Spiritual Claustrophobia

SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 6:3-13

3 We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.
4 In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.
5 We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.
6 We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love.
7 We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.
8 We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors.
9 We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed.
10Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you.
12There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us.
13 I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!

INTRODUCTION

E.G. Rupp said, “The Christian church stands or falls on the integrity of its ministers.” I think the criticism that hurt Paul most was that which casts doubt on his integrity and impugned his motives. That Paul’s opponents would accuse him of lacking integrity was bad enough but what really hurt, was the Corinthians piling on. Paul says, “We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry.  In everything we do, we show or demonstrate that we are true ministers of God.”

How do you test the quality of a product or a person? You run a series to test: you apply pressure, to see if there are flaws, cracks, leaks, weaknesses, etc.

Barclay believes that Paul primary concern is to show himself to be a sincere minister of Jesus Christ. To offer proofs, he shares what Chrysostom calls “The Blizzard of Troubles.” Paul introduces this section with one of my favorite words, found in verse 4,We patiently endure  [hupomone] troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.” It is translated patience in the KJV but the NASB always translates it “endurance” so as not to confuse it with makrothymia {Slow to anger} which is also translated patience in James 5:10 by the KJV. Makrothymia is displayed by self-control, it is the opposite of quick tempered. The AV translates it “long-suffering” except in James 5:10. Hupomone is the tough, tenacious, I will not quick spirit. It is the ability to stay under the burden, the pressure and to hold firm. Burdens can be hard to bare and irresponsible people just drop their shoulders and chunk the burden to the ground. Hupomone is the ability to stay under the burden and bear the pressure.
I really like what John Chrysostom,  Archbishop of Constantinople, said about the word hupomone…“It is the ability to bear things is such a triumphant way that it transfigures them and transmutes {to transform in nature or substance} them. Hupomone is the root of all goods, mother of piety, fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken and harbor that stands fast in time of storm. It is the queen of virtues, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in the tempest and security in plots.” Then Barclay adds, “It is courageous and triumphant. It is the ability to bear up under pressure when all else is giving way. It is the alchemy {Formula for taking one or more substances and changing them to something else} which transmutes tribulation into strength and glory.” [We will come back to this in the conclusion]
What are some of the test we need to endure to become strong in character; to become men of integrity?

Paul mentions 9 and they come in sets of three

I. TRIALS OF A GENERAL NATURE [Go with the call] 

[v.4] In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.

  1. Troubles: [Thlipsis] NLT –troubles, NASB–afflictions, NKJV–tribulations. All are good. The word thilipsis comes from the image of the wine press: it means to be caught between two immovable forces, to be squeezed, in a tight, to feel pressure from every side. Life is all about pressure, some manage it well while others do not. There is pressure in every profession I suppose. I know there is in Athletics and to some degree in politics. There is a lot of pressure in the ministry. One of the greater pressures of the ministry is unrealistic expectations which other impose on their pastor. If you need a lot of sympathy, encouragement and coddling, you don’t want to be a Baptist preacher. If you cannot stand scrutiny or criticism, you need to avoid the ministry. It has never been easy and it is not getting any easier.
  2. Hardships: [AnagkēDistress: must needs, of necessity, desperate needs, needful. Matter of fact, the KJV reads ‘necessities’ and NKJV reads ‘needs.’ The NASB, RSV, NIV, ESV and NLT translate in ‘hardships’.
  3. Calamities: [stenochōria] KJV, NKJV and NASB translate it ‘distresses’. ESV and NLT ‘calamaties.’ A Calamity is an event causing great distress or damage. Barclay suggest that these calamities are the cause of much of our anxiety. They can cause us to have spiritual claustrophobia because it seems that the walls are coming in on us.

II. THE SPECIFIC PROBLEMS THAT PAUL ENDURED [Inflicted by others]

[v.5] We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs….

  1. Beatings: {plēgē} stripes. For Paul, physical suffering was a part of the call, he expected to be persecuted. The church always does better in times of persecution. Prosperity has never been a friend to the body of Christ.
  2. Imprisonments: {phylakē} Clement of Rome tells us that Paul was in prison no less than seven times. Barclay: There have always been those who would abandon their liberty rather than to deny Christ. Thank God for men like Paul. Much of what we enjoy today is a result of what these men suffered.
  3. Angry Mobs: {akatastasia} ‘Tumults.’ John Wesley was mobbed at Wednesbury and barely escaped severe injury. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, was mobbed inside a church building by professing Christians. They almost killed him and would have had they gotten him outside. I am not a passivist but to attack a man over his views of war is not Christian. Today, the mob [masses] ignore us or mock us. We don’t do anything to stir them up.

III. THE SELF DISCIPLINES THAT GO WITH THE CALL

[v.5] We have…worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.

  1. Labor: [kopos] a beating, a beating of the breast with grief, sorrow,

    labor, trouble, weariness from labor. The word kopos was used to describe a person who was worn out, depleted of energy, spent. The Christian minister uses body, soul and mind in his work so when he gets tired, he is really tired. Sunday night is my favorite part of the week. I don’t do as much now as in my earlier years but I get just as tired. As a matter of fact, I have to rest on Sunday evening before preaching on Sunday night.

  2. Sleeplessness: [agrypnia] Sometimes are minds are so troubled that we cannot sleep. Sometimes we are in such discomfort that sleep is impossible. As a young preacher, I stayed up all night before my Sunday activity. I laid down but did not go to sleep. I have gone for as many as three nights without sleep. I sleep 5-6 hours now. Would I like to sleep 8-9? Yes, I would but I can’t. I’m in a bad habit presently: I go to beg from 11:00 pm to 1:00 am and get up at 7:00. There are times when I can study all night or pray most of the night but those are rare occasions. Generally, I lay in the bed with my eyes closed. I prefer sleep but I have learned that rest can keep me going. Will this get better when I retire? I hope! Deadlines make me anxious and anxiety can keep us awake.
  3. Hunger: [nēsteia] To hunger from fasting. I can fast a meal but it doesn’t do me any good because I make up for it the next meal.You can tell by looking at me that I don’t fast regularly or in the right way. I have always struggled with fasting. In the past, when I fast, I think about food constantly. The purpose of the fast is not to think about food, it is to focus on prayer…these two go together. I can do one or the other but not both, not right. Fasting always gives me a headache and then I end up in bed with a pillow tied around my throbbing head. So I have tried to fast from other things such as the internet. I did a three day fast from the internet last year. I dreaded it but it turned out good. I have fasted from TV and games. The bottom line: I am not a good example on fasting but I do not discourage it.

CONCLUSION

Let’s get back to this word Alchemy. If I understand the word, it is a chemical or lab word involving the use of one or more substances to make a new substance. So here is Paul’s formula: you take trouble, hardship, calamity, beatings, jail time, angry mobs, total exhaustion, sleepless night and hunger and put them together and the process results in STRENGTH and GLORY.

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