CS Lewis once wrote in a letter to his brother… “I begin to suspect that the world is not only divided into the happy and the unhappy but those who like happiness and those who, odd as it seems, really don’t.”
He later wrote that “The size of a man’s understanding might always be justly measured by his mirth.” (capacity for amusement, ability to laugh)
What do you think of that?
We have lots of entertainment, more than ever before…but people are largely, unhappy.
In fact, it seems that happiness is now a vice, and unhappiness a virtue.
But Terry we must be somber people…don’t you know that there is great suffering and evil.
Yeah, okay…I get that…I see, I read, I hear, I feel…but I think Lewis was on to something.
He entitled his autobiography “Surprised by joy”
He wrote in it “I was at the time living, like so many atheists in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with him for creating a world.”
He was angry about a lot of things.
But it was joy, the reality of it…that God used to draw him in…to awaken him.
In his books, especially his fantasies…The Chronicles of Narnia, the Space Trilogy, the Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters…a reoccurring theme is joy.
The joy of God, Aslan, the joy of creation…the joy of the Lord.
Christy and I recently watched squirrels and deer playing…it looked like Joy.
We of course often seen our grandchildren playing…it is clearly joy.
For the materialist…the one for whom all of reality is merely matter in various forms…joy is not transcendent thing…it’s a chemical process…everything is…there is nothing transcendent.
But the deer were at play…and it was a kind of joy…it was a reflection of their creators joy.
And children were at play because of joy…they reflected their creators joy as well.
And yes, I know there is great suffering in the world…there has been suffering in my family…in every family.
But there is joy…and there are those who love it and those who have not learned to love it.
Let’s go to Nehemiah, a book near the end of the Old Testament Era.
Israel, because of their sins against God and one another had gone into exile.
Now 50 years later some of them are allowed to return as the Persians have whipped the Babylonians and the Persian king allows exiles to return to their homeland in waves.
These waves happen over many years and during one wave Nehemiah is allowed to lead a group back and rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem.
At one point after much rebuilding has been done, of the temple and the city and the community…they gather in mass and hear the Word of God read.
Ezra, Nehemiah’s partner in reform stands on this really tall wooden platform, built just for the occasion and he reads the Bible for like 5 hours.
And the people just stand around and weep.
They hear God’s word…they see how far they are from him and what he wants for them…and they are really sad.
Then Nehemiah, who is now the governor gets up and says “This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.”
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks…give some to those who didn’t bring any with them…this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The book ends with Nehemiah being very frustrated because the people continue to break God’s law, to mistreat one another.
They just can’t handle joy.
But this OT ending serves to point to a future reality…a reality that rebuilding a physical city and temple could not bring about…a time with God would write his law on human hearts.
There is a time for grieving and mourning over sin…our own, and that of the world.
Of course we are sad, we should be heart broken, over what happens to us and others.
But, it is always true…that “The Joy of the Lord is our strength.”
The joy OF the Lord…it is from his great and joyful heart that our hearts are strengthened.
His joy strengthens our hearts.
He sees it all…all of it…think of that…all of it…and yet his joy is undiminished.
“But” some would say “that makes him flippant, hard hearted…cruel…how can he look on human suffering and feel joyful.”
He sees all time as now…he sees the end from the beginning…he is not weeping through some middle chapter and has no idea how it will all turn out.
Besides he doesn’t just feel joy, like a passing emotion…he is joy…he cannot not be joy.
Every time any human touches joy or is touched by real joy…they are experiencing God.
Those first quotes from Lewis come from his collection of essays entitled “The Weight of Glory.”
That phrase comes from 2 Cor. 4:17
“For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.”
In chapter 3 Paul spoke of the boldness of hope, the hope of the gospel.
In chapter 4 he begins with a “therefore”…meaning because of that…then this.
The “that” is the hope of the gospel…what is the “this”…let’s read it.
4 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
Because of the hope of the gospel… we do not lose heart.
He will use this phrase again in this chapter, so let’s stop for a moment and talk about it.
The same word is used in Luke 18
There Jesus told a parable about a widow who was so persistent in her pursuit of justice that she finally wore down a godless judge…just by her persistence…she did not give up or lose heart.
Paul uses the same word in Galatians 6 where he writes “Don’t become weary in doing good, you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up.”
So…like the boldness of hope is a not merely feeling bold or confident…but living as such.
In same way not “losing heart” is more about persistent life choices…than not “feeling discouraged.”
When we think of “losing heart” we normally think of feeling discouraged, and that is an accurate description of the English idiom…but it’s not of Paul’s original meaning.
It means, “Don’t stop”… “Don’t give up.”
It is interesting to see what “losing heart” or giving up might look like…listen to how he describes it.
He does this by saying in essence… “Since we do not lose heart…we don’t do that…but we do this.”
(we do not lose heart) Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
So, look practically at what not losing heart looks like here.
- The renouncing of (or the refusal to resort to) deception, manipulation, distortion of the truth of God.
SO its not that…but it is…
- The plain presentation of God’s word.
How does this work?
To give up or lose heart would be to lose confidence in the gospel…in God’s power.
This would show up in actions that look like we are trying to help God out…to use our own ideas of compelling people, and emotional manipulation to convince them to act or believe….to rely on our own gifts and abilities exclusively.
Maybe we shrink back from saying “Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, Jesus will come again”…because it might not be seen as cool or it might not be well received or we may not be thought well of.
Or we just don’t really think it “works”…we have been disappointed…it hasn’t always seemed to have worked…some don’t see it as compelling…so we lost heart.
Paul says we don’t lose heart…we don’t play games with the truth or with people, and we just present the truth with simply, honest clarity.
He says, “If the gospel is not getting through its not because the message is not true…and it’s not because we need to add our own manipulation or distortion or additions.”
Okay then what is it?…let’s read.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Remember last week how he spoke of a veil (a covering) over the hearts and minds of those who don’t believe the gospel?
Now he elaborates on the spiritual cause of this heart covering.
The god of this age has blinded minds…to the truth of the gospel.
The god of this age…is a phrase that means the spiritual being called the “Adversary” or “Satan” in Scripture…this being uses a variety of strategies to blind the minds of unbelievers.
He uses these various strategies to keep the light of the gospel from penetrating into their hearts and minds.
One strategy is to convince that the gospel is just too complicated…all this Virgin Birth, Death on a Cross, Resurrection…justification, sanctification…blah blah blah…it must be made up.
Another is to convince that the gospel is just too simplistic and crude…”come on…paying for sins, death of a God-man…that’s cosmic child abuse…you just made that stuff up.”
Or it could just simply be… “Not now, you have time to consider this eternal life stuff…right now, you have a career to attend to, or a new season to watch…later, not now.”
Or then…you are okay without it. You are fine.
The strategies are endless and customized to individual hearts…but the result is a veiling of the gospel.
As you pray for friends who do not know Christ…or for yourself if you have yet to commit your life to Christ…ask God specifically to bind Satan and to lift the veil.
The gospel is neither overly complicated and confusing nor is it simplistic and naïve…it is something a child can easily comprehend and trust…
It is also beyond any adult’s ability to full comprehend…but anyone can understand and believe.
And our message, Paul writes, is not “look at me” but look to Jesus…we are your servants for his sake.
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
Verse 7 has long been a favorite of mine in terms of how it is worded and as a personal “heart check” when I am tempted to think more highly of myself than I should…or when I am tempted to shrink back and act without courage.
It works both ways…both to humble and to embolden.
In Paul’s day jars of clay were used for water storage, or as candles, any number of things…sort of like Tupperware…they were inexpensive and discarded when broken.
There have been discoveries in modern times of treasure (jewels, gold) in clay jars…hidden there in ancient times because thieves wouldn’t expect to find treasure in cheap pots.
I think this would be a great verse to memorize and to think about…it has powerful shaping effect when you do.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
The extraordinary nature of the treasure of the gospel does not take us out of the ordinary of human life…we remain jars of clay.
We have this great treasure of the gospel…an eternal treasure…and God is pleased to put it in simple clay pots.
Don’t feel that you have to become someone other than you are in order to be effective…you do not.
What is the purpose of this design…this strategy of God…to put the treasure in a clay pot?
So that it will be clear that that power is from God and not us.
I read a number of articles this week about a major ministry that is being threatened with extinction partly because they sometimes valued Charisma over Christ-like character in their leaders.
This scenario has been repeated over and over.
Our reasoning is “How much more appealing the gospel will be if presented in a famous, beautiful, powerful, talented, charismatic…package?”
Paul’s reasoning is “This treasure is intentionally in jars of clay, IN ORDER that it will be clear as to who truly is the powerful, glorious one.”
He goes on…in great detail to drive this point home.
“We are influencers on every site, we are crushing it in the corporate world,
OK…here’s what he really says…
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Remember how counter cultural this is in Corinth?
How much they valued the cool, being insiders, the eloquent, the jars of bling?
Understand how counter cultural it is in every place and at every time.
We tend to wonder…where is God? Where are his promises and his power?
BECAUSE…I’m hard pressed and perplexed and persecuted and struck down.
And Paul would ask “Okay, and…how does this make you wonder about God’s promises and power?”
He would say…he has promised you will be pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down…but he has promised to show his power through all that.
Then he reaches back to a Psalm to further make his point…connecting his suffering with the gospel hope.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence.
Let’s read the Psalm…116
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!” The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed; therefore I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”
*There is the quote.”
“I believed therefore I have spoken.”
Spoke of what?
“My affliction…and God’s salvation.”
So Paul, using the Psalmist’s cry as his own said… “I believe therefore I have spoken of my affliction, my troubles…but I am confident in God’s salvation.
- I will not lose heart and use deception or compromise the truth or over rely on my own gifts….I believe the gospel.
- I will not lose heart and crumble to the pressures of persecution and hardship…I believe the gospel.
Let’s go on:
15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
Again, Paul restates in a different way the same message… “This is not about me but God’s glory and your good.”
Then, there it is again, “Therefore we do not lose heart” and this time he gives an expansive vision for what empowers this “not losing heart.”
“Even though outwardly we are wasting away”…and he was, his body would have been a wreck by this time in his life.
“Inwardly we are being renewed day by day”…and this was happening as well, as he was becoming more like Christ over time.
*You cannot keep your body from wasting away…you can eat well, exercise…you many live a bit longer or a bit better…but you will eventually lose out to time…your body will waste away…this is inevitable.
What is but inevitable…but it is your choice…will you be renewed day by day?
Will you, on the inside…become more fully alive, more like Christ.
Then, two more verses that would be really helpful to learn and think about.
And these verses fill out the answer as to how we “don’t lose heart.”
17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
You might say “My troubles are not light and momentary”…and of course neither were his in one sense.
He felt his pain, his illness, his loneliness, his time in prison cells, his broken bones from stoning…the same as we would…one excruciating moment at a time.
But he spent a lot time and energy intentionally shaping his beliefs, values, and behaviors around thoughts of eternity.
Not just eternity in vague and general terms…but in specifics…we will see some those next week in chapter 5.
But he finishes this section with that tremendous phrase “We fix our eyes on what you can’t see…what you see, well, it won’t last, what you can’t see, it will.”
Therein is the key to “not losing heart.”
It is to have your heart wrapped around what is permanent…stable…eternal.
What makes life struggles even more difficult is when we search in vain for meaning, purpose in them.
*A universal impulse is for people to immediately look for larger purpose in pain and loss order to give meaning to loss of suffering.
-When it is not found…hopeless despair sets in…pain is worsened.
*Whether it is in illness, the loss of a child…or a soldier fighting in a war…there is a desperate search for meaning.
Notice that Paul wrote… “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving an eternal weight of glory.”
How is this so?
Paul was specially talking about the troubles that follow a life lived for the gospel.
He is not just remarking on how everything that happens, as is often said “Happens for a reason.”
This is true in a sense…but the way it is used is a sort of superstitious kind of attaching random, cosmic purpose to difficult things.
God, Paul wrote elsewhere, works all things for the good of those who love, who are called according to his purpose.
