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Real Christian Living Is Hard

2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIVUK)

This letter is the most autobiographical of all Paul's epistles. Why? He did not want to dispense cold advice to the Christians in Corinth; what he wrote came from agonising personal experience. Also, as false teachers were casting doubt on Paul's character, he needed to show the church how deeply hardship affected him and how he relied on the Lord to bring him through. Paul was not just a teacher but an example. He was weak and vulnerable, in contrast to some so called 'super-apostles' who pretended to be super-heroes (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11). Paul was an authentic weak human being, a sinner saved by grace trusting in the loving power of a deeply compassionate God.

Paul's honesty is quite disarming. Referring to his travels in, what is now, Turkey, Paul admitted the pressure of persecution was unbearable. He and his companions thought that they would die through stoning by rioting mobs, severe physical beatings, and the attempts of his opponents to manipulate the Roman judicial system against them.

But in the hours of crisis, Paul and Timothy practised what they preached. They cried out to the Lord, and the Lord saved them. As He answered prayer and resolved each episode, so they grew in confidence that God would deal with whatever came in the next time of trouble and testing. Although their suffering was unique to them, they were not isolated because believers in many cities prayed for them. Paul was so grateful; fellow Christians added their prayers to his. The Lord honoured those prayers, and saved the apostolic team to live and serve another day.

Although some believers think they should be seen as superior to other believers, it is a false style of fellowship or leadership. We are all mortal, sinful, weak and limited. Apart from the grace of God we are nothing and have nothing to offer. Although world history shows that people like to follow a strong, all-conquering leader, all such careers end in failure. In Jesus' kingdom, it is very different (Luke 22:25-28): the weak receive strength, the humble become leaders, and the failures display the grace of Christ (Matthew 5:3-12). Of course, there are some believers and even pastors who crave sympathy and personal benefits from other Christians, but Paul was not like that. He was simply honest: his troubles were unbearable but as he trusted the Lord, and friends prayed, so God brought him through to continue his ministry. What an example to us to trust the Lord during crushing trouble, and to pray for others who are being tested beyond their limits. Let the Lord be seen as the all-mighty one … because He is.

Almighty God. Thank You for Your comfort and power which has brought me through times of intense testing. Forgive me for the times when I have pretended that I am a super-Christian, untouched by any trouble (and therefore unable to encourage others). Please help me to be honest with You and humble with other believers, asking for their help in prayer as I struggle with the issues in front of me. And help me to grow in confidence that I can trust You to bring the right answer at the right time. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams