I’ve been meditating on what Paul teaches us about suffering from 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. Here, in no particular order, are some lessons I’ve been learning.
Those who follow God can expect to suffer.
Forget the lie that suffering is always a punishment or a sign that you’re doing something wrong. It’s part of the normal Christian life. If Paul suffered, we can expect to suffer as well.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia… (2 Corinthians 1:8)
God may give you more than you can handle.
Paul felt burdened beyond his strength. The suffering was “beyond our strength.” Never believe the lie that God won’t give us more than we can handle. He often does.
For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Suffering teaches us to rely on God.
One of the greatest gifts of God when we suffer: he pushes us from self-reliance to God-reliance. We were meant to rely on God all the time, but it often takes suffering to push us into a God-reliant posture.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)
God’s very character is one of comfort.
When suffering, we ask, “Does God really care?” The answer, according to Paul, is yes. Not only does God provide comfort, but his very nature is that he is the God of all comfort.
Comfort is not more than a pat on the back. “God’s comfort strengthens weak knees and sustains sagging spirits so that one faces the troubles of life with unbending resolve and unending assurance” (David Garland). God’s nature is to give us the strength and comfort we need in the middle of suffering.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction… (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Suffering allows us to comfort others who suffer.
When we suffer, God comforts us. This prepares us to extend the same comfort to others who go through the same thing.
I visited a friend who was suffering from cancer. I was able to offer some comfort, but nothing compared to my friend whose young son had battled cancer. His experience equipped him to comfort others in a way that I couldn’t.
…so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:4-6)
Suffering can build community.
We like to lead with our strengths. Sometimes it’s necessary to lead with our weaknesses. It’s a doorway into deepened community. George Guthrie says, “Through sharing with another person our pain, our own limitations, or our needs and hopes, we extend an offer: ‘Hear me. Embrace me. Help me. Walk with me, and allow me to walk with you in community.’”
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:11)
There are so many lessons on suffering from these few verses alone. I’m grateful to God for graciously giving us these insights written by someone who suffered.