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Persevering Through the Pain of Relationships for the Sake of Joy

June 24, 2006

From a sermon on 2Corinthians 1:23-2:4…

Three principles so far for persevering through painful relationships.
1) Fear God. Speak as in his presence, for you are.
2) Don’t try to control others, but work with them for their joy.
3) Be wise about your choice of timing and methods of communication

and finally now #4) Have an optimistic and hopeful long-term perspective.

I see that in verse 3. In the midst of Paul’s sorrow and anguish, he is still confident. He says “I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all” In other words, he believed that their relationship would get over this hump. He believed that the day would come when they would again rejoice together in the Lord, when they would again share a common joy in the gospel.

But this long-term confidence doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel a lot of anxiety about the short-term outcome of this conflict. We will see him be very transparent and vulnerable about that concern as we go through this book. He was not sure that the Corinthians would respond favorably to his severe letter. So what was his confidence? As we saw two weeks ago, his hope was anchored in heaven. He knew that the Lord would keep those who were his. He knew that in heaven he would see the fruit of his labor. He wrote to the Thessalonians in 1Th 2:19-20, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” True, the wheat and the tares grow together in the church so we can’t have any guarantee that specific people will respond favorably to our efforts to help them find their joy in the Lord, but nevertheless, as he wrote in First Corinthians, he knew that his labor in the Lord was not in vain.

I believe the Lord has done something in my own heart this week through the writing of this sermon. I am hopeful that this is a breakthrough for me. The Lord gave me many years ago a high view of his sovereignty that has substantially delivered me from excessive anxieties about physical suffering. I really do trust that whatever happens to me will abound for my good and His glory and through this God has granted me a measure of peace.

But this week it occurs to me for the first time to apply this confidence in the sovereignty of God over suffering to relational pain. Two weeks ago we read in the opening verses of 2Corinthians about God’s comfort in affliction and that he lets us suffer affliction so that we might no longer trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. And at that time I encouraged you to “hope in God who raises the dead and to abandon any confidence in our ability to make for ourselves a pain-free life. Accept the inevitability of affliction, and trust in God to use it to make you a person of deep faith who can comfort others.”

So this morning I say to myself and to you, “Stop hoping for a relationally pain free life. Accept the inevitability of relational pain. Don’t try to avoid it at all costs. See it as an opportunity to grow, to love, to work through it for the sake of greater long-term joy, probably even in this age, but if not, then certainly in the next.

How might this change our church if we really grasped this principle? We’re going to hurt each other’s feelings from time to time, it’s inevitable in any family. But are you holding a grudge? Are you harboring an evil suspicion? Is there a difficult conversation that you need to have that you’ve been avoiding? Don’t let this sermon be a license to come out swinging. Don’t pick up the phone and let your tongue start wagging aimlessly, think about timing, methods of communication. Think about the fear of God and the other person’s joy, but then…have that conversation. Persevere through the pain of relationships for the sake of rejoicing together again in the Lord.

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  1. June 24, 2006 10:54 pm

    I remember this sermon. And, I thought at the time of a conversation that I thought I needed to have. I talked it over with my good man, and he recommended the same (you guys must be friends or somfin…)

    Anyway, I just couldn’t figure out how or what I really wanted to say. What really was the problem? I couldn’t put my finger on it. Why was I upset with this person? I really didn’t know for sure.

    I certainly didn’t want to go start talking to them without knowing the answers to some of the above questions. And, as the months went by, the problem seemed to go away.

    But here you are again, reminding me of that relationship’s difficulties. Hmmm….
    I am even farther from those answers I wanted than I was when you originally challenged me with your direct, “don’t be afraid to suffer” approach to relationships.

    Lest you think I have learned nothing, however, let me praise God in the city gates for a recent series of conversations I have had that the Lord totally sustained me through. He allowed me to be gracious, slow to anger, and cler-headed in my words and actions. I walked in the Spirit, and showed great love and mercy to this individual.

    Now, lest you think more highly of me than you ought, let me confess that SINCE this conversation, I have had many opportunities to sin and harbor anger toward this person who has requiested that I not discuss the subject (or anything else, for that matter) with them any more. As the person does not go to my church, or even live in my town, accomodiating their request of “no contact” will not be difficult.

    I will admit to a bit of relief as well. But also great sadness and frustration. Argh! I thought remaining under relational trials for the sake of the name of our sweet King Jesus would be more fun.

    To quote Zidgel from 321 Penguins:
    “I thought this place was gonna be fun, Uncle Blob! When’s the FUN gonna start?”

    But to go back and quote you, Isaiah543:

    “So this morning I say to myself and to you, “Stop hoping for a relationally pain free life. Accept the inevitability of relational pain. Don’t try to avoid it at all costs. See it as an opportunity to grow, to love, to work through it for the sake of greater long-term joy, probably even in this age, but if not, then certainly in the next.”

    Thank you for digging up this sermon text portion, and posting it here. I needed it’s correction, its direction, its empowerment, and its motivation today. Episodes of fun are not all that they are cracked up to be. But long term joy in this age and the next, that’s a goal worthy of energetic, reckless, hopeful pursuit.

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