Trials, Tribulations, and Thanksgiving
November 22nd, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
TRIALS, TRIBULATIONS AND THANKSGIVING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
11-22-81 7:30 p.m.
And bless the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with the First Baptist Church of Dallas on radio, on KCBI, the voice, the Sonshine voice of our Center of Biblical Studies, and on the great voice of the Southwest, KRLD. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing a Thanksgiving message. It is entitled Trials, Tribulations, and Thanksgiving. And the forepart, the purport of the sermon is that maybe God has prepared for us, fitted for us, His best blessing in the sorrows and tears that we know in our lives. Now, for the passage that we read together, turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 12; 2 Corinthians chapter 12, and we are going to read verses 7 through 10. If we had time, we would just read the whole first part of the chapter, but this is the section of it that especially is pertinent for us, 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 7 through 10. Now all of us, let us read it out loud together:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
[2 Corinthians 12:7-10]
And I would submit before any tribunal in the earth that there are no more nobler words in human thought, much less dedication and experience, than the words we just read, “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my weaknesses, my infirmities . . . I take pleasure in distresses, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions for Jesus’ sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10].
We have so much at this Thanksgiving season of the year for which our hearts overflow before God in gratitude. This time a year ago, I was crushed beneath an insufferable burden. Our indebtedness had reached something like ten million four hundred thousand dollars. And the interest rates had so risen, soared beyond anything in American history. We were paying one point above prime, which meant we were paying twenty two and one-half percent! Out of the offerings that we brought before God, every year one million four hundred thousand dollars had to be taken out just to pay interest; not on the debt, just the interest that carried it. It was a bleak and burdensome future apparently that confronted us this time last year. Look how God has aboundingly remembered us. This last Monday we sent two million dollars to the bank. In about a week or so, we shall send five and a half million more dollars to the bank. And with the other things that we have done in our liberation appeal, our church will be completely free of the burden of debt in a matter of days. It is too good to be true. When I think of this time last year and compare it to the glory of what God has done for us at this present moment, my heart overflows.
As a token of the wonderful goodnesses of our Lord to our church, last night at midnight they closed the “Share-A-Thon” for our KCBI radio station, on which so many of you are now listening. We are not allowed to sell commercial time on the radio. It has to be supported completely by the gifts of the people. And in that Share-A-Thon, they had a goal of a hundred fifty thousand dollars for the work of the year. And when it was counted up, we had given, all of us who shared in it, beyond a hundred sixty-one thousand dollars. God was good to us again. And as you know, in our stewardship appeal, our covenant giving, we finally brought to the people, adding a million dollars to that appeal at the request of the pastor for the world mission enterprises of our Lord, we reached for a total of seven million, four hundred forty-five thousand dollars, which was unheard of in Christendom. And Sunday a week ago, when we gave our total of what our people had done, we had oversubscribed the goal. It amounted to seven million four hundred sixty-nine thousand dollars. God has been aboundingly good to us. And in the church letter that we sent to our association about three weeks ago, we reported over a thousand in baptisms. We have every cause to be grateful for the goodness of God poured out upon us as a church.
We no less have right to thank God for our country and our nation. God has blessed us beyond any way that we could ever read of in human history. We have an abundance to eat. There are whole vast areas of the world that face starvation every day. We have the most productive land in God’s creation. We have a standard of living that is higher than the world has ever known. If you think you are poor, there are millions and millions of nationals in this earth who live on less than one-hundred dollars a year. Now you compare that to the poorest of our people. They live on less than a hundred dollars a year. We are an affluent people. We not only have been blessed of God in a material abundance, but there has never been a ravaging war on our soil in modern times. These awesome holocausts that have bathed other countries in blood have never reached us. How much are we indebted to God for the gift of our native land?
And further, hasn’t God been unspeakably, indescribably good to us in our personal blessings? Most of us, maybe all of us here tonight, practically all of you who would listen on radio, you have two hands. Think of the blessing of God in just giving us our hands. We have feet on which to walk. What a blessing of heaven, our feet. We have breath to breathe. What a blessing from God, our life! We have eyes to see. How could you say, “God, I thank Thee enough that I can see with my eyes”? The personal enrichment of our days is abounding, it is abundant, it is infinite. And all of this is a gift from God. I never worked for my two hands; they were given to me. I never worked for my eyes; they were given me. My feet are not a reward of my labor; God bestowed them upon me. I am debtor to the great goodness and gracious kindness of God beyond what anything I could ever express.
