What does it say?
Not more than a year after his first letter, Paul writes a second to the Corinthians. The historical circumstances of all that happen in the interim between the two are a bit difficult to piece together briefly, but suffice it to say that as Paul writes this letter the situation in Corinth is improving, and Paul looks forward to visiting them again. This is the most intensely personal of all of Paul’s letters that we have in the New Testament.
Following his time in Corinth, Paul experiences great danger and suffering. He opens this letter telling them how God uses such times to not only do a work in us, but through us in the lives of others also (2 Corinthians 1). Chapter 2 demonstrates Paul’s remarkable humility and confirms the deep love that he has for the Corinthians. Rather than demand that they respond to him on the basis of his apostolic authority, chapter 3 sweetly expresses the transparent, Spirit-filled life that ought to characterize spiritual leaders, followed by a reminder that all our life is to glorify God and reflect his glory. In the fourth chapter Paul reminds the church that whatever suffering we might face it is but temporary, and our focus should be on that which is eternal and glorious.
What does it mean?
God does not cause suffering; suffering comes from our natural interaction with a world twisted by sin. God uses our suffering to accomplish his missional purposes not only in us, but also through us in the lives of others. We see this both in the first and also in the fourth chapters.
Despite his background as a legalistic Pharisee, Paul now knows the difference between the letter of the Law and the spirit of the Law (3:1-6). He also understands that all is for God’s glory. It is our focus on God glory that causes our lives to be like a mirror reflecting his glory (3:17-18) Therefore, our focus should be not on our suffering, but on the eternal and missional purposes that God accomplishes through us.
How will I respond?
What is the greatest point of pain and suffering in my life right now? How can God use this not only to grow me, but also to minister to those around me? Specifically, what is one way that my suffering and pain can be a blessing to someone else today?