Strength For The Battle
In the early part of this chapter, Paul has been opening his heart about the Christian ministry, as he spoke of a ministry of revelation he had received because “God had shined in his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Because of that character of ministry he was under a very deep sense of responsibility to communicate it to others. Therefore, “we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus our Lord, and ourselves your servants for His sake.” And in order that there might be through him a ministry which did not communicate himself but which communicated his Saviour, it would only be accomplished at tremendous cost. Paul described this ministry in vs. 10-12 and I would underline the fact that this is not the question of the man in the pulpit only, because the moment we receive Christ into our lives as Saviour and Lord, from that time on life becomes a ministry. No longer is it an aimless existence to satisfy ourselves, but it becomes a ministry for the blessing of other people.
In the sequence of thought, Paul, who has exposed to us the real nature of this ministry and what is involved in it, now begins to open his heart to us and tell us how he received strength for the battle. If the ministry of Jesus Christ through our lives is to be communicated in the power of the Holy Spirit, it involves day by day the principle of the cross and of death to ourselves. How do we receive strength for the battle? It is fascinating to notice how Paul describes this battle of life: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is what he says the Christian life is, and it involves affliction.
The trouble with so many people is that the affliction has been so great and the battle so strong that they have fallen out by the wayside and have become casualties—on that mission field, in home ministry, in Christian testimony. The battle has been too hot, but Paul says it is only “light affliction.” If Paul calls it only a light affliction, then he doesn’t know our sufferings, about the lumbago and the sicknesses, the weeks of pain. He is no man to tell us about this, if he only calls it light affliction; look what we’ve been through! Does he know anything about standing above an empty grave and looking into it with a breaking heart? Light affliction!
Wait a moment. Was this the kind of thing about which Paul was speaking? Not altogether. If you want to spell out affliction, you can spell it out over Paul’s life in these words: “Are they ministers of Christ (I speak as a fool) I more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Light affliction? Do you notice that whole list has to do not with physical suffering at all, not with the kind of thing of which we so often complain and have to endure. Yet remember that Paul was not free from that: he could speak about a thorn in the flesh. But this is a realm of suffering that came to him simply because he was a Christian, the kind of thing that is inevitable the moment a man takes his stand in his soul for the things that is right. When his life and character begin to be governed in the light of eternity, from that moment affliction hits him. He could have avoided such affliction and so can we, but if he was to be true to His Master, and be real in his Christian profession, inevitably this must come to him constantly and he calls it “light affliction.”
It comes to you and me the first moment when, perhaps, in a godless home you bow your head at a meal and ask a blessing; when for the first moment in a home where people don’t understand, you give a word of testimony, and those who love you most begin to laugh. It happens in a business house when you stand clear of that which is disreputable. It happens in daily life constantly when a man recognizes that because he belongs to the Lord, he must live right, and when he demands grace and strength to live right, at that moment, there comes upon him what Paul calls “light affliction.” It is because we know that some of this is inevitable that some of us have escaped it at some point or other and flinched from it. What Paul calls light has been for us too heavy, and there have been moments when the affliction and pressure of it all have been so great that we have given in and no longer are we in the fight as Paul was.
Not only is this light affliction trivial, but it is temporary: “For a moment.” “Well, Paul, when do you expect to be free from it?” “When I die.” In the name of the Lord he had declared himself on His side, and that meant for him the renouncing of sin and of a pleasure-seeking existence, and the beginning of a ministry in life. Because of that he expected every day, all through life, to know this light affliction. There was no escape. But it is only for a moment! In the light of eternity, it is not going to last long, perhaps a decade, perhaps two decades, I don’t know, but how short a time in comparison with eternity! It is only temporary. Furthermore, it is a transforming affliction: “it worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Notice the contrast: affliction, glory; light affliction, weight of glory, light affliction which is but for a moment, eternal weight of glory; exceeding and eternal weight of glory, more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
This affliction in your life, that which happens to you inevitably because you are a Christian, the constant sense of attack from without and within because you are true to the Lord, is working for me (hammering out, as it were) an eternal weight of glory. That is Paul’s description of the affliction, how he described the battle. That is what he has to say to us about all that is involved in being a child of God.
