2Co 01:3-7 | The God of All Comfort

2 Corinthians 1: 3-7

I. Suffering Teaches Us About God.  Verse 3.       1.  The Father of Mercies, lit. “the pityings.”      2.  The God of ALL Comfort.  The Father of Mercies indicates His feeling toward us, the God of all Comfort indicates His actions toward us.

II. Suffering is an Essential Part of the Christian Life.  Verses 4-6

III. Our Suffering is the Suffering of Christ.  Verse 5.  This gives a dignity to all affliction for the Christian.

IV. Our Suffering Never Outweighs God’s Comfort.  Verse 5

V. Our Suffering Enables Us to Comfort Others.  Verse 4.

 

©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2001

2Co 12:1-10 | Paul’s Visit to Heaven

Text: 2 Corinthians 12

Paul is speaking of himself in the third person…and he is giving his personal testimony of the time when he was caught up into the third heaven. He says it happened 14 years ago and as you count back and study the Book of Acts, it is probable that this took place on his first missionary journey and perhaps when he was stoned at Lystra and left for dead…maybe that’s when the Lord caught him up into the third heaven and gave him a glimpse of that…we don’t know that for certain.

But, in these opening verses we need to understand why Paul is including this. The first few verses, Paul is speaking about of his own personal experience of God catching him up and showing him a vision of what it meant to be in heaven with the Lord.

Read 1-10:

A third heaven and a thorn in the same chapter. My, how real that is to the Christian experience. Do we ever get to the place we think that heavenly experiences exempt us from all difficulties. It is true in the life of many of you here this morning that in the very same chapter of your life you have experienced a high spiritual exaltation and a low Satanic depression.

Did you know that heavenly experiences are dangerous? And those that are blessed of God and those among whom and in whose midst God moves, that there comes to those kinds of people a very special kind of danger. You’ll notice in verse 7 Paul mentions twice this statement, “unless I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh”…lest I should be exalted above measure…” Paul was frustrated like some of you have been at the turn of events…In one minute he’s caught into Paradise. Not a living soul has ever made that trip and come back except Jesus Christ. Paul said “I saw things…well, it’s not lawful for me to write about them…I saw things that you wouldn’t believe if I told you…I was caught up into Paradise…I don’t know if I was in the body or in the spirit…it doesn’t make any difference…I was there! And I saw the glories of that place and God gave me an abundance of revelations. But, he said, “after that a very frustrating thing happened to me…suddenly I was thrown into the valley of depression…I was thrown into the depths of despair…and I prayed three times for God to deliver me from this and He never did it.”

I think that’s a startling and frustrating response to a man’s prayer. I know that there are many of you here this morning who can identify with the Apostle Paul. You’ve been a little frustrated at some of the things that have happened to you because in one minute God has so marvelously blessed you and one minute God has lifted you up almost to the third heaven…you’ve made it to the second…and if you stood on your tiptoes you could almost have seen over to the third heaven….you never dreamed life could be so filled with joy…you never dreamed there could be so much ecstasy in just living everyday life…God has lifted you up to heavenly places and you’ve walked in that realm of glory and you’ve been praising the Lord and rejoicing…your heart just as light as air and all of a sudden, you fall flat on your face. Mountains of obstacles stand in your way. Depression comes upon you. Difficulty comes…sickness settles upon you. Infirmities, distresses, persecutions, and you can’t figure out what in the world’s going on. What’s happened? And you pray, “Lord, remove this thing…what’s going on? Lord, remove this thing..” And yet, God doesn’t answer in the way you want Him to answer.

You see, it’s not inconsistent as far as God is concerned for you to be lifted up to the third heaven one moment and to have a thorn a “messenger of Satan” in the next moment. And really the greatest revelation that Paul ever had in his life was not the revelation that he received when he was caught up to the third heaven…it was the revelation he received when he had the thorn in his flesh.

And I want you to know this morning the greatest revelation from God you will ever receive and the most profitable revelation you will ever receive from God will not be one that you would receive by being caught up into Paradise today and having your eyes exposed to all the glories of that place, but the most profitable and the greatest revelation you will ever receive is the revelation you can receive this morning from understanding the ministry of the thorns. Why in the world does God do it like.

As I was studying this passage I began to remember other incidents in the Bible and I found that this is God’s method of working. If you’ll go back and trace the great prophets and great heroes of the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, you’ll find the same thing is true. Even Jesus, after His baptism when the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon Him as a dove, and the voice from heaven cried out, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”…immediately after that, Jesus was plunged into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil…to fast and to pray for 40 days.

After Moses’ greatest spiritual experience came his most severe times of testing. It was after Elijah conquered the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel and witnesses the fire of God falling that we find him whimpering under a juniper tree, praying that he would die.

So, I want you to know this morning if some of you have come from mountaintop experiences into the valleys of depression…I want you to know you’re in good company. Don’t be surprised, and ask, “Well, why does God do it this way? Why after God gave Paul that marvelous vision and that abundant revelation did He allow Satan to buffet him with a thorn in the flesh.”

Here’s the reason He did it…God did it to keep Paul useable. God did it to keep Paul useable. God does it in your life to keep you useable. I said a moment ago…Heavenly experiences are dangerous. You know why? Because they have a tendency to make us spiritually proud and presumptious. Paul recognized he was in danger of becoming spiritually proud and presumptious because he said twice in that seventh verse, “Lest I should be exalted above measure…lest I should be puffed up and think that God had favored me above me other people…Now, I had it made and I could just coast the rest of my life on this marvelous experience. Because, you see, there is nothing that will so soon disqualify you for God using you and glorifying Himself than your spiritual pride and presumption.

God can only glorify Himself through us and God can only use us when we’re kept in the position of humility and abasement and weakness.

Now, I want us to do four things as we look at this passage of Scripture this morning…

Let’s establish this priniciple…
1) Verse 9: “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient
for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’”
(My strength is brought to completion in your weakness.

God says, “Paul, the reason I’m doing this…” and He says to you this morning, “Christian, the reason I allow these difficult things to come into your life is because your weakness is the stage on which I display My power and My strength.” You see, the condition for God displaying His power in our lives is not OUR strength and OUR ability…it is our WEAKNESS and our INABILITY.
Let’s read in 1 Corinthians 1:
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many
wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame
the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to
shame the things which are strong and the base things of the
world and the despised, God has chosen, the things which are
not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no flesh
should boast before God.”

Notice three times in these verses…God has deliberately chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and God has deliberately chosen the weak to shame the things which are strong, and God has deliberately chosen the base things of the world to nullify the things that are…that no flesh should boast before God…glory in His presence.

Three times Paul says that God doesn’t simply use what He can…God isn’t simply getting along the best way He can with what He can get…God has deliberately passed by the great, the noble, the strong, the wise…God has deliberately chosen the foolish, and the weak, and the base things of the world…Friend, God doesn’t use you in spite of your weakness, He uses you because of your weakness.

You say, “Well, I have so much ability.” Well, God can use that if you’ll give it up like Paul did in Phil. 3…”But what things were gain to me I counted as garbage.” I have a little pet peeve. The pet peeve is to hear somebody talk to a lost man like this, “Oh, you have so much ability, there is so much you could do for the Lord…if you’d just give your heart to Jesus there is just so much you could do for God.” That is the world’s greatest mistake. We talk about some Christians who are carnal and living lives of defeat and we say, “Oh, if they’d just get right with the Lord…what they couldn’t do for the Lord!” Listen, God deliberately chooses the things that are base and weak. God does not use you in spite of your weakness. I wish we could understand this. We think that God is just getting along the best way He can and God just has to make do with what He has.

Listen, Paul says that God deliberately chooses these things so that He can be glorified and exalted and the only way God can use you is when He can be glorified in you. God is not going to use this church if He cannot be glorified in the using of it. The only way God will be glorified in the using of our lives and our bodies is if we recognize our utter weakness and inability. So, God is constantly reminding us that we’re just dust and He lets these thorns in the flesh come to us to remind us that we are weak…to show us our weakness and inability.

You remember over in 2 Chronicles 26, King Uzziah was a man God had greatly blessed (Remember we’re establishing the principle that God’s strength is made perfect when we’re weak)…
“And in Jerusalem he made engines of war invented by skillful
men to be on the towers and on the corners, for the purpose of
shooting arrows and great stones. Hen his fame spread afar,
for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.”

Now, there is a modern success story…King Uzziah has gained power and he’s gained prosperity and he says, “Here’s what we’re going to do…when we have to fight battles now, we’ve got it made. I’ve had skillful men to invent engines and we’re going to set these on the towers and my name is spreading abroad all over the land…I’m becoming famous…”
“…he was marvelously helped until he was strong…”

King Uzziah was marvelously helped by God…how long?…as long as he was weak, but when he became strong there was no more help…
“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud (lifted
up) that he acted corruptly…”

Listen, you know what happens in the lives of a great many Christians who enter into the spiritual life and God begins to bless…your heart is lifted up to your own destruction and the principle by which God operates in our lives is to remind us that we’re dust and He’s constantly weakening us and drawing out of us our OWN strength so that He can be glorified in our lives.

