Comfort and Mutual Encouragement vv.3-
Reading: 2 Cor.1:1-
Paul began his letter by taking the letter writing conventions of the day and giving them a Christian twist or flavour. Now as he proceeds he does the same thing with the traditional Jewish practice of blessing God – he takes what was a common Jewish form and develops it in a specifically Christian manner.
Paul's praise of God is deeper and richer than the forms of blessing to be found in the religion of the Old Covenant. The coming of Jesus, God's Son, into the world ensured that! We're not to imagine that the forms of blessing employed in the OT were somehow wrong, they weren't. Just listen, for example, to the words which are used to close each of the first four books within the Book of Psalms:
Ps.41:13 "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen."
Ps.89:52 "Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen."
Ps.106:48 "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, "Amen!" Praise the LORD!"
These forms of worship employed under the terms of the Old Covenant were true and wonderfully so but they did not tell the whole story. There was yet more light, more revelation, to come and it came with the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world! New Covenant praise and blessing is thus richer and more profound because by now the wonders of God have been made more apparent.
Listen to how the writer to the Hebrews put it:
So instead of employing one of the familiar blessings from the OT Paul provided a Christian development of these blessings and so declared:
2Cor.1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort"
The majestic and awesome, thrice holy God of the OT is now understood to be wonderfully warm and compassionate – the full blessings of the gospel which were hinted at in the OT have now, in the person of Jesus Christ, become a reality in the NT. With such increased and deepened knowledge how can Paul do anything other than bless and praise this wonderful God?
In the opening lines of his letter Paul supplies us with important details concerning the identity and status of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ and we must ensure that we take on board all he has to say.
In v.2 he places Jesus on a par with the Father as he prays for the blessings of grace and peace to be given to the Christians in Corinth – Jesus is no lesser, smaller god, but one with and equal to the Father.
However v.3 shows how something of the relationship that exists between the Father and the Son as the Son takes up his role as the intermediary between God and men as the man Christ Jesus. It is in the aspect that the Father is described not merely as the Father of Jesus Christ but also as being the God of the Lord Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote v.3 he had in view not the eternal sonship of the second person of the Trinity but the state of humiliation to which the Son willingly submitted himself by the means of the incarnation.
The manner in which Paul blesses God enables him to introduce themes that he intends to develop for the well-
You'll remember from what we looked at last week that the Corinthians were being troubled by some interlopers who had a very different vision of Christian leadership and the Christian life from the one Paul had taught them. This new view was triumphalistic in tone and held little or no place for weakness. The view that these new 'leaders' were putting about suggested that a great Christian would not be weak but strong and untouched by the troubles of this world. It is a view that remains popular and tempting to our own day appealing as it does to our fallen human nature which longs for ease and success.
Paul's blessing of God as the Father of mercies and the source of all comfort already begins to point to a different reality. If the Christian's life was all so trouble-
Comfort in Sufferings
Continuing to follow in broad outline the letter writing conventions of his day the apostle Paul turned to supply some information concerning himself. He begins by writing in somewhat general terms vv.3-
It might look at first sight that Paul is including the Corinthians in what he says – after all he talks using the pronouns "we" and "our" and it looks as though he is stating things that refer to all Christians. However it is clear from v.6 that Paul is specifically relating his own experience and how that experience works out for the benefit of the Corinthians. (This is not to deny that a wider, more general deduction may be drawn but such is not Paul's primary intent.)
Paul has written of God being the source of all comfort and now he explains how he has been a prime beneficiary of such comfort – his adversaries may be suggesting that Paul has precious little experience (after all he didn't speak of the type of ecstatic experiences they thought evidenced a deep relationship with God) and Paul undermines such criticism by explaining God's ways as following another pattern entirely.
For Paul affliction was part and parcel of his apostolic mission. Being a Christian did not set him free from suffering or raise him above suffering but it inevitably and fundamentally involved such affliction. Such affliction, far from being a sign of a deficient spirituality, was in fact the God-
Furthermore, Paul argued, such a dual experience of suffering and comfort rendered more not less equipped for Christian service. Paul's afflictions and sufferings took in a wide variety of different scenarios but in them all he knew and proved the reality of divine comfort. And this experience was used by God to make Paul better able and better equipped to help others who were called to suffer in similar ways. Paul was aware that the help he could offer others was help that he had first received himself from God.
