A Channel of Comfort

| 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 | August 6, 2017

Week of August 13, 2017

The Point:  I can be a channel of God’s comfort to others.

God of All Comfort:  2 Corinthians 1:1-11.

[1] Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: [2] Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [3] Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, [4] who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [5] For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. [6] If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. [7] Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. [8] For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. [9] Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. [10] He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. [11] You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.  [ESV]

God at the Center [1:1-2].  Paul’s opening greeting and introduction have four important truths and principles behind them. They all illustrate how God was at the center of Paul’s life. Their force is all the stronger because they are not directly stated. Essential to Paul’s thinking, they came automatically to the surface.

  1. God’s will determines our service and function in the church. The letter begins, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Paul was an apostle. The noun comes from the verb ‘to send’, and means a person sent by another. The term can be used simply of messengers sent by the churches, but that is not how it is used here. Such apostleship is not in the same category as that of Paul and of the Twelve – the regular corporate description given to the twelve apostles Jesus appointed early in His ministry [Mark 6:7; John 6:70]. They were chosen, called and sent forth by Christ Himself; they were His witnesses, especially of His resurrection. They knew in a special way the help of the Holy Spirit, who led them into all truth. God confirmed the value of their work by signs and miracles. They have no successors. In particular, Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ met him on the Damascus road and commissioned him [Acts 26:16-18]. The whole purpose of Paul’s life then became obedience to Jesus Christ. His ambition was to honor Him and to see Him honored by others. Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. God alone determines our function in the body of Christ. His will is a sovereign will. He has authority to do with His creatures as He pleases. Paul probably begins his letter with this emphasis because some at Corinth cast doubt upon his apostleship for their own ulterior motives. From the beginning he reminds them that his position in the body of Christ, as theirs, is not a matter of self-selection but of God’s choice.
  2. The gift of spiritual life brings about our membership of God’s family. Paul carefully associates Timothy with his letter to the Corinthians. Paul consistently identified himself with his colleagues. In recognizing his special position as an apostle in the body of Christ, he did not overlook the equally important place of others. In particular, Paul recognized Timothy to be his brother in Christ through new birth. New birth brings us into God’s family. That had happened for Paul on the Damascus Road [Acts 9:1-9]. Immediately afterwards the Lord Jesus sent a Damascus Christian called Ananias to Paul so that he might receive his sight. Ananias’ first words to Paul, then called Saul, were Brother Saul [Acts 9:17]. For Timothy, new birth came about first through the background influence of his mother and grandmother [2 Tim. 1:5], and then through the ministry of Paul [2 Tim. 1:2] as they taught him the Scriptures and pointed him to the Lord Jesus [2 Tim. 3:15]. While Timothy recognized Paul as his spiritual father, and Paul regarded him as his spiritual son, a superior relationship was that of brother, since that extended to all the members of Gods’ family.
  3. God’s purpose determines how we should think of the church. Paul addresses his letter to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia. Achaia was a province of southern Greece, governed by Corinth. The word church is used in two basic ways in the Bible. It first describes the whole body of Christ, including its members already in heaven, as well as those on earth. It is used, secondly, to describe the church in its local setting. The church finds geographical expression in different places. It is a term to be used therefore either of all God’s people everywhere or of God’s people in one place. The church is made up of those, like Paul and Timothy, who have experienced the miracle of new birth through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s introductory statement clearly defines the church as God’s possession. It belongs to Him and is His creation. It is the fruit of His Son’s saving work. To bring the church into being, the Lord Jesus came and died [Eph. 5:25-27]. Not only does the church belong to God, but it consists of those whom God has set apart for Himself and whom He is sanctifying – that is to say, it is made up of saints. All Christians, though sinners, are saints! Unfortunately, in everyday language the title is reserved for people of particular sanctity or goodness. The Bible uses it to describe all who know new birth and are part of the church of God. Always used in the plural, it points to believers as a group and clearly identifies God’s purposes: His purpose is to make us holy like Himself [1 Peter 1:15-16].
  4. Grace and peace are our greatest need and God’s most appropriate gifts. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ [2]. This greeting reminds us that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son [1 John 1:3], the essence of eternal life [John 17:3]. God the Holy Spirit brings us into this intimate relationship at our new birth. The Father sent the Son to be our Savior; the initiative in the whole plan of salvation is the Father’s [John 3:16; 1 John 4:9,10,14]. The name Father is one of the most precious words of human language. All fatherhood and motherhood in the world at their best derive meaning and inspiration from God’s. The Bible does not teach the universal fatherhood of God, except in the physical sense that God is the creator of all. Father does not mean Creator in Bible language. He is not the Father of all men and women, but of His own people, of those who through faith in His Son have become members of His family and of His Son’s body, the church. God’s Fatherhood of those who are in Christ may be seen as the climax of New Testament revelation. No privilege is greater than this: through Jesus we may come to the Father and call him Abba! Father! [Rom. 8:15]. The Father and the Son delight to give the best gifts, and this prayerful greeting powerfully reminds us that grace and peace are our greatest daily need. Grace originates from an Old Testament term meaning ‘to bend’ or ‘to stoop’. It points to God’s amazing condescension and kindness. His grace is His sovereign determination to bless the undeserving. Grace is synonymous with forgiveness. God’s grace in His Son provides us with daily forgiveness of all our sins as we confess them to Him [1 John 1:9]. Grace is also synonymous with help and strength, freely given by God. God’s grace always matches our need [Heb. 4:16]. Along with grace goes peace, and always in that order. Only as we know the grace of God’s forgiveness may we know the renewal of His peace in our lives. Peace is well-being and includes freedom from anxiety. In relationships, peace is good will and harmony, the opposite of conflict. The wonder of God’s grace in His Son is that we may be as much at peace with God as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is. As we experience His grace, we are able to pray, and to pray about everything. The exercise of prayer becomes then a path to peace of the deepest kind, a peace that passes understanding [Phil. 4:6-7]. God’s grace and peace may be constantly renewed to us; and it is on a daily basis – moment by moment – that we require them. The more we daily enjoy God’s grace and peace, the more like Paul we respond in gratitude and put God at the center of our life. That truth may be hidden in its consequences from us, but it will be witnessed by others and hopefully conspicuously so.

