Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Good News is Strength in Suffering (Philippians 1, 2 Corinthians 1)


Sermon by: Robert Austel; May 31, 2015
Text:Philippians 1:27-30; 2 Corinthians 1:2-5

:: Sermon Audio (link) 
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music/Song of Praise: "See What a Morning" (Getty/Townend)
Song of Praise: "I Have a Shelter" (Sovereign Grace)
Offering of Music: "Morning Has Broken" (Tyler Wall and Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano) (arr. Bober)
Hymn of Sending: "The Solid Rock" (SOLID ROCK)
Postlude: Kelsey Gilsdorf, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.


Today we are concluding our May sermon series exploring the meaning of the Gospel, or “Good News,” of Jesus Christ. We’ve seen that the news about Jesus is good because he brings God’s healing, help, and rescue to the human condition. We’ve seen that the news about Jesus is good because it is not just for a few select people, but for ALL who will hear. And last week we saw that the heart of the Good News is Jesus, himself: born, suffered, died, buried, and raised. It’s good because in all that Jesus shared in our humanity, offering us the opportunity to share and participate in what he accomplished.

Today we look at one final aspect of the news about Jesus: it is good because Jesus gives us strength in the midst of suffering. We are going to look at two passages on that theme: one describes more the suffering that may come from following Jesus and the strength God gives us; the other describes how God comes to us in suffering to offer us the comfort of Christ. In both cases, knowing Jesus is Good News.

Chasing Trouble? (Philippians 1:27-30)

One of the challenging (and confusing!) aspects of true Christianity – that is, truly following and obeying Jesus Christ – is that it can get you in trouble. More than that, Jesus and the scripture seems to promise that it will. And most of us don’t want trouble. We don’t want suffering. Surely if a religion is good for anything it is to ease our suffering, right?

Let’s examine that logic for a moment. If you decide to train to run a marathon, that’s a good and healthy thing. But that’s going to involve some struggle, some suffering. That’s a part of the training, right? Or if you decide to tithe or give a greater portion of your income to God’s work, that’s a good thing, but it’s going to involve some re-prioritization, some struggle, perhaps even some degree of suffering. Or if you commit to attending all of your children’s sports activities or musical endeavors over work, it may cost you advancement or bonuses and even invite critique at work. But it’s worth it!

So it is with following Jesus Christ. In fact, all of those examples are tangible illustrations of what following Christ might look like. Paul compares it to training for athletic competition. Jesus talked to the rich young ruler about selling what he had to give to the poor. Jesus told the disciples to let the children come to him and receive his undivided attention.

Jesus also came, not just to teach healthy and moral living, but to confront the spiritual powers of this world. He and the scriptures teach that he and his followers will be opposed and even attacked because of that conflict. This is what Paul is describing in the first chapter of Philippians, a letter he is writing to Christians in the city of Philippi from his own imprisonment for teaching about Christ. Yet Paul writes words of encouragement to those who would also follow Christ as he has:

…conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (good news) of Christ… standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the Good News faith. (vv. 27)
Paul sees it as a privilege of that Good News faith not only to BELIEVE, but also “to suffer for [Jesus’] sake.” (v. 29)
One of my favorite pastor-mentors used to remind his congregation during the benediction that Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” For most of us in south Charlotte in 21st century America, these words “afflict the comfortable.” I’m comfortable in so many ways and Paul’s spiritual teaching about following Christ hits me in about the same way that watching “Biggest Loser” used to hit me. It’s the show about these pretty courageous morbidly obese people who agree to a several-month contest to see who can lose the most weight. Meanwhile, I watched the inspiring series unfold in the evening from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy chair, sometimes even enjoying a bowl of ice cream. Does church ever seem like that? We read inspiring stories of Jesus and his followers from the comfort of our chairs and lives and air conditioned sanctuary?

Paul says that truly following Christ will involve some work and commitment and maybe even some trouble. But he also says it’s worth it – it is with Jesus, on behalf of Jesus, and for the sake of Jesus… again, that the world might be blessed.

Comfort in Affliction (2 Corinthians 1:2-5)

If you are thinking, “I’ve got enough trouble; what I really need is some help!” Paul also has a second word for us. It is the other side of that phrase, because Jesus also came to comfort the afflicted. In the opening chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul greets his readers with grace and peace and then names God as the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” So you get an indication where he is headed. Then in the next sentence, Paul uses the word ‘comfort’ no less than four times:
…[God] comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (v. 4)
Paul knows about affliction. Later in this chapter he will describe a “thorn in the flesh” – something that has been afflicting him that the Lord has not seen fit to take out of his life. We don’t know if that is a physical ailment (some suggest blindness or vision trouble) or a person. But Paul has to live with it, despite frequent prayer for help. What Paul does know is God’s presence and comfort. Paul has also been arrested, beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, and near death. So he knows a bit about affliction.

Yet he holds out to us the comfort of God in Christ. God is with us in Christ; God sees our affliction; God hears our affliction. And Paul models for us that removing the affliction is not a prerequisite for knowing the peace and comfort of God. He encourages us to seek and receive the comfort of God and to extend that to others who might also need it. To Paul (and to me!) that is GOOD NEWS worth sharing!

The Good News is Strength in Suffering

In the last verse of our 2 Corinthians text, Paul points to both of the suffering themes we have looked at today. He writes succinctly:
For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (v. 5)
That’s a very practical version of the rich theology we’ve looked at previously. Jesus joined himself to the human condition, both to come to us and to connect us with him. It makes sense that his presence with us and rescue of us brings us comfort. It also makes sense that in following after him we will face different “sufferings” for his sake. In both cases, he is with us. Whichever place you find yourself this morning, the Good News is that Jesus is your strength in suffering. Do you hear that? YOU are not your ultimate strength; Jesus is, because he is with you and goes before you.

So whether you are on a spiritual recliner or in a heap on the floor, Jesus says, “Rise and walk” and offers his strong and compassionate hand to stand in his strength. That is Good News! Amen.




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