Join us in reading 2 Corinthians while we are in our "In the Storm" sermon series. This is a 4x4 challenge: read from 2 Corinthians 4 days a week over the next 4 weeks. We’ve laid out a reading plan for you, and will provide you with some additional material for each of these days to deepen your understanding of the reading and how it can help you find peace in the storm.
This book of the Bible written by Paul has much to say about finding comfort in the midst of affliction and strength in the midst of weakness. It is arguably the most personal of Paul’s letters, providing us an intimate glimpse into Paul’s life and ministry.
Click below to get the 4x4 challenge reading plan.
Day 13 - Chapter 11:16-33
There is a part of us that believes if we are good and do good things for God, then God will do good things for us, and life will go the way we want it to. Despair can overcome us when we find our actual lives are so different from what we had hoped, and we question ourselves. ‘What have I done to deserve this? Why is God so angry with me that God has allowed all these terrible storms into my life?’
Beginning in verse 23 of our reading today, we read a list of many of the ways Paul has suffered. The list is extensive.
Paul, the apostle who wrote 13 or 14 of the 27 books in the New Testament, endured many storms.
The presence of storms in our lives is not an indicator of God’s lack of love for us. Storms come into all our lives. Some are the consequences of our own individual actions, but many are not. In John 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” We know that storms will come for each of us.
In the second half of John 16:33, however, Jesus tells his followers, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
How does the knowledge of all that Paul endured help you when you are faced with storms?
Day 14 - Chapter 12:1-10
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (v. 10)
Weakness and strength. Two opposites that are again put together in this letter to the Corinthians. Two opposites that exemplify the Christian experience.
Paul shares that he was given a thorn to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul was experiencing tremendous success as an apostle. The thorn kept him from becoming too prideful because it showed him how weak he genuinely was.
It is in our weakness that we cry out to God. And when we cry out to God, God makes us strong.
Timothy Keller draws on Psalm 3:3, in which the psalmist calls God a shield around him, to offer an additional perspective on God’s use of thorns. Keller writes that because God is our shield, that means whenever anything comes into our life that hurts us and causes us pain or makes us weak, it is because God is shielding us from something worse.
What thorn has God placed in your life? How have you experienced weakness that resulted in strength?
Day 15 - Chapter 12:11-21
“So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” (v. 15a)
As Paul begins to close this letter, he shares his fondness for the Corinthians, and his willingness to give completely of himself for their benefit.
Sometimes we have people in our lives who carry us along when we are unable to carry ourselves.
These people help us see our future, even when we can’t see it. Our view of the future is obscured because when we are being buffeted by a storm, we often feel like the storm is never-ending.
These people pray with us, help us remember God’s faithfulness in the past, and speak life into us when they show us a version of ourselves we have been unable to see. They share scripture with us, validate us, and provide a safe space for our mourning.
Who in your life fills this role for you? Are you serving in this role for someone else?
Day 16 - Chapter 13
As we end our reading of 2 Corinthians, we share this poem by John O’Donohue: “For Suffering”
May you be blessed in the holy names of those
Who, without knowing it,
Help to carry and lighten your pain.
May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.
May a window of light always surprise you.
May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.
May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.
May memory bless and protect you
With the hard earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived
And though the darkness is now deep,
You will soon see approaching light.
May the grace of time heal your wounds.
May you know that though the storm may
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.
Day 9 - Chapter 8
“We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia, for during a severe ordeal of affliction their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (v. 1-2)
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is full of opposites. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake.” (4:11) “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (4:16) “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.” (4:18) “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (6:10)
In these first two verses of chapter 8, we again see opposites. During a severe ordeal, abundant joy and extreme poverty overflow to a wealth of generosity.
How is this possible – to have abundant joy overflowing into generosity when we are in a storm? Paul tied generosity to grace. Giving is an act of grace. It is from the abundance of grace which we receive from God that we are enabled to give grace to others.
Watch this video from the Bible Project on Grace: https://bibleproject.com/explore/video/character-of-god-grace/
How does the knowledge that God’s giving of a gift of favor, or khen, is motivated by delight help you deal with life’s storms? If God delights in you as a child of God, does that give you confidence that God will help you through the storm? With tomorrow’s reading, we will lean into this concept even more.
Watch this video from the Bible Project on Grace:
Day10 - Chapter 9
“And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (v. 8)
We are continuing to talk about showing generosity even during life’s storms.
