Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Contradiction?

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings...as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing... --2 Cor 6: 4ff

"Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." What does this mean? I have pondered this passage many times, trying to understand how Paul could be sorrowful (a word that, in my mind, means sad), yet rejoicing, which I think of as happy. How can one be both happy and sad at the same time?

I thought maybe the word 'rejoicing' in the original language, meant something other than happy. But when I went to the lexicon, I found it means exactly that: The definition of the original word is "exceedingly glad".  Likewise, the original word for sorrowful does indeed mean sad, burdened, and downcast. What could possibly be the explanation for this? There is no earthly reason to think that this is not a total contradiction. 

There is, however, a perfectly reasonable heavenly solution to this seemingly impossible language. Paul is rejoicing in Christ! His joy is obviously not in his circumstances, for they are terrible as he is writing this letter. I don't know about you, but needs, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness and fastings do not seem joy-inspiring to me! Paul had to have risen above his circumstances in order to rejoice in the midst of them. He had his mind fixed on Christ:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. --Hebrews 12:2&3

Like the writer of Hebrews, Paul had learned to look up instead of looking around. My default response to trials is to look at the trial and lament or mourn. Paul’s was to look up to Christ instead of looking at the trial, and rejoice! Make no mistake, Paul is not rejoicing about the trial, except to the extent that it brings glory to God. In this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is rejoicing in Christ, the author and finisher of his faith, who went to the cross for the joy!! Christ endured the greatest suffering any man has ever known, and He did it for the joy set before him!
My friend, there is much joy before you today as well:
The joy of patiently enduring the trials and pain that your loving God has ordained for your good and His glory (Rom 8:28).

The joy of obeying God’s command to take every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.  (2 Cor 10:5).
The joy you will experience as Christ leads you in triumph over your pain and troubles and through you diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge.
(2 Cor 2:14)
And, last but not least, the joy you will know on that great Day when he says to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’  (Matt 25:23)

What “few things” has the Lord entrusted to you today? Problems? Pain? Heartache? I’m sure you could list many things the Lord is asking you to bear right now. But rest assured, my believing friend, you will enter into the joy of your Lord, because you have been faithful. What does that faithfulness look like? No matter how you are feeling today, pick up your Bible, open it, and hear from Him. He has much to say, and longs to encourage you.