Paul’s Growth in Suffering

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 to see what Paul learned during some horrific and trying times in his life. Paul admits that he and his traveling companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength.”

While we won’t focus in this article on the trials and pain, we will zoom in on what Paul learned through his trials. What growth did Paul experience through the pain?

  • He praised God and blessed Him as the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). The suffering was abundant but so was the comfort from God (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul came through the suffering with a fresh focus on God and he praised and blessed God. Suffering can lead us to see how awesome and good our God is.
  • He was able to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul’s eyes were focused on others after his suffering. That’s one thing we learn from suffering, we learn how to see others with compassion and empathy.
  • He saw his sufferings were for others, and helped them grow (2 Corinthians 1:6). Sometimes our pain is for the benefit of others. When we come through the fires of trials and we are still walking with God, that gives courage to the others around us!
  • He grew in a bond of fellowship with his fellow brethren who also had partaken in the suffering (2 Corinthians 1:7). The Corinthians and Paul shared in the same sufferings, but they shared in the same fellowship, intimacy and comfort from God. They became a “band of brothers” like those who fight in war.
  • He knew his trials helped him rely on God who raises the dead and delivers us from dangers (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). Paul said he learned not to rely on himself for deliverance, but on God who alone can deliver. Even Paul had to learn not to trust himself but trust in God.
  • “On him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Paul’s hope grew and became solidified through his suffering. He went from great despair (vs. 8) to unshaken hope (vs. 10).

How have you personally grown through your own trials? What new lessons have you learned through the pain?

Whoever Gathered Much

But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.
(Exodus 16:18)

I’m in no way wanting to minimize the Coronavirus, nor do I want to comment on all the steps made lately to contain it. That’s not the point of this article.

But look at the store shelves. The panic has set in and everyone is trying to stock up on toilet paper, masks, hand sanitizer, vitamin C, meat, etc. The stores can’t keep stuff on the shelves.

Then we hear reports of people who bought up all the hand sanitizer and are selling in on Amazon for up to 70 dollars a bottle. Or the guy selling toilet paper out of the trunk of his car for a high price. Some people would applaud folks like this for being capitalists and opportunists. God would tell them they are being selfish and are hurting the poor.

When we go to the store in such panic and buy enough toilet paper to last 10 years, and then the elderly couple who comes in to the store later can’t buy any, what does that say? I’m confident that there are many good hearted folks out there who are sharing what they have with others, but I don’t think anyone can doubt that the store shelves being bare is a sign of many folks having a me-first attitude.

While there are principles in the Scripture that teach it is wise to have storehouses of supplies in our house (Proverbs 15:6; 21:20), there are other principles like the one we see in Exodus 16 that show God wants those who gather a lot to share with those who have a little. The Israelites were commanded by God to gather only enough manna for the day.  Those who gathered too much were to share with those who didn’t gather enough. And if you kept any overnight (except for the Sabbath Day), it bred worms and stank the next morning. It was a valuable lesson God was teaching his people.

This concept is repeated in the New Testament. Paul quotes Exodus 16 when writing to the Corinthians about sharing with others.

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
(2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

A matter of fairness. Paul said that word twice in this passage. Fairness. Your abundance should supply their need at this time, and then later someone else’s abundance will supply your need. Regardless of what happens, and no matter what the culture does, God’s people are looking to share what they have with others who are in need, so that there will be fairness. This concept is not just for kindergarten kids at recess, it is for people who go to the store to shop. Remember this concept.

What Do You Have When the Gifts Go Away?

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-13)

Love never ends, but the gifts will go away. Paul was seeking to show them a better and more excellent way, the way of love (1 Corinthians 12:31). The miraculous spiritual gifts that these brethren possessed would one day fade away. They were all in part, but the perfect word of God when completed would bring their gifts to fulfillment and would pass away. As we have the perfect completed word of God, we have no need of prophecy, tongues and miraculous knowledge. Those gifts all were part of bringing the whole revealed word to completion.

Paul’s illustration of the transition of a child into manhood helps explain the usefulness of those miraculous spiritual gifts during the infancy of the church. They didn’t have Matthew through Revelation, but now we do, and now every person can look into the perfect law of liberty (James 1:23-25). We can look into the mirror of the word and see plainly face to face the image of Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit that word can transform us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So, the things that these brethren in Corinth were so focused on were temporary and were going to fade away. What they were not focused on was the love that never ends. They are not any different than you and me are they?

