2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (NIV)
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. or just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Don’t you just love it when a preacher makes some mid-sermon statement that just doesn’t quite come out right? Or when a politician on the campaign trail gets off the script and makes an off-the-cuff gaff that sends his damage control people scrambling? Or when an athlete says something like, well, “I guess I’m gonna fade into Bolivian.” Sometimes sermons are too polished, politicians too robotic, and athletes too aware that whatever they say could end up as bulletin board material.
Has Paul botched the introductory words to this letter we call 2 Corinthians? When you read the opening lines you get the feeling that Paul has not run the ideas he’s putting down on parchment by the public relations department. He starts talking about suffering. Over and over he mentions suffering. Obviously Paul has done no research to discover what are the felt-needs of the folks at Corinth. Would any survey of felt-needs would turn up a desire to suffer, being overwhelmed and crushed by pressure?
Doesn’t Paul know what people want to talk about is winning, power, and getting to the top? Don’t people want to hear about finding a better self? They want to be great. They want to be winners, champions who experience God’s favor. That stuff preaches. That stuff sells. If you don’t believe it, just ask Paul’s “frenemies,” the false apostles. They’ve been running all over Corinth telling people what they are wanting to hear, and it is very different from what Paul has been telling them.
Paul has been telling them about suffering; “the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives.”
Here’s a quote from Paul Barnett’s The Message of 2 Corinthians.
Some ministers today unhelpfully raise the hopes of people by promising them immediate health and prosperity, as their due portion from God. These promises appear to be tailor-made for a society whose need for instant gratification is unprecedented in history. Paul, by contrast, soberly refers to his readers’ sufferings, and he promises, not immediate healing and success, but God’s comfort which they will experience as they patiently endure (verse 6).
As we allow these words to pour over us, we are reminded that the kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom. Values are upside-down in God’s kingdom. Suffering can be meaningful. Nobody wanted to hear it, but Paul says it anyway. And nobody wants to hear it today, either. We can cover our ears and sing so we can’t hear him. We can search out somebody selling a different product, one more to our liking. Or we can open our hearts and minds and go with Paul as he takes us deeper into the upside-down world of Jesus.