Good Stress, Bad Stress, Church Stress Lessons on Anxiety Series: Part 5
Read 2 Corinthians 11:21-29
The sermon title is simple: Good Stress, Bad Stress, Church Stress. They go together. Bad stress usually is more self-centred. It is near-sighted. It is consumed with self. And because it is consumed with self, it often has physical ramifications. There is physical tension that arises in the body. There is in the internal organs stress which can result in damage to those internal organs (i.e., ulcerated stomachs and intestines). There is also good stress. [For example], the pressure that an athlete may feel on the starting line before a race. The adrenaline rushes and the heart is pumping and the athlete is very focused in thinking about what is going to transpire in the next seconds or minutes.
And then there is church stress. Church stress can either be bad stress or good stress. In bad church stress we are often interested in the church going in the direction we want the church to go, and we grumble and complain and we are anxious because the leaders of the church do not see fit to move in the direction we think is proper. Good stress in the church has to do with being Christ-centred. It has to do with Christ-centred pressure. Concern coming from the Lord with regard to the things in the church.
I think it is this latter concern/pressure/stress that Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 11:28 when he says, “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” Here is a Christ-centred concern, as we will see. And the exhortation for you and for me is to have Christ-centred concern for the church. That is where we are going in this short message.
It is quite important for us to see that Paul begins in verse 28 with external matters. He moves from external matters to more internal matters. In verse 28 he says, “Apart from such external things…” And it is the context that gives us the content of these external things. For example, go back up to verse 24:
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep…2 Corinthians 11:24-25, NASB
Paul writes this second letter of Corinthians toward the end of his third missionary journey, and he has not yet experienced their shipwreck that occurred during his trip to Rome. We do not really know about these other shipwrecks except that he speaks of them and that he was in the sea for a night and a day. Many trials that the man experienced!
…I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen…2 Corinthians 11:26a, NASB
I want you to think about this. Paul's first missionary journey was about two years in length. He travelled 1400 miles! No automobiles, buses, or airplanes. Mostly by foot and on ship, and fording rivers, encountering bandits on the road. All sorts of encounters that the apostle had!
I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.2 Corinthians 11:27, NASB
The victims of the tsunami that struck Japan and the victims of the hurricanes in the United States in these past years have nothing on the apostle Paul! Many sleepless nights in hunger and in cold.
Let me refer you to just a couple of examples. On his first missionary journey, when Paul had been in Lystra, Acts 14:19 says, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul.” Why? Because he healed a man, and he was an endangerment to the Jewish religion because he preached Christ. He was stoned!
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.Acts 14:19, NASB
And then on his second missionary journey in Philippi, there was a young lady who went after him, crying out, “Here is a servant of the Most High God,” and followed him. Paul finally got aggravated with this. The text says:
She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.Acts 16:18-22, NASB
They preach Christ and were beaten by the civil magistrates for doing so. Such was the external pressure that the apostle experienced. And this is what he is talking about in 2 Corinthians 11:28.
Christ-Centred Concern for the Church
2 Corinthians 11:28: “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” Not just one church, but for all the churches. How many churches?
We know he had concern for the church at Rome—he wrote an epistle to the church at Rome. We know that he had concern for the Corinthians—two epistles he writes to the Corinthian church, and he was there for a year and a half. “To the churches in Galatia,” he writes (not singular, but plural—to the churches in Galatia). Ephesians: he had been there for three years, he knew the people, and he had care and concern for the church in Ephesus. [He writes to] the church at Philippi also, and to the church at Colossae. And from the letter he writes to the church in Colossae (Colossians) we know that he also wrote to the church in Laodicea. Paul also writes to the church at Thessalonica. And his concern for the church at Ephesus continues, because he tells Timothy that he has placed Timothy there in Ephesus to teach the things concerning the church to the people. In the little epistle of Titus we learn that he sends Titus to the church in Crete, and he says to Titus, “I want you to organize things in the church in all the cities in Crete.” There was more than one church, I suspect, in that island. And Paul was concerned about the church at Jerusalem. We know that this is the case because he collects offerings for the poor in Jerusalem.
The care of the churches (plural!) was upon the apostle Paul. I think this is so striking, because for you and for me, our concern usually centres on one church. Not a dozen or more, but on one church. Perhaps if you are a member of presbytery you have a concern for more than one church, but I know even going to presbytery meetings as the pastor of a church, my concern was always really for the church of which I was the pastor. It is one church for which we have a concern. And in our situation it is for this congregation, is it not? Or if you are from other some other location, it is for that church at home. That is where your concern is centred.
What else does the apostle Paul tell us? Concern for the churches: this is an internal pressure that is brought to bear as Paul thinks about these congregations which he does not see. And isn't it true that it is what we do not see that often raises our concerns? We don't know what is happening in particular circumstances and particular situations, and so our minds begin to work and turn and we imagine all sorts of things occurring, and often we think the worst is going to occur in a particular situation. It is those internal, unseen things that get us.
