In “Reflections” posts, I will share my thoughts on passages of Scripture I am studying. Right now, I am studying through the book of 2 Corinthians. Enjoy!
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is a rich text. It is often turned to when times of hardship and tragedy strike, and I have often turned to it myself in difficult days. After all, it declares the truth that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not some distant spirit, off in the clouds somewhere unaffected by our hurting. Instead, it declares that He is a loving, compassionate, and merciful God who desires to comfort us when we are afflicted. This is a great truth, which we must cling to. But, I wonder, how much do we truly want the comfort referred to in this text?
I think that we often miss the point of this passage, because we stop reading at verse 4, and don’t get the rest of the story. The apostle Paul, who was the greatest missionary, church-planter, and theologian the world has ever seen, seems to have a certain king of affliction, and so a certain kind of divine comfort in mind here.
First, lets distinguish between two kinds of affliction/suffering. One type is suffering brought about by living in a world that is fallen and broken by sin. These are things like sickness, death, and tragedy, which are common to all people. The second type of suffering is unique to Christians, and that is the suffering brought on as a result of following Christ in a sinful and fallen world. Jesus said that the world would hate His followers and bring them trouble, but to take heart because He had overcome the world (John 15:18-25; 16:33). In our passage, it seems that Paul is primarily concerned with followers of Jesus receiving comfort in this second type of suffering: the kind that comes as result of facing persecutions.
Two points support this: the language of the text and the context of the passage. First, in the language Paul uses, the word “affliction” (thlipsis in Greek) is often used of difficutly brought on by external circumstances, especially persectuion. The word “suffering” (pathema) is often used for Christ’s sufferings, as it is here in v.5. Second, in the context (vv.8-11) Paul talks about an event in Asia which nearly cost he and his missionary team their lives. So, it really seems that Paul’s main concern is that the believers in Corinth are comforted by knowing that God is in control, despite the persections they are facing. And then, since they can trust God, they can continue to live radically for the Gospel of Christ (this theme of boldness for the Gospel is prominent in the first 5 chapters of 2 Corinthians). After all, even if they should die, God will raise them up.
So, this thought struck me: do we truly want this kind of comfort? I think as Americans, including me, we are addicted to comfort. But, in the end it is not the type of comfort Paul is talking about. To most us comfort is equal to living a life of luxury, convenience, and security. In essence, we are often more concerned about being comfortable than being comforted.
You see, the Bible is calling us to live radically for the Gospel. Jesus is calling us to take chances for Him, to live in a way that looks so different from the world that it makes people curious and uncomfortable. Some may be uncomfortable enough to chastise you for your faith in Christ. But, Jesus prepares us for that. So, the real question for us, for me, is this: do we love Jesus enough to give up being comfortable, to risk affliction and suffering, so we can receive His comfort? Do we love our neighbors and friends enough to serve them, pray for them, and tell them about Jesus’ great love, even if it feels awakward or costs time? Do we value God’s comfort over being comfortable? I pray that I do, and I pray you will also. May we live for God’s glory, so we can recieve His all surpassing comfort.