Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 3

By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2005
Number one, we suffer because of our sin; second, we suffer because of the fallen estate; and number three, sometimes, maybe often, suffering might be just what God intended for you and for me.

Living Faithfully in Trying Times – Part 3

This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina for the Ministry of The Cove. We’re training people in God’s word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing him better knowing his word building godly relationships and helping others know him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience him right where you are.

Michael Easley: Spurgeon said the Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction. I sure don’t want to sound self-promoting here, because I don’t think I’m a very god soldier, yet, maybe one day. But I love the quote. We think of, if you saw Braveheart, we think of William Wallace, running on the highlands, and this great heart coming out of Ireland, for freedom. And the Lord gets his best soldiers out of those who have lived in a place of affliction that others have not.
I want to look with you tonight in 2 Corinthians 1, the first eleven verses or so, in a passage that has challenged me anew in this past year. I’ve never taught on this passage before. So in preparation for it, it’s been it’s been a challenge for the weeks and months as I’ve studied it, in a devotional context, as well as – how do you teach this passage? And like many passages, the more I drill into them, the less I think I have a clue about what they’re saying. The texture of this passage is so complex, from a grammar and stylistic standpoint, yet it’s got a beauty and a symmetry. And so, if nothing else, we’ll just sort of get started looking at it tonight and maybe it will become a cherished passage to you as well.
Three observations about suffering before we jump into it. Number one: sometimes we suffer because of our sin. We have good knowledge that sometimes suffering in life comes because of your sin and mine. I don’t like to admit it, I don’t like to acknowledge it. But not always; for if we suffered every time we sinned, we would always suffer. Except for those of you who are smug, and you’d be suffering even more than me. Because we sin all the time, and if God correlarily disciplined us every time an action, an attitude, or thought, an evil, lustful, vengeful, judgmental thought went out of our brain, he said, “Okay, I’m here with you on that one,” we’d be toast. But, sometimes suffering does come because of our sin. We see it in many passages. We see it in Corinthians, where Paul is praying for a person to die. So, certainly there’s a corollary.
Secondly, sometimes suffering can be explained by our fallen estate – just because we are fallen creatures in a fallen world. And those of you who wear eyeglasses, know with me, that over time, as you wear glasses and you take your glasses off, and shaving is a real challenge for guys; I presume, makeup with women, the same. Because you know that you’ve got to have your glasses on to see what you’re doing, but you can’t have your glasses on to do it, so it’s a real complicated proposition. And so you shave and you miss these huge patches. And you say, “Dad, you missed that huge thing over there.” I can’t see anymore. But what I do notice is that the area around my eyes from the UV magnification, starts to make me look older around my eyes. We live in a fallen estate. We live in a context, after the flood canopy collapsed – I’m a young earth guy – after the flood canopy collapsed and the UV rays elevated, we are now under the influence of radiation and ultraviolet rays that this body was not intended, in free fall and context to handle.
And so, because of the fallen state, Job has the unanswerable quandary. I was scanning through Job earlier. And if you want look, this is not the text for tonight, but I just I’m just struck again and again by the story of Job. Job 38, if you want to look there with me for just a couple of seconds. Job is the story of a faith, doubt in the midst of faith, that becomes faith in the midst of doubt. In other words, he starts out there everything’s right and rosy and there’s little glimpses of doubt. But then later, as his doubts overwhelm him, there’s little glimpses of faith.
And I think that is a good track of all of our lives. There are times when the context is doubt, with glimpses of faith; and there’s times the context is faith, with little glimpses of doubt. And that’s where we want to be, because none of us is ever going to be faithful all the time, every time. But if you look at chapter 38 when Lord answers Jo, in verse 3 he says you know, ask me and I will instruct you. In other words, He says, “Look, you didn’t even exist when I did these things.”
Verse 10 – I place boundaries and set bolts and doors, talking about the sea. In other words, can you control the water, Job? When Nashville had, they call it the thousand year flood, we were helpless. There weren’t enough sandbags in the US to deal with that. You couldn’t stop Katrina. There’s certain things you can’t stop.
Verse 12 – Have you ever in your life commanded the morning? Job, can you control the revolutions of the earth?
Verse 16 – Have you entered into the springs of the sea? And the phrase there means where the sea originated. Job, have you gone down to where the sea, the ocean started?
Verse 19 – Where is the way to the dwelling of light? Job, do you understand where light began? This is, by the way, the biggest quandary for creationist, old earth, young earth, anyone in between, is light. Because we can measure light and light is billions and billions and billions of years old. So God had to defy physics to make light. That will bend your mind.
Verse 22 – Have you entered the storehouses of snow? Have you seen the storehouses of hail, in other words, Job, can you handle weather, can you control weather? Our weathermen can’t control weather.
Verse 25 –Who has a cleft in the channel of a flood? In other words, can you control a flood?
Verse 26, to bring rain on land? Can you make it rain, Job?
Verse 31 – Can you bind the chains of Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Job, can you move those stars? By the way, the ancients had names for the stars. Job, can you move those stars?
Verse 37 – Who can count the clouds by wisdom, or tip the water jars of the heaven, when the dust hardens into mass and the clods stick together? Job, can you control anything?
