We're turning again to 2 Corinthians and chapter 1, and if you're warm - and you would have to be warm, unless you're cold-blooded, this morning - so, if you're warm take your coat off or make yourself comfortable in some way so that you can endure the next half an hour or so in reasonable comfort as we look at the word of God together! This is a two - part series, the first part was last Lord's Day morning and if you weren't here it would be of your benefit, I'm sure, to get the tape in order that you understand some of what we're not saying in this passage because we said it last week. We want to look at the passage again today, so please do get that tape.
Reading from verse 1: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf".
Let's bow in a word of prayer together: Our Father, we thank Thee for what we have gleaned already from this passage, and for how Thou hast revealed Thyself to us as the God of all comfort. We pray that we would see Thee again in that capacity. We pray that by the Spirit of God that You would reveal Christ to us, the Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief - yet who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame. We pray that we may learn from Him how to suffer, how to endure, and how to glorify our Father which is in heaven. Father, teach us now, we pray, to do all things to the glory of God. Fill me with Thy Spirit, I pray, for Christ's sake, Amen.
Second Corinthians is one of Paul's many letters, and of all his letters - if you've read them all in the New Testament - you will see that this letter is distinctly different. For rather than laying down theology and church practice, as his other letters seem to do in a more general capacity, this book of 2 Corinthians is more like a journal or diary of the great apostle Paul. It outlines, more than any of his writings, his personal life and indeed his personal individual struggles. It shows him as a man, Paul the man. Sometimes we can deify Paul, although he is an apostle we tend to forget that these men were men of like passions as we are, sinful men. Indeed, Paul could say that he was the chief of sinners - but because he was probably the greatest of all the Apostles, we set him on a pinnacle and almost see him as sinless and perfect.
But as we look into 2 Corinthians, as if we are looking at a day - to - day journal of this man's missionary journeys and the things he experienced as he went about telling the Gospel, we see from verses 8 and 9 - as we did last week - that he testifies: 'Day one: I was pressed out of all measure'. Pressed out of measure, under a great pressure - literally: 'I was weighed down exceedingly'. Like the beast of burden, like the donkey that takes all the cargo, I felt as if I was about to buckle under the heavy load of pressure that God laid upon me. Perhaps the second day we would find, verse 8, 'above strength'.'The trial that God gave me today was above strength, it was far above my ability to endure. I couldn't take it'. Day three: 'I was despairing today of my life, I felt there was no way out, no passage, no exit - at the end of my tether'. As one writer said, his life looked at times like a confusing array of crossroads and junctions with flashing red, green and amber lights - he didn't know whether to go, whether to wait, or whether to stop. Day four: 'In our hearts we felt the very sentence of death'. J. B. Phillips translates it like this: 'We were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear. In fact, we told ourselves that this was the end'.
Something happened to Paul. I don't know what it is, and we looked last week at what it might have been - but the fact is we don't know what it was. But something happened to the great apostle, and he felt he couldn't go on. It was beyond bearing, he couldn't take it any more. I asked you last week: do you feel solidarity with the apostle, solidarity in his suffering? Can you identify with him? We looked last week at how we can come from all the troubles that we have, and we can bow at the feet of the God of all comfort, and we can find in Him everything that we need to help in time of need. Now that's tremendous, and that answers our emotional response. So I hope, and I believe, that many of you went away last week helped because you got a grip for at least half an hour of the God of all comfort, and you had an emotional response to the message. In other words, you felt good after the meeting.
That's good, we need that, but you know the emotional response does not satisfy the intellectual question. The intellectual question is this: 'That is all well and good, God is a God of all comfort, but why? Why does it have to be like this? Why am I going through this? Why has God chosen me? Why does God have to choose this mechanism to see, in my eyes, Himself as the God of all comfort? Is there not another way? The question we are asking today is: is there a plan and is there a purpose in my pain, in my affliction?
You see the word 'affliction' in this passage, the word 'tribulation', ask yourself do you know this in your life. It's the Greek word 'flipsis' (sp?), it literally means actual physical pressure on the man. If you read your English history books you'll find out that those in English history who refused to confess to a crime, the judiciary got them and they laid them down and laid heavy weights upon them on their chest that pressed so hard that they were eventually crushed to death. They did this in order to get them to confess to the crime, but many of them were crushed to death by the weight. Now that is exactly this word'trouble, affliction'that you find in this passage of Scripture - 'flipsis', a weight that is crushing me, that I cannot endure.
