We are commanded to rejoice whenever we encounter various trials. We are prone to cry in trials and rejoice only in rescue. God would have us to rejoice in both. In both trial and rescue, we are able to see benevolence of God greatly displayed. Chrysostom, in the fourth century, saw suffering as a blessing. After some trial had befallen his city, he wrote:

Not a little did the devil yesterday disturb our city, but God also hath not a little comforted us again; so that each one of us may seasonably take up that prophetic saying, “In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, thy comforts have refreshed my soul.” And not only in consoling but even in permitting us to be troubled, God hath manifested His tender care towards us. For today I shall repeat what I have never ceased to say, that not only our deliverance from evils but also the permission of them arises from the benevolence of God.[1]

We are blessed to journey with Paul into the depths of suffering so that, with Paul, we might experience the joy of Godly rescue. As we go through these ordeals with Paul, we learn again that we are at our best when we are weak and the strength of God is shown in us for his glory.

 

SHARE IN TRIALS FOR HIS GLORY—2 CORINTHIANS 1:8

2 Corinthians 1:8 ESV, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” It is good to share hardship. “Bear ye one another’s burdens” we are commanded. We can’t bear your burdens if we don’t know what they are. Simply sharing is therapeutic for the oppressed and a blessing for the listener. Sharing is a purpose of the church family (especially shepherds).

Sharing hardship can become dangerous. Sharing hardship can become dangerous if we are looking for w pity party rather than real help. If our conversations are dominated with what is wrong with us and wrong with everyone else, then we don’t have problems, we are problems. The pessimist is one who has given up on faith in exchange for the futility of fear.

Paul shared his hardship for one reason—God’s glory. In recognizing how bad the situation was, Paul could recognize how great God is. Paul was open with the affliction which fell upon him and his ministry team. Affliction is a word that means tribulation or distress. The specific event he had in mind was likely the riot of Acts 19:23. The angry crowd was stirred by what were basically trouble making lawyers (like our late-night ambulance chasers) so that they cried out for two hours—Great is Diana of the Ephesians!!!

            With graphic detail, Paul piled up words which described the overwhelming burden of this event. I translated the phrase as “the burden was cast over our ability.” It was more than Paul could handle. We remember that 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that we will not be tempted above what we can handle. But apparently, we can be burdened beyond our ability (2 Corinthians 1:8). When Spurgeon was in his early 20s, he was already speaking to thousands of people at a time and several thousand would be turned away each Sunday. In the midst of one of the sermons being delivered to an overpacked house, a detractor of Spurgeon yelled “Fire!”. There was no fire, but 7 people were trampled to death. Spurgeon slipped into a deep depression and didn’t eat or preach for weeks. The depression seemed to linger throughout his life.

We will have burdens too great for us as well. Paul said he “despaired of life itself.” The NRSV says, “for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” The CSB says, “we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength.” Paul used an interesting word, “ἐξαπορηθῆναι” which means to be in extreme despair, implying both anxiety and fear” (L&N). It is composed of the words “out” and “to go.” It is also in the passive tense. This means it was something hat happened to Paul. Putting it all together, we see that Paul was being made to feel like he was being led out of life.

Paul felt like he wanted to die. Sometimes we speak this way as an exaggeration, but it is a genuine emotion for some. There may have been a time in your past or a time in your present when you wanted to die. Paul experienced that too. When we feel that way, we need to remember Jesus. He was the man of sorrow and was a friend of grief. He did die that we might live. To take my life away would be to turn down a part of Christ’s gift. We must always remember that we are his. We are bought with a price. We also need to remember that God loves us, and in the deepest despair we can often see God’s love the best. Many of God’s greatest servants have struggled with this despair. We can look to Jesus who was tempted in all points like we are. God sustained him. He will sustain us as well. Choose life.

 

SHARE IN TRIALS FOR HIS PURPOSES—2 CORINTHIANS 1:9

Paul looked at everything that had gone wrong and he said, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Control is a difficult illusion for us to abandon. We are not in control. God is sovereign. We are at his mercy. We are dependent upon his will. Yet, we are made in his image. So, we often try to do what only he can do. We begin to think we are God. Satan told Eve to eat the fruit so that you will be like God. The tower of Babel was built so people could raise themselves to God’s level. The golden calf was carved so that people could carry their image of God around rather than be led by God himself.

