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Not Feeling Like It

Date: Nov. 15, 2020

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Corinthians 6:3-13

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 6:3

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

Have you ever woken up one day and you didn’t feel like going to work or school? I don’t know about you, but during the pandemic, that sort of feeling has become even more common. Getting motivated to do something is highly dependent on our mood. Whether it is work or school or even if you should watch a movie, we depend so much on our feelings to get us started and keep us going. By doing so, we become completely controlled by our emotions. You can see it in kids, especially the youngest ones. If they get upset about something, it infects everything else in their lives. If they are not allowed to have candy right now, then they don’t want an apple or to go outside or to play a game or to help pick out a new pair of shoes. Nothing with satisfy them, because they are controlled by their emotions. I think that we all like that sometimes. We don’t compartmentalize our feelings. Our emotions from one event affect other aspects of our lives. If you are frustrated while in traffic, you are still grumpy when you get home. You don’t leave the frustration back where the traffic was. It is a very human concept that is in our very nature, but the problem is that, in Christ we are a new creation. Our old selves should be gone, and a new self should be here. That new self should love God and love others all the time, but honestly, that seems more like an ideal than anything else. When you get down to the nitty-gritty of life, doing something all the time seems exhausting, and, frankly, impossible. The author of this letter to the Corinthians knew what hard times meant. Paul went through so much, but still always loved the Corinthians even when they didn’t express the same to him. Let’s investigate how that is so.

Our passage, this week, starts out, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.” (3) It is an interesting thing to talk about, stumbling blocks. Back in chapter 1, Paul wrote that Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews. Does that mean that Paul is contradicting himself now? I don’t believe so. The gospel can be a stumbling block on its own, but here Paul states that he and his associates place no stumbling block in anyone’s path. What this means is that, even though the gospel message can be hard to grasp for those who don’t want to understand, Paul did not add anything to the message to make it even harder to comprehend. In fact, previously Paul stated that he was speaking plainly. As you might have experienced, there are many times where people hide the truth behinds complex and beguiling words. People like to use jargon to have a level of obscurity between what they know and what outsiders know. Just think of the technology realm. How many times have you been confused by the complexity of acronyms or technical terms? You’ve got your LCD’s, LED’s, OLED’s and quantum dots in TV’s alone. Now, those technical terms serve their purpose, but when you use that jargon on the average person, you as might as well be speaking ancient Egyptian. It is not any different in faith. You may have heard people talking about faith or God with strange terms. They might say things like, doxology, sanctification or epistemology. To the outsider, these terms are a barrier to coming to Christ, but Paul never used such highfalutin terms. He never let his words become a barrier to Christ, nor did he allow anything else. He did so, so that his ministry wouldn’t be discredited. Paul made it so much not about him and that much more about Christ that he removed all the barriers to Jesus. It’s like finding a way to make getting into your preferred school financially possible. When the barriers are lowered, the way is open.

Next, Paul continues, “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” (4) Now, the verse doesn’t stop there, but I didn’t want to go further until we talked about this part first. Now, Paul is not bragging about himself. He does not intend to praise himself, but he is showing that his open, undiscredited ministry is commendable or admirable. Paul is calling for the Corinthians to emulate his example. They are not to sit on the sidelines of ministry cheering on the team, but to be an active part of the game. Paul doesn’t want for them to say, “Wow, what a great ministry that Paul has,” but to see him as an example of how to serve God in all circumstances. Again, this is not because Paul is better than the Corinthians, but because Paul stands before God with a clear conscience on this and he is earnestly seeking God and seeking to please God. There were no major faults in his ministry. He had been faithful to his calling. Paul’s urging is repeated later on in this passage.

It is at this point where Paul begins to go through a long list of hardships. In the NIV Bible, this section is titled “Paul’s Hardships” and verses 4 through 10 are a list of…well…hardships. In fact, verses 4 through 10 are actually one sentence. I actually find it funny that there are only five sentences in the whole passage. At any rate, Paul said that his ministry is commendable, there were no faults, but in his details, he refers to hardships. He literally says, “in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses.” (4) Instead of touting his accomplishments, like so many braggarts do, Paul talks about his endurance during difficult times. As we have talked about numerous times previously, it is easier to be faithful to God during times of plenty. It is not difficult to follow God when everything seems to be going well. That is not very commendable, but keep going when the world is against you, shows incredible spirit. Everyone faces hard times at some point, how we react in those situations is important. We can pause and weep or we can continue on, trusting in God.