And on and on it goes. And then Job in chapter 42, we know it too well, it’s one of the passages, I always get discouraged because we know it so well, we forget the power of it. Job answers the Lord and said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Who is this who hides the council without knowledge?” In other words, you’ve got to be really stupid to say what I’ve said. That’s the paraphrase. “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, things that I did not know. Hear now and I will speak and I will instruct you. I will ask you and you instruct me. I’ve heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you, and I retract and I repent in dust and ashes.”
Profound. You know, it took this long story, and when you read the book of Job, it’s tedious, it’s long. You know, you get these sorry comforters. Oh, there’s some great lines in Job, “Sorry comforters all,” I love that line. I love his wife’s great encouragement, “Curse God and die.” What a joyful house woman she would have been, you know. “Just curse God and die, you worthless thing you.” And Job’s friends, his wife, his life has been dismantled, all the props have been taken away.
And it hit me one day in the study of Job, by the way, those of you who study scripture on your own, Hendricks taught me almost thirty years ago now, Prof said, “Take one book of the Bible a year that intimidates you, and study it like crazy.” And so each year, I would strap on a book that I had the least affinity for, or appreciation of, and I’d study it for a couple of months, And I spent a year in Job one year. And I was sad to turn the page when the year came. I’ve done it with Ecclesiastes, with Isaiah, with Jeremiah, and it’s a great thing to do. Just the one book that sort of wipes you out, you don’t like, you can’t get your arms around. Just read it for a few months, every morning, and see what happens. I was three years in Ecclesiastes. And you just sort of get lost in it, after you start to appreciate it.
And it hit me one day when I was reading through this tedious book of Job, you know, suffering and pain and unanswered questions are long. And is it any wonder, in my sanctified imagination, this is the oldest book in our Bible. The problem of pain, the problem of injustice, the problem of God allowing, or permitting, or directing, or sovereignly appointing problems. “Have you considered my servant Job?” Interesting, isn’t it, when you think of the Fall of Man in the creation context. Well, all that’s for free.
Let’s look at 2 Corinthians chapter one. Number one, we suffer because of our sin; we suffer because of the fallen estate; and sometimes, number three, and maybe often, suffering can be attributed to God’s design. Sometimes, maybe often, suffering might be just what God intended for you and for me.
We live in a fallen world, but we have a sovereign God. And the longer I live, and the tiny bit more I think I understand of our Father, I think he wants me to suffer. I don’t like it, I wish I could give it some other person, who deserves it far more than me. I’d be happy for them to be a highland soldier and me be a foot soldier in, you know, comfort city, but I’m not. And please don’t feel pity or sorry for me, because you got challenges too. I’m just telling you my story and you can ignore what you want and glean what you want – that’s the best you can. So, maybe it’s because of our sin, maybe it’s because of the fallen estate, maybe God wants us to. And maybe there’s some combination of two or three of those, at any given time. Any theologian who will tell you otherwise, may be smarter than me, but I think these are safe conclusions.
You know, one of the challenges of living, and I keep some pictures in my Bible of my family over time, because as you well know, you don’t realize your kids growth until you look at a photo. And what’s getting worse now is I don’t realize how old I’m looking, compared to what I used to look. For decades my kids said, “Dad, you never age, you never age.” Now, they’re saying, “Dad, you’re getting really old.” Oh, children of mine, you know. But the photo album of your life is very telling isn’t it? It’s very telling. And so Eric and I were talking after dinner tonight about, you know, people comment when they hear my story and they knew me before or they’ve known me, “He’s different now, he’s different now.”
Well, I think I know what they mean by that, but you know, I don’t see that until I look at the photo album of life. And you have to go back to these benchmarks, in your life and remember from whence he’s brought you, and where you have come and to see the present grace that you have today. Pain will change you, disappointments will change you, depression will change you, cancer will change you. All these things will change you.
And we are changing creatures. And we are hopefully growing in the image of Christ and maturing. I don’t want to be a whining old man. God, help me, strike me dead before that happens. I want to have some smile and joy and laughter in my voice, even if I’m miserable. I just don’t want my kids to see it, I don’t want their friends to see it. I want my kids to always want to bring their friends to the house, even when they’re adults. I don’t want them to stay away from their grumpy old father. So, that’s my prayer and maybe yours as well.
The apostle Paul, perhaps in our New Testament there’s no corollary to Job, except the apostle Paul. And in 2 Corinthians 1, he writes about his extreme affliction and suffering and opposition and discouragement that he faced. Now, we don’t know the precise back-story of the exact context, but I think we have some pretty good insights. And we’re going to look at some of those, as we dig into this passage. But I want to take it apart fairly pedantically, because I think it’s important we always follow the context of a passage, before we try and understand all questions we may have.
First two verses, 2 Corinthians 1:1-2, is about Paul’s apostleship and his audience, about himself and who he’s writing. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the Church of God, which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are throughout Achaia. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As you probably know, Paul spends what seems like an inordinate amount of time defending his apostleship. Every time he writes a letter, there’s some defense of his apostleship. And it got me wondering one day, Why? And so, I did a little spade work. Some of you already know this, but to understand the apostleship of Paul is to understand his backdrop against the Eleven. And chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians gives us one of the greatest descriptions of Paul’s life in the backdrop of apostleship, of the letter he wrote it to Corinth.
