THINK: Have you ever gone through a difficult time and felt you were alone - that no one really understood what you were going through? Perhaps friends or loved ones tried to offer help or encouragement. Chances are, you've heard this more than once: "I know how you feel." While people mean well, those words only go so far - until they come from someone who has actually experienced what you're going through. That's one reason why God allows you to go through difficulties. Beside the fact that they teach you to rely on Him, experiencing tough times enables you to effectively encourage, help and pray for others who may face the same troubles God has brought you through.
RESPOND: How have you experienced God's compassion? What's the ultimate means by which God provides comfort? (See 1:4 note.) Why does God sometimes allow trouble in our lives? In what ways might a person experi- ence "the sufferings of Christ," and how does this relate to comfort from God? (See 1:5 note.) What positive things can come through suffering (vv. 6-7, 9-10)? What must you keep in mind when going through difficulty beyond your ability to endure? (See 1:8-10 note.) How can your prayers help others? (See 1:11 note.) In what ways should Christians' leadership and service differ from worldly forms of leadership and service? (See 1:12 note.) What did Paul mean when he said, "our message to you is not 'Yes' and 'No'"? (See 1:17-19 note.) What does "Amen" mean? (See 1:20 note.) What are some ways God works in people's lives through the Holy Spirit? (See 1:22 note.) What does it mean that the Spirit "anoints" people? Why is God's Spirit "a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come"? How had Paul shown "tough love" to the Corinthians, and why is this essential for spiritual leaders? (See 2:1 and 2:4 notes.)
PRAY: Give God thanks for comfort through life's difficulties and for teaching you to depend on Him. Thank Him for the Holy Spirit, who encourages, enriches and empowers your present life and guarantees an eternal inheritance with Christ. Pray for at least three other people.
ACT: Show God's compassion in a practical way to someone who's going through a difficult or dangerous time.
THINK: As a Christian, have you ever wondered how people can be so resistant toward and even repulsed by the very things that bring you the greatest joy and fulfillment? It all depends on which side of the spiritual fence you're on. What you know as true freedom and salvation, another person may mistake for fanaticism or slavery because they don't know God or understand His purpose for their lives. Perhaps you recall what it was like to look at the things of God from the other side of your relationship with Christ. Let your sense of renewed life, ultimate purpose and assured victory inspire you to reach out to those who may still unknowingly see God as their enemy. They may already be watching to see if what you have is really worth crossing the line of resistance and giving their lives for.
RESPOND: How would you describe the New Testament pattern of discipline for those who commit serious offens- es affecting the life and reputation of the church? (See 2:6 note.) In what way do churches fail God and their people if they tolerate sin and don't enact appropriate discipline among members? Why is it important to forgive a truly repentant church member (v. 11)? What's one of our key defenses against Satan's spiritual attacks? (See 2:11 note.) What is Paul picturing by referring to God leading His people in a "triumphal procession"? (See 2:14-16 note.) How is "the aroma of Christ" (v. 15) different "among those who are being saved" than it is to "those who are perishing"? What typically determines how a person reacts to Christ's message? How and why do some people "peddle the word of God for profit"? (See 2:17 note.) In what way are Christ's followers a letter, "known and read by everyone"? How do Jesus' followers relate to God's law differently than did the ancient Israelites? (See 3:3 note.) What does it mean that God makes Jesus' followers "competent as ministers of a new covenant"? (See 3:6 first note.) How do God's law and Spirit work together to bring someone into a personal relationship with Jesus? (See 3:6 second note.)
PRAY: Ask Jesus to keep you alert to Satan's schemes, deceptions and attacks. Thank Jesus for the victory He gives you over these things as you rely on Him.
ACT: If you know anyone who has left church because of a past failure, contact the person and encourage him or her to let God and His people back into their life. Also, make a conscious effort to converse, behave, serve and treat others in ways that reflect a positive image of Jesus and make His message appealing (without compromising godly principles). Refer to the "Ways to Serve" lists, pp. 2275-2276, and "101 Ways to be a Witness," pp. 2282-2284.