When D. L. Moody first went to Britain years ago, one of the British reporters went to interview and watch D. L. Moody as he preached and conducted his services, because he was trying to find out the secret of this man’s success. Here’s what he wrote…
“Mr. Moody uses bad English, has a high pitched voice,
speaks with a nasal tone, is overweight and generally rough.
I can see nothing in Mr. Moody to account for the success
of his work.”

And when Moody read that, he said, “That’s the secret! There is no way to explain this work except for the power of God!”

Now, some of you have been praying, “Lord, use me.” Alright, the first thing God has to do if He’s going to use you is to weaken you and to abase you and to humble you.

Now, that’s the principle…let’s examine the process:

How does God do this? Paul says “lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh…” This is the process. God says, “I can only use you, I can only be glorified in your life when you’re weak. Now, here’s how I’m going to make you weak.” “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh.” That word “thorn” means a “wooden stake” that impales someone to a cross or to a tree. The verb form of that word means to crucify. And here’s the picture that Paul is painting…he says, “there was given to me a stake that nailed me to the wall and nailed me to the floor…” Now that’s about as helpless as you can get.

Paul says, “I besought the Lord three times to remove it.” Now, if anybody has their prayers answered, it ought to be the Apostle Paul. Man, I’d like to have him praying for me. Well, I want you to know this is a startling response…God didn’t remove that thorn in the flesh. Paul prayed three times…I bet that’s the first he ever had to pray three times for anything in his life, and he was frustrated just like some of you have been.

Some of you have said, “Oh Lord, I could serve you better if you’d change circumstances…Lord, if you would put me in a different position. If you would give me a different situation…What is the “thorn in the flesh” for you this morning? You know, I think it’s significant that Paul does not identify his “thorn in the flesh.” Some people say we know that Paul was married because he said he had a thorn in the flesh. Well, that’s just speculation. Paul doesn’t identify the thorn in the flesh. Why? Because what it was is not important. It may have been some physical disease or infirmity…it could have been anything. We know that it wasn’t spiritual or moral defeat because God would have removed that. But it was something that Paul looked upon as a handicap. He was given a thorn in the flesh…a physical handicap or obstacle. And Paul said, “Lord, I could serve you so much better if you’d just remove this and change this…” Is that the way you pray?

Women pray, “Lord, I could just serve you so much better if you’d just change my husband.” Men pray, “Lord, I could just serve you so much better if you’d just change my wife, or move me to another position or to another town, or if you’d just give me this or give me that, or just change this circumstance in my life…then, I could just serve you!!”

Is that the way you’ve been praying? I want you to just notice something. Here is Paul’s great revelation. He says, “There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, to buffet me.”

Well, you mean to tell me that a thing can be of the devil and of God at the same time? That’s right!! It was a messenger of Satan and yet a gift of grace at the same time!! I think that’s good. You know, God uses the devil. That must frustrate him something awful. The devil comes along and he says, “You know, I’ve got something that’s just going to wipe you out! You’ve been causing me no little trouble…” (You know, Paul was known in hell…those people over in Acts who tried to cast out the demons…the demons said, “Jesus, I know…and Paul, I know…but who are you?) Well, Paul was famous in hell…he was a constant thorn in the devil’s flesh and so, Satan said, “Paul, I’m just going to wipe you out…I’m going to destroy your effectiveness…I’m going to destroy your ministry…you just had this tremendous spiritual and you think you’re on top of it all…I’m going to show you what I can do.”

And Satan inflicted him with a thorn in the flesh. And God says, “Thank you, Satan…just what I wanted you to do…you played right into My hands…because I know Paul real well and Paul was beginning to get a little bit ‘holier than thou’ attitude. He was beginning to coast just a little bit. He was beginning to get lifted up just a little bit through all of these great experiences that he’s had and I want to thank you for playing right into my hands.”

Listen, if God couldn’t use the devil, He’d kill him. The only reason God allows the devil to do what he does is because God is using him.

Now, listen, what’s your thorn in the flesh this morning?
Is there some difficulty…not talking now about moral or spiritual difficulty. Those things always removes. It may be physical illness. It may be a job situation that you wish could be changed. It may be a thousand things…it’s your thorn in the flesh.

God allows Satan to buffet you. Why? So He can keep you useable.

Alright, let’s move on…

Let’s explore now the possibilities of this principle…
The principle is: God’s power is made perfect when I am weak.
The process is: God makes me weak by giving me thorns in the flesh…difficulties.
Now, the possibilities of this:

Verse 9: “Most gladly will I glory in my infirmities in order that the
power of Christ may rest upon me.”

There are two glorious possibilities once you realize the principle by which God words. First of all is:

I can have victory in the midst of my difficulties.

Paul says “Most gladly will I glory…” That word, “glory”, means to give a “shout of triumph.” Sometimes people want to know if shouting in church is Scriptural. It is…the word “glory” means to shout. Paul says, “I will give a shout of victory in my distresses.” Why? Because it changed his viewpoint of distresses. The revelation of God changed the way he looked at things that came into his life.

Now, listen. I want you to remember this…If there is a thorn in your flesh, if there is situation that seems to be unbearable, if there is a circumstance in your life that presents difficulty and distress and you pray and God won’t remove that…then the next thing you’re to do is to praise Him for it, because God is going to use that to glorify Himself in your life.

Now, the first thing Paul prayed (I think he did right)…He prayed. He wanted it to be removed, but after it was not removed, he realized then through the revelation of God that God is saying, “I want this to stay here because this is a ‘minister’ that I have given to you. I’m going to use this.” Now, you need to change your viewpoint of difficulties and distresses and obstacles in your Christian life. If God will not remove them, then you know that God is using them for His glory.

Now, I repeat…we’re not talking about spiritual and moral failure. You can never use sin as an excuse this way. It’s things that are not morally and spiritually wrong. But you begin to praise God for them…and when a Christian realizes the principle by which God operates in his life, he can look upon any distress and any persecution, any difficulty, any tragedy, and say, “I will give a shout of victory in this, because I know God is using this, and He wants to use it if I’ll allow Him to glorify Himself in my life.”

The second great possibility is:

Not only victory over distresses and difficulties, but the power of Christ is made available to us.

He says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
That word “rest” means “a tent spread over us”. It’s the only time it’s found in the New Testament. Paul says, “The power of Christ is like a tent spread over me and I live under the shelter of the power of Christ. And every day of my life, and every moment of my life I am sheltered by the power of Christ and the power of the risen Lord abides on me and is made available to me.”

But, I want you to notice the power of Christ dwells on him and abides on him only when he glories in his distresses. Did you notice that? It’s a chain reaction there. Some of you say, “Well, now Preacher, I’ve had difficulties, I’ve had distresses, I’ve had infirmities, but I haven’t seen the power of Christ in my life…I haven’t witnessed the power of Jesus glorifying in my life…” No, because you’ve not gloried in those infirmities…you’ve complained and griped and grown bitter. You know what will turn the trick? When you get Paul’s viewpoint, the heavenly viewpoint and you agree with God and you say, “God, I know that you’ve sent this now as Your gift of grace and I praise You for it and I glory in it, because I know it means You’re working in my life.”

Now, the last thing…Let’s enter into the provision.

What is that provision. Paul says, “Lord, take this thorn from my flesh.” God gave him a better answer. God said, “I’m not going to take the thorn from your flesh…I’m going to give you something better….My grace is sufficient for thee…My grace is sufficient for thee.”

The provision! He doesn’t say, “My grace will be sufficient.” He doesn’t say, “My grace can be sufficient.” He says, “My grace is sufficient, right now, present tense…My grace is sufficient.” I think that has to be the world’s greatest understatement. “MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEE,”

He could have said a lot of things. “My grace just completely overwhelms every problem.” No, He says, “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

You heard the story of the man who purchased a Rolls Royce. It’s the policy of the Rolls Royce corporation not to publish the amount of horse power of their engines. And this man paid all that money for the Rolls Royce and he felt like he had a right to know how many horsepower he had under that hood. Well, he kept asking them, and they kept sending him back letters “it is our policy not to disclose the amount of horsepower that we put in our engines.”

The man just got so angry about it and he kept on and kept on… he went to the head office and sent telegrams, he demanded to know and the people said, “We’ve just to give this fellow some kind of answer. He’s never going to let us alone.” So, the next time he wrote, demanding how much horsepower was in his Rolls Royce, he got back a telegram with one word on it: “ADEQUATE”

That’s what God says…Paul says, “Lord, You just don’t know the problems I’m going through. Lord, look at my situation. Lord look at this difficulty…Look at this infirmity…Lord, do something!” God says, “My grace is adequate…My grace is sufficient for thee.”

