The Agora
Bible Editorials

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What is real?

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed... We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence... Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:8,9,14,16-18).
The apostle Paul and his companions spent years trudging up and down the roads of the Roman Empire -- always seeking opportunity to bring the good news of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom to their fellowmen. It was not easy work. The demands on the spirit as well as the body were almost overwhelming. There were dangers on every side, at every turn in the road. Foul weather, hunger, thirst, disease, shipwreck. And the constant threat of physical harm -- or even death -- at the hands of Jewish partisans or Roman authorities (2Co 11:25-28).

Paul never minimized the physical and emotional trials of such work. He knew too well the limitations of mortal man, even though "born again", forgiven, spiritually re-generated, and Holy Spirit-infused. The life he had pursued was grindingly hard. Sometimes, he despaired even of life itself. Paul wrote: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered... We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death" (2Co 1:8,9a). But he continued: "But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us" (vv 9b,10).

So why did Paul go on? Because he hoped in God who raises the dead. Because there had come to him, in that dark room in Damascus years earlier, the absolute knowledge that Jesus was alive -- raised from the dead, never to die, again! Nothing else was so real as that simple but earth-shaking fact. Jesus was alive!

Jesus is alive! And those who believe in him, who trust in him, who commit their lives to him, will live with him (1Co 15:20-23; 1Th 4:14-16)!

This is real. This superlative fact will never change. No matter what sufferings a believer must endure, whether for days or weeks or months or years, this reality of a living Lord will never change. In the truly big picture, framed by God and the universe and eternity, the resurrection of Jesus and the offer of everlasting life to his followers are irrefutable fact and unshakable promise. For the believer, these are reality.

For Paul, then, "my troubles are light and momentary and temporary" was much more than a few brave words. In the context of divine reality, "the glory that awaits me is weighty and eternal" made absolute sense. Nothing else counted. Not the pain. Not the illness. Not the privation. Not the heat nor the cold nor the damp nor the blazing sun. And not even the cruelty of other men who should have known better. The sum of all these seemingly terrible things counted for nothing compared with the new life found in Christ.

Listen how Paul explained "what really counts" to the Philippians:
"If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phi 3:4-11).
By Jewish reckoning, Paul's pre-Christian life was outstandingly admirable and righteous. But even the "best" of men are only actors on a stage of God's devising. They play their parts, and all too soon they make their final exits, like the "great" men of a hundred generations before them (Eze 31; 32:18-32). All too soon, they go to the eternal grave of dust and ashes -- unless they have a hope in God (Ecc 3:18-20; 9:1-10; Psa 49:5-20; Luke 13:1-5; Isa 26:13,14,19-21).

Any "achievements" of those same "great" men -- wealth, power, fame, etc -- are short-lived and rarely survive the next generation (Ecc 2:1-23). "All of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

But Paul knew what to strive for. Continuing on in that same letter to the Philippians, he wrote:
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me... Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you" (Phi 3:12-14,16-17).
So what is real? What really counts? What will turn to dust and ashes and what will last forever? In 2Co 5 and 6, Paul says those who find a new life in Christ (being reconciled with God) will fearlessly pursue a lifestyle inspired and controlled by the love of Christ, persuading other men and women that this life, lived with its eyes glued on the future kingdom, is the full, true life -- not the shadowy existence. Read his Spirit-inspired indomitable words for yourself:

"As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you" (2Co 6:4-11).
Bible believers will see each day's measure of evil and trial for the trivial thing it is in the light of eternity. They will turn the other cheek. They will walk the extra mile. They will not lose heart. For they know what is coming. They know who is coming! And they know why (Rev 11:15-18)!

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