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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1.3-7)

Sermon by: Jeremiah Caughran
April 13, 2008

When you think about God’s comfort, what do you think of? Do you think of it as being the removal of something that makes you uncomfortable? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling inside of yourself? Or is it something more substantial? Have you thought about the comfort of God? Paul speaks a great deal about it here at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians. It is the primary point of today’s text. Let’s begin with what he says:

Paul starts with setting his words in context. He begins with God. He praises Him in an amazing way! He says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” This is a grand description of God. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. The context that Paul is giving here is that all mercy and all comfort originate from God. These are things that God extends to His people and these are the things for which Paul praises God. Mercy comes from God and with that mercy there is comfort for us.

Again, God is the source of mercy and comfort. Paul puts this understanding of God into place for the believers at Corinth. After stating this, Paul goes on in v 4 to write: “who comforts us in all our affliction.” God seeks to comfort His people whenever and wherever they are hurting. But this comfort that God gives to us is not an end in itself. Paul continues to write, “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted. In this verse the emphasis falls upon our comforting others based upon God comforting us. We are the benefactors of God’s comfort. We receive comfort from Him. And we are called to give that same comfort to others in their afflictions. Paul tells his readers that God desires us to share the comfort He gives to us with others who are in the midst of affliction! Look at how this verse is structured. God comforts us so that we can comfort others with the comfort that God has given to us. Something that is interesting about this statement is that it is parallel to God’s love and forgiveness. In Eph. 4:32, Paul tells his readers to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you.” John tells us in his first epistle that “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” I think seeing this parallel helps us to better grasp what Paul is saying here. What God gives to us is to be used and not kept to ourselves. When God blesses, we are to bless others with the blessings of God! As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive others; as God loves us, we are to love others; and now, as God comforts us, we are to comfort others. Again, what God gives to us is to never be kept to ourselves. He expects us to respond to what He does by giving to those around us. As He comforts us in our afflictions, we are to comfort others in their afflictions just as God has comforted us.

Paul continues in v. 5, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort through Christ is abundant.” Paul begins explaining how God’s comfort works in this verse. Let’s look at this verse and what it means. The sufferings of Christ are those things that are done to us as we are obedient to Christ. As Christ suffered in obeying the Father, so we suffer for obedience. This suffering is not just from people, but it is from the world and from Satan and his forces of darkness. This is going to happen to us because we identify ourselves with the Lord. Yet, as these things happen to us we are promised that we will also be comforted through Christ! The amazing thing is that suffering in abundance is promised, yet comfort in abundance is promised. The divine comfort that we receive through Christ will more than match whatever sufferings we undergo at the hands of the world. Though there is an abundance of suffering, there will be an abundance of comfort through Christ for us.

Paul clarifies what he is writing through v. 6. He writes: “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Paul’s obedience in bringing the Gospel to people leads to his being afflicted, yet this brings comfort and salvation to the Corinthians. How is this possible? Are Paul’s afflictions some source of salvation? No, of course not! His afflictions are due to the Gospel and it is the Gospel that brings salvation and comfort. Yet, Paul’s faithfulness to Christ is seen in his willingness to undergo these sufferings. And without that, the Corinthians would not have the Gospel proclaimed to them. So they witness the affliction and sufferings of Paul and the Corinthians can see the truthfulness of what Paul is bringing to them. Paul says more though: “If I am comforted, it is for your comfort which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Paul is saying that when he receives comfort from God, it is also for the Corinthians and becomes effective in their patiently enduring the kinds of sufferings that Paul goes through. Here we begin to see a deeper meaning to comfort. It is not that God takes away our afflictions to comfort us! Comfort from God is not a sedative, it doesn’t take away the pain; instead it strengthens so that we can endure the pain. God gives us strength when we undergo sufferings. God makes us capable to patiently endure. That is His comfort to us. When we endure, we have been strengthened by God, we have received comfort from Him. We can withstand suffering because God gives us the ability to do so. Remember what Luke wrote about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. After praying for God’s will to be done and not His own, an angel appeared before Jesus giving Him strength. God did not take away the suffering that Jesus was going through and about to endure, but He gave Him the strength that was needed in order for Him to endure! This is true of us. And consider what we are seeing here. We are discovering strength and encouragement as we look at how God strengthened and encouraged others! God is even now, I hope, strength you all here today through the comfort that He gave to others!

Paul concludes that His hope is firmly grounded. He says that he knows that the Corinthians will be sharers in his comfort as they share in his suffering. In other words, as they are obedient to Christ in the world and partake in sufferings like Paul’s, they will also share in Paul’s comfort which is comfort that God has given to them through Paul!

In the verses that follow, Paul gives an example of what he is talking about. He reveals to the Corinthians that a great amount of suffering and affliction occurred while he was ministering in Asia. He gives no details, for those are not the important things to Paul. He only says that they were burdened excessively, even to the point of despairing of life! This was way beyond any strength that Paul had within himself. There was nothing that he could do. Yet, he concludes that this was so that he would rely on God and not himself! His source of comfort was to only be God; His strength could only come from God! Knowing what kinds of things that the Corinthians were going through, he relays this to them to encourage them in their struggles. God will strengthen them! Paul is absolutely sure of this! He knows this comfort, not only because he has received it, but more importantly because God raises the dead! This is what he says in v. 10. This phrase would be especially meaningful for the Corinthians for Paul spoke in great detail as to why he knows that God raises the dead! He raised Christ and we who are with Christ will also be raised! So Paul’s hope and comfort, his strength and encouragement comes from knowing that God raises the dead because He raised Christ from the dead!

We see in the whole of these verses that Paul is concerned with the comfort of God. His comfort is known in the midst of our afflictions. This is what Paul is saying to us today: God comforts us in the midst of our suffering for Christ. This comfort that He gives is not the removal of the suffering; it is the strength needed to endure in it. We must look to Christ to realize this comfort. We must turn to God in our suffering if we are to have strength to endure. Yet, this strength is not for us alone. This comfort and strength is given that it might be shared with others who are in the midst of afflictions. It is truly for others; we must share it with them! We cannot keep it to ourselves, because doing that is becoming disobedient to what we have been called to do.

What will this look like in our lives then? Three things that come out of this text are needed: The first is that we must share with one another what the Lord is doing in our lives. He has comforted us and we need to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for us! This, I believe, can become a call to evangelism. The first comfort that we have received from Jesus Christ is salvation itself! He died and rose again to procure forgiveness and justification for sinners. We have received this great comfort from Him. In turn, it was not given just for us! It has been given to us to share with others. So we must be telling others about this comfort from Christ so that they can know it for themselves and believe in Him and what He has done! Second, we need to share our struggles with one another. When we do this, we allow other believers to fulfill God’s call to comfort others with the comfort that they have received. This means that we must open ourselves up to others. We must be ready to receive encouragement and strength, which will mean that we can endure our suffering, not have it removed from us. Last, we must pray. Not only for ourselves as we seek God’s comfort, but for others that need His comfort. We must pray that believers will comfort those around them that are suffering. We cannot forget that this comfort must be shared because it is not ours to keep. We can also pray that God will help us to put into words how He has comforted us so that we can share it with others. As we do these things faithfully, Christ’s Church will be strengthened for we will all be comforting and encouraging and strengthening one another. This is how the church is to work. And it takes all of us to do this.

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