Now, having said that, and all of us in a true spirit of gratitude, offering to God the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving, what shall I do and what shall I say of the sorrows, and the tears, and the heartaches, and the troubles, and the trials, and the tribulations of life? All of us have them. The tears of childhood are as real as the tears of adulthood, and the disappointments of teenagers are as real as the disappointments of manhood or womanhood. There is no period in human life that does not have its sorrows, and its distresses, and its disappointments, its heartaches, its crying, and its weeping. How shall I come before God with my sorrows and my heartaches? This to me is one of the very dynamic centers of the Christian interpretation of our lives. And a typical instance of it is found in this marvelous response of the apostle Paul to the distresses and the sorrows that he faced in his life. Most of his days, practically all of his ministry was spent in prison, in jail. In the eleventh chapter, he enumerates the perils that he suffered and the awesome persecutions through which he went through [2 Corinthians 11:23-33]. And in it all, he says, I glory that [God] “counted me worthy to suffer for His name’s sake” [Acts 9:16; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10].
Well, we are going to look at that for just the brief minute that is allotted me. You don’t see it when you go through it. When you are in the midst of a stormy sea, or you are weeping over an indescribable sorrow, or life seems frustrating and disappointing and empty, you don’t see it at that time, but God may be fitting for you His greatest blessing in the trial and the tribulation that you experience. “We see through a glass, darkly,” wrote the apostle in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:12]. We don’t understand, but God has a purpose in every sorrow and trial through which we go. All things work together for good. In all things God works for good to them who love the Lord [Romans 8:28]. We can’t see it when we are in it, but in history and in God’s review, it is plain. I’ll show it to you. When God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, God sent him to a land he had never seen [Genesis 12:1]. He did not know where it was. And He asked Abraham to separate himself from his father and his kindred and his family and be a pilgrim in the earth. He dwelt in tents with his sons and his grandsons, confessing himself a stranger in the earth. For “he looked for a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker is God” [Hebrews 11:8-10]. “Wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them that city” [Hebrews 11:16]. I can imagine the distress of heart when that call came to Abraham, but he obeyed [Genesis 12:1-4]. And was called the friend of God [James 2:23]. Think of the blessing in the sorrow of separation.
Look again. Could you imagine the heartache and the sorrow when the ten sons came to Jacob and said, “Here is the coat of many colors that you gave to your son Joseph? Look at the blood on it.” They had dipped it in an animal’s blood. “This is the blood of your son,” they said. Think of the sorrow of Jacob when he looked upon that coat of many colors, and the sorrow of Joseph when he was separated from the family and sold by the Ishmaelites as a slave in Egypt! [Genesis 37:26-36]. Yet out of that sorrow came the preservation of the family in a time of deepest famine and distress [Genesis 45:3-8]. Look again. Think of the nation, God’s people in Egypt, as they sweat and toil and strive and labor under the whip of the taskmaster in the land of Goshen [Exodus 1:1-22]. Yet out of that, God welded them into a great nation. Heretofore they had been a nomadic people. They lived in tents and followed the pastureland; now they are a nation of people prepared to live in cities with the culture of a national life, God, bringing out of the awesomeness of distress their greatest blessing [Acts 13:17].
Just once again, we could hardly enter into the sorrow of the Jew when the bitter and ruthless and hasty Chaldeans came and destroyed their nation, destroyed their holy city, destroyed their temple, and carried them into captivity [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:1-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. “We hanged our harps on the willow trees as we sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon” [Psalm 137:1-2]. But out of that Babylonian captivity came three of the greatest blessings the world has ever known. Number one: the Jew became a monotheist. Never again was he ever enticed, tempted, to serve idols. Number two: out of the Babylonian captivity came the synagogue, our church service, their church service. Number three: out of the Babylonian captivity came the canon of the Holy Scriptures. Three of the greatest blessings the world has ever known, out of the tears and the sorrows of Babylonian captivity.
I haven’t time to review the same wonderful blessing of God in the New Testament. What could I say of the cross of Jesus Christ? [Matthew 27:32-50]. What fountains of grace, what overflowing streams of love and mercy out of the sufferings of our Lord! I could speak of the persecution of the church in Jerusalem. “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word” [Acts 8:4]. And when they stoned Stephen to death in that persecution [Acts 7:54-60], it resulted in, ensued in, the conversion of the apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus [Acts 9:1-18]. So many times in a little thing even, God will bring to pass a marvelous blessing. For example, in Acts 20:3, Paul is proposing to sail into Syria, but because of a plot to destroy his life, he chooses rather to go through Macedonia and around into Israel. And when he did, in Macedonia, he picked up a companion by the name of Luke, the beloved physician [Acts 20:6]. And when Paul was incarcerated for three years in Caesarea, Luke, as a good historian, probed every source of the Christian faith and wrote the Gospel of Luke, a beloved physician’s account of the living Lord, all because of a plot to destroy the life of the apostle Paul [Acts 20:3]. And what could I see in a limited time of the blessing that has come to us in the exiling and the banishment of a pastor of the church at Ephesus, the apostle John? Busy in a great heathen city with the ministries of the church, God took him and sent him away to a lonely and rocky isle, that there he might see the vision of God and the world that is yet to come [Revelation 1:19].
