Bible Studies for Life

with Beth S. Bowman

Sunday,  February 23

How Can I Honor God in My Suffering?

2 Cor. 4:7-18

The fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians has such practical encouragement for those who have known suffering. First, we have this treasure — the presence and knowledge of God, the greatest treasure ever. The knowledge of God through Jesus is power, comfort, peace, solace, consolation, joy, etc. This power is not of us. Which of us can have peace in the midst of suffering? None of us, apart from knowing Jesus. We cannot overcome our difficulties through positive thinking, or call overcoming suffering “good karma.” We have to realize that our difficulty is the opportunity for God to show up strong. Remember these Sunday School lyrics, “We are weak but He is strong!” It is our privilege to be used by God in all circumstances, although during difficult times we do not always realize this.

The text refers to our bodies as “clay jars.” What a great treasure in such a humble container. God chooses to use the flawed, broken, and forsaken for His glory. He doesn’t usually choose the fine china that’s secured in a cabinet and only taken out for special occasions. Rather, He chooses everyday, common, flawed vessels to serve and reflect him. This is to display that the power is from God and not from within ourselves.

The suffering of the Apostle Paul’s ministry mirrored the life of Jesus, to some degree. The expression, “hard pressed on every side,” carries the idea that pressures can seem overwhelming, yet we are not crushed. “Perplexed,” the Greek word aporeō, means “not knowing which way to turn,” but we are not in despair or without hope. When we are persecuted for the sake of Jesus, we have never been left alone. In Philippians 3:10, Paul speaks about the glory of knowing Jesus: … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. Many people long to know “the power of His resurrection,” but want nothing to do with “the fellowship of His sufferings” or “being conformed to His death.” There is a level of intimacy with God which often only comes through brokenness. Paul rejoiced in knowing both the suffering and the glory. He knew the two were connected.

Lastly, in verse 14 the perseverance of Paul gave a testimony to follow. His faith allowed him to say, “For we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you.” Paul’s faith made him bold and gave him the ability to speak truth and life to others. I am sure some people looked at Paul like he was crazy and thought, “All of this has happened to you and yet, you still honor God?” Yes, Paul did honor God and trusted in the big picture. He knew God would win in the end! Since the time of this mercy and ministry, we keep our hope in Him. We are carrying around the death of Jesus as we die to sin, and we carry around His hope of resurrection because He lives.

I went through divorce in May 2002. That’s not a popular subject in Baptist culture. Combine that with the fact that I was in full-time ministry and you have a recipe for awkwardness – except for my church, a family of believers who understood that sometimes people suffer for the sinful decisions of others. They also understood that their love and comfort would honor God. In turn, I desired for my life to honor Him. The depth of comfort that God gave me during that time through His presence and the practical, tangible help from believers was overwhelming. My prayer is that even now, the difficulties faced during that time will be used for God’s glory.

Bowman is a conference speaker, Lifeway contract writer and member of West Carthage Church, Carthage.