2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ~ 20171015 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/15 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Comfort in Affliction ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20171015_2cor1_3-7.mp3
This letter even in its greeting is rich and deep with gospel truth. But to one familiar with Paul and his letters, and even with how letters were commonly written in Paul's day, this letter is startling in what it does not say. The normal letter writing structure is: author, readers, greeting, thanksgiving, prayer, body, closing greetings.
This is one of only two New Testament letters that lack the thanksgiving. In Paul's letter to the Galatian churches, who were abandoning the grace of Christ and turning to another gospel, Paul attacks the problem head on. In Corinth, Paul laments that they are inclined to turn to another Jesus, another Spirit, another gospel (11:4).
Compare this even with 1 Corinthians, where he addresses many serious issues in the church. He begins:
Instead of a section of thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of his readers, he blesses God directly; his thanksgiving is about what God is doing in his own life. This omission of a thanksgiving may have communicated to his readers that all was not well in their relationship.
He offers no thanksgiving; but invites the Corinthians to give thanks for God's work in their apostle. He also offers no prayer for his readers; but he invites them to pray for their apostle (v.11).
Even in this opening benediction Paul confronts the misunderstanding of the Corinthians; they thought that Paul's weakness and sufferings were a sign that God was not pleased with him; that he was not a genuine apostle. They were misunderstanding the gospel. Instead he holds up his weakness and sufferings as evidence that he is following in the very footsteps of the real Jesus, who came not as a reigning King, but as a suffering servant.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul made it clear that he preached the cross; he proclaimed Jesus Christ and him crucified (1Cor.1:18, 23), which seemed foolish to many, but the cross is in fact the power of God for salvation.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
He begins by drawing their attention not to what God had done in them, but to God himself. In his greeting, he asked that the twin gifts of grace and peace be extended together from the two united givers; God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here he declares God blessed; blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The titles God, Father, and Lord Jesus Christ are repeated, but in the greeting God is our Father; where in this blessing God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his humanity Jesus prayed to and referred to his Father as his God. This in no way undermines the clear fact that Jesus recognized himself as fully God, equal to his Father, sharing the same divine nature with his Father. Yet as a distinct person from his Father, he was in conversation and relationship with his Father, and he gladly submitted to the authority of his Father as his God.
God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; the eternal Father who sent his one and only eternal Son into the world out of his great love to rescue sinners.
The Father of Mercies
God is the Father of mercies. In Nehemiah the people prayed and confessed their sins, recounting the repetitive mercies of God
Mercy is pity, feeling sorry for one who by their own foolishness and rebellion has got himself into great trouble. Mercy is granting escape from the punishment one rightly deserves. Where grace is enjoying the benefit you did not earn; mercy is avoiding the consequences you did earn.
God is the Father of mercies; he gives birth to mercies. God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; it is only through Jesus that we can experience mercy. God fathered mercy when he sent his only Son into the world. We escape the punishment we deserve only because Jesus paid in full for my every sin on the cross.
The God of All Comfort
God is the God of all comfort; God is sovereign over all comfort, he is the source of all comfort.
We tend to have a very Corinthian problem. We might say 'God is not doing his job of comforting me, because I am not feeling very comfortable.' We have softened this word; we think of comfort food and a comfy recliner that makes you feel all warm and cuddly.
We need to redefine comfort. Dictionary.com defines
the noun as 'a state of ease and satisfaction of bodily wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety. Something that promotes such a state.' They define the verb comfort as 1. to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to. 2. to make physically comfortable. And then they list 3. Obsolete. To aid; support or encouragement. This obsolete sense is the sense we are after. The 'fort' in the word comfort comes from the Latin fortis (fortare) – which means 'strong'. From it we get fortitude; mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. We could translate this 'encouragement;' notice the root 'courage' in encouragement?
The word literally means to call near or to call alongside. Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone, but he would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (Jn.14:16-18). There is amazing courage that comes when someone is by your side. One day in grade school a bully that had been harassing me made the grave mistake of following me home. My big brother happened to be outside, and this bully was much less intimidating when his feet were dangling about six inches off the ground as my brother picked him up by his coat and breathed into him some words of life; 'if you want to live, you'll leave my brother alone!' There is strong comfort in knowing someone has your back. God promises 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Heb.13:5). This is the kind of comfort we are talking about. The comfort that he is with me.
Comfort in All Our Affliction
The God of all comfort comforts us in all our affliction. The word affliction means pressure; a crushing burden; picture a donkey weighed down by a burden so great it can no longer stand. Are you experiencing great pressure? A crushing weight? God comforts us in all our affliction. No affliction is excluded from the comfort of the God of all comfort.
Purpose In Afflictions
And there is great purpose in this. Notice the purpose words 'so that'. So often affliction seems random, meaningless, and therefore hopeless.
So that; there is design in affliction; the afflictions we experience are not meaningless; this alone gives great encouragement to persevere. It is not random chance; it is not that God is angry with me, or I have done something wrong that I am now paying for; that is a non-Christian idea; more along the lines of karma. The Bible says 'there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Rom.8:1). God is not against us; in Christ he is for us. Even in the midst of affliction we can be gospel confident that God is for us. Every affliction that comes our way is purposeful, designed and crafted by the good hand of a loving Father to be exactly what we need to accomplish in us his perfect purposes.