If this were not enough Paul continued to describe those very sufferings which the super apostles took as signs of immaturity and of a poor Christianity as being a participation in the sufferings of Christ himself (v.5)!
In this Paul was not introducing any new doctrine – Jesus had already taught his disciples that sufferings, sufferings in all shapes and sizes, were to be expected. Suffering was normality for the follower of Jesus Christ, that's just the way it would be!
Jn.15:20 "Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours."
Jn.16:33 "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
Lk.23:31 "For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
So Paul was taking seriously what our Lord said – as a follower of this Christ Paul shared in his sufferings. But Paul was NOT saying that his sufferings were in any way redemptive – Christ and Christ alone can save sinners – but he was declaring that a Christian's union with Christ by faith means a sharing not just in blessings but also in sufferings.
The temptation to view things differently is a real one – a temptation to which the super-
Did Paul have a real and strong experience of God? Yes is the resounding answer and the proof is the wonderful comfort he received in the midst of intense suffering. But Paul's spiritual experience in this way was not so individualistic that it had no influence on others – the comfort he received he passed on to others too. And in particular Paul passed on this comfort to the Corinthians who were by no means immune from suffering themselves.
Paul goes so far as to say that whether he suffers or whether he is comforted the end result is for the benefit of the Corinthians. His ministry serves to secure their salvation, to comfort them in their suffering. Such comfort will enable the Corinthians to endure the sufferings through which they too are called to pass.
Paul's View of the Normal Christian Life
From what we have saying we can summarise what Paul is saying here. And the first thing is that he underlines the simple truth that Christians, including the Corinthians, will experience suffering in their discipleship lives.
At first sight this might sound an unwelcome message – surely the Corinthians would be more encouraged to press on if they listened to those who proclaimed a more triumphalistic version of the faith. But no they wouldn't!
You see when triumphalistic versions of the faith are being advanced as true spirituality it adds a crushing burden to the faithful disciple who finds himself struggling through difficulty after difficulty. He is left with the idea that he's facing all these troubles because of some personal failure and this can only increase despondency and despair. Who will want to own up to struggling when to do so will be interpreted by others as flagging up a second class of Christian living?
Paul's teaching opens up the way for comfort to be looked for and shared.
God's way of dealing with sinners is like this:
Salvation comes to a sinner by grace but it is a grace that is personal, being bound up with the Lord Jesus Christ. A Christian is not someone who simply receives blessings from God but a person who is placed in a faith union with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This faith union leads to the Christian being rendered capable of sharing (to a greater for lesser extent) in both the blessings and the sufferings of Christ. The Christian does not lead a life that is sheltered from all suffering and affliction but is rather sustained and comforted in the very midst of such suffering.
This vibrant Christian life is also a life lived out in fellowship with others to whom and through whom this divine comfort is often ministered. Indeed in the divine economy struggles and suffering become the opportunity for a virtuous circle of comfort to be set in motion – the receiving of comfort is not a dead-
Paul had sent Titus to the church in Corinth on a mission. Paul was anxious and concerned about the state of the church and it was getting to him. Titus' mission turned out to be a profitable one and when he returned to Paul he was able to encourage the apostle:
2Cor.7:6 "But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus"
Do you see, the comfort is divine but mediated through human intermediaries, in this case Titus.
But Titus himself had been encouraged and comforted by the Corinthians when he visited them!
2Cor.7:7 "and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more."
And now Paul encouraged by Titus' return was preparing himself to go to Corinth with a view to comforting the Corinthians, confident that they would share in the comfort Paul himself has received from God!
Here is an illustration of what Christian fellowship should be like. Don't cut yourself off from other Christians but be ready both to give and receive help and encouragement in Christ. To limit our fellowship, to restrict it, to end it will inevitably have a negative and destructive impact upon this divinely designed virtuous circle of blessing.
It is a sad thing when Christians are only interested in what they see as their own interests. Paul sets a good example being happy to endure the sufferings that come his way because he is convinced it will have a positive benefit for others – or as Paul would put it the Philippians:
Phil.2:4 "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."
Well may God help us so that we may help others!