Let’s get the big picture. We have the disciples, little “d”, those who followed Jesus. And there were lots of them. Remember? I suggested there are over 500 at the Mount during the Great Commission. We have the Eleven proper; Judas, the son of perdition has defected, he’s hung himself, he’s burst open as a field, after he’s killed himself, the field of blood. And in Acts 1, he’s replaced by lot with Matthias. And we know nothing else about Matthias, to speak of, but he replaces Judas. What we do know from that passage and others, is that there were three criteria for the apostles: they had to be chosen by Christ; they had to do the works of Christ; and they had to be a witness of the resurrection. They had to be chosen by Christ; they had to do the works of Christ; and they had to be a witness of the resurrection. Those were the three criteria for “the” Disciples, or the apostles. The little disciples were those who glommed on: Timothy and others who trusted in the message. But the Disciples, “the Twelve,” we would say, had to be chosen by Christ; work the works of Christ; and have seen the resurrected Christ. They were also with him in the main.
So, if you apply those three criteria, you scratch your head when you come to Paul, because he wasn’t chosen like the others were chosen. He did work the works of Christ, but he didn’t see the resurrected Christ in the same way the Eleven did, right? Evidently Matthias did, but we don’t know about Paul. Paul’s later on in the storyline. So, when you look at the criteria, technically in Acts 1, Paul’s on the left foot, as he begins his defense. So, in each of his letters, he begins to defend his apostleship.
Now in Romans 1, Galatians 1, Ephesians 1 Corinthians 1, 2 Timothy 1, Titus1, he talks about this – but no place like the letter of 2 Corinthians does he go into this remarkable detail about being an apostle of Jesus Christ. “An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” Apostle, of course means one who is sent, that’s all it means, the sent one. It takes on a technical meaning in the New Testament when we speak of these twelve, thirteen – if you want to be very precise and technical, with Matthias – Judas has defected, the defector, the son of perdition. So, now you have the 12, with Matthias, number 13 with Paul – these unique 12.
Paul often describes himself as bondservant, and that was the willing slave, that was not indentured slave, who was the result of a war, or a capture of property, but a slave who freely, after Jubilee, let’s say, put his ear to the doorpost and the owner put an awl through his ear. And that was the one legitimate piercing the Old Testament Hebrew could do. And you identified yourself as a willing servant of your master, because you loved working for him, and he loved you as part of his family, and you willingly made yourself a slave. Paul says I’m a slave. I was a rabbi’s rabbi, School of Gamaliel; I was the Ivy League, I was the Harvard, Yale, Princeton pedigreed of the rabbi culture of the first century, and I’m a bondslave. I’m a willing indentured slave to Jesus Christ because he’s called me and chosen me to be his apostle.
Now, to get a little back-story, turn to Acts 9. And many of you know this, but it’s a good reminder of our friend and our hero, and the one we like so much, named the apostle Paul. We’ve had the explosion in the church. In Acts 2, Pentecost has come, the Holy Spirit has indwelt the believers there. There are no less than thirteen, some argue fifteen different dialectos, known language groups, and the Holy Spirit indwells in each one. Parthians, Sythians, Medes are hearing them in their mother tongue. These are known dialectos, languages, in Acts 2. And the church explodes with 3,000 some, coming to Christ, and takes off: Jerusalem – kaboom! Judea, Samaria , remotest part.
We have Stephen preaching this most amazing sermon. The doctoral theses, if you were to line them up, would fill this room around and around and around eight or ten shelves high, of dissertations written on the texture and the luxury and the history and the theology of the sermon of Stephen. His one, if you’re going to have one great sermon, you want Stephen’s because then you’re dead. And so that’s his sermon, he preaches. And then persecution breaks out, Saul’s the coat rack, and the Church scatters. And the word “scatter” is the word diaspereto. We bring into English disperse. It’s used in extra-biblical Greek, “to sow seed.”
The Church wasn’t meant to stay in Jerusalem . So, God uses – this will bend your mind – he uses the persecution of the brand new infant church to diaspereto, to Johnny Appleseed the church, and get it out of Jerusalem. And he uses a guy named Paul to light the match to get them out of the town.
Acts 9. On the road to Damascus, of course, Saul is stuck blind. He’s got papers we would say, in hand, to incarcerate leading Christians, Jewish Christians no doubt. Acts 9:10, “Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias,’ and he said, ‘Here I am Lord.’” I always loved that, “‘Here I am, Lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus, named Saul, for he is praying. He is seeing in a vision a man named Ananias [that would be you, Ananias] come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.’”
Now, you know the story too well, but pretend you never heard before. “Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard many things about this man, how much harm he did to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has authority from the chief priest to bind all to call on your name.’” Sounds like every prophet in the Old Testament: “I don’t want to do this job, you’ve got to be kidding me, don’t you know, don’t you know who this guy is?” No, God’s great answer, “But the Lord said to him,”… and in my Bible, it would be bold and in all caps – “‘GO, for he is a chosen instrument of mine [we talked of this earlier] to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel. For I will show them how much he will suffer for my name’s sake.’” Some versions say “will,” some say “must” suffer. So Paul’s blindness, turned into vision, is going to come with the announcement: got some good news and some bad news. Good news is I’m going to lay my hands on you and pray for you and you’re going to have sight, and you’re going to come to know Christ. Bad news is you’re going to suffer for His name’s sake.
Now, I don’t know how Paul responded, but my picture of Paul has changed over the years. I think this guy was just irascible. I think he was irascible. He was smart, there’s no question he would be an academic by today’s standards. He was a chosen instrument of God, tough as an ox, to do the traveling he did, to put up with what he endures. We’ll see a little bit of. So, here’s the inaugural call of Saul to Paul, “I’m going to take your blindness away, but you’re going to suffer, buddy, you’re going to suffer a lot.” And you know the story in Ephesus, when the prophet appears to him and takes Saul’s belt. “This is what awaits you if you go to Jerusalem.”
