NEW PROVIDENCE BAPTIST CHURCH

WHERE GOD IS CALLING YOU OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS MARVELOUS LIGHT

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sunday School Lesson

August 3

Lesson 10

Comfort in Times of Trouble

Devotional Reading: Psalm 46

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.

8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:

9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:

10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;

11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.

Key Verse

Our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. —2 Corinthians 1:7

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Describe the nature of the suffering and the consolation that Paul discusses.

2. Explain the relationships between suffering, comfort, and prayer in the life of the Christian.

3. Write a letter of encouragement to a missionary supported by his or her church, including a prayer of consolation similar to what Paul describes.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. Xtreme Christianity?

B. Lesson Background

I. Reality of God's Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

A. Thanking the Father (vv. 3, 4)

Blessed, and Blessing Others

B. Standing with Christ (vv. 5-7)

II. Reliance on God's Strength (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

A. Burdened Heavily (v. 8)

B. Delivered Providentially (vv. 9, 10)

Despairing of Life

C. Celebrating Thankfully (v. 11)

Conclusion

A. Power to Overcome Suffering

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction
A. Xtreme Christianity?

Have you noticed how many things are described as "extreme" these days? The trend seems to have started with so-called extreme sports: snowboarding, mountain-bike racing, etc. Then advertisers latched onto the word extreme to promote features of various products, products said to have extreme flavor, extreme comfort, extreme value, etc. And at its own extreme, the first letter of the word extreme is dropped, with an xtreme result!

What about the exercise of our Christian faith? Is there such a thing as xtreme Christianity? If so, what does it look like? Today's text has answers.

B. Lesson Background

Paul wrote letters to the church at Corinth in response to several problems. Our previous five lessons considered the first such letter, 1 Corinthians, written from Ephesus in about AD 56. That letter contains many strong statements about the church's failure to live out the gospel message.

Paul then seems to have made a brief trip from Ephesus to Corinth to see how the church was responding to his instructions. Apparently, that visit was not a great success (see 2 Corinthians 2:1; compare 7:8; 13:2).

At about the same time, Paul also faced great difficulties while in Ephesus. Acts 19:23-20:1 tells us of a massive protest—nearly a riot—against him and the gospel. This happened after Paul had sent two of his key assistants ahead of him to Macedonia (Acts 19:22), so he was left without the support of two of his most trusted associates during this trying time.

All this meant that Paul was saddled with enormous mental and emotional burdens as he left Ephesus and traveled toward Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Along the way, Paul undoubtedly wondered about the fate of the great church in Corinth. What would he find there as a result of his diverting time and energy to Ephesus? Arriving at Troas, Paul expected to find his friend Titus, but he was not there—another setback (2 Corinthians 2:13). Paul was at best discouraged, at worst deeply depressed. "For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears" (7:5).

But Paul eventually received good news. Arriving in Macedonia (AD 57), he at last met up with Titus, who informed him of the Corinthian church's positive regard for Paul and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:6-8). There was still more for that church to do, but the commitment of their faith was reaffirmed.

Events and circumstances caused Paul to reflect deeply on what it means to face hardship in following Jesus. The results of Paul's reflections are found in several passages of 2 Corinthians. One such passage is our text for today.

I. Reality of God's Comfort

                                                                             (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

A. Thanking the Father (vv. 3, 4)

3. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.

In Paul's time, letters typically begin with a greeting that is followed by a prayer of thanksgiving for the welfare of the addressees. Paul usually begins his letters the same way. Paul's prayers are no mere formality; they express profound gratitude for the things that he writes about in the sections that follow. That is certainly the case here.

Paul begins his prayer with an extended, focused description of God. That God should be blessed means that God is to be spoken well of by all. The God worthy of such praise is none other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one sent into the world to live and die as a human.

How to Say It

Corinth Kor-inth.

Corinthians Ko-rin-thee-unz (th as in thin).

Ephesus Ef-uh-sus.

Macedonia Mass-eh-doe-nee-uh.

Titus Ty-tus.

Troas Tro-az.

 

That death was not just a "normal" experience of human suffering, however. It was the means by which God made forgiveness available to stubborn, rebellious humans. God is therefore also the Father of mercies, the source of that compassionate forgiveness. In Christ, God demonstrates the profound level of concern and commitment that He has for those created in His image.