Now one thing that causes us to despair when we're going through trials and tribulations is misconceptions, spiritual misconceptions that we have about suffering. Now I don't know where we got them, some of us got them from preachers, some of us got them from a misinterpretation of Scripture, some of us got them through Christian paperbacks that are lining the walls of the bookshops today. I don't know where we got them, but they're misconceptions and they cause us to ask the question: Lord, why are You doing this? Now what are these misconceptions? They are many, but I want to give you two today.
The first is this: 'if you are spiritual you will never be perplexed'. In other words, if you're spiritual you'll never get in a tizzy, you'll never shed a tear, you'll never buckle under pressure. In life you will always have success. Now, I want to blow this out of the water, because this is absolute nonsense! For the greatest men in the Bible were men that at times were in great perplexion, great distress, great tribulation, some of them in great depression. We read two preachers, Charles Spurgeon and Jowett, last week we read their confessions - and they prayed that God would never put on you what God put on them in their life! Oh, I hope you don't think that because you're going through trouble, that in some way God is punishing you - that might be the case, but it's not always the case.
The second misconception is this: 'life should always be a bed of roses', life should always be a bed of roses. Now, it's nice when it is a bed of roses - if it ever is for you - but it's not always a bed of roses. To take up your cross and follow Christ, I mean that analogy does not fit with a bed of roses, does it? The equivalent of the electric chair today, or the hangman's noose, a cross and you're carrying it - that life will never be a bed of roses. But even the people in the world, that's what they expect out of life: a bed of roses, because they have believed the Hollywood fairytale that everything ought to be money, success, career, education, talent, comfort, good looks - but in reality, life is not like that!
Now the sooner, as believers, we grab hold of that the better. For some of us live in a dream world where nothing goes wrong and we don't expect any trouble, but life is not like that! If you turn - we don't have time because we looked at it last week - to chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, we see that life was not like that for Paul. He was beaten, he was whipped, he was put in prison, he was out on the ocean in shipwreck, he was despised, told lies about, he was chased by false prophets - men swore upon their own lives in fasting that they would kill him before they would eat. Life is not easy, there was never ever a promise that it would be so. So forget about those two things, put them to death now - one: that you're unspiritual if you suffer and if you're perplexed, and two: that life ought to be a breeze.
So then we come to this question: is there a plan and is there a purpose in suffering? We ask - you wouldn't be human if you didn't ask - why? There's not always a specific answer to that question 'Why?'. I can't give you an answer why specifically you have been chosen to go through this illness. I don't know why you have had marital problems. I can't tell you from a telegram from God why you are suffering from the children that you have, and what's going on in the home and the family. I can't give you a specific answer, but what I can do from the word of God today is give you a general answer - and I believe that's what Paul the apostle does in this biblical answer I'll give you in three points.
Look at verse 4 - 'The God of all comfort', we may not get through this today but let's try anyway - verse 4: 'He comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God'. Now let's take that first bit: 'He comforteth us in all our tribulation'. Now this is very simple, write this down if you have a pen: we suffer so that we can be comforted. Have you got that? He comforts us in all our tribulation, that is almost - as far as that goes - an end in itself. We suffer in order that God would comfort us, and we must never in our life think of the things that go wrong as accidents. They're not accidents! We mightn't like them while we're in the middle of them, but they are divine appointments that God has permitted to enter into our lives.
Now let's analyse how you are thinking in your mind about the troubles that you're having. You either believe in fate or you don't. Fate or chance, and if you believe in fate or chance you might as well just give up, for everything is out of control. You can't do anything about it - and there's some people believe in the sovereignty of God to the extent that they believe in it like a fate. But isn't it awful if you thought of it like this: 'My life is out of control, it's all to do with the roll of the dice!'. You would give up. If you believe that you're in control, we are all in control of our own lives - that's a terrible responsibility, isn't it? To be in control of your life, absolute control - I know that if I was in control of my life I would be hopeless, maybe most of us would be! I would make a mess of it!
