On Whom Are You Trusting?
October 20, 2002 | Andy Davis
2 Corinthians 1:1-24
Abiding in Christ
One difficult aspect of the Christian life is putting all of our trust in God, and this sermon reminds us why it is important to do so.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Alright, we're going to do something a little different tonight. We finished the Elijah series last time. I'm going on vacation tomorrow morning, so I get one shot tonight to do something a little bit topical. That's true - strike that off the tape. But at any rate, we're going to be looking at the issue of reliance - on whom are you relying, who are you trusting in, or what are you trusting in - and I've given you a bizarre-looking little cartoonish sketch that I did at 5:20 this afternoon and ran off, only as an aid to help you in the things that I'm going to teach tonight. And I'd like to begin our journey in 2 Corinthians chapter 1. 2 Corinthians chapter 1, we're going to be looking together at the issue of trust and reliance, and we're gonna see as we begin just what a difficult issue it is to learn to completely trust in the Lord no matter what your circumstances are. That's very difficult, isn't it? And we're gonna see that, but we're gonna see how much God wants to work this in us, and how much it is connected to saving faith as well, it's really an extension of our justifying faith to learn to rely on God in any and every situation.
Now, in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul is writing to the Corinthians and speaking to them about comfort. He calls God the God of all comfort. We're gonna begin at verse 3, and he says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we may comfort those in any trouble with a comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." Verse 8, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt 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. 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 favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many." We're gonna stop there.
Now, Paul, he's writing to the Corinthians about the issue of comfort in the midst of suffering. Now, he's not talking here about what we think of when we think of comfort, like a comfortable chair, or a comfortable house, or a comfortable car, or a comfortable lifestyle. I would think these things are not in his mind at all and actually might be an enemy of the very thing he's talking about. But he's talking about something else, a kind of consolation or a comforting that comes through the comforter - I think, through the Holy Spirit in the midst of suffering, earthly suffering - that causes us to elevate our eyes off of our immediate circumstances and put them up where they belong in the heavenly realms. As it says in Colossians 3, "Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." So that's what I think is the comfort that he has in mind.
And he calls God the God of all comfort, and he is indeed the God of all comfort, of the kind of comfort or consolation that I just refer to, God alone is the author, there's no other source of it. But yet it seems that he mediates it through us, and so that as we go through suffering, as we go through difficulties and we find God faithful in them, we have a story to tell, don't we? We have something we can share, a testimony, and we can bring that experience right to bear in the life of somebody who's going through something similar. It's never exactly the same, and we know that, but it's something similar, and we can say, “I wanna tell you what God did for me in a similar situation,” and then you can share that comfort.
And he says that we go through these sufferings, we go through this comfort so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. And isn't that just like the Lord? He desires to bless us, he desires to give us good things, but he never wants us to lock it up for ourselves. He always wants us to take the blessing that we have received by grace and then just shed it abroad that we might pour it out on anyone that we could meet. Because it's really God's, isn't it? And so we can share it with all of God's people. And so that really, Paul says, is a reason for the suffering, a reason for the trial so that he might have a story to tell, he might have a word of encouragement that has some meat behind it, some actual history, because our God is a God of history, isn't he? And so, I actually went through this; I remember five years ago, and God did such and such for me, and so we have a story, it's not just theoretical, but it's a testimony, and so God brings us through sufferings so that we can encourage and comfort each other. And doesn't that bind us together? Doesn't that bind us together as we go through things together? Isn't that the purpose of the church? I know somebody who's very dear to me going through a very difficult time, does not have the resources of the church, does not have the resources. That person's alone, facing it alone, does not have the Scriptures, does not have the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. And how can they face that suffering? But we have the consolations of God, don't we? We have the Scriptures, we have the promises of God, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit, but we also have each other, brothers and sisters, who then bring to us testimonies of God's faithfulness and of comfort so that we can be encouraged. We need to do that for each other, don't we? We can't hold our stories back, we need to find out what's happening in each other's lives and then bring a word of comfort and consolation. You should come here on Sundays and be built up. You should come here on Sundays and be strengthened and encouraged so that you can face what you're facing, because your brothers and sisters brought to you the comfort of Christ, and that's what he's dealing with here.
"He desires to bless us, he desires to give us good things, but he never wants us to lock it up for ourselves."