I mean, the poor guy. It’s like who would sign up for this? You know, Michael, I want to give you a mansion in Virginia, I want to give you a new car every year, I want to give you a six figure salary; good health insurance; a beautiful wife, four compliant children; five compliant sons and daughters-in-law; and a Partridge in a pear tree and life will be happy ever after. You’re going to suffer all your life. Yikes!
2 Corinthians 11, turn over there for just a moment. This is the longest defense of his apostleship that we have in any single place. 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul’s speaking, “Are they servants of Christ, I speak as if insane. I more so, in far more labors in far more imprisonments, beaten time without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty nine lashes.” The implication was forty lashes was the most you could give a person because it’s probably going to kill them. “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I’ve spent in the deep. I’ve been on frequent journeys and dangers from rivers; dangers from robbers; dangers from my countryman; dangers from the Gentiles; dangers in the city; dangers in the wilderness; dangers on the sea; dangers among false brethren. I have been in labor and hardship through many sleepless nights; and hunger and thirst; often without food; in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things there is the daily pressure of me of concern for all the churches.”
The last part always hangs me up. How can you say all these physical fears him and dangers, and oh, by the way, I worry about the churches too. Tells you where the guy’s heart was. He and Timothy planted all these churches, exploded all over Europe, Asia. And he thinks about them all the time. Evidence the letter of Corinth we’re reading. He’s concerned about all the rumor that he hears, that’s not carried by e-mail and text and fax and carrier pigeon in long letters, it’s carried by word of mouth and parchment and scroll; and document; witnesses; and testimonies, in his visits where he would give information about people.
So, he seems to me he’s saying, my physical afflictions are overwhelming, but my concern for your afflictions is greater. What kind of a guy can say that, except a man of God? The point, it sets up a context for an apostle who suffers extraordinarily more than I think sometimes we think of him. We think of the thorn in the flesh; we think of people making fun of his appearance; we think of those who speculate he couldn’t speak very well; we think of those who believed he had some eye disease; and all those kinds of speculations. Bbut we miss this passage – the guy was beaten up!
I don’t know if you’ve been around fighters and boxers, but they have a short shelf life. Young men and women who want to get a boxing ring in their college, in their teens and twenties, they look like it after a few years in the ring. They’re just rode hard and put away wet. And they may never be the same. And that’s my picture of Paul. When you read through all the things he experienced, here’s a man who suffered greatly. That’s the point I want to bring to bear.
Let’s go back to chapter 1 and see his defense again. He’s simply saying, “Paul, one sent of Jesus Christ [now notice the phrase] by the will of God.” The will of God is one of those mysteries that when you come to Christ somewhere in your teens and twenties you wander around going, “What’s the will of God for my life?” You know we all do it. And then Garry Friesen wrote a book, Decision Making and the Will of God, that threw us all for a tailspin in the ‘70s. And every once in a while some new adventure comes along about finding God’s will; put your shoulder to the wheel. We always have some new set of words to discover what the will of God is.
You know what the will of God is? It’s what God wants to happen. That’s literally what the phrase means, the will of God is what God wants to happen. So, if you want to know the will of God, you’ve got a number of places in scripture to run. The best one I, “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you flee immorality.” You know, that’s a pretty good start; let’s not worry about what I’m going to be when I grow up, let’s worry about sanctification.
Tommy Nelson, a friend of mine, pastors a church in Denton, Texas, extraordinarily gifted guy. And he’s always had a huge congregation of singles from the colleges in the area where his church is. And he says the number one questions young singles ask, and older singles ask, “How do I find the right husband? I’ve got a list of what I’m looking for in a husband or a wife.” They always have a list. And he learned this line years ago, and my oldest daughter now is rolling her eyes as I recall Tommy Nelson, she hates me saying this, but she knows it’s true. “Forget about your list. Run as hard and fast, as you can, toward Jesus Christ,” Tommy says, “and if you happen to see someone out of the corner of your eye, running as hard or as fast, you might take a second look.” Best advice I’ve ever heard. Run as hard and fast as you can toward Jesus Christ. That’s the will of God. Seek first his kingdom. Run as hard and fast as you can toward Jesus Christ, and if you happen to catch someone out of the corner of your eye, running as hard or as fast, you might take a second look. That’s how you find a husband or a wife, not making a list and checking it off that he or she meets it. No!
Briefly, “Paul and Timothy, our brother,” 2 Corinthians 1. So, Timothy his young disciple – young, probably in his late thirties, early forties at this point – is with him along the way. Now, you recall that 1 Corinthians is not a happy story. In fact, when I teach through books of the Bible, I give the word correction when it comes to the Book of Corinthians. You think in your mind, Corinthians are corrective books; Philippians is the book of joy; Ephesus is the book of his church. Corinth is the book of corrections. Think about it. Starts out about factions and divisions among them; it goes into their inability to deal with sexual impurity in their own church; the lawsuits among brothers in Christ; the unjust rationale for divorce and remarriage that they were brandishing; intoxication and over-indulging at the Lord’s Supper, when other people were going without; the changing of the Gospel message; co-mingling of meat sacrificed to idols and blood against that of the pure Communion – the Lord’s supper of the cup and the bread of Jesus Christ.
