The word that is translated “affliction” in the ESV is translated “tribulation” in the KJV. It has a lot of different meanings: “trouble”, “anguish”, “persecution”, “burdened”, etc. So this word can be used for most any kind of difficulty in our life. Most people seem to think that any difficulty we encounter means either God is indifferent or he is angry with us. Jesus’ disciples, upon seeing a man who had been born blind, jumped to the conclusion that someone had to sin in order to cause this condition. You can read the account in John’s gospel chapter nine.
In this sermon we will try to get a reasonable answer to the question, “Why do we suffer?” First of all, we need to be assured that…
God is a comforter. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.
The Apostle had certainly suffered. We will get to his specific case in short order but first, let’s look at God’s character as a comforter.
When Jesus spoke about His going away (John 15:26ff) He promised that He would send the “Helper” to the disciples. The KJV translates the word as “Comforter”. The word is used for a defender, an advocate, or a legal assistant. The word is used for the Holy Spirit who would take Jesus’ place when he ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit would lead them into a deeper knowledge of the gospel and give them a divine strength so that they could stand up under the coming trials.
Do you want God’s strength and comfort? Remember, we must suffer in order to be comforted.
We would have no need of comfort if we were comfortable. To be made comfortable we must first be uncomfortable. God will make sure we are in need of comfort. Then He will pour out that comfort. We need to have been comforted…
In order to comfort others. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 13:11. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
As Paul closes his letter he gives final words of encouragement. He begins with “rejoice”, and goes on to “restoration”, “comfort”. “agree” and “peace. Everything that comes into our lives passes by God first. Among God’s gifts is suffering and it is given to us so that we will be comforted. We suffer in order to be comforted and we are comforted in order to make us able to comfort others.
If we look at Paul’s life we see that…
Paul was familiar with suffering. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
These words are Paul’s own testimony. We do not have another source for all of these events but we can be confident they are true since we have Paul’s witness. Five times he received thirty-nine stripes with the lash. Under the law of Moses punishing someone with the whip was strictly limited. According to Deuteronomy 25:3 beatings were limited to no more than 40 stripes this was to keep from breaking the man’s will. Three times he was beaten with rods. One of those times was in Philippi. There the jailer was ordered to beat Paul and Silas with rods. The result of that beating was the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family. Paul was stoned at Lystra on his first missionary journey. The crowd believed he had died — and they knew what “dead” was. I believe he died at that time and that experience is what he referred to in 2 Corinthians 12 when Paul wrote about “a man” who was “caught up into paradise”. He was careful not to give the idea that he was boasting about himself.
He was shipwrecked three times. We know that after this writing he was in one more shipwreck. He faced danger on every side. No matter where he went he suffered. Some have suggested that when Paul came to a new town the first thing he did was check out the jail because he would certainly be there before he left. If such a place existed, I would suggest that he also would have checked out the local emergency room or doctor’s office because he would likely have need of it. He went on with his report on his ministry…
He had a “thorn in the flesh”. Let’s read on 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
Paul’s testimony would be a strong encouragement to pastors and missionaries NOT to be conceited. The result of his conceit was “a thorn in the flesh”. We do not know what the “thorn” was but we do know it was very disturbing to Paul.
We look back at the list he gave us. Beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and in danger. He might have been reminded of the words Jesus gave to Ananias after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. The Lord told Ananias “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16
God had promised that he would be a chosen instrument! In Galatians chapter one Paul refers to his being set apart before he was born and called by God’s grace. So he was chosen even while he was in rebellion against God. He had been filled with arrogant pride through most of his life and after he was caught up into paradise he was in danger of falling back into that attitude.
So he was given “a thorn in the flesh”…
That was God’s tool to free Paul. Let’s read in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This thorn was a messenger of Satan! This may be hard for you to understand. God will allow Satan access to our lives to humble us. Paul had pleaded with God three times asking that this “thorn” should leave him. Instead of removing the thorn God simply said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You see, God does not choose us because of our power, or ability, he chooses us to be instruments of his. Our role in life is to submit our weaknesses to God’s power. We are all he needs and he is certainly all that we need.
As Paul came to an understanding of the way God was working to keep him from being conceited he could rejoice in his difficulty. Our weakness becomes the stage upon which God performs his miracles. When we are weak, God is strong! For the sake of Christ, we can be contented with our weakness. Suffering is the path by which…
God is purifying His people. Let’s look at Peter’s words on the subject 1 Peter 4:16-19. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
Sometimes it is God’s will that Christians suffer. Peter encourages us to not be ashamed when we suffer in that manner. We should glorify God by our suffering. The phrase, “according to God’s will” doesn’t refer to how we endure. It is a matter of suffering for doing right if that should be God’s will. The Bible teaches us to say, “if the Lord wills” when we consider plans for the future. Remember, nothing comes to us that does not go by God first! We should do good while we trust in God to care for us.
A key to understanding this whole passage of Scripture leads to an answer to the question, “Why do we suffer?” We were comforted in our suffering not so we could be comfortable but so we could comfort others. Christianity, in its essence, is not self-centered and is not focused on health, wealth and human comfort. It is focused on how we can minister to the needs of others. First, it’s important for us to know that we have really come to know Him — the Lord Jesus Christ. We came into this world as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. As such, we have all sinned. The payoff of sin is death — physical and spiritual! But, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. The gospel begins with salvation and continues with growth in grace and knowledge resulting in sanctification.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.