So Paul says, “Thank You, Lord…I know it is..I’ll take it by faith. Praise the Lord for difficulties. Praise the Lord for infirmities. Praise the Lord for thorns from the devil. His grace is sufficient for me.”

And, it’s sufficient for you, no matter what the situation is. That’s how God’s been working in your life.

This past week…these past months…this past year, some of you have been perplexed about the turn of events in your life. You’ve given Jesus everything you know to give Him. You’ve totally, without reservation, yielded it all to Him and not been able to understand it. Lest you be lifted up above measure, there was given to you a thorn the flesh, so you might walk, not in the power of your own strength or experiences, but knowing that His grace is sufficient for you.

© Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2005

2Co 05:9-11 | The Judgment Seat of Christ

2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 1 Corinthians 13:13-15

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:9-11,
9Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.  10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.  11Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.

In a book a few days ago I came across a statement that gripped me. The statement was this: Do you realize that we are only a heartbeat away from a fixed state of reward, be it joy or shame. The phrase that really got hold of me was that phrase a fixed state of reward. Just one heartbeat, just one breath away from what I will be throughout all eternity. More and more I began to think about this fixed state, realizing that where I take off in time, I take up in eternity. As a man lives, he dies; and as he dies, he lives again in that condition throughout all eternity—just a heartbeat away from a fixed state of reward. The thought that came to me is if this heart should take its last beat, and I come into that fixed state of reward, is it what I want it to be? Realizing that there is nothing that can change it after that, that all I am going to do to determine my life, my existence in eternity, must be done this side of that heartbeat, what would it be? Would it be of joy or of shame? Paul realized that this life is just a prep room for eternity—that everything we do in this life, everything we do in our bodies in some way or another determines our fate, our condition, on the other side of that heartbeat. As he writes to these Christians at Corinth, his mind is traveling to that judgment seat, and he recognizes that all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and there receive for what we have done, good or bad.

So Paul, in verse 9 says, wherefore we labor, we endeavor, that whether we live or die, we may be well pleasing to him because we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Here is what Paul is saying: the most important issue is not whether I live or die, but it is what my condition will be before the judgment seat of Christ. This issue is more important than the issue of life and death. Whether I live or whether I die is beside the point. That fades into insignificance in light of the judgment seat of Christ. Whether I live or die, I labor, I work, I make it my ambition, the aim of my life, that when I stand in his presence, I will be well pleasing to him.

He is not talking about that judgment where those who do not know Christ will stand. That is a different judgment when they will receive eternal punishment. He is talking about that judgment seat to which every believer will someday appear. The Christian is not going to be judged himself as to determine whether he is saved or lost. It is not a matter of salvation; it is a matter of stewardship. I thank God that Jesus said, he that believeth on me shall not come into condemnation but has passed from death unto life. Romans 8:1 says: He that is in Christ Jesus hath no condemnation. The one that condemns us is Jesus Christ who died for us and is right now interceding for us. The believer’s condemnation is past and done with. God judged me at Calvary, and I’ll stand in jeopardy of my salvation. I will never stand before God and receive salvation or loss of salvation. I’ll never come to that condemnation. I myself will never be judged, but my life, my works, what I have done as a Christian will be judged.

The Greek word he uses here for judgment seat is the word beama which comes from the athletic games they used to have in those days. The beama was where the judge sat and observed all the athletes as they participated in the games. When the games were over, the athletes stood before that beama, that judgment seat, and there they received their wreaths, their crowns, their trophies—or they did not receive them. There they received their reward, their prize, for running in the race. God uses this same word to say that every Christian as he lives his life is living it in the sight of that judge and when our life is finished, which may be only a heartbeat away, we will stand before that beama, that judgment seat and there Christ will reward us according to what we have done in our body, whether it be good or bad. That is going to be a day of revelation.

He says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. To appear doesn’t simply mean to put in an appearance or to make a showing. The Greek word means we will be led into the light. It means to be turned inside out, to be displayed as to our proved character.

So the judgment seat of Christ is a time of revelation. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:13-15:
13Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  14If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

Paul says that we will all be led into the light of Christ, of that judgment seat. Our lives will be examined in the light of God. We will appear, be made manifest (1 Cor. 3:13). Every façade, every mask, every hypocrisy, every pretense will be ripped from us. We will stand before the judgment seat of Christ turned inside out. It will be a time of revelation.

The light is bad down here. I often examine and judge my life in the light of your life. I see what you do, and what you fail to do, and I judge my life in the light of your life and think I’m all right, pretty good. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear someone say, well, nobody is perfect. We are always judging ourselves in the light of someone else’s life. The light is very bad. Some of us have an idea that we are pretty good Christians and that when we were saved 15 or 20 years ago, baptized and joined the church, that’s all there is to it. We come on Sunday. We may give an offering or tithe. We support the work of the Lord. That’s it—all that God asks of us. If somebody were to ask are you a faithful Christian? You’d say, sure, I go to church and I pay my tithe. There is so much more to it than that.

The day of judgment will be a day of revelation when we no longer judge and evaluate our lives by the preacher or this deacon or that Sunday school teacher, but now we evaluate our lives by the person of Jesus Christ. What a revelation that will be—to see what we really are. The truth of the matter is that none of us really knows what the other one is like.

One reason we get our feelings hurt so easily is because we think more highly of ourselves than we really are. We have a wrong idea of what we are. The Scripture I read a while ago in 1 Corinthians, chapter 3, says that He will try every man’s work, of what sort it is. Notice it doesn’t say of what size. Every man’s work shall be made manifest. The same word used there is shall be dragged into the light, and day shall reveal its true nature, everything I’ve done, everything you’ve done, in the name of Christ, or not in the name of Christ, shall be weighed in the balances. God is not trying to figure out how big it is, the quantity of what we’ve done, but the quality of what we’ve done. The important thing with God is the motive of the heart. You may come to church, tithe, teach a Sunday school class but if your life as a whole is not lived for the glory of God, then you are not ready for this appearance before the judgment seat of Christ.

In Matthew, chapter 6, Jesus is talking about the way a Christian is supposed to live. He says that some people when they do good deeds do them thinking about the praise they are going to receive from men. They want men to reward them. This is why if we do something in the church and nobody pats us on the back, we get a little bit hurt and upset about it. He says some people pray, and when they pray, they are thinking more about how good they are, and how much more they pray than someone else, than they are thinking about what God thinks of their prayer life. If you live for Christ—pray, go to church, teach Sunday school—and you are more conscious of the presence of the people than you are of the presence of God, verily you have your reward right now. You will not receive a reward from your Father in heaven because the Father who sees knows the motive of what you are doing.

The biggest problem I have in my Christian life is evaluating my motives—why I preach, why I teach, why I live for Christ. What a day of revelation it is going to be.

It is not only going to be a time of revelation, it is going to be a time of rewarding. Notice what Paul says: that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.  In the 1 Corinthians passage, he talks about receiving a reward. The purpose of it all is to reward us.

Notice that everybody is going to receive something. Sometimes I’ve heard it preached and taught that only those of us who are good and faithful to the Lord are going to receive anything. Verse 10 says that everybody is going to receive something. We must all appear above the judgment seat of Christ that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or whether it be bad. Everybody is going to receive something. Some of them will receive a booby prize, I suppose.

Notice what they are going to receive: the things done in their bodies. It is an interesting fact that the Bible teaches that every day I am building up a bank account in heaven. Do you have a savings account? I have a savings account. John B. Rockefeller has a savings account. The only difference between his savings account and mine is that I put pennies in mine, and he puts millions in his. Everything you do goes into that account. On the day of judgment God is going to give us the things done in our body. That is going to be a time of reunion when before the judgment seat of Christ I meet face-to-face everything that I have done for Christ as well as everything I have failed to do for Christ. Everybody is going to receive something, whether it be good or whether it be bad.

It is interesting to notice that the word bad doesn’t mean sinful or evil. It means worthless, trite, trivial. There are a lot of Christians who are separated from the world as far as getting drunk, taking dope, lying and stealing, and all those bad things. That’s not what he is talking about. He is saying that many of us are going to suffer loss at that judgment seat of Christ not because we have done those things that are not bad, evil, or sinful, but we have done those things that were worthless as far as God is concerned.

I wish I could get you to take a moment to review this past week. How many trivial things have you and I exhausted our time doing? Paul says that God has laid the foundation. That foundation is Jesus Christ. Now, you and I are to build a life on that foundation. What kind of materials are you going to use on building this foundation? He says some men use gold, silver, and precious stone for their foundation—building a life, a home, a tabernacle of their lives. This is good material; things that cost them something. They must sacrifice for it.

