In 2 Corinthians 1:8–9, the Apostle Paul writes of the sufferings he endured during his ministry to the gentiles:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
The Apostle Paul was used in a mighty way by God to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. We read in the book of Acts that Paul was a key church planter, and he knew what it meant to experience difficulties and hardships. In 2 Corinthians 11:23–25, Paul says:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one —I am talking like a madman—with far greater labor, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.
Yes, Paul knew well of difficulties and hardships, so how did he respond to them? Paul was God centered in his response. He focused on God and on what God was doing through the difficult circumstances, just as in 2 Corinthians 1:9, when he says that his suffering “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” Paul was convinced of the power of God and that God could even raise the dead, as he himself had met the risen Christ (Acts 9:5).
Also, Paul by God’s grace had an eternal perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–17, Paul writes: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Paul had learned that it was not about him and his strength but all about Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:9–10, Paul records God’s response to his pleas:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
How about us? How are we responding when in God’s providence we face difficulties and hardships? Are we God centered or do we focus simply on how hard it is for us? Do we have the faith that indeed God can even raise the dead? May God grant us an eternal kingdom perspective, and may He give us the humility to truly believe the words of 2 Corinthians 12:10: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”