Suffering in Community

2 Corinthians 1:3-11 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4who 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. 5For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6If 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. 7Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

8For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10He 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. 11You 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.

Introduction

Good morning! It truly is humbling for me to be bringing you God’s word this morning. Before prayer time a couple weeks ago Paster Dave asked if I would be willing to preach. To which I asked if he had a particular text or theme that he would like me to preach from. In stead of direction he gave me freedom. He encouraged me to preach on on something that the Lord has been teaching me recently.

The first text that came to mind was 2 Corinthians 1:3-11. This text has not only served as a rebuke but as an encouragement to me over the last couple years.

If you have been with us these last two weeks Pastor Dave has been calling us to war against sin. He has made it very clear that this battle is not against other people or against other people’s sin, but a battle against our own sinfulness. Last week he specifically mentioned the deadly out come of not fighting against sin. If we are not fighting against sin the threat of death looms over us. Our fight against sin is a fight for life.

1 Peter 4 prepares us to expect suffering, Peter expects that those pursing the will of God over the passions of the flesh will suffering like Christ and Paul’s word for us in 2 Corinthians, likewise, holds up the reality of Christians suffering for their faith but also promises we can cling to in the midst of suffering.

A time is coming when people will no longer tolerate the message of the Gospel and will attempt to silence those proclaiming that the good news of Jesus. A time is coming when suffering won’t be out there, but right here. A time is coming when we may despair of life and our only hope will be to trust in God’s strength to raise the dead.

For some of us, suffering has been a regular part of your childhood or christian walk. For others suffering has been unfamiliar it has not been a reality of our Christian walk, and for others suffering is new, it is something that has not been your experience and you feel like a fish out of water, struggling to breathe, looking for any way out.

Wherever you are on the suffering spectrum 2 Corinthians has a word for you. Lets pray, that God might grant us ears to hear his word this morning!

So that you have an idea where we are going this morning I want to give you my outline. This morning’s text has two large sections. In verses 3-7 Paul builds a theological foundation for Christian suffering. I have titled the first section of this text The Promise of Comfort in the Midst of Suffering.

The second section I have titled, Paul’s experience of God’s Comfort in the midst of suffering this is verses 8-11.

What I think Paul wants us to see in verses 3-11 is the community oriented nature of suffering and comfort.

As Christians we were never intended to go through suffering alone. In fact we are called to suffer together. If I am honest with my self that last thing I want to do is to acknowledge my suffering and then share my suffering with others. My inclination is to posture myself as unmoved or unshaken so as to not appear affected by the affects of sin. This is what I meant earlier when I said this text has rebuked me for the last couple years. I tend to close up, shut down, and escape in the midst of suffering, but Paul models godly suffering for us in verses 8 and 9.

On top of rebuking me for my stoic response to personal suffering this text has also uncovered pride in me. A self-sustaining pride that I can make it through on my own. But this text calls me to share my pain in the midst of suffering and humble myself under a gracious and merciful God; and one primary way that God shows up as gracious and merciful is through a community that comes along side those suffering and ministers to them.

The first section of our text, verses 3-7, build a foundation of comfort for the suffering christians to stand on.

The first point I see in the text is that: God’s position and character is the foundation for hope amidst suffering.

Verse 3 establishes the position and character God. If we miss these truths our theological foundation as we encounter suffering is going to be weak.

Paul begins praising God for who he is before he moves towards the promise of comfort in the midst of suffering. Paul writes, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This means that God is the Father of Jesus Christ who is Lord. This verse points to the biological unity between God and Christ but just as importantly this verse holds up their position as Lord. What this means for us is that God in Christ has the final say about all suffering. As suffering comes our way we must understand that God is always in control. For Christ to be Lord means that there is nothing that bypasses his authority; he is supreme. We must know in the midst of suffering that Christ remains Lord.

In the first point I also said that this verse unpacks God’s character. Verse 3 says that God the Father is The Father of mercies. What this means is that mercy originates with God. The text says that God is the Father of mercies. Whatever mercy we receive in this life is from God it originates from him and along aside of God’s merciful nature is his desire and ability to comfort. This is glorious! and maybe an analogy at this point would be helpful so that we can feel the character and nature of God.

If I were to tell you that I had the cure for cancer but refused to reveal to all the doctors and hospitals my cure, your first thoughts might be how selfish! You could end cancer and save lives but you are choosing to hold onto your power and resource. Or you might be thinking, yea right! If he truly had the cure he would share it.

What we need to see in this text is that that God is not like this, he not only has the ability to grant mercy and comfort since it originates from him, he does it! and we are going to see God at work in verses 8-10.