Jen Wilkin, in her book “In His Image” writes this about God’ grace: “Our lives should demonstrate that there is no such thing as scarcity when you are a child of God, that our heavenly Father has given all that is needful and much more than we could ask or imagine. We should be recognized as peddlers in abundance.”
When life is difficult for you and you don’t know where to turn or what to do, help others.
Blessing others can help you get your mind off yourself and your own problems, even if just for a little while, and gives you the opportunity to experience the joy of helping someone else. This is not to suggest your storms are trivial or that you do not have the right to be sad or grieving whatever hard circumstances you are facing. However, there is still joy to be found when we spend some time helping others. It is part of God’s design for us. The grace we receive from God – especially the grace to get through each hard day, taking one step at a time – enables us to be graceful to others. Grace begets grace.
Day 11 - Chapter 10
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (v.5)
What we fill our minds with has tremendous power in our daily living. When life is full of uncertainty and doesn’t make sense to us, we need to return to what we know. God is good. Always good. God does not change. And God cares for us.
When we wonder at the events happening in our lives and in the world, we need to resist the urge to feel that God is somehow absent, or not in control. We should focus on what Jesus offers us in our storms. As Max Lucado wrote in his study Anxious for Nothing, “You are never going to go where God is not.”
Remind yourself that God is near and will give you what we need by finding ways to draw nearer to God. Memorize scripture, leave your anxieties at God’s feet through prayer, make a gratitude list, and remember God’s provision for you in the past. These practices will capture your mind and focus it upon the One who will see you through your storm.
Which of these practices will you use to take captive your thoughts?
Day 12 - Chapter 11:1-15
“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (v. 3)
Our thoughts can lead us in wrong directions if we are not regularly in the Word to receive God’s truth.
“Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:3-6)
As you immerse yourself in the Bible, you develop wisdom, which continues to grow as you live your life shaped by the Bible’s story of a God who made you and desires a personal relationship with you. As you focus more on the story of Jesus suffering for you, it will help you trust Him as you suffer.
Will you commit to reading the Bible more regularly, to be reminded of the truth of God’s love for you?
Day 5 - Chapter 4
For most of us, our troubles feel neither light nor momentary. In fact, they feel like heavy burdens that weigh us down and leave us exhausted and aching from the effort of carrying them. But in verse 17, Paul says our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” How do we hold onto that when we are in the midst of terrible suffering?
On the dark days, you may find comfort in some words from Timothy Keller given in a sermon just days after 9/11. He shares of his experience whenever he has a terrible dream. In that initial moment when he wakes up and realizes it was all just a bad dream, he is filled with utter joy.
Can you remember having a similar feeling after a particularly bad dream? The joy you feel isn’t a joy in spite of the nightmare. It is a joy that was enhanced by the nightmare.
Our pain in this life will enhance the glory we experience in the next. The more the pain, the greater the glory.
Keller shares this excerpt from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage … In the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men.”
Something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice. Our sufferings are achieving for us a glory that will be so precious that it will suffice.
May you be able to hold onto this hope in the midst of your storms.
Day 6 - Chapter 5
“We walk by faith, not by sight.” (v. 7)
Walk by faith, not by sight
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
What step is God asking you to take right now?
Day 7 - Chapter 6
“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” is one of several pairings in Paul’s list of hardships that can at first glance make no sense. The two appear to be polar opposites, which would make it impossible to experience both at the same time.
But it is possible.
Sometimes when we are in an intense time of suffering, the only way to survive is to rejoice in the Lord. “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
And what does rejoicing in the Lord mean? It means acknowledging and celebrating all that you have in Christ. Count the things you are grateful for. Seek them out and write them down. Find those moments and savor them.
Katherine Wolfe, author of “Suffer Strong” writes of redefining the past to help us tell a new story. She says it would be inauthentic to not fully lean into our story – both the good and the bad. “But it would be irresponsible not to take that reality and make the most beautiful story we can out of it.”
What’s your reality right now, and what’s your story?
Day 8 - Chapter 7
“Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” (V. 9)
The “godly grief” Paul describes here is the pain that brings about positive change and puts us on a better course. Sometimes our storms can be brought on by our own actions.
When we feel the sorrow God intends for us and we repent, then we are able to experience the higher level of intimacy God desires with us, and we are made new.
