An Apostle looks at Suffering
An Apostle looks at Suffering
Words of Faith 9-22-17
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2017
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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2 Corinthians 4
 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The human frailty that Paul talked about as "treasure in jars of clay" was not some theoretical idea. He knew very well the difficulty and hardship that could confront those who preach the Gospel. There is great humanity, deep suffering and great victory in these phrases that summon up both comfort and an ache within us. This is a personal look at pain and suffering through the eyes of the Apostle.
It is interesting that in his first letter, Paul had compared himself and his fellow apostles to men condemned to die in the arena-- "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men" (1 Cor. 4:9). We get that same sense here. The metaphors evoke powerful imagery to describe the demands of the ministry that can sometimes be nearly crushing.
Paul contrasted human helplessness on one hand with divine enablement on the other. The contrasts include physical as well as emotional affliction. The phrase hard-pressed is from thlipsis meaning "trouble, pressure, hardship". It describes a pressure from all directions like being within the press of a crowd, fearing the crush. But even in this press, because of God, he is not crushed.
Interestingly the words perplexed and in despair come from two similar Greek words which mean "despairing" and "totally despairing". Paul suggested that one can have the experience of perplexing circumstances that bring us to the edge of despair but the Lord draws us back from the precipice so that we do not totally despair. It is the Lord who intervenes in situations that would have broken Paul otherwise.
In each case, the description is one of divine relief that does not take away the hardship. We are persecuted, but not abandoned. We are struck down, but not destroyed. The hard tough blow is there, but it does not win. The difficult persecution continues but we are not alone. We are never abandoned. This is not a smarmy victory or a sugar-coated ending.
Perhaps the reason for this is that Paul now understands part of his Christian journey is not just to preach "Christ crucified" but to actually walk that out. In the first letter to Corinth, Paul staked out the content of his message as "Christ crucified", but in this letter he refers to the content of his own life as a demonstration of this humiliation. For Paul, his life was a constant reminder that through human weakness the power of God has its greatest effect. There was meaning in these troubles.
Paul says that in his own body he carried around the death of Jesus, that is, he suffered intensely for Jesus and bore physical scars resulting from wounds inflicted by beatings and a stoning because of his testimony for Jesus' sake. He was always being given over to death, that is, he constantly faced death. But suffering was not the end of it. The life of Jesus was also being revealed in Paul's body! It was always evident that he was alive spiritually.
Paul saw suffering as paradoxically beneficial for himself, that he might "know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil. 3:10). He was ultimately motivated by the example of his Lord who gave His life on behalf of others but Paul also believed his own sufferings were a means through which God could minister to the Corinthians. Just as Christ had brought life to others through His suffering and death, so Paul's suffering-- with death at work in him-- was a means of causing spiritual life to be at work in others.
What do we gain from this? Perhaps the big thought is to realize that there is meaning in hardship and suffering. It is not just character building, although hardship can do that. We may be called to endure troubles, hardship or pain that in some way ministers life to others.
The other big thought is to realize and trust that the Lord is able to hold us back from the ultimate crush of those circumstances as He uses them in our lives. God is able to use our suffering for others. God is able to write the message of the cross in us and through us as part of His Gospel.
Father God, teach me the meaning of the cross. Teach me the meaning of taking up my cross to follow You. Teach me Your faithfulness to hold me back from the precipice, carry me through the trial, and sustain me through the crush. In Jesus' Name.