God’s position and character is the foundation on which we can stand during suffering. Without these truths the promise of comfort and mercy during suffering would at best be questionable. Like the one with a cure for cancer; either they truly have it but wont share it, which is no good to me, or they don’t have it and the hope of surviving cancer is lost. At best their claim of curing cancer is questionable because they have not exercised their power to cure it thus also leaving a question of this person’s character.

Since God is who he is and shows us who he is in Christ the promise of verses 4, 5 and 6 are filled with hope.

The second point this morning comes from verses 4-6, Union with Christ = Suffering and Comfort.

The wisdom of this world does not have a category for comfort while suffering. These experiences seem mutually exclusive. But for those in Christ these realities can co- exist. The wisdom of the world says pursue comfort and avoid suffering. There is even a theology in churches today that teaches if you are suffering this is not God’s will for you, or if you were truly trusting in God you would not be suffering. Or if you are suffering you are in sin.

Although there are many other texts that would debunk this sort of theology this is not Paul’s theology in this text, nor should it be ours. What I want everyone to see in verse 4 is the circle of comfort that is offered for the the Christian. The comfort begins with God in verse 3, God then comforts Paul in his affliction and finally Paul’s experience of comfort becomes the comfort experienced by others who are in affliction. Do you see that? Look at verse 4, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction (this is Paul talking), 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.

This is the glorious circle of comfort that God has designed for us. God grants comfort, people experience comfort, those who have experienced comfort share their experience of God’s comfort with those in affliction so that they may receive comfort from God.

God intends Christians to experience comfort through a community of suffering Christians.

This sounds like terrible advice does it? Where should you go when you are suffering? To others suffering. Why? because God has ordained a circle of comfort in a community that is suffering for the sake of their faith.

Now, I need to make something very clear at this point. This circle of comfort is not found in just any suffering community. True comfort can not be offered inside any other community. The circle of comfort for those suffering is only found in a community united to Christ. Did you get that? The only community that can offer comfort to people suffering is a community that is united to Christ!

We see this in two places, in verse 3 Paul calls Jesus Christ “our” Lord. Those that recognize Jesus as Lord are in the community of the Lord and then in verse 5 it says that “through” Christ we share abundantly in comfort too! The circle of comfort is found with others who are under the Lordship of Jesus and have been united to him.

In verse 5 Paul shares in Christ’s sufferings he also shares abundantly in comfort, but notice that the suffering and comfort that Paul experiences is not just for him. Paul wants the Corinthian church and all the saint in the region to know that their suffering ought to produce comfort for other Christians.

God united us to himself in Christ but he also unites us in Christ to each other.

At this point I want to make two points of application.

  1. If you are suffering, turn to Christ. He suffered on the cross for our sins so that we might experience the comfort of deliverance and salvation from our sins. The greatest suffering is yet to come for those rejecting the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our greatest suffering is yet to come if we do not repent from our sin. Jesus Christ knows what it is like to suffer, he became sin on our behalf in order to absorb the infinite wrath of God. There is no one who has or will ever suffering more than Jesus Christ did. The bible does not teach that suffering will end in this life once we turn to Christ, but it does teach that God is the God of all mercies and comfort. Turn to Christ for mercy and comfort. For a time is coming when God’s open hand of reconciliation, forgiveness and deliverance will be closed and all wrongs will be made right. If God is a God of mercy he can also withhold mercy as he chooses, and there will come a time when God will come in justice and apart from Christ’s perfect righteousness we don’t stand a chance against God’s demand for perfection.
  2. The second point of application is for those of you who are Christians and are not committed to a community of believers. Yes, I am taking about more than just attending church, I am taking about becoming a member. Get connected here at Grace, or if you visiting get connected at your church. Submit yourself to the leadership and to other members of your church. Get committed, become more known to your leadership and to the other members. Invest in them so that they might also invest in you. A committed community to the person and work of Jesus is the only place you can find the circle of comfort that Paul and the Corinthian church experienced.

My second point was an equation: Union with Christ = Suffering and Comfort.

I stated that the world does not have a category for suffering and comfort co-existing, and that the circle of comfort in the midst of suffering is found in the community of Christ, now I want to spend just a few minutes developing how we are united to Christ.

Verse 5 says, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” It is clear from this verse that there is a relationship between suffering and comfort, and more than this it hinges on the person of Jesus.

The circle of comfort in the community of Christ fails if Christ really did not receive comfort in his suffering and if Christ really did not suffer.

