Vicissitudes Of Life

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:8-10, NLT

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.
10 Our 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.

  INTRODUCTION

F.F. Bruce labels this section, “The Vicissitudes of Apostolic Life.” Vicissitudes are uncertainties, changes, variations, up and downs, twist and turns, unpredictable things that happen in life. Remember, our theme is the integrity of ministry. Paul is under attack and in 2 Corinthians 6, he defends the integrity of his ministry.

There are things the Christian Minister needs to understand.

I. UNDERSTAND THE UNPREDICTABLE NATURE OF MINISTRY

C.S. Lewis refers to these vicissitudes as undulations, rising and falling of the waves, the ups and downs. Ancient sailors never knew what to expect: today we have sophisticated technology that helps us avoid storms but in the old days ships were subject to the weather at sea. Being a pastor is somewhat like being an ancient sailor, we never know what to expect.
In letter 8 of the Screwtape Letters, we find this paraphrase in my rewrite…We humans are created in God’s image with a spiritual nature that longs for eternity, but at present, we live in a world of time and space. This world we live in is constantly changing. While our spirit longs for something better, the body of our humanity is caught in the continuum of time. In this world, life can be like the waves on the Sea, up and down, but within restricted banks. We long for consistency, for a level plain, but life is filled with changes and these changes create highs and lows. Solomon said it like this: there is a time for laughter and a time for crying, a time for dancing and a time for mourning. Laughter and dance come with the highs, crying and grief come with the lows.
I had a good visit with one of our Senior Adult couples last week. The man seemed to be in perfect health and was only 73. I saw them again yesterday morning and all seemed well but within ours he suffered a severe stroke and he departed this world in less than 24 hours later. You never know what a day is going to bring.
 Paul summarizes these vicissitudes in pairs of antitheses, paradoxes, or contrast. 
  • Honor us or despise us
  • Slander us or praise us
  • We are honest, but they call us impostors
  • 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.
  • Our 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.

There are two more list in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, one is chapter 4 of the second letter and one in chapter 4 of the first:

  • We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed
  • We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
  • We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God
  • We get knocked down, but we are not [out]destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9]
  • Our dedication to Christ makes us look like fools, but you claim to be so wise in Christ!
  • We are weak, but you are so powerful!
  • You are honored, but we are ridiculed.
  • We bless those who curse us
  • We are patient with those who abuse us
  • We appeal gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world’s garbage, like everybody’s trash—right up to the present moment.

II. UNDERSTAND THE SPIRITUAL CONFLICT 

We are in a war with an unfriendly, unsympathetic world. The world hates us just as it hated Christ. We are not going to get encouragement or recognition from the world. This is something every Christian minister needs to understand. If we please the One who called us, we are not going to please the world around us.

Paul received no honor and no praise from his persecutors who were mostly Jews. Paul’s enemies had no respect for him and therefore, gave him no honor. They hurled criticism after criticism and slander upon slander but never would they give Paul credit, recognition or praise. The word he uses for dishonor is normally used in Greek for loss of rights as a citizen (atimia, Greek #819). Paul says, “I may have lost all the rights and privileges which the world can confer but I am still a citizen of the Kingdom of God.”

In slander [bad report, literally to defame] and in praise [good-report]. There are those who criticize his every action and who hate his very name, but his fame with God is sure.

Deceivers [Imposters] and yet true. The Greek word (planos, deciever or imposter, Greek #4108) literally means a wandering quack and impostor. That is what others call him but he knows that his message is God’s truth.

Unknown [ignored] yet well known. The Jews who slandered him said he was a no-account nobody whom no one had ever heard of, yet to those to whom he had brought Christ he was known with gratitude.

Dying [living on the edge], and lo! we live. Danger was his companion and the prospect of death his comrade, and yet by the grace of God he was triumphantly alive with a life that death could never kill. 

Chastened [beaten], but not killed. Things happened to him that might have chastened any man’s spirit but they could not kill the spirit of Paul. Grieved [heartache, sorrow], but always rejoicing. Things happened that might have broken any man’s heart but they could not destroy Paul’s joy.

Poor, yet making many rich. He might seem to be penniless but he brought with him that which would enrich the souls of men. Having nothing, yet possessing all things. He might seem to have nothing, but, having Christ, he had everything that mattered in this world and the next

So there are two worlds in view here: the carnal, earthy, natural world and the spiritual or heavenly world. No one can please both. If you live for the world, you will displease Christ and if you live for Christ you will be despised by the world.

III. UNDERSTAND THE SURRENDER IT TAKES

Paul was sold out lock, stock and barrel. He was not looking back and had no intention of letting up or laying down. He had that tenacious spirit that all ministers must have.

Dr. Vance Havner points out Paul’s unique perspective gave him the advantage over the devil. If the devil offered Paul something...Paul would say, “I don’t need anything, I have all I need in Christ.” If the devil threatened to take something away, Paul could respond, “I don’t have anything, I gave everything to Christ.”

Paul’s enemies tried to discourage him which didn’t work so they tried to kill him.  They first organized attempt was at Damascus but Paul’s friends lowered him from a window in the wall of the city by putting the little fellow in a basket. Then in Jerusalem some years later, 40 Jewish zealots took a vow that they would not eat or drink until Paul was dead. I guess these guys starved to death because they did not come close to killing Paul.  In Lystra they tried stones and thought they had killed him but he got up and walked away. Then in Ephesus, they threw him into the arena with wild beast and he escaped unharmed. It did scare the heck out of him but it did not kill him. The Jews were frustrated in that he seemed invincible. Paul was not an intimidating man physically but few strong robust men could have endured what he did; this had to puzzle his haters.

 

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