The God of All Comfort
Paul’s introductory words set the stage for certain realities that permeate this letter. Though they are very similar to his initial greetings in 1 Corinthians, they set a theme. Paul is an apostle, appointed by Jesus Christ, in accord with the eternal purpose of God. Some who are disturbing this church are not apostles but are false apostles. Even one as highly esteemed as Timothy is identified simply as “brother” as was Sosthenes in the first letter. The church is not Paul’s church, but the church of God. It is a local assembly located in Corinth, placed there by God as a result of his electing purpose fulfilled in their effectual calling, and granted standing by the reconciling death and righteousness of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1: 23-31).
I. The Reciprocity of comfort and consolation (Verse 3-7)
A. Before the recitation of the details of his concerns, Paul puts everything under the privilege of praise to God. Note that he gave this word of praise as the foundational assumption of his entire discussion. We submit to the goodness and sovereignty of God as a prerequisite for seeking the right solutions to the troubles of our lives and the messiness of our relationships.
- A statement of “blessedness” recognizes the infinite worthiness of God, peculiarly in his eternal three-personed existence. (Verse 3)
- First, we see Paul’s appeal to the eternal relationship of Father and Son by referring to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a two-fold relationship.
- Temporally, he is the “God” of our Lord Jesus Christ as a result of the incarnation, when, as a man, Jesus took on the responsibility of the creature to obey the law, worship God rightly, live in absolute dependence on his will, and, by his sustaining power, accomplish all that he had been sent to do. “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Hebrews 1:9).
- He is Father eternally. The doctrine of the Trinity flows from this reality that, within the Godhead, the Father always is generating the Son. The Father always is Father; the Son always is Son. Both Father and Son have the essential attributes of deity, “goodness,” but both, as well as the Holy Spirit, have incommunicable properties that constitute their distinct personhood.
- Our Lord Jesus Christ.
- He is ours in that he has done his saving work on our behalf to make us children of God.
- He is Lord in that he is God, eternally existing alongside the Father of one essence with the Father.
- He is Jesus in that his name announced to Joseph by the angel (Matthew 1:21) means that in his humanity, shared fully with us, he is fitted to save his people from their sins.
- He is Christ in that this single person, being both God and man, is the anointed one as prophet, priest, and king. He is anointed to do what no other being can do; in him alone can we know the Father, be forgiven of sins, attain right standing before the law, be brought into a condition of perfect holiness, and live eternally in the presence of the God of infinite glory.
- “Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort” refers to the Father and the Son having sent the Spirit to be “another comforter” (John 14:16, 26, 27;15:26).
- He recognizes the infusion of divine purpose even in his many afflictions. (Verse 4) In this world we will have tribulation, the world will hate us, if they persecuted the Son they also will persecute his followers (John 14:18-21; 16:33). His sufferings were redemptive; ours will be sanctifying.
- When we are afflicted, according to his promise, God comforts us. He does this by his word in that we see he always has spoken truly and has told us beforehand that these trials will come. He does this by his Spirit, ministering to us with internal outpourings of grace that cause us to endure and to relish the joy of suffering resistance, rejection, or even pain for the cause of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
- In turn, the comfort we have received from God’s word and Spirit will inform our encouragement to others when they experience trials of all kinds. The experience of our own comfort and provision may be communicated with the encouragement that God himself also will give comfort (See James 1:2-4; Romans 5: 3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-9).
B. He points to the Sufferings of Christ as a foundation for consolation. (Verses 5-7).
- “The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance.” Although Christ’s sufferings were redemptive and ours are not, the same impulse in the world that brought about the death of Christ also brings about the infliction of suffering on those who follow him. “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Paul saw his sufferings as a continuation of the rejection of Christ and as having positive benefits for the church: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24). Christ’s redemptive suffering lacked nothing, but fully satisfied the justice of God and fully expressed the mercy and grace of God. The world, however, yet has untapped fountains of cynicism, ridicule, hatred, and persecution for the holy Christ, the one who claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life,” apart from whom no one can come to the Father. The one about whom Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12) stands as the absolute standard by which all flesh will be judged and found guilty or not guilty, condemned or justified. The world, when undeterred by elements of Christian thought resident as a remnant in the culture, scorns the moral view of Scripture, rejects its picture of human nature, and ridicules its teachings on human destiny.
- Christ’s suffering were endured under the strength of the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:1, 2). His joy was infinite for he had done the will of the Father, he had redeemed his people, he would reign over all the enemies of the divine glory. That abundance of joy awaits those who suffer for Christ’s sake. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
- Paul brought the gospel to the Corinthians in the midst of great suffering (1 Corinthians 2:3) and preached the truth. They were converted by the message, under the power of the Holy Spirit and were not swept up in the strength of the messenger. His suffering, therefore, settled their salvation in the power of God and not in the wisdom or strength of men. Also, Paul had experienced both suffering and joy in deliverance so that he could comfort those so afflicted.
