SUFFERING THROUGH SUFFERING
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Text: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
There are times when you can gain insight into another persons soul by asking a single question. It's a personal question, but if answered honestly it can be very revealing. The question? “What is the most painful thing you have ever experienced?” Some people may answer with something along the lines of, “Oh man! Once I broke my leg and I could hardly handle.” An answer like that reveals the individual has not really had to deal with too much pain in their life. On the other hand, often times we can get an answer which indicates more pain than we could even imagine. I'm not just talking physical pain, I'm also referring to emotional, spiritual, and all of the other kinds of pain we may experience. The kind of pain I'm really talking about is the kind that changes us. Often times for the worse, at least at the beginning, but hopefully for the better as we work our way through it.
Whenever someone writes or speaks about pain and suffering it seems the “application” portion they come up with to help handle the struggles are often far too simplistic or they seem to trivialize the reality of one's pain. Now, I'm not claiming to offer some kind of magical solution. I'm not the one to address this issue as if I have it all together, because I don't. I personally suffer from some conditions myself. I have not “mastered” suffering and pain. There is no real way to approach the subject in a sermon with time restraints that would allow for every possible situation that people are facing to be touched upon. I'm not presenting a “cure” here today, I'm merely using Scripture to offer some advice. If needed I'd advise you not to hesitate to seek out professional medical, mental, or emotional assistance. We are a step ahead though if we have God, believe the Bible, and the Spirit is working within us. However, in many cases additional help is not only highly advised but necessary. So, please just take what you will from this and apply it as you are able.
I want to look at one of Paul's most painful experiences and see how it changed him. Hopefully it will provide some help as you go through your own pain and suffering. We find the incident(s) in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, “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. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, 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” (NKJV).
WHAT THEY CONFRONTED
In verse 8 we see Paul using some pretty distinct language. “We do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble.” The word here translated as trouble is also translated as tribulation in Scripture. The main idea behind the word is that of pressure or continual stress. Paul goes on to explain what kind of pressure, “we were burdened beyond measure.” In effect he was saying, “I've had difficulties in the past, but I've been able to compare them to something. When I was chained, that was a five on the pain-scale. When I was beaten with rods, that was a seven. When I was shipwrecked in the deep, maybe an eight. When I was stoned, that was a nine. When I was flogged (whipped), that was close to a ten. But this pressure and pain was off the chart. It was: 'above strength'” (paraphrased from Nelson's Annual Preacher's Sourcebook, 2003 ed., p.302, author not identified). Paul seems to have been unable to find the inner strength to describe it accurately let alone deal with it. It was so crushing to him that he “despaired even of life.” In this passage, Paul, probably the most stable and resilient New Testament example we have of hope, describes that he was in absolute and complete despair.
WHAT THEY WERE TAUGHT
All of us, when we're in pain long enough, eventually cry out to God and ask “Why?” Paul didn't do this though. At least we don't see it recorded. What we do see, in verse 9, is that he answered the question of why himself: “we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” It appears that God brought him to the very brink of death and by doing so taught him to trust the One who can work out all things for the good even when it seems to be too late by our standards. I hate to say this as I really don't want to continue suffering, but it's true that our most intense spiritual growth usually takes place during the most painful and difficult times in life. I know this is going to sound cliché, and I know it can even be frustrating to hear when your smack dab in the middle of an intensely painful situation, but maybe God wants to develop and strengthen your faith so He can accomplish some sort of incredible, unimaginable result.
WHAT THEY EXPERIENCED
After teaching Paul the above lesson, we see in verse 10 that God gave Paul a trifecta deliverance. We see that God delivered them, delivers them, and will continue to deliver them. The same is true for us. We see the verb “to deliver” used here in all three tenses: past, present, and future. God did, does, and will deliver us. It's interesting though how God's view of deliverance differs from our own. We tend to think it means completely heal or completely remove our struggles. However, in 2 Timothy 4:17-18, we see Paul faithfully proclaim, “Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.” And a very short time after writing this Paul was taken and beheaded. See what I mean? God's view of deliverance contrasts our own. This tells us that he delivers us in varying steps and degrees all along the way, but one day all pain, suffering, and pressure will be removed from those He has chosen for eternal life.
There is something that helps along this process of going through pain and suffering, that something is prayer from the people or God. As we read in verse 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.” This brings about the often debated topic of if God is in control, if He has delivered, is delivering, and will deliver, then why do we need to pray? Well, to put it bluntly, He uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His purposes. Maybe it's so we can be a part of what He is doing. When we pray about something we enter into a sort of relationship with the process, and when the deliverance comes, in whatever form, our thankfulness will be praise to God.
Do you have pain, suffering, pressure or struggles in your life? If so, bring it all before Jesus, again and again and again if you have to, and lay them at the feet of the One who has the power to raise the dead. If you know someone who is in pain, who is suffering, then pray for empathy so you can come along side that person and show compassion. Pray for them and help them in tangible ways, and then rejoice when their deliverance comes.