Week of April 5

The Upside to the Downside of Suffering

Read: Judges 11-12; Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, 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.
Colossians 1:3-4, ESV


“When you suffer and lose, that does not mean you are being disobedient to God. . .The path of obedience is often marked by times of suffering and loss” (Charles Swindoll). Paul was a poster child for suffering, having experienced it in so many forms—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Nevertheless, he praised God who is the source of all comfort (1:3). My belief is that suffering may be beneficial at times. How may this be so?! Let’s examine today the value in our sufferings for Christ.

A Biblical Lens

“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God”
Elisabeth Elliot
First, Paul grasps what the psalmist sang in Psalm 50; namely, God is a sovereign who cares for His people (v. 7b, “your God,” and v. 15b, “deliver you”). He breaks his typical pattern of beginning his letters with thanksgiving to God for what He has done in and through the churches and here he praises Him for all that He had done for and through Paul. Three times Paul mentions affliction in the first eleven verses (1:4, 6, 8). Suffering appears three times, as well (1:5, 6, 7). And death is mentioned once! (1:9). This man endured horrible pain and suffering and the Corinthians had compounded it.

A gap between Paul and that church had been created which no doubt grieved his spirit. He also had experienced a near-death encounter in Asia from which God had rescued him (1:8). Despite the separating nature of suffering, God became a rescuer and a close companion through comfort to Paul (1:10; Psalm 34:19). Paul despaired of life, but he never doubted God’s ability to care and to deliver.

He did not become bitter because God comforted him! His weakness was evident, but God’s power shone through it! God is able to provide total healing even when our lives and churches are fractured. Offer your sorrows to him, and He will comfort and care for you in them. He also will use them to further His purposes (cf. Psalm 50:5, 23). Trust him!
“When you become consumed by God’s call on your life, everything will take on new meaning and significance. You will begin to see every facet of your life – including your pain – as a means through which God can work to bring others to Himself”
Charles Stanley
Pastor Stanley helps us to bring our natural reluctance to embrace too much pain into a focus where we may understand what Paul means when he writes, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. . .” (2 Corinthians 1:5). One theme regarding evil and suffering is God’s redemption. God is able to transform suffering into positive good in our lives and the lives of others.

I am certain that the apostle did not seek out suffering, but he did understand God’s redemptive use of it for His glory and purposes (1:8; cf. 1 Peter 2:23-25). This pain provides us with another theme regarding evil and suffering that occurs in the Bible. It serves as a backdrop to Paul’s words. 2 Corinthians opens our eyes to the fact that, while the rift between Paul and the church had been closed somewhat, there was some lingering hurt (cf. 7:5-12). His sufferings for Christ softened the hard-hearted rebellious core of Corinthian church members and permitted God’s will to be fulfilled for their lives and fellowship. Now, I do not want to overwhelm anyone today, but the embodied cross-life speaks powerfully to the lives of people.
“Christ wrought out His perfect obedience as a man, through temptation, and by suffering.”
Alexander MacLaren
Paul used the word comfort ten times in verses 1-11 (1:3, 4, 5, 6, 7; NAC). This theme sets the tone for all that he will write in chapters 1-9. God assuaged the burden of suffering and sorrow. I am reminded that Jeremiah cried out, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Well, God supplied it in abundance for saintly Paul (cf. 1:5b). This church may have been guilty of “caring too little,” but God was gracious in “comforting abundantly.”

Paul and Timothy were at last able to find their sorrow healed when they received the news that the church was grieved over their attitudes and actions (7:4-16). Paul’s life of suffering, rather than pitiful, was powerful because it conformed to the death and resurrection of Christ! (Philippians 3:9-11). The Christ-life way of sacrifice and suffering won the day and brought comfort and unity to that divided church.

A Moral Pathway

Multiple news sources refer often to our fractious and fragmented nation. Our division has been years in the making, and there are a number of reasons for it. It is too simplistic and reductionistic to lay the blame at the feet of a particular political administration or any one set of circumstances. Misery abounds, and many are seeking comfort, so the causes for division are not my chief moral focus; instead, it is their cure!

A beautiful spirit has surfaced in the midst of our current national suffering. Hurting people are seeking to be a source of comfort to others and to ease their burdens. A hallmark of our nation has always been a willingness to extend a hand of comfort to the hurting. We knew what it was like to be oppressed, and we sought to ease the same in others. The hot fire of suffering has burned away the hurtful dross, and reshaped us into comforters.

God sent His Son to bear the burden of sin and shame in order to provide comfort to the afflicted and fallen. He indwells our lives and enables us to be and do the same. This same willingness to use our sufferings for comfort is to be characteristic of His church in every circumstance (1:7).

For Your Journaling

I am reminded of hundreds of occasions where church leaders and members have brought sorrow upon themselves because they sought happiness over holiness (Psalm 50:14). God’s true people behave differently.

1. Write down some of the ways that you may be suffering. This may take some time, but how may your sufferings be used of God to strengthen His church? Seek God’s comfort, then ask Him to use you to fulfill His purposes.

2. How would you characterize your church's fellowship? It is a “1 Corinthians” or a “2 Corinthians one”; meaning, rebellious or recalcitrant? Write down some ways that your church fellowship may be grieving the Spirit and others. Seek God’s face, His forgiveness and peace. Spread His peace.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock