(This is a sermon I shared at the Noordhoek Gathering yesterday and the blanket we made with patches of God’s Word that have brought us comfort in tough times – now to get the sewing needle out!)
1 Corinthians 1:3-11 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 have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
- We all face troubles and suffering in our lives.
Paul was a great Christian leader, yet he suffered. Often our society has been hard on leaders who show any form of weakness. Certainly the community Paul was addressing did – the Greeks despised physical weakness of any sort. The Jews often believed that an illness or affliction was a sign of God being angry with them – just look at Job’s friends, they could not get their heads around the idea that Job was suffering horribly yet he had not offended God. The Old Testament writers also were not strangers to trouble and even depressed at their situation – in many of the Psalms David talks about sleepless nights, depression and yet he is known as the man after God’s own heart. Why do we suffer and for what do we suffer? Sometimes it can be because of our sin like Jonah, other times it could be to keep us from sinning like Paul (2 Cor 12.7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.), Sometimes it can perfect our character (Romans 5.4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.) and other times to reveal the character of God. Sometimes our suffering is because of the sins of others, sometimes our own sin, and sometimes because we have chosen what is right. Whilst most of the suffering Paul endured was due to his Faith in Christ and his mission to spread the Good news that is not the only kind of suffering this passage deals with – verse 4 says God comforts us in all our troubles and verse 5 so that we can comfort people in any troubles – that is fairly broad. Whilst God is concerned for the persecuted He is also concern about anything that causes us to suffer, whether self inflicted or otherwise.
- Our troubles can create a community feeling
It is funny how trouble and suffering has a way of binding us together in a way that prosperity never does. On a simple level you only need to stand in PnP on a day that has long queues and slow checkout operators – people will start to chat together, even if it is just to commiserate together. Take to that to a deep level – that is why support groups work so that people can share their burdens with people going through similar sufferings.
- Our troubles link us together
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 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 have received from God.
A little girl came home from a neighbor’s house where her little friend had died. ‘Why did you go?”” questioned her father.
‘To comfort her mother,”” said the child.
‘What could you do to comfort her?””
‘I climbed into her lap and cried with her.””
Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
- Our troubles link us with Jesus
2 Corinthians 1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Christ suffers with us – we are a body. And as one part suffers we all suffer, including Christ who is the head. Just look at the road to Damascus – Saul, now Paul, was asked why are your persecuting me when he has in fact been killing Christians. We cannot share in the sufferings of Christ in a way that we add to salvation, but we can share in our identity of being with Him.
Isaiah 53:4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
I love that Christ took not only our sins but also our sorrows on at the cross. That which causes us grief and suffering, is also carried by Christ.
- Troubles have a purpose
Trouble is not an accident – it is a divine appointment. We have three choices in looking at what goes on around us and to us – either it is all down to fate or chance, either it is our own doing, under our control or God is in control.
God permits our trials, He enables us to bear them, He delivers us from them and is glorified through them.
There is an inbuilt human response to ask why when we are suffering – Why is this happening to me! You can turn that question around and it sounds even worse – why not so-and-so. It seems to be an intuitive questions that requires that someone be responsible for the pain we are in. Yet our suffering is not pointless, it is not without a purpose. Just as Christ’s suffering was not pointless either.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
- Suffering helps others
2 Corinthians 1: 6-7 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
God can take people who have suffered and use them to help rebuild and encourage people who are currently suffering. You know yourself when talking to someone that you take more comfort from someone who has walked a mile in your shoes. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same cause of pain, but it helps to know that the one standing beside you has come though their suffering stronger and not destroyed.
- Suffering Helps the one who suffers
2 Corinthians 1: 8-9We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
Suffering teaches us to rely upon God who has the power to raise people from the dead. It is often said that Doubt is the opposite to Faith, but in actual fact the opposite to faith is self reliance. It is our weakness that reminds us that God is strong. Many of us do not seek God out in the same way when times are God. CS Lewis said that pain was God’s megaphone to a deaf world. The disease leprosy is so bad because of it damaged people’s nerves so they do not feel pain in the same way – pain is the way the body knows something is wrong – so they end up damaging themselves and not realizing it until the wound is affected. Pain is actually a good tool to let us know we need help.
- Suffering teaches us to pray
2 Corinthians 1: 10-11 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
In prayer we collaborate together to support somebody. Suffering increases our prayer and also our thanksgivings. Literally that ending of verse 11 is in answer to the prayers of many faces – it has the idea of many people turning their faces to God and looking at Him in anticipation that He will do something and intervene.
- How does God comfort?
At the beginning of this passage God is referred to as the Father of Compassion and the God of all comfort – He is not unmoved by our suffering – no matter the cause. The word comfort in Greek literally means to call to ones; side to help – it is used 29 times in this book. Our English word for comfort is made of two Latin words – with Strength. It is not a namby pampy there there everything will be alright. How does God comfort?
- Comfort in God’s Word
God’s word contains the truth about Him, about ourselves and about our future – we can take comfort in this, His perspective on our situation.
Psalm 119: 50 My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.
- Comfort in the Holy Spirit
John 14: 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. The Greek word for Counselor here is the same word used for Comfort – some bible translations use the title Comforter. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to be with us – to be God’s presence with us in tough times – giving not just sympathy but comfort, strength to carry on.
- Comfort in each other
We have seen this already but it is God’s design that we should comfort one another in tough times – to some along one another. That is God’s plan for the church – no man is an island. Some of us struggle with this – we are embarrassed to let people know our struggles, we can feel judged and vulnerable. But it is God’s plan for the church to be a place where we can find comfort – but it starts with each one of us. It starts in us being honest and vulnerable to each other, in being invested in each other, in encouraging one another.
- How then do you view your troubles?
- Keep perspective – everybody suffers: Don’t build up resentment as if this should not have happened to you. Don’t react with self-pity
- Understand the purposes of suffering: Don’t be embarrassed – your suffering is not a commentary of your walk with God
- Express your pain: Don’t be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip
- Understand that even though you are comforted the suffering may not be fully ended this side of heaven (Psalm 23 – he lays a table in the presence of my enemies- enemies not wiped out)