Is there something God is currently trying to show you through a storm ?
Walk by faith, not by sight
Day 1 - Chapter 1:1-11
“We do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia, for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again.“(v.8-10)
What you choose to do – to whom you turn – when you are in the middle of a storm will have a big impact on what your life will look like after the storm.
Sometimes when we are suffering, we spend enormous amounts of energy trying to take control of the situation. Our all-too-human instincts kick in and we try to rescue ourselves from our troubles. But Paul, in the face of tremendous suffering, chooses to rely on God. His reason? God raises the dead. Who is better equipped to handle our storms – us or the one who can conquer death?
When we rely on God, we allow for the possibilities that come not just from being rescued from the storm, but from being redeemed by the storm. God may not bring us through the storm in the way that we would initially choose, but often when we are on the other side of the storm, we can see the wisdom of God’s way versus our own. God’s way opens the door for us to be shaped by our storms so that we experience growth. Rarely is something good built when it’s easy. Wisdom, compassion, grace, and a new fullness of life often come after hard times.
How can you be more open to God’s redemptive work in you when stormy skies appear on your life’s horizon?
Day 2 - Chapter 1:12-24
To more fully understand 2 Corinthians, it helps to have some historical context concerning the city of Corinth and Paul’s relationship with the people of that city. Here are 2 short videos to watch from TheBibleEffect.com:
1 & 2 Corinthians Historical Background Part 1
1 & 2 Corinthians Historical Background Part 2
Paul spent a great deal of time in Corinth. He founded the church at Corinth and spent a year and a half there (Acts 18). He was emotionally as well as spiritually invested in the well-being of the Corinthians. This connection with the people explains why the letter is filled with such intimate and personal language.
Relationships, even those built over a long period of time, are fragile. We can continue to love others, even when we feel the sting of accusation, when we approach them with humility and sincerity.
In this portion of Chapter 1, we see Paul eagerly working to reconcile his relationship with the Corinthian people, as they were questioning his motives for not coming to see them as he had told them he would do. Kelly Minter, author of “All Things New,” writes about Paul’s decision not to return to them as he had planned. “When the Corinthians continued to attack him, it’s reasonable to assume he made the decision to not return for a while. You probably can relate to the sadness and frustration of trying to reconcile a difficult relationship when nothing seems to be working. Sometimes you just need distance.” Despite not visiting them, Paul continued to show love for the Corinthian church, calling himself a worker “with you for your joy.” (v. 24)
Can you relate to Paul’s difficult relationship with the Corinthians? Ask God to give you wisdom and grace in your relationships with others.
Day 3 - Chapter 2
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.” (v. 14)
We are the aroma of Christ to the world. Those exploring the Christian faith, and even nonbelievers, are looking to see if our faith rings true. How do we treat those around us, and how do we respond when we encounter storms in our life?
Paul endured many hardships as an apostle – just one verse earlier, Paul recalls that he had “no peace of mind” because he was anxious to hear news from Titus but was unable to find him. Yet Paul confidently proclaims that we are always following in Christ’s triumph. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary states, “We do not fight for victory; we fight from victory. Neither in Asia nor in Corinth did the situation look like victory to Paul, but he believed God – and God turned defeat into victory.” Paul boldly confesses the assured victory over his troubles.
How does the image of the triumphal procession help you in the darkest of your days?
Day 4 - Chapter 3
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. (v18)
We don’t just reflect the glory of God as Moses did, but we can radiate the glory of God.
From Timothy Keller:
“Have you ever traveled to a mountainous part of the world when it was cloudy and rainy? You look out your windows and you can see almost nothing but the ground. Then the rain stops and the clouds part and you catch your breath because there, towering right over you, is this magnificent peak. But a couple of hours later the clouds roll in and it has vanished, and you don’t see it again for a good while. That is what it is like to get to know a Christian. You have an old self and a new self (Ephesians 4:24). The old self is crippled with anxieties, the need to prove yourself, bad habits you can’t break, and many besetting sins and entrenched character flaws. The new self is still you, but you liberated from all your sins and flaws. This new self is always a work in progress, and sometimes the clouds of the old self make it almost completely invisible. But sometimes the clouds really part, and you see the wisdom, courage, and love of which you are capable. It is a glimpse of where you are going.”
Can you relate to Timothy Keller’s description of the old and new self? How can this make a difference on your hard days?