Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Last week’s lesson from Second Corinthians continues this week. The entire 4th chapter is a neat package. Verses 17 and 18 provide a good conclusion, but the bookends that begin and close the thoughts are in verses 1 and 16. In the first, Paul wrote, “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” In verse 16, he repeats, “Therefore we do not lose heart.”
Paul had a physical ailment. We don’t know what it was, but it knocked him down on more than one occasion. It appears that it wasn’t “heart trouble.” In last week’s lesson, he wrote (as paraphrased by J.B. Phillips), “We may be knocked down, but never knocked out!” In addition to his ailment, we know that he also had something less than smooth sailing in his travels. He encountered more disaster than the average. In verse 17 Paul sums up the physical side of life as “light and momentary troubles.”
In Chapter 11 of this same letter, Paul lists these: imprisonments, severe floggings, the infamous 39 stripes on five occasions, beaten with rods on three others, one stoning, three shipwrecks (including a day and a night in the open sea), in danger from rivers, bandits, his own countrymen, the Gentiles, the wilderness and false brethren, the hardships of sleepless nights, bitter cold, hunger to the point of starvation, thirst and the daily pressure of concern for all the churches. These are the light and momentary troubles that cannot compare to the eternal glory toward which he is heading!
It is no wonder he referred to himself as a clay pot containing the Gospel–the real treasure. His misfortunes give power to the words that conclude this week’s lesson: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Paul was no loser and no loser of heart! He had a perspective on his work and his life that influenced everything else.
My father has a saying to fit every situation. When things are not going well, he will announce, “This, too, shall pass.” When a thunderstorm is getting scary, he will say, “I think the thunder is getting farther away,” or “Tomorrow will be ‘fair and warmer.'” But his is not a blind or subjective optimism. Like Paul, Pappy believes that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Paul was no fool (except a fool for Christ). He saw the present and dealt with it, but it was not his primary focus: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.”
Paul’s faith in God’s undying grace, revealed unquestionably in a dying Jesus, was what gave him his confidence in the middle of turmoil. Long before it was popular, he gave the Corinthians a little workshop on handling stress. But his goal was not to prevent physical heart trouble, but to help prevent loss of heart what would hinder the spread of the Gospel and fulfilling of Christ’s mission.
This lesson lends itself well to an illustration for a children’s sermon. The visual aid was not available in Paul’s day–it is a sandwich cookie. No matter how dark things may appear on the outside of life, faith gives the Christian a Christ-filled center. It brings light and life, the joy of salvation, the earthshaking mercy and delicious grace of God to bear on everything else. The darkness is temporary; the light is eternal.
The “best of times” and “worst of times” in Paul’s life began when he came to faith in Christ. That should be no surprise. Jesus’ troubles began the day He was born–with no room at the inn and Herod trying to kill Him. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus’ family wants to hide Him from the public because they think He has gone off His rocker. The Scribes think He is possessed by Beelzebub!
Their reactions make sense when we realize that, according to their standards, Jesus had rejected everything holy–family and religious tradition. It is no wonder they thought He was evil personified. In reality, He was quite the opposite–God in the flesh!
Many people try everything to avoid heart disease. They shun smoking and smokers; they exercise, count fat grams, avoid cholesterol and triglycerides, ease stress and take vitamins and one aspirin every day. We in God’s mission are concerned that many have heart trouble of a far more serious nature and it will be the death of them forever. They clamor to the latest fad in doctors but do not know the Great Physician. They are obsessed with the things that are seen and temporal, but have lost the things eternal–the Christ-filled center–the best and most delicious part.