Unselfish Suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Are you selfish with your suffering? It may seem like a strange question, but not in the light of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. There is a way to suffer hardship that, if we do it rightly, will be a benefit to others and a testimony to the glory of God.

In the passage above, notice how Paul uses the word “comfort.” He praises God for how God has comforted him and his friends as they have suffered hardships for the sake of the gospel. But Paul also understood that he did not simply receive that comfort for his own benefit. He clearly expresses that God has comforted him in order that he might use that very same comfort to comfort others. The very gift that God gave Paul to sustain him through his suffering was a gift that Paul was called by God to use to help others who are going through similar suffering.

What have you suffered? What are you suffering? In our world, there are many who have gone through horrible, unthinkable suffering. There are likely many people you know even today who are presently enduring pain that is off the charts. Maybe even you are suffering. Let me encourage you to not be (or have been) a selfish sufferer.

What would a selfish sufferer look like? A selfish sufferer might endure the pain. A selfish sufferer might even be comforted by God in his or her affliction. But a selfish sufferer will keep all of that wisdom and experience to himself or herself. A selfish sufferer will not look into the lives of others to see how they are suffering. A selfish sufferer will not expose how he or she has hurt in the past, but will work to quietly maintain a particular reputation. A selfish sufferer will not allow others to help in his or her own trial, and in turn, will not help others during theirs (at least not with any sort of genuine help).

One word of caution is this: Do not use this text or this discussion to cause you to become a pity-seeker. There are many Christians who, every time a small group convenes, dominate the conversation with how bad they have had it in the past or that they are having it at present. You’ve seen them, I’m sure. No small group Bible study session can conclude without them declaring how they have been through great trials as a child or in their marriage or at the doctor’s office. Again, I’m not saying that you keep your troubles to yourself, because that is a selfish sufferer. But it is also selfish to find your solace in the pity of others. Don’t try to compete with others in the group to see who has had it worse over life. Instead, focus little on your past pain and much on how God comforted you in that pain. Make your discussion of your past suffering about the glory of God, not about your misery. And, when you are suffering, be honest with Christian brothers and sisters as you seek comfort, but do not use your story to simply win sympathy.

So, how do you become an unselfish sufferer? When you suffer, be honest with other Christians. Tell them your concerns. Let them help. Let them offer you comfort. But do not make yourself the center of the universe. And, when you have come out of suffering, determine in your own mind that you will comfort others with the same comfort that you received. Tell your story, but not with a focus on yourself. Tell your story with the glory of God and the comfort of others in view.

Lord, I recognize that all people will, in one way or another go through difficulties in life. I pray that, when I suffer, you will lead me to other brothers and sisters in Christ who can offer me the kind of genuine, God-focused comfort that I will need to pull through. At the same time, I pray that I will offer others the same comfort that I have received from you. Let me never make my suffering about myself. Let me never be a pity-seeker. Instead, let me unselfishly use my suffering for the comfort of others and for your glory.