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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:A Life of Gratitude
Text:LD 1 ; 2 Cor. 1:1-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

340 (Red) - Like A River Glorious

290:1-2,5 - O Lord, My Inmost Heart and Thought

458 - Come, Ye Disconsolate

445 - When Peace Like a River

Dox #53 binder - Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow w/ Alleluias

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“A Life of Gratitude”
2 Corinthians 1:1-11; Lord’s Day 1
At any given time in history, we witness tragedy. It may come from natural disasters, from hurricanes, wildfires, tornados and earthquakes. Or disaster may spring from the depths of a human heart as a shooter takes lives randomly, or terrorist attacks spring up without warning. Add to that the innumerable number of those who suffer from terminal illness, from lack of food and other daily necessities, from the trauma of war, or from broken relationships that lead to devastating heartbreak. That is a short list of how people suffer. I'm sure that each one of you could add to that list, for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward and even in laughter the heart may ache, and rejoicing may end in grief (Job 5:7; Proverbs 14:13).
When people face trouble, and suffer because of it, there are many reactions. Often there is confusion about why God would allow suffering, if indeed there is a God. That is, after all, a common argument against the existence of an Almighty God who is good, loving and kind. The skeptic will ask, “If such a God exists, why does he allow natural disasters? Why does he allow human resentments that lead to war and murder? Why does he allow some people – people who are kind, compassionate and loving – to suffer so greatly and in so many painful ways?”
Others who suffer become angry at God. The response of Job's wife to the sufferings that came into Job's life is a common response. You remember how she said to her husband, “Curse God and die.”  In effect she was saying, “If God is all-powerful, loving and kind, and allows you to suffer in the way that you have suffered, Job, then just curse him and die because your life is as good as over.”  There are millions of people who share her pessimistic attitude toward the troubles of life and the power of God.
But the passage before us gives us a completely opposite reaction when we face trouble of any kind. Instead of questioning God's motives, instead of doubting his power and even his existence, instead of pessimistically rolling over and dying, the Scripture tells us we have reason to praise God, even in our troubles.
And the context of our praise to God is not just when everything is going well. The context of our praise to our heavenly Father is the context of suffering. In verse 8 the apostle tells how the hardships that they suffered in the province of Asia were so great that they despaired even of life. The apostle Paul suffered greatly because of his relationship to Jesus Christ. And yet, amid his trouble and his suffering, he points us to our heavenly Father and calls us to praise Him even when we face the greatest of sorrows and troubles.
He lists a number of reasons for praising God, even in the troubles of life. The first reason, there in verse 3, is that God is the Father of Jesus Christ. That alone makes him worthy of all praise, regardless of circumstances. It was out of immeasurable love that the Father gave us his only begotten Son, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Anyone who has that gift of eternal life knows that the sorrows of this life are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. Whatever trouble we face, whatever pain we experience, whatever sorrow floods into our life, we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will praise our heavenly Father for the gift of his Son. The reason why is that through faith in Jesus Christ we are saved from our sin and are heirs of heaven.
We get a glimpse of that between the lines of verse 5 which tell us that just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  Christ suffered and died so that our sins can be forgiven, separated from us is a far as the east is from the west, cast into the depth of the sea, never again to be remembered for judgment.
And that is the source of our true comfort. Our ultimate comfort is found, not in possessions or circumstances, but in Christ alone. The Heidelberg Catechism brings that out beautifully in the first question and answer: What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong –
     body and soul,
     in life and in death -
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven.
In fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit
assures me of eternal life
and makes me whole heartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
We are to praise God, even in our suffering, because of the salvation from sin that he has given to us through the gift of faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and see him with the eye of faith, find a comfort in the knowledge of their salvation that supersedes their worldly sorrows.
The apostle Paul certainly is an example of that. He was a man who suffered on account of his relationship to Christ; and Jesus warned that all who follow him would face persecution, just as he did. Paul suffered greatly, not only with circumstances that involved constant persecution, imprisonment, animosity and distrust from those whom he ministered to. But he was also small in stature, with a thorn in his flesh, with eyes so weak that it appears he had to write with large handwriting, and often had someone else transcribe his letters.
Yet, even those who have just a casual acquaintance with the apostle Paul, realize that he was a man who truly knew what joyful comfort is all about. He knew the truths of the catechism long before they were written. He knew that his life was not his to live as he might choose but that he “belonged, body and soul, in life and in death to his faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
