One of my predecessors at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, used to compare the conscience to a sundial. A sundial gives a good approximation of time when the sun is shining on it. But, if the sun is not shining on it, it does not give good time at all. If you go out in the garden at night and look at a sundial when the moon is shining on it, it might say, 7 a.m., but it is not 7 a.m.; it is the middle of the night. Unless our conscience has the Word of God shining on it, the contrast is between the world's wisdom and God's wisdom, between our natural ability to figure things out and biblical revelation. Unless we examine our conscience by God's Word, we can make our conscience say anything we want.

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?