What do you have when the gifts and talents go away? If the things that you have that you really hold dear are taken away, what do you have left? Some have great looks, others have charm. Some are really financially savvy, and others are great working with their hands. There are those who are super intelligent and can solve really complex problems. Some guys are great with words, while others have incredible physical and athletic abilities. Again, what happens when those gifts and talents go away?

What do you have left? Do you have love? If all your gifts, talents and abilities are gone, what are you left with?

Go back to the earlier section of 1 Corinthians 13. Are you patient and kind, or are you arrogant and rude? Do you hope for the best or look for the worst in people? Are you irritable and resentful or do you bear, believe, hope and endure all things? Would you be described as someone who always has to be right and insists on his or her own way? Or would you be described as someone who rejoices with the truth, and does so without envying or boasting?

When the abilities go away, do you have love?

“Pursue love…” (1 Corinthians 14:1)

What Love Is and What Love Isn’t

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Please meditate upon this section of Scripture today. Below are some simple questions and commonly used approaches to this text, but they are helpful to ask ourselves. We all need to reconnect with this passage occasionally.  I know I do. It certainly would help to read it everyday.

  • What is love? What are some things love is NOT? It certainly is not a feeling, is it? This is about rising above your feelings and doing what is right regardless of how you feel.
  • How does Jesus/God demonstrate these qualities? Look throughout Scripture and consider your own relationship with God as well. How do you see God being kind? Was Jesus arrogant and rude? Aren’t you glad that He doesn’t keep a score on you? Your record of sins has been washed away by the blood of Jesus because of His great unfailing love for you.
  • Do I have these qualities of love in my heart? Am I patient? Am I kind or am I rude? Do I insist on my own way? Am I irritable or resentful? Is my goal to be right or to be reconciled with my loved ones? Do I keep score in relationships? Am I happy when someone messes up so I can have an, “Aha! Gotcha!” moment? Do I look for the good in people or do I work up the worst possible motives about them in my mind? Am I hopeful for the best outcome in relationships?
  • Can I visualize how these qualities of love would look in my relationships? How do I specifically live out these qualities? What about when my wife gets snippy because she’s under a lot of stress? How do I talk to that person at work who is always self-centered, worldly and rude? What about the person under my authority who questions my decisions and approaches? How do I respond? How would I begin a conversation with someone that I am odds with if I had this kind of love working in my heart and soul?

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old (Psalm 25:6).

Though I…But Have Not Love

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

5 times (if I counted right) in this section of Scripture Paul used the phrase, “Though I.” Though I possess and did all of these wonderful, spiritual and godly things, but did not have love, what are they worth?

If you saw someone speak with the all the languages of the world miraculously, what would you think? What if he or she spoke with the language of angels? Would you be impressed? How about if the person was so gifted that he or she understood all mysteries of the Bible and had perfect knowledge of it? Would it get your attention? What if their faith was stronger than anyone you had ever seen? Would you think, wow that person is so close to God? Would you be impressed if that person gave everything he or she owned including the body to be sacrificed for Jesus? How would we see that person?

Paul gives us some insight into this much needed discussion. He tells us that we could be incredibly gifted and our words just come out as noise if we don’t have love. We could be so full of knowledge and understanding that people are constantly coming to us for advice and perspective. But we are absolutely “nothing” Paul wrote if we don’t have love. Our mountain-moving faith is made of no value if it is not joined with the love of God in our hearts. We could list a thousand things that we did for Jesus and for others, but if we are not loving to others, then that list isn’t worth the paper it is written on.

But have not love – 3 times Paul used this phrase and when he used it, he followed it with:

  • I am noise – My gifted words for Jesus are just noise.
  • I am nothing – My gifts, including my mountain-moving faith that I may hold in such high esteem are of no value at all.
  •  All my sacrifice and works are nothing. I can heap up acts of service and godly deeds to the sky, but if I am not loving, then it amounts to a pile of dung. In fact, the pile of dung is of more value because it can at least be spread out for fertilizer.

Doesn’t that impress upon you and me how important and valuable love is?

We are going to look further into 1 Corinthians 13 over the next few days and seek with God’s help to glean as much as we can from this timeless and priceless passage on love.