Three Ways to Live for Christ in Hard Times
2 Corinthians 5:11-13
November 20, 2020
“I survived 2020.”
Someone could make a fortune selling t-shirts with that slogan. Maybe someone already has.
It’s been that kind of year. Twelve months ago we could hardly have imagined what was about to happen:
A worldwide lockdown.
A new word: pandemic.
Something called “sheltering in place.”
Then came economic unrest, trouble in our cities, a crisis of confidence, a rising death toll, and the search for a vaccine. Add to that an outbreak of wildfires, floods, and so many hurricanes that we went through an entire alphabet of names. Finally, we had the most contentious election anyone can remember.
Like crawling across a minefield blindfolded
The list goes on and on. The last twelve months have felt like crawling across a minefield blindfolded.
It has been a hard year.
And it’s not over yet.
No one knows what the future will bring. Earlier today, I saw one of those “Ten Predictions for 2021” articles that start coming out this time of year. The writer wisely began by admitting that no one foresaw what would happen in 2020. Rather than add my own speculation about the future, I want to address a fundamental question that always applies: How should we live in times like these?
That brings me to my text: 2 Corinthians 5:11-13. These three verses give us clear guidance for living in hard times. They show us the right way to respond no matter what happens in the next twelve months.
How should we live in times like these?
Here are three clear answers.
# 1: Live Urgently
“Therefore, since we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade men” (v. 11).
Do you fear the Lord?
Most of us aren’t sure how to answer that question. We would rather talk about loving the Lord, and there is always a place for that. 1 John 4:9 says we love him because he first loved us. If he had not loved us first, we would never have loved him at all. There is a high place in the Christian life for loving the Lord Jesus. How could we not love him after all he has done for us?
But Paul here puts his emphasis in a different place because he is thinking of that solemn day when we must all stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (v. 10). No one can escape it. There we must answer for the things done in the body, whether they are useful or useless. Those “worthless” things, which in themselves may not have been wrong, will be burned up before our very eyes.
Truth always comes out
If that doesn’t bother you, then you need a better conscience.
It’s easy to justify ourselves and to cover our mistakes. We’re good at making excuses and passing the buck. We know how to cover our tracks and make others look bad while we end up smelling like a rose. None of that will work when we stand before the Lord. His fiery gaze will strip away all our excuses.
The truth will come out.
No wonder Paul says, “We know the fear of the Lord.” It’s a combination of honor and respect. If you know you must answer to the Lord, it will impact the way you live. When I was growing up, my brothers and I would occasionally get in trouble. Most of the time mom would handle it herself. But if it was serious, she would say, “I’m calling your father.” Those words struck fear into the four Pritchard boys. Because he was a doctor, he spent his days at the hospital or the clinic. He had plenty to do without being bothered by our shenanigans. But if mom called him, that meant a day of reckoning was coming when he got home. I recall a few times when mom was so upset that she told him to leave work and come home immediately to deal with us. Nothing good could happen then.
That’s only one part of the story. We knew our father loved us and was proud of his four rambunctious sons. His smile meant the world to us. That made it worse when he had to discipline us.
In some small way, that helps me understand Paul’s point. If you know the Lord loves you, and if you know you will stand before him someday, that ought to motivate you to do the right thing. In this case, Paul says, “We persuade men.” That phrase speaks to his desire to see people come to know Christ. He suffered beatings and imprisonment, and he endured harsh conditions as he traveled. But it was worth it to spread the gospel.
We persuade men
There is no other way to explain Elisabeth Elliot going back to the jungle to share Christ with the people who had killed her husband. That’s why a young couple leaves the US to do medical work in Nigeria. That’s why missionaries scatter to the ends of the earth to share Christ.
Note the verb Paul used. We “persuade” men. We don’t browbeat them or threaten them or intimidate them because that doesn’t work. We don’t use bribery because you can’t “buy” a soul with money. We pray for opportunities, and then we share Christ openly and honestly.
