Ministry in the Face of Mental Illness

 

Week of November 30, 2014

 

Bible Verses:2 Corinthians 1:2-11.

 

The Point:Godís people are to care for those suffering from mental illness.

 

God of All Comfort: 2 Corinthians 1:2-11.

 

[2]Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.[3]Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,[4]who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.[5]For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[6]If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.[7]Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.[8]For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.[9]Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.[10]He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.[11]You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.[ESV]

 

[2] ďGrace and peace are our greatest need and Godís most appropriate gifts. The greeting in verse 2 reminds us that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son [1 John 1:3], the essence of eternal life [John 17:3]. God the Holy Spirit brings us into this intimate relationship at our new birth. The Father is mentioned first because He is the fountain of the Godhead. The Father sent the Son to be our Savior; the initiative in the whole plan of salvation is the Fatherís [John 3:16, 1 John 4:9,10,14]. The name Father is one of the most precious words of human language. All fatherhood and motherhood in the world at their best derive meaning and inspiration from Godís. The Bible does not teach the universal fatherhood of God, except in the physical sense that God is the creator of all. Father does not mean Creator in Bible language. He is not the Father of all men and women , but of His own people, of those who through faith in His Son have become members of His family and of His Sonís body, the church. Godís Fatherhood of those who are in Christ may be seen as the climax of New Testament revelation. No privilege is greater than this: through Jesus we may come to the Father and call Him Abba! Father! [Rom. 8:15]. The Father and the Son delight to give the best gifts, and this prayerful greeting powerfully reminds us that grace and peace are our greatest daily need. Grace originates from an Old Testament term meaning Ďto bendí or Ďto stoopí. It points to Godís amazing condescension and kindness. His grace is His sovereign determination to bless the undeserving. Grace is synonymous with forgiveness. Godís grace in His Son provides us with daily forgiveness of all our sins as we confess them to Him [1 John 1:9]. Grace is also synonymous with help and strength, freely given by God. Godís grace always matches our need [Heb. 4:16]. Along with grace goes peace, and always in that order. Only as we know the grace of Godís forgiveness may we know the renewal of His peace in our lives. Peace is well-being and includes freedom from anxiety. In relationships, peace is good will and harmony, the opposite of conflict. The wonder of Godís grace in His Son is that we may be as much at peace with God as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is. As we experience His grace, we are able to pray, and to pray about everything. The exercise of prayer becomes then a path to peace of the deepest kind, a peace that passes understanding [Phil. 4:6-7]. Godís grace and peace may be constantly renewed to us; and it is on a daily basis Ė moment by moment Ė that we require them. The more we daily enjoy Godís grace and peace, the more like Paul we respond in gratitude and put God at the center of our life. That truth may be hidden in its consequences from us, but it will be witnessed by others and hopefully conspicuously so.Ē[Prime, pp. 3-4].

 

[3-11]ďPaul begins his letter with an expression of praise. He praises God for the way in which He has turned hard and difficult experiences to good use. Afflictions are a common feature of life [4] for Christians and non-Christians alike. The words Paul uses Ė affliction [4,8], sufferings [5-7], burdened beyond our strength [8], despaired [8], the sentence of death [9] and deadly peril [10] Ė remind us of the variety of difficulties we may meet. Paul does not attempt a comprehensive explanation of trouble and suffering, but he points to some purposes God may have in them. Here and there in the Bible we get significant glimpses of what God may choose to do through our troubles, difficulties and suffering. These glimpses do not provide answers to all our questions, but they give the help and encouragement we need as Godís children to see them through.

