Second Corinthians 1:1–11 . . .
Comforted, We Comfort
We must realize that Apostle Paul, who in this brief passage writes to us about suffering, was a man who had suffered tremendously. There can be no doubt as to the mental distress and physical exhaustion of our wonderful hero. Paul suffers the entire gamut of afflictions, a few of the many are described in the book of Acts; those recorded by Luke, who wrote Acts, are only the "tip of the iceberg" of Paul's afflictions. No epistle describes the afflictions of this great apostle more clearly than 2 Corinthians, which we'll see today and in upcoming studies of his second epistle. When Paul speaks about suffering, he speaks from experience!
While this entire second epistle supplies us with much information concerning Paul's afflictions, in today's passage, Paul gives us a very graphic snapshot of the suffering he experienced just prior to the writing of this epistle. Take a moment now to read vv. 8–11.
In 1 Corinthians 15:32a, Paul alludes to very real dangers that he'd faced in Ephesus. Now in 2 Corinthians, he speaks of his suffering in Asia. We know from reading Acts 19 that there was a riot in Ephesus incited by those whose incomes were derived from the worship of Artemis (or Diana). Paul's life was in danger there, but what Paul writes about in verses 8–11 seems to be even worse. His affliction is such that he loses any hope of surviving the ordeal. He doesn't simply fear he'll die; he's convinced he'll die!
Why Paul Can Praise God for Suffering
In vv. 1 and 2 (see this passage below), Paul greets his readers, reminding them of his apostleship, which is by the will of God. Verse 3 begins with the words, "Praise be . . . ." or "Blessed be . . . ." It's important to recognize that these expressions of worship and praise (vv. 3–11) are occasioned by suffering. Paul's praise flows out of his growing love for God, as enhanced by his suffering. How can Paul praise God because of his suffering? That's what we're about to learn in five unique ways.
(1) To suffer is divine. You've probably heard it said, "To err is human, to forgive divine." Apostle Paul indicates that to suffer is both human and divine. Suffering is human, because it comes with our humanity; we're fallen creatures living in a fallen world. Suffering is divine when it's the suffering of those saints who live righteous lives. Paul specifically identifies the suffering of which he speaks as "righteous suffering," because he calls it "the sufferings of Christ" (v. 5). He even informs us that such sufferings will be experienced "abundantly" or "in abundance." The suffering and affliction that come to us because we belong to Christ are those righteous sufferings, for which we can expect abundant comfort.
(2) Suffering, even unto death, presents an opportunity for each of us to express and expand our faith in the God who not only ordained our suffering but raises the dead. The kind of suffering Paul describes as his personal experience seems certain to lead to death; no one can know what situation Paul faced, but he does inform us that he's certain he'll die. One such situation is seen in Acts 14:8–20, where Paul is stoned at Lystra. As the crowd begins to stone Paul, it's doubtful that he's thinking to himself, "Oh, well, God will no doubt keep me from dying." Likely he thinks he'll die. Whatever Paul is describing in today's text must have been similar in its certainty of death.
(3) Suffering as a saint is God's means of drawing us into closer communion with him. If it weren't for sin, we couldn't know God's grace shown in our Lord Jesus Christ's sacrificial death. If it weren't for suffering, we wouldn't know God's mercy, compassion, and comfort. Suffering allows us to know God intimately. Suffering is the occasion where mercy and comfort are most evidently needed; in suffering, we come to know God as the "Father of compassion"; in times of suffering, the righteous are comforted by their fellowship with God; thankfully this intimacy lasts for all eternity. Suffering is intended to draw us near to the heart of God. And so it is with Paul, who in the midst of unbelievable suffering, writes these introductory words of his epistle, praising God for His mercies and comfort, in the midst of his trials and tribulations.
(4) Suffering is God's means of equipping us to minister to others (vv. 4, 6). Suffering as a Christian — experiencing the "sufferings of Christ" — provides personal blessing and benefit. But it would be wrong for us to view our sufferings selfishly; as the Lord's sufferings were for our benefit and blessing, our sufferings ought to be a blessing to others. When we experience Christ's sufferings and share in God's comfort, we're equipped to minister to others who experience similar afflictions (vv. 3–6). Paul says it as clearly as it can be said: His sufferings are intended for the Corinthians' comfort.
(5) Suffering is a bonding experience for believers. We all know of situations where we've shared an adversity with others; in so doing, a special bond has developed. Paul makes the point that we shouldn't, and don't, suffer alone. We share the sufferings of Christ, and we experience the comfort and mercies of our Heavenly Father. But we're also drawn into a closer fellowship with fellow-believers. The word "fellowship" (Greek, koinonia) means, in effect, "to share in common." Paul's suffering, and the comfort that he gains from God, he now shares — in common — with other sufferers.
Consider this . . . .
How tragic it would be for you to go through life, free from affliction and adversity, never appreciating the love and grace of God — found only in the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered more than you or I will ever be able to fathom — so that we might be forgiven and have comfort and eternal fellowship with God. Having become equipped to minister to others who experience similar afflictions, may we not hesitate to minister to and comfort others.
Finally, imagine how blessed our afflictions will be to us in heaven, if they've been a means by which we've come to the end of ourselves and have cast ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. A–men.
- Q. 1 Do you see a relationship between "God's ability to comfort us" and "our ability to comfort others" (v. 5)?
- Q. 2 When have you been the recipient of comfort? When have you comforted a sufferer? In either or both instances, how present was the Lord?
- Q. 3 Paul found that intense pressures led him to depend on God all the more (v. 9). In what ways do you respond to intense pressures?
2 Corinthians 1:1–11
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to this chapter.]
1 1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:
2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to the God of All Comfort
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.