Introduction: 2 Cor. 7:4-7 – Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. 5 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears, 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
Paul, the great apostle was not immune from personal suffering and even emotional distress. These words account this. Paul spent two years in Corinth, and the church there was dear to him. However there were problems in Corinth that caused Paul great heartache (betrayal, false teachers, divisive spirits, etc) While at Ephesus he wrote a strong letter to the church at Corinth. He was very concerned about how they would receive his admonitions. He sent Timothy to deliver the letter and went to Troas, awaiting word. When Timothy was delayed in his return, Paul was even more concerned, so he left for Macedonia, to meet Titus on the road. Notice his emotional turmoil… our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears
As difficult as it is for Paul at this time, the narrative does not end with Paul being depressed. God, who comforts the depressed, comforted him by the coming of Titus. This is, therefore, a passage about joy, not depression. In fact, comfort is mentioned six times in these verses and joy or rejoicing five times. Things were going to get better for Paul.
I. Do you expect things to get better? There is a sense, for the Christian, that this question is academic. The hope that we share is all about better times in a better place. We live our lives with the hope of being with God in the end. We should never dismiss or diminish this expectation and the impact it is to have on our lives. Titus 2:11-13 – For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews describes the faithful as those who “desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16)
A. But the Christian’s expectation of better things has a more immediate application. We can testify that God has already made things better than they were before. In 1 Peter chapter 1 the apostle references this hope of a better place – heaven. 1 Peter 1:3-5 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Peter’s words were meant to encourage Christians to endure the trials of life – He wants them to rejoice in spite of trials… 1 Peter 1:6-7 – In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, We can rejoice now because things will be better in heaven.
B. But Peter also reminds these Christians that their salvation is a story of being better than before. Things are already better. 1 Peter 1:18-2:10:
1. Were sold under sin, now redeemed. (1 Pet. 1:18,19).
2. Were polluted with sin, now purified. (1 Pet. 1:22)
3. Were dead in sin, now born again. (1 Pet. 1:23-25)
4. Were not a people, now the people of God. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
5. Were without mercy, now have mercy. (1 Pet. 2:10). We need to rest our optimism about the future on the fact of our spiritual redemption and standing before God. We are better than we were before we became Christians.
II. Things that Will Get Better… I want to take a few minutes and focus on the positive elements of the future. I am not going to talk about politics, economics, or even family relationships, although I do pray that these things will get better. It might be easy to focus our attention on how much better things would be if our bank account got bigger, or our health improved, or the country became united and prosperous. But what would happen if your faith became stronger? How would things be better? Let me suggest a few things that will get better for those who remain faithful to God.
A. Our Ability to Discern Between Good and Evil. Heb 5:12-14– 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
1. There is an expectation of growth in these words… by this time you ought to be… there is also an implication that our ability to discern between good and evil is a developed skill. Those who can do it are the one who have advanced beyond the milk to the meat. This skill is based on the “word of righteousness”, and will increase as we use the word (exercise our senses) to make the right choices in life.
2. There are times when discerning right from wrong is difficult and challenging. We may fail to make the right choice. But as we study the word of God and pray for its application in our lives, we can expect to get better. There was a time in Peter’s life when he rebuked Jesus and refused to accept what HE was teaching. But got better.
B. Our Ability to Resist Temptation and Withstand Trials. James 1:2-4 – 2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing… v. 12 – 12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
1. James presents two positive perspectives here. As we face the trials of life (sickness, disappointment.) that confront our faith in God – being persecuted for serving God – things will get better, the longer we endure. As we weather one storm, the next becomes easier. In the passage we read earlier, Peter compared our faith in the midst of suffering to gold that was in the process of being refined by fire. It comes out better. (1 Pet. 1:7)
2. We come to recognize what Paul teaches us in 1 Cor. 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. God sends us encouragement through the trials of others – if they can endure that.. I can endure this (couple I met this morning form Michigan.)
C. Our Ability to Forgive. Luke 17:3-4 – Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Wanting to forgive is not all that is involved. We may want the peace that comes through restored relationships, but the actual work of forgiving another person is too hard.
1. When Jesus voiced this challenging command, his apostles said, “increase our faith.” (17:5) This might suggest that if our faith grows, so will our ability to forgive others. Someone has said we are most like God when we forgive another person. Jesus taught Simon that those who are forgiven more, love more. Think of how much better this world would be if people were more forgiving, and thus more loving. So this place can get better.
D. Our Ability to Cope with Declining Physical Strength. – Read 2 Cor. 4:16-5:8– Are things going to get better this year? We cannot know for sure. One thing is for sure, we are not getting any younger! And older can mean more suffering and pain. Is God preparing me for old age? Paul calls us to view our present suffering in the context of our coming reward. The glory of heaven puts our light affliction in proper perspective. But notice that he speaks of a day-by-day spiritual renewal – the inward man is getting better as the outward man gets worse. So even if things get worse, my ability to endure it is getting better.
1. There is a further corollary to this truth. As I live for God, He prepares me to die. Our ability to face the prospect of death gets better. Phil 1:21-24 – For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. I look forward to studying the words of Paul to the Philippians. He presents the spiritual man I want to be. Can you and I have this attitude toward our own death? It is not natural; it is the product of the Spirit in the life of a faithful servant. As faith grows, our hope of resurrection and heaven becomes more firm. As faith grows, we see death less of a threat and more of an opportunity.
Conclusion: If you stay with Jesus in 2018, things will get better. You might lose everything, but things will get better.