The 2 greatest human needs met by God are forgiveness and comfort. Everyone is a sinner and needs God’s grace; everyone is a sufferer and needs God’s peace. Suffering is a normal part of every Christian life, just as sin is. 2 Corinthians 1:5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives…” Jesus said that in the world we are going to have trouble just as He had trouble.
Our culture today is trying to convince us that we should never have to hurt. Overindulgent parents try to exempt their children from every unpleasant experience. “I don’t want my children to have it as rough as I had it as a child,” they say. “I don’t want them to hurt.” So children don’t know the pain of discipline, the unpleasantness of hard work, or the disappointment of denial. They grow up thinking that all of life is supposed to be peaches and cream. When life gets difficult, they want to bail out. One of the reasons we have such a drug and alcohol problem in our society is that people are trying to escape suffering. They say, “I have so much pressure in my marriage and so much pressure on my job that I’ve got to find a way out. When I take these chemicals, I feel at peace; I feel better.”
Now we have an accommodating theology to support the philosophy that life can and should be free from pain. It’s called the “health and wealth gospel.” Some TV preachers will tell you that if you really confess all of your sins and dedicate your life to God, you will always be happy, healthy and prosperous.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that suffering is a natural part of every life lived in this contaminated world. Just after Adam and Eve disobeyed God and had eaten the forbidden fruit, God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.”
Maybe you’ve heard about the husband who was encouraging his wife throughout her intense 24 hours of labor. When she finally gave birth to a 10 pound healthy son, he said to his wife, “That wasn’t so bad was it?” She then proceeded to punch him in the face, knocking him out. The nurse needed smelling salts to awaken him.
Every one of us is here today because a woman suffered to bring us into the world. We’ve tried to reduce that suffering by anesthesia & by the natural childbirth procedure, but it’s still there.
The man was supposed to suffer, too. God told Adam that, because he had eaten of the tree, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns & thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.” Every time we sit down to a meal, we’re eating because somebody has suffered to provide that food. All the automation in the world has not eliminated the pain of farming. It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the world to clear the field and plow and plant and cultivate and finally harvest the crop.
Working in a slaughterhouse is one of the worst jobs in the world. There’s the squealing of the animals, the flashing of knives, frequent injuries, terrible stench, and low pay. The meat & veggies we eat are on the table because somebody has suffered to provide them.
Paul used two examples in 2 Corinthians 1 to illustrate that no one is exempt from suffering. The first example was Jesus. Verse 5, “The sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives.” From the beginning of His life, Jesus was lonely and rejected, a victim of criticism, and acquainted with grief. If Jesus was perfect and He suffered, how can we expect to be exempt? God had one Son without sin, but He had no sons without suffering.
The 2nd example was Paul himself. Vs. 8, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”
We think that pressure is a 21st century experience only, because we are under a lot of stress. But we probably don’t experience the kind of pressure that Paul faced. He had to work part time in order to pay for his missionary trips. He had physical problems that kept dragging him down. He was lonely. He endured the tension of constant travel and the disappointment of people who rejected the gospel. His enemies even had a contract out on his life. That’s suffering.
If Jesus suffered (and He was perfect), and if Paul suffered (and he was the most zealous Christian there ever was), then so will we. It happens to everybody. We’re no different.