I have to stop. What could I say of the persecution under James Stewart, the king of England that sent away the pilgrims in the Mayflower to the new shores of America? What could I say of the persecution under Charles II, when they incarcerated John Bunyan, the Baptist preacher of England, and he saw the visions of The Pilgrim’s Progress? Lord, Lord, as I look and as I read and as I bow before Thee in prayer for wisdom, I am beginning to think maybe God has His best blessings for us not in the abundance that we enjoy, but maybe in the necessities, in the trials, in the disappointments, in the heartaches that we know in life; these are also to be grateful for in everything, as Paul writes to the Thessalonians, we are to give thanks [1 Thessalonians 5:18].
Now, to express that for us, there are no providences over which God does not preside. These are inconsequentials and insignificances to us, but they are in the elective purpose of God, leading us and training us and guiding us to Himself. I read of a drunkard and a derelict who landed in a cheap ward in a charity hospital. In that great group of men that were in that big ward in that charity hospital, they had a habit. When a man was dying, rather than all the rest of them watch him die, when a man was dying, the nurse would come and put a screen around his bed. And this drunken, debauched derelict, lying there in the ward, the nurse came and put a screen around his bed. And he cried, “O God, this means I am to die. O God, in my worthless life; dear God, have mercy upon me.” And in that moment of his crying to the Lord in heaven, God came into his soul and made him whole. The nurse came and took the screen away and apologized to him, saying, “Oh sir, I am so sorry. I put the screen around the wrong bed.” And the man said to the nurse, “Nurse, no, praise God! Praise God! That’s the best thing that ever happened to me in my life because when I thought I was dying, I cried upon the Lord’s name for peace and mercy and forgiveness, and He saved me.” Those are the providences of life that to us they are inconsequentials. But out of them, they teach us the ways of the Lord. That’s unbelievable! Most gladly therefore will I rejoice, thank God for necessities and persecutions, in distresses . . . for when I am cut down and weak, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9-10].
I close. Sorrow and disappointment and heartache will do one of two things to you, always. There is no exception. One; it can embitter you. It did Job’s wife. When Job fell into those sorrows, his wife said to him, Husband, curse God, and commit suicide; “Curse God, and die” [Job 2:9]. That’s one way the heart can respond. But Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. We are like that. When sorrow and distresses come, I can hate God and hate life and hate the providences that have dealt thus so rudely and crudely and unfortunately with me, or I can fall on my knees and say, “Lord, in this distress, God is fitting some better thing for me, and I love Thee for the strength to bear it” [Hebrews 11:40]. Yesterday afternoon, I sat down by the side of a sweet, dear fellow worker in our wonderful church. You know who she is. She works with our, with our Special Education people. And the doctor has said, “You can’t live.” Well, as I sat by the bed, what do I do and what do I say? This is what I did, and this is what I said. I turned to the great, beautiful, comforting words of the apostle Paul, who in the love and grace of Jesus hath walked that way before us, and he wrote, “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” [2 Corinthians 1:5]. For “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead” [2 Corinthians 1:9]. That is what God does for those who place their trust in Him. “Whether we live, or die, we are the Lord’s” [Romans 14:8]. “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:12], God having fitted for us some better thing [Hebrews 11:40].
Now, may we stand together? Our wonderful, wonderful Savior, there is no step in this road but You have preceded us. There are no tears that we shed but that Christ also has wept likewise. There is no brokenheartedness we ever experience but our Savior knows all about it; tried in all points as we are that He might be a faithful High Priest to strengthen and comfort us in our hour of need [Hebrews 4:14-16]. O Lord, what a wonderful, wonderful Savior! And the open door God hath set before us, just come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in time of need [Hebrews 4:16]; forgiveness for our sin, strength for our weaknesses, victory for our defeats, and comfort for our sorrows, life for our death, a heaven for the earth in which we live that is so filled with disappointments. God hath prepared a place where there is no disappointment, in heaven. O Lord, that we might fully give ourselves to the faith in Thee. And while our people pray and while we wait just for you, a family, a couple, or a one somebody you to come tonight, “This night, I open my heart God-ward and heavenward and Christ-ward. I receive the Lord as my Savior.” Or, “I am coming in obedience to His Word to follow Him through the waters of the Jordan.” Or, “I am coming to put my life in the fellowship of this dear, dear church”; or “I am answering the call of the Spirit in my heart.” May angels attend your way as you come.
And, our Lord, thank Thee for this sweet harvest You will give us, in Thy saving and keeping name. Amen. While we sing; down one of those stairways; down one of these aisles, “Pastor, I have decided for God, and I come.” Bless you and welcome, while we sing, while we wait.