Our union with Christ is grounded on our faith in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus.

Listen to Paul’s logic, “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Paul is assuming two things in this verse. The first is that Christ actually suffered and the second is that Christ actually received comfort in suffering. What sort of promise is this for those experiencing suffering if Christ really was not comforted, and what sort of comfort did Christ need if he did not suffer?

There are many that deny the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but

what is holding together the promise of comfort in the midst of suffering through the community of Christ is twofold; Christ actually suffered and received comfort and two we are “sharing” in Christ’s suffering and will thus receive comfort too. This is precisely what I mean by “union with Christ.” As Christians we receive comfort in the community of Christians because he are united to Christ in this suffering.

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to come back to this idea of “sharing in Christ’s sufferings.” Because this also is a vital piece to Paul’s argument.

So what does it mean to suffer as Christ suffered? None of us will probably be hung on a cross for claiming to be God and the Messiah. None of us will be strapped to a post and whipped till we can no longer stand on account of the claims of the Gospel. None of us will probably stand before governors and officials and be instructed to give an account for our way of life and faith. Not many of us will be called crazy by our families and left by our closest friends in our greatest hour of need. So, what does it mean to suffer as Christ suffered?

In simplest terms, I think what Paul means by sharing in the sufferings of Christ is our suffering from sin.

2 Corinthians 5:21 reads, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is clear that Christ suffered because of sin, it was not his sin but our sin.

But, we are not perfect, we sin every day, so how does this fit with our experience? As Christians like Christ we suffer from sin, but we suffer from in two ways. As Christians we suffer because we are sinners and from sin that is done to us.

Let me say this another way, sin is both organic growing up for with in us and experienced from outside influences. We sin because we succumb to our own evil desires and because others succumb to their evil desires. We experience the affects of our sinful choices and we experience pain and suffering from sins that are committed against us.

So, like Christ we experience suffering from the overall influence of sin in this world, and unlike Christ we experience suffering from our own sin.

I want to get a bit more specific here. Paul says that we share in “Christ’s sufferings.” Paul is not talking about the suffering we experience from our own sin. Now, I want to be very clear here. There is comfort found in God from our own sin this is true, but the comfort we receive from God from our sin is the promise of eternal life and the indwelling spirit. We will certainly suffer from the affects of our own sin in this life, but for those in Christ we will no longer suffer when we are raised with Christ to eternal life.

I think what Paul means when he is talking about sharing in “Christ’s sufferings” is the external affects of sin on us. Even more specifically the external affects of sin on us as it relates to faithfulness to the Gospel.

From the context of this passage, Paul has in mind his current situation. In verse 10 Paul makes it clear that he was been delivered from the sentence of death before and is trusting that God will deliver them again. The way that we share in Christ’s sufferings is through the external rejection of the Gospel from the world that results in physical suffering. In this context suffering with Christ is suffering from the sinful response of the world towards the gospel.

As we bring the message of the Gospel to the nations, we can expect suffering, but according to our text we can just as surely expect comfort. Christ was killed and experienced great suffering because of sin, but just as Christ was raised from the dead on account of his faithfulness to God we will be raised with Christ on account of our faith in Christ.

A word of caution here. We must not confuse these types of suffering. We must not confuse what we perceived to be suffering because of our faithfulness to the gospel and the suffering we are experiencing due to our own sin.

It is a dangerous thing to be convinced that you are suffering because of your faith, but in fact you are suffering because of un-repentance sin.

Oh how the devil can be deceitful. Sin blinds us from seeing the gospel of the glory of Christ. The million dollar question is then, how can we know the difference? How can we know if we are suffering for the sake of the gospel or on account of our own sinful behavior?

Short answer, we can’t know precisely. But what I think is most telling is our response to suffering. Suffering because of sin and suffering because of our faith in Christ can be extremely difficult to assess, but what is not difficult to assess is our heart in the midst of suffering. Does our heart respond in patience or vengeance? Do we find comfort in our union with Christ? Are we moved to prayer? Do we open ourselves up in humility to hear from those around us? Do we allow others into our suffering?

For this text the test of Christ like suffering is NOT based on the external ramifications of one’s convictions but where in which the conviction lies.

Let me say this another way, the way we can know if we are suffering for the sake of Christ is not necessarily dependent on the present reality of perceived persecution, but persecution due to our faith in Christ.

We gauge the difference between Christ like suffering and personal suffering on faith. Christ is the one that determines what true persecution is. Suffering for the sake of Christ is directly related to our allegiance to His Lordship and faith in his saving power from sin. We must not confuse the suffering we experience from sin in general from the suffering we experience through our faithful proclamation of the Gospel.

