Friday, May 19, 2017
THE RIPTIDE OF DESPAIR
Spiritual growth is slow. People change incrementally. Ministry can feel like an exercise in futility at times. We preach our hearts out on Sunday only to face the "same old, same old" church problem on Tuesday. We pour our energy into ministry, but the church moves by centimeters to accomplish Christ's great commission. Squabbles erupt. Spiritual apathy rules. After the spiritual high on Sunday, discouragement can settle over us like a wet blanket on Monday. The same battle with discouragement happens not only for pastors but for every follower of Christ when the blows of life and the weariness of serving take their toll on our emotions.
Paul understood how easily the undertow of frustration can lead into the riptide of despair when he wrote: Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though the outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16). The word translated "lose heart" (ἐγκακοῦμεν) means to become tired or succumb to despair. It is a present indicative expressing a statement of fact that is an ongoing reality of life. Paul used the same word earlier in this section (2 Cor. 4:1) to warn us about the soul weariness of life. The word was used of women in childbirth reaching a point where they are ready to give up and fear even for life (BAGD, p.215). Despair destroys the will to live, but we are not succumbing to despair as long as we look to the Lord.
Why? The "but ... but" (ἀλλ᾿ ... ἀλλ᾿) that follows in the sentence expresses the process of fighting despair. The first "but" introduces the condition we face and the second "but" explains the confidence we have. The first "but" is followed by the words "if also" (εί καὶ) translated "although." The phrase expresses a condition assumed to be true (R&R, Key, p.465) and is concessive in force (Hanna, Grammatical Aid, p.320). The "but" that follows a "but if" (ἀλλ᾿ εί) means yet or certainly (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, p.233). The first "but" explains the condition we feel and the second "but" introduces the solution already taking place in our lives. The despair will end one day. It will not last forever!
Our current condition is an "outer man" condition (ὁ ἔξω ἡμῶν ἄνθρωπος). The outer man is a reference to our physiological bodies (BAGD, p.279) consumed by the interplay between our feelings and our tiredness. As our energy wears down our feelings rise up. Our outer man is constantly being destroyed (διαφθείρεται). The verb is a present tense indicating a continual process. It is passive indicating that other forces are at work to deplete the outer man. The word was used for the dying process of animals and for abortion (M&M, Vocabulary, p.157). It can refer to rusting away, spoiling or corrupting activity (BAGD, p.190). Our outer man is constantly decaying, rusting away and wearing down because of the forces at work on us in this world.
Yet the certainty is that our inner man (ὁ ἔσω ἡμῶν) is constantly being renewed (ἀνακαινοῦται). The phrase is used in Romans 7:22 to refer to our inner nature. It is a present tense indicative verb telling us that the process is happening even in our discouraging circumstances. Paul may have coined the word himself (M&M, Vocabulary, p.34) because it is a compound verb formed from the preposition ἀνά meaning "in the middle" (BAGD, p.49) and καινίζω meaning "to make new" (BAGD, p.394) or the cognate adjective καινός meaning new. The reality is that our inner nature is in the middle of constantly being made new. The passive voice tells us that our inner nature is being made new by an outside force, namely God. The renewal is day by day (ἡμέρα καὶ ἡμέρα), a Hebraism meaning "every day" (Blass/Debrunner, p.107). Our inner man has not yet arrived but is in process constantly.
How do we avoid being swept away by the riptide of despair that threatens to drown us with negativity? The undertow of discouragement is normal. We all experience it. The riptide of despair will drown us unless we stop swimming against the current and turn to the one who can rescue us from the riptide. The Lord is making us new in our inner man through the struggles of the outer man. God cares more about our inner man, and we must learn to look at what He is doing in our inner man to avoid the despair of the outer man. We are dying, but in our dying, we are being made new by His power.