As the people of God, we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. Because of this, we are partakers of one another’s sufferings. And because of that, we can be partakers in one another’s comforts. But in order to receive the comfort that we ought to receive, the apostle’s doctrine here requires some unpacking.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:3–7).
Summary of the Text
This is a passage that is saturated in comfort. Paul begins by blessing God, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 3). By way of apposition, this God is called the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (v. 3). As the God of all comfort, the Father comforts Paul and his company so that they might be able to pass on that comfort to those who are in any other kind of trouble (v. 4). The comfort that is passed on is explicitly identified as the comfort that was received (v. 4). It is the same comfort. Paul then says that as the sufferings of Christ abound, so also his consolations abound (v. 5). Paul then presents a very interesting line of thought. If the apostolic band is afflicted, it is for the Corinthians’ “consolation and salvation.” If the apostolic band is comforted, that too is for the Corinthians’ “consolation and salvation” (v. 6). If Paul’s entourage goes left, it is for consolation and salvation. If they go right, it is the same thing. If they remain where they are, same thing. This can work because the afflictions and the comforts are the same for Paul and for the Corinthians (v. 6). Paul’s hope concerning the Corinthians was therefore steadfast, and this was because . . . as they were partakers of the suffering, they would also be partakers of the consolation (v. 7).
The Rabbinical Blessing
In the first century, the first of the nineteen synagogue blessings began this way: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob . . .” He is also called the Father of mercies in that benediction. What Paul is doing is taking those words and recasting them in order to rejoice in the Father of Jesus Christ as the God of all comfort. This recast synagogue blessing also appears elsewhere (Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet 1:3). Remember that Paul is dealing with some Judaizing adversaries here, and so he is showing Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, not a continuation of it.
Simeon and Anna both were waiting for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). The Messiah Christ was the promised comfort of Israel (Is. 40-66). This sets the stage for the comfort that Paul is talking about. It is an explicitly Christian comfort. This is not a pampering comfort, but rather a Christ-comfort.
Presence of Comfort
This short passage accounts for about one third of all the New Testament references to comfort. The word is used here in both noun and verb forms, and it is a peculiar kind of gospel comfort. We are servants of the suffering servant, after all, and a servant is not greater than his master (John 13:16; 15:20). A few verses earlier (John 15:18), John had said that if the world hates us, we should know that it hated Christ first. We are partakers with Him in the whole story.
In the verses immediately following in this first chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul records his gratitude at being delivered from a deadly peril in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8-11), which we will get to soon enough. But he was also greatly encouraged by the good news that Titus had brought back from Corinth (2 Cor. 7:6-7). The revolt at Corinth had been quelled, and Paul was comforted in that as well. This was true comfort.Authentic Ministry
The charge against Paul was that he must not be a genuine apostle. How could he be? If he had been a genuine apostle, he wouldn’t be getting into so much trouble, now would he? And certainly, by any reasonable measurement, the apostle Paul appeared to be genuinely snake bit. He was one of the most afflicted men who ever lived. He lived on the lip of perpetual death—“For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11, NKJV).
His was a ministry that was constantly on hairpin turns at high speeds on two wheels. That’s right. Authentic ministry careening down Rattlesnake Grade. What had Paul endured? He goes into it in depth later in this epistle (2 Cor. 11:23-30). Flogged five times. Beaten with rods three times. Stoned. Shipwrecked. Hungry and thirsty, cold and naked. Jail time in various places. Should we put all this in the glossy prospectus that we send out to prospective donors? If you were on a pastoral search committee, what would you do with an application like this one? If you were looking for a spokesman for your church, is this the guy you would send out to the cameras?
That Old Devil Respectability
If we are biblical Christians, we should always want to maintain in our own ministries the same tensions that were in evidence in biblical ministries. On the one hand, we are told that an elder must have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7). Sure thing. But then Jesus tells us that there is a kind of honor and respect that is a stumbling block. “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44).
The apostle Paul told the Galatians that he wished that the false advocates of circumcision would go whole hog and cut the whole thing off (Gal. 5:12). But in the very next verse, he urges them “by love [to] serve one another” (Gal. 5:13-15).
And he told the Philippians that he wanted them to have their love abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment (Phil. 1:9). The greatest of these is love! This was shortly before he called the false teachers he was dealing with evil workers and dogs (Phil. 3:3).
So remember that authentic ministry will always have an element of the disreputable about it. Authentic ministry does not play well with others. Authentic ministry runs with scissors.
We are servants of a crucified Messiah. This did not happen because Jesus got along so well with the established authorities. And if we accompany Him in the pathway of His sufferings, as we are called to do, we are invited to partake of all the comforts that the God of all comfort might offer.