Paul’s Keys of Spiritual Buoyancy
A Bible study from 2 Corinthians
By Philip Martin
Paul makes many references to the things he suffered for Christ, but the most complete list is found in 2 Corinthians 11. Overcoming, rising above, and staying afloat in the ocean of life when the forces of the world were trying to pull him down wasn’t something that Paul experienced once in a while. It was something that he accepted as part of his way of life. He didn’t count trials and discouragements as “strange things that happened to him.” (See 1 Peter 4:12)
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
—2 Corinthians 11:23–28
Have you ever read through the accounts of Paul’s life in the book of Acts and wondered, “How in the world was he able to keep his head above water with so many difficulties, trials, hardships, disappointments, and seeming defeats?” If we look closely in the chapters preceding the above summary of his sufferings, Paul gives us some of his secrets to spiritual buoyancy and staying afloat in the storms of life.
1) The ministry of consolation: He was willing to pay the price to be a comforter. To be able to truly comfort others, we have to be willing to suffer ourselves.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
—2 Corinthians 1:3–7
2) He learned total dependence, which is the secret to true spiritual leadership.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
—2 Corinthians 1:9
I’ve learned that in the life of faith God regularly kicks out the props we set up for ourselves that would hinder us from being dependent on Him. I believe there’s no way to learn total dependence on God unless we allow ourselves, through following Him, to be put into situations where He is all that we have to depend on. Someone told me early in my Christian life, “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out on a limb with God, because that’s where the fruit grows.”
3) Hope and faith: Through his many afflictions and daily trials and testing, Paul learned to have hope and faith that God would continue to deliver him.
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.
—2 Corinthians 1:10
4) Paul never lost the joy of his salvation, his feeling of wonder at the mercy of God, and gratitude for being called unto the ministry. He knew he was the least deserving of the apostles, and that except for the grace of God had no right to even be in the ministry.
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.
—2 Corinthians 4:1
5) Daily renewal: Paul was able to draw on the Lord’s strength every day. He had learned that the key to living a victorious Christian life and having the power to rise above lay in availing himself of a daily renewal.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. … Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
—2 Corinthians 4:7–9, 16
6) He viewed his life from the heavenly perspective, walking by faith, not by sight. Paul was hopeful in the face of suffering because his sights were set on heaven, not on this world. When viewed from the standpoint of the unimaginable rewards that await the victorious believer in heaven, Paul is able to put his trials in proper perspective.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
—2 Corinthians 4:17–18, 5:1
Therefore we are always confident… For we live by faith, not by sight.
—2 Corinthians 5:6–7
7) The strength of weakness. After ending chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians with his list of sufferings, Paul tells of a spiritual experience he had, and then adds one more obstacle he had to continually battle against.
I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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.
—2 Corinthians 12:7–10
To quote Andrew Murray, “He [Paul] pleaded to have [the thorn] taken away, but the request was not granted, because it was necessary to him. Instead of removing the thorn, the Lord assured him of the grace needed to enable him to endure. When he saw the meaning of it all and heard the divine promise, he began to rejoice in his weaknesses, since because of these he would have larger measures of the strength of Christ.”
I hope this Bible study will encourage you, as it has me, to have the faith to continue to rise above, so that one day we will be able to say, with Paul:
The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
—2 Timothy 4:6–8