This is true in our circumstance here too, isn't it? Concern for the church causes us to begin to think, “What in the world is that pastoral search committee doing anyway? Why does it take them so long to do their work? Can't the elders prod them a little bit and get them going? What seems to be their problem?” The wheels turn on and we become anxious. This internal pressure tends to build.
Care and Concern
The way the word is translated in the various versions helps us here. Verse 28: “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” The spectrum of translations is something like this: anxiety on the high end, and then worry, and then concern, and then care.
As I mentioned earlier, the English Standard Version uses the term ‘anxiety’. When the term anxiety is heard, I would say, “This is the kind of pressure and the kind of stress that is bad.” The mind does turn rapidly and we sense that things are out of control and we do become anxious. Then there is the term ‘worry’, which is not quite as strong. We all admit that we worry, and we are all prepared to admit that we worry a lot, but we don't think too much of it. That worry arises because of our kids and the situations that they find themselves in. Our middle daughter was recently struck by a sled on a ski slope, and got a compound fracture. Mom and dad thought about that a little bit and worried about that a little bit. And then on the other side there is care and concern. Care and concern, I think, are more in line with good stress. I would put it that way. I would submit to you that the better translation in our text is that Paul had care and concern for the churches.
When we are over here on the anxiety side, we are more consumed with self and we are near-sighted. We think about self and our desires. When we get over here on the care and concern side, and we look at the apostle Paul, I think that we can say without too much difficulty that Paul's care and concern grew out of his relationship with Christ. He had a care and concern for the church because he understood Jesus Christ's care and concern for the church. He understood that Jesus Christ is the Lord and the King of the church, and he wanted with all of his heart for the church to grow and prosper under the leadership of Jesus Christ. That is where you and I should be: having the care and concern of Jesus Christ for the church.
Let me go back to the pastoral search committee. My guess is that your desire in the whole process that you have been leading this congregation through has been that you desire what God desires. You are looking for the will of God and your concern has been to be in tune with the will of God. If that has not been the case, I would say that you need to do a little check and a little evaluation, but I am guessing that it has been the case. And on our part, as we have been waiting, we too have needed to have a care and concern for the church that is in tune with Christ.
Care and concern on the one hand, and anxiety on the other hand, are different in this respect: while anxiety on one hand is consumed with self, care and concern (as Paul would see it) has to do with the will of Christ. And it leads to action. Where anxiety and worry immobilizes, care and concern leads to action. What kind of action did Paul take? He wrote letters to the churches. He communicated with the churches. He took up offerings for the church at Jerusalem. He took various actions. He directed Timothy in how he should conduct himself in the church. He directed Titus in the building of the church in Crete. That God-centred, Christ-centred concern leads to proper action.
Personal and Daily Pressure
And the reason it leads to proper action is because it is intensely personal. Verse 28: “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” Paul was taking this personally—not in a negative sense, but in a positive sense. In the same way he was able to say to the church at Galatia:
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20, KJV, emphasis added
He knew the love of Christ himself, and he knew the love of Christ for the other people in the church, for the people of God. And therefore he took personally what was to take place in the church. It was a personal concern for the apostle Paul.
And not only so, but consider our text again. Verse 28: “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” Daily pressure! In the morning when he arose, he prayed for the churches. Is that your posture? Is that my posture? During the day, traveling on the road, not listening to the radio, not listening to his iPod, not having an iPad, not having any of these electronic gizmos and devices, but on the road with his companions talking about where they were going and the ministry about which they were, and praying for the churches!
This is something we need to take note of. The apostle Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer…let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). What is the answer to anxiety? What is the answer to worry? What is the road to proper concern and proper care? It is remembering your relationship with Jesus Christ, cultivating that relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting Jesus Christ, and having a care and concern for the church that is rooted in Jesus Christ. And when Paul sees the very personal nature of his concern and how it grows out of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if we see and understand him properly, we will grasp that we all should have Christ-centred concern for the church.
Remember some of the ground that we have covered. Jesus says, “Do not worry about what you will wear.” Jesus says, “Do not worry about what you will eat.” Jesus says, “Do not worry about what tomorrow will bring.” “Seek first the kingdom of God…and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus Christ says, “Do not worry about what you are going to say in that tight situation when it is time to speak a word of encouragement to a brother about me. Do not worry about what you are going to say when you are confronted about your faith. Trust the Holy Spirit.” That is what Jesus says: trust the Holy Spirit. And what all that means is that you and I must have Christ-centred concern for the church.
I have a dear brother who has said to me, “There is a lot of work going on in the church that has to do with outreach, and that is good, but if there is not good preaching and good teaching in the church, then the people are not going to stick around.” And all we have to do is look around a little bit and we see this is the case. And of course, this brings us back to a pastoral search committee, doesn't it? Having the pastor that God wants for this congregation ought to be one of our deep concerns, and it needs to be a Christ-centred concern, because you and I want the man that Jesus Christ wants here. And you know what will happen? When Jesus Christ brings him along, the church will flourish. So this is my simple exhortation from this text: “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” Dear friends in Christ, have Christ-centred concern for the church.