GOD AND COMFORT 2 Corinthians 1:1–2:4
“God . . . who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:3–4).Only the hurting know what it means to be comforted by God.
Paul praised his God of Comfort (1:1–7), and shared a personal experience (vv. 8–11). He explained his failure to visit, which had been misunderstood (v. 12–2:2), and the reason for his earlier, blunt letter (vv. 3–4).
Understanding the Text
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” 2 Cor. 1:1. This unusual greeting reflects on the background of this letter. Paul’s ministry had been challenged, and the apostle rejected, by many of the Corinthian Christians. This had to hurt Paul. But it did not shake him. His appointment as an apostle did not come from the Corinthians, but from God. It’s not what they wanted, but what God willed that counted. I’ve known many people who have suffered rejection. I’ve heard pastors weep over being considered—and treated—as nothing more than an employee of the church rather than a minister called by God. I’ve heard moms and dads with rebellious children weep too. Paul would understand. And his response to the Corinthians’ reaction serves as a guide to all of us in similar situations. Remember first who has appointed you to your role, whether it be pastor or parent, and serve Him. As the rest of this letter shows, keep on loving. Keep on sharing. “The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” 2 Cor. 1:3–5. God is not only the source of His servants’ authority, He is the source of our comfort as well. Paul was sure that God understands. He suffers along with us, for as members of Christ’s body we are experiencing the overflow of His suffering. It’s all right to weep when the pain is great. But never imagine yourself alone. The God of compassion and comfort is right there with you, and if you will, you can sense His loving arm around you. “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation” 2 Cor. 1:3–6. This is one of the most powerful ministry principles to be found in the entire Bible. Paul explained in verse 4: God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” What Paul was saying is that people can identify with those who share the same pain. Have you lost a baby? Then those who have lost a child will understand. Have you known the anguish of a divorce? Then those whose marriages have crumbled know you understand them! Why is this so important? Because the first reaction to any words of comfort is likely to be, “But you don’t understand what I’m going through.” Talk to such folks about God’s comfort, and anything you say will seem empty and foolish. But listen to their pain, share enough so they know you do understand, and then share the comfort God has given you. This the sufferer can hear. If you’ve ever anguished over the pain in your life, and cried out, “Why?” here is one possible answer. The pain has equipped you to minister to others who suffer now as you have. Without experiencing their pain there is nothing you could say that would be heard. It is only because you hurt that you can help others heal. “Just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort” 2 Cor. 1:7. We parents have this terrible weakness. We don’t want our children to go through all the troubles we have had. I find I don’t care about winning Lotto for myself. But I sometimes daydream about what it would mean for my boys. It’s foolish, I know. God, lacking this kind of weakness, knows what Paul also understood. Only by going through the painful experiences as Paul himself, would the Corinthians become strong in their faith and commitment to God. We parents need desperately to understand this principle. The overprotective mom and dad, who try to isolate their children from the troubles of life, do them terrible harm. “We despaired even of life” 2 Cor. 1:8–11. Paul had that most unusual of qualities: moral courage. What I mean is this. Most of us, if our authority were challenged, would rise to meet the challenge. We’d ready ourselves for war, gather all our strength, and march out to meet the rebels on the field of battle. But not Paul. He actually humbled himself to meet the challenge! He put off his weapons, and exposed his weaknesses! Is an apostle supposed to feel at the end of his strength, unable to endure a day longer? (v. 8) Is an apostle supposed to feel despair? (v. 8) Isn’t the dark valley of depression something that only pagans experience, while believers dance on sunlit mountaintops for joy? Some may think so. But Paul knew better. And Paul knew something else too. Only as we minister from weakness, in transparent honesty, will we win others to commitment to Jesus Christ, and to trust in us. Paul was an apostle. But he was also a human being. Because he suffered, he came to know God’s comfort as a reality in his life. In this letter Paul was about to share all, and expose his humanness. Yet in the process he would reveal something else. God was, and had been, at work in his life. If we want to touch others’ hearts, we must take the path the apostle trod. “In the holiness and sincerity that are from God” 2 Cor. 1:12–14. Today we call it transparency and honesty. Or we say, so and so is “real.” Paul used theological terms instead of psychological and ethical ones. But the essential meaning is the same. The holy and sincere among us live without masks. They let us know them and their hearts. They are not perfect, but they are growing. We come to understand them even as we understand what they teach. In a world when men and women wear masks, the person who wears his real face is often misunderstood. The face he presents is assumed to be a mask too. But keep on living that life of holiness and sincerity. In time everyone will know who you are. And through you they will come to know God. “It was in order to spare you that I did not return” 2 Cor. 1:15–2:4. Paul had heard that some in Corinth scoffed at the idea that Paul loved them. And they pointed to the fact that instead of coming himself, Paul wrote them a blunt and (to them) insensitive epistle. “Holy and sincere? Paul? Ha!” Holiness and sincerity do imply being a person of one’s word. Paul fully intended to carry out his promise to visit Corinth again. So he explained why he hadn’t been able to do so yet—and why he hadn’t wanted to! Rather than hurt his beloved Corinthians, he wrote so they would have an opportunity to correct what was wrong in their fellowship! It’s not unusual for a “holy and sincere” individual to be misunderstood. People are likely to impute shameful motives to the best intended actions. People are also likely to criticize actions they don’t understand. When that happens to you, it’s best to follow Paul’s example. Keep on affirming your love. Explain the motives and feelings that lie behind what you have done. Don’t take personal offense. And don’t quit. Most of all, don’t quit living that holy and sincere life. You and I can’t help what others say about us. But we can make sure that what they say isn’t true.
Caring Enough(2 Cor. 2:1–4)
Sometime ago David Augsburger wrote an excellent book called Caring Enough to Confront. In it he showed that if we really care about others, we will be willing to confront them when their actions call for it. Paul, who cared enough to confront the Corinthians in his first letter, shows us here just how to go about confronting. First, he confronted to avoid a greater grief that would otherwise distort their relationship (v. 1). Confronting is a way to keep relationships strong and warm, for things left unmentioned can bring grief. Second, his goal was not to hurt but to heal (v. 2). Confrontation works only when your motive is to help the other person. Don’t think you can confront in anger or antagonism. Your hostility will come through more strongly than any of your words. Third, he expected a positive response. It takes a large dose of trust in others to free us to confront. Paul’s trust had solid roots in his faith in God. He knew God was at work in his brothers and sisters. God would use his blunt words to help them and to heal. Finally, Paul hurt with the Corinthians as he confronted them. He wrote “out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” (v. 4). Confrontation must grow out of and be an expression of love. You need to hurt along with the person you confront. Your pain will prove your love, and move the other person to respond. Do you care enough to confront others when they go wrong? If you do, be sure your confrontation is marked by a desire to deepen the relationship, by love, by positive expections—and by personal grief and pain.
Confronting is one of those gifts we only give if we care enough.
“The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but while you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.”—Francis Xavier