INTRODUCTION: One day the great artist Michelangelo was hammering and chiseling away at a great block of stone. It was a perfect and a huge block of marble and to the untrained eye it appeared that Michelangelo was ruining it. Large pieces were falling to the ground as he chiseled at the stone. It is said that a horrified observer said, “Michelangelo, what are you doing? You are ruining a perfect piece of marble!” And Michelangelo replied, “The more the marble wastes, the more the statue grows.”
When God is developing us sometimes it feels like we are losing everything. It feels like our whole world is coming to pieces. That’s God chiseling. That’s God the Holy Spirit cutting away everything in our life that does not look like God. It is often a painful process. Sometimes it hurts. Jesus said the branches that do not bear fruit will be cast into the fire, but the branches that do bear fruit will be pruned that they might bear more fruit. Sometimes it hurts.
Have you ever started a ministry–maybe it was prayer, maybe it was teaching, maybe it was evangelism–and you began with such excitement and anticipation of God’s blessings and presence and power. Maybe you saw some initial success. Maybe your Sunday school class was growing. Maybe your prayer group was growing. Maybe your evangelism is successful. But then suddenly something happens that almost knocks the blocks out from under you. Suddenly there are some painful experiences in your life. Maybe you were team teaching and the other teacher bails out. Maybe someone in the prayer group stops coming and starts talking about you. Maybe the finances in your family start to shrink and things get tight. Maybe it seems like just as you start to do something for God, you start to invest yourself in the Lord’s work and things around you seem to be falling apart. And you start asking yourself, “What in the world is going on?” You start questioning whether or not you are in God’s will.
I’d like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that when you are in God’s will, everything will go smooth–no bumps in the road, no opposition from people or devils. Is that in the Bible? Because if it is, I haven’t been able to find it.
In fact, when you look at our text, you might come to the very opposite conclusion. In verse 5 Paul said, “For we preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus. . . .” So they were doing the right thing, they preaching; and they were saying the right thing, they were preaching Jesus, and they were seeing souls saved. But at the same time, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. . .” He said, “the outward man perish. . .”
What did Paul know that we need to know? How is it that Paul and his ministry companions could keep on keeping on, when the more they did for God, the more they were persecuted by the enemy? When they tried to preach the message of hope he was stoned and left for dead. He was beaten, imprisoned, ship wrecked, hungry, and ultimately beheaded. Why didn’t Paul get mad at God? Why didn’t Paul throw in the towel and quit?
Paul didn’t quit because Paul knew that in the suffering of ministry something of an eternal nature was going on. The outward man perish, but he did not quit, because the inward man, the spirit man was being renewed day by day. Every storm, every pain, every thorn in the flesh, every beating, every cold night in the dungeon with the executioner standing outside the cell, was merely a blow of the hammer and a pounding of the chisel as large pieces of Paul fell away and the image of Christ was being perfected in him. That’s why Paul could say, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made comformable unto His death” (Phil. 3:10).
We want a quick fix. We want God to make it go away now! And we see some preachers who seem to be able to do it all without setbacks. But that may not be God’s plan for you. You may be asking for deliverance, while God’s plan for you is development. He may be purifying your faith in the fiery trials of life. He may be cutting away the outward man so that the inward man, the spiritual part of your being may breathe and grow to full maturity in the image and likeness of Christ.
I have to be honest. When God starts cutting away big pieces of Mark Hardgrove in order to let the image of Christ grow in me, I often cry out. I often look to heaven and say, “God what are you doing? Why are you allowing me to go through this? I’m doing the best that I can!”
The Christian life is a paradox and sometimes it is difficult to grasp. The outward man has to perish, so that the inward man can be renewed. The desires of the flesh have to be crucified in order to let the Spirit have control. Think about it. . .
You gotta die, in order to live.
You gotta lose, in order to gain.
You gotta give to get.
You gotta forgive, to be forgiven.
You gotta be empty, before you can be full.
You gotta surrender, in order to win.
Before you can be exalted, you gotta be humbled.
You gotta be last, before you can be first.
You gotta become the least, so you can be the greatest.
You gotta be like a child, to have God’s power in you.
You gotta be happy about being a servant.
Rejoice when you’re persecuted.
You gotta appreciate problems.
Glory in tribulation.
Bless people that hate you.
Love somebody you’ve never seen.
Follow somebody that you’ve never heard.
Christianity’s a paradox, but it’s the only kind of life worth living.
God uses the issues and struggles and storms of life to perfect our faith. He sent the disciples into a storm. He sent them ahead alone while He stayed back to pray. Why did He do it? I believe He did it on purpose so that they could see in vivid and unforgettable fashion that when their strength was gone, when they could do nothing in the flesh, they could look up and see that what was over their heads was under His feet. He came to them walking on the water so that in the midst of despair their faith could be developed.
He wanted them to know, and He wants us to know, that there will be times when we follow God out of Egypt only to run into a Red Sea with the enemy hot on our heals, but if we trust Him, He will deliver and our faith will grow.
We may stand for the truth and refuse to bow to the idols of the world, only to find ourselves being thrown into a fiery furnace, but if we are faithful He won’t let us go through the fire alone, the forth man will step into the fire with us and if we won’t bow to the pressures of life, neither will we burn.
We may be preaching the gospel one moment and find ourselves beaten and thrown into the prison the next, but there has never been a prison built that God could not open. He can open doors that no man can close.
I’m not saying that God will not deliver. He does and He will, but He moves on His time table. He has a plan for your spiritual development and that development may take you through some deserts. It may take you through some valleys. It may take you through some storms. What are you going to do? Are you going to quit? Are you going get mad and bitter at God? Or will you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
CONCLUSION: We are told to glory in infirmities, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations, rejoice in suffering, rejoice when fiery trials come, be of good cheer in tribulation. Why, because we know that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. We know that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” We are looking not on things as they are, not on things temporal, but we are looking ahead to things as they shall be, we are looking on things eternal.
We are God’s workmanship, we are His masterpiece and He is chipping away the stone, releasing the image of Christ in us. It was marred and masked by sin in the Garden of Eden, but God determined to fix the broken vessels and restore the image of God in us.