When we confuse suffering for the sake of the gospel and suffering because of un- repentent sin there are at least three things that happen: (1) We harden ourselves to the deceitfulness of sin (2) We continue living in disobedience (3) We cause disunity in the body of Christ.

So, I have argued from the text that God’s position, and character are the foundation for hope in the midst of suffering and that our union with Christ equals suffering and comfort. My third point comes from verses 8-10.

A Godly response to suffering reflects our union with Christ.

Paul is not one who is unfamiliar with suffering, even if we did not know anything else about Paul’s life of suffering for the sake of the Gospel, we at least know from our text that he was so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life.

Paul’s resume of persecution is actually quite large, but for the sake of time we will simply focus on the situation that Paul is explicitly referencing in our text. This particular time of persecution he is referencing is one that felt like the sentence of death.

I can not imagine the feeling of standing before a judge and hearing the verdict read as guilty and receiving the punishment of death. Paul makes it clear that he was not the only one under this sentence but there were others with him feeling this weight of looming death. They were so burdened by their persecution that they despaired of life. The only analogy that I can think of that would capture Paul’s experience is one of torture. Your are experiencing so much pain in the moment that death is preferable so that the pain would subside.

Paul is not holding back from sharing his weakness in the midst of suffering, he is quick to share his feelings and his weakness in the moment of suffering. It is Paul’s response to this level of suffering that reflects his union with Christ and his hope in the position, and character of God.

This is how it all fits together, Paul can patiently endure his current suffering because of his faith in Christ which is grounded in the position, and character of God. As I mentioned in my introduction that this text has been both an encouragement to me and a rebuke. How quickly I become impatient when things are not going my way, or fight to get out of an uncomfortable situations let alone how quickly I can shrink back from sharing the gospel out of fear of persecution. This text actually teaches that comfort comes through the presence of suffering not in its absence. Did you catch that? It is not through the absence of suffering that we experience comfort, but rather through our sharing in Christ’s suffering that we are granted comfort.

A godly response to suffering reflects our union with Christ.

And finally, point #4 from the text is: Prayer is a means of God granting comfort.

To review then, a godly response reflects our union with Christ and God intends those united to Christ to receive comfort in community and God’s position and character provides hope in the midst of suffering.

Verses 8-10 model godly suffering and verse 11 is the call to pray for those in suffering. Paul makes it extremely clear why we should pray for those in suffering, “so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us.”

You may have not caught this right away but the logic of this verse is glorious. Paul is calling for the Corinthian church and the broader region to be praying while he is enduring his current situation of suffering, why? so that “many will give thanks on [their] behalf for the blessings granted [them].” This is amazing, Paul wants prayer so that many will give thanks on their behalf for the blessings granted them. Paul models godly suffering by exposing his weakness, trusting in God and asking for prayer.

But even more than Paul modeling godly suffering is what this text teaches about prayer! Paul does not ask for a brigade of soldiers to deliver him, or food, or clothing, or something to pass the time, he asks for prayer! Maybe even more surprising Paul believes that he will not be the only one benefiting from the church’s prayers. Paul is asking for prayer so that he might be be delivered from his suffering, but he is also sharing a prayer request so that others will give thanks to God for granting blessings!

Another rebuke! How often I pray for a change in a situation or deliverance from an uncomfortable situation and how rarely I share a prayer request for these things so that others will give thanks to God when he responds to my situation. When we do not share our struggles and weaknesses, others are not able to pray for us and thus we impede their ability to give thanks to God on our behalf when God responds to prayer.

It had never crossed my mind before that keeping my suffering to myself does not allow others to come around me and pray for me and therefore praise God with me when he shows up. I am keeping joy from my brothers and sisters in Christ when they do not get to join in with praising God for granting mercy and comfort in the midst of suffering.

As I close

Paul models Godly suffering by calling the church to pray for him, revealing that prayer is a means of God granting comfort to those suffering. Suffering for the sake of the Gospel reveals our union with Christ and our union with Christ should grant us hope, because it is grounded in the position, and character of God, who is the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort and who can raise the dead. Amen?

May we be a people who suffer well for the sake of the Gospel by trusting in God’s provision, looking to our union with Christ for comfort, and leaning on the body of Christ for prayer and encouragement. Christ did not miss-speak when he asked Paul on the road to damascus, “why are you persecuting ME?” as Paul was pursuing the destruction of the church. We fill up the afflictions of Christ when we suffering well together, as a community united under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray!

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