(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
“The central neurosis of our time is emptiness.”
1. Defeated by the vanity of life: Bertrand Russell was born into a Christian home and taught to believe in God, but he rejected his training and became an outspoken atheist. His daughter, Katherine Tait, said of him, “Somewhere at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that once had been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put in it.”
A well-known clinical psychologist in Portland committed suicide, leaving this note to his staff: “Tonight, I feel tired, alone, and suddenly very old. The full understanding of these feelings will come to you when you too, are tired, alone and old.”
Cartoonist Ralph Barton, although successful and in demand, took his own life, leaving a note nearby that included these words, “I am fed up with inventing devices to fill up twenty-four hours of the day.”
Suicides are increasing at an alarming rate. Millions of people are feeling the despair of life. They feel that life is empty and they kill themselves or seek escape through drugs and alcohol addiction.
2. The death of Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley had it all. Money, fame, wealth, power and success. He was the envy and the admiration of millions. All the things that people spend their lives seeking, he had it all. What we yearn for, he attained. Yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, he turned to drugs to satisfy the aching emptiness and it cost him his life. The doctor who arrived on the scene first declared him dead. While writing the death certificate he asked someone who the dead person was. On being told that it was Elvis Presley, the doctor went back to take another look. Elvis was bloated and so swollen from drug use that the doctor could not recognize him. He bore no resemblance to the famous Elvis whose pictures he had seen on record labels and newsmagazine.
3. Is there a solution? Viktor Frankl said, “Clinics are crowded with people suffering from a new kind of neurosis, a sense of total and ultimate meaninglessness of life.”
Why do people despair of life itself? Psychologists offer many solutions to that question, but only one true solution exists-- Jesus Christ. Only he can meet our deepest needs when suddenly our world is falling apart. God knows us and has plenty to say about our outer pressures, inner despair and everyday struggles.
Jesus Christ can fill your empty, meaningless life. If you are looking for the meaning of your life, you are not looking for a bottle alcohol, you are not looking for a high on drugs, you are not looking for sexual partners, you are not looking for money and wealth, you are not looking for power and fame. You are looking for Jesus Christ the Son of Glory, the Prince of Peace, the King of Joy, who came into the world to bring victory to every heart and to every life.
4. God’s limitless compassion: Paul offers praise to God for consoling and encouraging him. He highlights the aspects of God’s character he had come to value in deeper measure as a result of personal need and divine response, namely, God’s limitless compassion and never-failing comfort.
5. God is all-sufficient: Paul experienced desperate need-- physically, emotionally and financially. Yet he declared, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:19-20).
From personal experience Paul spoke of a God who proved sufficient for the pressures of his life. Even Paul was not exempt from the temptation to despair, but he knew how to flee to his Heavenly Father for comfort. The glory of God’s providential care must always be recognized by his children. Even the eternal ages yet to come will not be sufficient to exhaust the praises that belong to him.
6. Strengthened through trials: Paul sees his suffering not merely as personally beneficial, driving him to trust God alone, but also as directly benefiting those he ministered to. The trials we experience trials is enable us to comfort others who are hurting. Christians who are walking with the Lord have much to share regarding the blessings God has given them in times of deep need or despair. To experience God’s help, consolation, and encouragement in the midst of all one’s affliction is to become indebted and equipped to communicate the divine comfort to others in any kind of affliction or distress.
7. Greater suffering, greater comfort: Whenever Christ’s sufferings were multiplied in Paul’s life, God’s comfort was also multiplied through the ministry of Christ. The greater the suffering, the greater the comfort and the greater the ability to share with others the divine sympathy. “The sufferings of Christ” include sufferings that befall the man in Christ engaged in his service. They are Christ’s sufferings not simply because they are similar to his but because they contribute to the fulfillment of the suffering destined for the body of Christ or because Christ continues to identify himself with his afflicted church.
Little wonders that in 1 Corinthians 1:3-7 the word “comfort” appears no fewer than nine times. And each time, the verb is used to illustrate how God stands beside us and encourages us in the midst of our severest trials. Unfortunately, when many Christians face trials, they forget to look to God for comfort.
Ravi Zacharias remarked, “Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity. Wherever you go, ask God for wisdom on how to get that Gospel in, even in the toughest situations of life.”
8. God comforts us to be comforters: Paul’s affliction and endurance of his trials ultimately benefited the Corinthians in that he was now equipped to administer divine encouragement to them when they were afflicted and to ensure their preservation when they underwent trials. Paul makes explicit the divine comfort he received in the midst of affliction. Whether he suffered affliction or received comfort, the advantage remained the same for the Corinthians. They too would know an inner revitalization,an infusion of divine strength that would enable them to endure patiently the same type of trial that confronted Paul.
Since Paul realized that to share Christ’s sufferings always involved the experience of God’s comfort through that suffering, his hope that the Corinthians would be triumphant in their time of trial was securely grounded.
9. Life is not meaningless: The Book of Ecclesiastes that starts out with “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless” may make one assumes that it is not a book to give us hope, encouragement and feel upbeat and optimistic about life.
But this book is precisely about meaning and fulfillment and fullness and significance and satisfaction and happiness and blessedness in life. The preacher begins with “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
The reason he begins this book that way is because he wants us to find true satisfaction, true significance, true happiness, true blessedness, true meaning in life, fulfillment and fullness. This Book of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that every man desires significance and satisfaction and fullness and meaning in life. The problem is people seek it the wrong way, people seek for it in the wrong things and the wrong places.
Eternity has been placed in our hearts. We realize that we are made for something more, and so we are all on a quest for meaning and happiness and blessedness. The problem is we often pursue it wrongly and we seek the source of happiness and blessedness and satisfaction in the wrong thing apart from a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The Preacher Solomon teaches us the escape routes of meaninglessness in life. If we are living without God, no matter what satisfaction we are experiencing, we will realize that it does not answer our deepest need.
10. When God’s grace is magnified: In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Paul wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Paul was hard pressed on every side, but not completely cornered and never driven to surrender. He was at a loss, but never totally at a loss. He was hounded by the foe, but not left to his mercy. He was knocked to the ground, but not permanently grounded.
In the ministry of comfort, God’s Word comes alive, and his promises become active and real. Suddenly you understand why you went through your hardship. Paul bore marks on his body as the result of the persecutions he had endured for the sake of his Lord. These marks revealed his relationship to Christ. Paul wrote that even the most severe pressures of daily life never separate us from the tenderness and compassion of our Heavenly Father. On the contrary, when we feel like our world is falling apart, God’s power and grace are magnified. Paul is not saying that we won’t face disappointment, suffering or conflict in life. But he is saying that no Christian need ever despair because we worship the God of all comfort-- the God who is sufficient for every pressure of life. The words “all comfort” signify without limitation. Discover your worth in the One who finds you precious enough to be humiliated and tortured, to be nailed to a piece of rugged wood and dying on it so that you will have joy, hope and comfort without measure.