If personal storms were given alphabetical names like hurricanes, the Christian would have exhausted all 26 letters during this most recent season of life. During the past three years, we have suffered sickness, death in our families, shootings in our schools, racial tensions, political turmoil, and economic heartache combined with the normal personal struggles of life. We’ve certainly gone through some storms.
Paul wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth for the purpose of giving testimony to the benefits of his many and various personal storms to remind them to persevere in the true doctrine of Jesus Christ. This is the man who wrote more than half of the New Testament, yet God felt it necessary for Him to undergo personal struggles both from within and without.
Paul’s “infirmities” were many. He was beset with the “thorn in his flesh,” three times beaten with rods, one stoning, three shipwrecks, and declared a wanted man by the authorities in Damascus. However, Paul wrote, “beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily,” his primary concern was “the care of all the churches.” He kept the spiritual mentality to give God glory in His infirmities. It may not have been possible during or immediately thereafter each struggle, but he strengthened his intended audience then and today by writing about these spiritual rewards and evidence of growth.
1. Faithful Consolation
Paul began his letter to Corinth with the understanding it is Jesus Christ “who comforteth us in all our tribulation” for the purpose of the ability “to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” This comforting in the time of our trouble “is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.”
Thus, if we did not have suffering, there would not be an opportunity for consolation. Trials and strife are inevitable for the believer living in a sin-cursed world. Thus, the comforting by Christ is an important aspect of the presence of the Lord in our lives as we journey upon the earth.
2. Boost of Strength
When we are exhausted beyond our own strength and understanding, our Lord bestows abundant life and strength. Paul made a point to mention his “trouble which came to us in Asia” and their “being pressed out of measure, above strength” to such an extent “that [they] despaired even of life.” While being given the sentence of death and amid a time of despair and desperation, they came to the realization “not [to] trust in [themselves], but in God which raiseth the dead.”
It is our Heavenly Father, the one and true God, “who delivered [them] from so great a death” and continues to deliver today those in whom place trust. No matter the severity or duration of our struggle today, we were at our most dire and hopeless state when we were lost and without Christ. The sentence of death was pending upon us as we lived a life under the dominion of sin. Because of His great mercy, we were convicted of our sinful state and led unto the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
3. Proven Certainty
Paul was accused of being “wishy-washy” and fickle by his enemies. This criticism, however, gave Paul an opportunity to double down and further proclaim, “for all the promises of God in [Jesus] are yes, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.” Our attachment to Christ is our establishment, our righteousness, and our anointment. When confronted, we realize with certainty it is Christ “who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
Accordingly, when the devil places seeds of doubts regarding our salvation and the presence of Christ in our lives, the opportunity is given to us to prove further and with certainty realize His faithfulness in His effectual work.
4. Glory Irrespective of the Circumstances
Heartache, sickness, and distress are inevitable in this lifetime in the world. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 emphasized that we are workers together with Christ and equipped to persevere by the given grace of God. We are called, no matter our circumstances, to approve “ourselves as the ministers of God” without giving the hint of offense or blaming our service.
The sustenance of the Lord during adversity gives us a testimony and witness to the power of Christ, but also teaches us to place priority on the spread of the gospel. As the old choirs would sing, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now,” it is the sustenance and presence through Christ in our spiritual journey through the ravages of the world which gives Him all the glory and credit.
5. Comfort in the Consolation
In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul told the church that “when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side.” Externally they fought, and internally there “were fears.” Despite the dual-faceted attacks, Paul was comforted by the visitation of Titus and his witness of the church’s “earnest desire” and “fervent mind toward [him].” Our Christian friends and church family are great sources of comfort both in the good times and in seasons of attack. They are providentially placed in our lives by the hand of God to share in the Spirit. The consolation from Titus and the church was by and through the Holy Spirit.
Paul explained in Philippians 2:1-2, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” The unity of the church gives glory to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. Even though we may have disagreements over the color of the carpet or the proper placement of the Christian flag within the sanctuary, it is the power of Christ that unites His body to press forward for His glory toward the mark of fulfilling our duties under the Great Commission.
6. Growth By Godly Sorrow
Paul wrote some scathing criticisms of the Christians at Corinth because of his great concern for their spiritual health and direction. In 2 Corinthians 7:9, he was able to rejoice, not because he made them feel bad, but “became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” Similarly, the pastors of our churches are not remorseful by a body that is responsive to the convictive moving of the Holy Ghost within the body.
Paul emphasized in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 that the “Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” This type of preaching and teaching is the cure for the ails of the local church and is necessary for any revival of the body. God’s people can give Him glory for the godly sorrow which brings about a desire for separation and holiness.
7. Glory for the Strength, Not Elimination
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul admitted praying to the Lord three times to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” The request was denied, and Jesus told him, “my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” This truth is often hard for us to grasp. Paul perfectly accepted that “most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” When we feel we are at our weakest points, we can appreciate the power of Christ within us.
It is most difficult to give God the glory when we are young and at our strongest state or in a season when great temptation is low. We realize the frailty of life and the flesh when sickness or disease awakens our realization of our true state. The easy prayer is the request for God to remove our impediment or to cure our sickness. Our desired healing may not be in accordance with His will as many times we give the credit to man or medicine. Our prayer should be for the strength to persevere despite the hindrance. Then, only He can be given the glory for His provision.
8. His Glory Minimizes the Pain
We oftentimes catch ourselves exaggerating our own personal and spiritual struggles and relating them to those of Job and Paul. In asking for the “patience of Job” we unexplainably place ourselves in the position of a man who was one of the most wealthy men upon the earth and lost it all in a matter of hours. He lost each of his children. And possibly most tragically, Job was given the advice from his wife to go ahead and “curse God and die.” However, the travails and often confrontational discord with the Lord resulted in a great restoration of Job.
In Job 42:2-3, he was able to come to the great understanding that “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” What a great recognition of God’s glory. As mentioned above, Paul was physically beaten and mentally tortured for his obedience to Christ. In Romans, Paul disclaimed any thought that an increase of sin is a positive thing because God would manifest more of His glory. In his writing to Corinth, however, he was able to parallel the degree of the sufferings by the believer with the greater manifested glory of Christ. He penned, “most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9.