We are sore pressed at every point, but not hemmed in; we are at our wit’s end, but never at our hope’s end; we are persecuted by men, but never abandoned by God; we are knocked down, but not knocked out. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 paraphrased by William Barclay)
Well, by now last week’s series should be behind us, but I’ve only covered half of it. This was going to be so easy. I was going to write a week’s worth of Catches on autopilot, since I’ve taught this passage so many times. God (and Marti) had something else in mind. The minute you think something’s going to be easy is probably when you should think again.
Over the years of teaching this passage, I have come to think of these particular verses (2 Corinthians 4:8-9) as the sort of Hall of Fame of great Christians. These are the heroes. These are those who overcome. This is what it looks like when God is really using you. This is when life throws a bunch of crap at you and none of it sticks. You stand tall and take it, and people say, “Wow look at that guy! Where does he get the power?” That’s, of course, when you slip into the phone booth, change out of your superChristian cape, and come out and say, “Funny you should ask …”
So here’s where this perspective goes off track. Not one of us is a super-anything. We are all ordinary, fallible, sinful people (jars of clay, remember?). And these difficulties that life throws at us are not some kind of super-test reserved just for new covenant Christians. These things are common to us all, Christian and non-Christian alike. Pressures, perplexities, persecutions (no, not religious persecution, but the ostracisms, the cold shoulders, the malicious actions and attitudes, deliberate slights, and attacks on our character and reputation that we all receive from time to time), and serious calamities that knock us down — these things happen to all of us. And because of that, we have empathy for others. We are with everybody here. We aren’t looking down on anybody. We are looking across, or most likely, up, because we know how low we can go.
We have no control over the light of Christ that shines within these broken bodies of ours. It is just there, and it manifests itself by keeping us from being crushed under pressure, by keeping us from despair when there is no hope, by not abandoning us when people do, and by ultimately taking us beyond death itself to be with Christ in eternity. We are not in charge of this. This is God’s ministry in and through us, and we will not even be conscious of all that He is doing except to draw on His power.
And our “ministry” (if you want to call it that) is to simply join in the lives of those around us while all of this is going on. The pressures, the confusions, the insults, the calamities — are all part of God’s way of showing up in His manner and His time. We walk among men and women, not above them, not below them, not in front or behind them, but next to them. We walk alongside.
Jump in the mess of human lives undressed
And sin unconfessed… and see beauty.
That’s our job, because that is what God has done. Jumped right into the middle of the human mess in this world. And even He was not above the crowd; He was in it.
And our job as we walk alongside? To connect with everyone else’s pressures, confusions, insults and calamities, because we know that if God chooses for people to see, they will see the Lord in the middle of our own challenges, but also because we have a great deal of empathy for those who are stressed, perplexed, slighted and facing the end but without the all-surpassing power of God inside. We hurt for those people.
Look at the sea of misfits and misery
And cry ’til you bleed… and see beauty.
The new covenant is all about the ministry of ordinary people in the midst of ordinary life. The extraordinary part comes from God. That’s why it’s everything from God and nothing from us. No Hall of Fame. Hall of Faith, maybe, like Hebrews 11, but not Hall of Fame. Besides, in God’s eyes, we’re all famous.
[Quotes are from the song, “That’s What God Does” by Skypark]