But now I wanna zero in on something in the second paragraph, he says in verse 8, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia." Now, I wanna stop and comment about this. I know people who never want anybody to be uninformed about the hardships they go through, but not for the reason Paul had in mind. Do you know the kind of person I'm talking about? You might call them whiners, complainers. Is Paul being a whiner here? Is he being a complainer? I don't think so, not at all. But these are the kind of people that just wanna share the misery. It's not got anything to do with the kind of spiritual ministry that Paul has in mind here, but instead they're complaining, they're whining. And complaining is a great sin, isn't it? I think we underestimate it, it is anti-praise. It's the exact opposite of praise. God sent poisonous snakes once when the people complained about the food. Okay? Let's keep that in mind, that's what God thinks about complaining, and he has never changed. So any of you kids here who don't like what you had for dinner tonight, keep that in mind. But the fact of the matter is, God hates complaining. Alright? But that's not what Paul is about here, is he? He's not saying, I don't want you to be uninformed about the hardships I went through so that you can commiserate and old pal. What a tough thing you're going through. It's not that at all.
"And complaining is a great sin, isn't it? I think we underestimate it, it is anti-praise. It's the exact opposite of praise."
He said, I want you to know what we went through so that you can be encouraged by what God did, and also so that you can in effect buy stock in the company of my life, so that when it comes out well, you can rejoice and give thanks to God because you bought shares in it through your prayer. I really look on prayer that way, I'm buying shares in this people group, that when they come to Christ, I get to rejoice and thank God. I'm buying shares in somebody else's cancer treatment so that when they're healed, I can rejoice with the kind of joy that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't prayed. Actually, numerous times recently I've seen God do something very encouraging to me and regret that I didn't pray about it. Isn't that weird? It already happened, I already had the good thing, but I missed the blessing of remembering a specific time when I asked for it so that I could go back and say thank you for answering my prayer. I leaned on his providential care, he did care for me, but I didn't get the full blessing 'cause I didn't pray about it, you see? So, it is with each other, and so he says at the end, he says in verse 11, "Then many will give thanks," he says, "…as you help us by your prayers," as you take shares in our situation through your prayers, then as a result of that, many will give thanks, not just a few, many will give thanks. For what? Well, for the gracious favor granted to us in answer to the prayers of many. You see how it works? God should be thanked a lot for the good thing he's doing for me, you see? And so we take shares in each other, that's why we should pray for each other a lot, so that we can just have incredible celebrations, giving thanks all the time for his faithfulness.
But he says, "I don't want you to be uninformed about what we went through." What did he go through? My goodness. You read the life of Paul out of the Book of Acts, it's incredible. I don't know how anybody could survive or sustain that level of ministry, that kind of stress. If you think you have stress in your life, read with the kinds of things that Paul went through. I mean, basically, city after city, there would be a mob riot scene of people wanting to kill him. Now, I don't know how that strikes you, and you may think you know, yeah, but I've got car trouble, okay? Or, I'm struggling with my employment situation. Or, I've got - and I'm not trying to minimize those things, but think about it just in an absolute scale, everywhere that this man went, he had mortal enemies. And that's what he's talking about here. Do you see that?
He said, "You know, we were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure…" I get the feeling of being like in a monstrous trash compactor and the walls are just coming in and you think you're gonna get crushed. We are absolutely overwhelmed by this trial, and as a matter of fact, we passed the death sentence on ourselves, 100% convinced we were going to die. No question about it. Now, you might say, What's that to Paul? He's convinced that he's going to go to heaven, but we're still human beings and to go through that process, there's still fear, there's still suffering, there's still the anticipation of what that's going to be like, there's the grief and the sadness that comes with death. It's strange not to grieve over death, it's not Christian actually. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb, and so he felt as though he were under great pressure, and he says, "We," so it was a group of people that were together.
And so he says, "We were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure." And that's a key to what he's learning here. So that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But here's the key, this happened so that, or that. Now, stop right there. That's the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The stuff that happens in your life that is so hard for you, it's happening to them too. Do you realize that? They're going through that too. It's common to the age we live in. Unemployment, physical sufferings, disease, death, all kinds of things, economic difficulties, all of these things are common to this present world age and everybody goes through them. The difference between a Christian and non-Christian is that there's a purpose behind Christian suffering. This happened "So that," says Paul. You see that, there's a reason for it. Okay, Paul, what was the reason? "So that we might no longer rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead." And that's incredible.
