February 2, 2020 The Shared Life

The Shared Life

Scripture reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-11.

This letter by the apostle Paul is one of encouragement. In his first letter he rebuked them rather sharply over several matters in which they were behaving in a manner unworthy of Christ. He spanked them in his first letter. Now, he writes to comfort them. One commentator has well characterized this situation:

What Paul was doing here is similar to the comfort a parent may give to a child after the child has been disciplined. Suppose a child misbehaves and is seriously disciplined by his parents. After the child repents, the parents will spend time to comfort the child.1

The church at Corinth was a church full of problems. In his first epistle, the apostle characterizes them as carnal (I Cor 3:3). This ought to be an encouragement to us because are not many of us yet carnal? We ought to be spiritual, that is, walking in the spirit most of our lives. But I am afraid it is not so. I fear that many of us are not walking in the spirit. Thus, we can find support for our own condition in the letters of Paul to the Corinthians.

In verse 1 we see that Paul was an apostle. He was not an apostle simply by convention, or by duty, or by majority vote. That is, he was not an apostle merely by an acknowledgment of men. Rather he was an apostle by the will of God! Hence, whatever Paul writes are the very words of God delivered to him for our benefit.

In verse 2 he gives a greeting that he frequently uses. Although he uses it often, it is rich and full of significance. He pronounces grace to them. Definitionally, we know what grace is. It is the unmerited favor of God. God favors us even though we don’t deserve it. Every Christian experiences the grace of God towards their self. Here, Paul is wishing the Corinthian disciples more grace. 

Experientially, grace is God enjoyed by man.2 The Corinthians had suffered, both from persecution and the apostle’s discipline, but they would be comforted by God and even enjoy God.

Also in verse 2, Paul pronounces peace to them. How we need peace! This world is a place of unrest. The unrest around us often causes unrest in our souls. We need peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And, it is available!

In verse 3, the apostle blesses God the Father. Listen, saints! In your prayers do not be so quick to begin your petitions. We have many requests to our God and he desires to hear them. But, take the time to simply bless the Father, to honor him, to praise him. He deserves these things, does he not? We fulfill our longing to praise him and bless him first, then we tell him about our needs and desires.

In verse 4 Paul writes seven words that we all must know. He writes that God is the God of all comfort. He is the God

      “who comforts us in all our affliction.”
      
I am compelled to encourage you to consider these words. There are four things we should know.

[1.] Affliction, or suffering, is part of human life. It is even more a part of the Christian life.

Do not be too surprised when you must experience suffering. The reason for this is that we live in a sin-sick world. Sin is everywhere. When sin touches our lives then affliction accompanies it. Sometimes, the affliction comes later. There is sin, either our own or someone else’s, affecting us. At first, there may seem to be no adverse consequences. But, do you know what? There always is!! Sometimes they are just delayed. Other times, suffering comes as soon as the sin comes. The Corinthians had this experience. They were being persecuted. Those people who were persecuting them were sinning against them and they felt it right then.

Suffering then is part of the human condition. Of course, we often have long times of relief from suffering. We may go for weeks, months, or even years with little or no suffering. But, eventually, it will reach us again. You should know that the more we live in accordance with God’s revelation the longer will be our times of grace and peace in which we are relatively free from suffering. 

Suffering is part of the human condition, but it is even more a part of the Christian life. Why is that? It is so because the unbeliever does not belong to the Lord as a child of the Lord. He only belongs to the Lord as his creation. Thus, the Lord will not discipline that person. But he will allow suffering in the life of his child so that we will be sanctified.

[2.] Deliverance from suffering and affliction comes from the Living God. Let us revisit verses 8 and 9:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 3

Paul relates his own experience with affliction in order to let the Corinthians know that, since God delivered he and Timothy, he will also deliver them. He writes that the affliction was so severe that they even despaired of living. Have you had this experience? Affliction can be great. Oh! We live in a sin-sick world. Enemies are out there. But, our greatest enemy is just ourselves. Our own foolish decisions, our own sins, often bring the greatest sufferings. Even though the Corinthians were being persecuted, so much of their suffering was their own doing.

 It is the same with us. There will be affliction caused by antagonistic people who learn of our faith in Christ. There will be affliction caused by jealous co-workers. There may even be emotional hardship caused by jealous Christians. But, much of our suffering is due to our own foolishness.

Wherever the suffering comes from, God is the one who delivers us! It doesn’t depend on us! It doesn’t depend on our ability to find a way out. God delivers! If you are suffering now, God is going to deliver you! This is what Paul overtly proclaims in verse 10:

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 4

He will deliver us! He will deliver you!

[3.] The issue, the result, of suffering and deliverance is comfort through, in, and after suffering.

The apostle Peter addresses our Lord’s experience of suffering.

When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.5

To be reviled is to be insulted, to be called a name, to be condemned – any of those things. When our Lord was reviled he didn’t revile in return. When he was suffering he just trusted in God the Father. I tell you, when you trust God, even in the midst of suffering, there is a peace and comfort that comes.

I recently experienced the worst month of my life. I am still coping. Yet, through some of the lowest times I sensed the presence and power of God. There was a comfort that he gave to me in the midst of deep sorrow.

Through the suffering there is a comfort available to those who trust the Lord. Trusting him means believing what he has promised. Although there is comfort in the suffering, the greatest comfort comes through deliverance.  The Lord delivered Paul and Timothy. He would deliver the Corinthians. And, he will deliver you from your affliction. You see, God is sovereign. Even the bad things in life are under his control and he allows them for a purpose. God has his timing and his timing is not our timing. There is a time for everything.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
    2     a time to be born, and a time to die; 
        a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
    3     a time to kill, and a time to heal; 
        a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
    4     a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
        a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 6

God has his timing. But here is a marvelous and amazing thing. He has given us authority to shorten or lengthen the very times of God! See what Paul wrote in verse 11 of our text this morning:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 7

The means by which we may shorten or lengthen times of suffering is prayer. Of course, we may and should pray regarding our own suffering. But, it is when we pray for others, and they pray for us, that deliverance comes. This was Paul’s testimony and it is recorded here for us -- so that we will know that deliverance is available through prayer.

[4.] The final matter that we ought to see is that one reason for suffering is so that, once we experience the comfort of God, once we are delivered, we are then enabled to comfort others. The Lord uses us to bring comfort to others.

This shows that the proper Christian life is not a social club that meets once per week. Sadly, some treat this life in such a way. They show up on Sunday but that is the only time you see them. Now, that is far better than not meeting on the Lord’s Day at all. Because God is speaking in the church. Songs of praise lift our spirits. We learn of God’s will in the meetings of the church. But, I am saying that just attending the Lord’s Day meetings is not the normal Christian life. The real Christian life is a shared life. It is a life where we share our burdens and share our prosperity. I don’t mean just monetary prosperity. I mean prosperity of mind and spirit, soothing one another and comforting one another.

Through my recent tragedy, I received so much support from so many of you. I don’t think I could have handled it all otherwise. But, through it all, it has caused my love for all of you to grow deeper.

The Christian life is a shared life! This is why we must go beyond once per week meetings. Find a home fellowship. We have some going on here. If you can’t make those, invite someone to your home.

The Christian life is a shared life. Share your life and let others share theirs with you. This is all by God’s design. When you enter into the shared life you will find a fulfillment that comes with it. It is part of the joyful journey.

 


1 Witness Lee, Life-Study of Second Corinthians (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1984), 1.

2 Footnote on John 1:17 in The Holy Bible, Recovery Version (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 2003)
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 1:8–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 1:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 2:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ec 3:1–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 1:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.