Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Suffering is a common experience for all of us. Imagine all the different kinds of suffering people experience. There are dozens we could list under the headings of Physical Suffering; Emotional Suffering; Mental Suffering; Spiritual Suffering. To experience difficulties, even multiple kinds simultaneously, is normal in life. What is the purpose of all this suffering?
The Apostle Paul seemed to experience all of it in large doses. His calling and commitment to Jesus’ Kingdom brought more suffering into his life than he ever would have experienced as a Pharisee. That’s strange, isn’t it? We might think that following Jesus would mean less trouble, not more. For Paul, and really any biography of a Christ-follower that we might read, there is more trouble and suffering in life because of the Gospel.
Paul would write to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24). Paul understood the afflictions he experienced in following Jesus by the afflictions of Jesus Himself. Paul kept thinking of the cross and all that Jesus endured for him. To the Galatians he wrote, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (6:17). Paul identified himself with Jesus, especially in his suffering.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
For Paul this new life brought great suffering but also great joy. He rejoiced in his suffering! He would echo James encouragement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” (James 1:2)
Still, what’s the purpose of suffering? Joy? Identifying with Jesus? Yes, but 2 Corinthians 1 tells us more! Paul explains that facing death happened so that he would rely on God more and be comforted by God (vs 9). Additionally, both the suffering and the comfort were for the benefit for others (vs 6-7). The church had shared in Paul’s life and ministry… and his suffering. They also shared in his comfort when God provided it. Paul encouraged them by saying that their prayers for him were helping (vs 11). The result of all of this is that many more were giving praise and thanks to God.
Suffering helps us rely on God and to depend on Him for our lives. It is good for us to ask for prayer in the midst of difficult times. It is right for us to pray for the comfort of others in their suffering. In prayer, we are helping them, and as God answers and brings comfort, we give praise to Him. He is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
Our suffering is ultimately for the glory of God, our good and the blessing of other people. We can help others along the way when they are suffering the same kind of things that God helped us through. That sounds like the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth to me! These great benefits cannot be seen by our flesh in the middle of our suffering, however. We must have faith.
Thank You, Father, for knowing every aspect of my life and the suffering that I endure. Help me in Christ to suffer well! Thank You that, by your grace, I can pray for others who are experiencing trouble in life. Bring relief to them and glorify Yourself through all of our lives. I praise You this morning.