Text: 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 December 2, 2012.
1) Experience of a preacher: In 1775, British preacher Augustus Toplady was taking a walk in the countryside, when suddenly a huge storm poured down on him. Fortunately he saw a cleft in a rock formation nearby and took refuge in that shelter. When he got home, he wrote of his life threatening experience in the form of a beloved hymn: ¡°Rock of Ages¡± which brings assurance and comfort to countless people in their time of despair.
Experience of an apostle: In his second letter
WHY IS LIFE SO HARD?
1) This is a difficult world: ¡°To Adam God said: Because you listen to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you must not eat, cursed is the ground because of you; through 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 until you return to the ground.¡± (Genesis 3:17-19) The root of sin by Adam and Eve is their rebellion against God and his command. It happened to Adam and Eve in ancient time; it happens to us in the modern time. Sin has infested the world and therefore life is hard to all sinners.
2) This is the way God tests us: ¡°Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these 40 years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you will keep his commands.¡± (Deut. 8:2) As God tested the Israelis in the wilderness, He will test us in our lifetime with difficult life to see if we will continue to obey him or not. All of us will claim to obey God in good and easy life. It is in difficult time our true color will show.
3) The price we pay for our sins: ¡°Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, you will not despise.¡± (Psalm 51:9, 17) No one needs any interpretation to understand the pain King David had in his heart on the sin he committed against God. When we sin we don¡¯t just hurt God and others, we hurt ourselves. The result of sin creates pain and suffering for the sinner, as to David in this case. Sin never pays.
4) By the sin of the oppressor: ¡°Egyptians came to dread the Israeli and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor. In all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly.¡± (Exodus 1:13-14) Some of the cause that makes life so hard on us is because there are people who oppress others for their own selfish benefits. Dictators, cheating corporate CEOs, criminals, just to name a few. These and others bring suffering on others today like the Egyptians to the Israelis in the Bible.
WHAT HARD LIFE COULD DO TO US? (1 Kings 19:1-4)
1) We forget the power of God: ¡°Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stone and the soil and the water in the trench.¡± (18:38)The first time God sent fire from heaven was to destroy the evil in Sodom and Gomorah. (Genesis 19:23-28) But this time it was to demonstrate his power over that of the gods of Jezebel. How often do we have the privilege to witness the overwhelming power of God against evil? But Elijah totally forgot what God had done just one day ago. Isn¡¯t this is our problem too: when we face life threatening situation, we forget God, hi power and what he had done for us in the past and we become totally paralyzed like Elijah did.
2) We exaggerate the power of evil: ¡°So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say: May the gods deal with me be it ever severely if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.¡± (19:2) No one would doubt how ruthless Jezebel was and her evil spirit wanted to take the life of Elijah. But how could Elijah forget about the power of God demonstrated on top of Mt. Carmel just a day before? (18:20-40) Many of us are like Elijah, we exaggerate the power of evil over the power of God when we are in hard-pressed situation. Regardless of how bad our situation may be, do we believe that God can and will save us from harm? Nothing is too difficult for God.
3) We try too hard to save our life: ¡°Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.¡± (19:3)We didn¡¯t see Elijah was afraid of his life alone facing 450 false prophets of Jezebel¡¯s gods on Mt. Carmel. We didn¡¯t see him afraid of his life when he prayed for God to show the Israelis He is the real God. When Elijah had strong faith in God for God¡¯s glory, he wasn¡¯t afraid of his own life. Whenever we are so focus on our needs, be it safety, security, wellbeing or anything else we see all for our own sake, we lose sight of God in our situation and we become worrisome, fearful and dejected.
4) We feel worse by comparison: ¡°He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die: I had enough, Lord, he said. Take my life; I am not better than my ancestors.¡± (19:4) God is sovereign and He answers to no one. He has plans for each person and grants him with sufficient grace to accomplish His plans. Comparing ourselves to others, especially to those who are doing better, achieving more, always makes us feeling sorry, sad and despair. Is Elijah worse than all his ancestors? No. He is not. Why did he want to feel he ¡°must¡± be better than his ancestors? To be good and faithful is biblical, wanting to be better than all others is not.
KEEP US SAFE FROM CRUSHED: (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)
1) Recognize our true nature: ¡°But we have this treasure in jars of clay.¡± (4:7) Whatever you may interpret ¡°treasure¡±, it is clear we are the clay jars. With all the vivid description of what Paul and his fellow team had gone through, he realized how fragile with little value they are like clay jars to face the hard-pressed situation. This is a very important way to handle hard-pressed situation: If we are honest of our true nature as clay jars, we won¡¯t be feeling so bad when we are cracked, crushed and broken under hard pressure. We are never created invincible, both emotional, physical or spiritual. We won¡¯t stand any chance to resist pressure from the world with out sustaining severe injury or collapse. Don¡¯t feel bad if you feel fatigue.
2) Recognize the power of God: ¡°To show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.¡± (4:7b) ¡°All-surpassing¡± is from he hupe-bole, exceeding greatness, more than great. Power dunamis, dynamo, originated from God, not man, me ex hemon, out of or from human. No human being has the capacity of any power to stand the pressures of the world without being crushed into fragments except when the ¡°treasure, power¡± of God is in him. So, when you feel the pain, pressure and hopeless, you need to know there is a power of God in you, not your own, to hold you together without being crushed into pieces. Paul gives his personal testimony in Phil 4:13, ¡°I can do all thing through him who gives me strength (empowers me).¡±
3) Recognize the confident results: ¡°We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.¡± (4:8-9) In these 2 verses, we see the multiple problem come on the faithful servant of God. But that is not all. We also see the miraculous power of God at work in protecting and sustaining His faithful. As Jesus comforted his disciples in John 16:33, ¡°In this world, you have many troubles, but take heart, I have over-come the world.¡± This is the secret Christians have to live a life with confidence and peace: we have God and His power in us so we are not alone to face the troubles of the world.
4) Recognize God¡¯s purpose in this: ¡°We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.¡± (4:10) God had never allowed anything happened to us without a divine purpose. When God allowed all the troubles happened to Paul, He made Paul a death bearer of Christ: his self-sacrifice denial and obedience. And through this, Paul also bears the life of Jesus in his body, everyday life. That is the same the reason God works in us: through our self-denial and sacrifice in time of hardship and the way we react to the situation, people see the power of Christ in us. Few people can really demonstrate their Christian witness in smooth sailing. It is in those difficult times, we shine for Christ the best. How often you are impressed by stories of success and fall? We are mostly impressed by stories of victory through Christ in difficult times.
1) Are you in tight space? ¡°Hard pressed¡± is ¡°being squeezed from all sides¡± like squeezing olives to extract oil. Without the process of ¡°hard squeezing¡±, there won¡¯t be fragrant oil from the fruit of a tree. When we go through hard times, being pushed into a tight spot where we can¡¯t do anything to turn around. This is where we demonstrate the best of Christian qualities: a steadfast faith, endurance with no complaint, peace on the inside and hope for the future in the Lord. We also bear the glory of God¡¯s sustaining power in our desperate moments.
2) Do you have His power? ¡°All¡¯ ou¡± means ¡°but not¡± is the key to overcome the troubles of life. We may not escape from facing squeezing times, but we don¡¯t need to be panic or in despair. We have God and his ¡°treasure¡± in us, even though we are fragile jars of clay, his power is more than sufficient for our needs in hard pressed times and situation. When God allows us to be in tight spots, He always provides strength for us to go through it and come out victorious.