I don’t think I have ever been to a graduation ceremony (and I’ve been to a lot of them – four of my own, and a total of 10 for my boys) where a speaker did not include this line: “Today is not the end; it is the beginning.”
We often think when we have achieved a new status or promotion in life that circumstances will ease and all of life will become easier. It really doesn’t happen that way. Most often, newer and bigger challenges and difficulties find their way to the front door of our lives.
It is likewise an errant thought that life will be so much easier when one knows Christ and is in a saving relationship with God. It is true that the indwelling Spirit and the truths of the Word give us resources not otherwise available to the common man. But in fact, life actually gets more difficult when one becomes an identified alien and stranger in a land hostile to Christ and the gospel.
Some of the Corinthians had fallen prey to believing false accusations about the Apostle Paul, both about the content of his message and the character and experiences of his life. Some of these opponents were surely Judaizers who promoted the works of the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation in addition to the message about Christ. To combat this, Paul quoted a well-known passage from Isaiah that looked forward to a time when Gentiles would find salvation as well as Israel.
And Paul was saying that this time had now come. He urges them not to receive God’s grace in vain … meaning to take something that was actually empty, since it wasn’t really grace, but was works.
Paul references those of genuine faith as God’s co-workers. That’s cool! It really is! And it means that everything is now going to be easy and the disciple will be well-respected, right? People will see the reality of God and his power in the life of a servant. The credentials will be glowing and the path easy.
But that’s not how it works out.
The credentials that Paul puts forward, credentials that are fully the opposite of his detractors, involved an upside-down confirmation of his genuine status. Among surprising difficulties were hardships, beatings, imprisonments, endless hard work, sleeplessness, dishonor, fake news, false accusations, sorrows and poverty. Yet with all these losses, Paul said it was accurate to see them as the marks of great gain and rejoicing. It is being like Jesus. It is giving up everything in order to gain everything.
The concept of being identified with Christ is to understand that true rewards are not in this life. The pay for being God’s co-worker is in the eternal realm. Knowing our identity gives us perspective. This is not the end; our identity with Christ is this life is just the beginning. Another graduation is ahead.
2 Corinthians 6:1 – As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” [quote from Isaiah 49:8]
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
6:3 – We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.