When Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians—really, at least his fourth letter, but two of them have not come down to us—he was beleaguered and hard-pressed on many fronts. He had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger from rivers, robbers, Jews and Gentiles, and many other sources (2 Cor 11:23–36). He had suffered “labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing” (2 Cor 11:27), not to mention daily concern for the churches he had planted.
Yet was Paul discouraged? No. This is how he described his situation:
“We are pressured in every way but not crushed;
we are perplexed but not in despair;
we are persecuted but not abandoned;
we are struck down but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8–10)—
and all this for the sake of Christ and his body, the church.
Why was Paul not discouraged when all those bad things were happening to him? For most of us it would take a very small fraction of the misfortunes that befell Paul to get us down. The reason why Paul could keep up his spirits was that he knew he was in the center of God’s will, and that he suffered, not for wrongs he had done, but in order for God’s church to be built up.
You see, it’s just a matter of perspective. For Paul, his sufferings brought him closer to “the God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3). Persecution reinforced the notion that Paul was called to a glorious new covenant ministry that was far superior to the administration of the old through Moses (2 Corinthians 3). His weaknesses reminded him that he carried the treasure of the gospel in clay jars, as it were. The frailty of his human body, in turn, made him look forward to the time when his “earthly tent” would be transformed into a glorious heavenly existence.
When things go wrong in our lives, do we have Paul’s perspective? Do we count it all joy when we face various trials, as James urges us (Jas 1:2)? Do we do “everything without grumbling and arguing,” as Paul exhorts the Philippians (Phil 2:14)? If so, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, and we will know the presence of the God of peace in each and every situation—just like Paul did (Phil 4:6, 8).