And then he says, “I can’t speak to as adults because you’re still infants. I have to give you milk cause are not mature enough to digest meat.” Now here’s the ringer, the book of 1 Corinthians is a bowl of milk spiritually. If you can’t handle the theology and the problems of the book of 1Corinthians, Paul will call you a baby. And by 2 Corinthians things haven’t changed so much. So, you got all this affliction in the backdrop; you got all that he’s been through in his missionary journeys, and the way he’s treated; you got this continuing problem with this Corinth; and Corinth was, of course, the cesspool of everything immoral – and kind of like the United States frankly. And so he writes this out of a broken, sad, fearful heart.
Now, conspicuous in the absence of the language of the salutation, and again for you who are Bible students, take all of Paul’s epistles and just look at the salutations. And there’s two things conspicuously absent in 2 Corinthians 1. There’s no thanksgiving for them and there’s no prayer for them. Oh, that’s got to sting. “I thank my God always in my every remembrance of you.” “I pray always when I think of you.” No, neither is mentioned. “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God,” – I’m doing what God wants me to do – “and Timothy to the Church of God at Corinth. Boom! He’s going to go into them. So, it’s a very interesting introduction, salutation.
Now the church at Corinth and Achaia, Achaia, the region around. Notice it’s to the saints and the church. Church is ekklesia, ekkoleo, the called out ones, also called the assembly, evangelical uses the word assembly sometimes, the brethren, it’s a good word, the assembly. So you’re called out from among the world, ek out of, to be an assembly of the body of Christ. You are of the church, little “c”. Big “C,” the Church of Christ globally, little “c,” local congregations of that church. And then he calls them saints, holy ones hagios. And just a reminder, some of us from the Catholic background, these are always living people he talks about not dead ones. I always think that’s important to point out.
Then he bids them grace and peace, verse 2. Grace, as we talked about earlier, is undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. Grace is not just unmerited favor, it is undeserved favor in the face of deserved wrath. We all deserve wrath. And peace is that not which the world gives, but only which Christ gives, its otherworldly peace. One of the questions pertaining to Philippians – a peace that surpasses all comprehension; it surpasses the world’s understanding of peace. So, how can you face some of these trials, peacefully? Because Christ’s power in you, it’s the only explanation. It’s not because you or I are better at that. It’s a corrective letter, he’s sad, he rebukes them, but he loves them.
Okay, with that said, let’s jump into verse 3, the theology and the comfort of suffering. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” Notice how many times comfort pops up in here. “Who comforts us in all our afflictions [so that purpose was], so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any inflection, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance,” we just read about that in chapter 11, “Just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort [Paul and Timothy] is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted it is for your [Corinthian] comfort and salvation, or if we are comforted [Paul and Timothy are comforted], it’s for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same suffering, which we also suffer. And our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also your sharers of our comfort.”
Loaded passage. The theology of comfort and suffering. Now, one of my little axioms is, don’t let the world teach you theology. And the constant problem I have, and I suspect many Christians have, is to listen to well-meaning friends, some of them are Christian friends, who have really bad theology. And they misquote a lot of scripture.
I have a fairly active Facebook page. If you’re interested in being annoyed and irritated and once in a while, maybe encouraged, you can be my friend. And it’s so funny what people will respond to when I post something. You know, I have the most rich thing in the world, and nobody responds to it. I put something stupid and I get thirty responses up. Go figure. And my oldest daughter and a bunch of her friends follow my Facebook page when they’re bored. Because I’m an old guy and they don’t care. I had posted something a while back and my daughter is about to injure herself she’s laughing so hard. And she and a couple of girlfriends are calling me saying, “Dad, have you read some of the sanctimonious nonsense some of your Christians say on Facebook, you know, to you?” And I go, “You know, Hon, just be nice to them.” And she’s reading back these just syrupy, over the top, you know, it’s all going to be okay nonsense verses. And I said, “Honey, they’re well-meaning…” She goes, “No, Dad, they’re really stupid.” That’s her opinion.
And so it’s interesting when you come into suffering, what glib advice people can give you. I don’t know how many people wanted me to drink some juice to solve my problems. And they had some doctor that was going to wave a wand and make me better. And I tried a lot of them, I don’t mean to say I’m not willing to be open-minded. But when you face suffering, you need a biblical perspective, not just a worldly perspective. Don’t let the world teach you theology, let the word teach you theology.
Now, the blessing is attributing good things back to God. Blessing is one of my favorite words because it means everything and nothing to the average Christian. It’s like glory or righteous. We don’t have a clue what those words mean, but we toss them around all time. The best passage to understand blessing is 1 Chronicles 29:10 and following, where David blesses back to God all that they have gotten because of God’s goodness. And so the simplest way to define blessing, for you and for my brain, it’s attributing back to God the good things that he’s given to us. So, we acknowledge it.
When you teach your children to pray over a meal and they say thank you Lord for the foods they like, you know, and they dodge the foods they don’t like. Thank you, Jesus for our family, for the, you know, the fried chicken and whatever – they ignore the peas. But yet they’re very simple in thanking God for good things. That’s blessing. So, when you and I acknowledge that good things of God. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, we looked at, all that is in me, bless his holy name. Forget none of his benefits, don’t forget what he’s done for you. He heals your diseases often. And it’s a recollection because our brains tend to forget. Scripture reminds us all the time, “don’t forget; remember; don’t forget,” because our brains forget. And so we’re reminded to bless God.
