Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 2:7-10
Quotes of the Week:
Concealing an illness is like keeping a beach ball under water.
These lessons seem to come one after another, as somewhat of a microcosm of events in our lives. Fortunately, I believe that God has given both Berkley and me valuable life experiences that may be helpful to others as we prepare these lessons. In each of our lives, some of the issues we have are ones we have brought on ourselves. Others are related to events we've had to deal with that were out of our control, which again, is a common point in all of our lives. As we all grow and mature, each of us have likely seen our own share of issues in life and hopefully these lessons have served some useful purpose to you.
As I approach this issue, I, Don, am at a point in my own life where I don't completely know what is going on with me physically. Since last fall, I noticed that my speech started slowing and that it was sometimes slurred. To make a long story short, at least at this point in time, I have had numerous tests, including Brain MRI, EMG, Spinal Tap, Swallow Tests, Speech Therapy and a multitude of blood tests. Each of these tests was inconclusive, with the exception of ruling out many things (such as brain tumor, strokes and various other diseases that are not "currently" present). Upon writing of this lesson, we know nothing more than the symptoms which I deal with, which are sometimes better and sometimes worse. Thankfully, it has impacted nothing other than my speech at this time, which has a minimal impact on the rest of my life. However, seeing others that have experienced similar issues makes me unsure of what may come in the future. Whatever comes, I am placing it in God's hands and we certainly covet your prayers on our behalf in this issue.
Additionally, I know of others who are currently dealing with much more dire circumstances in their lives. Berkley and I know those who have recently lost loved ones, due to cancer that has destroyed their bodies. We have one friend who is currently fighting for his life and others who have heart issues, kidney issues and so much more. We know that one day life will come to an end for us all. It is never easy to lose a loved one, even if they were a believer and were older than 100, knowing that they are in a better place. However, when we see a friend or family member that contracts a critical disease earlier in life, we are often touched much more deeply and are very much at a loss for words.
As we think of this lesson, there are at least a couple of key points. One is for you and/or I as we deal with persistent illness in our own lives. This isn't about a common cold or even the flu. It's not about allergies or other things that we deal with seasonally. We need to consider what our attitude should be when we realize that illness has come upon us and that we cannot shake it. The illness may or may not have a name and it may or may not be terminal. It may not mean that our time on this earth is shortened, but it does mean that we have to deal with something that impacts our physical well being. What type of attitude should we have?
One other key point in this lesson is in regard to forgiveness of others. You may wonder why it is linked to a lesson on sickness, but for some reason, it is often only when life becomes more fragile that some will even consider truly forgiving another person. Have you ever been around someone who made a choice to estrange themselves from a sibling or parent or child (or even friend) based on a disagreement or some issue in the past? How have you seen people react once that person has passed on? They lose the ability to find closure and instead of being a solace to one experiencing hardship in this life, their attitudes and behavior only tend to worsen the situation. This lesson helps us to see Paul's perspective on a similar situation. I believe the Lord gives us guidance on how to approach when a loved one is ill. However, more generically, we should ask ourselves as believers why we would find forgiving others so difficult at any point and ask if it is worth the pain that we cause ourselves and others in this life.
As with any lesson, there are likely things that speak to some of us that may not speak to others. I have often been amazed in teaching classes when I was sure what was going to be the driving point to the class. At times, I would build the lesson around that point, but I often found out that God exposed something else, sometimes not even based on what I said, but based more on something that others came to realize in the context of the lesson. As you read this lesson (or any other lesson), be sensitive to God's prompting and ask the Holy Spirit to be with you and guide you in truth and wisdom.
Over time, as our bodies encounter more and more problems, we are still able to be inwardly renewed day by day. It isn't based on how fast you can run, or the number of pushups you can do, or your ability to get around. Inward renewal will not just happen over time. In fact, inwardly, we waste quicker than outwardly if left on our own course. Some believers think that they will automatically be more mature once they get older. The truth is that there is no guarantee of maturity - only of aging. You aren't automatically a more mature Christian just because you are an older Christian.
Unfortunately, for some, the Christian life revolves around crisis management. If you think about your own physical body, do you wait until you are starving before you eat? Most of us eat regular meals, so that we maintain our bodies and we don't wait for the hunger pangs to clue us in to our condition. When you are driving, do you always wait until the low fuel light comes on to fill your tank with gas? If this is you, you likely know what it means to run out of gas. However, in the lives of many believers, they tend to wait for a crisis to arise before they draw near to Christ. This type of lifestyle does not lead to inward renewal. We should be seeking God regularly, through prayer and Bible Study. We should become involved with other believers, so that we can lift others up and can be lifted up when we need their help.
As we seek inward renewal, we realize that our troubles, however light or heavy, are momentary and we are working towards an eternal glory that far outweighs any trouble that we face. It is easy to become depressed due to the reality of sin in our world. I know people that have had to deal with very serious troubles in their lives, yet I have also seen how God can work through those troubles and help them to focus on an eternal glory, when they are inwardly renewed.
