I pray you’re continuing to read through the New Testament with our church family. During the last week of April and the first two weeks of May our schedule brought us 2 Corinthians, which includes a mountain peak of God’s mercy in my life. On more than one occasion in times of adversity, God has used 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 to strengthen me to persevere so I want to share some truth from it with you. While Paul writes out of his experience as an Apostle, the message about adversity can help any of us during trials and struggles.
Adversity is a gift to remind us that we are insufficient. God never intended for the containers to rival the beauty of what they hold. He didn’t design the conduit to outshine the content. To eliminate any doubt about where the power in gospel ministry resides, He uses adversity to demonstrate it. Paul lists four specific varieties of adversity in verses 7 and 8: affliction, confusion, persecution, and physical assaults.
In every case, the significance is not the suffering itself, but the fact that suffering does not win. Each example of suffering is contrasted with a negation. Our affliction does not leave us trapped. Our confusion does not leave us in despair. Our persecution does not leave us without God. Our physical beatings do not destroy us. Indeed, these will push us to the brink of our capacity, but the God who sends them is the God who sustains us. We are not capable for this charge. We are not strong enough or smart enough and adversity is a gift to serve as an intimate reminder of your utter dependence on God. Therefore, embrace it.
Adversity is a gift to manifest the life of Jesus in and through us. Without God’s sustaining grace, suffering would ruin us. But, as Paul teaches in verses 10 and 11, by His grace they become avenues for the display of the life of Jesus in us. If it’s true that we do not live by our own strength, then adversity comes along to prove it. He declares in the middle of verse 10 that suffering is “carrying in our body the death of Jesus” for the purpose of displaying Jesus’ life.
The believer who appears to be self-sufficient suppresses the shimmer of Jesus’ abundant, resurrected life. God intercepts these misguided notions by laying the weight of adversity on us and then radiating His life through them. We cannot adequately display the rich life of our resurrected Savior without the dark valleys of suffering that contrast our insufficiency with His absolute sufficiency.
Adversity is a gift to bring life to those around us. Moving from the display of Jesus’ life in the suffering servants of Jesus, Paul explains the reverberating impact on the people of God. He’s writing in the context of ministry, but it applies beyond it. He asserts that when death is at work in one believer, life is at work in others nearby. Some of the seedlings of life in those around you sprout from the seeds of suffering in your life. Your endurance in suffering sends out ripples of God’s grace among His people for God’s glory.
If you want God’s glory to increase through your spouse, children, grandchildren, friends, etc. as they grow in trust, in godliness, in perseverance, in holiness, in peace, in patience, and so on, then pass perseveringly through the fires of trial as they watch. In these times, you can give them a present illustration of what it looks like for a believer to walk by the Spirit in any and every circumstance. If you long for the sanctification of the people in your life, then don’t despise adversity for it is an instrument in God’s hands for their life.
Adversity is a gift to prepare us for eternity. Paul repeats the theme of this smaller section in verse 16, “So we do not lose heart” and then adds this final reason to treat adversity as a gift. Trouble draws our gaze away from a preoccupation with the present by creating a longing for what awaits us. All of us are tempted to count and count-on what is tangible. We cling to our bodies, our health, our reputations, and our jobs, but none of these will last. Even though we know this to be true, we need the persistent reminders of our frailty and the passing nature of what can be seen. In this light, affliction can be called “light” and “momentary,” not because it is easy, but because it pales in comparison to the weight and length of eternity.
Yet, adversity does more than merely produce an eternal perspective. According to verse 17, it “prepares for us an eternal weight of glory.” The suffering is part of God’s purpose – His glorious, gracious, end-time purpose – that will be advanced and not thwarted by the suffering of his people. To borrow from the language of Romans 8:28, He is working our adversity together with all things for our ultimate, eternal good. Therefore, adversity is a gift to be embraced.