Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 8:08 a.m. – the Lord Jesus put the song in mind, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 2 Corinthians 6 (NIV). In The Power of God At the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul described the hardships he and Timothy, and I am most certain many of the other disciples and apostles, faced for their testimony for Christ and the gospel of salvation. They were under such great pressure, far beyond their own human ability to endure, that they despaired even of life. And, yet they praised God for his comfort in all of their troubles. As well, they acknowledged that their suffering was for a purpose, i.e. they understood that they were sharing abundantly in the sufferings of Christ so that they might comfort others with the same encouragement they had received from God. Also, they recognized that their suffering took place so that they might learn (in practice) not to rely upon human strength and wisdom, but on God. Then, a little bit later on in the letter he noted their suffering in greater detail. Yet, he also described God’s all-sufficiency in meeting them in their time of need, so that they did not lose heart (see chapter 4). They learned, in all their troubles, that although they were going through great difficulties, their Lord was with them always to encourage them and to give them strength and endurance. This encouragement and supernatural power and strength of the Holy Spirit of God was necessary so they could survive their tribulations, yet not just, but so they could come out victorious and rejoicing despite their difficulties. As well, they were taught yet another purpose for their suffering. Through suffering the life of Jesus was revealed in and through them. In other words, suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (See Ro. 5:3-4; cf. Phil. 3:10-11; 1 Pet. 4:12-13; 5:9; 1 Thess. 3:3). Suffering humbles us so that Christ may be seen us. There are many ways in which we can suffer, as well as there are many reasons for which we might go through difficulties in this life, some of which may be of our own doing because we are reaping the natural consequences of sin, or it could be we are suffering because of other people’s sins, or because we live in a fallen (and cursed) world. Yet, these men of God were not being persecuted due to any fault of their own, for they had renounced secret and shameful ways, they did not use deception, nor did they distort the word of God. Instead, they set forth the truth plainly, which is most likely the reason they were hated and persecuted, such as was Jesus, and for many of the same reasons (See Jn. 7:7). And, still, even though they were hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, ultimately they were not completely destroyed, crushed, discouraged or abandoned, because the Spirit of God was within them giving them strength and encouragement, hope for their future, and purpose for their present. Amen! We can’t make it without HIM! Types of and Responses to Suffering We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. Vv. 3-10 Not everyone has had to endure such suffering as Paul described here, yet many throughout the ages have, as well as multitudes across our globe presently and personally know, through experience, exactly the types of misery Paul has detailed for us here. Yet, just because we are not presently being beaten, falsely arrested, imprisoned and/or killed for our faith in Christ, it does not mean it will not happen to us. Also, it does not lessen our present difficulties, nor does it change what our responses should be, nor does it alter God’s promises of his grace to meet us in our time of need. Persecution, for instance, can come in many forms. Sometimes the emotional abuse we face is just as hard, or is harder to bear than physical suffering. No matter what distress or affliction might be presently in our lives because of our testimony for Jesus Christ, God is able! As well, we must respond to it in prayer, in faith, in purity, “patience, kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love,” etc. Open Wide Your Hearts We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. Vv. 11-13 It appears that Paul’s hardships were not all at the hands of the ungodly of this world, though certainly some were. Jesus’ biggest persecutors were his own people, and those of his own faith, as well as many of them were the religious and political leaders of his time. In all the years I have been alive (64 of them), my experience has been that most of the unjust suffering in my life has come from the hands of those within the church, from those who were supposed to love and protect me, and from those in spiritual leadership over me. And, Paul appears to have experienced some of the same, for he wrote an appeal to the Corinthian church, suggesting that, in the least, they were withholding love and affection from the apostles. In other words, the apostles were acting in love toward the people in the things they shared with them, but that love was not being reciprocated for whatever reason. I find that the more that the church today has embraced the world, its philosophies, its culture, and its practices, and those of big business, the more they have withdrawn from those who still hold to the essentials of the faith and the teachings of Christ. My experience has been that those who still hold to the gospel as taught by the apostles, and who follow the way of holiness, as also taught by Christ and the apostles, are frequently cast aside, because they (or we) don’t fit in with the modern church way of doing things, i.e. we are not in their “target group,” nor do we fit with their “church growth” plans and goals, for we have chosen to come out and be separate from the world, as scripture teaches, and not to be joined together with the world and the ungodly in binding and/or in close fellowship relationships with them (See vv. 14-18). And, so we are ostracized, told to go someplace else, told by leadership that they were warned against people like us who have strong convictions, and/or are told we don’t belong, even though scripture teaches that we are never to say to a part of the body that we have no need of them (see 1 Co. 12). And, so it is not us who are withholding our love and affection from the body of Christ, but they are withholding theirs from us, just because we don’t fit with the ways of the worldly church, nor do we accept those worldly practices into our own lives, but we continue in walking in the ways of holiness as taught by Christ and the apostles, not in absolute perfection, but in the power and strength of the Spirit within us. So, we, too, say to the church: Open wide your hearts to us and let us inside, and love us as we love you! Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken / Henry F. Lyte / Mozart/ Arr. Hubert P. Main Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee; Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou, from hence, my all shalt be. Perish every fond ambition, all I've sought, and hoped, and known; Yet how rich is my condition, God and Christ are still my own! Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Savior, too; Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like man, untrue; And, while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love, and might, Foes may hate, and friends disown me; show Thy face, and all is bright. Man may trouble and distress me – ‘Twill but drive me to Thy breast. Life with trials hard may press me; Heaven will bring me sweeter rest. Oh, ‘tis not in grief to harm me, while Thy love is left to me; Oh, ‘twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee. Go then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn, and pain! In Thy service pain is pleasure; with Thy favor loss is gain. I have called Thee, Abba, Father, I have stayed my heart on Thee; Storms may howl and clouds may gather; all must work for good to me. Haste then on from grace to glory, armed by faith and winged by prayer; God's eternal day's before thee, God's own hand shall guide thee there. Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days, Hope shall change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.