Sunday, February 3, 2013

Know Pain; Know Gain (2 Corinthians 1:1-10)

“No Pain, No Gain” is a great slogan when it comes to sports. If you have ever played or trained, you know there is truth in this. You can’t relax your way to greatness. If you learn to see the pain as something that is forming you into an athlete, the pain can be a motivation. It's a sign you are pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, maybe even beyond what you think you can do. It hurts, but you are new and better on the other side of it.

I recently read a poster that said, “Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.”

Physically, you won’t be transformed without commitment and sacrifice. It’s a principle embedded into the fabric of the world. No pain, no gain.  It will always cost you something to reach your goal.

The Apostle Paul begins 2 Corinthians this way:

“This letter comes to you from Paul, God’s messenger for Jesus Christ by the will of God, and from brother Timothy, and is addressed to the church of God in Corinth and all Christians throughout Achaia. May grace and peace come to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort when we think there is no escape from our trials, so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs.

Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of redemptive suffering that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end – we had been sentenced to die. Yet we believe now that we had this experience so that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:1-10)
“Trials” that bring pain here are not the death of a loved one, or a broken marriage, or poverty, or abuse. The Bible has something to say about all those things, but that’s not the focus here. Paul is referring specifically to the hardship that comes from being a follower of Christ.

If we are serving Christ, we will encounter hardships. Jesus taught his disciples that all who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him (Mark 8:34). There is a transformation that takes place when we commit to Christ, but there is another ongoing transformation that takes place as we commit ourselves to the hard work of following Christ.

We typically associate this with physical persecution like many Christians around the world are experiencing. Probably none of us here have experienced that.  In America, I think the primary way we experience trials is when we create them ourselves by engaging in purposeful sacrifice. 

I found a great motivational poster online making its way around Crossfit circles:
 “It will hurt. It will take time. It will require dedication. It will require willpower. You will need to make healthy decisions. It requires sacrifice. You will need to push your body to the max. There will be temptation. But, I promise you, when you reach your goal, it’s worth it.”
So why does Paul think we should embrace trials? What is the goal? What’s on the other side of sacrifice for the sake of Christ that makes the commitment worthwhile?

Paul was in situations where without God, he would fail. He was in over his head. There was no way that on his own he would be able to make it. But God was present. “He gives us comfort even when we think there is no escape…and we learn to trust not in ourselves, but in the God who can raise us from the dead.”  That’s the pay off on the others side of sacrifice. 

I was watching a movie recently where one of the main characters kept saying, “I got it under control.” He didn’t, of course, and his life fell apart, but he was convinced he had it under control.

We will not experience the Christ who can raise us from the dead if we think we have it all under control. For that matter, I’m not sure we will experience the comfort and encouragement of Christ if we carefully plan our lives so that we put ourselves in positions of control time after time. If we are not careful, we alter scripture a bit: “All things work together for good for those who control everything around them – those who are never uncomfortable.”

There are redemptive trials during which we purposefully and willingly commit to dangerous, destabilizing discipleship so that God’s power can be seen, and so we can experience His strength and His presence in ways we have not before.

We have to give God more than we think we can. 

Because we love Jesus and want to be more like him, we take up our cross and follow Him to his. We sacrifice. Here is where we see the power of a resurrected Christ at work in us.  I sometimes hear Christians say, “Why don’t I experience God more?” There may be a number of reasons, but consider this one:  We don’t want him enough yet.

We want comfort without being uncomfortable.
We want encouragement without being discouraged. 
We want the glory without the cross.

If we want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, we must share in the fellowship of his suffering. It will force us to put our trust where it belongs.

1 comment:

  1. If we want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, we must share in the fellowship of his suffering. It will force us to put our trust where it belongs.