Over here this Christian has said you don’t want to get too fanatical about this business. You can go overboard. I’m saved, and that is the main thing. The foundation is laid. So he doesn’t want to sacrifice. He goes out to the junkyard and finds some wood, hay, and stubble—the most worthless junk. He says he will build his life with this. Then I can take all my gold, silver, and precious stone and spend it on what I want. I’ll take the prime time of my life, and I will use it the way I want to use it. I’ll take the bad times, the worthless things, and I’ll give the exhaust to Christ. I’ll burn all the fuel in my own life and give the exhaust to Christ—give him the leftovers. So there are many of us this morning who are building our lives with wood, hay, and stubble. Everybody has built something into your life this week. You’ve laid brick or you’ve laid precious stones.

The tragic thing is that so many of us today are building our lives with worthless junk. On that day God shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. It shall be tried by fire. Here is the figure that he is using. Here is a man who has built a house. The Lord comes up to see what kind of house he has built. Let’s just see how much this house meant to you—how much you were willing to sacrifice and put into this house. He sets a match to it, and the fire rages through the house. The only thing left standing was the well built part—the gold, silver, precious stone, steel girders are still there. The wood, hay, and stubble are all gone.

He says if a man’s work abides, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. The Greek is that he shall be saved through fire. It is a picture of man caught in his burning house. He runs through the fire, gets out, and says thank God I’m saved. He looks back, and everything he possessed, everything he owned, everything he had lived for goes up in smoke. He comes out with nothing. His salvation is reduced to a minimum. He is barely saved. That is the way some of us will stand in the presence of Christ. Thank God, I’m saved; I missed hell. But we will have the smell of smoke on our garments, look around and there is absolutely nothing that we brought with us. Everything we did in our lives has gone up in smoke.

Do you see why the Bible teaches that you ought to live with eternity in mind? The biggest fool in this building is that person who lives only for this present time, not recognizing, not acknowledging that he is only a heartbeat away from that fixed state.

It will be a time of revelation and reward, but it will also be a time of regret. Ye shall suffer loss. 1 John 2:28 says that some of us will be ashamed before him at his coming. We often talk about the second coming of the Lord as a thing of joy, and the Bible does call it the blessed hope. The Bible also has a great deal to say about being embarrassed and ashamed at his coming. Because we are not ready; we will suffer loss. We may have worked a lifetime to build up our holdings, our possessions, but we will be paupers before that judgment seat of Christ.
The reason is that God is judging our lives as a whole. This is very important. Many of us have the idea that God is going to reward us like prizes in a carnival. Have you ever gone to a carnival? All those booths—robbery row I call it because they are going to take your money. Knock the milk bottles off and win this teddy bear. Take the gun and shoot it, and throw the hoops around the bottles. I’ve played these games. I’ll miss a lot, but I’ll come out with something. I don’t go home empty-handed. I’ll have something to show for all that money I blew at that ridiculous side show.

A lot of us think the judgment seat will be like this. I remember one time I prayed. Maybe God will give me a little prize for that. I remember one time I invited my neighbor to church. Maybe God will give me a little prize for that. I remember one time in a revival that I got right with God for about a week. I visited, tithed, and read my Bible for about a week. Surely God will give me something for that. I know I won’t be on the front row, receiving all of that, but I will have something.

No, that’s not the way God works. He takes life as a whole, as a unit. He is not going to take little isolated incidents, little unexpected occasions of service, and reward each one of those. He will give us one reward for the things done in our body. If my life has not been lived in submission to him for his glory, I will suffer loss. But it makes no difference how many times I’ve failed, or how many times I have disappointed my Lord, if I have lived my life to the best of my ability in submission to him–yielded to him for his glory, I shall receive a reward. God is going to take your life as a whole and judge it.

You say, what is that reward? I don’t really know. I can tell you what I believe the reward is. Every time Jesus himself talked about that time of judgment, here was the reward that he himself offered: Well done, thou good and faithful servant. I want to tell you that I am just a heartbeat from his presence and away from that judgment seat. If I can stand in his presence and just have him look at my life and say well done, that is enough. The golden streets and mansions and gates of pearl won’t mean very much is you do not have the Master’s well done.
Listen, if Christ cannot pronounce well done upon your life right now, then he cannot pronounce well done upon your life at the judgment seat. As you leave this life, you enter that life in the same condition in a fixed state of reward. Right now God is judging you and me. What is the pronouncement he makes on your life? If he cannot look at your life and say well done, then he will not be able to say it at the judgment seat.

©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2008

2Co 02:12-17 | Chained To The Chariot

Text: 2 Corinthians 2

Has it ever bothered you that there seems to be a great discrepancy between what the Bible says believers are, and what we really are in our daily living? You read all of those great things in the New Testament about those of us who are in Christ. But when you turn to observe the lives of believers, you have to shake your head and say, “Well, I see the picture in the Bible of what you ought to be—but you don’t look a thing like your picture.”

Is this just a glamour photo that God has made, where we’re specially made over and made up so that we’re not presented as we really are? Or is it something else? For instance, here’s one picture the Bible gives of a believer. In Romans 8, Paul talks about all the terrible things that can happen to a person—all the fears and terrors that we face in life. He declares, “In all of these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37, emphasis added). That’s the only time the words “more than conquerors” appear in the New Testament.  It means we are supraconquerors. We not only conquer, but we conquer by an overwhelming margin. And this isn’t just a promise; this is a statement of fact. Paul said, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Simply because Christ loved us and we know Christ, we win by an overwhelming margin.

I suppose every Christian believes we’re going to win eventually. But they also think it’s going to be very close. They think the margin of victory will be narrow—that we’re barely going to squeak by. In the last three seconds, they surmise, the Christians are going to kick a field goal and beat the devil 17 to 14. We’re going to win, but it’s going to be by a slim, narrow victory.

That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says we don’t win by a narrow margin; we win by an overwhelming margin! We are supraconquerors through Him who loved us! Well, I see the description in the Bible of what you’re supposed to look like; ‘but you don’t look a thing like your picture!

In John 4, Jesus was talking to the woman at the well. And He said, “Whoever drinks of the water that you have will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall not never [notice the double negative] thirst again” (John 4:13—14, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus said that whoever took a drink of the eternal life that He offered would never thirst again.

And yet, everywhere I go I find Christians who are thirsting and living lives that are filled with emptiness. I see in the Bible what you’re supposed to be—but you don’t look a thing like the picture.

The apostle John declared, “This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith”  (1 John 5:4).  I used to read that and I would think, That’s why I’m not overcoming the world. I don‘t have enough faith. If I just had more faith, I could overcome the world. But then I realized that that’s not what John is talking about. John goes on to say, “Who is victor over the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5 NEB ). It’s not how much faith you have. It’s the kind of faith you have. It’s faith centered on Jesus Christ.

Now if I were to ask how many of you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I’m confident we’d get 100 percent affirmation. But the positive response would be much lower if I were to ask, “How many of you have overcome the world?”

I believe the reason why we do not look like our phootograph is that we are either ignorant of a certain truth, or knowing it, we have failed to obey it. Let’s take a close look at 2 Corinthians 2:12-17.

Beginning in 2 Corinthians 2:12 and continuing all the way through verse 11 of chapter 6, Paul diverts from his main thought and defends and describes his apostleship. Some people were casting doubt upon his authenticity as an apostle. What we’re about to read is an introduction to that entire section. So Paul said:

“Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-bye to them and went on to Macedonia . But thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumphant procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many we do not peddle the Word of God for profit. On the contrary. In Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God”(2 Cor. 2:12-17).

I want to call your attention to the first part of verse 14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumphant procession in Christ.” In this statement Paul gives us the truth, the principle, the key, the secret to living the victorious life that God has presented for us in the Bible.

The apostle does this in other places, of course, but here he does it in a special way. Notice the phrase “thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumphant procession in Christ.” Those words “always leads us in his triumphant procession” are the translation of one Greek word. This was a technical term for a custom that was common among the Roman armies of that day. When Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians and they saw that word, they immediately knew what it was. They got the picture, they got the application, and they got the message.

But today, we are so far removed from Paul’s time that we miss what Paul is saying here. “Triumphant procession” refers to a custom that was common among the Roman armies. As soon as the soldiers had won the victory, they dispatched a herald runner who would run all the way back to the city of Rome. He would run through the streets of the city, announcing that the victory had been won. The word preach comes from that word herald, and that’s what preaching is. It is going ahead of our conquering hero and announcing to everybody that the victory has been won.

When the people of the city heard the news, they began to make preparation for what they called a triumphant processional. It was a magnificent victory celebration. A particular type of incense was burned in the temples for those occasions. And that’s why Paul refers to the perfume, or the fragrance. If you had been a citizen of Rome in those days, and you had stepped out of your house one morning and breathed the air and smelled that particular incense, you would have said, “Hey, we’re going to have a party! We’re going to have a celebration. There’s going to be a parade!”

