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Archive for 2 Corinthians

“(God) comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

God is the source of all comfort and he comforts us when we face crushing pressure. But God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable. He comforts us so that we will become comforters.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection he spoke words of assurance to them. The Bible then tells us that Jesus showed them his scars. He comforted the disciples with his presence, and gave them an indellible reminder of his suffering. Though the image of Jesus’ scars is not referred to again in the New Testament story, one has to believe that with every blow of suffering the disciples experienced that the image of those scars comforted and encouraged them.

“He comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:4a, NLT)

God is the source of all comfort and he comforts us in our troubles. The word Paul used to describe our troubles is thilipsis, which means pressure. It’s a word picture for a wine press that crushes the juice out of the grapes. So we might say that troubles are the crushing pressures of life. When the crushing pressures occur, God comes to our side and comforts us.

How then does God comfort us? The Bible is not specific, but allow me to offer three thoughts that will help us understand what God’s comfort looks like. First, God comforts us though his presence. We are assured that God is nearby during the crushing pressures of life. Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus referred to the coming Holy Spirit as the paraklete, the one called alongside to help.

Second, the word comfort is in the present tense, meaning that his comfort is continuous. God’s comfort is not on again and off again. His presence is steady and ongoing.

Third, his comfort is sufficient for our need. 2 Corinthians 1:5 states, “For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.” (NLT) In other words, the more we suffer, the more we recognize God’s continual presence by our side. This is perhaps why we esteem those who suffer the most to have the closest relationship with Christ. As we suffer, Christ is revealed more and more in our lives.

How does God comfort us? God comforts us by revealing his continuous and sufficient presence in our lives.

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Scars tell stories. For example, I have a scar on the palm of my hand. I got it when I was around 10 or 11 years old from a bicycle accident. My friends and I loved to ride our bikes and every time we found a patch of loose gravel we would ride as fast as we could into the loose gravel and lock up the brakes and skid the tires and spin the bikes around. It was about as wild and reckless of behavior as we could muster! One evening I took the bike out for a quick spin and as you may have guessed, crashed. As I looked at my throbbing hand I saw gravel imbedded in my palm. There was a nice open gash which resulted in the scar that I bear in my hand to this day.

As I have said, scars are a part of the story of our lives. They communicate things about our lives and inform us of the nature of life as well. Scars give evidence of that we have been wounded at some point in the past. At the same time, scars also provide evidence of healing. We don’t remain perpetually wounded, for through time and care we experience healing. Scars serve as ongoing reminders of past experiences that provide lessons that can’t be learned any other way. We are transformed through those pains from the past. After all, scars change our appearance. The story of life is developed through each one of those transitions. Obviously some of our scars are physical. But not every scar we bear can be seen. Some of our deepest scars are on our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls.

For the past several weeks I’ve been teaching on the subject of suffering and adversity. This past weekend I concluded my portion of the teaching from Paul’s words to the Church at Corinth. 2 Corinthians 1:3 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.”

We learn about pain early in life. Some of our earliest memories of life are associated with pain and injury. Quite naturally we sought comfort from a parent who would care for our bumps and bruises. When my kids were very young my wife always carried Band Aids with her where ever she went. Any good mother knows that a Band Aid will do wonders to quiet a child’s tears. I believe the band aid may very well be the universal symbol of comfort. In fact, if comfort flew a flag, the symbol on the flag would be the Band Aid.

Paul states that God is the source of all comfort and that God himself is the source of any comfort we know or experience in life. That’s easy enough. So what’s the definition of the word comfort? The word Paul used for comfort is paraklesis, which is also be translated as encouragement. We know from communication dynamics that face to face is the posture used when for things like teaching or even confronting. But paraklesis is not a face to face posture. The word literally means to be “called to one’s side.” Comfort is a side by side posture. Why is that important? When you are side by side you face the same thing at the same time in the same direction. I think we can understand comfort more fully if we think of it as a posture instead of an activity. Comfort is my expression of love toward others that has been perfected by personal experience.

