Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy,
we do not lose heart.
-II Corinthians 4:1
When the going gets tough, it’s easy to fall back on tried and true comforting devices.
I think that’s one reason so many people who struggle with chemical dependency, alcohol abuse, or sexual sin, keep returning to their counter-productive behavior – not just because it’s so addictive, but because it has a proven track record of medicating the pain away.
Well, these days, who hasn’t got some pain they’d like to medicate?
Paul, I think, understood this dynamic when he wrote, “as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.” The Greek term he used for “losing heart” is enkakoumen, which means “to act badly in the face of difficulties.” In other words, he’s saying “Since I have received mercy, and in light of the amount of mercy I’ve received, I do not allow myself to give up or go back or act badly.”
You’ll notice that he didn’t. Not that he couldn’t have ‘acted badly’, and not because he wasn’t ever tempted to. In fact, he made it clear that as part of his self-watch he mortified his passions regularly, like an athlete in training, lest after preaching Christ to others he himself might be disapproved of by God. (I Corinthians 9:27)
In his second Epistle to Corinth quoted above, he details the problems he’s having with the church. They’ve been questioning his authority, divided over who’s still behind him and who isn’t, and Paul’s in the truly weird position of having to toot his own apostolic horn by defending both himself and his ministry. He was, as enkakoumen suggests, in the face of difficulties. But he didn’t act badly.
“If It Just Weren’t for People!”
People disappoint. No exceptions; no qualifiers. In any human relationship, if we want the relationship to thrive, we’ll have to accept a degree of disappointment in another person’s behavior towards us, as that person will surely have to bear with ours as well.
But that doesn’t mean we feel nothing when someone ignores us, drops the ball, speaks out of turn. Our emotions get pierced, sometimes hugely, and the urge to reach for the old “Make me Feel Better” behavior is strong.
Enter porn, or prostitutes, or strip clubs, or simple masturbation fantasies. If it weren’t for the reality of human pain, I honestly don’t think these institutions would thrive as they do. But they offer and deliver a quick fix; a hyper-stimulating break from the pain of an argument, a let-down, a breach in friendship, or worse. So we can’t always chalk up such sins to simple lust. Sometimes people committing them are acting badly in the face of difficulties, hoping to cope by applying the anesthesia of their sin of choice.
I get it, and only too well. I get the same desires; the same pull towards a knee-jerk reaction which says, “Why should I have to put up with this, and why shouldn’t I indulge a little to ease the pain?”
But oh, the power of remembering mercy! I mean really, it’s a potent cold shower on the trajectory we get on when we consider relapsing. Just ask yourself a few basic questions:
- How much have you been forgiven?
- What did that forgiveness spare you from, in both the next life and this one?
- How many times has that forgiveness been re-extended to you?
- How much mercy have you received and, accordingly, how much discomfort are you willing to endure in response to all that mercy?
Those are questions I ask myself fairly regularly, and I can attest to their ability to re-direct thoughts and passions. So try remembering today the ocean of mercy you’ve been bathed with, in contrast to the momentary light affliction of the difficulty causing you to consider behavior badly.
I think it will help free you up to make the right choice when the wrong urge hits.