Sermon for Sunday June 7th, 2015, the First Sunday after Trinity
The Readings: Psalm 130; Gen. 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1; Mark 3:30-35
Theme: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the controlling perspective on all things
Text: 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1
Thomas à Kempis wrote: “It is vanity to mind only the present life, and not to foresee those things which are to come. It is vanity to set thy love on that which speedily passes away, and not to hasten thither, where everlasting joy abides. Call often to mind that proverb that, “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Eccl. 1:8). Endeavor therefore to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to turn thyself to the invisible” (The Imitation of Christ, I. 1).
These words direct us to hold a view of life which arises from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Too many people today, including Christians, live life as if it were conditioned only by circumstances. Now there are many events and circumstances which are beyond our control, even though some of them may have come about through the choices we have made. Yet God calls us to a living faith in him: as the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
This faith in God informs our whole world view as Christians, and transforms our minds and our lives. Let us consider how this faith motivated St. Paul the Apostle.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:13 – 5:1: LIVING BY FAITH
In our Epistle today, St. Paul explains that he has the same Spirit of faith by whom the Psalmist wrote, “I believed, and therefore have I spoken” (2 Cor. 4:13; Ps. 116:10). This Spirit causes him also both to believe and to speak of the goodness of God, and the everlasting Gospel of grace. In other words, St. Paul’s faith in the Lord leads to his sharing with many people that faith and the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which produced it. This sharing of faith leads to many conversions, and the thanksgiving of many new Christians for his Gospel witness redounds to God’s glory. This faith is based on the fact of the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead by which also Christians will all be raised to life with the Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere, St. Paul prays for Christians to “know the hope of their calling, the riches of the glory of Christ’s inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of his power to us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph. 1:18-20), which he exercised in Christ by his resurrection and ascension into heaven.
In view of all this, St. Paul can write, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). St. Paul was writing this from the perspective of faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he writes it not only of himself, but of all Christians. The reason for encouragement is not that the outward man is perishing day by day, although I was reminded of this regularly during my first high school teaching position in South Africa, when the principal, who could not correctly pronounce my name called me, “Mr. Perish.”
The reason for our encouragement and our refusal to lose heart, is that our inward man, our spiritual being, is being renewed day by day. It is our spirit which the Holy Spirit renews day by day, as we live in close communion with the Lord. More than this, God gives life even to our mortal bodies through his Spirit living in us (Romans 8:11).
To see how faith directs the way we look at life and its afflictions, we observe St. Paul’s words, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). To understand what St. Paul meant by “light affliction, which is but for a moment,” we must not think of a cough or a cold, or ‘flu, but the sufferings, persecutions, trials and distresses that came to him because he preached the Gospel and shared the Good News of Christ. In his experience, these trials were the equivalent of bearing in himself daily the death of Christ (see 2 Cor. 4:10-11). But in contrast to the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) which these sufferings bring about, the actual sufferings themselves are light and temporary!
Our attitude, as Christians, to trials of life, to the tribulations of the Christian life, must be conditioned by this perspective of faith in Christ and in his resurrection. It is this view of life to which we are called, a view which sets more value on the invisible realities of God’s kingdom than on the visible attractions and pleasures of this life: “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). To emphasize this point, so that the readers may see clearly that he is distinguishing between earthly, mortal life and heavenly, eternal, spiritual life, St. Paul adds this statement: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1). The eternal life of Christ which Christians have and will have with him forever, is the motivation for the endurance of all opposition, trials and afflictions Christians may face on earth.
St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, testified to the power of the Lord within him during his times of trial:
But after I was taken to Ireland [as a slave] – then every day I was forced to tend flocks of sheep in the pasture. As I did so, many, many times throughout the day I prayed. The love of God and the awe [fear] of Him grew strong within me more and more, and my faith was strengthened also. And my soul was restless within me so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night, and this even when was staying in the woods or on the mountainside. I often awakened and prayed before daylight – through snow, through frost, through rain – and I felt no illness or discomfort, and I was never lazy but filled with energy and inspiration. Now I know this was because the Holy Spirit was fervent within me….
(Confession, Ch. 16, 25; p. 106, Greg Tobin (ed.): The Wisdom of St. Patrick)
St. Patrick’s testimony reveals the necessity of frequent daily prayer in mastering this perspective of faith in God, and triumphing over adversity. Faith, patience and prayer work hand in hand for the Christian who comes to this point.
In conclusion, how do you respond to life’s difficulties and trials? Do you face them, knowing that these light afflictions are giving way to a wealth of eternal glory in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus Christ? How will you strengthen yourself spiritually to endure afflictions as St. Paul did?