He says, “to the Church of God which is in Corinth with all the saints. Grace to you and peace from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father.” So let’s go back and recollect what he is; who he is; what he has done. Little bit overstatement, but it’s important.
Now the blessing is linked to this Father of mercies and the God of comfort, that’s why I’m drilling it. It’s linked to the Father of mercies and the God of comfort. He’s beginning this letter blessing God because of his mercy and his comfort in his affliction. Don’t miss this. The introduction chapter is the most important chapter in any well-written book. You’ve got to understand the introduction, especially in the Bible. So the blessing is attributing the good thing back to God.
The blessing here is thank you for the mercy and the comfort that you’ve given us. The backdrop of the story probably has to do with chapter 7, of the trials he has in Asia. It really doesn’t matter precisely. What we do know, is he’s acknowledging God comforted them in their affliction. It reinforces that God loves them and is committed to them, even though they’re suffering. And when you and I suffer we begin to believe “God doesn’t love me. If God loved me, he’d play fair and God must not love me because he’s not helping me.” It also helps us grasp the reframing, which is a constant issue for all of us to reframe our perspective.
Note again the parallel. Look at your text. “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” “the Father of mercy is the God of comfort.” Paul always does this little flipping in our English. It’s the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then the Father of mercy. So it’s the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, which runs parallel to the Father of mercies; it’s the God and Father, which runs parallel to the God of all comfort. See it?
What’s the point? There’s nothing unintentional or haphazard about scripture. It’s always deliberate, it’s always on purpose. And so these two parallel grammatical structures should jump off the page. He’s the God of Christ and Father of our comfort, he’s the Father of Jesus, he’s the Father of mercy. The same God and Father who gave you Jesus Christ, is the same God who fathers, we might say, mercy. He’s the same God who originates comfort. And that’s where we recall the blessings.
Mercy, we’ve talked about a little bit. It’s compassion for our misfortune. Here the word comfort occurs about ten times in most of our English translations, depending on which one you use. And it literally means to lift up a person’s spirit. Comfort means to lift up a person’s spirit. Now some of you know the word paraclete, right? It’s the old King’s word for the paraclete, the one who was called alongside; kaleo is called, para, alongside. Jesus, in the Upper Room Discourse says, “I will send a helper, a parakaleo, he will be with you after I’ve gone and he will take my place and do more for you than I can do, if I stay here. I must go to the father to send him to you.”
So the story of the paraclete being sent, the one who’s going to walk alongside, who’s going to complete the New Covenant, he’s going to indwell in us and no longer are we just dependent on our ability to manage the law, but the law’s going to be inside of us because his Spirit will indwell each believer. And this word is paraklesis. So it sounds the same, has a similar intent. It’s the one who comes alongside to lift that person’s spirit up. The paraclete comes alongside to help. Comfort is you come alongside to lift them up. So the words play well together.
The point here is mercy and comfort are otherworldly. This mercy and this comfort are not of the world’s doing. It takes a believer, it takes the Father of these, the God of these, to administrate them through his people. God does not have to comfort you and me. God does not have to be merciful. God does not have to forgive the unrepentant sinner. We are hapless, helpless, and sinful creatures and he doesn’t have to do anything for us. But he loves us.
As the father of four kids, and any of you, of course, grandparents are just insufferable. I’m sorry, but you’re just insufferable. I’m not a grandparent yet, I don’t want to be a grandparent. I’m sorry, I’m just too selfish. I want my kids to be gone; I want to have my chair back. I want to just be to be alone. You know, Cindy thinks I’m a horrible selfish pig. And I will say, “Yes, I am.” And I’m an even stiffer-necked one now. And so I just want to be left alone with my little fiefdom. And it’s never going to happen you know.
God isn’t that way, though. And when I watch a grandparent and a grandchild, that to me is a glimmer of how God loves his kids. Now, the firstborn, of course, you know every firstborn. Eric’s got a firstborn boy, Henry. Just ask him about him and you’ll get an earful and a video in your face in two point one seconds. And he’ll pull out his phone and show you Henry, and he’s happy to do it. And Henry’s the precious little guy. Everybody’s firstborn is the firstborn on the planet, right? You remember that? Every grandparent’s firstborn grandchild is like an alien. I mean, they are the most important creature in ever. And oh, they’re the perfect child, they jump higher, they’re smarter, they run more, they’re more beautiful, they’re perfect. I mean, they might have the cone-head and the ears, I mean, you know, they’re the perfect grandchild in the world, baby, and here’s 86 pictures to show it. And they’re happy to show you these grandchildren pictures.
And when I watch it, and I do have appreciation, I’m having a little fun at your expense. But, you know, I still have a memory of the first grandchild, my oldest sister’s John Paul was born, of my dad on the floor playing with his first grandson. And my brother and I are sitting there going, “He never played with me like that.” He never did. And the delight in my dad’s eyes when his first grandson was born. And the delight my dad’s eyes when the first granddaughter, the second grandchild was born. And the delight in my dad’s eyes when we adopted Jessie. My dad and Jessie had a sweet, sweet relationship. My dad has this homemade swing he built and there’s a picture of him, when he still had some hair and was quite and thin. Jesse was two and a half, and so she’s twenty-one, now – nineteen some years ago, and they’re on this swing and she’s got her little head on his lap, and he’s got this little, just otherworldly smile, and they’re on Papaw’s swing on the front porch.
