"The Suffering in His Ministry" Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

Pursued or “persecuted,” as a soldier who flees from the battlefield; but “not forsaken,” left behind, and abandoned by the army’s commanders and his comrades. Struck down (“Cast down”) in single combat with an enemy in battle, but “not destroyed” (given the final death blow). This may have been an allusion to the time when the citizens of Lystra dragged him outside the city and stoned him, leaving him for dead. Though the apostle’s situation is always apparently desperate, it is never really hopeless; God rescues His people when the human eye sees no hope.

There is more to persecution than what a soldier would experience. A more general depiction is “to be singled out for personal attack because of one’s faith or opinions. It is a lonely form of suffering, for it generally involves social ostracism. Like countless others before him, Paul had experienced this loneliness. Yet he never felt that he was forsaken. Dostoevski tells how, when he was kept in solitary confinement for his political opinions, the little shutter in his cell door, was opened every morning, and a mysterious voice whispered, “Courage, brother, we also suffer.” In similar situations Paul was also conscious of God’s presence. When he was placed on trial and made his “first defense” no one was with him. “But,” he writes, “the Lord stood by me” (2 Tim. 4:17). When he was in prison, he could write to the Philippians, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ” (Phil. 1:12-13).

“Cast down, but not destroyed” implies more than physical attack. Paul had received most of his opposition from Jews. They had persecuted him, even following him to different cities to malign him (Acts 14:19{13]). What he suffered through the disloyalty of the church at Corinth was a blow at the heart. Such an experience can sap the springs of courage. A great sorrow can have the same disabling effect. Faith is the secret of resilience. “It is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all its conquerors.” It gives us contact with the inexhaustible resources of God. Part of the secret of Paul’s victory was the attitude toward his sufferings which faith brought. As we read about this man, it seems, at times that he is fighting a losing battle. Can’t you sense that this man is very weak? If we could have seen this little crippled, weak, sick Jew up against the juggernaut of Roman power, we would have concluded that he was nothing. But, my friend, the fact is he brought a message that withered the Roman Empire. Even the historian Gibbon said that the Roman Empire could not stand up against the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul seemed to be so weak, and yet God delivered him again and again. He used miraculous means and He also used natural means. God will never forsake His servants.

10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

Paul realized that his sufferings were a kind of death. But death is more than physical decay. Its meaning depends on the purpose it serves. Christ’s outlook on it was twofold. By it His Spirit would be released into full and fruitful life. The words He used before Calvary reveal this: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). His death was also the central act of God’s redeeming movement in history. The atonement has many aspects, but this includes them all.

Because of his union with Christ Paul saw the same process at work in his own dying. It was the continual laying down of the life of the body through which the life he had in Christ might be manifested and released. Through it also he shared in the same redemptive movement. This outlook shaped his attitude to the hardships and enabled him to accept them rationally and calmly. They were not a fate or misfortune. They were the operation of the law of sacrifice through which the Spirit is released into fruitfulness and power. It enabled him also to dedicate them. He consecrated his hardships to the purpose of God. By opening his heart to the spirit in which Christ bore His cross he made his own sufferings tributary to the stream that flowed from Calvary.

This divine power that Paul has received works through the close union of the apostle with Christ his Lord. For Paul

this is not merely a union in final glory, but even now, “always,” in the midst of hardships and daily service. The glory comes only to those who suffer—“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). “The promises of God are to those who endure,” as Roger C. Cumberland wrote just before his martyrdom on the mission field. The “dying” (lit., “the putting to death”) of Jesus is being re-enacted in a series of sufferings and crisis the apostle must endure; the “dying” here seems to be, not as in verse 16 a constant process, but a series of escapes and deliverances (Col. 1:24{5]; Phil. 3:10-11{6]). The life that comes to Paul in such sufferings is the resurrection life of the crucified but risen Jesus. United with the living Christ, Paul knows both the suffering and decisive triumph of his Lord—“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

There is no theoretical solution to the problem of the suffering that prematurely destroys the body. Christ offers us none. But in His own outlook and attitude he reveals and communicates the spirit by which “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Co. 15:44). The redemption of suffering is part of the redemption Christ brings through His cross. Even the suffering we bring on ourselves through sin and selfishness can be transformed and made to serve God’s redeeming purpose. Paul’s sufferings were not all free from the bitterness of self-reproach; some may have been more intense than they need have been had some defect of character not complicated the situation. But even the suffering that in part at least we bring on ourselves is not excluded. Guilty suffering can be a purifying power. It also can enable us to manifest the forgiving spirit toward others. In confidence that the life of Jesus is being manifested in his body Paul can face the long hard way of increasing physical weakness. He sees that even as a historical fact the life of Jesus is not ended. Jesus lives in and through those who suffer with Him and who give their lives in his service. This is Paul’s comfort.

Remember that in 1 Corinthians 15:31 Paul could say that he died daily. In Romans 8:36 he wrote, “As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." In 1 Corinthians 4:9 he wrote: “For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” Christian, do not be afraid to suffer. Jesus said the world would hate us if we were following Him. It is wonderful to take our place with the Lord Jesus Christ in these days.

11 For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

This verse repeats and so emphasizes the thought of verse 10. The main addition is the idea that the suffering that Paul endures he accepts for Jesus sake, that is, to serve the Jesus who suffered and died, and yet rose, and now rules as Lord. Paul speaks of Jesus to make vivid the memory of the earthly suffering of his Lord, but here, as elsewhere, he thinks of Him as risen and now in authority. We the living workers for Christ are always being led into situations so full of danger that we can speak of them as times when we are “delivered unto death,” but the triumphant life of Christ is made clear in His apostles; He delivers them and makes them able to continue their service for Him.

Those who had been tempted to despise Paul for his weakness might well be ashamed. All they had experienced of Christ had come to them through Paul’s sacrifice. There is no other way by which spiritual work can be fruitful. It may be a material sacrifice such as contributing money or renouncing social position. It may demand the giving of ourselves to the point of exhaustion in the care of people and in the meeting of their deep spiritual needs. A minister who tries to save himself from physical or mental labor is blunting his own power. Paul’s attitude concerning his own sufferings is the secret of turning burdens into inspirations. Someone has said, “He that takes up that bitter tree and carries it quietly will find it such a burden as wings are to a bird or sails to a boat.”

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