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“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Paul deliberately requested that his thorn in the flesh be removed. With each request, Christ’s response was “no.” But with the denial came an explanation. The explanation was that his weakness magnified the power of Christ in his life. The NLT misses an important turn of a phrase in verse 9. For example, the NIV renders, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” The word rest literally means “made its home” or “tabernacled,” which helps us to understand the lasting nature of Christ’s power upon Paul’s life. Paul was given a thorn, but with the thorn came the grace of God which filled every broken part of his life.

Here’s the takeaway: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Weakness is like an Interstate superhighway that ushers the grace of God and the power of God into our lives. One of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes is, “Our problem is not that we are too weak. Our problem is that we are too strong.” God uses our weakness so that he receives the glory for our lives. He makes us a sort of living paradox so that his power is magnified over our talents and abilities. Think about the paradox of Paul’s life. He is a sick miracle worker that cannot heal himself. He’s a visionary with bad eyes. He’s the spokesperson for the gospel in Asia with a speech impediment. God receives glory when he’s able to accomplish through us what no one else expects, even ourselves.

One of the important lessons of this wonderful text is that it reminds us to be open to the fact that the worst thing that happens to us produces the best things that happen in us and through us. That may mean that we have to quit looking at ourselves as victims, and instead anticipate the victories that God brings to us and through us that he could accomplish no other way.

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“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NLT)

When suffering strikes our lives our first response is usually to try to eliminate it. It’s quite natural. After all, who among us hasn’t dropped everything when we have obtained a splinter to find the tweezers and pull it out? Paul’s thorn in the flesh was certainly more substantial than a splinter in the finger. His response, though, was the same. He asked the Lord to remove it, not once, but three times.

Reading this verse reminds me of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus asked the Father to remove the imminent suffering of the cross. He passionately asked the Father for the “cup to pass.”

Sometimes a person will ask me how they should pray when suffering invades their lives. I think it’s ok to ask God to remove it. Paul and Jesus certainly weren’t afraid to pray that direction. At the same time, we need to remember that ultimately it’s about God’s will, not ours. Nevertheless, it’s ok to ask.

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One of the clearest biblical passages that deals with the purposes that suffering works out in our lives is Paul’s autobiographical discussion of his “thorn in the flesh.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 states,

“This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” (NLT)

No one can say with confidence what experience Paul is referencing. The dating would have put it in the vicinity of 43 A.D. It seems that one logical possibility would have been his stoning in Lystra (cf. Acts 14:19-20). His testimony attested to being caught up into the third heaven. In Jewish cosmology, the first heaven was the abode of the birds; the second heaven was the abode of the stars; and the third heaven was the abode of God and his angels. His point is that he had greater reason to be prideful than his arrogant readers in Corinth. His visions and revelations were superior to theirs. Yet he was not going to boast in these things. He gave preference to boasting in his weakness instead (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:30). Why? In 12:6, he shares “I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life and hear in my message.”

So, to reduce or even eliminate pride in his life he received a thorn in the flesh. The word thorn is literally “stake,” similar to a stake that would be used to impale someone. This thorn (or stake) was described as a messenger from Satan that served two purposes. The first purpose was “to torment him.” The word torment means to “harass;” “fisticuff;” or “strike blows.” Every day the presence of the thorn created discomfort, as though someone repeatedly struck him in the face with their fist. The second purpose was to develop humility in his life.

So what was the thorn? Several suggestions have been offered by biblical writers. Among those suggestions are:
1. Paul had a physical ailment such as epilepsy.
2. Paul was physically short, or perhaps suffered from a speech impediment (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 10:10).
3. Paul was prone to a particular temptation to sin.
4. Paul struggled under the heavy load of his work and the difficulty of the ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
5. Paul had poor eyesight stemming from his experience in Acts 9 on the road to Damascus (Galatians 4:13-15; 6:11).
6. Paul’s thorn was not a physical challenge at all but rather an enemy that purposed to create pain in his life (2 Timothy 4:14-15).

The bottom line is that we don’t know what the thorn was. It’s a fun conversation. But it brings an important question: What is your nagging reminder to renounce pride and depend upon God? Could it be that the clearest indicator that something is wrong is that everything is right?

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