When a commanding general—the conquering hero—returned to Rome, the people would line the streets, waiting for the appearance of their hero. The procession would be led by a priest swinging censors, burning that special incense. He would be followed by musicians and others. The main figure in that drama was the commanding general, the victorious military leader. He would be riding in a gold-plated chariot drawn by white horses. Right behind that chariot were the officers of the defeated army who were chained to that chariot. These men would later be executed, so they were being dragged to their death. The enemy soldiers who had been captured would be brought in later, and they would be enslaved.

When the people saw their hero in that chariot, they would cheer and shout. They would throw garlands and confetti into the air. But when they saw the officers of that defeated army chained to that chariot and being dragged along behind, they would really go wild. This was a demonstration of the power of their hero. Paul was referring to that custom when he said, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumphant procession.” In other words, Paul was Christianizing that custom. He was saying there was a time when he was at war with Jesus Christ. There were hostilities between God and Paul. But the Lord Jesus had conquered him, and he had yielded to Him in unconditional surrender. And He had put Paul in the chains of His lordship, and he was chained to His chariot. And everywhere Paul went, Christ led him in His triumphant procession.

The New English Bible really brings it out well by saying, “Thanks be to God, who continually leads us about, captives in Christ’s triumphant procession.” Paul was saying, “I came to Jesus Christ. He overcame me, and I yielded to Him in unconditional surrender. He placed my hands in the chains of His lordship and chained me to His chariot. And now thanks be to God, everywhere I go and in every place I am being led in His triumphant procession.

Paul was wanting everybody to know this before he detailed his apostleship, because when you get over to chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, he will speak about some bad things happening to him. He is saying in anticipation, “Now I’m going to tell you some things that some of you are going to think reveals failure and defeat. But I want you to know at the outset, thanks be to God. He always leads me in His triumph in Christ, and wherever I go, it may look like defeat to you; it may look like failure to you. But I’m chained to His chariot, and that means that everywhere I go, I am following in his own triumphant victory in Christ!”

Paul, how is it that you can say everywhere you go there’s victory? “Because I’ve been conquered by Jesus Christ. I’m chained to His chariot, and I’m simply following along in the wake of His victory.” Here is the principle, the secret. If you want to be a conqueror, you must first be conquered. If you want to be an over comer, you must first be overcome. If you want to be a master, you must first be mastered. If you want to exercise authority, you must first submit to authority.

I was preaching in Florida a few years ago, and a man got to talking about my sermon. He said, “Preacher, that was a good sermon.” I thanked him and told him I was glad he enjoyed it. But he went on to say there was one thing about it he didn’t like. I asked what it was. “I didn’t like that idea of being chained to the chariot,” he replied. “I think if you would take that out, it would be a better sermon.”

I said, “Brother, that is the sermon. That’s the sermon right there! If I take it out, I don’t have a sermon.”

He said, “Well, it just seems degrading and humiliating to be chained to a chariot.”

“Absolutely, Absolutely!” I replied. “I know why you don’t like it. I don’t like it either. None of us like it.”

You know what I want to do? I want to ride up front with the Lord! I don’t want to be chained back there. I want to ride up front, helping drag others along. Well, heaven knows He needs some help from time to time. Sometimes I say to Him, “Lord, why are we going so slow? Everybody else has passed us up. Can’t you put the pedal to the metal on this thing?”

Other times I say, “Lord, why did you take this road?  It’s so bumpy and it’s got potholes in it. And we passed up a good superhighway.” Sometimes I say, “Lord, I’m tired of traveling. Let’s pull over at this roadside park and have a picnic.” I like to help the Lord drive, don’t you? That’s where I want to be—up front.

But Paul says if you want to be a conqueror, you must first be conquered. And I say to you that you are only experiencing as much victory in Jesus as Jesus is experiencing in you. If there is an area of repeated failure in your life, that’s a good sign there is an area of your life over which Jesus Christ is not yet Lord. If we want to be conquerors, we must first be conquered.

The best illustration I’ve ever seen of this occurs in the encounter of Jesus and the centurion who had a sick servant. Matthew 8 tells us, “He came to Jesus and he said, ‘Lord, my servant is sick.’

“Jesus said, ‘I’ll come to your house and heal him.’

“The centurion said, ‘Oh, no, Lord, don’t do that. I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof.   Just speak the word, and my servant will live, for I also am a man under authority with soldiers under me. And I say to this one, go, and he goes. And to this one, do this, and he does it.’

“And when Jesus heard that, he marveled, and he said, ‘I have never seen such great faith, not even in all of Israel ”’ (Matt. 8:5—10).

Now, I have great respect for the Word of God. But I must confess to you that for a long time I couldn’t see what was so great about what that man said. I didn’t understand it. What did he say? He said, “I also am a man under authority with soldiers under me. And I say to this one, go, and he goes. And to this one, do this, and he does it.”

Jesus was amazed. He said, “I have never seen such great faith.” I couldn’t see what that had to do with faith. But I got to thinking. If it amazed Jesus, it ought to amaze me. I would think it would take a lot to amaze Jesus. He was amazed twice in the Bible. Both times He expressed amazement at the faith of a Gentile. What could you show Jesus or what could you tell Jesus that would amaze Him? He’s seen it all! He made it all!

If this encounter with a Gentile amazed Jesus, it ought to do something to me. I thought to myself that I must be missing something. Let’s look at their encounter again. Jesus told the centurion that He would come to his house and heal his servant. But the centurion replied, “Oh, no, Lord, don’t do that. I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof.   Just speak the word, and my servant will live, for I also am a man under authority.” Now I would expect his next words to be, “And if I am told to go somewhere, I go somewhere, and when I am told to do something, I do something.” But that’s not what the centurion said.

He said, “For I also am a man under authority with soldiers under me. And I say to this one, go, and he goes. And to this one, do this, and he does it.” The centurion was saying, “I live under authority; therefore, I have authority.” And he did. He had authority over one hundred soldiers. That’s why they called him a centurion.

As long as that centurion was submitted to the authority of the emperor, he had the emperor’s authority over those one hundred soldiers. If he rebelled against the authority of the emperor, he lost his authority over those one hundred soldiers. So that was the principle by which he was living. But that’s still not what amazed Jesus. What amazed Jesus was one little word that the man said. Some translations say “also.” Some say “too.” And unfortunately, some translations leave it out. But it belongs there.

Now listen to me as I quote it: “He came to Jesus and he said, ‘Lord, my servant is sick.’ Jesus said, ‘I’ll come to your house and heal him.’ The centurion said, ‘Oh, no, Lord, don’t do that. I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof.   Just speak the word, and my servant will live, for I also am a man under authority.”’ In other words, “I don’t have to run my own errands. If I want something done, I tell others to do it, and it’s done for me. And Lord, I understand that You live by the same principle I live by.” When he said, “I, too,” or “I, also, am a man under authority,” this is what amazed Jesus, that this centurion had such great insight into the truth that Jesus Himself lived by that same principle. He said, “I have never seen such faith.”

But the point I want you to get is that this was the principle by which Jesus Christ lived. He lived under the authority of His Father; therefore, He had His Father’s authority. That’s the principle by which the centurion lived. He was under the authority of the emperor; therefore, he had the emperor’s authority. That’s the principle by which Paul lived. That’s the principle by which we should live if we want to experience victory in the Christian life. Let’s look at three brief things about this victory.

I.  This Victory is God’s Victory Through His Son

This victory that Paul talked about is God’s victory through His Son. Paul was saying, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumphant procession in Christ.” It’s not we who are triumphing; it’s not we who are riding in that chariot. No, He doesn’t cause us to triumph. He leads us in His triumph. It is God’s victory through His Son. I’m trying to say that the responsibility for victory in the Christian life is not mine; it is God’s. I realize that many of us use the expression, “win the victory.” I’ve got to go out there and “win the victory,” to overcome the devil, and win over temptation.

But I want you to know that there are no victories to be won. Christ Jesus won every victory two thousand years ago when He died for us on the cross! The truth of the matter is that every temptation you will face has already been overcome by Jesus. The responsibility for victory is not ours. It’s important for us to know that, because most Christians feel, “It’s up to me.” So I didn’t do good, I did bad yesterday, but I’m going to do better today. So I climb put of bed, grit my teeth, tense my muscles, and say, “I’m going out there and win the victory today, if it kills me!” And it usually does!  The responsibility for victory in the Christian life does not rest with us. It’s not our victory; it is God’s victory through Christ.

I like the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. They must have fought funny wars back in those days. Israel was fighting the Philistines. One day David’s dad said, “David, here’s a sack lunch. Your brothers are at war. Take them lunch.” It just seems strange to me that David just walked into the war and said to his brothers, “Here’s your lunch from home.”

When he got to the front lines, David saw this giant mocking Israel and Israel ’s God. And Israel was hiding over behind the bushes, scared to death. Little David said, “I want you to do something about that guy.”

“Son,” they replied, “just leave the lunch and go back home. Play your harp and write your poetry.”

“Well, it’s not right to let him get by with this,” David said. “Why don’t you do something about it?”

