(2 Cor. 5:17)
Studies in Second Corinthians
“OH, HOW I SUFFER!”
The title is imprinted on a barbecue apron, given as a Christmas present along with considerable “tongue-in-cheek.” The strange thing is that what makes the title so funny really isn’t funny for very long. That is because all of us have surely met someone who cannot seem to move off the subject of personal troubles and woes. There are those who constantly complain that life has dealt them a bad hand, unfairly targeting them with grief far beyond what they deserve. The cure, of course, is to face what we all really deserve according to Lamentations 3:22, namely, to be “consumed” in punishment for unpaid sin. Thanks be to Jesus Christ who Himself covered what we deserve.
All the more striking that the one man who could lay claim to terrible suffering for Christ’s sake would be the last one to claim the apron. Or have any of us indeed been whipped and beaten at all, let alone for the sake of the Gospel, or subjected to life-threatening danger by both man and the elements, or bobbed in the sea for a day and a half, or imprisoned, not just inadequately clothed but not clothed, escaped down a wall by being lowered in a basket? But do we read any complaint? Not a one. In fact we hear what remains for many of an almost impossible boast.
God Gave His All
“I take pleasure in infirmities . . . for Christ’s sake,” says Paul (v. 10). Nor is this “pleasure” that bogus suffering of the sick operatic comedian’s spoof: “I am so happy when I am miserable.” Paul’s pleasure is based on the knowledge that Christ Jesus has taken on the complete control of his life, even to the point of permitting Satan to torment him with a grievous “thorn in the flesh.” We are not told what the thorn was; some suggest a stuttering, seizures, or a chronic stomach pain. Whatever the thorn was, it served up the constant message that God was in control, doing what was best for Paul.
So don’t zero in on poor me and all I go through. Concentrate on eternally fortunate me that God in His love and mercy sent a Savior. When self-pity and complaints threaten to take over, let us remember that we are far, far from “giving our all.” When God gave He did “give His all” (John 3:15). He gave with no reservation; there were no back-up Sons to send later. He has only one Son, and yet He willingly gave Him up so that the eternal suffering we so richly deserve is nothing in comparison.
The hymnist caught Paul’s point in the Christmas couplet:
“Rejoice that a Savior from sin you can boast,
And join in the song of the heavenly host.”
When a God-sent thorn threatens to get you down, remember that you’re strongest when you have to rely on Him the most (v. 9).
“Oh, how I suffer!” Now if we can just change the complaint into a God-pleasing boast?
–Pastor Bertram Nauman