2 Corinthians



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Devotions from Second Corinthians


The Mystic of the Cross in the Midst of Suffering (2)

2 Corinthians 1: 5-11


We are struck immediately by Paul's sudden outburst of praise upon beginning his Second Epistle to the Corinthians.  After the "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort" we would surely expect something of the wonder of God's gracious providence. But to our amazement he exults in God's abundant comfort or encouragement that has sustains him in a curious combination of a suffering versus victory mode.  This is the mystic of the Cross. 

Webster defines mystic as: "a quasi mystical set of attitudes adopted toward some idea, person, art or skill investing it with an esoteric significance."  Put much more simply it is the wonder of God's intervention to transform suffering into blessing. The worldling has no word for this heavenly phenomenon.  But Paul has discovered in a new measure what the believer experiences when the Cross has «crossed» out the flesh and allowed a risen Christ to live his life in us.

Paul's Unbounded Confidence in the Father of Mercies  2 Cor. 4-7

Our normal human reaction in the mist of suffering is, to put it bluntly: "Lord, get me out of this!" In fact Paul himself confesses: "Concerning this thing --a thorn in the flesh--I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me" But God's answer introduced him to the mystic of the cross. "And he said, 'my grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'" (2 Cor. 12: 8, 9)

Paul now unveils the wonder of the Cross. Our sufferings are wonderfully sustained because of his comfort.  His comfort in turn enables us to pass on to others in a most meaningful way that divine strength. The word «comfort» is derived from the Latin «with strength». We become, then, channels of strength for others. The victorious life in the midst of suffering is the very tool God gives to us to minister strength to the weaker brother. 

Paul now sees from a divine perspective that every negative experience is designed in fact to bless someone else. Life is not centered in me, but centered in Christ who reaches out through me to those w ho suffer. This is the divine design to suffering.

A word of explanation is due. Ultimately Paul is referring to our sufferings that come to us as believers who are doing his will. This is not a reference to our headaches or mother in law. What God engineers for us becomes his equipment for ministry to others. But the marvel of God's gracious sovereignty is that even our suffering brought on by our mistakes and sins, God can turn ultimately to our edification. The humbling process of the Cross will enrich our lives and make us instruments of blessing. This process with be his doing and for his glory.  How good that we may never know! It is, after all, for his glory and not ours.

This wonder or the mystic of the cross is not the product of our best endeavor. On the contrary it is grounded in this encouragement. "And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation/encouragement." (5). Remember he is writing to his converts, some of whom even doubted his right to speak.

The Asian Experience, the New Point of Departure   2 Cor. 1: 8-9

We could view these verses 1: 8, 9 as a mere historical reference to the dangers of his recent turbulent ministry in Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19: 1-41.  But such an interpretation does no justice to the depth of meaning of the work of the cross in Paul's life. Paul entered more deeply into the essence of the Cross. He now came to learn in a way impossible before that God is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. His exact reference to Asia is veiled and provides us with little background. On purpose the Holy Spirit veils the historical data because a deeper truth grips Paul and explains the whole epistle.  Physical danger was not new to Paul; something much more vital was learned. And he will share it in this epistle. Here is a new point of departure.

Paul's vividly describes in sharpest terms the stress and pressures and their utter lack of strength; we could never attribute victory to anything in them. "When we reach the end of our hoarded resources/ the Father's full giving has only begun."

Hear what Paul says: "We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead" (1: 8, 9).  I find a clearest reference to that death of which he never tired to speak. 

Earlier to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).  To the Philippians he writes: "For me to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21).To the Colossians he adds: "Buried with him in baptism in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raise Him from the dead" (Col. 2: 12).  "You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears . . ." (Col 3:3).           

Paul's Ever New Learning the Gospel for the Believer

It can only be the death of Christ for him and his death in union with Christ (Romans 6:6) that forever changed Paul's life and ministry. Only the Cross, deeply applied by the Holy Spirit, can give joy in suffering, purpose in affliction and strength to my brother. To further strengthen the crucial nature of that death he adds:  "that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead." Paul has touched the nerve of Christian victory in suffering. It is his victory; it is his risen life that lives in Paul.

Out of his living union and communion Paul expands the time factor: "Who delivered us from so great a death --that physical danger whatever it might have been then  --and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us (1:10). Paul is saying we learned to NOT trust in ourselves in any given circumstance. But now rather we rejoice in the new reality of the Message of the Cross. In brief, if we want a deeper knowledge of God as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, it can only come through suffering, a distrust of ourselves and a new confidence in His risen life  in us .

In my years of ministry (61 years), I had polio at sixteen with the doctor's diagnosis of imminent death, a cancer threat at age 30 that would have removed my vocal cords. Later after 47 years of teaching and administration, I was removed from teaching for two years but later reinstated. I would not trade any of these so called «trials» because the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort was doing his work of death in me and life in others. "So then death is working in us, but life in you (2 Cor. 4:12).

Paul's humility was strengthened by his "death/resurrection" experience in Asia; now he is asking the very converts who doubted him that indeed he wanted the help of their prayers. "You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many" (1:11).  This is the mystic of the Cross allowing no room whatsoever for pride or self to intrude upon his glory and grace.  We will pursue this truth throughout our studies in 2 Corinthians.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, TX 78539