Seasons of trials can bring a host of emotions. In 2016, my wife and I experienced an unforgettable season of trials. It seemed like God was testing us with trial after trial, day after day. The wounds of that season still remain, while this current season seems to be aimed at cutting open some of those same wounds. Yet, I would never take back what God taught us through those trials of 2016. Was the pain immense? Yes. Was the maturing and sanctification immense? Yes. Even though those things are a clear “Yes,” one thing stands out most clearly: God’s comfort.
If you are like me, the awareness of the need for comfort isn’t realized until we are highly uncomfortable. As new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), we are still learning so much. One of the ways God seems to teach most clearly is through trials. This isn’t something new to our current place in human history. No, the Apostle Paul understood this and taught this so consistently as a means of helping people have the right way of thinking when trials came. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul uses the word comfort so many times that it’s hard to hear or read any other word in this section. This is deliberate and purposeful because he knows from experience how trials can strip us of all reason and make us do some crazy things.
I won’t describe every use of comfort in this passage but I do want to look at a few. First, in verse 3 Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” Notice that Paul calls him the God of “ALL” comfort. As Paul starts this section he grounds all comfort in it’s source and its power. God is the Creator of comfort and has an inexhaustible well of it that never runs dry.
Second, in verse 6 Paul writes, “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.” The comfort God gives to his people in the midst of trials is meant to by replicated or passed on. God as the source of comfort draws his people near in their affliction, comforts them personally, and then sends them to comfort others in their afflictions.
Third, in verses 8-9, Paul writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, 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.” Sometimes God’s comfort doesn’t come until we are totally beyond ourselves. What I mean is that we often despise affliction and trials so deeply that we bypass looking to Christ and look elsewhere for comfort. Maybe we despise reality so much that we numb ourselves with the newest show on Netflix. Maybe our current trials cause such pain that we turn to food for comfort. Maybe we feel so alone in our affliction that we entertain bad company just to feel the presence of someone. Whatever it may be, God has commanded that he alone be God (Exodus 20:3).
Paul really believed he was going to die. Paul despaired of life itself. In short, Paul thought that he was experiencing the last breaths of his life. But after the affliction he came to realize a life-giving truth: In the midst of affliction, God was prying self-reliance out of Paul’s hands and replacing that self-reliance with Christ’s comforting resurrection life.
OLD TESTAMENT ALLUSIONS IN 2 CORINTHIANS 1
As Paul writes to the Corinthians hoping that they will abandon self-reliance in exchange for this resurrection life, I believe Paul has a massive chunk of Scripture in his mind. That chunk is found in the last section of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is often broken into three major parts, the last one being chapters 40-66. Like the Corinthians, Isaiah’s audience were rebellious and slow to dependence upon God. After a serious talking to in the first 39 chapters, 40-66 are the most hopeful of chapters that introduce the readers to the coming Messiah, his sufferings, and the coming new creation. There are to many to verses to share here but let me share the bookends of this section of Isaiah to help you see what Paul has in mind with the God of all comfort.
The opening of Isaiah’s third section begins with, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah is writing to rebellious Israel that their time of discipline is coming to a close and God himself is coming to comfort them.
At the end of Isaiah’s third section, in 66:13-14, he writes, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.” Isaiah is telling of God coming near to his people, comforting them like a parent comforts a child, and setting them free to flourish as new creations.
Isaiah’s third section is the backdrop and allusion to 2 Corinthians 1:3-9. Dead in the center of Isaiah’s third section is the infamous telling of the coming Suffering Servant. Jesus Christ came into the world to be afflicted. Where we often feel that affliction is unfair, the Suffering Servant put on a skin suit to have it crushed with affliction (Isa. 53:10). In doing so, he was rescuing people from the eternal affliction of hell and transferring them to his kingdom of new creation. This means that when affliction comes and we are forced to despise all other comforts and look to Jesus, we know that he has experienced affliction himself and lives to comfort us with his resurrection life. Let us be a people that can rejoice with the Apostle Peter in our God, the God of all comfort:
“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 may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)