Our world wants to focus on what can be seen (or what it chooses to see). Some focus on the pain and evil in the world, which can easily be found. Some people want to focus on the many diverse problems in life. People struggle in their jobs and others lose them or can't find them. Many students struggle in school in order to get an education and then have problems finding a job. Relationships can be a struggle for many and in some cases will cause pain and heartache. Finances are drained when events happen that are beyond our control, even when we have carefully planned. Illnesses come and the tendency is to focus solely on the illness which can become overwhelming. These are real things that occur in the lives of believers. However, as Christians, we can focus on what is not seen. We will all have the troubles and trials, but they are temporary. Our faith is in the unseen and the eternal.
As background to this passage, you may remember that the 1st letter to the Corinthians was quite harsh. Paul was dealing with many serious issues that had arisen in the church, as the church was becoming more and more like its surrounding. Sometime after he wrote this letter, he had intended to go back to visit the church at Corinth, but instead he sent Timothy. Timothy reported that Paul's enemies were stirring up opposition against Paul and the gospel. Paul was being vigorously opposed and publicly attacked. All the while, the church stood passively by. We don't have the letter that Paul wrote to challenge them in between the 1st and 2nd letters to Corinthians, but we can read that it had the desired effect. In 2 Corinthians 7, we can read that his letter caused sorrow for a while, but it ultimately resulted in rejoicing to the point of repentance.
Paul had changed his plans to come and see the church, but he had not stayed away because he was afraid or that he was a coward. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, you can read that some said of Paul, "his letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Paul wanted to spare them of discipline that they deserved and didn't want to flaunt his authority. In truth, he could have been vindicated, as he was right and they were in the wrong. Even though he had been wronged by them, he wanted the best for them and was not looking to hurt them in a vindictive manner. The letter that Paul had written to the church had been painful, but it was used as an instrument to bring the Corinthian believers back. Have you ever got such a letter? These types of letters may make you very mad at the start, but after you read it and consider the perspective of the one that wrote it, it can help you to change your mindset. These types of letters can be a wake-up call. On the other hand, there are others who write letters in an attempt to demean and destroy. This was not Paul's intention.
The believers were in a precarious position. Even if they tended to lean towards what Paul was saying, there was an offender still in their midst that was constantly slandering Paul, attacking his integrity and attempting to turn the congregation against him. As the believers began to see the truth and the error of the offender's ways, Paul urged them to forgive the wrongdoing. This is incredible, isn't it? Paul was not nursing his own wounds, but was thinking of the betterment of the Corinthians. Paul's human desire was surely to let them (especially the offender) have a taste of their own medicine. However, to be vindictive is not what it means to show the love of God. There will come times when we have been wronged that we want nothing more humanly than to get even (and then some). In fact, there are some who do not seem to know when to stop in an attacking manner. Paul was saying that there should be forgiveness and comfort provided so as to not overwhelm the offender with excessive sorrow.
I find it strange that these two passages are selected to address illness. Perhaps God is trying to reach you to take a step back and think about what has occurred in your life. Or, perhaps God has a message for you to take to somebody else. In any case, there is a clear message of restoration and seeking to make things right in this lesson. In the event that you have a loved one that has become estranged, perhaps now is the time to take a step back and ask why this is true. I know of some who have siblings that have grown distant, sometimes due to a life choice that one of them made. Even when you don't agree with every decision that a loved one made, there is no reason to end relationships with them. I know of some that have spoken ill of their own parents that may have divorced years ago and have found themselves as a child picking a side. Some of the most poisonous words come in situations like this and if fed continually, a child sees one parent as the continual villain and the other as one that can do no wrong. If this is your situation, ask yourself to look for truth (even if it doesn't agree with what you've been told). Perhaps the reason this is linked to a lesson on illness is because it might take an illness for some people to get past things that they have been told to see that they need to do something.
We need to expect problems in life. In those problems, such as illness, we have the opportunity to show the grace of God to others. When we are unable to deal with life's issues and find ourselves running away from them, we find ourselves less prepared to share God's light in times like these. If you feel you have been wronged, don't become consumed by self pity. It may require a work of God in your life to help you to be able to forgive someone who has wronged you, but we are all called to forgive others as we have been forgiven. Forgiveness does not mean that every relationship is restored, but at least weapons of warfare should be put away and people should be treated in a matter that fosters respect.
In closing, if you are dealing with illness and sickness in your life, we would be more than happy to pray for you. Even when any of us begins to become feeble, we can be renewed internally. Although there is some fear for anyone who has undetermined illness, as believers we know that we have an eternity of glory with God. So, let us set our perspective and fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal, as opposed to that which we can see and is temporary.