Back in 2015, my family and I were in what we now refer to as Spiritual Bootcamp. It was a time period in which every one of us was being greatly afflicted in so many ways that just managing the basics of life was beyond us some days. Our pastor pointed us at 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 as an encouragement. Eight years later, I can admit I only understood some small part of why he did so. Thankfully, the Lord has been faithful to reveal so much more in the intervening years.
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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 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; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Our hope is in God
That God comforts us in the midst of our afflictions was clear to me but I don’t think I understood then how he comforts us. Today I do. Through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can endure through our trials and in doing so, His character is revealed to us. As His character is revealed, we know Him better so we trust Him more. We are comforted by the hope inherent in a complete dependence upon Him. We become able to have a heavenly perspective and take a long term view that extends beyond our our current circumstances. We see this played out in the next set of verses.
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction which occurred in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead, who rescued us from so great a danger of death, and will rescue us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, if you also join in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons in our behalf for the favor granted to us through the prayers of many. For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.2 Corinthians 1:8-12
Paul’s affliction left him burdened excessively, beyond his strength so that he despaired even of life. That forced him to depend not on his own abilities but on God’s character which led to hope, not just about the present circumstance but about the future as well.
Comfort is for others
It is important not to miss that the abundance of comfort which God has sent into our hearts is not intended to be hoarded for ourselves. In comforting us in our afflictions, he equips us and expects us to pay it forward. Our trials are training that enable us to come alongside those who are experiencing the same things we did and to comfort them in the same way that God comforted us.
Think about one of the bigger struggles you’ve had in your life. Really come up with one. Right now. Were you comforted by people who denied or minimized the struggle? Were you comforted by people who hadn’t walked it but who pointed you to uplifting bible verses or suggested you try turmeric? Hopefully, you had somebody come alongside you who knew what you were experiencing, who could tell you that it was real, who could meet you in the pain, hold your hand, and point you to Him who could save you. It is expected that you now pay that forward.
Paul did just that when he shared with the church at Corinth that he came to a point of despair and realized that he’d been relying on himself. He openly exposed this sin to them because he cared so much less about his reputation than about God’s plans for them through him. This is the same reason he told Timothy that he was foremost among sinners. Note the lesson — for us to put our training into action, for us to comfort others requires not only compassion but humility and a willingness to be vulnerable.
Comforting others means being exposed
The word translated as ‘comfort’ which is used nine times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, is παράκλησις (parakalesis) which means ‘to call alongside’ and it is sometimes translated as ‘encourage’. It says, “I’m in this with you and you’re in this with me.” It is so comforting to have the encouragement of somebody who has walked the path before us and who has come out the other side intact and confident in the Lord. But how can we possibly find one another if we present an image that conceals the paths on which we have walked? We are called to live in the light.
Among my immediate family, we have been trained to comfort the orphans, the abused, the lonely, the ignored, the desperate, mutilators of self, anorexics, addicts, lovers of violence, those caught in habitual sin of all types, the oppressed, victims of assault and of incest and of rape, those who cannot imagine living tomorrow, children of divorce, the unjustly persecuted, and the chronically ill. That might cover half of it. Looking at this passage on comfort from my family’s perspective today:
Our hope for [people who are described above] is firmly grounded, knowing that as [they] are sharers of our sufferings, so also [they] are sharers of our comfort.2 Corinthians 1:7 [with my adaptation]
As we go forward and bring this comfort and encouragement to others, we ourselves are encouraged that it is God Almighty who strengthens us.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org