When you are about to go through something very difficult like, say, a complicated surgical procedure, who do find most helpful and comforting in conversation? Is it the 20-something with stellar health and a beach body, or is it someone who has successfully survived and recovered from your same affliction?
Of course, it is the latter. And why? Because they know internally and experientially what you are facing. Their reflections make them extra sympathetic and insightful. You feel from them that they know and feel your pain, your fears, etc. And having survived it and recovered from it, they are able to give you comfort and hope.
As Paul begins his second (inspired, canonical) letter to the Corinthians, he jumps rather quickly into some of the main ideas that he will expand upon throughout.
Few people in church history could ever put together such an extensive list of trials and difficulties as could the Apostle Paul. In this opening greeting, he references some non-specific afflictions that brought him and the others suffering with him to a state of hopelessness. It looked like all was lost. Death appeared to be the only escape.
So what was this experience in Asia that he references just generally? The commentaries all offer five or more plausible possibilities. And that makes my point. Paul had no shortage of difficult experiences of suffering. Some were personal health struggles, some were with opposition from civil authorities, while other conflicts occurred with false teachers inside the church.
But these experiences, though unpleasant for sure, had purpose in the mind and plan of God.
- The sufferings made Paul and his co-sufferers dependent upon God, because there was no other resource.
- These difficulties were marks of their fellowship with Christ in his sufferings … yes, this is par for the course for the Christian.
- Such painful experiences and comforting deliverances made it possible for Paul to comfort others in their pain.
- Cumulative experiences of suffering and deliverance give the believer a new level of overarching confidence and hope in future deliverance and in final salvation by a faithful God and Father.
- The role of the Christian is to trust God and be faithful to stand in prayer for one another as we all battle the difficulties of life in a fallen world.
And in line with that last point, for those of you reading this devotional on the date of its publication – March 13th – would you pray today for one of my very close college friends and baseball teammates, a guy named Dave. He has been battling pancreatic cancer and has successfully advanced to a point of a surgery to remove a tumor. It is a very delicate and complicated surgery of 10-12 hours duration, though he might not be able to survive it. His faith is incredibly strong and he is very upbeat about it. But the whole thing is very intense for his family as well. Thank you everyone!
2 Corinthians 1:1 – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.