“So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
One of the most profound Scripture passages addressing the redemptive quality that can accompany suffering is found in the sixth chapter of Second Corinthians. Paul tells us suffering is like a God-ordained ‘seminary’ in which God trains qualified ministers of the Gospel. There is a sense in which this seminary never ends.
By passing through this seminary of suffering, we can be proven ministers of God. When Paul uses “minister,” he does not mean a clergy-person; he means the minister every believer is designed, created, and recreated by God to be. Everyone who has experienced the miracle of reconciliation to God through Christ has been commissioned to carry out the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ.
How do we prove ourselves to be ministers? Paul writes, “In afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)
I call these adversities “wringers.” (Old washing machines had a wringer through which wet, soapy clothes passed to squeeze water out of them. It was very painful to get your hand caught in the wringer!) These challenging adversities describe the daily life experience of the Apostle Paul. (More of Paul’s wringers are summarized in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.)
When we find ourselves in a wringer, the important thing is our response to that wringer. In 2 Corinthians 6:6, Paul shows us how to respond: “By pureness, knowledge, patience, kindness.”
In verses 6 and 7 of this passage, he tells us where to find the spiritual resources to respond as we should: “By the Holy Spirit, by love unfeigned, by the Word of Truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.”
In verses 8-10, Paul describes the results when we respond to our wringers by drawing on spiritual resources: “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see – we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” These nine paradoxes profile the witness of the minister who has been trained in the ministry of suffering.
Loving Heavenly Father, use our suffering to make us faithful ministers of reconciliation, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dick Woodward, from 30 Biblical Reasons Why God’s People Suffer