What happens when you are under pressure? How do you respond when you are facing affliction and opposition? We tend to pull in, to withdraw, to be on the defensive; if the affliction is severe we might curl up in the fetal position. Our focus is all within. In the midst of our pain, we might reach out to others in desperation for help, but we don't reach out to others to help them. We focus on the pain, the pressure, and we do anything we can to make it stop.
Paul, one who had endured much affliction, teaches us something about suffering. He says it is not all about you. It is not primarily for you. Paul tells us that our affliction, and even God's comfort in our affliction is not for us. 'God comforts us not to make us comfortable but to make us comforters.' His purpose is that our focus would turn outward, that we would reach out to others in all affliction, that we would become a conduit of God's comforting mercies to others. In our affliction, God intends that our arms stretch outward to others.
Do any of you have a favorite verse but when you look it up, you don't like the context? Philippians 3:7-10a has been a passage like that for me. It is an amazing section, but I'd prefer to omit verse 10b.
This is great stuff! 'the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord; ...that I may gain Christ and be found in him; ...that I may know him.' I'd prefer that the verse stopped after 'that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.' Who likes suffering? Who wants to sign up for sufferings? But if I want to know him, really connect with him and identify with him, to really experience the surpassing worth of 'knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,' I must enter in to his sufferings; sufferings on behalf of others. Knowing him corresponds to sharing in his sufferings just like the power of his resurrection corresponds to becoming like him in his death.
You see, it's only dead people who get resurrected. It's only suffering people who can be comforted. The surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord comes through suffering the loss of all things to gain Christ and be found in him.
Sharing Abundantly in Christ's Sufferings
This comfort is purposeful, and it is others focused. We are comforted so that we are then able to comfort others with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.
We share in the sufferings of Christ; the sufferings of Christ were not for him. They were not at all about him. They were not his sufferings; they were ours. As our substitute, he took our sufferings. He suffered not for himself, but for us. If we are suffering for our sins, then we deserve it. But if we are suffering on account of Christ, in so far as our suffering is for the benefit of others, we share in the sufferings of Christ.
Understand, our sufferings are not like Christ's sufferings, in that we can't pay the price for the sins of anyone. But they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ in that they are for the benefit of others.
Paul says 'we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings'. There is an overflow, a superabundance of suffering.
Do you want to experience abundant comfort? Embrace suffering. God's comfort is in direct proportion to the suffering you experience. I am not saying you should seek suffering or pray for suffering. Don't look for affliction; look to Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, obey Jesus, and affliction will find you. But don't hide from it. Don't run from it. Embrace it. Open yourself to it. Allow Jesus to meet you in it. Savor the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It is only through abundant suffering that we experience abundant comfort.
We and You
Paul has been talking about 'we' and 'us'. A reader might assume that he is included in the 'we' until he gets to verse 6, where he says 'If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation.' Then we find out that the 'we' here is Paul and the other apostles, Paul and his co-laborers in contrast to the readers. The Corinthians are not part of the 'we;' they are the 'you'. They had rejected suffering. They did not want to take up their cross and follow Jesus. They looked down on Paul because of how much he seemed to suffer. But Paul is not alone in his affliction. 'We' the apostles experience overflowing sufferings; and we experience overflowing comfort.
Paul had already pointed out this contrast between we and you in 1 Corinthians.
Paul is gently rebuking his readers. He is showing them that they are not part of the 'we;' but he is inviting them to become part of the 'we.'
All for your comfort
Paul gives a two part sentence here. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. The afflictions of the apostles, the afflictions of Paul and his co-workers were for the comfort and salvation of the Corinthian church. Indeed, they heard the gospel and experienced salvation because Paul did not shy away from suffering. His current persecution is meant to bring them encouragement. They ought to be emboldened by his example to stand up for Christ even if it costs social standing and opposition. Instead, they are embarrassed of Paul and his sufferings.
We would expect the pairing of this sentence to go something like this: If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is because of your affliction. Instead he gives a lopsided picture. Our affliction is to bring you comfort. Our comfort is also to bring you comfort. Both the affliction and the comfort we experience is meant to give you courage.
There is space for the Corinthians to share in the sufferings. Paul understands, they will only experience the comfort when they patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
Our hope for you is confirmed; it is steadfast. Listen to Paul's confidence! Paul's confidence rests not on the character of the Corinthians, but on the faithfulness of God. He is certain that as followers of Jesus, they will face affliction. They will share in his sufferings. Not if but when. When you have fellowship in the sufferings, you will also have fellowship in the comfort.
Paul is gently inviting them into the cross shaped life of suffering for others. Not only is it to be expected that an apostle of Christ Jesus should suffer, but it is normal for every follower of Jesus to experience suffering. And it is only in the midst of the pressure and the abundant sufferings that we will experience the abundant comfort from the God of all comfort.
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org