Thursday 1 July 2021

2 Corinthians Chapter `12. V2/10.  Epistle for Sunday 4th July

This Letter is less used than Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth. In the first he was giving advice on many pastoral matters which is still relevant for us today.

     Now Paul is in despair as the Church has been turned against him by false teachers who had infiltrated the Church and were trying to make an impression on the people there by boasting of their spiritual experiences. They claimed superiority to Paul , and Paul was not very happy. But Christians cannot be happy all the time, there will be joy and suffering as Paul knew only too well. He had been warned by Ananias at the time of his conversion, and experienced it many times.

     Ambition runs wild everywhere and in every occupation, including the Church, and a false cloak of modesty is used to accompany it. The office of bishop is dearly sought, and the competition of women is as great if not greater than among the men.  But it amuses me, and I imagine others too,  when we read so often of man offered such a position stating he had to go for a walk in the park to consider whether he should take the offer, despite the fact he had already had the order for the new vestments prepared.  .

     Paul had much he could have boasted about.  The qualification for an Apostle was to have seen Jesus after his resurrection, but he had been appointed, and given by the direct call of Jesus after his ascension, with his special mission to the Gentiles.  He had held high Office and authority in the Jewish establishment, had  beatings and torture for speaking the gospel , but he only began to boast about his weakness.
     In order to challenge the false teachers Paul decided to tell of his own visionary experience. He had been reluctant to do so, but wanted people to know he had such a thing, but didn’t want to boast so wrote in the third person as if it was someone else. Paul didn’t think it was necessary to tell everybody, and didn’t want to make a big issue of it.
      He wrote that it was fourteen years earlier with a vision of heaven, which made a deep impression upon him. He would have preferred to keep it secret for ever, but now felt it was necessary for him to tell.

     He spoke of the third heaven, but this was not a description of a sort of three storey place, but there were three stages in which the first heaven was the atmosphere where birds fly, a second of the stars, moon and sun, and the third was paradise.. Paradise was a Persian word used to describe a walled garden.

     We all wonder what heaven will be like when we realise we will be leaving this life. Some Minsters are eager to portray a scene which they have drawn from Scripture, but if God had wanted us to know he would have told us.

     I have seen and heard tell stories from people who claim to have been to heaven and returned, talking of a tunnel and finding bright light, but all conjecture I feel. On American television religious programmes, people have appeared describing vivid experiences, and of course this is followed by writing a book.  On one programme a young boy made great claim to a heavenly journey, which although so young wrote a book in a most adult manner for someone his age.

I thought it was convenient his father was so enthusiastic.

     The Jews had a saying ‘the seventh heaven’ meaning the high throne of God, and it is sometimes used by someone expressing great joy saying, it as like being in the seventh heaven.  I am sure I heard a piece of music called seventh heaven  with a glorious tune.
      Paul said he heard things he was not permitted to state. Whilst his opponents may speak of their backgrounds and achievements, he rather wanted to speak of his weakness and suffering, which he stated was the mark of a true Apostle.  He didn’t want people to see him trying to create an impression because of his visionary experience, but to judge him only by what he said, and how he acted in his normal life..

     Paul said he was given a thorn in the flesh, meaning some form of handicap as a form of discipline, to stop him making anything out of what he had seen and heard, but no one has been able to definitively state what that thorn was. Various suggestions have been made such as a fever, disfigurement, epilepsy, but most think it was an eye problem.   He didn’t know the cause, but many things happen to us that we cannot explain, we have to believe God has a higher purpose for us.  

     I appreciate that may not be well received by someone who is suffering or has suffered much. If however God answered every prayer, He would be taken for granted, so for unanswered prayer we have to decide if we are going to trust Him. If you are tempted to give up being a Christian because of unanswered prayer, then that is sad and you will not be any better.
     Paul stated that he prayed three times for God to relieve him of his suffering but his prayers were not answered as he had hoped, as God told him, ‘ my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.’   This it is suggested means God allows us to suffer in some way, and by his power heals.

      God allowed Paul to have this thorn with the only explanation ‘I will not do anything about it but I will give you the means of dealing with it’. This is to encourage and challenge us because Jesus promises to give us grace. Whatever the problems may be, physical, spiritual, there is that amazing grace John Newton wrote about in his wonderful hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

     There was a man who had no belief and was in danger of losing his life, but his prayer was answered, and he was used mightily to serve his Lord not far from Bedford. History is full of stories of men and women with no great academic ability who rose to do great things.
     When things do not go right for us, when we suffer pain, or when some serious event occurs in our life, we invariably ask why. Often the cause may be obvious, if for example a heavy smoker gets lung cancer, or a heavy drinker gets liver damage, but sudden tragedy does come unexpectedly and we ponder why God let it happen.  Paul  said that God’s grace is sufficient for every believer no matter what circumstances may be
     Some Christians would say it is wrong to question God and we should just accept things, but writer after writer in the Bible challenges God. It is perfectly proper for a Christian to approach God in complete honesty and lay our concerns before Him. The Bible tells us we can approach God, and express our pain and frustration with the way we feel. It is good for us to express our feelings to God
     Sometimes we lay awake at night wondering what is going to happen to us. When you are in pain it is awful to spend a long night waiting anxiously for morning when relief may be sought. I am sure you will all have had some situation in your life when you have felt disturbed, so you know how little food or sleep matter.
     A lot of people have well-ordered lives and live comfortably and become totally detached from the wider world. I worked for many years in a big and busy city, where I saw much loveliness, and kindness which strangers from other places had not known, right across the spectrum to utter depravity and cruelty. It is a sad, sad world out there.
     A city has many lonely people living in flats alone, the products of broken marriages or romances; students living away from home for the first time, vulnerable to predators; a hedonistic lifestyle leaves them feeling even more depressed.   It has been a sad part of my ministry to have taken funerals of young men (mainly but the odd woman) who have died under the age of forty because of alcohol or drug dependency.
     Jesus said,’ come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden’, but Jesus is the last person they would turn to, yet their whole life could be turned around if they did. To live without Christ in your life is a great loss, to die without Him is a tragedy.
     Henry Lyte was a clergyman who went under much pain and knew he had not long to live, but knew God would be his helper and support. He wrote the hymn ‘abide with me’. that I must have sung hundreds of times over the years at funeral services, but it was never meant to be for that purpose, but rather as a hymn of triumph. He had confidence in God in life and in death.
     If you are someone who feels your faith is being tested; or you are having a hard time from someone, or any other kind of suffering, you may feel you long to talk to someone. This needs to be someone you can really trust, so do what the Psalmist did and talk to God. If that does not appeal to you, seek the help of a Christian Minister, for most of us would love to help you.

      Do not confide too much to friends(?).  I can assure you, without in any way being cynical, and from experience of a widely varied life, there are so very few people totally trustworthy.  A Minister by his professional code is bound to secrecy, and you redress if he should fail you.
     We will not find out all the answers we would like this side of heaven, but we will one day. We are promised a time will come when all who have accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour will live with Him in glory; no more pain or suffering; no tears or regrets; all achieved through Christ’s atoning blood shed on the Cross and God’s amazing grace.
     Paul wrote, no eye has seen; no ear has heard; no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.
     May God’s grace be sufficient for you. May God bless you


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