Receive Comfort Ė Give Comfort

 

Week of April 17, 2011

 

Bible Verses:2 Corinthians 1:1-11.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about the support we can give to others who are grieving.

 

Know the Source of Comfort:2 Cor. 1:1-3.

 

[1]Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: [2]Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [3]Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

 

[1-2]Paulís opening greeting and introduction have four important truths and principles behind them. They all illustrate how God was at the center of Paulís life.

(1) Godís will determines our service and function in the church. The letter begins, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Paul was an apostle. The noun comes from the verb Ďto sendí, and means a person sent by another. The term can be used simply of messengers sent by the churches, but that is not how it is used here. The term apostle here refers to those who were chosen, called and sent forth by Christ Himself. They were His witnesses, especially of His resurrection. They knew in a special way the help of the Holy Spirit, who led them into all truth. God confirmed the value of their work by signs and miracles. They have no successors. In particular, Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ met him on the Damascus road and commissioned him. The whole purpose of Paulís life then became obedience to Jesus Christ. His ambition was to honor Him and to see Him honored by others. Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. God alone determines our function in the body of Christ. His will is a sovereign will. He has authority to do with His creatures as He pleases. Paul probably begins his letter with this emphasis because some at Corinth cast doubt upon his apostleship for their own ulterior motives. Form the beginning he reminds them that his position in the body of Christ, as theirs, is not a matter of self-selection but of Godís choice.

(2) The gift of spiritual life brings about our membership in Godís family. Paul consistently identified himself with his colleagues. In recognizing his special position as an apostle in the body of Christ, he did not overlook the equally important place of others. In particular, Paul recognized Timothy to be his brother in Christ through new birth. New birth brings all believers into Godís family.

(3) Godís purpose determines how we should think of the church. Paul addresses his letter to the church of God that is at Corinth. The word church is used in two basic ways in the Bible. It first describes the whole body of Christ, including its members already in heaven, as well as those on earth. It is used, secondly, to describe the church in its local setting. The church finds geographical expression in different places. It is a term to be used therefore either of all Godís people everywhere or of Godís people in one place. The church is made up of those, like Paul and Timothy, who have experienced the miracle of new birth through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Paulís introductory statement clearly defines the church as Godís possession. It belongs to Him and is His creation. It is the fruit of His Sonís saving work. To bring the church into being, the Lord Jesus came and died. Not only does the church belong to God, but it consists of those whom God has set apart for Himself and whom He is sanctifying, i.e., the saints. The Bible uses saints to describe all who know new birth and are part of the church of God. Always used in the plural, it points to believers as a group and clearly identifies Godís purpose which is to make us holy like Himself.

(4) Grace and peace are our greatest need and Godís most appropriate gifts. Paulís greeting reminds us that our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, the essence of eternal life [John 17:3]. God the Holy Spirit brings us into this intimate relationship at our new birth. Father does not mean ĎCreatorí in Bible language. He is not the Father of all people, but of His own people, of those who through faith in His Son have become members of His family and of His Sonís body, the church. The Father and the Son delight to give the best gifts, and this prayerful greeting powerfully reminds us that grace and peace are our greatest daily need. Grace points to Godís amazing condescension and kindness. His grace is His sovereign determination to bless the undeserving. Grace is synonymous with forgiveness. Godís grace in His Son provides us with daily forgiveness of all our sins as we confess them to Him [1 John 1:9]. Grace is also synonymous with help and strength, freely given by God. Godís grace always matches our need. Along with grace goes peace, and always in that order. Only as we know the grace of Godís forgiveness may we know the renewal of His peace in our lives. Peace is well-being and includes freedom from anxiety. In relationships, peace is good will and harmony, the opposite of conflict. The wonder of Godís grace in His Son is that we may be as much at peace with God as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself is. As we experience His grace, we are able to pray, and to pray about everything. The exercise of prayer becomes then a path to peace of the deepest kind, a peace that passes understanding [Phil. 4:6-7]. Godís grace and peace may be constantly renewed to us; and it is on a daily basis Ė moment by moment Ė that we require them. The more we daily enjoy Godís grace and peace, the more like Paul we respond in gratitude and put God at the center of our life.

[3]Verse 3 begins a benediction of praise to the God who gives His grace and peace. Paul writes about three aspects of Godís character. First, God is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The relationship between the Father and the Son is unique: the Lord Jesus is the Fatherís only Son, the supreme object of His pleasure and delight. It is in His Son that the Father provides the perfect revelation of Himself. Every view we have of the Father therefore needs to be totally influenced by the understanding we have of Godís character in His self-revelation in His Son. Second, God is the Father of mercies. Mercy or compassion is an essential part of His character and of His self-revelation in both the Old and New Testaments. It expresses Godís sympathy with us in our troubles, difficulties and grief. If was wonderfully displayed in the life and character of our Lord Jesus, and it always led to appropriate action. Godís compassion arises naturally from His fatherhood [Psalm 103:13]. Third, He is the God of all comfort. As the perfect and compassionate Father, He knows and understands everything that comes to us and is able to send us the comfort we need, whatever our trouble. The first thing we require in trouble is comfort in the sense of strength, encouragement and courage to face both the present and the future with the simple yet profound ability to live a day at a time. Our Father may choose to comfort us in all kinds of ways Ė hence He is the God of all comfort.

