(Please read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in your preferred version of the Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)
God delivers us from death to Himself.
An actual Twitter exchange between an angry customer and Domino’s Pizza:
Customer: Yoooo I ordered a Pizza & Came with no Toppings on it or anything, It’s Just Bread
Domino’s: We’re sorry to hear about this!
Customer (minutes later): Never mind, I opened the pizza upside down
A company, feeling it was time for a shake-up, hired a new CEO with a reputation for ridding his companies of all slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning on a wall. He saw a chance to show everyone he means business! The CEO walked up the guy and asked “How much money do you make a week?”
Undaunted, the young fellow looks at him and replies, “I make $ 200.00 a week. Why?” The CEO then handed him $200 in cash and screamed “Here’s a week’s pay, now GET OUT and don’t come back!” Feeling pretty good about his first firing, the CEO looks around the room and asked “Anyone know what that slacker did here?”
With a wry grin, one of the other workers muttered “Pizza delivery guy”.
It is believed that Paul actually wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but only two of them were preserved and made part of our New Testament. One of the reasons Paul kept writing to them was to defend his ministry from critics. The false teachers in the church kept trying to elevate themselves by tearing Paul down.
In our section this morning, Paul is attempting to defend the authority of his ministry in an unusual way. He effectively wrote, “No one has suffered more for the cause of Christ than I have. What I know about Jesus and what I have taught you I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.”
To his credit, Paul never turned to his sufferings as reasons to complain or any other kind of sin. Instead, he always turned them to good, brought glory to God, and directed people’s attention to Jesus as the One who delivers us from our troubles.
- We are delivered again and again (8-11).
This is obviously a personal section of this letter. Paul did not want the church to be unaware of the difficulties encountered while ministering on their behalf. It is unusual for Paul to begin a letter this way. Usually he emphasized the concerns of the church and not his own struggles.
His TROUBLES were personal. This is obvious in the repeated use of “WE.” Our TROUBLES aren’t to be only troubling; they serve the divine purpose of drawing us closer to God. Imagine how more depressing TROUBLES become when we lack faith.
His TROUBLES were profound. People of faith don’t pretend to be chipper or strong when they face troubles; they don’t make light of them to impress others. People of faith are just as deeply affected by grief as anyone else; we have God as a greater resource in overcoming pain.
Paul’s choices of words in vs. 8+9 convey a deep emotional impact from his difficult circumstances.
UNDER GREAT PRESSURE (8) may refer to a persecution Paul suffered in Ephesus (ACS 19:23-41).
DESPAIRED OF LIFE ITSELF (8) indicates a deep sense of grief.
SENTENCE OF DEATH (9) means Paul felt that even God was against him. Later in life, Paul would receive an actual death sentence and died a martyr’s death.
The point was not to arouse sympathy or to boast, but to do two other things. Primarily, to glorify God as the Deliverer:
THIS HAPPENED THAT WE MIGHT NOT RELY ON OURSELVES BUT ON GOD, WHO RAISES FROM THE DEAD.
HE HAS DELIVERED US AND HE WILL DELIVER US AGAIN.
WE HAVE SET OUR HOPE THAT HE WILL CONTINUE TO DELIVER US.
Secondarily, to thank the churches for their prayer support. We tend to reflect on the personal effects of our sufferings. Paul showed a broader vision by looking at how the church supported him in his TROUBLES by means of prayer.
AS YOU HELP US BY YOUR PRAYERS.
MANY WILL GIVE THANKS ON OUR BEHALF FOR THE GRACIOUS FAVOR GRANTED US IN ANSWER TO THE PRAYERS OF MANY. The result of God’s deliverance should always result in prayers of thanksgiving.
The greater the sufferings we face, the more we feel loved and the closer we draw to God and one another as we overcome them. This fact should encourage us, especially in moments of greatest sorrow.
- We are delivered to be comforters (3-7).
Giving comfort is what God is all about.
THE FATHER OF COMPASSION (3). (“Merciful Father.”)
THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT (3). (“Encouragement” and “consolation.”)
WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL OUR TROUBLES (4). The Greek word for “comfort” here is the same one used in John 14 as a name for the Holy Spirit – the source of our comfort. It means “one who stands alongside to help.”
JUST AS WE SHARE…IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, SO ALSO OUR COMFORT ABOUNDS THROUGH CHRIST (5). (See also Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 4:10; Colossians 1:24.) THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST does not refer to the passion of Jesus, but to the things His followers suffer that are similar, and to His identification with us. As Jesus is the source of our COMFORT, it makes sense that we, by faith, identify our sufferings with Him as well.
Giving and receiving comfort is what God’s people are all about. Paul saw His suffering as contributing positively to spiritual maturing of the Corinthian believers.
We are also familiar with human nature and repeatedly observe that the most naturally sympathetic counselors are people who have suffered the same things. Paul affirms both the spiritual and emotional benefits of suffering in five expressions found in vs. 4-7:
SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVE FROM GOD (4).
IF WE ARE DISTRESSED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT AND SALVATION (6).
IF WE ARE COMFORTED, IT IS FOR YOUR COMFORT (6).
YOUR COMFORT…PRODUCES IN YOU PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE SAME SUFFERINGS WE SUFFER (6).
OUR HOPE IN YOU IS FIRM BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT JUST AS YOU SHARE IN OUR SUFFERINGS, SO ALSO YOU SHARE IN OUR COMFORT (7).
The question raised as the title of this message seems easy enough to answer: When you’re sick with real problems or worries, when you’re hedged about with difficulties, when you’re down and grieving, why wouldn’t you want to be delivered from those things? I’ve been ill for a couple weeks now and have prayed repeatedly for deliverance. Did I want to be delivered from the flu? You betcha!
But it is human nature to complicate things, so even deliverance is not as obvious as it first seems. Do people who hold a grudge pray to be delivered from their anger?
Do drama queens pray to be delivered from conflicts?
Do people who feel empowered by their status as a victim pray to be delivered from that circumstance?
Do people who oppose change pray to be delivered to something new?
Let’s be honest. The person who stands most securely in the way of deliverance is the person in the mirror. Sympathy is often a good thing, but good intentions can also impede growth if it merely maintains our affections that oppose God’s will.
God has promised to either deliver us or use our trials to change us more into the image of His son. People of faith do not waste perfectly good suffering. They struggle, not only with the trial, but with everything inside them that impedes the work of God on their heart.