Paul was a PhD in the Christian life. You know what I'm saying? Absolute advanced, super Christian. And he's having to learn the lesson of no longer relying on himself, but on God. What does that tell you about human nature? What does it tell you about your own heart? Your own heart is a very grabby thing that's constantly wanting to fold in on itself and focus on itself, and the exact opposite of that is faith or trust, reliance in God. So, take out my quirky, bizarre-looking cartoonish drawing and look at it. On whom are you relying? This is the issue that Paul's dealing with here. I went through this suffering, says Paul, so that I might learn something. What would I learn? Not to rely on myself anymore. Paul, do you tend to rely on yourself? Oh, yes, I do. All the time. Yeah, if any of you are missing any, there's some of them upfront. Does anyone need one? Okay, look on. Okay.
Alright, so on whom are you relying? Paul was saying, I tend to rely on myself, and so I had to go through a situation which was so severe that I looked to God who could raise the dead. So, how does it work? You see this precarious situation, don't you? You see it, it's a hell with a slope going down to the left and down to the right, and on the top there's a little ball. That's very precarious, isn't it? Meanwhile, I know you can't tell, but if this were animated, you see that the whole thing is kind of trembling all the time shaking. You see that? Tremors of life. I know you can't read my writing. I was so convicted by Don Whitney, he has an incredibly beautiful handwriting, like calligraphy. He said it's just a 15-minute course that I took and I was like, not 15 minutes for me, it's 15 lifetimes before I can write neatly. But anyway, this thing is shaking. Alright? That is life. Is your life perfectly stable and placid? No, it's shaking, you see? And what's going to happen to that ball? Well, it's going to roll down on one side or the other, and there's a pull like gravity down called sin. And what's the down area? Self-focus. You see what I'm saying? Self-focus. I will not say self-reliance, but rather self-focused because you can come down on the left-hand side, negative, or you can come down on the positive side, positive.
So what happens? You face a situation in your life, like Paul did. You see? You appraise or assess yourself in terms of your ability to meet that certain circumstance. You look inward, maybe it's financial, you go check the bank book. Maybe it's physical, and you check with your doctor or with yourself to see if you're in good health, you think about certain things inwardly. You're looking inward for every situation. Relational difficulties. You say, “Well, I'm a friendly person, or maybe I can do this or that.” There's a focus, you're looking inward. Now, as you face the circumstance, you can and you appraise yourself, you can either come up negative or positive. You can assess your circumstance, looking inward and say, I don't have what it takes. This is too hard for me.
Now you're gonna start going down this side, the negative side, and you're gonna start rolling down. The absolute bottom of that is the D word. Right in the word despair. Do you see that? That's the bottom of that journey. You end up in despair. Now, what is despair? Despair is the extreme version of self-focus and negative appraisal of your ability to meet your circumstances. It's the extreme version of that. You're focused on yourself, you're facing circumstances, you do not have what it takes to match it, and you go into despair. You see what I'm saying? Negative side.
Conversely, you're facing circumstances, you look inward and you come up, thumbs up, you're smart, you're able, you're rich, you're capable, all of the things. The ultimate extreme of that is the A word, arrogance. And the fact of the matter is, despair and arrogance are two sides of the same coin, they really are. It just happens to be whether you think you have the resources to meet your circumstance or not. Both of them are opposite of faith, they're opposite of trust in God, reliance in God. You see what I'm talking about?
Now, I was thinking about the situation, and I was reading through the Book of Deuteronomy, and I found in one passage both sides of the same coin. Look at Deuteronomy chapter 1 and you'll see what I mean. Deuteronomy chapter 1, the circumstance is right before Israel enters the Promised Land, Moses is giving them a second hearing of the law, a second reading or giving of the law - that's what the word Deuteronomy means in Latin, it's a second law giving. And so he's going over their history. Now, this is after 40 years of wandering in the desert. It's not in one sense meant to be originally, they were to go quickly through the desert after receiving the Ten Commandments and go right on into the Promised Land, but something happened. You remember, they approached the river the first time, 40 years before that, and they sent out 12 spies. You remember this? And the spies went out and scoped out the land, brought back a big cluster of grapes and just came back with a report that the land is incredibly rich. It's a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But they had a different opinion about their future in the land. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, were focused on God. They were looking to God, and to his power, and to his promises, and to his faithfulness, and to what God was intending to do, and what was his purpose in taking them out of Egypt with a mighty hand, an outstretched arm. It was to bring them into this land, and they said, God will give us victory over our enemies, but the other 10 represented unbelief and in my opinion, self-focus.