 

Be a Channel of Godís Comfort: 2 Cor. 1:4-7.

 

[4]who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [5]For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. [6]If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. [7]Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.[ESV]

 

[4-5]From his ascription to God as the source of all comfort the benediction that began in verse 3 is now personalized in terms of Paul and the Corinthians. The God whom he blesses comforts Paul so that, in turn, Paul is enabled to comfort others with the comfort he himself has received from God. Paulís in all our affliction introduces one of the keywords of the letter. The vocabulary carries the idea of pressure felt inwardly resulting from difficult outward circumstances usually associated with Christian ministry and witness in the face of hostility. How does God comfort His people? Although 7:6-7 reveals Godís use of human intermediaries, in this verse there is no hint of such mediation. The exercise of comfort appears as a spiritual gift, a concrete manifestation of the grace of God. Paul declares that Godís comfort in affliction is divinely purposeful: so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction. Godís comfort is to stir up compassion leading to the passing on to others of the comfort of God; it is not to terminate on the receiver. In verse 5 Paul now brings the sufferings theme to the forefront. Just as the Christís sufferings overflow to him, so, too the comfort of God overflows through Christ to him. Christ is the channel to the apostle not only of sufferings but also of divine comfort. During the course of the letter Paul will expand upon the sufferings of Christ as the one who was made to be sin, in whom we become the righteousness of God [5:14-21]. Christís sufferings, as suffered by Paul, in this context are to be identified with all our affliction Ö in any affliction [4], we are afflicted [6], and the same sufferings that we suffer [6]. These afflictions arise directly from his missionary message and lifestyle, so abundantly set forth in this letter. Just as Christ suffered in His ministry and death from forces hostile to God, so, too, the apostle, in continuity with Christ, suffered in the course of his ministry and proclamation. Paul now matches suffering with comfort, suggesting perhaps a symmetry corresponding with Christís death and resurrection. Just as Christís sufferings in death overflow, so also resurrection comfort overflows through Christ. What does Paul mean by this? When later in the letter he writes, God Ö comforted us by the coming of Titus, and Ö by the comfort with which he was comforted by you [7:6-7], it is clear that he has in mind the ministry of fellow Christians to one another. To this point [4-5] Paul has spoken of himself as the one to whom sufferings and comfort overflow. In the remaining clauses of the benediction he will declare how these affect the Corinthians.

 

[6-7]†† Paul is the receiver of suffering but also of comfort, which is for their benefit. Therefore, whether distressed or whether comforted, it is for their comfort. That divinely originating comfort energizes patience in the Corinthians as they endure the same sufferings as the apostle. What began as benediction is now merging into explanation as Paul prepares to move to the specific matter for which he is blessing God, his deliverance from Asia. The line of thought in verse 6 is ďcause and effect.Ē Affliction to Paul brings comfort and salvation to them. But this is because, in his affliction, Paul would be comforted by God. Through his ministry to them Ė now by letter, later in person Ė Paul would mediate to the Corinthians the comfort that he had himself received from God. Although the twin themes of affliction and comfort dominate this sentence, he also introduces the word salvation, and with it a strongly eschatological note. Without elaboration upon it, Paul is confident about the Corinthianísí salvation, about which he also expresses firm hope in the next verse. Throughout the letter Paul is enjoining the Corinthians, by their attitudes and actions, to align themselves with Godís eschatological action in history in this the day of salvation [6:2] in which He has established a new covenant [3:6-16]. While salvation flows from the death and resurrection of Christ, the apostle is the bearer of the gospel of that salvation to the world. Paul is afflicted for their salvation in the sense that his vocation as an apostle is wrought with suffering and also because they have received the gospel in the context of his sufferings. God brings salvation by means of the gospel and energizes His servants for that salvation by means of patient endurance in the midst of afflictions. This patient endurance is very important in the letter since it is one of the marks by which Paul commends himself as an authentic minister of God and as an apostle of Christ. Verse 6 points to the commonality of suffering (same sufferings), that is, the sufferings of Christ in which the apostle and the wider community of believers participate. It is striking that Paul says that both the affliction and the comfort he has experienced are for the Corinthians. The sufferings bring Godís comfort to Paul, and it is this comfort that Paul mediates to the Corinthians and other believers. In using this language Paul is recognizing the closeness of the relationships that exist within the people of the new covenant and himself as apostle and evangelist. In verse 7 Paul reaches the end point and climax of the benediction. His hope is firm in the sense that it is assured or guaranteed. Paul does not base his firm hope on sentiment or pious wish, but on God. In verse 21, which should be read alongside verse 7, Paul notes that it is God who establishes us with you in Christ. A dynamic relationship exists between these sufferings and this comfort, both of which the Corinthians and Paul share. They and he are sharers of the same sufferings on account of their confession of Christ in a hostile culture, that is, to the world alienated from God, in need of reconciliation to Him [5:19]. Because they share with him in both the sufferings of persecution and in the comfort of God in those sufferings, Paulís hope for the survival of the Corinthians as a faithful church is firm. Paulís experience of suffering and comfort in the course of his ministry is replicated in every generation in the lives of godly missionaries and pastors in their interrelationships with their congregations. While both minister and people suffer as they bear witness to Christ in an alien culture, there remains a distinctive role and therefore a distinctive suffering to the Christian leader. As the comfort of God is experienced in the life of the leader, so it will be passed on through ministry to the people.