- (Verse 7) – Since therefore, the Corinthians shared in these kinds of sufferings, Paul knew that they would share in the same comforts. These comforts would include the joy of knowing truth, the satisfaction of submission to the providential arrangements of God for suffering, the knowledge of sin forgiven through Christ (the infinite sufferer), and the final victory of holiness, righteousness, and truth over all perversity, lawlessness, and falsehood.
II. God alone delivers from distress (Verses 8-11).
A. Paul described the depths of his suffering in Asia. Paul could refer to his stoning at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20), which brought him to the point of death. Some suggest that Paul had had contracted some disease that had powerful physical effects; such phrases as “burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life,” and “we had the sentence of death within ourselves” indicates something insidious which was always resident and could rise up with violent force and be deadly in its effects. On one occasion, at least, it appears that Paul consider himself about to die immediately.
B. God, the Resurrector, delivers not only from death in the end but from great peril in this life. God however, in order to show both the greatness of his power as already manifest in the resurrection of Christ (“God who raises the dead”), and to manifest to Paul’s immediate consciousness his utter dependence on God, preserved Paul and continued to send him into dangerous places with regular threats on his life. Paul could say with the powerful knowledge of true doctrine combined with immediate experience, “Who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us” (Verse 10).
C. We find union with God’s purposes through prayer (11). “You also joining in helping us through your prayers.”
- Prayer is a recognition of our dependence on God; God has so joined himself to his people, that their desires more and more run parallel to his will (1 John 5:14, 15; James 5: 16-18). Even as Elijah knew God’s revealed will about famine and rain and prayed accordingly, and as Daniel knew about the prophecies concerning the length of the exile and prayed accordingly (Daniel 9:1-4, 18-19), so we may pray for God’s revealed will to be accomplished—such as, the preservation and sanctification of his people, the protection of his servants in danger that they may accomplish what he has willed for them.
- If we do not know what to pray for as we ought, we may trust that the Spirit intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans 8: 26-27).
- Paul regularly assured the churches of his prayer for them and was very specific as to what his requests were (e.g. Ephesians 1: 15-21; Philippians 1:9-11: Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5, 5:23-24, etc.). We should use the prayers of Paul as models for our prayers and see them as extensions of the way that Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6:8-13).
- He asked for prayer from the church at Colossae: “Praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3) Even though he was an apostle, and knew that his message came by revelation, and that it embodied truth and truth only, nevertheless, he asked for prayer in the faithful stewardship of his calling. In 1 Thessalonians he wrote simply, “Brethren, pray for us.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:1, he wrote, “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord Jesus will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you.” Gospel success in its spread evangelistically and in its effectual operations for holiness in the saved constituted the bulk of Paul’s vision for prayer.
III. Preparatory profession of candor, transparency, and sincerity (Verses 12-14)
A. In light of the contents of this letter, Paul assures the Corinthians that his approach to them is without malice.
- He characterized his conduct toward the Corinthians with several statements related to his motivation and manner of approach to them. The overall impact is, that Paul has no consciousness of deceit or manipulation. He is not after either applause or material gain, but only a clear presentation of revealed truth with full confidence in the gracious purpose of God.
- He is not embarrassed to reveal his motivation; his statement of intent is an unvarnished plea of pure credibility—he called it boasting, but uses the word in irony to contrast his statement of personal emptiness with the self-exalting stance of the false apostles (10:1-2, 7-8, 12-13; 11:10-13).
- His conscience confirmed that his conduct among them was characterized by holiness and godly sincerity. He aimed at the glory of God, their eternal well-being, and a conscience free of reproach.
- Contrary to the false apostles, he did not approach them with fleshly wisdom—man-made philosophies and religious ideas—but with the grace of God. He set forth a message of redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, revealed by the Holy Spirit, and applied in accord with the gracious design of the triune God.
- This is the manner of Paul’s conduct and purpose in the world in general and toward the Corinthians in particular. The success of the gospel does not depend on human manipulation, canniness, or worldly appeals; its messengers may be, must be, perfectly sincere and unwaveringly honest in setting forth the truth of the gospel as the only power by which sinners will be saved (Romans 1: 16, 17; Colossians 1:5-8).
B. This letter is straightforward and has no hidden agenda. Paul has written this letter to make clear what his ministry has been among them. He writes as plainly and with as much unadorned clarity of purpose as one may do in the normal use of human language. There is no unwritten agenda behind what he says in this letter, but he lays before them his continued concerns for them with pristine candor and brutal honesty.
C. In light of that, the Corinthians should give earnest attention to understand all that Paul says, for it is obvious from their continued problems that they have not grasped the foundational gravamen of his correspondence (“just as you also partially did understand us”). Too much was at stake for both Paul and the Corinthians. They have mutual interest in each other in the day of judgment. “We are your reason to be proud as you also are ours.” He will give an account of his stewardship of the gospel to them before God, and they will give an account of their reception of the gospel in the same time of Judgment. It can be a time of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus if, on both accounts, faithful stewardship of the gospel is inscribed on the record.