Now, Moses is rehearsing this history with them in Deuteronomy chapter 1, he's going over it again. So they came back. Look at verse 25, Deuteronomy 1:25, it says, "Taking with them some of the fruit of the land," they, we're talking about the spies now, "brought it down to us and reported, 'It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us.'" "But…" verse 26, oh, what a tragic word. "But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, 'The Lord hates us. So he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made us,'" listen, "'lose heart.'" Where does that fit in my cartoonish diagram? That's despair, isn't it? Or at least heading that way. They have lost heart, they are overwhelmed with the situation, they have lost heart. They say, The people are stronger and taller than we are. The cities are large with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there. And so, they're looking inward, aren't they? And how do they come out in their assessment of their facing of circumstances? They come out thumbs down, don't they? They're on the negative side.
Look for a minute, keep your finger in Deuteronomy 1, but go back to Numbers 13:33. This is when they came back and reported. In Numbers 13, let's say 31 through 33. Let's read that section. Numbers 13:31-33, "But the men who had gone up with him, Caleb, said, 'We can't attack those people, they are stronger than we are.' And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land." Isn't that something? They spread a bad report about the land that they had explored. "They said 'The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.'" Verse 33, "'We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we look the same to them.'" Do you see that? We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes. Where is their focus? Where are they looking at? They're looking at themselves and the circumstances, and so they seem like nothing to themselves. You know what I'm talking about? They're looking inward and they come up negative.
Who are Joshua and Caleb looking to? Well, look back at Deuteronomy 1 after the grasshopper quote. Deuteronomy 1:29, "Then I," this is Moses, "said to you, 'Do not be terrified, do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God…'" stop right there. Oh, yeah, him. You see? "'The Lord your God who is going before you will fight for you as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you as a father carries his son all the way he went until you reached this place.'" So he says, remember, this is Moses, but Joshua and Caleb were saying the same thing, We can do it with God's strength. God will empower us, he will go before us. And Moses said, He carried you. He carried you.
Now, I want to stop for a moment and say - look at the comfort and the consolation that God does not give them at this moment. He doesn't say, “You folks are suffering from poor self-esteem.” Let me tell you how great you are. Sit down and let me give you some words of encouragement concerning how great you are. You don't really know what good fighters you really are, and he pumps them up, builds them up. Do you see God ever doing that kind of thing? Do you remember when Moses was afraid to go and speak to Pharaoh? And Moses' focus was where? On himself. He said, I've never been good at speaking, God. And all these excuses are coming out of his own self-weakness. You remember what God said to Moses? He didn't say, Moses, you don't know who you are. You don't know just how great you are, you've been specially trained for this mission. You are the man, Moses. Does he ever say that? He says, No, I will be with you. You frankly assess yourself even now, still too highly, actually. Still too highly. But the fact of the matter is, you're irrelevant in this matter; I will be with you. It's kind of like the Israelites were a couple of ounce weight and the Anakites, 20-ounce weight, and God, an 80-million-ton weight and whatever side he's on is the issue. You see what I'm saying? It doesn't really matter whether Moses is a good speaker or poor speaker, whether they were good fighters or not good fighters, whether the Anakites were big people or had walls up to the sky, none of that mattered. The only thing that matter is what was God's will in this matter? What was he doing here? But they could not, they would not believe in him, they didn't trust in him, they didn't fill their minds with the concept, our God is a mighty God, our God created heaven and earth. He can do anything. They didn't do that, and so they focused inward.