He realized that even though he himself was known as the chief of sinners, the persecutor of the church, one of the most undeserving recipients of grace that could be found, Christ had “yet fully paid for all his sins with his precious blood and set him free from the tyranny of the devil.”
Even when the apostle was in Asia, under great pressure as he describes in verse 8 to 11, he realized that the Lord watched over him in such a way “that not a hair could fall from (his) head without the will of (his) heavenly Father.” And because of that he wrote some of the best-known verses in the Bible including Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
He knew firsthand what the authors of the catechism would write centuries later: “Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” The apostle Paul had very little of what we might call “creature comforts.” But he knew by saving faith in Jesus Christ the only true comfort that anyone can have in life and in death.
And the same should be true for you and for me. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of heartbreak that may come into our lives, regardless of failing health or any number of other traumatic events, if we have saving faith in Christ alone, we have reason to praise God!  All who truly know Christ with saving faith are to eagerly praise the Father for the gift of his Son and the gift of eternal life that comes through faith in him alone.
The God of Compassion and All Comfort
Verse 3 to 5 give us more reasons to praise our God, no matter what earthly ills and trials we face. In verse 3 our heavenly Father is described as the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. David described the compassion of God in Psalm 103 which assures us that as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust  (Psalm 103:13-14).
Those of us who are earthly fathers – and this is true for mothers as well – look at our children in their various struggles in life and have great compassion for them. Our hearts go out to them, and in the same way Scripture tells us our heavenly Father has compassion on us. His compassion for us is grounded in his identity as our Creator. And His compassion is grounded in our identity as recipients of his grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
As we age, we increasingly feel the frailty of life. Often in the older years we feel more intensely the aches and pains that come with the passing of time. Eventually we face physical death itself. We realize it is inevitable, but we don't know how it will come about, whether it will be a long drawn out process, or a quick sudden departure. But we need not concern ourselves with those thoughts, because the Lord our God does indeed have compassion on us. He is our Creator and all the days ordained for (us) were written in (his) book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16)
And because of that he comforts us. Verse 4 assures us that he comforts us in all our troubles. And then it gives one of the reasons why he does so: so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
Have you thought about how the troubles you experience are allowed by our sovereign God so that you may experience his comfort? Have you considered that the sovereign Lord allows those troubles so that you may experience his peace which surpasses all understanding in order that, in turn, you can comfort others with the same comfort that you have received from the Lord?
I knew a woman who underwent a double mastectomy. She had breast cancer and drastic action had to be taken to spare her life.  Whenever I visited her, she would say, “Pastor, if anyone else has cancer, especially breast cancer, let me know.” She wanted to talk to them about her experience in order to encourage them. She could comfort others in a way that I could not. She could minister to others who were facing cancer much more effectively than I could.
When you and I suffer, we are to rest in the sovereign mercy of our Lord and find comfort in his care. Then we are to go forward comforting others with the comfort that we ourselves have received from God.
This passage also points out that God uses our suffering for our good. But when trouble comes into our life, and we suffer, that isn't usually the first thing that we think about, is it? That is because we often focus on the trouble instead of focusing on our sovereign God. If we focused on God more than on our trouble, we would realize the wonderful truths of verse 4 that he comforts us in all our troubles.  And we would realize the truth that troubles increase our endurance as we rely on God’s strength and not ours.
You undoubtedly noticed how in verse 6 the apostle speaks about how the comfort of God in sorrow produces patient endurance.  The woman who needed the double mastectomy endured the pain of surgery and treatments that followed because she knew the comfort of God.
She not only knew that comfort but also realized the truth that the apostle writes about in verse 9. He is writing about the trouble that they had encountered in Asia. There are a variety of suggestions on what those troubles were. The apostle doesn't spell them out in this passage, but he tells us that those troubles were so severe that they felt the sentence of death. And then he goes on in verse 9 to write, But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. Since God has power to raise the dead and since there is no obstacle that he cannot conquer, we are to find comfort in knowing that we rely not on our power but on his power within us.