“You don’t understand the situation. Go home. We’ll handle this.”

“Well, you’re not handling it very well, it seems to me. I’d take care of him.”

“Huh! You’d what?”

“I’d take care of him.”

“Go ahead and try.”

They started to put Saul’s armor on David. “Oh, no, I don’t want Saul’s armor,” he cried. “It would swallow me up. I don’t need anything. I’ve got my slingshot and five smooth stones.”

They said, “Good-by, brother. Been nice knowing you.”

And remember what happened? Little David marched out to meet Goliath. He stopped and looked the giant straight in the kneecap. He said to Goliath, “The baffle is the Lord’s. He has delivered you into my hands” (1 Sam. 17:47 ).

The battle was not David’s—why, of course it wasn’t. He wouldn’t have been there if it had been! Neither was the battle Israel ’s. That’s why the Israelite soldiers were hiding behind the bushes. The battle was the Lord’s. What I need to learn to do is stand in front of the Goliaths in my life and say to them, “The battle is the Lord’s. He has delivered you into my hands.” It’s God’s victory through His Son.

I’m a Southern Baptist, and in my denomination we have a bad habit of calling the church by the pastor’s name. When I was pastor, people would say “Brother Dunn’s church.” Or last week I was at “Brother Ken’s church!”

We know it’s not the pastor’s church, but you hear that so much and for so long that you begin to think maybe it is. You’re the pastor, and you’ve got all those people out there, and they’re your responsibility. And you’ve got to take care of them. When they hurt, you’ve got to heal them. And when they’re angry, you’ve got to soothe them. And you have to make sure you have more people in attendance this Sunday than you had Sunday a year ago, or it won’t look good in the statistics. And we’re behind on our budget. This whole thing is mine. This is my church, and I’m responsible for it. I’ve got to build it, and I’ve got to take care of it. It’s just too much. That’s why in our denomination we have about a thousand ministers a year quitting the ministry. It’s just too much.

Well, that’s the way I felt about my church. Once I was preaching through the Book of Matthew, and I came to Matthew 16 where Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church”  (Matt. 16:18 NIV). And I saw a little word there that I had not paid much attention to before: my.  Jesus said, “I will build my church” (emphasis added).

I said, “Lord, do You mean to tell me this is Your church?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Welcome to it!”

I was never so glad to get rid of anything in all my life! A great weight was lifted from my shoulders. This is the Lord’s church!

Then Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (emphasis added).

“Lord, I thought I was supposed to build it. That’s been one of my problems. You mean to tell me that You will build the church? This is Your church, and You will build it?”

“Yes.”

What a deal! I don’t know of anything that liberated me any more as a pastor than this. Now I understand that it is not my responsibility to get people to walk down the aisle and join the church. It’s not my responsibility to get the people to give. It’s not my responsibility to build the church. This is God’s responsibility. I have a responsibility, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But building the church is not my responsibility! It is the Lord’s church, and He does the building. I do what God tells me to do as faithfully as I know how. And the rest is up to Him. This is God’s victory through His Son.

You may be thinking that I am preaching a religion, of passivity. No, not at all. We do have a responsibility, a great responsibility, but I think it is essential that we understand that it is God’s responsibility to give the victory and to give the growth.  ’Let’s understand that first.

II. This Victory Is Ours Through Submission

Now we come to our responsibility. This is God’s victory through His Son, but it becomes mine through submission. How do I enter into this victory? By submission, by living “chained to the chariot.” You may say, “Oh, is that all?” Well, if you say that, I know you’ve never tried it.

We have a lot of “Houdini” Christians in the church, and they can get out of those chains. My number one responsibility is to make certain that moment by moment, day by day, I am living under His lordship, and I am living chained to His chariot. Every other responsibility I have flows from that.

A seminary student was interviewing several pastors in our area about our philosophy of ministry. One of the questions he asked me was, “What is your primary responsibility as pastor of this church?”

I said, ” Me. Write it down. M-E, me!” He looked at me, and I admit it did sound like an egotistical answer and a very irresponsible answer. I said, “You want to know what my top priority is as pastor of this church?”

“Yes.”

‘I said, “It’s to me. Let me explain. My number one priority as pastor of this church is not to the lost of this community. My number one priority is not to the members of this church. My number one priority is to me. To make certain that I am living filled with His Spirit, chained to His chariot. Because when I am filled with His Spirit and living under His lordship, then the lost of this community and the members of my church will be ministered to by the overflow of my life.”

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul makes this point very clear. These men who were chained were being led to their death. And Paul put himself in that position: “Thanks be to God, who always leads [me] in his triumphant procession” (2 Cor. 2:14 ). Yes, but that’s leading to death. And in chapter 4 he tells us what kind of death. He said, “I bear about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus so that the life of Jesus might be made manifest through me. So then death works in me, that life may work in you” (2 Cor. 4:10 ,12).

Now I want you to focus on that. I bear about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus. Why? So the life of Jesus that dwells in me can manifest itself through my mortal flesh.

The only thing that will bless anybody is the life of Jesus. When I stand to preach to my congregation, I cannot bless anyone. I cannot minister to anyone. I may tell a few jokes and get a few laughs, and I may come up with two or three clever little thoughts, but nobody’s going to break out of their chains. No hearts are going to be healed. No wounds are going to be ministered to. No lives are going to be touched. The only thing I have to offer anybody is the life of Jesus that dwells in me. And the only way that you people are going to be ministered to is if somehow the life of Jesus that is in me will manifest itself through my mortal flesh and touch your lives. That’s what ministry is all about.

I must make certain that you understand. It’s not the preacher. It’s not me. I don’t bless anybody. I don’t minister to anybody. It is the life of Jesus in me. That’s what people need. People don’t need to hear my opinions. They don’t need to hear my advice. What people need is to be touched with the life of Jesus. The life of Jesus is in me, and I must make certain that I live in such a way that His life can manifest itself through my human personality and touch others. Then people will be blessed.

Jesus said, “If any man come to me and drink, out of his’ innermost being shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37—38). I like to think of myself as the riverbed. And He supplies the river. Nobody’s ever been blessed by an old, dry, crusty riverbed. No, it’s the river running along it. So this victory is God’s victory through His Son. It becomes mine through submission.

III. This Victory Is Ours in Any Situation

There are two phrases in 2 Corinthians 2:14 that I want you to notice. First of all, Paul said, “Thanks be to God, who always.” At the end of that verse he said, “He manifests through us the sweet aroma of him in every place.” So we have always and every place. Always—that’s time. Every place—that’s space. We are time/space creatures. Everything we do is in time and space. Here’s what Paul is saying: “Thanks be to God who always, anytime, every time, all the time, leads me in His triumph in Christ. And every place, all places, any place, you name the place.”

Now I don’t say this lightly. I’ve thought about this before saying it. If we can learn how to live chained to the chariot, there is no conceivable situation in life in which God cannot give us victory. This may require us to redefine the word victory.

I won’t say I’ve learned it; I’ll say I’m learning. When I wake up and find myself in some trial, some difficulty, some adversity, the first thing I do is check to see if I’m “chained to the chariot.” I check to see if as far as I can tell, I’m still living under His lordship. And if I am, then I can say two things about that situation. First, He led me into it. If I’m chained to His chariot, I couldn’t have gotten there any other way! He led me into it.

Second, Jesus has already overcome it. Well, of course, because I’m following in the wake of His triumph. You may find this hard to believe, but when you live chained to the chariot, do you realize that you walk on conquered ground? That every time you put your foot down, you place it on territory that Jesus Christ has already conquered? He’s leading you along, and you’re simply following in His triumphant train!

There is no conceivable situation in life in which God cannot give us victory. When I was in college, I pastored a little country church in Oklahoma . I lived in Fort Smith , Arkansas , so I would drive down there every weekend. This church was about thirty miles over on the Oklahoma side. To get to this little church, I first took a main highway, a good highway, a big superslab. But then, after a while, I got off on a secondary road, a nice, smooth, asphalt road. After that, I got off on a road that had been acquainted at one time with asphalt, and it was pretty rough. And finally I got off on a dirt road. This dirt road wound through the foothills and mountains for about three or four miles to the church.

Three times on this dirt road I crossed a little, crystal-clear stream about an inch deep. And I didn’t think anything about it. I just splashed right through it.

One Sunday morning, I was driving to the church. It had been raining all week, but God had given us a beautiful sunshiny Easter Sunday. I had on a new suit and a new pair of shoes. And I was driving my 1946 Ford.

Back in those days when I drove to a preaching appointment, I would practice my sermon. I was trying to make it last forty-five minutes. I figured that if I could go for forty-five minutes in the car, when I got up before the people I could at least go for twenty-five minutes.

So I was driving along and preaching my sermon. It was coming along pretty good, as I remember. Suddenly, my car began to buck like it had hit a brick wall. Then it just stopped! I felt my feet getting wet. I looked down, and water was coming through the floorboard. Then I noticed that this little stream that was usually about an inch deep was about knee deep. I hadn’t even paid any attention to it.