Verse 32 of Deuteronomy 1, "In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey in fire by night and a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way that you should go." I was carrying you, like a father carries his son. That's not self-esteem language, folks. That's, “You're weak, I'm strong, I'll carry you,” language. Do you see it? But they weren't seeing it properly, and so verse 34, "When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore, not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to your forefathers to give to them except Caleb, son of Jephunneh. He will see it, I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly." That is a very serious moment at redemptive history. He says this whole generation will perish in the desert, except Joshua and Caleb - and he mentions Joshua next in verse 37-38. He says, "Because of you, the Lord also became angry with me, and he said, 'You shall not enter it either, but your assistant Joshua, son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him because he will lead it,'" etcetera. Joshua and Caleb, because they believe, because they trust, they will go in, but none of you will.
Now, we go to the other side. We flip to the other side. Look at verse 41, "Then you replied, 'We have sinned against the Lord.'" Too late. But that's what they said, "'We have sinned against the Lord. We will go up and fight as the Lord our God commanded us.' so everyone of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country." Do you see what's going on there? Who are they focused on now? Themselves still. But now they're on the other side of the chart. Oh, we changed our mind. We can do it. They're pumping each other up, they're pumping - put on your weapons, let's go, we can do it, we can do it. And so they put on their weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country, but the Lord said to me, Tell them do not go up and fight because I will not be with you. I am the 80 million ton weight, and I'm not on your side now. I'm telling you don't go. And so if you go, you'll be fighting not only the Anakites but me. You will fail. You see? "So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the Lord's command, and in your arrogance," you see that? We've gone from despair to arrogance, and "…in your arrogance, you marched up to the hill country, the Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you and they chased you like a swarm of bees, and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. You came back and wept before the Lord, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you. And so you stayed in Kadesh many days - all the time you spent there."
Now, that's a tragic story, but it's two sides of the same coin. Do you see it? It's just two sides of the same coin. It's despair on one side and arrogance on the other, and there are stepping stones to that, like short of despair, you have anxiety, for example, maybe or fear, there are some other things, and there's steps short of arrogance too. But the fact of the matter is, God does not want you to look to yourself at all, he wants you to look to God, to the God, what Paul says in 2 Corinthians, "…who raises the dead." You're trusting him for a resurrection, aren't you? Can you do that? No. And so he says, Focus on God. On whom are you trusting? Are you trusting in God? Are you trusting in yourself?
Now, I've thought much about this diagram and I started to realize that you can see some key people in Israel's history here too. For example, when Jesus came, you had two categories of people that were on opposite sides. You had on the one side, the sinners. Remember? Tax collectors and sinners? And on the other side, you had the Pharisees. Now, where do the sinners come up on this chart? They look to God's law. And do they think they can make it? Do they think they can keep God's law? No, they can't, and so they entirely give up on trying. It's called despair, they're not trying even to live an outwardly moral life, they're openly debauched really, they're given up entirely. And you will meet people like that in your witness, won't you? People who just think that there's no way that God could forgive them and so they're not really even trying. You see? On the other side, you've got the Pharisees, they look to God's law, and do they think they can keep it? Oh, yeah, they really do actually. "All these I have kept since my childhood," they would say. Arrogance. Neither one leads to heaven. Neither one, neither despair nor arrogance, but only trust in the Lord.
Now, one final thing. As you look at that, okay, you say that is very precarious. Is it like that all my life long? Don't you know people that just seem to keep trusting in God no matter what happens? There are actually people like that. I think Paul was much further along in that after the trials he went through than before, and as a matter of fact, that's exactly what the trials are for, to teach you through God's history of faithfulness to you to stop fussing the next time the new trial comes, you start to remember God's faithfulness and all that he did for you, and you'd trust him. And so, the thing gets a little weird looking there, you see the bottom half? Spiritual maturity? So that when it's shaking, you're staying essentially in the center of your walk with God, essentially you are trusting in him all the time, essentially looking to him. Faithful he is to his promises, trusting in him all the time. And that's where we wanna be.
Now, the fact is, how do you go from here to here? Well, you go through hard times. These things happen so that we might no longer rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. And so therefore, count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must dip your little mountain here at the top so that you will be mature and complete, not lacking anything, stayed on Jehovah, stayed on God all the time, no matter what you go through. Encourage one another to be in the middle. Find a weak brother or sister and encourage them to trust in God, encourage them, strengthen feeble knees and weak arms, it says. Strengthen them, find each other in weakness and say, Brother, sister, what are you going through? Tell me so I can pray. And then exhort them to trust in a God who raises the dead.