There are sufferings and the suffering; the plural and the singular – the suffering – that is, the suffering which is within the sufferings. Sometimes it is the suffering which brings about the sufferings. Take Paul, for instance, and the suffering to which he refers in II Corinthians 1:8-10 “our affliction which befell us in Asia”. The word ‘affliction’ there is from a Latin root which means ‘a flail’, and it pictures the wielding of a flail upon the naked body of a bound man, bruising and breaking and battering; it is a strong word. Paul says that is what happened to him in Asia. “Weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves…” ‘We had the answer to our enquiry; the answer was “It is death!”’ Now, that is the suffering within the sufferings.
Do not think for a moment that that was just a physical matter. A man who could go through all those experiences which are recorded of Paul, and who could say that to depart and be with Christ was far better, was not afraid of dying. Not at all! There must have been some suffering within the sufferings. ‘Weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power’ – that was something inward; it was not because he was desperately ill and might die at any moment. What then is this? It may have been due to the report that came to him of conditions in Corinth, for it was at this time that he received the news of the terrible state of things in Corinth recorded in these letters, and he speaks of “that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Even if it was physical sickness that assailed him, we know that sickness in the body is very often caused by grief of heart; the outward sufferings are sometimes the result of inward distress. Thus we have the suffering within the sufferings.