Pentecost 3b

Preached: June 14, 2015

Faith Speaks Out through Adversity
2 Corinthians 4:13-18

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit emboldens us to speak about Jesus is 2 Corinthians 4:

Having the same spirit of faith in line with what’s written: “I believed, therefore I have spoke,” we too believe, therefore we speak as well, since we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us as well with Jesus and present us with you. For all these things are for your sake, in order that grace, as it increases toward many, makes thanksgiving overflow to God’s glory.

Therefore, we do not lose heart. But even if our outer self perishes, our inner self, however, keeps on being renewed day by day. For the momentary lightness of our trouble far and away works for us an eternal weight of glory, as we do not focus on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

In bright daylight a flashlight, like this one, is barely noticeable. I can point it at the cross, and you can’t even tell. But when all is dark, how noticeable even this flashlight is!

So also when times are darkest, that’s when others notice where your faith is pointing. For you see faith speaks out. Faith confesses what you believe. Not even trouble, adversity, or suffering can silence faith. In fact as your faith continues to shine through such difficult times, people take note and listen. Faith speaks out through adversity. That’s the theme. Through the word of God before us today, may the Holy Spirit strength us to speak out, spreading God’s grace to others and focusing on the unseen glory. That’s what happens as faith speaks out through adversity.

A. Spreading God’s grace to others

The reading begins in the middle of Paul’s thought here. Maybe you recall last week’s Second Lesson from the first half of this chapter. Paul tells us that the Gospel, which shines from the face of Christ, brought light to our dark hearts. God has placed that treasure in clay jars. He’s entrusted it to us, fragile, mortal human beings to show that it’s power belongs to God and is not from us.

The living power of the Gospel of Christ keeps us going no matter what the trouble, adversity, or suffering. Paul writes, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV84). Yes, just as the enemies pursued Jesus to death, so also they pursue those who follow Jesus. But the very darkness of this persecution let the Gospel shine all the more brightly even from clay jars, bringing life to the Corinthians and others who heard it. So Paul writes, “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal bodies. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:11, 12 NIV84). As faith speaks the Gospel in times of adversity, God’s grace spreads to others, bringing life.

All this reminded Paul of Psalm 116. The Psalm writer says that he was overcome by trouble and sorrow. He called out to the Lord who is gracious, righteous, and full of compassion. Even when greatly afflicted, he believed the Lord and so now speaks out and proclaims the name of the Lord in the presence of all the people. Even the adversity of death itself cannot enslave him again, for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints, his holy people.

Paul sums up this Psalm by writing, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoke’” (2 Corinthians 4:13 NIV11). Then he applies it, “Since we have the same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:13-15 NIV11).

Yes, all that Paul went through, all the suffering, all the adversities, all the persecution, all was for their benefit and not only theirs but yours and mine as well so that God’s grace spread to them and through the ages down to us. And now we too overflow in thanks to God and give him the glory for his grace in Christ Jesus. Paul’s faith spoke out through adversity spreading God’s grace to others, even to you and me.

Since you know the grace of God, dear Christian friend, let your faith speak out through adversity spreading God’s grace to others. You know God’s grace, the grace that took a wretched, dirty sinner like you and me and washed us clean through the water and word of Baptism. You know God’s grace, the grace that brings you the words of eternal life written in the Scriptures so that you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, your only Savior from sin and death. You know God’s grace, the grace that give us you a foretaste of the heavenly feast, strengthening your faith by giving you the body and blood of Jesus in his Supper.

Look at what God’s grace has already done for you. The Father gave up his Son for us guilty, undeserving sinners. Now through faith in Jesus, you are his brother or sister, God’s own child. Not even Satan, that strong man, that ancient serpent, can snatch you away from Jesus. He is stronger; he has crushed the serpent’s head. Jesus rose from the dead! Not even death can separate you from his love. That’s God’s power at work for you. So speak out in adversity. Speak out with that faith that puts the spotlight on Jesus and his grace.

You know God’s promise in Romans 8:28. All things, even bad things, work together for good for his people. But sometimes we struggle with that promise because we’re asking, “What good is God working for me? Is he training my faith? Is he testing me? Is he getting me to lean on him more?” And that can all be part of God’s plan. But maybe the primary good God is working isn’t directly for you, but for those around you. As your faith shines out in times of adversity, God’s grace spreads to others. Maybe that’s the good he is working through our suffering. As you give thanks to God and glorify him even in dark times, others will want to know the reason for the hope that you have. What an opportunity adversity gives for faith to speak out and spread God’s grace!

B. Focusing on the unseen glory

But how can we not lose heart when adversity strikes hard? How can we we shine out with God’s grace when outwardly we are wasting away? What does the text say? “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV11).

This is not a condescending trivializing of our troubles, such as, when someone who’s successful says to you, “Your problems aren’t that bad. Things will eventually get better.” Paul saw and felt the troubles in his own life. Outwardly he was wasting away. What had we experienced in his missionary work? Five times he received thirty-nine lashes from the Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Three times he was shipwrecked. He had known sleepless nights, hunger, and cold. He struggled with what he called a thorn in the flesh, whatever that ailment might have been. He carried on his heart concern for all the churches. Would they continue in the faith or fall?

And yet he refers to all his troubles as light and momentary. For you see, dear friends, he focused on the unseen glory. So also, no matter what you are going through focus on the unseen glory. For then your faith will be able to speak out through adversity.

How do we we focus on the unseen glory even when we are outwardly wasting away? Paul speaks of being inwardly renewed day by day. That’s what the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus does for you, dear Christian. That Gospel is an unseen or hidden glory. God’s grace is hidden under the ink and paper of an old book called the Bible. God’s grace is hidden under water sprinkled on an infant’s head. God’s grace is hidden under bread and wine. But these humble means reveal God’s saving glory. Through the Scriptures and the Sacraments the Gospel penetrates our hearts and inwardly renews us day by day, strengthening our faith, reviving our hope, refreshing our joy, increasing our love. Focus on the unseen glory as you gladly hear and learn God’s Word, as you remember his promises made to you at your Baptism, as you rejoice in his body and blood that you eat an drink in his Supper.

And through these, the Holy Spirit lifts our eyes from our present troubles and points you to the eternal glory, the glory hidden in heaven for you who believe, the glory that will never perish, spoil, or fade. One of my favorite hymns describes it this way: “There is a blessed home beyond this land of woe, Where trials never come, nor tears of sorrow flow; Where faith is fully lost in sight, and patient hope is crowned, And everlasting light its glory casts around. O joy all joys beyond, to see the Lamb who died, And count each sacred wound in hands and feet and side; To give to him eternal praise for ev’ry triumph won. And sing through endless days the great things he has done. Look up, you saints of God, nor fear to tread below The path your Savior trod of daily toil and woe; Wait only for a little while in uncomplaining love. His own most gracious smile will welcome you above.” (Baker, Henry B. “There is a Blessed Home” Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal: Supplement 729:1,3,4)

Until then, dear Christian friends, shine into the darkness. Speak out through adversity, spreading God’s grace in Christ, so that many others may join us in that unseen glory to come. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313