Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Overflow": Both Suffering and Comfort.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance [overflow], so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:1-6)

As we walk through this life as Christians, we don’t go looking for trouble; we don’t have to, it finds us. Many days I cry out to God “Why?” I ask for an answer to the “why’s” of others sufferings, or more often, the “why’s” of my own. Let me share some thoughts written by Linda Belleville from her commentary on 2 Corinthians on the above verses.

Linda writes:

The Christian is not promised release from trouble but help in the midst of it. The implication is that if we are serving Christ, we will encounter hardships. This is a given of the Christian life, as it was a given in Christ’s life. As Paul puts it the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives (v. 5). The Greek verb translated “to flow over” means “to exceed the measure.” Not only does God not deliver us from suffering, but he actually permits suffering to brim over into our lives. Yet this is not just any suffering but specifically the suffering of Christ. What does this mean? It does not mean that we somehow complete what Christ failed to finish on the cross. The idea is, rather, that to identify with Christ is to identify with the suffering that was an essential part of his earthly ministry. What Paul articulates here is in essence what Jesus taught his disciples—to wit, that all who would come after him must deny self, take up the cross and follow him (Mk 8:34) Suffering overflowed into Christ’s life; suffering overflows into ours. This is a hard truth for many of us to accept, and the Corinthians also had a problem in this area. In their case, they thought that they had “arrived” and had conquered the frailties of human existence (1 Cor. 4:8-10). As a result, the sufferings that Paul underwent tended to discredit him in their eyes. In response, Paul attempts to drive home in verses 3-5 that both the gospel ministry and the lot of the Christian involve suffering.

Paul’s purpose in this eulogy is not merely to praise God for personal comfort received or to discuss the nature of the gospel ministry. His primary concern is to show the Corinthians [and us] that their lives are inescapably intertwined, so that what impact Paul impacts the Corinthians and what impact the Corinthians impacts Paul. It is for their benefit, he says, that he encounters trouble. For, if we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort (v. 6). Whatever he experiences, be it suffering or comfort, the Corinthians personally benefit. Paul then goes on to state an important but often neglected truth. Service to the body of Christ results in personal gain rather than personal loss. The experience of comfort received and imparted produces patient endurance (v.6). The net effect is the ability to endure the same suffering we suffer (v. 6)—that is, hardships and trials experienced in the course of proclaiming the gospel.(pp55-56)

So the point that I am trying to get across with this passage, is that to remind myself ( and you) that if we are truly walking with Christ; we’ve all got a ‘tough row to hoe.’ Although not every day is a trial; we will gain in the end…not just in the ‘sweet by-and-by’ but in strength, patience, and love poured into us by Christ’s strengthening us…for us to be ‘conduits’ of His love and grace…to overflow to others.

L. Belleville, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: 2Corrinthians (1996, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press)

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