BIn our series Hope Lives, we’re spending time each week talking about how we can experience hope in the difficult areas of our lives. In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul confesses his own struggle through times of suffering. As a Christian leader, Paul was not exempt from suffering, and he didn’t expect to have an easier life just because of his faith. The Corinthians, on the other hand, did. That’s why Paul addresses the issue of suffering in his letter. This letter remains incredibly relevant since it’s likely that there are many people, even within our close-knit circles, who are experiencing suffering or know someone who is.
Read 2 Corinthians 4.7–18.
This passage reveals four crucial truths about suffering that we must accept in our lives. The first is one we often miss. In verse 16, Paul talks about how we are all outwardly “wasting away”. With this, Paul is acknowledging the reality that everything around us is in a state of decay. Our bodies are the perfect illustration of this: even if we work hard to be in great shape, it’s a scientific fact that our bodies will age and change over time. Even our relationships end up in decay when someone dies or moves away. There’s no question that with this natural decay comes suffering, but the Bible calls that suffering normal. It’s just the way it is. Scripture goes further to say that suffering is also normal in our spiritual lives.
Read 1 Peter 4.12–16.
Peter says not to be surprised when we experience hardship and suffering. He clarifies in verse 15 that sometimes our suffering is a result of our own mistakes, and God wants to help us avoid that kind of suffering. But we’ll also experience suffering that we have no control over. As Christians, we can’t be offended when we experience suffering. Instead, we need to learn how to rely on the power of Christ in the midst of it.
Question: Why are Christians not exempt from suffering? How were you brought up to respond to suffering? How are Christians called to respond to suffering?
The second truth about suffering is a little more encouraging. In verses 11 and 16, Paul points out the redemptive work of suffering. Often times, it’s through suffering that God does a new work in us. It causes us to become a new and better person than who we were before. In fact, it can be the greatest suffering that produces the greatest beauty in our lives. It also produces beauty in the lives of others. Paul explains that it was through his own suffering that his readers heard about Jesus. Suffering is redemptive in the lives of believers because God actually uses those difficult things to do something good in us and in others.
Question: What does it mean to say that suffering is redemptive in the lives of believers? How have you seen suffering redeemed in the life of someone you know?
This all sounds encouraging and hopeful, but is it really true? Or is it just something we tell ourselves so we can feel better about pain? Paul actually deals with that question in verses 13–14 when he remembers what Jesus did and what that means for us: “…because we know that the one who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself.” Paul willingly endures episode after episode of suffering because he saw Jesus raised from the dead after His suffering. Just as God redeemed Jesus’ suffering, He will also redeem our suffering in eternity where we will live forever with Him.
In this passage, Paul talks about the day when death is defeated: “Therefore…Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that you labor in the Lord is not in vain.” We aren’t just wishful thinkers. We have confidence that our suffering is not in vain because the same God who redeemed Jesus’ suffering says He will also redeem ours. He’s not only a God who’s capable of doing this, He’s also a God who keeps His word.
Knowing all of this is great, but it still doesn’t answer the question of how we get through our suffering. Verses 17–18 show us the way: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is seen is eternal.” The way we get through suffering is by focusing on eternity. Paul endured beatings, ridicule, and disaster by focusing on the moment he would stand face-to-face with Jesus, when his suffering would pale in comparison to his joy. In the same way, we should focus our eyes not on life in this world but on life in the next.
Question: What do you look forward to most about eternity? What will it be like to see Jesus face-to-face? How does it make you feel to think about that day?
When serving God comes with hardship and suffering, we can continue on with the certain knowledge that we’re building into the one entity which God says will endure for all eternity—the Church. Let our eyes be fixed on Heaven so we can endure the suffering, setbacks, and sacrifices that come with serving Jesus in whatever way we are called.