God's concern and commitment goes beyond His extending of forgiving mercy. He is also the God of all comfort. He knows that His people experience discouragement, suffering, and setbacks of all kinds. In His committed love, God addresses His people's suffering not always by taking it away but by granting encouragement and sustaining strength that they (we) need in order to endure. Whatever the problem God's people face, in the long run God's comfort is greater.

4. Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

Note how Paul uses various forms of the word comfort five times in this verse and the one preceding. God's comfort surely is central to Paul's thanksgiving!

As the God of comfort, He ministers to His people in every situation of tribulation, a word simply meaning "trouble." Large or small, instances of trouble in the lives of God's people are met with His encouragement and sustenance. He proves himself faithful to His people by acting in this way. The God who gave His Son in death for His people will surely not abandon His people in times of trouble (Romans 8:32).

We who have received God's comfort become the agents of His comfort to others. Paul notes later how the presence of other Christians has encouraged him at critical times (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7, 13). He stresses that the church, the body of Christ, carries out Christ's work in the world. If comfort comes from the God of comfort, then it surely comes through those who belong to God through Christ.

Certainly we can see how this works in everyday life. When times are hardest is when we often receive the greatest encouragement, the keenest wisdom, the deepest understanding from people who have been through similar situations. When we connect with someone who is experiencing in the present what we have experienced in the past, we sense an immediate closeness with that person.

This connection is surely based on and combined with a strong, Spirit-empowered impulse to provide empathy, encouragement, and reassurance. God's love and comfort are made real and tangible as His people become vessels that carry to others what God has already given to them.

What Do You Think?

In what circumstances do you experience God's comfort the most? How have these experiences helped you to extend His comfort to others?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Family situations

Church situations

Job situations

Other

Blessed, and Blessing Others

Chuck and Pat, a young Christian couple, lost their baby Mary to a congenital heart defect when she was only a month old. When Mary's grandparents came to console the couple a few hours later, they were accompanied by a man and woman whom Chuck and Pat had never met. They explained their reason for requesting to come: they too had lost a baby at an early age, and they wanted Chuck and Pat to know that others had a sense of the pain they were feeling. This selfless act stirred up painful memories, but the consolation they offered helped Chuck and Pat begin to heal.

Chuck and Pat found their life paths crossing those of other hurting parents numerous times in the years that followed. In the process, Chuck and Pat shared the blessing they had received years earlier from those previously unknown friends, who were doing what Paul speaks of in today's text.

We should not say that such tragedies come upon us so that grief-stricken parents can be prodded into comforting others. However, we will find ourselves being prepared to help others see how God's grace works even in the most difficult circumstances as we experience God's comfort through others in the midst of our own suffering.—C. R. B.

B. Standing with Christ (vv. 5-7)

5. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

Belonging to Christ means experiencing what Christ experienced as well as receiving all that Christ gives. This is the great insight that Paul shares from his reflection on the gospel and his recent experiences.

At the core of the gospel is the truth that those who belong to Christ have been united with Christ (Romans 6:4-6; Colossians 2:12). That means that we enjoy all the blessings of Christ's supreme rule (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1). But being united with Christ means also sharing in His sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:10, 11). Such sufferings are not signs that God has abandoned us. Rather, they are signs that we truly belong to Christ, the Christ who died on the cross.

God is faithful to those who suffer for being united with Christ. God's comfort and encouragement are always greater than suffering. Again and again, we can point to instances where the most powerful testimony to the truth of the gospel comes from those who have suffered deeply, but who also have experienced God's comfort in even greater abundance. This is the extreme, abundant life to which the Christian is called, a life that deeply reflects Christ's own life.

What Do You Think?

What are some ways to keep from sinking into a "pity party" when we suffer for Christ? Which have you found most helpful in this regard?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Methods that involve your fellow Christians

Methods that don't involve your fellow Christians

6. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.

The cross teaches us about our suffering and God's comfort. Christ did not suffer merely for the sake of suffering, as if pain and hardship were good things in and of themselves. No, Christ suffered on behalf of others. He took on himself the punishment that we deserve. He suffered so that we can have God's blessing.

So it is, in a sense, for Paul. God does not put Paul through hard times merely to "toughen him up." His sufferings are for the sake of others. He suffers as he travels, experiencing dangers and hardships to preach the gospel. He suffers emotionally as he experiences the ups and downs of working with new believers. Experiencing all these things, Paul becomes all the more able to minister the gospel to hurting people, to be the vessel of God's encouragement to the suffering. Through his own sufferings Paul is developing the tenacious endurance that enables him not just to overcome hardship personally but to provide a seasoned example to others who are suffering.