There is specificity in this vision of “light and momentary=weighty and eternal”
It is not for everyone…it for those who are living for God’s glory not themselves.
To perpetually read the news feed…is to fix your eyes on what is seen and temporary.
-Stay current, its important…but that’s different than allowing current events to drown out eternal realities.
*If you want to have this vision for the unseen…you must go after it…you must nurture it, think about, listen to music about, memorize verses about it.
Then when you do “see” the news…or even look at different aspects of your own life in its current form.
You will be equipped to see the seen with eyes fixed on the unseen.
Lewis entitled his essay “The Weight of Glory” because this idea of compare and contrast was so important for him…and for us in terms living with joy…and not losing heart.
We must become well practiced at comparing the “Light and momentary” with “The weight and permanence of Glory.”
We cannot just focus on the seen and felt and suffered…we must turn our hearts to the unseen and the permanent…the heavy, substantial weight of glory.
We talked about “glory” last week…Paul uses that word a lot.
It can mean luminosity…and it can mean fame…it is to be known, renowned by others.
For us to share in God’s glory is primarily to be known by him…the glorious one.
To share in his glory…to experience the “weight of glory” is for us to be known.
In 1 Cor. 8:3 Paul wrote that the one who loves God is known by God.
We might have thought he would say “knows” God.
But what is real importance is that God “knows” us…this is a relational “knowing”.
The weight of Glory is the eternal acceptance by God…to be welcomed into the very heart of things…what things…all things.
*The engine that drives social media is largely the human desire to be known…even it it is by people you don’t really know.
The drive is built in by God…but has been diverted away from him.
My daughter Casey and I have talked a lot about the desire to “be seen” and the importance of “seeing others.”
Really see them…not overlook them, disregard them.
We desperately want to be seen to be known…this is the weight of glory that far outweighs the troubles of time.
God, the God of the universe…will see you, he knows you…he will say “Come be in on all that is important and beautiful and lasting with me.”
To be in his inner circle…and he has the capacity for a lot of close friends.
I quoted Lewis statement…“The size of a man’s understanding might always be justly measured by his mirth.”
He is not talking about a person who is flippant or a clown or silly and inappropriate.
He is speaking of a person who understands the real nature of things, of humans…that person will also grow in joy, in mirth…as they delight in the reality of being known by God.
There is an ability to live with joy and merriment…that comes with an eternal perspective.
I am very sorry that I used to believe that having an eternal perspective meant I needed to approach life trying to be overly serious, too often frowning…I was very wrong about that.
I still get it wrong too often…but I am trying to find my strength in his Joy.
I’m sorry that the image of the church is sometimes…a place void of joy and laughter…this image has often been earned.
But I think we are learning to laugh and smile and treat each other with appropriate joy….the joy that is the Lord’s delight to display through us.
At least some of my good friends…we are learning this…and it is such a good thing.
Paul said that “we” (not just “he”) do not lose heart…we do not give up.
How is it that we live this way?
By eyes fixed on what is permanent.
Even as we look at what is seen…a difficult person, a problem, an illness, a disturbing cultural, political, medical issue.
We must also see what is unseen…the eternal glory that outweighs this all.
As we look at the current of events flowing by…we can see it with eyes fixed on what is unseen and eternal.
This takes practice, it takes effort and intentionality…but everything good does.
If you are not moving this way…it is because you have not intended to and have not done the disciplines this movement requires.
But you can…anyone can…we just have to decide and then do.
But it’s unlikely you will do it well or long…alone.
So Paul said, twice, WE do not lose heart.
Me, I can and often do lose heart.
But, We…well, we, my friends and I, we are learning how to not lose heart together.
If you are living your life for the glory of Christ and the good of others…there is eternal purpose in all that happens to you and in all that you do.
There is a “weight of glory” awaiting you.
God sees how you live your life. He is pleased with those who find their pleasure in him…not in your perfection, but in your pursuit of him.
He will SEE you when you see him face to face. He will know you and this being known will be the full weight of glory…it will be your joy.
The joy of the Lord…the being known by him now…it can be your strength now.