• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for Feb. 1 focuses on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:7-10.
Out of its wicked hatred for God, this world is determined to attack the faith of his people. For believers, it can seem the relentless barrage this world sends against faith will overtake them. Psalm 69:9 says “the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” The Bible knows this worldly opposition as affliction and suffering.
This lesson’s passages derive from the Apostle Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians. This letter makes a lengthy presentation about handling suffering in one’s faith walk. These passages contain some of the Bible’s loftiest sayings regarding suffering. Their purpose is to lift up faith and encourage believers during difficult times.
Our difficulties are light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Verse 8 speaks of affliction, perplexity, persecution and being struck down. This is a consequence of being a “jar of clay” (v. 7), referring to human frailty. Verse 7 also speaks of a treasure. This treasure is identified in verse 6—the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This actually is the gospel of Christ (v. 4). Therefore the passage says in essence: “You have received the gospel message of Jesus. Its revelation is tremendous, and you have the privilege of possessing this great treasure while living in this world.”
The world reacts to faith in God by hitting believers with intense afflictions. Those of this world might stagger under the withering affliction, but this passage delivers great encouragement. Verse 16 opens by saying, “So we do not lose heart.” God’s great power is at work within us. That which started a good work in us continues its work. The verse speaks of the outer self wasting away. The outer self is the “jar of clay” in verse 7. We have a frail and delicate constitution. Yet we are renewed from within. God’s ministry to his people strengthens them, so they endure despite the onslaught of affliction.
Why should our hearts be reassured? Our affliction, verse 17 says, is merely light and momentary compared to an eternity in God’s presence. From our earthly perspective, our afflictions feel heavy and unending, but such impressions are misunderstandings because, as verse 18 says, the things we see are transient—fleeting, diminishing, dying, evaporating. But the unseen things, the things of God, are eternal—steady, unwavering, firmly established, unending. No matter how great our troubles may seem, one day into eternity they will appear to be a slight taint on the fabric of everlasting life.
God gives grace to live with affliction (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
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God uses even affliction to draw us closer to him. Nothing in this wicked world is outside God’s power. Thus God decides to use this wicked world as a means to increase and strengthen faith in his people. Therefore, Paul suffered from the famous “thorn in the flesh” (v. 7). He describes it further as a messenger of Satan sent to harass him. The thorn in the flesh has been interpreted widely. None of the suggestions is satisfying. He could be using an idiomatic expression or a physical metaphor to refer to a non-physical malady.
It was clear to Paul his affliction had a devilish character to it. He correctly sought the Lord for relief and soon was told the affliction was meant to keep him from conceit—congratulating himself for his prowess over wickedness. Paul had considerable access to the revelations and insights of God’s empowering presence. He knew God’s absolute power and often wielded that power against his opponents.
This time, however, Paul would face affliction and not be delivered. Verse 9 provided God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you.” God provided for Paul in a different manner. He gave Paul the ability to endure under the pressure of his affliction. Sometimes, we are called upon to walk through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).
Our infirmities give us opportunities to exalt Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
The Hebrews delighted in paradoxes, especially those that contrasted the impossibilities humans faced with God’s active, delivering power. Jesus said: “With man it is impossible, but not with God” (Mark 10:27). Verse 9 speaks of God’s power being made perfect in human weakness. Paul had great privilege with God. He was saved by the Lord and instantly pursued God with all his heart, soul and might. The Holy Spirit prompted Paul to review his intensive understanding of Scripture in light of his new faith in Jesus Christ. Paul learned many new things about God and pieced together a powerful doctrine with inspiring depth and practicality.
The word “perfect” means “complete.” Thus in his desperate afflictions, Paul experienced God’s complete power to guide and care for his people. Having learned more about God’s greatness, Paul glorified God. One of the great lessons of affliction for God’s people is God is greater than the one who brings the affliction. Evil does not prevail, even when it is doing its greatest work. God still is greater, and this is more than sufficient for his people. Therefore, Paul glorified God.
Paul described the types of affliction he faced—weaknesses, hardships, persecutions and calamities. These maladies agree with those in 4:8. Paul knew about affliction and suffering. He suffered in his faith but was not concerned, for as long as he lived on this earth, he would know the Lord was greater than anything he faced.