Comfort When Affliction Abounds
Western believers have a very poor understanding of suffering. Our objective typically is to anesthetize it, to take something that takes the pain away. Understand that suffering is part of God’s program.
All of us suffer in different ways. Because we’re in the West and have almost deified healthcare, the moment pain enters, we reach for the ibuprofen. When pain becomes a constant distraction to the point that you can’t function or think, you literally or metaphorically reach for something to take off the edge.
But many of us will be there. And it can be not just acute, not just chronic. It can be emotional, it can be personal; it can be relational. It’s sometimes news for folks to realize that the ancients had the same pains we have. Read the Psalter and try not to see the agony, lamentation, and sickness to the point of death imagery.
Notice the word comfort repeated in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 so many times. Not many of us will suffer for Christ’s sake as the Apostle does. 1 and 2 Corinthians are corrective letters. The Apostle writes about abuse, division, immorality, and many egregious sins. As an apostle of Jesus Christ, he speaks to them the very Word of Christ.
In this opening chapter, he talks about suffering and comfort in elaborate and beautiful detail. His main idea in this section is 2 Corinthians 1:3, ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.’ Paul the Apostle knew, just like anyone knows, no one ever sheds a tear over a propositional truth. The principle can be true, but someone has to explain it.
The God of All Comfort
He is the God of all comfort. That can sound theological and ethereal, but what does he mean by it as the God of all comfort? He is the God who comforts us in our afflictions.
David Lowry observes, “One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that the grace of God is most keenly experienced not in the best but in what seems to be the worst of times. However much a Christian longs for joy or delight… it is often in humiliation where he finds grace. That theme pervades the letter and finds poignant expression in Paul’s thanksgiving.”
You won’t learn unless you suffer; You won’t grow until there’s pain. You will not spend more time in the Word trying to find out who God is and how to relate to Him until and unless you are hurt.
In the Western mindset, you don’t need God when everything is okay, or you basically ‘like’ your spouse. But, introduce a complication, and things become spiritual very quickly. We ask why, pound open the Bible, and get busy with God.
What Does it Mean to Bless or Be Blessed?
We need a theological foundation on what blessing means. How a word is used in the Bible is how we understand it.
This passage occurs immediately after David receives all the materials for the construction of the temple. 1 Chronicles 29:9-13,20 says, “Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the LORD with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly. So David blessed the LORD in the sight of all the assembly; and David said, ‘Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.
Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; it lies in Your hand to make great and strengthen everyone. Now, therefore, our God, we thank You and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand, we have given You.’ Then David said to all the assembly, ‘Now bless the LORD your God.’ And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed low and did homage to the LORD and to the king.”
To bless God is to say, ‘God, You and You alone deserve all credit, honor, attention, affection, attribution, and acknowledgement; and we get to watch!’ It is a beautiful thing when God’s plan comes together.
Get Your Nose in The Book
When you come across anything you think you know or live on what you studied ten years ago, get your nose back in the book and do a little homework. David blesses God. He’s blessing God in recognition of who He is and for all He’s done through His chosen people. The challenge of Western Christianity is that we’re too comfortable in the horizontal to be focused on the vertical. So when discomfort comes, we cry for mercy and blessing and ask God to take His foot off the pain and make things right again.
The God of Mercy and Compassion
People bowed to the king, but this king bowed low to God. No matter your circumstance or how you feel, it’s not about us, and it never has been. It’s easy to rush over this blessing. Paul says that God deserves all blessing /attribution, so we attribute mercy and comfort to the Father. We’re not to think of God as merely the dispensary or one Who doles out mercy and comfort like filling a prescription. From Him comes the only mercy and comfort of any value. God’s mercy is a picture of His compassion for our misfortune. Our response to discomfort does not seem to align with the scripture.
God’s mercy and compassion are new every morning. In Colossians 3:12, Paul speaks of having a heart of compassion for people. That’s different from pity. You can feel sorry for or sorry with.
We need grace because we sin at the beginning, but we need mercy because we sin daily. The God of all comfort is compassionate and expects us to be compassionate. Ten times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, He’s called the God of all comfort.
How much more is God’s mercy that we should emulate it and comfort one another? The God of all is a source of comfort. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.
The Ultimate Source of Our Comfort
Even though Paul suffered for years, Paul calls Him the God of all comfort. Our pain is not lessened; It’s that we know the God of comfort. In verses 8-10, Paul notes that he despaired of life. But God who raises the dead delivered him. Your hurts, pains, injustices, and disappointments are real, and God cares. In fact, He is the God of all comfort. Pain is real. But we cannot be defined by it.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a hangnail or cancer. Pain is not a competition or a comparison. Your pain is your pain, and it’s real. When your pain distracts you from life, it needs attention. Pain plants the flag of surrender in the fortress of a rebel heart.
Paul’s Christology prevails throughout this entire chapter. Only as we stay close to Christ and lean on Him, in His Word, under His authority, can we have an eternal perspective on temporal pains. Pain is love with nowhere to go except on the cross. For love, He endured the pain. Your relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation of life.
Phillips Brooks, in his book, Candle of The Lord, said, “The reason we are led into trouble and out again is not merely that we may value happiness the more from having lost it once and found it again, but that we may know something which we could not know except by that teaching, that we may bear upon our nature some impress which could not have been stamped except on natures just so softened to receive it.”
Click here for other Michael Easley Sermons.