So We Do Not Lose Heart
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
Columbia researcher Sheena Iyengar has found that the average person makes about 70 decisions every day. That's 25,500 decisions a year. Over 70 years, that's 1,788,500 decisions. I am convinced that is why some days I feel so tired. Perhaps like me, you occasionally come to the end of the day and you just don’t want to make another decision.
1. Twice in this fourth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he writes “we do not lose heart.” The word translated “lose heart” means to give up or to be utterly spiritless. When you put the daily decision making requirement of human life, for example, in the perspective of the sheer volume of a lifetime of decision making it could dispirit a person. Most of us have known moments when the accumulation of events great and small wear you down to that place dangerously close to losing heart. To observe a child who has lost heart is heartbreaking. Losing heart is frankly destructive of life; to be “putting in time” or simply “going through the motions” robs us of so much that could be.
When Paul writes, so we do not lose heart, he does so in the context of his ministry as an apostle; his work as a church planter with that vision to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ; the mission to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. If anyone had reason to lose heart it was Paul; if there was any church that made you think ministry a waste of time, it was Corinth, as we shall see. As we explore what is behind Paul’s affirmation that “we do not lose heart” I believe we will find help for all those instances in life when we find ourselves losing heart; those moments when we think we want to or know we should persist but have nothing left in the tank, so to speak.
Let me probe this conviction with you a little further. We may think that a sermon on not losing heart when it comes to the proclamation of Jesus and building up the church and making the good news of Jesus known is narrowly aimed; that it is appropriate for inside the four walls of the church and we wonder how it extends beyond the church. What does persisting in the activities of the faith life of the church have to do with my work or family or civic life?
The witness of the scriptures is that our world is shot through and through with spirit; that the reality of our existence includes but is much more that what the eye can see; that humans are ultimately creatures of spirit. To ignore this reality and to live life as if only the material mattered is to live on the periphery of real existence; it is to nibble at the edges of what could be. The spiritual impacts everything else in life. Not losing heart with respect to the gospel spills over into not losing heat about all manner of things. It guides us in the ordering of our loves and affections so we can let lesser things fall off and be occupied with the truly essential and important. As the believer becomes ever and more deeply appreciative of the love of God that so loved the world he gave his only Son thanksgiving bubbles up in her heart and spills over to all of life. When I see what love the Father has for us I become thankful for the wonders of creation as manifestation of that love; I become more grateful for family and friends as people for whom our Saviour died—I learn to take more joy in people because God loves people.
Think of a person’s business life, for example. Is it solely to make money? For some it is and for those people the value of customer and employee and boss has a dollar attached to it; people become economic things. Such attitudes often undermine the effectiveness of our work and enterprise. On the other hand, if for the believer people are the objects of God’s love then our work is something that brings benefit for the customer, it blesses employee with the means for the care of life, it fosters respect for those to whom we report. Such an attitude blesses life and one of those blessings is economic.
Hence, I believe we will find help for all those instances in life when we find ourselves losing heart in the faith the gospel imparts. The blessing of heart that is the good news that Jesus loves us so much that he pours himself out without remainder for our sakes spills over into every area of life.
2. (Map picture) Corinth (Greece) became an important city in the ancient world because of its location on a shipping route. The city was located on an isthmus 6 kilometers wide with two ports and was known as “the bridge of the sea.” On the east (right) was the Saronic Gulf that opens to the Aegean Sea (Middle East); to the west (left) was the Corinthian Gulf that lead to the Adriatic Sea (Italy). In the 6th Century BCE the “doilkos” or slipway was built; a stone paved roadway that allowed for smaller ships to be moved from one port to the other on special wheeled vehicles. For larger ships the goods were unloaded at one port and reloaded on waiting ships at the other. The trip around Greece through the Mediterranean Sea was often treacherous due to storms at certain times of the year; the Apostle Paul was on a ship taking this Mediterranean route when shipwrecked at the Island of Malta. (Picture) In 1839 a canal was completed along this route for ship travel today.
It was a bustling city when the Apostle Paul arrives to preach the gospel (Acts 18:1-18, c.50 CE). The Isthmian Games were held at the temple of Poseidon in Corinth every other year and made considerable contribution to cities life. Paul was a skilled tentmaker (leatherworker) and his arrival at Corinth was a few months in advance of these games; Paul knows what any entrepreneur could figure out—people will be coming to these games needed temporary shelter. At Corinth Paul’s church planting activities were self-financed.
You can imagine that a city like Corinth with all its economic promise would be a place of great contrasts. It would attract all kinds of people; as a shipping port the nations of the world would be represented in some measure or other. On the one hand a cultural centre with wealthy people and on the other poverty and slavery. The people who responded to Paul’s gospel proclamation and became the church at Corinth were a cross-section of this population and the challenges of church life Paul addresses in his first letter reflect the character of the city. There were divisions in the church between rich and poor, slave and free; in addition they were condoning incest, spiritual elitism, and dragging one another off to the courts over petty squabbles.
Paul received news from Titus (companion in the ministry) that Paul’s first letter had been largely successful in guiding this congregation to address the issues Paul raised on his letter. However, in the meantime another problem has arisen. Some adversaries of Paul had infiltrated the church with the primary aim of undermining and destroying Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul writes the second Corinthian letter to address this challenge.
Paul, they alleged, was a double-minded worldling who acted capriciously and lorded it over his converts, so restricting their spiritual development. He carried no letters of commendation because he commended himself as would a madman or imposter. Just as his gospel was obscure, so also the letters he wrote were unintelligible or devious and written with the perverse aim of condemning and causing pain. His refusal to accept remuneration from the Corinthians proved he cared little for them showing he knew he was a counterfeit Apostle. The fund raising drive that Paul was organizing for the saints in Jerusalem impoverished by famine was really for himself. And of course these opponents claimed to be everything they said Paul was not—genuine apostles.
In spite of what looks like just one problem after another in this church at Corinth, Paul says “so we do not lose heart.” In addition to all of this Paul had encountered enormous challenges as he plants churches in cities around the Aegean sea. Imprisonments, floggings, five time forty lashes, three times beaten with rods, another time stoned and left for dead, three times shipwrecked, dangers of all kinds, hardship, sleeplessness, hungry and cold. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) And in the midst of all that he gets a report of the foolishness going on at Corinth. And yet he still can say “so we do not lose heart.” Why doesn’t Paul throw up his hands and leave them to their own devices?
3. About losing heart, Paul wrote “since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Notice with me the relationship of apprehending the glorious mercy of God and not losing heart. As our hearts are filled with the wonder of God’s love for us; as we apprehend in Jesus’ life given for us that he will go to any length for us; as he bears our sin and bears it away we see that he pours himself out for us without remainder. In our apprehension of God’s mercy we find that our faith is sustained.
I was reading recently a book about the teaching of the theologian Karl Barth. Barth wrote: “The divine being and life act takes place with ours, and it is only as the divine takes place that ours takes place. To put it in the simplest way, what unites God and us human beings is that he does not will to be God without us.” That idea, that in the good news of Jesus we learn that God does not will to be God without us expresses at a profound level something of the all-encompassing love of God for humanity. While God did not need to create us humans to be God, out of his great love God does not will to be without us. I am staggered at such commitment.
Paul knew God’s mercy; he was on the road to Damascus intent on inflicting harm, even death, on followers of Jesus when our Lord accosted him and asked him—why are you persecuting me? Here Paul learns that Jesus takes the suffering of his people personally; Jesus is impacted by it. And so Paul knows if such mercy is extended to him so is the same mercy to others. Jesus does not bail on his people and Paul finds himself sustained to journey with them as well. Further he will not bail on Jesus because he knows Jesus will not bail on him.
Paul further wrote: “But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence.” There is a greater history that is unfolding in our individual histories—it is God calling a people to himself to bring us to that future in his presence.
In this text Paul cites Psalm 116 and says that the same spirit of faith that enlivened the Psalmist’s life enlivened his life. The psalmist is recounting a divine deliverance from a desperate illness and accompanying despondency and offers thanks for God’s deliverance. The psalmist’s expression of thanksgiving arose from his vindicated trust in God; “I held firm to my faith and was vindicated; therefore I have spoken.” Paul, for his part, could not remain silent about the gospel. The church father Chrysostom says, “he (Paul) has reminded us of a psalm which abounds in heavenly wisdom and which is especially fitted to encourage in dangers.”
What God gives is a spirit of faith—not a spirit of losing heart. This shows you how to recognize the work of the Spirit of God in your life. The Spirit that encourages you not to grow weary in doing what is right is the spirit of faith. Many understand this text as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Often the Holy Spirit is designated by the effects he produces in the believer’s life; Spirit of adoption, (Romans 8:15) Spirit of wisdom (Ephesians 1:17), Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29). And so here as the Spirit of faith. Many believers can testify to that which the Apostle Paul bears witness; looking back on some challenge or difficulty we can see that faith has been strengthened and that we were in fact sustained by that unseen power at work in our lives. But what Paul also affirms is that this sustaining isn’t merely to get us through miserable times as if a painkiller that dulls the pain for a while.
4. Paul writes: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” Paul is in sync with the biblical witness that by faith in Jesus the eternal One, eternal life begins now. You are being prepared for a future that Paul can only describe “an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” One day what will be ours will never waste away.
I want to be clear that Paul is no dualist. His talk of inner and outer is not talk of two different entities—you are the same person who is slowly deteriorating outwardly and is being renewed inwardly. Further, when Paul speaks of “slight momentary afflictions” he isn’t meaning to say that painful things aren’t painful—he is comparing them to that eternal weight of glory. Recall, as chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians indicates, that Paul is planning to come to Corinth to receive the fruits of their fundraising efforts for the impoverished of Palestine that he will take to Jerusalem on their behalf. The future Paul envisions was never a reason to say this world does not matter. Instead he is fully convinced that people matter as God has shown by so loving this world in Jesus.
I want to bring you back to the story I began with about those 1.7 million of so decisions you will make in the course of your life. Philosopher Albert Camus said "Life is a sum of all your choices." There is some truth to what he says. However, the gospel speaks about a choice that matters above all the rest and it was the choice God made to love us; the choice God made to be for us see most clearly in Jesus giving himself for us on the cross.
As we say yes in faith to him all those other choices get ordered by this one choice—God`s choice of us. So we do not lose heart.