I cannot get out of 2 Corinthians 4. I keep turning to other books and passages, only to come back to 2 Corinthians 4. It’s in my thoughts, it’s in my songs, it’s in devotionals, it is the words resounding over me from the Father above.
2 Corinthians 4 starts and ends with the phrase, “We do not lose heart.” Everything in between is why. The short answer is Jesus. Or more specifically, the knowledge of Jesus. When we give our hearts to Jesus, we are enabled to know Him by the Holy Spirit. This relationship and knowledge frees us from the Law of the Old Testament and from sin. It also promises to free us from death through resurrection power. Before we knew Jesus we were in darkness but then, “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.” (2 Cor. 4:6 NIV)
The light of Jesus in our hearts shines out in our lives. The brighter the light, the brighter the shine, until we can’t help but spread the good news of Jesus and share the ministry of the Holy Spirit to others. We may be flawed and broken as people, and it may seem counterintuitive to entrust us with the knowledge of the glory of God. But God isn’t surprised and sees this as a benefit. Paul tells us, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” And even though we are as fragile as jars of clay, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:7-9 NIV)
Paul goes onto describe some of the more bleak outcomes of sharing the knowledge of Jesus with others, and the opposition of the enemy. This is when the bit about resurrection comes up, “With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 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.” (2 Cor. 4:14 NIV) It’s all for the next person who might be saved and returned to the loving arms of Jesus. The more people reached, the more thanksgiving is poured out into the body of believers, and it all collects into the “Glory of God.”
It is with this in mind that Paul says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 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.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18 NIV)
Hardship and trouble may be the facts of today, but Jesus is the Truth and every part of day I use for the sake of Jesus is caught up into His eternal life and will remain untouched by trouble and death. That which I give to Jesus becomes unbreakable, un-steal-able, unlosable, un-kill-able. It is firm in the grasp of the Father.
I think this is what Jesus was getting at when He told His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV emphasis added) Jesus says this at the last supper after telling the disciples about the persecution and grief they will experience on behalf of their connection to Him. He also promises them the coming of the Holy Spirit and that their grief will be turned to joy. On the other side of their grief is Jesus and being reunited with Him, and therein lies the joy.
Jesus also told the woman with the issue of blood to take heart. She approached him in the crowd when He was on his way to heal the daughter of one of the rulers. She had been ill for 12 years, this illness made her unclean which meant she was isolated from the community. She believed that if she touched the hem of His clothes she would be healed. So she did, Jesus felt her touch, and addressed her. “Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ He said, ‘Your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.” (Matt. 9:22 NIV emphasis added)This woman had a lot hardship in her life. Even though it was not on account of Jesus, the joy that is in Jesus was still on the other side of her grief.
The experience of this woman, the disciples, and Paul are all encapsulated in Psalm 31. David is expressing distress and grief when his enemies have risen up to ensnare him. He spends a good bit of time describing his trouble, and reminding himself of who God is, until he finally says,
“Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends – those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you O, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’” (Ps. 31:9-14 NIV emphasis added)
The rest of the psalm is about how faithful God is, how He silences all lies and is a refuge in trouble. He even says, “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” (Ps. 31:16 NIV) Remember, Paul said the light we have is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. David didn’t know Jesus, but he knew the character of God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. David closes the psalm out with, “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Ps. 31:24 NIV emphasis added)
All this to say, that is why I cannot get out of 2 Corinthians 4. I look at the first half of 2020, every loss: take heart; every heartbreak: take heart; every lack: take heart; every divide: take heart; every sorrow: take heart.
The word of the LORD resounding over me this year is: take heart.
I know it’s somewhat of an old fashioned turn of phrase. John Calvin gives us another way to look at it. He translated this phrase out of the Hebrew and the Greek as “take courage.” To take courage one generally has to take action. Courage doesn’t necessarily mean having good feeling about the situation at hand, but doing something about it anyways. So for me to take courage means I have to stop wallowing and keep going. Keep doing all the mom stuff, keep studying my bible, worshiping the LORD, doing what I can to share the gospel.
What is seen may be bleak this year, but what is unseen is quite the opposite. So take heart.