Some of God’s Purposes in Suffering [3-11].  Paul begins his letter with an expression of praise. He praises God for the way in which He has turned hard and difficult experiences to good use. Afflictions are a common feature of life [4] for Christians and non-Christians alike. The words Paul uses – affliction [4,8], sufferings [5-7], burdened beyond our strength [8], despaired [8], the sentence of death [9], and deadly peril [10] – remind us of the variety of difficulties we may meet. Paul does not attempt a comprehensive explanation of trouble and suffering, but he points to some purposes God may have in them. We use the word ‘some’ because in no sense dare we be dogmatic about God’s purposes in suffering. There is an element of mystery about it. Here and there in the Bible we get significant glimpses of what God may choose to do through our troubles, difficulties and suffering. These glimpses do not provide answers to all our questions, but they give the help and encouragement we need as God’s children to see them through.

Purpose Number One: God comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others [3-4].  Paul’s basic conviction is that God comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God [4]. Essential to this conviction is the understanding Paul has, and the teaching he gives, about three aspects of God’s character. First, God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ [3]. There is but one God, and He is the God who sent His Son to be the Savior. The relationship between the Father and the Son is unique: the Lord Jesus is the Father’s only Son, the supreme object of His pleasure and delight. It is in His Son that the Father provides the perfect revelation of Himself. Every view we have of the Father therefore needs to be totally influenced by the understanding we have of God’s character in His self-revelation in His Son. Second, God is the Father of mercies [3]. Mercy (or compassion) is an essential part of His character and of His self-revelation in both the Old and New Testaments. It expresses God’s sympathy with us in our troubles, difficulties and grief. It was wonderfully displayed in the life and character of our Lord Jesus, and it always led to appropriate action. Third, He is the God of all comfort [3]. As the perfect and compassionate Father, He knows and understands everything that comes to us and is able to send us the comfort we need, whatever our trouble. The first thing we require in trouble is comfort – comfort in the sense of strength, encouragement and courage to face both the present and the future with the simple yet profound ability to live a day at a time. Our Father may choose to comfort us in all kinds of ways – hence He is the God of all comfort. Comfort is something we receive from God [4]. God’s comfort is significantly present tense. It is not simply that He has comforted in the past, but He comforts. The comfort we receive from God we may later use to comfort others. Sometimes we may help others only as we ourselves have trodden the path they have to tread. God knows from the beginning the people He is going to send across our path throughout our life. Nothing is ever wasted in God’s school of suffering. Paul lifts our sufferings to the highest level by referring to our sharing the sufferings of Christ [5]. We can never share in the redemptive sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, since they are utterly unique. He alone could die in our place. However, in the bringing of individuals to faith in Him, and in their spiritual care and nurturing, the Lord Jesus uses His disciples. We cannot fulfil these privileged functions without costly distress of different kinds. All involved in pastoral care of others soon discover how demanding such responsibility is. The sufferings of the Lord Jesus in this respect may flow over into our lives, but this never happens without our comfort also overflowing! We may never be more aware of our Savior’s presence and help than when for His sake we engage in costly service of others. Paul’s philosophy emerges helpfully here [6-7]. Paul was eager to share all this with the Corinthians. Some were no doubt anxious about the news of what had happened to him and his colleagues in their missionary endeavors. Paul freely admitted that they had known great distress. At the same time, he rejoiced because he was certain that the Corinthians and others would ultimately benefit. They would share the spiritual fruits of that distress. The experience of Paul and his friends would encourage the Corinthians to endure similar sufferings patiently as they witnessed the triumph of God’s comfort.