There wasn’t anything to do except get out of the car, take off my new shoes, roll up my pants legs, and walk the last mile and a half to the church. You may be saying, “Preacher, does this story go anywhere?” Yes. One day I came to Jesus Christ, and I surrendered my life to Him. He put me in the chains of His lordship, and He took off! And I was happy. Praise God. Hallelujah. It’s fun to be a Christian! Just trust in Jesus every minute of life! Praise God!

We went along like that for awhile. Then we got off that smooth highway and got on that secondary highway that wasn’t quite as nice and smooth. But that doesn’t bother me, man. I’m chained to His chariot. Trust in Jesus. Bless God. Hallelujah! It’s fun to be a Christian! Amen! Bless God!

And after a while we got on the third road that had potholes and bumps. But it doesn’t bother me! I’m chained to His chariot! Praise God! Hallelujah! Trust in Jesus all the way. It’s fun being a Christian! I’m having the greatest time of my life!

Finally, we got on that dirt road. Well, that doesn’t bother me either. There’s just a little dust in my eyes and grit in my teeth. And right there I can sacrifice for Jesus—chained to His chariot! Bless God! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Amen! I’m having a wonderful time! It’s fun being a Christian!

Well, after a while, I feel my feet getting wet. I look down, and I am passing over one of those little streams. The water is about toe-high. Well, that doesn’t bother me! Bless God! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Trust in Jesus all the way! Man, it’s fun being a Christian!

I keep on going along, and after a while the water gets up to my knees. Doesn’t bother me. I’m chained to His chariot. Praise God! Hallelujah! Bless the Lord! Amen! It’s fun being a Christian!

Then the water gets up to my waist. Well.. amen. And then the water gets up to my shoulders. Oh, Jesus! And then the water gets up to my chin. And I say, “If I don’t get out of these chains, He’s going to drown me!”

Do you know what victory is? Victory is staying chained to the chariot, even if the water covers your head. Victory doesn’t always mean that the Lord will lead you on dry land, or drain the swamp. Sometimes He will take you into water that covers your head. Victory is staying chained to that chariot, no matter how deep the water gets, no matter where the chariot leads.

I go back to what the apostle John said in his first epistle. He said, “Faith is the victory” (1 John 5:4). He didn’t say, “Faith brings the victory,” or, “Faith gains the victory.” He said, “Faith is the victory” (emphasis added).

You come into my office, and you say, “Preacher, I’ve got to have surgery. The doctor says there’s a malignant tumor. And it doesn’t look good.” I ask you, “Do you still believe?” “Yes,” you reply. That’s victory.

Later I stand beside your bed. They’ve done the surgery, but all they could do was sew you back up and send you home to die. I ask again, “Do you still believe?” You reply, “Yes, I still believe.” That’s victory.

And then I stand beside your grave, and I turn to your wife and ask, “Do you still believe?” And she says, “Yes, I still believe.” That’s victory. This is God’s victory through His Son. It becomes ours through submission, and remains ours in any situation. And if we learn how to live chained to the chariot, there is no situation in life in which He cannot give us victory.

©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002

2Co 01:3-10 | Ministry of Trouble, Part II

Text: 2 Corinthians 1:3-10

Those of you who were here this morning will remember that we started the message this morning on the Ministry of Trouble.  There are two ways to bear any wounds that you receive.  Whether they are spiritual, mental, physical, financial, etc., it really doesn’t make any difference.  Anytime that a problem, a difficulty, a hurt, or a pressure comes into your life, it is sent from God to minister.  There are two ways to bear them.  One is to bear it the world’s way.  That always brings about death.  The other is to bear it God’s way.  That always brings about such a change of heart Paul says that you don’t regret having the wounds.

I could not help but think tonight as some of these testimonies were given (some of the difficulties that were encountered, some of the pressures that were experienced) how true that teaching is of the Word of God.  When a problem, a difficulty, a pressure, a wound, a hurt of any kind is borne God’s way, it produces a change of heart so great, so tremendous that you do not regret having the wound.  The way to bear it God’s way so as to produce this change of heart is to see it as a minister sent from God for our good to do a work in us that God has preplanned before the foundations of the earth.  We saw this morning that the first reason that God allows these things to come into our life is that you and I may experience the comfort of God.

Beginning with verse 3,
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation (The word literally means all our pressures.  We always have the idea of physical pain, but that is not the primary meaning of the word.  If we understand it as any kind of problem or pressure, it will be more meaningful to us.), that we may be able to comfort them which are in any (every kind of) trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.  For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.  And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer:  or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope of you  is steadfast, knowing, that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.  For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, in so much that we despaired even of life.  But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.

God allows trouble to come into our lives not only that we may experience his own comfort but that we may be equipped to comfort others.

Notice what he says in verse 4.  Let me read from the New English Bible which I think makes it a little clearer than the King James Version.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we in turn may be able to comfort others in any trouble of theirs, and to share with them the consolation we ourselves receive from God.  As Christ’s cup of suffering overflows, and we suffer with him, so also through Christ our consolation overflows.  If distress be our lot, it is the price we pay for your consolation, for your salvation, your wholeness.  If our lot be consolation, it is to help us to bring you comfort and strength to face with fortitude the same sufferings we now endure.  Our hope for you is firmly grounded for we know that if you have part in the suffering, you have part also in the divine consolation.

In that statement Paul is making a tremendous revelation.  The reason God comforts us, and the reason God comes to us in those times of distress and pressure, and makes himself real, and stands over us, and overshadows us with his strength and encouragement is not that that comfort might terminate within ourselves, but that we might become a channel through which God may be able to comfort others also.  The key word in verse 4 is the word that.  It is a purpose clause in the Greek language.  It means simply this:  the reason that God comforts us in all of our trouble is for the express purpose that we may be able to comfort other people in every kind of trouble with the same comfort that we ourselves have experienced.  That is one of the main principles of the Christian faith.  It is that you and I receive something from God that we may pass on to someone else.  God blesses us.  Why?–that we in turn may be a blessing to someone else.  The most distorted view of the Christian life is that God blesses us simply that we may be blessed, and that God comforts us simply that we may be consoled.

If you will check out the Old Testament, you will discover this is why God had to temporarily set aside the people of Israel and to graft in another branch into the tree.  The Israelites in the Old Testament had the idea that they were the end of all of God’s purpose.  God had given them blessing upon blessing just because they deserved it, just because he wanted to bless them.  They did not see this tremendous principle that the reason God chose Israel was that they might be a channel through which he could reach other people.  They were to simply take what God gave to them and pass it on to other people.  They were blessed in order that they might become a blessing.

There is nothing that will sour the fruit on the tree of your godly life any quicker than thinking that the reason God gives you fruit is that you may enjoy it simply for yourself.  It is only when you take the fruit that God gives in your life and pass it on to somebody else that it flourishes and reproduces itself.  The chain of events here is so interesting.  Paul was in Asia and had serious difficulty.  Perhaps this trouble had absolutely not a thing to do with the Corinthians.  It may have come from some other direction. It may have been occasioned by something that was not even related to the Corinthians.  Paul says here is the way God works.  Here is the chain reaction.  God let us get into a tight place—pressure, tribulation so intense that we even despaired (word despair means we were in doubt of survival).  Phillips translates it like this:  we thought this was the end.  Paul is literally saying we thought our number was up.  We thought we were going down for the count.  It had nothing to do with the Corinthian situation.  Paul says God let us experience that so that in turn he might be able to comfort us that we might experience God’s ability and adequacy to meet every need.  The reason he did that is so that we might be able to pass on to you our experience of God’s complete adequacy in every need.

Why does God let it come?  How does it minister to us?  You stop looking upon that as a hospital; you look upon it as a seminary in which God has enrolled you to train you and equip you and prepare you to minister to someone else.  He says that God has allowed this to happen to us that we might take that very same comfort, encouragement that we have received of God and share it with you.  He says in the fifth verse that as the sufferings of Christ are overflowing the banks of our lives so also is the consolation.  When God pours out his comfort and comes with his adequacy, there is so much of it that there is enough for you to share it with somebody else.  There is always more than you need yourself.  God never gives you simply enough to meet your own needs; he always gives you enough to meet your need and the needs of others.
By the way, that’s true not only of spiritual encouragement; that’s true of money.  If you will read in 2 Corinthians, chapter 9, he says that he gives us enough so that we can be generous for every situation.  How about that?  The thing that stagnates the Christian’s life financially, spiritually, emotionally and every other way is when he gets the idea that God has given him just enough barely to get by himself.  That’s how most Christians live.  They don’t have time to minister to somebody else.  They think they are just going to barely be saved by the skin of their teeth themselves.  They don’t have time to help someone else, to comfort someone else, to give to someone else in need.  God never works that way.  If you’ll read the Scriptures, you’ll find that every time God gives, he always uses words that have the idea of giving lavishly and freely and overflowing.  God never gives you anything that is simply adequate only for yourself.  He always gives you enough to meet the needs of somebody else.