Do you know the name Madison Cawthorn?
He’s the newly-elected Congressman from the 11th District of North Carolina. His election was newsworthy because he is only 25 years old. He also made headlines when it was discovered that he attempts to win Jews and Muslims to faith in Christ.
The folks at the Daily Beast were shocked–shocked!–that a Christian would believe in the Great Commission. Who does he think he is? Billy Graham?
Mr. Cawthorn responded this way:
If all you are is friends with other Christians, then how are you ever going to lead somebody to Christ? If you’re not wanting to lead somebody to Christ, then you’re probably not really a Christian.
Paul would heartily agree. We do everything we can to persuade others to join us in following Jesus.
# 2: Live Transparently
“What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to be proud of us, so that you may have a reply for those who take pride in outward appearance rather than in the heart” (vv. 11b-12).
Is your life an open book?
Most of us would hesitate to answer in the affirmative. Live long enough, and you’ll have plenty of things you prefer not to talk about in public. Paul evidently wasn’t worried about that. For one thing, he was open about his past. Before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road, he hated Christians and tried to wipe them out. That’s why he was going to Damascus in the first place. He was a “missionary” sent to wipe out the growing Christian movement. Since Paul didn’t try to hide his past, no one could spring it on him. Paul says God knows him through and through, and he hopes the Corinthians know him in the same way.
He wants them to “boast” about him, which sounds strange until you think about it. We talk about not putting people on a pedestal, but Paul didn’t seem bothered about that. His attitude was, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”
We all need heroes
Sometimes we define ourselves by our role in life: husband, wife, brother, sister, doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc. Those roles are true enough, but they don’t go to the core of who we are. Paul found his identity in Jesus Christ. That’s why he comes back again and again to the little phrase “in Christ.” At the root of it all, he was a man “in Christ,” and that changed everything. To put it in modern terms, Paul didn’t struggle with his “self-image” because he was grounded in Christ. It didn’t matter whether he had a roof over his head or if he slept under the stars. Because he didn’t look to others to determine worth, he was content wherever he was.
We all need heroes.
In many ways, we need them now more than ever.
That’s why Paul could say, “I want you to be proud of me.” He wanted to be their hero, which meant offering himself up as a man worthy of their trust.
I’ve read many warnings lately about not idolizing our pastors and other spiritual leaders. But the fact some have fallen doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust anyone. Find a man you can trust, and then follow him. Don’t give him your heart carelessly, and don’t treat him as if he could do no wrong. We need heroes, not idols!
Don’t let the failure of some sour you on trusting others.
Nothing hidden, nothing to hide
Ruth Graham defined a saint as someone who makes it easy to believe in Jesus. That’s a worthy goal for all of us. I have a sacred obligation to live so that my wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and those who follow my ministry find it easy to believe in Jesus.
Paul spoke about this in 1 Timothy 3:2 when he said an overseer must be “above reproach.” The Greek word describes a garment without any folds. When applied to personal character, it means the leader must be free from any secret pockets of sin. Leaders are often attacked, their motives questioned, their actions criticized. A leader who is above reproach weathers the storm because there is nothing about him about which a person could say, “Aha! I gotcha.” This means no questionable conduct, no secret sins, no deliberately unresolved conflicts.
There should be nothing hidden because there is nothing to hide.
# 3: Live Unapologetically
“For if we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you” (v. 13).
If this verse troubles us, it may say more about us than about the Apostle Paul. Evidently there was a zeal about his life that made others think he was out of his mind. Acts 25 records the reaction of a man named Festus, the Roman governor of Judea when Paul was on trial for his life. When Festus heard Paul’s story, he was perplexed, because it involved matters of the Jewish law and Paul’s testimony about “a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive” (Acts 25:19). The very next day, Paul gave his public testimony before King Agrippa. He asked a question that hangs in the air 2000 years later: “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (Acts 26:8).
