One of Job’s ‘comforters’ pointed out that we’re all ‘“born to trouble”’(Job 5:7), which might not sound very comforting, but it’s an honest place to start. Job easily acknowledged that our lives can be ‘“full of trouble”’(Job 14:1). It’s the reality of this ‘“thorns and thistles”’(Genesis 3:18) bed we’re lying in, thanks to the ‘darkness… spiritual forces’(Ephesians 6:12) that have overshadowed the human race since its very beginnings.
This problem affects everyone, including Christians, who far from being immune are special targets of its root cause, our ‘adversary, the devil’(1 Peter 5:8). Peter would urge us to ‘Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings’(1 Peter 5:9). Paul knew this well too, as he sat down to write a letter to the church in Corinth, which this study text is from. A few lines later he informed them about the ‘affliction which happened to us in Asia… we were weighed down exceedingly… so much that we despaired even of life’(2 Corinthians 1:8-9). This was likely some form of persecution. Certainly he’d ‘fought with animals’(1 Corinthians 15:32) in the Roman province of Asia earlier, presumably having been thrown to the lions or similar in the arena, and somehow survived.
It’s interesting to consider why Paul routinely risked his life like that. He explained to the Corinthians that ‘if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation’(2 Corinthians 1:6). For all of us this salvation starts with our protection from an even greater plight, the judgement coming on this serpentine world. It was later, again in Asia, that Paul mentioned not being too concerned about suffering and added ‘“nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God”’(Acts 20:24), i.e. ‘Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come’(1 Thessalonians 1:10).
So the first way in which Paul had passed on the comfort he’d received from God to the Corinthians was by sharing the gospel of salvation with them. However, there’s more, the main subject of this passage.
The word comfort here (paraklēseōs) hints at the Holy Spirit’s involvement, who draws alongside to run this race with us, so that we can run it like Paul, with ‘joy’(Acts 20:24) even – a powerful comfort indeed, and ongoing. It’s the same word used by John when quoting Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit, ‘“another Counselor [Paraklēton]… with you forever”’(John 14:16-17). God doesn’t just counsel, comfort and encourage us with words, but by His very presence.
It’s important to note therefore that this comfort with which we’re to ‘comfort those who are in any affliction’ comes ‘through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’. So it’s not entirely about us being the comforter. The potency of this comfort comes from us highlighting to others ‘the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God’. This can happen in three ways.
First by simple words of comfort, especially using scripture to do so, since ‘the word of God is living, and active’(Hebrews 4:12). It comes animated by the Holy Spirit. So the potency is in and with the medicine of God’s word, not the one recommending it.
Secondly, by example. Paul mentions this after his comments about salvation: ‘If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer’(2 Corinthians 1:6). As we observe how this works in others, like Paul, we’re literally ‘inspired’ by it – through the ‘breath’ of God’s Holy Spirit again.
Thirdly, before his comments about salvation Paul mentions ‘as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ’(2 Corinthians 1:5). Believers are ‘the body of Christ’(1 Corinthians 12:27), so we suffer like Him, and as already mentioned experience His ‘consolation of love’(Philippians 2:1). Necessarily flowing out from that, ‘Christ living in’(Galatians 2:20) us can shine His love though us – His face, hands and feet to the world.
So all the praise should go to God, which is why Paul begins, ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort’.
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