Responsive Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18
Key Verse(s): 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
Background Scripture: Acts 13:42-45; 21:26-36; 2 Timothy 4:6-8
To me, it always feels like our peace of mind is under attack. If it is not something that is personally attacking us, we can see the hurt and pain of those close to us or not even those close to us and it can hurt us in our soul. Life, I often feel, is always trying its best to knock us out, one way or the other, so we must have the resilience to keep standing strong in this fight; the last thing we want is to be knocked out.
Hard-pressed On Every Side
All of last month I preached about living for the better by turning to the Lord who will take away our burdens and give us rest – peace (contentment) – in our soul. Yet, as we will see Paul say in my key verse for today, we are hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down on every side. Seemingly, any direction we turn in or wherever it is we go, trouble always seems to be waiting for us on our journey.
Trouble everywhere we turn
Now, Paul was a man that would agree with all of us when it comes to feeling like our peace is always under attack. As a servant of the Lord, Paul was not one to hide the fact that our enemy will always be after our peace. Paul’s testimony of this fact can be seen in the three missionary journeys he went on to share the good news of the gospel. Paul’s journeys were incredibly difficult as he was met with much opposition seemingly everywhere he went.
Paul first met opposition from the Jews who believed, as he once did, that the preaching of Christ was against the law and against God. So, the Jews made it their mission to antagonize and contradict Paul’s preaching of the gospel (Acts 13:42-45). Paul was kicked out of synagogues, dragged out of cities, and even stoned because he taught and preached the gospel (Acts 14:19-20). If that was not enough, Paul faced angry mobs that had him arrested because he dared teach and preach the good news (Acts 21:26-36).
So, when Paul speaks about being persecuted and struck down, you should understand that this man was preaching about what he experienced! Paul was a man that was hated and pursued everywhere he went simply because he was living his life and carrying out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20).
Again, life is like that, isn’t it? I do not believe that many of us have to imagine what it is like to be persecuted for simply trying to live. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the month we are now in (Black History Month) and our past, and present, for that matter. We are a people that have it rough not just because of our faith but because of who we are.
Not only do we have it rough because of who we are but for some of us, bills stacking up on the table is rough; not being able to afford new things can be rough; being worried about illness or not putting food on the table can be rough. Yet, I tell you today, that we share something else in common with Paul when it comes to all that we go through in life.
We are resilient
In our key verse, we will see that Paul makes a very dramatic comparison to the Corinthians when he spoke about what he, and other believers, had gone through.
Paul, again, said that we are hard-pressed (troubled) on every side, yet we are not crushed. Paul said that we are perplexed (stunned) on every side, yet we are not in despair. Paul said that we are persecuted (pursued) on every side, yet we are not forsaken (abandoned). Paul said that we are struck down on every side, yet we are not destroyed.
Essentially, Paul is saying that we should not be here today, but look at us – we are still standing strong! Think about it: something or someone that is hard-pressed (pressed down) on every side should crumple and be destroyed! Someone that is confused everywhere direction they turn in should be lost. Someone that is pursued and struck down on every side should eventually faint from exhaustion. So, the question is, how are we still standing strong today?
We are standing strong today because, like Paul, we are resilient; we should have been defeated a long time ago but in our resilience we cannot be defeated!
To be resilient is to have the capability to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties. Resilience equals toughness. Life is a rough and tough fighter but we are a lot tougher – you are built to take this fight! Now, many of us don’t think of ourselves like this, but I want you to know your resilience and that you can win this fight, especially all of us whose trust is in the Lord.
So, I want to first share with you what the Lord likened our resilience to when He spoke to Jeremiah so that this can give you strength. To Jeremiah, the Lord said, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit (Jer. 17:7-8).”
God likened our resilience to a tree with an endless supply of strength to handle the worst that life could throw at it; in heat and in drought, the tree was at rest and kept on living. So, life can throw its worst at you, but I want you to know that you can take all that life throws at you!