Purpose Number Two:  God allows us to come to an end of ourselves, so that we may not rely on ourselves but on Him – the God who raises the dead [8-9].  Paul and his companions came to a complete end of themselves. In their hearts they felt the sentence of death [9]. In other words, they felt that there was no hope for them. However, what Paul has already testified to in the previous verses proved true. The experience was a waste neither for Paul and his partners nor for those who knew them. God gave them the necessary strength to endure. God allowed it all to happen so that they might not rely on themselves but on God, who raised the dead. Self-confidence is a constant peril and danger. Our confidence in God-given abilities, strengths and gifts should never be to the point that we feel we can act independently of God or without looking to Him to be our true strength and object of our praise. Self-reliance is perilous, and can be our downfall. God sometimes has to teach us through hard experiences not to rely on ourselves but on Him. A fundamental principle emerges here. Basic to Christian faith and life is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must learn to put the truth of the resurrection up against, or alongside, every trouble and difficulty we face. In doing so, we fix our eyes upon God – and that is the first step to finding the answer we need in comfort, strength, endurance and victory!

Purpose Number Three: God teaches us to trust Him as our deliverer, so that praise is brought to Him [10-11].  Looking back on all the difficult experiences he has catalogued and hinted at, Paul bears testimony to God’s deliverance [10]. Paul deliberately set his hope on God’s deliverance. To set our hope suggests disciplined determination and single-mindedness. Paul knew that the help he and his friends needed could come only from God, and to Him alone therefore they looked. At the same time Paul knew that God gives a strategic place to the intercessory prayers of His people for deliverance. Part of Christian fellowship is praying for one another. Intercessory prayer is fundamental to the corporate life of God’s people. Our prayers are part of God’s rescue plan in His scheme of deliverance. Answered prayers prompt thanksgiving to God [11], and thanksgiving honors and glorifies Him. Looking back, Paul saw how the deliverance God afforded him and his companions through answered prayer brought praise to God. In this he glimpsed another of God’s purposes in our troubles and sufferings: He uses them to bring praise to His name. God can have no higher end than his own praise. We can have no greater goal than God’s glory. Our difficulties are God-given opportunities to prove His compassion [3], comfort [3,5-7], power [9], deliverance [10], blessing [11] and willingness to hear the prayers of His people [11]. How incredibly poor our experience of God’s character as our glorious Father would be if we did not know trouble! How insubstantial would be the testimony we would be able to give to Him! How little would be the praise and glory we would daily ascribe to Him!”  [Prime, pp. 1-10].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What four important truths do we find in Paul’s opening verses in his letter to the Corinthians [1:1-2]? What is the relationship between God’s grace and His peace? How are God’s gifts of grace and peace the twin foundations upon which to build your spiritual life?
  2. In verses 3-11, Paul offers praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. List the things for which Paul praises God. What three aspects of God’s character does Paul mention? What is the relationship between afflictions and comfort. What three purposes of the difficulties in life does Prime mention?
  3. Since the sufferings of our Lord Jesus for our salvation are unique, in what ways may we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings [5]? What place may our sufferings have in our usefulness to others? How have we been encouraged by the experience of other people in times of difficulty? What examples can we give of this from the Bible itself? Pray that God will use the comfort that He has shown to you to help others in the midst of their afflictions.
  4. Prime writes: “Our difficulties are God-given opportunities to prove His compassion [3], comfort [3,5-7], power [9], deliverance [10], blessing [11] and willingness to hear the prayers of His people [11].” Pray that God will enable you to see and treat all your difficulties in this way.

References:

The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Inter Varsity.

2 Corinthians, David Garland, NAC, B & H Publishing.

2 Corinthians, George Guthrie, BENT, Baker.

Let’s Study 2 Corinthians, Derek Prime, Banner of Truth.