If this be the battle, as Paul describes it, then we look more closely in the context here to find the secret of deliverance. Where does he get his strength? What is it that makes him feel it is worthwhile to be on the Lord’s side, even though it brings all this upon him every day? Here is a kind of suffering about which the unbeliever knows not a thing, and it is happening to Paul constantly; he says it is “working for me,” “it is worth it every minute of the day, I’m so thankful for it!” What is his secret of strength for a battle like this? It is because he looked at the things that are unseen, that are eternal, not at the things that are seen, because they are temporal. The word for “look” is not just a casual gaze, but the word that you would use if you picked up a telescope to bring something that is far away into focus and right into view. It suggests an intense examination, a steady stare.
Paul would say, “Because I have looked and understood, and because I’ve taken time not to glance casually at spiritual things but to sit down and think them through and examine them with my mind and my heart, and I’ve thought about time and eternity, something has happened in my life. I’ve come under deep conviction.” What sort of conviction? “We have the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; knowing that He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you” (vs. 13, 14) Paul can say he looked long into the face of his Lord, far beyond this earthly life; he has gazed into and thought about Heaven, and because of this, he has a faith like they used to have in Old Testament times. As they did, he believed, and therefore he has spoken. He has been gripped by this same spirit of faith, because this has settled down into a conviction that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is going to raise him also together with you, and one day we will meet again in Heaven and stand beside one another.
As we have ministered to one another here on Earth, so we are going to stand together before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the things done in our body. “I have looked,” says Paul, “and because I have looked I have come under deep conviction and I can never be the same man again! No longer can I hold truth as a mere theory. No longer can I simply discuss the correctness of my doctrine. I have been gripped by the reality that one day I’m going to meet God face to face and I’m going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and you’re going to stand there too.”
Someone may say that is not a place to be afraid of, for it is the believer’s prize day. You will never be at the Great White Throne, bless God, if you’re saved by grace and redeemed by blood and your name written in the Book of Life.
But surely then, this is a place to look forward to? The judgment seat of Christ is where I get my reward, and where I’m given a position of privilege in Heaven. It’s not only that. Paul speaks of it in chapter 5, verse 11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord,” and this is what grips the heart of the apostle. “One day, fellow Corinthians, fellow Christians, you and I are going to stand together before the judgment seat of Christ, and I’ve said some things to you pretty straight. I’ve talked to you about a brother who had to be ex-communicated from the church. I’ve pleaded with you about carnal Christian living. I’ve pleaded with you that you might recognize that it’s spirituality and not carnality that is going to count, but you have misunderstood my apostleship and my message. One day, I’m going to give an account of my ministry before the judgment seat of Christ, and you will also give an account of your response. Because I believe this, eternity has gripped my soul and things of time don’t matter, except that one day when I stand before Him, I shall by His grace be without blame. I look not at the things that are seen but at the things which are unseen.”
It may only be one or two decades until Pastor and congregation of The Moody Church are going to stand together before the judgment seat of Christ. That is a very solemn thought. How have I reacted? Has it been kind? Has it been loving? Has it been gracious? Has it been Christlike? Have I responded in a way that is worthy of a servant of God? Have I prayed behind my ministry as I ought to have done? Would there have been more blessing in this church than there has been if I had been the man I ought to have been? These things I have been asking myself as my soul has been gripped by this verse.
Lovingly I ask then, how have you reacted? What has been your response to the message? What has been your conversation outside the church concerning the preacher and the leadership of the church? Has it been kind? Has it been Christlike and gracious? God Who raised up Jesus shall also raise me up together with you, and we shall stand and look into His face.
Nearly fourteen years I ministered in a church in London and in the steady course of those years I saw a rising tide in congregation, in finances, blessing and conversions, until we were on the crest of the wave when the Lord took me out. For seven years, I have ministered to this congregation and I’ve seen a receding tide, the congregation decreasing and the finances going down. I wonder why? It is so easy to run from a situation like that, but I cannot because God has lessons to teach. If I ask the question concerning this beloved fellowship once a day, I ask it almost hourly: I wonder why? God Who raised up Jesus is going to raise up me together with you, and then we’ll know why. Will I have cause then to hide my head in shame for my failure to pray, my failure to speak as God would have me speak, my failure to love as God would have me love, my failure to respond in terms of a crucified life? Will you have cause to hide your head because you failed to respond, failed to love, failed to pray? In days of receding tide, I ask you, my dear brother and sister, ask yourself, I wonder why?