Paul is a wonderful example of this. As seen in this passage, Paul writes, “in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;” (5) Paul starts out with mentioning beatings. During his second missionary journey, Paul encountered a slave girl in Philippi who could predict the future because of an evil spirit. Her owners were using her to make money by telling fortunes. She kept following Paul and his friend Silas around Philippi for many days shouting how Paul was God’s servant. It happened so much that Paul was annoyed at the girl and cast out the spirit. Her owners realized that their money-making scheme was gone and became upset at Paul. The seized Paul and Silas and led them to the magistrates, accusing them of causing an uproar in the city and teaching customs that were unlawful for Romans. The magistrates had Paul and Silas flogged and thrown in prison. (Acts 16:16-23) For all the hardships, here, Paul did not waver in his mission. After being imprisoned, an earthquake opened all the doors in the jail, but Paul did not escape. The jailer thought everyone escaped and wanted to take his own life, but Paul called out that everyone was still in their cells and used the opportunity to bring the jailer and his family into the faith. He preached the gospel. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either; there were other times where Paul was imprisoned, too. Yet, his reaction always remained the same. He used it as an opportunity to share the gospel.

Paul mentions riots as well. These are probably the riots that were instigated because of Paul’s actions and teachings, like in the story above. There were many other times where a crowd was riled up because of Paul. Unbelieving Jews couldn’t contend with Paul’s proof that Jesus is the Messiah and they tried to kill Paul on a number of occasions, even right after Paul became a believer himself. The times were so bad that he had to be lowered in a basket outside the city walls in order to escape the plot to kill him at the city gates in Damascus. (Acts 9:23-25) There was also a time where a great number of people came to believe in Ephesus because of Paul, but a local silversmith was not pleased because his work as one who made idols for the locals was being threatened. He riled up all the followers if Artemis and they shouted for hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” The whole city was in an uproar and confused as what was going on. Paul wanted to address the crowd, but other disciples urged him not to go into the theater to talk to the crowd. (Acts 19:23-41)

Paul also talks about the hard work, sleepless nights and hunger he endured. There were a number of times, where Paul still had to work a side job while preaching the gospel. He was a tentmaker and may have had to work many nights in order to have enough money to buy food to eat. One of the times Paul was shipwrecked, there was a scramble to save the boat that happened day and night. Paul was in the open water unable to sleep. Because if he did, he would drown. There was also a number of times, where Paul was because of the circumstances while he was serving the Lord’s ministry. Yet, Paul did not become depressed or dejected. He was able to endure and continue on.

Paul continues on in verses 6 and 7, “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;”. Paul responded to these hardships with purity and understanding, with patience and kindness. Paul never sacrificed his morality during hard times but remained pure to the teachings of Christ. He never sacrificed the knowledge of Jesus for a morsel of food or peace. Paul did not respond with anger to the people trying to attack him, but with patience and kindness. His response is a far cry from how many people respond nowadays. Now people like to respond in kind, not kindness. There are a number of times where so-called believers are spewing hate, forsaking the virtues that Christ, himself, showed, but not Paul. He never gave in to those feelings.

He never gave in, not because of any strength of his own. We are not saying these things to raise up Paul and Paul is not doing that either. Paul was able to respond in such a way because it was done in the Holy Spirit and in the power of God. Paul’s response was done with sincere love and truthful speech. His responses were not about self-preservation, but he really wanted the people who were attacking him to come to believe. Paul saw them as a lost people, in need of salvation. He saw the situation from God’s perspective by relying on God’s Spirit and his power and not his own ability. All too often, we think that we have to do something for God by our own strength, but we just need to recognize our weakness and rely on God’s strength in order to serve him.

As we continue on in Paul’s discourse, we see more, “through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (8-10) There is a lot of contrasting statements in these verses. As a Christian, it shouldn’t matter whether we receive glory or dishonor, a bad report or a good report, we should serve the same, nonetheless. Everything that we do should point back to God. If glory is received, it should be directed back to God. If we are dishonored, we should know that God still honors us. We don’t have to look to the world for accolades. When the world looks at us, they should see God, when God looks at us, he should smile. If the world sees God in us, they will respond to us how they respond to God, and the world does not know God. We will be regarded as impostors and unknown, even though we are genuine.