Purpose Number One: God comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others [3-4]. Paulís basic conviction is that God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God [4]. Essential to this conviction is the understanding Paul has, and the teaching he gives, about three aspects of Godís character. First, God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [3]. There is but one God, and He is the God who sent His Son to be the Savior [John 3:16]. The relationship between the Father and the Son is unique: The Lord Jesus is the Fatherís only Son, the supreme object of His pleasure and delight. It is in His Son that the Father provides the perfect revelation of Himself. Every view we have of the Father therefore needs to be totally influenced by the understanding we have of Godís character in His self-revelation in His Son. Second, God is the Father of mercies [3]. Mercy (or compassion) is an essential part of His character and of His self-revelation in both the Old and New Testaments [Ps. 116:5; James 5:11]. It expresses Godís sympathy with us in our troubles, difficulties and grief. It was wonderfully displayed in the life and character of our Lord Jesus, and it always led to appropriate action [Matt. 9:36; 15:32]. Godís compassion arises naturally from His fatherhood [Ps. 103:13]. Any father Ė like any mother Ė cares compassionately for his children, particularly when they go through pain and suffering. When we call God Father, we are not saying that God is like us in fatherhood. Rather, we are indicating that He is the true Father, and that human parenthood at its best is but a reflection of His perfect parenthood. Third, He is the God of all comfort [3]. As the perfect and compassionate Father, He knows and understands everything that comes to us and is able to send us the comfort we need, whatever our trouble. The first thing we require in trouble is comfort Ė comfort in the sense of strength, encouragement and courage to face both the present and the future with the simple yet profound ability to live a day at a time. Our Father may choose to comfort us in all kinds of ways Ė hence He is the God of all comfort. (1) Comfort is something we received from God [4]. God is the giving God [James 1:5]. It is Godís character to give us the best gifts. He makes sure that help is always on its way, even before we call upon Him for it [Isa. 65:24]. Godís comfort is significantly present tense. It is not simply that He has comforted in the past, but He comforts. (2) The comfort we receive from God we may later use to comfort others. Sometimes we may help others only as we ourselves have trodden the path they have to tread. For example, often we may effectively sympathize with the bereaved only when we have known bereavement ourselves. The comfort we seek to give to others that we have received from God in our personal times of trouble has a uniquely genuine ring. God knows from the beginning the people He is going to send across our path throughout our life. Nothing is ever wasted in Godís school of suffering. (3) Paul lifts our sufferings to the highest level by referring to our sharing the sufferings of Christ [5]. We can never share in the redemptive sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, since they are utterly unique. He alone could die in our place. However, in the bringing of individuals to faith in Him, and in their spiritual care and nurturing, the Lord Jesus uses His disciples. We cannot fulfil these privileged functions without costly distress of different kinds. All involved in pastoral care of others soon discover how demanding such responsibility is. The sufferings of the Lord Jesus in this respect may flow over into our lives [5], but this never happens without our comfort also overflowing! We may never be more aware of our Saviorís presence and help than when for His sake we engage in costly service of others. (4) Paulís philosophy emerges helpfully here [6-7]. Paul was eager to share all this with the Corinthians. Some were no doubt anxious about the news of what had happened to him and his colleagues in their missionary endeavors. Paul freely admitted that they had known great distress. At the same time, he rejoiced because he was certain that the Corinthians and others would ultimately benefit. They would share the spiritual fruits of that distress. The experience of Paul and his friends would encourage the Corinthians to endure similar sufferings patiently as they witnessed the triumph of Godís comfort.

Purpose Number Two: God allows us to come to an end of ourselves, so that we may not rely on ourselves but on Him Ė the God who raises the dead [8-9]. Part of Paulís purpose in writing to the Corinthians, with whom he had such a close relationship, was to keep in touch. They were among those who prayed for him and his fellow workers and who supported them in their work. Their labors in the province of Asia produced many hardships and sufferings. Paulís description implies considerable distress. Some pressures of life and service seem beyond human ability to cope with; they threaten to crush or defeat us utterly. But God taught Paul several important truths through his suffering. (1) Paul discerned Godís purpose. He and his companions came to a complete end of themselves. In their hearts they felt Ö the sentence of death [9]. In other words, they felt that there was no hope for them. They were in desperate straits. Perhaps they experienced the complete collapse of health and felt their end was near. However, what Paul has already testified to in the previous verses proved true! The experience was a waste neither for Paul and his partners nor for those who knew them. God gave them the necessary strength to endure. God allowed it all to happen so that they might not rely on themselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2) Self-confidence is a constant peril and danger. That is not to say that we should have no confidence in God-given abilities, strengths and gifts, or the experience of the past upon which we may call. But that confidence should never be to the point that we feel we can act independently of God or without looking to Him to be our true strength and object of our praise. Self-reliance is perilous, and can be our downfall. God sometimes has to teach us through hard experiences not to rely on ourselves but on Him. Having learnt the lesson, we may sometimes need to relearn it. (3) A fundamental principle emerges here. Basic to Christian faith and life is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a truth to celebrate not only on Easter Day, but every day. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the first disciples after the crucifixion and before the resurrection, we can see the problem that the death of the Lord Jesus and His body resting in the grave presented to their hopes and aspirations. No problems, troubles, sufferings or perils we face are greater than those confronting those disciples. Yet God raised Jesus! That God is our God and Father! That Lord Jesus Christ is our risen and ascended Lord! We must learn to put the truth of the resurrection up against, or alongside, every trouble and difficulty we face. In doing so, we fix our eyes upon God Ė and that is the first step to finding the answer we need in comfort, strength, endurance and victory! In many glorious senses we are the sons of the resurrection [Luke 20:36]!

Purpose Number Three: God teaches us to trust Him as our deliverer, so that praise is brought to Him [10-11]. Looking back on all the difficult experiences he has catalogued and hinted at, Paul bears testimony to Godís deliverance [10]. He delivered us Ö and he will deliver us. To set our hope suggests disciplined determination and single-mindedness. It implies critical choice. Paul knew that the help he and his friends needed could come only from God, and to Him alone they looked. At the same time Paul knew that God gives a strategic place to the intercessory prayers of His people for deliverance. Part of Christian fellowship is praying for one another. This is often more important than we appreciate. When our friends are going through times of trouble, they may find it hard to pray or to know for what to pray. God the Holy Spirit frequently Ė if not always Ė places upon the hearts of others the requests to be made to God for them. Those for whom we pray experience Godís gracious favor Ė His blessing [11] Ė as we intercede for them. Intercessory prayer is fundamental to the corporate life of Godís people. Our prayers are part of Godís rescue plan in His scheme of deliverance. Answered prayers prompt thanksgiving to God [11], and thanksgiving honors and glorifies him [Ps. 50:23]. Looking back Paul saw how the deliverance God afforded him and his companions through answered prayer brought praise to God. In this he glimpsed another of Godís purposes in our troubles and sufferings: He used them to bring praise to His name. God can have no higher end than His own praise. We can have no greater goal than Godís glory.

Praise and Thanksgiving are Godís Proper Due. We may see now why Paul begins his letter with praise to God [3]. We must not minimize the reality of the afflictions [4,8], sufferings [5-7], burdens [8] and perils [10] that came to Paul and his friends and that also come to us. Nevertheless, we may learn to praise God in them all because of the good fruit they may produce. Our difficulties are God-given opportunities to prove His compassion [3], comfort [3-5,7], power [9], deliverance [10], blessing [11] and willingness to hear the prayers of His people [11]. How incredibly poor our experience of Godís character as our glorious Father would be if we did not know trouble! How insubstantial would be the testimony we would be able to give to Him! How little would be the praise and glory we would daily ascribe to him!Ē[Prime, pp. 5-10].

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What is the relationship between grace and peace? Why does Paul often start his letters with these two terms? What does it mean to you that God is your Father?

 

2.†††††††† How does God comfort His people? Describe the relationship in these verses between suffering and comfort. Why are they inseparable for Paul? What lessons have you learned from how God has comforted you in past troubles? How can you use these lessons to help fellow believers who are suffering?

 

3.†††††††† What are the three purposes of suffering that Derek Prime gives us in these verses? What important truths did God teach Paul through his sufferings?

 

References:

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Eerdmans.

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, B & H Publishing.

Letís Study 2 Corinthians, Derek Prime, Banner of Truth.