And then last Christmas, my dad was alive last Christmas, we went all the way to Houston. And I said, “Jessie, we got to get on a swing, and take a picture of you and Papaw.” She sat on the swing and put her head on Papaw’s shoulder, as a 21 year-old young woman. And she and her Papaw had an extraordinary relationship. And when he died she was inconsolable, she just wept and wept and wept that Papaw was gone. And the next thing she did was, she went on Facebook and found that picture she had on her computer of Papaw and her when she was two. And she replaced her profile picture of Papaw in a swing with her head in his lap.
The delight of the father toward his children. I think you know what Hendricks says, that grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your teenager. I’m starting to get mushy up here.
Why? One of the consequences is that we’ll be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted by God. It’s a tongue twister. Paul’s saying, affliction has reasons, because only in as far as you’re afflicted, are you going to be able to comfort. And this is how much God loves. Paul is asking a question. Why did we, as Paul and Timothy, endure so much suffering? Because, only because of that suffering, can we offer you comfort.
Now, let’s grease the skids, because Paul is going to get in their face and rebuke them another time. This is not the letter to the Philippians; this is the letter to the perverted Corinthians. It’s a corrective letter, still. You still haven’t gotten some of these things right. And so this is part, I think, of the apostle’s angst, as he writes this letter to them.
Now, as I’ve shared already, after three back surgeries, I’m happy to talk to anyone who has the least feigned interest in what’s happened to me and to compare back stories. Ron had six, seven fused, so we’re trading stories. Anterior, posterior? What’d you have done? You got rod, you got metal, you got cadaveric bone? You know, I want to know all that kind of stuff. And I’m happy to talk about it.
I have a friend who has Multiple Sclerosis, I have told you about her a little bit. And when anyone’s diagnosed with MS, I say I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, by email, and I want you to two to email each another. And when Barbara sends me an email, I used to slip off my shoes when I read her emails. Because I would be up in the middle of the night in the worst pain of my life and I would peck out an e-mail – this is before IM and texting was like it is today – and I’d say, because she was always up to, and I’d say, “How do you do this?” And she’d write back a verse and we’d have these little four-minute delays between the transmission of the emails. And Cindy would get up, because she knew I’d been up all night, she’d get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and say, “What are you doing?” And I’d say, “Read what Barbara’s written me.” And we’d just sit there and weep. When I’m in that much pain, I want to talk to Barbara, because she lives with far worse than me.
Whenever we find out a woman has breast cancer, I’ve got a friend named Christy, her mother and sister died in the same year of breast cancer – had no presentation whatsoever. They were both athletic, they were both thin, tall, well, healthy women. Boom – same year they died. So, all the sisters had elective surgery to prevent breast cancer. And it about killed Christy – not the cancer, the surgeries. And so whenever I have young woman, or some woman, come to me and they say, “I’ve got breast cancer.” I say, “Can I introduce to a friend of mine, through email, named Christy. I want you to email her and I’ll give you her phone number.” And she’ll talk to any woman. Now, if you’re a woman and you find out you’ve got breast cancer, you don’t want to talk to your stupid husband. I mean, you know what I’m saying. You want to talk to a woman that’s had breast cancer.
I’ve got a friend who has had two liver transplants. Whenever I hear of a person that’s had liver disease, I say, “Can I introduce you to my friend Jim?” Jim’s had two liver transplants, a partial liver and a cadaveric liver. He lived in Johns Hopkins Hospital for eight months, he almost died five or six times from sepsis, rejection. I can’t tell you all the things that happened to my poor friend, it would take two hours to tell you – multiple surgeries. He got a full cadaveric liver five and a half or six years ago now, and he is healthy as, he is a walking miracle. He takes one small anti-rejection medication, where before he was taking up to $3,000 of meds a month to stay alive, on his first living liver transplant. His daughter is now presenting with the same liver disease. You know someone with a liver disease, I’ll tell you the guy to talk to. And this guy shares Christ with everybody, from the admissions director to the nurses that put the IVs in him to the guy that pushes him around in the wheelchair. I want you to know Jim.
You got colon cancer, I got a friend that’s had this much of his colon taken out, from here to Mars and back, and he can tell you all about it in more detail than you’d like to kno).
What am I driving at? “The comfort with which we were comforted.” You see, before I had my back surgery, this one, I went to my doctor. I said, “I want the name of a guy you’ve done the surgery to.” And he says, “Excuse me?” I said, “You think I’m going to let you do this to my neck on your word? I’m sorry, Doctor, I like you, but I don’t know what you’re going to do when I’m out. You could do anything back there, for all I know. You could have me alien abducted, I don’t know what you’re going to do to me back there. I’ll be asleep. I want to talk to some guy that you did this to.” And he gave me this guy’s name and I talked to him. And this guy said, “Let me tell you about Dr Chang and his staff. And they were phenomenal, and they helped me, and I’d go back to him tomorrow. And boy, it was a miserable six weeks in that brace, I wanted to kill myself in that brace.” Thanks for telling me that. He went through it all and it was true, line by line. And you know what he said? He said, “You call me any time.” I want to talk to him.