Now the opposite to those two things is what Paul is talking about here, and that is God in control of our lives - for if God is in control of our lives we can trust God in all our circumstances. So if bad circumstances come into our life, we don't say: 'Oh, that's chance, that's fate, I can't do anything about it', because you have God there and you know that God wants the best for you. But yet you're not walking through life saying: 'I'm the determiner of my own fate and my own destiny, and I will make my own future', because God has your future planned - not without your responsibility. You're responsibility is to trust Him.
Can I ask you, and this is very elementary, but this is where the rubber meets the road - and this is where I fail so much in my life. One man once said to me: 'David, God loves to be trusted'. God loves to be trusted! Do you trust Him? I mean, do you really trust Him? The One who says the hairs of your head are numbered. I mean, when you read the Gospels - I was reading in George Mueller's biography in recent weeks, and one thing the writer A.T. Pierson quotes is the Gospel writers emphasis on God's care for us in our trials. He says that it speaks of the odd sparrow, do you remember the odd sparrow? If you look to Matthew 10 you will find that it records there that two sparrows are sold for a farthing, two sparrows for one farthing. Now if you go to Luke chapter 12, you find there that five sparrows are sold for two farthings. Now why is that? Well, it would appear that when the man was buying four sparrows that the man who was selling threw in an extra sparrow for nothing - have you got that? In other words that fifth sparrow, that odd sparrow, was of little value and so worthless that it was able to be given away with the other four. Yet God says through the Lord Jesus, even that one sparrow is not worth being taken into the account of that man's deal, but God cares for it! Isn't that wonderful? God cares for what the world thinks is worthless and hopeless - to Him it's priceless. Not one of them, He says, will be forgotten. Not one of them will fall to the ground without God knowing it - and what a force, when the Lord illustrates it like that, and then He comes to His children and says: 'Fear ye not therefore, for ye are of more value than many sparrows'.
What about that? We suffer to be comforted, that's the first thing. The second thing is: we are comforted so that we can comfort. Now if you look at verse 4: 'Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ'. Suffering is not an end in itself, comfort from suffering is not an end in itself. It's very good if we can let ourselves be comforted by the God of all comfort, but that's not the whole story. Now here's the whole story: you go through an awful tragedy, you go through an awful experience, maybe an awful illness, and a man or a woman - perhaps you know them or you don't know them - comes down the church to you one Sunday and sits down in the seat beside you, puts their arm around you and says 'I've been through it'! That's what Paul is talking about: you suffer, then you are comforted in order that you might comfort others with the comfort with which you were comforted.
Now, how often does that happen? I've said to you before as we were going through the book of Ezekiel that it says at the very beginning chapters, as the children of Judah were exiled and taken into captivity in Babylon by the river of Chebar in that concentration camp, that the prophet of God - Ezekiel - went with them and do you know what it says about him? He sat where they sat. Why are you going through trouble? Imagine, think about it, asking: 'Why am I going through this?', and there's somebody on the other side of the church who you maybe haven't spoken to in three months and they're going through the same thing and need help. That's why you're going through it - so that we can comfort other people!
You know, this came to me as I was studying this: not everybody can preach, not everybody can stand in public and minister, not everybody can go to the outback of the earth and preach the Gospel as a missionary, but this is a ministry for everyone! This is something for everybody, and I want to say it's something for the simple folk. I'm not saying that I'm not simple, or that I'm up above you all, but you know what I'm trying to say. You're sitting here today and you think: 'What can I do for God?', and you're going through a terrible time - God says: 'I'm putting you through this in order that you can go to somebody who's going through the same thing and comfort them'.
You know, Paul said in another place: 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty'. You don't need to go to Bible College for this, you don't need a degree for this, you don't need big prestige and education, you don't need a gift - all you need is suffering, and all you need is knowing comfort in suffering - you can do this! You don't have to look too far for broken hearts, do you? To men and women who are ill, men and women experiencing broken homes, shattered dreams, twisted minds, mixed up emotions, disfigured and crippled bodies - you don't have to look far!
