Suffering: Preparation for Ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-11)

Lesson series 2001
Tags: 2 Corinthians; Ministry; Paul; Suffering; Comfort
Excerpted from Paul on Ministry: Lessons from 2 Corinthians
Related Resources: The Source of the Believer’s Hope: An Analysis of Romans 8:26-39; Spiritual Maturity through Affliction: Insights from Psalm 119


Objectives

  1. To remind participants of the reality of suffering in the Christian experience.
  2. To help participants understand some of the reasons for suffering.
  3. To encourage participants to grow and minister through suffering.


Text (NKJV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,
11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.


Introduction

Life can be very uncertain. One thing is certain, however, and that is that we will face problems as long as we are in this life. You can probably identify one or more areas of difficulty in your personal and family life. In fact, the New Testament tells us that suffering plays a significant part in the Christian experience.

Peter devoted much of his first epistle to a discussion of suffering (e.g., 2:18ff). Paul told Timothy that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim 3:12). Elsewhere he referred to his own experience of absorbing “in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).

How can something that is so bitter and unbearable be associated with positive outcomes? Why does God subject His children to affliction? Suffering is a major theme of the book of 2 Corinthians. Today we will focus on a particular passage (1:3-11) that reveals four distinct purposes in our problems.

Receiving God’s Comfort (1:3-5)

God wills for us to experience “tribulation” (thlipsis: oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress) so that we can better know Him. We could not truly appreciate Him as “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” without being delivered from certain depths of pain. We are called to become acquainted with Christ’s “sufferings” (pathema: suffering, misfortune, calamity, evil, affliction) (cf. Phil 3:10) so that we can experience the blessing of His “comfort” (paraklesis: encouragement, consolation, comfort, solace).

Trusting in God’s Comfort (1:8-10)

God intends for us to learn to trust Him more through suffering. When circumstances betray us--when we come to the end of our rope--we are more likely to recognize Him as the only One whose grace is sufficient for our needs (cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10). Paul experienced such a dark time in Asia that he was certain he would lose his life. He was completely overwhelmed, and in the midst of his uncertainty he learned to trust God for deliverance.

Offering Christian Comfort (1:4, 6-7, 11)

God’s plan for suffering includes other Christians as well. One important reason why God allows us to experience trouble is that it prepares us to minister to others who are undergoing similar difficulties. Therefore, we should see both affliction and comfort as means of administering “consolation and salvation” to others. One of the ways we can help to comfort those who suffer is by lifting them up in prayer.

Receiving Christian Comfort (1:4, 6-7, 11)

If God is willing to use us to minister to others in their time of need, He certainly plans to use them to encourage us when we are down (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). There is a mutuality about the issue of suffering. Though Paul’s suffering was directed at the Corinthians’ spiritual growth, they contributed to his consolation by praying for him. 


Conclusion

Salvation is no guarantee of a painless life. In fact, we are assured that following Christ will involve a share of difficulty. However, we can be certain that God does not recklessly subject us to suffering. Tribulation always has a purpose--in fact, several purposes. Apart from suffering we could neither know the fullness of God’s grace; learn to trust Him implicitly; or minister to others as God desires.

Yes, you will encounter hardships as you live for the Lord. Learn to seize the riches of His comfort, and share them with others who are under the burden of suffering.

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