Growing As We Suffer

On Sunday. January 20 our church family will spend time with God preparing our hearts for any time of pain or suffering that might come our way. I hope processing these thoughts on 2 Corinthians 1 will help us prepare for our time together on Sunday.

Reflections on 2 Corinthians 1

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes openly about his life. It just may be the most autobiographical letter in the NT. He talks at length about his struggles and suffering.

Why? It seems as though there are some false apostles who have come to Corinth teaching a feel-good message that has a great appeal. They look at Paul and his sufferings and say, “Is that the kind of life you want?” Their message was one of superiority, winning, being champions.

That’s a message people were eager to embrace.

Paul, on the other hand, looked like a loser. But rather than trying to write about himself in a way that camouflaged his struggles, Paul takes time to write about his life, including the struggles, in an open and honest way.

And he begins by saying he is sharing in the sufferings of Jesus: “The sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives.”

This message is probably no more popular now than it was back then. Be honest, wouldn’t you much rather hear about how to be a winner than about sharing in the sufferings of Christ? On some level I guess I would rather preach that message!

But Paul writes of suffering and let’s not miss the point here: he ties the suffering to Jesus. Sometimes we conveniently forget that Jesus died. We get so wrapped up in talk about being successful  winners that we push the suffering of Jesus from our consciousness. But the story remains the same: Jesus suffered and died. Jesus gave up his comfort in sacrifice for God and others. Jesus was mistreated, rejected, judged harshly and wrongfully executed. Paul says, just like Jesus, I suffer.

I once had a conversation with someone who explained that he just didn’t feel comfortable going to church because of the suffering in his life. He doesn’t feel like he fits in with all the trouble-free, successful champions at church.

Have we forgotten the sufferings of Jesus? Do they flow over into our lives? Have we presented a false picture of church? Do we need to reclaim suffering as a part of the Christian experience?

Paul gets more specific: “We were under great pressure” – I feel like I am being crushed. “Far beyond our ability to endure” – how can I handle this? And using language that I confess makes me uncomfortable, Paul writes, “We despaired even of life.” It’s like he is saying, “How can I go on? Is it worth it?” As if to top it off, Paul gives us this haunting word picture – “In our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”

While Paul is open about his sufferings and his feelings of despair, he doesn’t tell us much about the specifics of the situation that caused his despair. That could be because the people in Corinth had heard all the details. But I think it’s more likely because while he was being open and talking about his life in this letter, the real focus is on something bigger than himself. He is more interested in finding purpose in the suffering than detailing the causes. He is more interested in the “Why?” than the “How?”

All this happened for a reason, Paul says. This taught me not to rely on myself. And be honest, isn’t that exactly what we do when everything is going well. We rely on ourselves. But when we get in situations we can’t handle by ourselves, we have to rely on God.

And how great is our God!

Look at how Paul describes God in this passage. He has already indicated that God is the source of grace and peace (1:2). And now he recalls the resurrection power of God: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (1:9). This leads us to search our souls, asking: What’s better, to rely on myself in times of trouble, or to rely on God who raises the dead? It’s in times of despair we really come to know and experience God’s resurrection power. Do we really believe this?

Paul describes God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God sacrificed God’s one and only Son for us. His name is Jesus – the one who suffered and died. Jesus who laid down his life for us.

Paul describes God as the Father of compassion. God knows when we hurt. God feels our pain. God is aware of and affected by our suffering. God hears our cries. God knows the despair that crushes us. God understands the heart-felt death sentence.

Paul describes God as the God of all comfort. God does not hold us at arms-length. God walks with us in our suffering, bringing us comfort when we are inconsolable. God walks with us through the pain, giving us hope when we are hopeless.

Just as the suffering of Jesus flows over into our lives, so does God’s comfort flow over into our lives. That same comfort we receive from God when we are in a time of despair, we are to share, pouring out to God’s comfort to others when they suffer.

When we suffer the temptation is to get so caught up in our problems that we miss the bigger picture of what is going on.

  • We share in the sufferings of Jesus
  • We get out of ourselves
  • We learn to rely on God
  • We know the sacrifice of God
  • We come to know the resurrection power of God
  • We know the compassion of God
  • We know the comfort of God
  • We are able to pour out on others what we have experienced from God.

So when we are in a time of despair: this passage helps us realize two things –
1. This can be a time for us to come to know God in a deeper way than we have ever known God.
2. This is a time like no other when God can equip us to serve others

Question to ponder: Do you remember an experience where you had to rely on God?

–Bob Clark

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