You might think it strange, but do you know something? I was saying to someone recently, it's amazing whenever you go into somebody's home who's going through a terrible time. You sit there, maybe you've experienced this with me, and I hardly say anything - that's not like me, but I hardly say anything. The person just cries, they sob, they open their heart, they tell everything. I close the Bible, I walk out, and I think to myself: 'I did absolutely nothing there' - but to that person it meant the world. Sitting where they sat! You don't have to do anything! Some people in this world only want to know that somebody will listen to them, that somebody will hear! You don't need to have degrees to do that, and do you know something? I think we have got away from what true Christianity is - the simple folk, the simple people, not high and mighty, but going to one another as brethren and sisters and sharing with them.
One author says, his name is Barry, he tells of how his mother lost her dearest son. Do you know what he says about his mother? 'That is where my mother got her soft eyes, and why other mothers ran to her when they lost a child'. Turn with me for a moment to Hebrews chapter 2, and I'll confess to you: I try to visit who I can - and that's usually the very sick folk and folk that are bereaved. But I know that everybody here has heartaches, and everybody has trials and problems, and I can't help you all. I can't, I wish I could - but you can help each other. That's the way it's meant to be! But more than that, listen to this, Hebrews chapter 2 and verse 18 - I want to read another translation of this which I think is tremendous: 'Because he himself has gone through it, he is able to help others who are going through it'. Why not write that at the side of your Bible? I think that's tremendous: 'Because he', Christ, 'himself has gone through it, he is able to help others who are going through it'. That's what it means to have a High Priest touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
But as we finish today this is what I want you to see, and if you miss this you miss everything. The reason for our sufferings is not just to be comforted, is not just to be comforted and then comfort other people, but the ultimate reason is the ultimate reason for everything that we go through in our Christian life, and that is our sanctification and our Christlikeness. What does Paul say in verse 5: 'For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ'. He says the sufferings of Christ are in us. Now let me read Paul to you again, in chapter 4 of this book he says: 'I always bear about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body'. He says in Philippians 3 verse 10, listen to it: 'That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death'. Now here's the greatest of all, listen to this, Colossians chapter 1 verse 24: 'Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church'.
Now you can read that and say: 'That sounds as if Paul is saying he is filling up the sufferings and afflictions of Christ, were they not good enough?'. Can I say this reverently: the sufferings of Christ are able and sufficient to take all of you to heaven and this whole world to heaven. You don't need to add to it, it is finished! But I'll tell you what it is not sufficient for: 2000 years ago, and I tremble as I say this, as He died on the cross, wee Billy down the road never saw that...he never saw it! But my friend, how you can fill up those sufferings for him is to let him see it in your own flesh. That's what Paul's meaning, that is how you can fill up what is lacking - that's what it means - in the sufferings of Christ. Not that they weren't sufficient, but in order that men and women in our world today see it. You suffer, you are comforted, in your comfort you are able to comfort others for their consolation and hopefully, God willing, for their salvation.
We don't believe in a social Gospel here in the Iron Hall, but I hope we believe in the true Gospel - don't forget that the Lord made the blind to see, made the lame to walk, don't forget He fulfilled their bodily need before He spoke to them of their spiritual. Christlikeness, a personal presentation to those for whom He died through our suffering. There's a choice. You see, you can suffer and you can say: 'Why?', and you can gripe and you can moan - and that's not suffering for the Lord. But that same suffering can be turned on its head, and you can actually choose - you know Richard Wurmbrandt (sp?) that died recently, who suffered in Romania under the Communist regime? He sat with a group of preachers on one occasion, and he said this: 'Which of you would choose to have a disabled child born to you?'. Who would choose that? He says it's the same choice to suffer for Christ. It's a choice to take what is not rational, what is foolish, what just doesn't make sense, but to actually choose to suffer for Christ;that in your body others might see you suffering to the glory of God.
Now how does that correspond with the way we react to suffering? I want to go on five minutes or so, because I only started at five past 12 to be honest with you. How does that correspond with the way that we suffer? 'Why? Why me? Why me again? What about somebody else this time? Why are You always picking on me? Why do I get all the problems? Why did it have to be my family? My marriage? My body? My mind?'. Imagine a soldier from 16 years of age going through the ranks of his country, and his country one day pointed the finger and said: 'Your country needs you to do a very special job, there's only one soldier, one man is able in this country to do that job'. One day the commanding officer of the nation's military forces rings this young man up, and says: 'You are that man, we want you to be that man'. Can you hear him over the phone? 'Why me? Why me? Me again? You're looking me to take upon myself this honour? Is there not somebody else who would be willing to do it?'. That is what we are like when we're going through suffering. God is giving to us a privilege of bearing in our body, in our life, the dying of the Lord Jesus - yet we say: 'Why me?'.
