Yesterday we saw that Paul’s change of plans gave rise to unreasonable and destructive criticism. It is hard to believe that people who had benefited by Paul’s ministry would be as petty as that or, even if they were not the ones who made the slander, that they were petty enough to at least listen to it. But, that is the way it is. This is true in Christian work. I regret to say it, but there is a great deal of petty criticism leveled. Sometimes we are forced to change plans and people say, "That is somebody who just can’t be trusted. And if they cannot be trusted in little things, how can we believe them when they talk about the Gospel or about Jesus Christ?" That sort of thinking was exactly what Paul had to deal with here, and does so in his second letter to the Corinthians.

It is a very difficult thing to have your plans changed when you have worked them out carefully. It is especially difficult when you are criticized as a result of having to change them. I am able to identify with the Apostle Paul a bit, who obviously was a very organized person and did not like to have his plans changed. I have sat on a beach in Florida in the middle of August, tanning myself - 15 minutes on one side and 15 minutes on the other side - with a perfect schedule in mind. If someone interrupts me, I have to break my schedule and I become irritated. I am sure there are people who cannot understand this. I am sure there must be people who can lie on the beach and be utterly unconcerned about interrupted schedules, whether they concern tanning or more important matters. However, I think everybody has difficulty when something changes that they've planned with great care. As I suggested, we are particularly troubled when we are criticized as a result of changes that are utterly beyond our control.

About the same rough time frame that the Apostle Paul was writing, there was a great Roman, Cicero, who also did a lot of writing. He lost his beloved daughter Tullia, the chief delight of his heart. She died at a young age and Cicero was absolutely broken by the loss. Cicero had a friend whose name was Sopicius Severus who did what any good friend would do. He wrote a letter to him and tried to comfort him. Sopicius tried to remind Cicero that, after all, suffering and death is the common lot of humanity. All of us have to die sometime.

There is a fourth reason for suffering. Paul discusses the reason here in 2 Corinthians. Paul explained that God allowed him to suffer, and also to experience the comfort of God in his suffering, in order that he, as a minister of God, might comfort those who are likewise suffering. Have you ever thought about your suffering that way? You experience a great illness. Have you ever thought that God allows you to have that in order that you might speak, as a Christian, a word of comfort to someone else who is going through the same thing?

It seems to me that there are a variety of reasons why hardships and suffering come into our lives. One reason is that such things are just common to humanity. Job wrote about this and spoke wisely when he said, "Yet man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). He was simply saying it is part and parcel of life to have troubles. You are going to get sick. Eventually you are going to suffer the loss of members of your family and others by death. There is no particular reason. There does not have to be any deep explanation. These things are part of life. Of course, in most cases, it goes beyond that. I think there are answers. There are things specifically that God is doing with us. But the first answer we find is that some of these things just come. It is part and parcel of what it means to live in a fallen, imperfect world.