Now I want to tell you a tragedy.  I have seen it happen so many times in the seven years that I have been here.  I have seen it happen in my own life, and I stand condemned tonight by my own memory.  A pressure comes, a heartbreak comes, a tragedy comes and I bear it the world’s way.  I resent it.  I get bitter.  I feel sorry for myself.  I begin to mumble and gripe and complain.  There is no comfort, no blessing, no victory.  Then suddenly one day my path crosses with somebody who is in desperate need of ministry, of comforting.  That person goes unhelped, uncomforted because I was unable to share with them anything but my own bitterness and resentment.  I don’t know how many times I have seen somebody in a need, and I’ve thought of somebody else.  I thought to myself, oh, if so-and-so had just reacted to that problem in a Christian way and found victory, how they could minister to this other person.  The tragedy is that there are a great number of people tonight who are not being helped, and encouraged and ministered to because their ministers never learned the secret of receiving burdens in the way God intended us to receive them.
Every time God leads me into a new area of truth, or every time God teaches me something new about himself, every time there is some problem and I learn how to solve that problem, without failure, sooner or later God brings somebody across my path that needs exactly what I’ve learned.  Every time God has led me into the area of a new truth from the Word of God, I’ve thought he is just trying to expand my understanding of the Word of God.  But somebody either comes to my office or I cross paths with somebody who needs exactly what I have just learned.  Isn’t that amazing?

Why do you suppose as Peter was resting and dozed off while they were preparing his meal that God came to him in a dream.  God showed him a vision of a four cornered sheet.  Upon that sheet were unclean beasts.  The sheet was lowered to Peter. And a voice said, rise, take and eat.  Peter, being a good Jew, said I can’t eat that.  That’s unclean.  God had to deal with Peter and wipe away his prejudice about certain kinds of food.  God knew there was a Gentile named Cornelius who needed ministering to and God could not use Peter until first of all he had been equipped.

Are you going through some difficulty right now?  Is there some heartbreak that you are experiencing right now?  Do you have a problem right now?  By the way, if anybody here doesn’t have a problem, will you please stand up?  I surely would like to meet you.  I want to get to know you before you lose that innocent state.  To transform your situation, simply rejoice in the midst of it.  One day you will meet someone who is going to need encouragement and comfort and you can tell that person that God is adequate for their need.
There are two kinds of authority.  There is the authority of the Word, and there is the authority of the Word backed up by experience.  It is one thing to be able to tell a person that the Word of God says he is adequate, and you’ll come out of this problem okay if you just trust in him.  It’s another thing to say that this Word is true and I want to share with you what I went through.  I was surrounded and thought there was no way out but I discovered that God’s Word is true.  I want you to know what God has done for me.

2) The second reason that God allows trouble to come to us is that we might be equipped to minister to others.  The ability to comfort a broken heart is more to be desired than the ability to give large sums of money and preach great sermons.  What the world needs is not greater givers and preachers, but greater comforters.  It is easier to learn how to preach than it is to learn how to comfort.  It is easier to give away your money than it is to learn how to comfort.  The only way you can learn how to comfort others is to go through it yourself.  So Paul says that God has done this that we may be able to comfort others in any kind of trouble.  They don’t have to have the same kind of trouble you had.  It may be it different kind of trouble altogether but you have learned that God is adequate for any kind of problem.  You can share this with them.  God will minister life through your experience.

3)  That we might be emptied of all self reliance.  That God might eliminate all self confidence.  Look at what he says in verses 8 and 9:

For we would not brethren have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia (He doesn’t tell us exactly what it was.  He just describes the intensity of it.) For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, in so much that we despaired even of life.  But we had the sentence of death in ourselves (I don’t know what happened to Paul but it was something he was not able to bear.  It was a problem, a situation in which he thought actually he was going to die.  It was as though he had the sentence of death in him but notice what he says.  Verse 9 is beautiful.), in order that (that purpose clause again) we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:

I was in the office this afternoon working on this, and I almost skipped this point because to be honest with you I am a little bit embarrassed.  It seems as though every other Sunday and twice on Wednesday I’m up here saying to you that what God wants to teach us is that we can trust him.  I’ve said that, haven’t I?  I was sitting there and thought to myself, Lord, I am being repetitious.  Then the thought occurred to me that it’s not me that’s being repetitious, it’s the Lord that is being repetitious.

Paul said that we had the sentence of death within us.  The sky fell in on us.  The rug was pulled out from under us.  Why?  So that first of all we would not reply upon ourselves.  If God is going to teach us that he can be trusted, the first thing he has to do is to destroy our faith in ourselves.  Now I know that cuts across the grain of a great deal of teaching that goes on in our world today—have faith in yourself, have confidence in yourself, believe in yourself.  Moses believed in himself, and he made a mess of everything.  Abraham believed in himself, and he made a mess of everything.  Simon Peter believed in himself, and he ended up denying the Lord and cursing.  Paul is simply echoing the teachings of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  First of all, God must knock the props out from under us and show us that we are utterly helpless.  Then in that desperate moment, we reach out and grab hold of God and learn to trust in him.  Most people will not trust in God until they have to trust in him.  Very few people will just voluntarily trust in the Lord.  God has to work in such a situation that we are forced to rely upon him.  That is what Paul is saying.  He sends us trouble.  That point at which you think you are strong, and that point you have confidence in and are relying upon, that is the point at which God is going to have to deal with you.   God sends the ministry of trouble that he might eliminate all self confidence.

I have two more points.  I am going to mention one and go on to the third one.

4)  That we might exhibit the power of God.
I’ll give you the Scripture reference, and you can get your own sermon on this.  Chapter 4, verse 7, Paul describing in this chapter all his sufferings says, but we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not us.  Let me read this out of the New English Bible translation.  He says, we are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure, and this proves that such transcendent power does not come from us but is God’s alone.  God wants to be glorified, and the Bible says over and over again that he will not share his glory with anyone.  Paul says this treasure I have (What treasure?  Eternal life, Jesus.) is carried around in an old broken down clay jar.   Why would God let such weakness come to a man like the Apostle Paul.  He says we are the off-skirting of all flesh.  We are despised by the world.  The world  snubs its nose at us.  The world looks at us and counts us as nothing.  Why does God do that?  When Paul gets up and preaches and people are saved, or when Paul is able to rejoice in the midst of suffering, then everybody knows that Paul’s power must come from some other source other than that old clay vessel.  The reason God allows the ministry of trouble to come into our lives is that we might exhibit the power of God—that it is God’s power and not ours.  Now the last point.

That there might be expressed in our lives the very life of Jesus himself.

Chapter 4, verses 10-12:
Always bearing in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.  For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.  So then death worketh in us but life in you.

When you read the chapter and context, Paul is describing his tribulations, his troubles, his pressures.  Why?–in order that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in this flesh.  So then death is working in us, suffering, sacrificing, tribulation in order that life may work in you.  When Jesus hung upon the cross, that life-giving blood flowed from the wounds of his body.  I want you to know that the life of Jesus still flows only from the wounds of his body.  And you and I are his body.

When Bro. Schoeppey was talking about this 62-year-old man that was saved last Sunday night I was so glad he mentioned that for four years the missionaries had worked, sown,  and labored.  The reason that 62-year-old man received life is because for four years that missionary couple had been giving death.
That’s the only way you can minister.  There is no other way.  The life of Jesus resides in this body, and it wants to get out and touch the lives of others.  But there is only one way that the life of Jesus can flow, and that is through a wound.  God allows hurts and wounds and troubles to come into our lives.  Why?  So then death is constantly working in us so that life may work in you.

I never forget when somebody walks down this aisle on Sunday morning, and says, I want to give my life to Jesus.  I know that somebody somewhere has died.  I know that somebody somewhere has allowed death to work in their body so that life might work in this person.  That’s the law of the spiritual harvest.

You say I wish that I could minister to people.  I wish that I could release the life of Jesus that is within me.  Jesus said unless a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.  But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.  The life of Jesus is released when the alabaster box is broken.   When the alabaster box is broken, then the fragrance is released and fills the room.

Everywhere I see a cross upon which
the sons of God yield up their breath.
There is no gain except by loss.
And there is no life except by death.

When God allows tribulations, troubles, hurts and wounds to come into your life, it is in order that your life might become an expression of the life of Jesus.  And that the life of Jesus might flow from you and touch and minister to others.

There are two ways to bear the hurts and the wounds.  One is that you bear it the world’s way.  It will kill your joy.  There will be the death of bitterness throughout your life.  If you receive it God’s way, there will be such a change of heart there will be no regret.  The way to receive it God’s way is to look upon it as a minister sent from God to do you good.