There are times when I buzz through my morning Bible reading without it being more than an afterthought. Today was not one of those days. The following verses got into my bones just a little bit and excited me about the life and ministry God entrusts to us.
In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul writes:
“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.”
We seldom suffer alone. We seldom heal alone. We tend to suffer in community. We tend to heal in community.
The pain we feel might be emotional, physical, spiritual, or relational. Some trials are predictable, others unpredictable. Some troubles simply annoy us, others seem to debilitate us. We realize we aren’t the only ones enduring hardship, but it is hard to see past ourselves. Our suffering is not simple, and so it does not typically start and stop with us an individual. I don’t believe God designed us to hold it all in and bear it alone. Whether we like it or not, our suffering seeps and slides through us, trickling out to others around us.
That’s not always a bad thing. If we bring suffering on ourselves because of our own foolishness or pride or short-sightedness, then, as other believers sense our suffering, God uses them to bring correction to our lives. Our feelings regarding our trials might be legitimate, but that doesn’t make them right. Our perceptions are real, but it doesn’t make them true. And when hardships come through no fault of our own, but as a result of living in a fallen world, we need help from above to see clearly. God moves others who have been through the battle before and found His Word faithful to point us to Him. And if God can use others as an answer to our prayer for help, then God can use us in the lives of others, when they cry out to Him for mercy as well.
Paul is clear here in this Scripture that God is the God of all comfort. The comfort God offers is not necessarily ease of pain or absence of issues. That comfort may last a moment. The complete and genuine comfort God offers, that is able to endure despite the circumstances, is Himself. Our comfort is abundant in Christ. He send His Holy Spirit to dwell in us as our Comforter.
Paul is clear in verse 4 as well when he indicates God comforts him so that he is able to comfort others. Paul further explains the practical application of this a few chapters later when he explains in chapter 4 how “Light will shine out of darkness.” Paul has tasted the sweetness of this comfort that only comes in and through Christ which is how and why he could say in chapter 4, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Much of the reason Paul suffered was because of ministry. Here, he was being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down because of his ministry to the Corinthian church, but the reason he was not crushed, despairing or destroyed was because the comfort of God was flowing through him and reaching them.
The comfort that comes from God helps us to keep a proper perspective on our suffering. And as we marvel at the power of Christ, we see that all the things of this world, whether delightful or difficult, don’t amount to much when compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
When the type of comfort discussed here is a constant companion, when the nearness of God fills us with the peace that passes all understanding, then it makes sense when Paul closes chapter 4 in the context of the suffering he endures with the hope that he has with, “16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
So, when the suffering is seeping and sliding through others around us touches our lives, let’s reach out and respond in hopeful, life giving ways, rooted in the comfort we receive from God. It does not originate in us, but we freely give it as we have freely received it. And when we ourselves are weighted down with our own suffering, let us not be unwilling to allow our brothers and sisters in Christ love us the same. We are all in this together, but let’s give each other what we truly need, hope and comfort that comes from above!