Suffering

Paul opened his second letter to the Corinthians with an explanation of why he hadn’t returned to visit them. Rather than sharing the details of what had happened to him , Paul talked about believers suffering. Paul told the Corinthians that God was their primary resource during difficult times and stated, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). The Greek word translated mercies, oiktirmos means pity (G3628). Oiktirmos has to do with the emotions of the heart and typically signifies compassion, a feeling of distress about the unfortunate circumstances of others.

Paul went on to explain that God comforts us in our suffering so that we can comfort others. The two Greek words Paul used that are translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:4 are parkaleo and paraklesis. These words mean, “to call to ones side” (G3870) or “a calling to one’s side (G3874). The idea Paul was conveying was togetherness. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that God was by their sides when they went through difficult circumstances and he also stated that God comforts us “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV).

Paul didn’t state it specifically, but he somewhat implied by his use of the word comfort that he was talking about the Holy Spirit when he said “the God of all comfort” (1 Corinthians 1:3). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” (John 15:26). The Greek word translated Comforter, “parakletos is the one summoned, called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid and is used of Christ in his exaltation at God’s right hand” (G3875). The Holy Spirit gives us divine strength so that we are able to undergo trials and persecutions on behalf of God’s kingdom.

One of the goals of a Christian’s life is to maintain peace and harmony (G4991). As we go through our daily routines, things can happen that interfere with our peaceful existence. Paul identified three kinds of suffering that Christians have to deal with in his explanation of why he hadn’t made it back to Corinth. First, Paul talked about tribulation (2 Corinthians 1:4) which can be anything that burdens our spirit (G2347). Paul also referred to this as trouble and said, “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” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

Paul also talked about the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5). At the heart Christ’s suffering were emotions that were caused by external influences on his mind (G3804). Most likely Paul was referring to spiritual warfare, but this kind of suffering can also be caused by people who are abusing us, those who try to manipulate us into doing things we don’t want to do. Another scenario Paul mentioned was being afflicted (2 Corinthians 1:6). Affliction is the pressure of circumstances (G2346). According to Paul, affliction is what bonds us with other believers. Out of affliction comes the notion that we are in this together. Paul was essentially trying to tell the Corinthians, I feel your pain and I wish I could be there with you.

Even though he was unable to visit them in person, Paul wanted the Corinthians to know they were very important to him. Paul took his ministry responsibility seriously and didn’t intend to just leave the Corinthians hanging. In order to assure them of his commitment to return, Paul reminded the Corinthians that God had called him to minister to them and said, “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:23). Paul had intended to encourage the Corinthians when he returned for a second visit, but because of his own suffering, Paul decided to write to them rather than talk to the Corinthians face to face.

A spiritual revolution (part two)

Paul’s first missionary journey changed the course of history in that it turned the tide toward non-Jewish conversions to Christianity. After they were expelled from Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas traveled east to Iconium where the multitude of the city became divided between loyalty to the traditional teaching of the Jews and Paul’s gospel message (Acts 14:4). The problem Paul and Barnabas faced in Iconium was that things turned violent. A plot to stone them to death caused the two missionaries to flee to Lystra and Derbe, “and unto the region that lieth round about” (Acts 14:6). While they were in Lystra, Paul healed a man that had been crippled from birth (Acts 14:8-10). This miracle caused the people of Lystra to associate Paul and Barnabas with the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. It says in Acts 14:11, “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.”

The people of Lystra seemed to be ignorant of or perhaps, chose to ignore the existence of the god that created the universe. In his argument against worshipping false deities, Paul encouraged the people of Lystra to turn from their false religion to the living God, “which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things therein: who in times past suffered the nations to walk in their own ways.” (Acts 14:15-16). Even though he was able to convince the people of Lystra that he was an ordinary man like them, Paul’s accomplishment backfired when Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and persuaded the people of Lystra to stone him. Luke’s description of this incident (Acts 14:19-20) suggests that Paul’s death was never verified, but Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 of a man that was caught up to the third heaven and heard words that could not be repeated is thought to be a personal testimony of what happened to him after he was stoned to death in Lystra.

In spite of the dangerous situations they faced in the cities they had already preached in, Paul and Barnabas returned to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:20-21) in order to further establish and strengthen the churches started there. Luke tells us Paul and Barnabas were “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Greek word translated tribulation, thlipsis means “‘a pressing, pressure’, anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Thlipsis is used in Revelation 7:14 to refer to the great tribulation that is expected to take place just before the millennial reign of Christ. Paul’s statement “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” seems to suggest that satanic attacks or spiritual warfare are a normal part of Christian life and must be endured by every believer. Paul and Barnabas’ example of courageous perseverance made their first missionary journey a tough act to follow.