The apostle Paul said some crazy things. While studying for the teaching I offered at church yesterday I came across yet another gem that had eluded me all these years. In 2nd Corinthians 1:6, Paul says, “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation . . .” (NIV).
My thought had been that Paul means his suffering was a bridge to bring other people to know Jesus Christ. But he doesn’t use the past tense here. His current stress is to encourage the Corinthians and to save them. And, he’s speaking to Christians. They’ve already been saved! And he’s certainly not implying that he is their savior.
One of the nerdy-type pleasures I get from preaching is the excuse it provides to get another book. I had been taught to have at least three commentaries to review for every teaching and I didn’t have a third for 2nd Corinthians. So I bought a commentary written by a guy named Ralph Martin. I love what he says about this verse. He claims that the salvation Paul is referring to isn’t salvation from personal sin, but to save the established church community in Corinth: “The term means either the church’s protection from evil or its preservation in its wholeness or health, its chief good. (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 40, p. 10)”
How could Paul’s suffering do that? Well, as a result of his suffering they prayed for him. His first letter to the Corinthians had been pretty heavy. He had corrected them about division in the church and about their need to grow up in the faith. That harsh letter, mixed with Paul’s suffering (whatever instance he’s referring to in 2nd Corinthians 1:8-10), had refocused that church on Jesus Christ.
So Paul’s claim is that their prayers for him were the reason not only for his being saved from a situation where he had resigned himself to death, but it saved the church in Corinth as well. It saved them from insignificance or even total collapse.
Yesterday, the question I addressed during worship that this passage answers was why does God let me suffer for things I haven’t done? Paul says that his suffering was to save the church. If there are people in your Christian community that are in dire circumstances, are you praying for them? Or, maybe you were but you’ve given up. I’m not saying this is the case, but it was with Paul so it may be with you.
If there’s a chance that God is allowing them to suffer so that your church will benefit from the prayer, maybe you should start hitting the prayer thing hard on their behalf – for their sake and for yours.