Another reason to be comforted in all the trials and troubles of life comes from the knowledge that the Lord promises to deliver us, even from the last enemy, death. From verse 9 to 11 we read how the apostle was delivered from deadly peril, either circumstances that could have taken his life, or those who opposed him who sought to end his life. Yet the Lord delivered him from that death sentence. No wonder he expressed such great comfort and joy in the Lord!
But many other Christians, in that same circumstance, do not have their physical life spared. That is true today, as so many are persecuted and martyred for their faith around the world, and it was true back in the first century. Consider Steven. He too faced deadly peril as he told the angry Jews the truths about the Lord Jesus Christ that they did not want to hear. But instead of being delivered by the providence of God, Stephen was stoned to death.
Does that mean that these promises in verse 9 to 11 are promises that come true for some Christians, but not for all who have faith in Jesus Christ?  Not at all! The Lord delivered Stephen, but not in the same manner as he delivered Paul, though later Paul also suffered martyrdom. God delivered Steven from physical death the same way he will deliver you and me, and all believers, from physical death.
What did Stephen see as he was being stoned to death? Acts 7:54-56 describes it this way: When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
The Lord delivers us from physical death by using the separation of body and soul to bring us into his glorious presence. And on the last day, when the Lord Jesus returns, our bodies will be raised in glory to be joined with our souls to live forever in the presence of the Lord since we are, in the words of the catechism, “…Not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death, –  to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
Because of that, every believer can face the reality of physical death with the words of David in the 23rd Psalm, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Finding the Only Source of Comfort
From this passage we see that there is an all-surpassing comfort that overshadows whatever sorrows and heartaches may come our way. But how do we find that comfort?  Amid all the sorrows and troubles of life what is the key to know the compassion that comes from the God of all comfort?
We find salvation and strength from God in his Word, through faith in his Son. Christ is the focus of this passage. The third verse focuses on the identity of our God as being the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 5 describes the sufferings of Christ, and straight forwardly tells us that we who are Christians will also suffer because we are Christian.  But that verse also assures us that we will find comfort from the One who died for us. He died, and rose again so that our sins can be forgiven, and that we who deserve damnation, instead become heirs of heaven.
But to know that comfort you must have saving faith in Christ alone. And there again, the catechism puts it so specifically and clearly in the second question:
 “What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?”
 Three things:
     first, how great my sin and misery are;
     second, how am I set free from all my sins and misery;
     third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.
The apostle Paul was there giving approval to the stoning of Stephen. But by God's grace and convicting power he came to see how great his sin and misery truly were.  It was by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating power that the apostle was given life from above and thus set free from all his sins and misery as he focused, not upon himself and his troubles, but upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for every sinner who confesses their sin and turns in saving faith to the Lord Jesus.  After that, the rest of his life was lived in thankfulness to God for such deliverance – a life of true and deep gratitude.
But the apostle Paul's life should not be viewed as a totally unique experience. Rather, that same experience of the conviction of sin and how we are set free from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ must be normative for your life and for mine. Then the same gratitude for salvation and the same surpassing comfort of God which marked Paul's life, will also be experienced in your life and mine.
May that be the case for you and for me! May we truly know the comfort of God, praising the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And may we be ever grateful for his compassion and care through all the troubles of life as he brings us, by the merits of his Son's perfect life and shed blood, into the glory of the life to come! Amen.
                                                    - bulletin outline -
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort
those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
                                                      “A Life of Gratitude”
                                          2 Corinthians 1:1-11; H.C. Lord’s Day 1
I. When people face trouble there are many reactions, including anger at God and
    doubts concerning His power and motives. But this passage teaches us that
    we have reason to praise God, even in our troubles (3), because:
    1) He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (3). Our ultimate comfort is found through
        saving faith in Him alone (5, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1)
    2) Our heavenly Father is compassionate, comforting all who trust in Him so that
        we are enabled to comfort others (4-5)
    3) He uses our suffering for our good (Psalm 119:67, 71), including our endurance (6-7)
         as we rely on His strength, not ours (9-10)
    4) He promises to deliver us (9-11), even from the last enemy, death
II. Application: We find salvation and strength from God in His Word, through saving
    faith in His Son (3-4), as we pray for others as well as ourselves (11)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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