United with Christ, who died for others, Paul's suffering is for the sake of others too. So is ours. In hardships big and small, God is shaping us to be the vessels of His merciful comfort to people who will have experiences like ours. He is using us as Christ's body in the world to make the work of the cross real in others' lives.

7. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.

What does all this mean for the Corinthian Christians? They have been through significant hardships—many of their own making—as they have struggled with sinful habits and attitudes. Paul's forceful, even harsh, admonitions to the Corinthians have provoked deep feelings of resentment among some (2 Corinthians 10:10). But God's Word has proven to be more powerful than the old sinful lifestyle.

What Do You Think?

When was a time you resented an admonishment from a fellow Christian at first, only to realize later that his or her counsel was exactly what you needed to hear?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding something you did

Regarding something you failed to do

Regarding an attitude

Other

So, Paul says, he has a firm, unshakable hope for the Corinthians. He sees not a group of wavering, shallow, inconsistent converts. He sees, rather, people who have been joined with Christ and who are now learning what it means to belong to Him. Their sufferings are a sign of their union with Christ. So it is all the more sure that God will provide everything that they need to endure and grow, becoming the people whom God calls them to be in Christ.

II. Reliance on God's Strength

                                                                           (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

A. Burdened Heavily (v. 8)

8. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.

Paul now moves from providing a thankful overview of God's comfort to describing his own experience. He does not try to hide the harsh realities of his life. He does not want the Corinthians to be ignorant of his troubles, imagining that his life is somehow protected from suffering. Rather, he wants them to know all about it.

Even so, Paul does not narrate all the specific circumstances here. Some of those we learn elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, and some we learn from Acts. Undoubtedly, many other specific events are unknown to us. Rather than sharing the details now, Paul shares the effect that the hardships have had on him. His suffering, he says, has exceeded what he could have endured on his own. The suffering has been beyond the limits of natural strength. Had Paul known beforehand what he was to face, he would have said that it was more than he could possibly bear (compare Acts 9:16).

The full extent of Paul's suffering is captured at the end of the verse: we despaired even of life. It is hard for us to imagine that Paul, a towering figure of spiritual strength, would reach such a point. But this is what he expresses. At some point, hope had left him. The pressures, disappointments, and threats had seemed too great at certain times (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-29).

What Do You Think?

When should we take the initiative to inquire about a fellow Christian's burdens rather than waiting for him or her to reveal them to us? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Missionaries in difficult fields of service

Preachers facing congregational disunity

Those rejected by family members for becoming Christians

Students challenged by unbelieving teachers

Other

B. Delivered Providentially (vv. 9, 10)

9. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.

Paul doesn't mince words: his situations of suffering and despair have felt like the sentence of death. He has found himself living moment by moment with an overwhelming sense of having been defeated by his hardships.

But God's power can shine brightest in dark situations. When there is no way out in human terms, the almighty God can provide a way. Think of Jesus. No one's situation looked more hopeless than His: abandoned by His followers; arrested and condemned; and publicly mocked, tortured, and killed by the imperial Roman authorities. Among Jesus' own words was a cry of anguish that God had abandoned Him (Matthew 27:46).

Yet God raised Jesus from the dead, victorious over death and all His enemies. In the death and resurrection of Christ, God shows His people that He is faithful to them not by preventing every instance of suffering but by giving them His resurrection life in the very midst of suffering.

The power of Christ's resurrection is what God gives to His suffering people. It is a power greater than death itself. As God empowers His people in suffering, the story of Jesus is reenacted in our lives. In the contrast between our weakness and God's power, the true, divine magnitude of God's power is made clear to us and to those around us. When we face hardship, our weakness is the setting in which God demonstrates His supreme power (2 Corinthians 4:7, lesson 12).

So for the suffering believer, the question is whom to trust. Do we rely on ourselves or on God? The question is deceptively easy. We are weak; He is strong. Surely we will trust God! But to do so in suffering, when all that we see and feel indicates that we are alone, is an act of great faith. Paul's experiences have taught him the overwhelming need for such faith and the overwhelming faithfulness of God toward His people. Now Paul's experiences become the means by which others' faith can be strengthened for similar situations.

10. Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.

Paul's experience of suffering has been a foretaste of death itself. But God's encouraging, strengthening comfort is a foretaste of the resurrection of the dead. Such experiences strengthen Paul's confident faith in God. If God can deliver him as He has done thus far, and if God can raise Christ from the dead, then surely God will be faithful and powerful to deliver Paul and all God's people from every situation that they face.