Paul was not some big and mighty man, physically speaking. Paul would even tell you that he had many weaknesses. However, spiritually speaking, Paul was a very strong man; he had the strength to stand before councils that hated him. Paul had the strength to be able to endure and persevere through all of his afflictions and persecutions. Again, all of us have this same resilience and strength!
Strength in Peace
So, one may ask, who or what was it that gave Paul the strength to be able to endure the fight? Paul’s strength came from his faith in the Lord, yes, but in that faith, the Lord gives us two other sources for strength; one of those sources will be my focus for today.
Understanding your peace
Paul understood that the peace he had obtained within himself was a source of his strength. Rather than moving around frantically, Paul moved in calm and peace when it seemed the whole was after him. You see, Paul knew the great difficulty he was facing on his journeys, but he could also write to the Philippians, while in prison, “the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12).” Paul was at peace when he wrote that from prison and he clearly had not lost focus.
Even near the end of his life, Paul could write and say to Timothy from his place of peace, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).” Paul was still very focused even when the end was near as peace was the source for Paul’s ability to be able to endure. In order for us to be able to endure, we must come to understand our peace so that we can rely on it and continue standing strong in the face of all our troubles.
So, to understand this source of strength, we must first understand where our peace came from.
The peace that everyone can attain is not given by the world, but rather, it is peace that is given by the Lord. As we have learned recently, the Lord gave His only begotten Son to us in order to reconcile – to restore harmony – between us and Himself (2 Cor. 5:18) – He gave His Son to give us true rest (peace/contentment) in our soul.
Jesus said to all of us, His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27).” Without Christ restoring harmony between mankind and the Lord, we would have never been able to have peace. Without peace of mind, we would be lost, exhausted from stress, crushed, and destroyed in this life. So peace is something you ought to be trying to attain so that you can endure and persevere through life.
Our fight to attain our peace
Now, while peace is available to everyone, attaining that peace was not and is not an easy task. We who are at peace within had to fight for that peace within and in fighting for this peace, we treasure it and rely on it as our source of strength. So, let me explain this fight for peace so that those who do not understand can understand and so that those who want this peace can attain it as well.
When it came to attaining Jesus’ peace, the first step that we had to take was seeking forgiveness from the Lord – this is not an easy task. You see, forgiveness called for us to first have to heed God’s rebuke in that the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). Again, heeding the Lord’s rebuke is not an easy task because one has to hear that they have disobeyed the Lord and sinned (Rom. 3:23). Something that nobody wants to ever hear is that they have done wrongly.
Forgiveness then called for us to acknowledge and confess the error of our way (1 John 1:9), and this again is something that is incredibly difficult for us to do. In order to acknowledge and confess the error of our way we have to lower ourselves and let go of our pride and ego; we have to humble ourselves – again, this is incredibly hard.
Lastly, forgiveness called for us to turn from our disobedience, completely let go of our own way, and commit ourselves to walking according to God’s instructions – it called for repentance. I want to remind you again that all of this – forgiveness – was just the first step in attaining peace of mind (heart).
The bell rings and the next round begins in order for us to attain peace and the fight to attain peace does not get any easier. In boxing, the saying is that your biggest enemy is yourself and this is very true in life itself, especially when it comes to trying to attain peace.
You see, in the next round, after we have been forgiven and committed ourselves to the Lord, we find that there is a war taking place inside of us; there is a war within for our peace of mind. The war within is a war between our two contrary natures – the nature of the flesh (old man), and the nature of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18).
The nature of the flesh has a grand desire to live for itself; our old man lives in total opposition to the way of the Lord. When we committed ourselves to the Lord, we moved to put this nature behind us but this nature always has a habit of trying to raise its head back up for control.
The nature of us that of the Spirit is a nature guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, this nature has a desire to live for the Lord by being obedient to His instructions. The end result of these two natures being within us is a violent spiritual battle with one nature trying to fulfill its lusts while the other desires peace. As I said all of last month, when we choose God over everything – when we listen to and lean on Him – we can win this internal struggle for peace!
Strengthened by the fight
I want you to know about this fight for peace so that we can understand all that we went through in order to get it. Many people don’t know about all of those hills and mountains that you had to climb over in order to attain your peace. Many people do not understand the valleys you had to go through in order to attain your peace. Because you fought yourself – your greatest enemy – for that peace, you gained that peace, and have the strength to take on and defeat anything.
Understand this: because you climbed those hills, conquered those mountains, and went through valleys and vast wilderness, you should treasure your peace and not let it go for anything! We should use all that we learned and gained from our fight for peace as a source of strength when we are surrounded by a cloud of enemies that desire to ruin, wreck, and destroy us!
Enemies to Our Peace
We know those who stand in opposition to us being at peace in our hearts. You see, we remember well that Paul said to the Ephesians that we face principalities, powers, rulers of darkness, and spiritual hosts of wickedness even in heavenly places. Satan, as we know, does not want any of us to have peace of mind and he will use any method he can to corrupt and destroy us (Eph. 6:10-11).
Firstly, Satan knows that you are your own worst enemy and so he will use you against yourself. However, this is why I shared our internal fight for peace because if we have beat our old man once in order to gain peace of mind, we can do it again and again! This is why it is vitally important for you to gain that inner peace.
When he can’t defeat us by using ourselves, the devil will go the external route to knock you out. As Paul was antagonized everywhere he went, we must be ready to stand strong every route we take on our journey. I am again reminded of how Satan tempted Jesus and how he threw everything he could to break and destroy Job. Satan attacked them both on every side but they were able to withstand him because they remained faithful and held on to their peace.
With trouble on every side, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to not lose heart or let go of hope (2 Cor. 4:16). Paul said to them that though the outward man is perishing, the inward man is renewed day by day – remember the tree of Jeremiah. In Isaiah 40:31, the Lord said that He will renew the strength of those that wait on Him; we will mount up with wings like eagles; we will run and not grow weary; we will walk and not faint! In other words, by God we can hold on to our peace in our day of trouble and He will make us resilient so that we can keep on standing strong in this fight!
Another enemy we face is life itself; again, everywhere we seem to turn there is trouble! Paul shared with the Corinthians about how he was greatly afflicted with a thorn in his flesh. Paul expressed to them that the thorn in his flesh hindered and buffeted him in his pursuits; he even felt his afflictions made him weak (2 Cor. 12:7-10). We often feel that our afflictions – whether it is mental, physical, emotional, illness, disability, age, what we can or cannot afford or do – hinder us and make us weak.
This is life trying to make us feel weak, but the truth of the matter is that we are actually at our strongest when we feel we are at our weakest. God said to Paul that His grace was sufficient for him and that His strength was made perfect in weakness. We ought not ever let life get to us and try to defeat us by making us feel weak and helpless!
Encouraged to Keep Standing Strong
Our Savior made it very clear to us that we are not weak nor are we helpless against Satan or life itself. Jesus plainly said to us, “in the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” These things, Jesus said, so that we may have peace because Jesus’ peace is our strength to endure Satan and life! We can make it because Jesus’ peace resting within us will keep us faithfully pushing through trials and tribulation!
We have the resilience
Yes, life is trying to knock us out, but we have absolutely nothing to be concerned about because we are the more resilient fighter in this fight. Our source of strength in the Lord and in our peace is going to carry us over all that we face. The Lord is in your corner, and regardless of what you may be going through, He is not going to let you be defeated.
Again, through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord tells us not to fear because He is with us. The Lord tells us not to be dismayed because He is our God and He will both strengthen and help us. God said that He will uphold us with His righteous right hand (Is. 41:10). As the proverb says, a righteous man may fall seven times, but he will rise again each time (Prov. 24:16).
So, yes, we are hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down on every side but we truly are special in that we are resilient. We have gone through so much yet we are still standing strong and we will continue to make it while relying on our source of peace. So, I encourage you to stand strong in that peace so that you can continue to fight and endure.