The Suffering Contest – 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

suffering2“I received the ‘forty lashes minus one’ from the Jews five times. I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night in the open sea. I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes. Besides all the other things I could mention, there’s my daily stress because I’m concerned about the churches. “ (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, CEB).

Several years ago when my youngest son was a teenager and entering into young adulthood, he told me that the reason he was having problems with his life was because he had such a hard life growing up. At the time it shocked me that he made this unusual observation about his life. He did have some difficult adjustments to make in his life, maybe even a few more issues to confront than the average kid. But a hard life? Not at all!

We made a good life for him. He was our last and youngest child, so he had our full attention as parents. He traveled many places with me as a kid. He participated in many school and after-school activities and as his parents we were always there to watch and cheer him on. We did everything we could as his parents to give him a good life. So, whatever personal problems he had were certainly not the result of his hard life growing up. “No son, you’re remembering wrong. You’ve had a good life!”

Sometimes, I find myself doing the same thing with God. I get to looking at my problems and start feeling sorry for myself. How could God let all these bad things happen to me? Then, I start crying out to God about what a hard life I’ve had.

And, just about as soon as the first tear starts to drop, the Holy Spirit reassures me: “No son, you’re remembering wrong. You’ve had a good life.” And then, everything that seemed so awful a moment before doesn’t seem so bad.

There’s no argument I can make to God about the hard life that I’ve had, the tragedies I’ve faced, that stands up to what Jesus suffered for me! Yes, my Heavenly Father has done everything He could to give me a good life, abundant life, eternal life!

But, here’s the problem. We sometimes develop this theological perspective about the Christian life that it’s a suffering contest. God makes us suffer so we can become better Christians. And, our Christian life becomes a series of problems accentuated by the suffering they have caused us.

So, we begin to think that the more we suffer the better Christian we must be. Then, we start comparing our problems with others and conclude that what we are going through is surely more than God could reasonably expect us to bear. We might even think that we have it harder than anybody else.

But you don’t have to look around very much to find someone that has more problems than you or that has suffered more severely than you!

When life becomes a suffering contest, there’s always going to be someone who has suffered more than you. And, most of the time, the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul are going to win the suffering contest just about every time!

So, don’t even sign up to enter the suffering contest. Don’t live your life as a series of problems. Because it’s all really a matter of perspective. In Christ, you can do all things so the problems don’t really matter.

In fact, there’s really no problems, there’s only opportunities, because Christ in you can do all things!

You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, CEB)

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