what can we expect as Christians who live in this world? We can say it’s a wonderful life. But it’s not an easy life. If you follow Jesus, you will face suffering, trouble, distress and perplexity. Sometimes you will feel backed into a corner. Sometimes you may think God has forgotten you. But if you hang on, you will see God’s power at work, and though you are broken by life, out of your brokenness will come the work of Christ himself.
Do you know him? Have you trusted him? He died on the cross and rose from the dead. Put your life in his hands and all will be well. Perhaps the Lord is using the hardships of life to draw you to him at this very moment. If so, then my advice is simple. Run to the cross!
Run to the cross and lay hold of Jesus Christ who loved you and gave himself for you. Trust him completely as your Lord and Saviour.
And for all who do know him, rest in this truth. Whether we live or whether we die, no matter what happens tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we need not be afraid. If we know Jesus, we’re in great shape today, tomorrow and forever. Amen.