After listening to Paul give his testimony, Festus interrupted him by saying, “Your great learning is driving you insane” (Acts 26:24).
Mad as a hatter!
Touched in the head!
There are other ways to say it. He’s lost it. He’s gone over the edge. He’s a half-bubble off-center. He’s plumb loco. He’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
Touched in the head!
We say things like that because it’s easier to dismiss a man as crazy when we don’t want to take him seriously. Suppose Festus can write Paul off as a highly educated lunatic. In that case, he doesn’t have to consider the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jim Elliot prayed, “Lord, make me a crisis man.” He went on to pray: “Make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” That’s the sort of man Paul was. He preached with such conviction that no one could walk away unchanged. He was a fork in the road for his hearers, which is why Festus wrote him off as a nut case. It was easier that way because it meant he didn’t have to think about Jesus rising from the dead.
Paul knew what his critics thought, and it didn’t bother him. “If you think I’m nuts, that’s okay because I’m not doing this for your approval.” He didn’t apologize for his zeal, he didn’t try to explain it, and he certainly didn’t ask forgiveness or promise to be less crazy in the future.
I wonder how Paul would fare in most 21st-century churches. We are so concerned about fitting in and not offending people that we hardly ever make a splash or cause a scene. No one would think to call us crazy.
“Make me a crisis man”
To be clear, I’m not suggesting we need to act crazy to stir up opposition. I’m only saying Paul knew that people would misunderstand him, and that was okay with him.
Let’s face it. Christians are narrow-minded about God’s truth. We believe something the chattering classes find incredible. We believe God has spoken in his Word, and his Word is to be obeyed.
We don’t debate “Do not murder” or “Salvation is found in no one else” or “Abstain from sexual immorality.” We believe Jesus meant it when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We believe the Bible is the Word of God.
We believe Jesus was born of a virgin and lived a sinless life.
We believe Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead.
We believe Jesus is the only way to heaven.
We believe Jesus is coming again.
We believe his kingdom will last forever.
We believe Jesus will judge the living and the dead.
We believe in heaven and hell.
That’s just the beginning. We believe God has set the boundaries of acceptable conduct, and that his Word is final. To be more explicit, we believe marriage is between one man and one woman. We believe killing the unborn through abortion is evil.
If people are offended, that’s okay
These are not popular positions in the 21st-century. They run against the cultural tide of our times. It’s never been easy to be a Christian, but it is getting harder as Western Civilization moves away from its Judeo-Christian heritage.
Some people want to silence us completely. They would shut us out of the public arena and deny us a “seat at the table” of public discourse. These days you must be careful what you say. If you are open about your Christian faith, some people will “ratio” you on social media and make you a victim of “cancel culture.” You may be called ugly names.
That’s nothing new.
If we take Paul seriously, then we must do what he did and refuse to apologize for our beliefs. It is better to be thought insane if that is the price of faithfulness to God.
Never apologize for God’s Word.
Never be ashamed of the gospel.
Never keep quiet just to get along.
Christians don’t fit in, and we never will. We are fools if we make conformity the goal of our lives. I ran across a fascinating quote from legendary shock rocker Alice Cooper. Though you may not have heard the news, he became a Christian some years ago. Here’s the quote I found:
Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy.
But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.
He’s right on all counts. It’s a lot easier to get drunk and fool around than it is to follow Jesus Christ. Do you want to be a true rebel against the status quo? Become a disciple of Christ. Make him the Lord of your life. You’ll be going against the flow every single day.
Drinking beer is easy
I began by commenting on the strangeness of these days. As we come to the end of the hardest year we can remember, God’s Word shows us the way forward. How can we live for Christ in times like these?
Do that, and we can impact the world no matter who is in the White House, or when the vaccine arrives, or whether the stock market goes up or down.
I close this message with the familiar words of missionary C. T. Studd:
Only one life, ‘Twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Live for Christ today, and you’ll be glad you did 10,000 years from now.