Paul suffered to shat he would trust in God who raises the dead. Notice that this suffering has a present and future benefit. First, we learn not to trust ourselves for the great ordeals of life that we endure. The word translated “trust” πεποιθότες is a word which means to be persuaded. We are not to be persuaded of our strength, but we are to be persuaded by the powerful care of God. The greatest of these difficulties and the source of all difficulties is sin. None of these trials can be handled alone. Only God can carry us through. Secondly, we are blessed with suffering and relief so that we might learn to trust in God “who raises the dead.” We will all die. We will all be affected by death. We already are. God places us in trials and saves us from trials so that we will trust him in the greatest trial—death. Since God has raised us, we can trust him to deliver us after death.

The passage is reminiscent of Jonah’s descent into the depths of the sea. Jonah said, “You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas and the current overcame me. All your breakers and your billows swept over me” (Jonah 2:3). Even as he plunged to the dark depths of the ocean floor his faith was able to shine at its brightest. He said, “I have been banished from your sight, yet I will look once more toward your holy temple….As my life was fading away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, to your holy temple” (Jonah 2:4 & 7).

For the early church, Jonah’s descent into the depths of the sea served as an illustration for Christ’s descent into Hades. Jesus said, “For as Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights” (Matthew 12:40, cf. 16:4,17). The descent is a mysterious reality, but in it we can see Jesus victory over all spiritual evils achieved and proclaimed. We should take special joy in knowing that our Jesus has traversed the spiritual depths to bring us to the greatest spiritual glory.

God has purposes for suffering. Our suffering brings us closer to God. Psalm 119:67 says, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I keep your word.” Our suffering prepares us for the weight of glory. Paul said, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Our suffering helps us to be truly comforted and to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). Our suffering helps us to long for and appreciate the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

 

SHARE IN TRIALS WITH CONFIDENCE IN HIM—2 CORINTHIANS 1:10-11

Paul’s experience with his weakness and God’s strength led to him to confidently praise the Lord for his future care. He said, “He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again” (1:10 CSB). Paul had learned not to trust in himself. He had also learned to fully trust God. God is able to rescue—even from death. Some translations (NRSV; ESV; NASBU) add the word “peril” or “perilous.” In the Greek text, the Holy Spirit inspired “ὃς ἐκ τηλικούτου θανάτου ἐρρύσατο ἡμᾶς καὶ ῥύσεται” or “out of so great a death he rescued us and will rescue.” The ultimate peril is defeated, there are no skirmishes which ought to overthrow our confidence.

There are no great battles which God cannot win. There are no great dangers from which God cannot save us because Jesus has already defeated them all. With this informed faith, we can “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord….that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

Paul leaned upon the Lord for all things. He was hoisted heavenward by those who prayed for him. “When Paul was undergoing his greatest trial ever he attributed his deliverance to two things: (1) God’s sovereign intervention (2 Corinthians 1:10). (2) Others’ intercessory prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11).”[2] The need for intercessory prayer may be a mystery to us. We wonder why God doesn’t step in without us. Yet, we know prayer is expected by God for our edification, for our deliverance, and for our calm. Prayer, like nothing else, can develop our relationship with the Father.

 

APPLICATION

“No pharmacist ever weighed out medicine with half as much care and exactness as God weighs out every trial he dispenses. Not one gram too much does he ever permit to be put on us.”[3] Trials are certain, and each one can press us closer to the Lord. In our weakness, he is strong and to be praised.

How is the Lord pressing you toward himself? How is the Lord drawing you to himself through suffering? Perhaps it is the suffering of Christ which now presses in on your conscience? Perhaps it is the guilt of sin which weighs heavily on your soul? Will you be brought near to God or pushed away? Will your suffering extinguish the light of your life or be the darkness in which the glory of God might shine?

 

[1] John Chrysostom, “The Homilies on the Statues,” in Saint Chrysostom: On the Priesthood, Ascetic Treatises, Select Homilies and Letters, Homilies on the Statues, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. W. R. W. Stephens, vol. 9, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 431.

[2] R. T. Kendall, Understanding Theology, Volume One (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1996), 306.

[3] Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 388.

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