Sometimes people find themselves facing seemingly hopeless situations for which there is apparently no help. Often it even seems that their prayers are not to be answered, but take heart, for the apostle Paul faced similar situations several times and gives some interesting counsel.
All of the apostles taught that how a person received the gospel was a serious matter, for one of two things can happen. If the gospel is accepted, it is the beginning of life eternal. But if the gospel is rejected, it guarantees eternal separation from God unless the mind is changed before death.
Paul said, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14–16, first part).
In Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Clearly taught here is that the only person who can save you is Jesus Christ. If you reject Him and choose not to follow Him and allow Him to be the sovereign of your life, then there is no other way that you can be saved. No one else can give you life.
Speaking to the Jews, Jesus said, “You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). “If you do not believe that I am the One, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, literal translation). To die in sin means eternal death. Jesus came to deliver His people from their sins and eternal death (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15, 16). To accept the gospel is to be saved. To reject it is to be lost. The choice you make determines your eternal destiny, for it is either a fragrance of life unto life, or of death unto death.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul deals at length with the subject of generosity, which is a character trait of the Christian religion. Notice what he says about the generosity of God Himself: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)! In verses 6 and 7 he says, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
How is it in your life? Have you learned to be a giver or is your focus simply about what you can get? The early church at Philippi was a poor church. However, this church understood the principle of giving. Paul said, “In a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:2–5).
In spite of their own poverty they learned the lesson of giving of what they had to help others. Generosity is fundamental to the Christian religion and God Himself has given us the example. He loved the world so much that He gave all of heaven in one gift when He gave His son to die for the sins of a rebellious race. It is fatal to live for self. Living for self indicates that we are part of the devil’s kingdom. Notice how clearly Jesus taught this when He said, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). We are living in a selfish age. The Bible predicts that in the last days men will be lovers of their own selves, they will love money and pleasure more than they love God, yet they will still have a form of godliness. (See 2 Timothy 3:1–5.)
Benevolence is the very foundation of the universe and God is benefactor of the human family. God is a being of inexhaustible goodness and love. That love of the Father for man was expressed in the gift of His beloved Son to save our race from eternal ruin. Christ gave His life for man. Though He was the Monarch in the courts of heaven, He voluntarily left His riches and His honor and came to this world, becoming meek and lowly so that we might be made rich. Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Those who live for self are demonstrating to the whole universe that they are not part of the kingdom of Christ, but part of the kingdom of Satan. The sin of covetousness is especially denounced in the Scriptures. Worldliness is at war with the true principles of Christianity. A life of benevolent labor is the fruit that will be borne on the Christian tree.
The second letter to the Corinthians contains many passages that cause some people to be troubled. In 2 Corinthians 3:6, we read, “Who [that is, God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
The “letter” that kills refers to the ten-commandment law that was written in stone. It kills because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). So, sin is simply breaking God’s law and the consequence is death. Now the problem is that everybody has sinned, so everyone is doomed to die unless that sin can be forgiven. The penalty for breaking God’s law cannot be remitted; the penalty has to be paid. God’s law cannot be done away with, nor can the penalty for breaking it be remitted.
Dear friends, that is why Jesus had to go to the cross of Calvary. He paid the price of sin for a race of sinners who were doomed to eternal death. By that, He opened up the possibility for every member of the human race to have eternal life if they would believe in Him and accept Him as their personal Saviour and sovereign or Lord of their life.
Jesus said to the Jews, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say” (Luke 6:46)? To those who accept Jesus He has promised something very wonderful.
He said, “I go away to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [that is, the Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:5–7).
Jesus told Nicodemus that unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, there is no chance that he can go to the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3, 5). The reason is because the unconverted person is actually against God and cannot in his own strength be subject to Him. (See Romans 8:7.)
Paul tells us one of the results of receiving the Holy Spirit. He says, “That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Not only will his past sins be forgiven, but the Holy Spirit will give that person power to keep God’s law.
The ministration of the Spirit changes the heart and gives life in preparation for the final judgment. Paul said, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This causes perplexity to many people who just read that we are saved by grace through faith. There is no text in the Bible that tells us that the judgment is on the basis of our faith, but “according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” As James wrote, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him” (James 2:14)?
The way a person lives day to day demonstrates to the whole universe whether or not he or she has faith and has received the Holy Spirit. All who have been born again and directed by the Holy Spirit will begin to live lives in harmony with God’s government and His law.
However, a person’s works do not gain any merit. The only merit by which you can receive the gift of eternal life is that which Jesus has provided for you. His death on the cross of Calvary made it possible for you to receive forgiveness of sins. However, in addition to having your sins forgiven, you must be born again of the Holy Spirit and this new birth will be demonstrated by your works.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
There was a situation of personal suffering and affliction that Paul had to deal with himself. It was so awful that three times he prayed to the Lord to be delivered from it and it seemed as if his prayers were not answered. God did not say yes to his prayer. In fact, it is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This is one of the most profound declarations of faith that you will find in all the Bible. Paul was in a situation where he desperately wanted to be delivered from the bodily affliction that he suffered. Three times he prayed that the Lord would deliver him from his affliction, but the answer was “no.” We are not told why, and we don’t need to know why in this world. All we need to learn is to trust when we don’t know why. The Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, because My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul then concluded that he was going to rejoice in all the troubles and trials that he couldn’t understand because he was going to trust in the Lord. He knew that when he was weak, then he would be strong because the power of Christ would rest upon him.
O, friend, this story is in the Bible for you to claim when going through trying experiences. If you have surrendered your life to Christ and chosen to follow Him and find yourself in an impossible situation, His words to you are the same as He gave to the apostle Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.