Because of that, we will be treated poorly by so many people, like Paul was. He yearned to die to be with Christ but lived on to serve his ministry. He was beaten, stoned and left for dead, but he did not die. Paul never stopped rejoicing despite all the sorrow he saw. He encouraged others to live joyfully, no matter what the circumstances are. Paul was poor but made many rich by showing them the kingdom of heaven. He helped people to find riches in heaven. Paul, himself, had nothing in this world, but had everything in God’s kingdom. He had God’s perspective on his life and the lives of everyone he shared the gospel with. Despite all his hardships, Paul never forsook his mission. He was faithful to God and showed his love to those around him whether or not they shared the same love in return.

In the last few verses of this passage, Paul urges the Corinthians to open up to him. “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.” (11-13) Paul loved the Corinthians. He wanted them to succeed in life and in the new life. He saw them as his children and loved them accordingly. When you are a parent, you love your kids and tolerate so much from them. We don’t just love them when we feel like it. A few years ago, a stomach bug went through my family. It started with my daughter. She got sick and was throwing up everywhere. I remember having to get up and clean up vomit all over the hallway floor and walls, all the while battling the same disease, myself. I could have thrown up myself, but I couldn’t stop because I didn’t feel like it. I had to endure because of my love. It is the same way in ministry. We should have the same sort of love, because that is God’s love for us.

As we go through our everyday lives, we have to find opportunity to open our hearts to each other and to those who don’t believe. This has to happen no matter how we are doing. We can be in a good time or a bad time, but that shouldn’t stop us from loving others and sharing his love to others. Right now, is a tough time for a lot of people. The pandemic is raging now, worse than ever. We have been hitting record numbers day after day in this nation and in Illinois. We thought that we sort of had the disease under control. There was indoor dining again and capacities were starting to increase, but in the past couple weeks, everything is locking back down, again, and restrictions are increasing. People are dying and people are becoming depressed. Sorrow and uncertainty fill the air. As Christians, we haven’t had an in-person worship service since mid-March. We are not operating on all cylinders. Our lives of faith may feel dry, but it also gives us opportunity to show God’s love to others. We can encourage others by thinking about them. We can talk to them and let them know that we are still here, and we are still together, even though we need to be a part. Even the littlest of things can leave a big impact on someone. I am encouraged by my wife who has been providing food for some of the students. It is not a regular occurrence, but her heart for them to do just a little something is a reminder that we are here for them. They are not forgotten.

You don’t have to do something great to serve in God’s ministry. You just need to love. That love can open so many doors. We can’t let the worries of the world define how we live. If we do, then we are no different than the rest of the world. That type of life becomes a stumbling block for others. We like to think that stumbling blocks are hard barriers where we prevent others from coming to God, like the use of jargon I mentioned earlier, but stumbling blocks are more than that. We put up stumbling blocks when we don’t act according to Jesus’ example. There are so many televangelists and mega-church pastors that come off as slimy and greedy. They live opulent lives and look down on others. Their words creep you out and drive so many people away from Jesus. They are not good examples. Other stumbling blocks come from an inability to do anything. We are so distracted by our own situations that we don’t reach out and we don’t love. When we don’t do anything, we have now prevented many people from coming to Jesus. They see our lives as Christians and don’t think that it is any different, so why bother? That is a stumbling block.

When we do things only because we feel like it, we are no different than the rest of the world. We are a part of the old creation. We are dictated by our emotions. Now, emotions are important, but we don’t have to live according to that nature. When we are in the Holy Spirit and in the power of God, we can use that to do the good that we want to do in Christ. It doesn’t matter what our situation is, because in Christ, there is unfathomable strength that we can draw upon that can help us overcome ourselves. Look at Paul. He serves as a wonderful example of how to live this life. He went through so many hardships, but never lost faith or lost hope. He was faithful to his mission no matter what was happening to him. I find it very encouraging for myself. My mission is here, but sometimes I wonder if that mission is ending. I don’t think that it is, and I must remain true to that mission. I must have God’s love for others and desire to bring them to Jesus no matter what happens to me. God is with me and he is with you. As believers, it is up to us to make the gospel accessible to everybody and that even means sharing it even if we don’t feel like it.

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