Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Suffering is the great detective. Suffering finds and reveals all things buried in your life. You can fake holiness and love and maturity, until you start suffering. When your world starts caving in, everyone finds out who you really are. Perhaps for that very reason, we despise suffering. We will do just about anything to alleviate or avoid tribulation. And when it comes, the first thing on our mind is how to escape it.
I want to contend with three assumptions about suffering. I want to challenge three pessimistic, escapist mindsets when it comes to tribulation. These are three misconceptions that Paul seems to cover in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.
Misconception One: God Wants to Alleviate Your Suffering Right Now (vv.3-4a)
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” Paul says that God is the God of all comfort. That means He owns it all. You may think that there is comfort without God, but there isn’t. There are many false comforts in the world, but all true comfort belongs to God. This means that if you abandon God, then you abandon comfort. Don’t be surprised that there is little peace in our land. We abandoned God a long time ago.
In verse 4, we learn more about 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 tribulation.” “Who comforts,” at the beginning of verse 4, is from the Greek participle parakaleo. It means “the Comforting One,” or, “the One Who comforts.” God is the Comforting One.
This is glorious news! God is generous with His comfort. God is the only One Who can make peace, but He is in the business of making peace. It’s one thing to say that God can help; it’s another thing to say God wants to help. He is the God of all comfort, and He is the One Who comforts.
Now, pay attention to this prepositional phrase: God comforts us “in all our tribulation.” That’s where God comforts you. He doesn’t comfort you before or around your troubles. He doesn’t comfort you when you’ve made it through, or when you’ve toughed it out. And He doesn’t comfort you by taking you out of your affliction. Removing you from tribulation is not what Paul identifies as the comfort of God. Paul says that God comforts you in the tribulation.
First, this must be a powerful comfort. If it is comfort that is able to penetrate all tribulation, then it must be a potent and effectual comforting. There really is no wound so deep that God cannot heal. There is no fog of sin so thick that God cannot shine through it. It may take the sun a week to melt ice on the ground, but the ice of affliction dissipates instantaneously when the warmth of God shines clear upon your soul. So don’t ever say, “My sorrow is too deep, my wounds are too severe, for God to help me.” Will you compare the arm of God with your troubles? Will you doubt His omnipotence? No! God comforts His people in all trials, in every tribulation. This must be a powerful comfort.
Second, this must be an enduring comfort. Health and wealth teachers propose that God wants to alleviate your suffering right now. Paul says the opposite: God wants to comfort you while you suffer, but that doesn’t mean He is going to make the pain go away right now. When you suffer, God doesn’t immediately take you out of that struggle. He meets you there and gives you courage.
Most of us approach tribulation with the mindset of, “I just have to get out of this,” or, “I just have to grit my teeth and endure this.” Yes, there is endurance, and yes, it is a good thing to leave suffering behind. However, you must repent of the idea that God puts valleys in your life just so you can get out of them. You can’t get out of them. We say, “God will never burden you beyond your ability to endure it.” That’s a lie. See what Paul says in verse 8: “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”
Will God put you through something that you can’t handle? You bet… and that’s the point. Look at the next verse, verse 9, “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (vv.9-10). Why does God give us trials too great to bear? So that we would learn to trust Him through it. If you could handle the trial, then you would not have to lean upon Him. Or, another way of putting it would be, so that He can demonstrate how His comfort is sovereign over our discomfort.
Paul fully acknowledges that it may have been God’s will for him to die. His hope is not that God will keep him from being beaten down by troubles, but that God will raise him up in the end: “that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (v.9).
Abraham believed the same thing. You remember the story of the sacrifice of Isaac? Hebrews 11:17 provides commentary:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
You know what was going through Abraham’s mind as he ascended Mount Moriah? I can tell what he was not thinking: “I know God told me to come here, but… He would never actually take away my son. He’s not really going to put me through such pain and tribulation.” That is not what was going through his mind.
According to Hebrews, he was thinking something more like, “God is going to take my son. But you know what, God also promised me that nations would come from this boy. That’s what God said, and I believe the Word of the Lord more than I fear death. Therefore, the only logical explanation is that God is going to resurrect Isaac.” It was not that he didn’t believe God would actually make him suffer. He believed that God would see him through the suffering.
God is not trying to relieve you of suffering as quickly as possible. He wants you to become completely dependent upon Him, and He will bring that about through your suffering. Perhaps it is time that we welcome the sentiment of Charles Spurgeon, when he said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that sends me into the Rock of Ages.”
Misconception Two: My Suffering is About Me (vv.4b)
Going further into verse 4, we see that Paul explains the result and purpose of God’s comforting. “Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). This is what happens when God comforts us. The result is “that we may be able,” which is a passive verb. That means you are not the one enabling yourself. God does that. God enables us to comfort.
We are enabled to comfort “those who are in any trouble.” This is the same Greek phrase used before, when Paul explained the comfort of God. We are comforted “in all our tribulation,” and now here, we comfort those “in any trouble.” Those are the same phrases in Greek: pase thlipsei. Every trouble. Every tribulation. Every suffering. Any kind of trouble you can think of, plug it into this verse. God will comfort you in it, and enable you to comfort someone else in whatever they are suffering. You will be able to comfort them “with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (v.4).
Your suffering is not just about you. Friends, let’s be honest: we get selfish with our trials. We often focus on ourselves so much that we miss how fruitful God wants our suffering to be. Maybe we miss it because we don’t want it. We want to pout. We want to feel bad. We want to sulk. We want to feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t want to have this or that testimony… but God wants us to. God loves to fertilize barren ground with affliction. He loves to work this way. We’ll see that particularly when we get into verse 5.
