|Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.|
|‘Don’t lose heart over my troubles,’ says Paul. ‘They’re for you.’ How could that be?
In his tribulation, in his confinement, Paul was a living demonstration of what it means to have Christ living in him, the hope of glory.
A.W. Tozer was right when he said that before God can use a man greatly, He must allow him to be hurt deeply. Why? Because the old adage is true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. And what makes us care in our service to people, our interactions with people? Paul gives the answer in 2 Corinthians 1 when he writes:
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
In other words, the degree of the crushing, the tribulation, the difficulty in which you find yourself will be the degree of consolation you will receive. And consolation comes to us in order that we may in turn comfort others with the comfort we have found in Him.
This passage is so important, gang. God allows us to go through crushing trials even as Paul did in order that we can explore and experience His presence and His comfort — and then share it with others.
In our darkest times, we only truly receive from those who have gone through similar difficulties. When the one who has walked the same path we’re walking says, ‘I found consolation in Christ,’ his words are like water to the desert of our soul because he’s not simply telling us a theory — he’s telling us what he has experienced personally and practically.
That’s why, in talking about his own ministry here in Ephesians 3, Paul says, ‘Don’t faint. Don’t lose heart because of our tribulation, it’s for you. God meets us and comforts us in the dungeon of difficulty, in the prison of tribulation so that we can comfort you.’
Not only does God use tribulation to comfort the saints — He uses it to convince the sinner. You see, many unbelievers have been witnessed to hundreds of times by sincere Christians. Yet they remain unmoved because they are unknowingly waiting to see the mystery of Christ in the life of a believer. How will this happen? Here in Ephesians 3, Paul links the answer to his own difficulty.
Innumerable as grasshoppers, the Midianites were an intimidating enemy indeed. Nevertheless, God instructed Gideon to take only three hundred men to do battle against them. After choosing his three hundred men, Gideon gave each one a trumpet, a jar, and a torch — and led them up in the hills surrounding the valley wherein the Midianites slept. Then, following his lead, Gideon’s men blew their trumpets and broke their earthen vessels — each of which contained a lit torch.
Hearing the commotion, the Midianites woke up and, seeing the torches — each of which they assumed represented at least a division of soldiers — they grabbed their swords and in their confusion began swinging wildly, destroying each other in the process. Thus, Gideon’s men had front-row seats as they observed what happens when light comes pouring forth from a broken vessel. (see Judges 7).
We have this treasure — the Light of the world, Jesus Christ — in earthen vessels, declares Paul (2 Corinthians 4:7). When is He seen? Not when things are comfy and cushy and easy. Not when things are hunky dory. The world is not impressed with that. The enemy is not beaten back by that. The world wants to see the mystery of Christ in us — not just hear about it. How do they see it?
They see it when we’re broken. They see it, wife, when your husband walks out on you unexpectedly — and yet you keep worshipping the Lord faithfully. They see it, dad, when the doctor says, ‘It’s malignant’ — and yet you remain strong in your faith. When the business goes belly-up, when your teenager breaks your heart, when you get cut from the team, when you don’t make the squad people get to see the light in the earthen vessel as the vessel is broken. They get to see Christ in you, the hope of glory. And in seeing this mystery, they are drawn to the Master.