The comfort with which we were comforted. I mean, this is simple. This is this isn’t a hard thing. There’s a cycle, and verses 5-6, and it’s a two-edged sword of affliction. To the measure we’re afflicted, the measure we can now comfort others. Look at verse 4. Verse 4 is really interesting, “who comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” Now this is very important because one of the rules of applying the Bible, you want to be very careful. We say there’s one interpretation of the Bible, but many applications the Bible. I really don’t like that, because you can misapply a verse, right?
One of my professors, John Hannah, often he travels around, and verses are often chiseled in churches. And he would quote some verse that some church had taken completely out of context, you know, and he’d just laugh and he’d say, “I’m going to write a book after I retire called ‘Misapplied Verses God Has Greatly Blessed.’” And so I’m a real fastidious, persnickety guy, when it comes to how you apply it. But when I read that, any affliction, that gives me a little wind, because I’m not beaten or shipwreck or snake bit ,or a day and a night in the deep, or in fear of murderers and thieves and robbers and the Sanhedrin and those that have sworn out a death oath on my life or Christians who are suspicious of me; or rumors and slander said about me. I don’t live in that context; we have friends across the seas that do. But this applies further than just that passage. The simple passage is when suffering overwhelms, comfort overcomes. When suffering overwhelms, comfort will overcome. Does it mean God’s going to give you a spiritual ibuprofen and solve your problem? Probably not. But when suffering overwhelms, comfort will overcome.
In verse 6, there are some unique aspects to Paul’s suffering. “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, or if we’re comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” This passage is pretty tall cotton. Don’t turn there, but in 7:5, Paul writes, “Even when we came to Macedonia our flesh had no rest. We were afflicted on every side, conflicts without and fears within.” Isn’t that great? Conflicts without and fears within. Ever walk into a meeting or a deposition or some big board pow-wow meeting of the minds, get it on the table issue? Churches are rife with this stuff. Churches are such fun, they’re just such fun, it’s just so fun to go in a room of people and fight. And these big conflicts and afflictions every side and fear inside, conflicts inside. Fear within, we live that way. Paul’s struggle was no small part of what he’s about to write. And what the repercussions of this might be, if they don’t respond and repent. In 2:4, he said, “This affliction and the anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears,” referring to his prior letters. But they didn’t respond.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve had the joy and privilege and honor and scared to deathness, of confronting a friend who’s in sin. I’ve done it more times than I cared to do it. I hate doing it, I’m sick of doing it, I’m tired of doing it, but I’ll continue to do it, because that’s my job as a follower of Jesus. Not because I’m a pastor, but I take seriously what it means to admonish, to encourage, to walk alongside, to rebuke, to love, to encourage, to get in my brother’s face and say, “You know, I don’t like the way this is going down, my friend.” And the body of Christ is supposed to do this stuff, right?
A friend of mine was getting remarried and I won’t dispute the merits of remarriage and all that, that’s not the point of it. But the remarriage was not wise. And there were two of us who went to him and said, “You know, nothing against this precious woman and nothing against, you know, you getting married at some point.” His first wife had died. But we just said, “You know, there’s some discernment here, there’s some no’s here, that says this isn’t right, my friend.” My friend and I want to him and he was kind and polite and he said, “Michael, I don’t care what you do, I’m going to marry her.” Fine, I mean I’m not going to throw myself in front of a train, but as a brother who’s known you for twenty years, and knew your first wife, and the extraordinary woman she was, this isn’t going to work. I hope I’m wrong.
Well, he and I were friends and we talked all the time. After he got married I didn’t hear a word from him for two years. Part of it was because I hurt his feelings. Two years later he’d come to Washington, DC for a meeting. And after, he said, “Hey, can I come stay at your house?” Of course, you know we got a guestroom, it’s always yours. We had the dinners formalities with the family, and afterwards he and I went out on my deck and we talked for a few minutes. And I said, “How’s it going?” And he put his head in his hands and he cried like a little schoolboy. He said, “God, I wish I had listened to you. It’s been the worst two years of my life. Everything’s bad about it.” And he just went on the litany of all the struggles they were having. And I listened for a long time.
And he had two kids, she had three kids, that was a mess, and a very long story short, after about a good hour and half of him talking, I said, “Friend, what are you going to do? I’m sorry, I’m not here to rub your nose in this. What are you going to do? You can’t stay there. You can’t stay with your head in your hands crying like a baby. What are we going to do? I’ll help you, I’m your friend, I love you like crazy. I ran a risk telling you.”
In God’s strange, sovereign plan, his second wife is dying of early onset Alzheimer’s. And it’s like I don’t know what more could happen to this poor guy. Two of her adult children were in and out of drug treatment programs, I mean, it would take an afternoon for me to tell you. You can’t make this stuff up! And he’s a broken man, more than any man I’ve ever known in my Christian life. And he suffers more than any man emotionally, I’ve ever known, but he still loves Christ. And we talk on the phone and I want to slide my shoes off. And he’s gotten beyond the bitterness and the disappointment, he doesn’t beat himself anymore. You get over that stuff.
The suffering with which we suffered is now the ability to comfort those. The comfort with which we have, that we learn from that suffering, we now give it to others. This is the mathematical part of it. Warren Wiersbe says, “The mathematics of God’s mercy is wonderful: As trials abound, the comfort of God abounds as well.” It’s algorithmic, now that’s two-edged, I don’t like it. The more suffering, the more comfort. You know what, God, I don’t want any more suffering. I’m just happy enough. Leave me alone, I don’t want to comfort anybody else. Can I just suck my thumb for awhile? No.


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