Paul's circumstances in Asia—primarily in the city of Ephesus—have refined his faith. He can now relate his experiences to those of others who suffer, providing them with strong encouragement from God. Paul can look forward to the future with great confidence not because his suffering is over but because God will be just as faithful in the future as He has been so far. Paul's confidence that "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28) is based on these insights. God's faithfulness is greater than our circumstances and our weaknesses. He is the foundation of the believer's confidence in every situation.

What Do You Think?

Other than Jesus, whom do you look to as an example of having received God's comfort in a difficult time? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Bible personalities

Figures from church history

Fellow Christians

Other

Despairing of Life

Early in World War II, thousands of American troops surrendered to the Japanese in the Philippines. Those who survived the infamous Bataan Death March faced death by malnutrition and disease that awaited them as prisoners of war. To make matters worse, the guards would kill nine prisoners for each prisoner who escaped.

For such prisoners to despair of life is easy to understand; many undoubtedly gave up on God under those circumstances. But Paul's reaction was just the opposite. In the depths of his despair, he realized that there was no one to trust but the God who raises the dead. God does not always choose to deliver His people from physical death in trying circumstances. But God is the source of strength in such times nonetheless. May Paul be our model when such times come.—C. R. B.

C. Celebrating Thankfully (v. 11)

11. Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.

God's faithfulness is constant and sure. But the Scriptures teach us that God often responds to His people only when they pray to Him and ask. So Paul urges the Corinthian church to join with him in praying for God's future deliverance for Paul and those who work alongside him. The result of such prayers will be that God will be praised and thanked for what He does. The thanksgiving that Paul offers in today's text will be repeated by many as they join him in praying for God's deliverance and then witnessing what God does.

This helps us understand the seeming paradox between God's constant faithfulness and the biblical command to pray that God act on His people's behalf. God wants to give us His blessings: power through the Holy Spirit, comfort in suffering, abundant life now and forever. But we may recognize that these are indeed God's gifts only when we ask Him for them. God responds to our prayers in part because our prayers move us to recognize His gifts. When we pray and see God's answer, we are able to acknowledge God's action as we thank Him for His abundant faithfulness.

                            

Visual for Lesson 10. Point to this visual as you introduce the discussion question that is associated with verse 10.

Conclusion
A. Power to Overcome Suffering

Some may caricature the Christian life as dull and bland. Christians are known for what "thou shalt not" do. Christians are often characterized as withdrawn, timid, and fearful. Others may search for what they think should be the ideal Christian life: a life without difficulty. Are not God's promises of protection and blessing sure? Do not the hardships in a Christian's life indicate a lack of faith?

Paul shows us that neither characterization is true. The gospel begins with Jesus, with His death and resurrection. The power at work in Him is also at work in us. Like Christ, we live under a sentence of death. But like Him, we have God's resurrection power on our side. That power does not insulate us from suffering. Rather, that power enables us to overcome it. As it does, we can see that God himself is the one at work in us.

B. Prayer

Almighty God, as You have forgiven us in Christ, also please comfort us in Him to face hardships we experience in His name. May You be praised because the world sees Your power at work in us. We pray in Jesus' name, amen!

C. Thought to Remember

When in trouble, look up.


August 10

Lesson 11

Forgiveness and Restoration

Devotional Reading: Luke 17:1-6

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:17

2 Corinthians 1:23, 24

23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth.

24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.

2 Corinthians 2:1-11

1 But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.

2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?

3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.

4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.

5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.

6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.

7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.

8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.

9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.

10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;

11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Key Verse

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ. —2 Corinthians 2:10

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:

1. Tell what the issue in Corinth was that caused Paul to write a letter instead of conducting a personal visit.

2. Explain how the gospel demands redemptive responses toward people in either sin or repentance.

3. Develop a plan of reconciliation that can be followed to restore a wayward believer to fellowship with the church. Discuss the plan with church leadership.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. "Don't Judge Me!"

B. Lesson Background

I. Changed Plans (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4)

A. To Spare Them Pain (v. 23)

B. To Give Them Joy (v. 24)

C. To Avoid a Repeat (2:1-3)

D. To Show Abundant Love (v. 4)

Tough Love

II. Changed Hearts (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

A. Punishment Succeeds (vv. 5, 6)

B. Love Comforts (vv. 7, 8)

C. Testing Ends (vv. 9, 10)

D. Danger Remains (v. 11)

Conclusion

A. Judgment Replaced with Joy

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2013-2014 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless