Becoming a Christian is an awakening: an awakening to the pervasiveness of sin, to the subtleties of evil, to our need for Christ, and to the realities of daily life. Without grace, the world desensitizes us and dulls our spiritual vision and numbs our spiritual needs to pure ignorance. So in Christ we are brought to life, given a tender heart, and given new levels of sensitivity when it comes to pain of life. In a recent sermon in Milwaukee at the Campus Outreach 2015 New Years Conference, John Piper addressed Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 6:8–10, where Paul writes about his suffering in these pairs: “through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Piper gives a summary of Paul’s words:
People see us as imposters. But in spite of that, we are real.
We are virtually unknown in the Roman Empire, nobodies. But in spite of that, we are well known by the one person in the universe who matters.
We are dying and our bodies are wasting away. But in spite of that our eternal life in Christ is untouchable.
We are punished. But in spite of that, God hasn’t seen fit, yet, to take us home.
We are sorrowful about sin and misery and pain in this world and in ourselves. But in spite of that, our joy is unshaken and constant.
We are poor and have little wealth in this world. But in spite of that, we make many rich with the one treasure in the universe that counts more than anything.
We are nothing compared to the lovers of this world and we have nothing. In spite of that, we are heirs with Christ of the Father’s estate, which means we own everything.
That is the way it works, right? Are we together? In spite of these things, these things stand, which shows that the emphasis is on the second half of all these pairs here including “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The joy in the Christian’s life is the rugged thing, the durable thing, the lasting thing. And the sorrow is not the main thing. It is just the real thing.
One of the most amazing things about becoming a Christian is that it awakens you to more sorrow. You come to Christ and you are not naïve. You suddenly wake up to pain. Of course there is pain for unbelievers, but they have no sense of how big it is, how horrible it is, or how long it can endure. To be a Christian is to be awake to cancer and birth defects and profound mental disabilities and divorce and child abuse including abortion and terrorism and earthquakes and tsunamis and racial hostilities and prejudices and white-collar crime and sex trafficking and poverty and hunger and a thousand daily frustrations that make life very hard. Every Christian is increasingly sensitized to these things.
The gospel brings life, right? And living things are awake and alert and touchable by other things. Which means, welcome to Christ and greater sorrow. I have little patience with ministries that sell Jesus with the promise that he will make your life easier. He doesn’t. I promise you. He makes it real. He makes it eternal. And he makes the joy in it indomitable and invincible, but so do your sorrows rise. Come to Jesus and learn how to weep. The world doesn’t know how to weep for lost people. They are one. They don’t even believe in it. They don’t believe in hell. They don’t see to the bottom of anyone’s pain. They see pain. They feel pain. But they don’t see to the bottom of it. Christians are the saddest people in the world — and the happiest.
Do you feel that? I am getting this from 2 Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Not sequential; simultaneous. Do you hear it? Sorrowful, yet always in, under, around sorrow: joy. There isn’t any other kind in a not-yet-saved world, right? If you think, “I have got to have all of the sadness out of my life — I have got to get all of the sorrow and brokenness out of my life — then I might be happy,” you won’t have any. You will never get all of the sorrow and all of the brokenness out of your life. The more you love, the more you hurt.
So I love this phrase. I love it. I don’t want to be sad. Frankly, I hate sorrow. I hate it. I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to cry. I don’t like crying. And I can’t control the phone calls that come, the doctor’s report, the nine-year-old missionary kid who fell on Christmas day, bumped her head, and died. We know those people.
So the gospel brings life, and in this life comes sensitivity to reality, and reality is really sad in a not-yet-saved world.