Now that's intellectual - I'm not going through what you're going through, I can't sit where you're sitting - but that's the truth. It is a privilege. Now, the question is this - and I really want to say this, that's why I'm taking the time to do it - who are the highfliers in the Iron Hall? Who are the highfliers in the church? Is it Dr Such-and-such BD MTH DD, and everything else in the alphabet? Who are the privileged? Who are the called? Who are the spiritual? I'll tell you who they are: they're the ones that can't be here today, but are lying praising the Lord in their sickness. They are the ones who are praying for us, who can't come out the front door. They are the ones who God has called to suffer that they may comfort others, and in that comforting of others that the world should see the dying of the Lord Jesus and should be consoled, or perhaps even saved.
Do you know what Polycarp said, the martyr, as he was being tied to the stake? Do you know what he said? Listen: 'I thank Thee, God, that Thou hast judged me worthy of this honour'. What about that? What about the next time the phone rings, the next time you get a letter, you fall on your knees and say: 'Lord' - and you don't say it out of pretence, but from your heart - 'I thank Thee that Thou hast judged me worthy of this hour'. That's relying on God, and that's what God wants you to do.
George Matheson had a thorn in the flesh like Paul. He was born in Glasgow in 1842, he had eye trouble all his childhood and by the time he went to the ministry he was totally blind. Yet for 40 years he preached right across the whole land of Scotland, and in his journey - the book is called 'Thoughts for Life's Journey' - he tells the lessons he learns. Now I'm going to quote this to you, only a few more minutes, listen: 'My soul, reject not the place of thy prostration, it has been the robing room of royalty. Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity, they will say it was the cold ground on which I was lying'. Listen to this: 'Ask Abraham, he will point you to the sacrifice of Moriah. Ask Joseph, he will direct you to his dungeon. Ask Moses, he will date his fortune from the danger of the Nile. Ask Ruth, she will bid you build her a monument in the field of her toil. Ask David, he will tell you that his songs came from the night. Ask Job, and he will remind you that God answered him out of a whirlwind. Ask Peter, he will extol his submission of the sea. Ask John, he will give you the Psalm of Patmos. Ask Paul, he will attribute his inspiration to the light that struck him blind on the Damascus road. Ask one more, the Son of Man, ask Him whence has come His rule over the world. He will answer: 'From the cold ground on which I was lying, the Gethsemane ground, I received My sceptre there''.
Why are you suffering? Is there a purpose in your suffering? Can I finish with this short story. After conducting Beethoven's magnificent ninth Symphony, the composer and conductor Toscanini brought down his baton to a burst of applause. The audience stood to their feet and roared in approval. Toscanini and his orchestra took repeated bows and encores, and when the cheering finally subsided Toscanini turned his back to the musicians and leaned over the podium. Voicing his words in staccato whispers he said this to the men who played in the orchestra, listen: 'Gentleman, I am nothing, you are nothing, but Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven - he is everything, everything, everything'.
What orchestra, what musical are you playing in your life? Is it the dying of the Lord Jesus, that says: 'In my suffering I am nothing, in your sufferings you are nothing, but Christ is everything, everything, everything'. Let's bow our heads, and maybe believer you have gone through a conversion experience today. In other words, your suffering can be converted into something that is a privilege and an opportunity to trust in God, to serve God, and to show God in your life. Why not, by faith, trust Him this morning to do so? It's very hard, and don't think that by me preaching this I'll go home and have my dinner and have no worries - because I believe God tests you on these things when you preach them. In life I'll have them, and you'll have them, and we'll all have them - but it's what we do with them.
Our Father, help us to cast all our care upon Thee, for You care for us. We thank Thee that we have one in glory who has gone through it and can help all those who are going through it. May He gave them that help today, and may they step up the podium of privilege, realising that they have been chosen out of us all to suffer, that in their body they might glorify Christ. Help us Lord we pray, in Christ's name, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his 'The God Of All Comfort'series, titled "A Plan And Purpose In Our Pain" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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