I have taken a look, as Paul took the look, and I’ve gazed long into the face of Jesus, and in my heart today the greatest reality is not the things of time, but the judgment seat of Christ. Only as he looked did Paul become possessed of a conviction and know a compassion in his heart. Paul did not want people to come and say, “I’m sorry you’re going through all of this. You’re only going through it because you are so out-and-out as a man of God. If only you’d lower the standard a little, you would take the heat off.” “No,” says Paul in verse 15, “it’s only a light affliction, and I go right through because it is all for your sake. As I face it every day of my life, you will see there is an abundance of grace that is sent down to me from Heaven. Because that is so it will result in thanksgiving on your part for a man who has faced it and gone through with it, and it will all redound to the glory of God. I have taken a long look and thought about the judgment seat of Christ, and eternity has come very near. Because of that, I have started loving in a new way, and all things are for your sake. Not only have I become possessed of this deep conviction that has fashioned all my life; not only has this resulted in a wonderful compassion as I have recognized that this is all part of the ministry for your sake; but now I’m possessed of a new courage: for which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.”
“The outward man perisheth.” Thirty years ago, when I was playing football, I wouldn’t have believed that, but I do now, and this is what is happening to us all. We find it hard sometimes to get to work, and to walk up the steps; we are getting a bit slow and rheumaticky, and the outward shell in which we live is decaying fast. Oh, but I’ll tell you something that is also happening! The inner man is being renewed every day. We are receiving strength for the battle, strength to bear the afflictions, and therefore we need not faint, because day by day we are finding an abundance of grace to meet every need. Therefore, although the outward man is perishing, it is so wonderful day by day to have that fresh touch from the Lord, a fresh supply of manna from heaven, that strength for daily duty that never fails.
Paul speaks to us as he describes the battle and he speaks to us of the secret of how he finds strength in it. Now we must come to some decision about this battle. Look into the face of the Master: are you in the battle? There are some people who are so foolish that they have only looked at the things which are seen; they are mastered by baseball, football and all the rest, and are completely given over to things that are temporal: the making of money and the reputation of business. One day, they will lay it all aside and leave everything behind. Have you give nyourself to that? Oh, before it’s too late, for God’s sake and for your soul’s sake, get into the fight and live for eternity.
I wonder whether there has been a point where the heat has been turned on in your soul, and it has become too great. You haven’t listened to the Word that says, “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:4), and when Satan put the pressure upon your life—perhaps a moral issue or a personal one of character—you gave in, you took your eyes off the Lord Jesus, you argued with the enemy and you gave in.
It didn’t begin at the moment when the heat was really on, did it? It began when you preferred a new car with all the latest equipment to a sacrificial gift to the Lord Jesus. It began when you purchased a wonderful stereophonic set with the latest components instead of listening to God’s need and His work or sending some missionary out to the field. It began there, didn’t it?
Now is the time for a decision. Do you want to get in the fight again? In the light of what I have said about the judgment seat, a place unquestionably where the believer has to face his sin, I know well that the sin question was covered by the blood, and I know that a man at the judgment seat of Christ will never lose his soul. But I do know this also, that if a child of God has given in and is no longer knowing the light affliction of which Paul speaks, and he has turned aside from the battle and has chosen the temporal instead of the spiritual, the earthly instead of the heavenly, I know that on that day he will be stripped naked before the eyes of the holy God. “Knowing therefore, brother, the terror of the Lord,” I would persuade you with all my heart and soul to get into the fight today, and to get back into the very center of the conflict before it is too late, that at any cost—whether it means tears and blood and sweat and travail—you will stand for God and for the right, for the proclamation of the Gospel. If you do, the other man will perish, but there will be help from the sanctuary, and strength and abundance of grace which will be to the thanksgiving of everybody and for the glory of God. Let us all, for Jesus’ sake, get into the fight!