Recently I have had the opportunity to visit several church areas and spend time with a number of members. Many are experiencing stressful trials and difficult circumstances in their lives. We are reminded by some of the apostle Paul’s comments in his letters that there is nothing new in this.
Paul began his second letter to the Church in Corinth by reiterating that he was, “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” His assertion of authority was both a reminder to the members of his God-given role and was also intended to point them to the ultimate Authority they were all under – Jesus Christ. This letter expresses Paul’s gratitude for the manner in which they received and acted upon his first letter. That letter had been corrective, so their response was important to Paul.
In the early New Testament Church, the members often found themselves in a context of trials and tribulations — it was a part of life. Paul acknowledges the Corinthian’s troubles and in offering comfort he points to the afflictions that were upon him. However, the focus is not on Paul himself, but on another very important aspect. Paul directed them to the Father, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Father is the God of all comfort – He comforted Paul in his tribulations so that Paul in turn could comfort others who were also in tribulation. “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Corinthians 1:6, 7). Paul used his own experiences of troubles to identify with what the members were experiencing in order to teach the members where they should look for their true strength.
Very often the difficulties and suffering we experience have an intended outcome – as far as God is concerned. Whatever the trouble was that Paul experienced, it was severe enough that he despaired of life. But at that point, he had the spiritual presence of mind to realize that a very profitable lesson could be learned. He was not to trust in himself. He could not deliver himself from the situation – but God could. “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:9, 10).
It is a tough lesson to learn, especially in view of the fact that trusting in ourselves comes so naturally. If we can learn to trust the God of all comfort – He will deliver us. And in the process, He will lead us to salvation.