Summary of the Text
Besieged from All Angles: The context of this passage is best summed up with the words recorded throughout the letter: Trouble, Distress, Suffering, Hardship, Death at work, Jars of Clay, Affliction. Paul writes this letter because he feels besieged from many angles; from his past history with the Corinthians (6:11-13), from misunderstood intentions (1:15-17), to personal attacks questioning his apostleship (11:1-6), to his own physical persecution (4:8-10). Paul’s life has been, is, and will be under attack, YET he will not give up, will not be overwhelmed, will not lose heart. In fact, Paul says that out of his weakness God will be glorified; for God alone provides the daily renewal all believers require.
This letter is replete with examples of suffering: 1:3-7, 1:12-17, 2:1-4, 2:5-8, 4:7-12,
5:1-4, 6:4-10, 11:4-6, 11:23-33. Paul does not shy away from using his own personal experiences of adversity to shame his accusers and to vindicate his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
I Believe, Therefore I Speak: In verses 4:13-15 Paul states that he believes, therefore he speaks. He believes because he had personally encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-18); he believes because he has experienced the life-saving protection of Christ through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.
4:7-12); he believes because he knows Christ was raised from the dead (4:14). Out of Paul’s speech many now know of God’s grace, benefiting the Corinthians as they give thanks to the Lord, which overflows to God’s glory.
Negative Becomes Positive: Then comes the meat of this passage in v. 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart but are renewed daily.” How does the negative (losing heart) lead to the positive (being renewed)?
How does the negative (momentary afflictions) lead to the ultimate positive (eternal personal glory)? The answer is that our eyes become fixed on the unseen, Christ, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). The end result is pictured in 5:1, the earthly becomes heavenly, the temporal becomes eternal, the tent becomes a building, our human weaknesses lead to God’s glory.
Ideas to be Explored
Belief leads to expression (v. 13)
In Psalm 116 the psalmist says, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy (v. 1) . . . You have delivered my soul from death (v. 13) . . . I will lift up my cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord, I will fulfill my vows in the presence of his people.” (v. 18)
Grace leads to thanksgiving (v.15)
The words “grace” and “thanksgiving” come from the same root. Explore this relationship. Which comes first? Which must be expressed?
Glory that overflows (v. 15)
The Westminster catechism says the chief end of man is to glorify God. How is this accomplished given human weakness and frailty and God’s mercy and grace?
Wasting away versus being renewed
Negative vs. Positive
Temporary vs. Eternal
World vs. Kingdom of God
Seen vs. Unseen
Physical vs. Spiritual
Body vs. Soul
Tent vs. Building
Renewing of the heart comes from a renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:9-10). See John Piper’s sermon “The Glory of God in the Sight of Eternity,” July 20, 2013.
Contemporary Angle for Preaching
Without wanting to sound blasphemous, crude, or shocking I think it is safe to say, in the vernacular, this last year, March 2020-May 2021, has been one Hell-of-a Year. The world
has been turned up-side down, and the Church along with her. Populations, countries, governments, institutions, churches, schools, families, individuals have ALL been greatly affected by the Covid pandemic. Almost nothing of human creation has been untouched.
All of the words expressed, in the summary, are descriptive of our collective lives, along with the emotions they represent. Seldom, in our lifetime, has the hope of scripture been more necessary and relevant to the lives of people whom the Church is called to love and care for.
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
So with us. ‘We know not what we shall be’; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutter, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
It is the present life which is the diminution, the symbol, the etiolated, the (as it were) ‘vegetarian’ substitute. If flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, that is not because they are too solid, too gross, too distinct, too ‘illustrious with being.’ They are too flimsy, too transitory, too phantasmal.”
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Navy Seals, who survive the harshest training known in the military, of whom only 6-8 percent actually graduate, have amazing stories of mental and emotional adjustments needed to overcome their brutal training. Those who endure the rigors required to qualify as a Navy Seal have one thing in common with those who suffer the challenges of faith–a greater story than their current circumstances; an overarching-pain-defying story that makes sense of temporal challenges (see story below).
Surviving Navy Seals Training
And as difficult as most of their training is, nothing can compare to BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition Seal Training. If it sounds intense, it’s actually worse. During BUDS, you have to survive “one-hundred-ten hours without sleep.” You have to carry a log over your head for hours. Countless swims, endless runs, jumping out of planes, and then there’s perhaps the hardest part of all, called “pool comp.”
In “pool comp” you are put underwater with all your scuba gear on, the instructor yanks your regulator out of your mouth, he ties your air hose in knots, he mocks you constantly as you struggle for air. What your mind is naturally telling you at this point is simple: You are going to die, but if you want to pass “pool comp,” you have to calmly follow all protocol to pass.
It’s not hard to see why there’s a 94 percent attrition rate. Now the question is, why do some pass, while most fail? This is the exact same question the Navy wanted to find out, because after 9/11 they were in desperate need for more Seals, but didn’t want to water down the quality either by simply changing their standards. So they began studying the data. And the results were quite surprising. The Navy didn’t need more macho guys or strong guys, they often were the first to ring the bell and give up. Nope, but they could use more used Car Salesman.
Why? Because Used Car Salesman have learned how to survive the seemingly never-ending amount of rejection they receive by changing their self-talk. That is, by changing the stories inside their heads.
The truth is, we aren’t like computers, going from place to place with mathematical computations inside our heads to make each decision. No, we are story-tellers. We tell stories because stories are how we make sense of the world around us. Scientists know this, Jesus knows this, and now even the Navy knows just how important stories are for our lives.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing. This is the finest story of the triumph of the human spirit over impossible odds in the modern era. An Antarctic Expedition becomes entrapped in the frozen waters of the Ross Sea, for almost two years the crew fights for survival and rescue. Few people have endured such hardship and struggles. Comparing this magnificent true tale to Paul’s true tale would be a fascinating study.
Several agricultural illustrations of various plants, like oranges and vineyards, which have been trained to survive in extremely harsh conditions. In all, the roots must go deep (the unseen) in order to tap into the water and nutrients that will produce a good crop.
Comment: Though followers of Jesus may find themselves “outwardly wasting away” in their own version of “pool comp,” job losses, difficult diagnoses, harsh criticism, and even suffering for belief, they tell themselves another story. Like the salesman constantly facing rejection, they remind themselves that their, “light and momentary troubles are achieving for [them] an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 138
Leader: We will praise you, Lord, with all our hearts;
People: When we called, you answered us; you greatly emboldened us.
Leader: Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar.
People: Though we walk in the midst of troubles; you preserve our lives.
All: Let us worship the Lord, who saves us by the strength of his hand.
Prayer of Confession
Inspired by Psalm 130
Out of the depths, we cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear our voice. Let your ears be attentive to our cries for mercy. Living in frailty and weakness with adversity in our path, we too often buckle in despair. We doubt your goodness. We seek crutches of our own design aimed at comfort and relief, but which do nothing to heal or restore. In our pain, we deny the greater story that has been told and is being told by the resurrection of our Lord. Though our bodies waste away, we will live with the power of the Spirit at work within us. Forgive us for our faltering faith in these momentary and fleeting troubles and forgetting the greater story of your resurrection life. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Psalm 116:5 & Colossians 1:13 & 14
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In Christ we are forgiven!
The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. May the God of mercy, who forgives us all our sins, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.