If asked to summarize Paul’s teaching in verses 3-4, I would say this: In the Kingdom of God, the uncomfortable become the comforted, and the comforted become the comforters. God takes you from the depths of despair to pulling people out of the depths of despair. That’s the process, and God loves it. God’s generosity creates generosity in our hearts. God’s compassion creates compassion in our hearts. When we experience the grace of God in the midst of pain, we can’t help but showcase that grace to others who are also in pain.
So, really, your suffering is not all about you. One of God’s purposes for your trials is that you would be equipped to serve others.
Misconception Three: Suffering is Not God’s Plan (v.5)
Entering verse 5, we move into the crux of the passage. This is the heart, the foundation, the root of what Paul is teaching. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (v.5).
First, what are “the sufferings of Christ?” These could be Christ’s earthly afflictions from 2000 years ago, though I don’t think that is what Paul has in mind. In the New Testament, the suffering of the church is often referred to as the suffering of Christ. For example, Jesus told Saul on the road to Damascus, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus had ascended into Heaven, so how could Saul be persecuting Jesus?
Well, He was persecuting the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ, and so when we suffer, Christ can be said to suffer – similar to how a husband suffers when his wife is afflicted. “The sufferings of Christ abound in us” refers to all trials, tribulations, and afflictions that Christ’s people must endure on earth.
Second, notice the logic in verse 5: “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” The proportions are directly related. As the first increases, the second also increases. Paul is saying that God promises to match your afflictions with His comfort. As your trials increase, His aid will increase. David says this in Psalm 94:19, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.”
A Christian may be put in front of something his strength cannot endure, but He will never be put in front of something that God will not give him the strength to endure. Your armor may be no better off than Saul’s before Goliath, but the armor of the Lord will never fail to preserve you. This truly is the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We persevere because God preserves us, and that distinguishes us from the world. When an unbeliever suffers, he is faced with a token of the wrath of God. He suffers as a rebel before the King. When believers suffer, they are faced with the ever-increasing comforts of God. We suffer as children of the King.
Third, recognize the means of comfort. Paul says that our comfort “abounds through Christ.” Christ is the means by which we have comfort. It is through Christ that we have peace and well-being, mercy and help, hope and courage. How is that possible? What has Christ done to bring us comfort? What has Christ done to give us peace?
Well, He suffered, didn’t He?
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.Isaiah 53:4-5
He suffered, and through His suffering, we are comforted.
“He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (v.7). Jesus, the only man to have no cause for suffering, suffered the greatest tribulation imaginable: “It pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” (v.10).
How can I complain about my afflictions? I’m a sinner! The question should never be, “Why am I suffering?” The real conundrum is, “Why am I not suffering any more than I am?”
Christ was sinless, but He suffered. Yet, in His suffering, there came comfort. “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand” (v.10). Jesus suffered, and Jesus was comforted, and then Jesus became the Comforter: “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities” (v.11).
Suffering is not a kink that the Devil has put in God’s plan. Tribulation is not evidence that God really isn’t sovereign over everything. Afflictions do not surprise God. My friend, suffering is the plan of God. Because you’ll never see the beauty of the stars until you see them against the black, emptiness of space. Because if you have no need for grace, then you cannot know the riches of His grace. Because if you have never been uncomfortable, then you cannot appreciate His comfort.
I believe this is why we are told that the angels look into the Gospel with wonder and astonishment. They can’t understand it, because there is no Gospel for angels. A third of the heavenly host fell with Lucifer, and God has never offered them grace. Christ never died for their sins. They have no chance to repent and be reconciled to God. The angelic beings, though glorious and marvelous, have never experienced the riches of God’s grace. They don’t know what it’s like to be forgiven.
And here we are. We are the only creatures in God’s universe that have the privilege of being comforted by the grace of God in the midst of suffering. And that’s exactly how God wants it to be, because His plan is to glorify the riches of His grace through the suffering of His people. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.”
Glory by Affliction
Can you imagine what it would be like if Jesus had taken the Devil’s wager in the wilderness? Or, what if Jesus had accepted the challenge at the cross to call down a heavenly host to His aid? What would have happened? After He left… nothing. He wouldn’t have died, and so He wouldn’t have been resurrected, and so we would not have a Gospel. If He had not suffered, then we would not have comfort. We need the fruit of His suffering. Is it so revolutionary to consider that, in a smaller sense, someone may need the fruit of your suffering?
Do not, therefore, be so quick to despise the afflictions that fall upon you. Do not cast a despairing eye upon the thorns and the thistles. These are God’s harbingers of comfort! These are the highways of eternal life! Shall an oak grow unless an acorn dies? Will a muscle strengthen unless it is torn down? When has gold been purified if not by fire? How many flowers have you enjoyed that grew by the nourishment of decay? Think again of your elder brother – was Christ first exalted or humiliated? Was He first resurrected or slain? Was He first crowned with glory or thorns?
Should you, then, be glorified without tribulation? Should you have the trophy without the race? Never! Cast aside your doubts, your selfishness, your conceptions of a small god who cares only of appeasing your immediate pleasures. Our God is in the Heavens, and He does whatever He pleases, and He is pleased to refine you by fire. But what a glorious thing you shall be in the end! What a beautiful tapestry you are being woven into! Breathtaking is the finished work of the glory of God in the face Christ! So look boldly upon these light and momentary afflictions, for they are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).