 

Offer Comfort Through Prayer:2 Cor. 1:8-11.

 

[8]For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. [9]Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. [10]He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. [11]You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.[ESV]

 

The conjunction for ties this passage [8-11] with the benediction [3-7]. It serves as an explanatory bridge from the general reference to all our affliction [4] to the specific the affliction we experienced in Asia [8]. Paulís repeated use of the first person we serves to convey the intensity and the deeply personal nature of the affliction in Asia. Although he gives no further details of this affliction, Paul is most likely referring to the city-wide commotion in Ephesus that brought to an end his ministry there [Acts 19:8,10; 20:31]. Paul expresses his exceptionally dire circumstances with the emotional words: we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Following closely on his despair of life Paul begins verse 9 by referring to the sentence of death that, he felt within himself, he had received. But this was for a purpose, that he might now rely on the God who raises the dead rather than on himself. It is significant that God is here qualified as the one who raises the dead. The power to raise the dead was, and remains, the supreme demonstration of divine power. Paul employs the present tense, raises, because while God displayed that irresistible power when He raised Jesus from the dead, He continues to display that power Ė as seen in the deliverance of His servants from impossible circumstances Ė and He will finally reveal that power in the resurrection of the end time. Paul now states the actions past, immediate future, and ultimate future of the God who raises the dead. God has delivered Paul (from the affliction in Asia), will deliver him (from other afflictions), and will finally deliver him (from death). The sentence of death had closed Paul off from self-trust in order that he would, instead, trust in God [9], which now, as a concluding remark to verses 8-10, he expresses as hope in Godís ultimate future deliverance. The note of trust in God rather than in oneself was prominent in verse 9. Paul now reintroduces the note of hope in God. Paul has set and continues to set his hope toward the One who raises the dead even when he had received the sentence of death [9]. Since the God who raises the dead has delivered Paul in Asia, his servants may both rely on Him in the present and hope in Him in the future. Verse 11 picks up verse 9, where Paul wrote of the divine purpose that he should not rely on himself but on God who raises the dead, that is, delivers His people, and intercessory prayer. Striking is the portrayal of prayer as people working together with one another helping Paul. To a divided community, as the Corinthians were, as well as a church somewhat alienated from their apostle, Paulís expression of the Corinthians working together with one another for Paul is an encouragement to unity and reconciliation. Moreover, it points to the effectiveness of prayer. Such intercession is purposeful, as signaled by so that in the middle of verse 11. Flowing from intercession is thanksgiving to God. As many pray to the God on whom Paul relies for deliverance, so many in turn will give thanks for the blessing granted. Because God raises the dead and delivers His people, He is to be prayed to for continued deliverance; because He graciously answers prayer for such deliverance, He will be thanked by those who pray. Paulís twofold reference to many acknowledges that, while problems exist between Paul and the Corinthians, a majority have now declared their support for him against his aggressor.

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What four important truths do we find in Paulís greeting [1-2]? What is the meaning of grace and peace?

 

2.†††††††† What three aspects of Godís character do we find in verse 3?

 

3.†††††††† What do we learn about Godís purpose for the believerís sufferings and affliction in verses 4-7? How do you share in Christ's sufferings? Think about how God has comforted you in your sufferings for the sake of the Gospel. Have you been able to share this comfort with other believers who are also suffering?

 

4.†††††††† What additional information do we learn in verses 8-11 concerning Godís purpose in affliction and one way believers can help other believers who are suffering?

 

References:

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT, Paul Barnett, Eerdmans.

The Message of 2 Corinthians, Paul Barnett, Inter Varsity.

Letís Study 2 Corinthians, Derek Prime, Banner of Truth.