A Slight Change of Pace
As I was reading my Bible this week, and deciding on what text to write about, my eyes were drawn to a section of verses that I had highlighted in red; (you may recall from my first post, I use blue for interesting verses, but red is for some of my favourites!) I looked around and considered some other options, but I kept coming back to those initial words. Maybe it’s just because it’s been a bit of a tough week for me, or maybe because I think we could all use a bit more uplifting these days. Either way, I hope you won’t mind a slight change up from the norm this week with a section of verses that is definitely still interesting, but also left me saying: “Well that’s encouraging!”
The God of All Comfort
After a couple verses of typical introduction and greeting, Paul starts off his second letter to the church in Corinth like this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 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.2 Corinthians 1:3–4 NASB
There are a few things that stand out to me in this passage. First of all, I love how Paul addresses and explains aspects of God’s character through something as simple as the names he uses. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” makes it clear which person of the trinity Paul is referring to, whilst also alluding to Jesus’ nature as both God and man. But it’s the next two that just warm my heart: “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort”. I think it’s important, especially in the midst of a difficult season, to be reminded that the God we serve is a merciful Father who loves us and cares for us. Even though we may not always “feel it” or recognize it (in the same way that children don’t always fully appreciate the love and mercy of their parents), we remember passages like Paul’s words to the Ephesians:
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.Ephesians 2:4–5 NLT
And isn’t it just so encouraging to think about the fact that part of God’s identity and character is that he is the “God of all comfort”? Now, of course at some point it might be helpful to address the difference between being comforted and being comfortable. Some within Christianity have directly or indirectly made the claim that if you are a good enough Christian, your life should be comfortable; that is, free of suffering. That is not what the Bible teaches. Looking back at 2 Cor. 1:4 we read that he comforts us in all our affliction. We are not promised that he will take us out of our suffering, but that he will be right there with us, offering comfort through it all.
The second half of verse 4 is where things start to get really interesting, in my opinion. We read that God “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” (2 Cor. 1:4). It’s the “so that” bit that I’m referring to. We see here, built in to God’s design, that we are comforted to comfort others.
This causes me to take pause and consider a couple important questions. First, have I been doing my part? That is to say, have I faithfully engaged in the comfort cycle, using the comfort I have received by God to care for those around me? Or, using a reference that will date me, am I constantly taking a penny but never leaving a penny? Now that isn’t to say there is some divine scale, whereby as soon as I receive comfort from God I need to be sure to go comfort x number of people to keep things in balance. But I think it is always important to be asking ourselves, “What am I doing with the blessings that God has provided to me?” and “Am I being faithful with what I’ve been given?”
Also, consider the flipped perspective. If God comforts me so that I can comfort others with the comfort I have received, it stands to reason that others have comforted me with the comfort that they have received. This begs the question, “Is there anyone I should thank or encourage for the ways they have faithfully shared God’s comfort with me?” Doing so not only causes me to appreciate and have gratitude for the ways my merciful Father has cared for me, but it also allows me to contribute back to the cycle by encouraging a brother or sister for their faithfulness.
Why Does it Matter?
This is one of those passages where I likely don’t need to do much to explain its relevance. As I write this post, it is almost 11 months to the day since the COVID-19 virus outbreak was declared a pandemic. While you may not currently be in a position that you consider to be “suffering” or “affliction”, this year has affected us all in some way or another. And even if perhaps you’re reading this in the future, when the virus is just a distant memory, the reality is that no one is a stranger to suffering and needing comfort.
But in the face of pain and discouragement that can at times be overwhelming, we flood our mind with these important truths. God is the God of comfort. He is with us through it all. Those who have received his comfort can pass it on to others.
So if you are currently in the midst of affliction, ask God to provide comfort, and trust that he will do it, whether through his word, his Holy Spirit, or through one of his people (or perhaps all of the above!) And whether you are currently suffering or not, consider the ways that God has comforted you in the past and/or the ways he is comforting you in the present, and ask yourself who around you needs that same comfort. Reach out, allow God to use the suffering in your life for the good of his people, and share in the blessings that come with being faithful with the comfort you’ve been given.