Comfort the Hurting
Misery and heartache are written on the pages of life’s daily schedule. You do not have to go looking for pain and sorrow. You should expect to find trouble wherever you go. No one can hide from this fact.
The natural reaction to pain is to recoil from it or to mask it or deaden it. This is why so many turn to drugs, alcohol and smoking. Others put their trust in materialism by gambling, shopping or becoming a workaholic. Escapism through recreation and social activity is also common. Men will immerse themselves in sports either by being a participant or spectator. Still others turn to their family and friends. While all these may bring some relief initially, none of them deal with the long term issue: life hurts.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian brethren was an epistle of comfort. In contrast, he refers to the first letter as “the sorrowful epistle” (2 Cor. 7:8-11). The Greeks had ten terms for comfort in their language. Paul employs five of them with some frequency in 2 Corinthians. The basic term for comfort in Greek means “to come alongside and help” whereas the English word is from the Latin means “with strength.” Paul begins this second epistle to the Corinthians explaining the purpose of, the power in, and the participation in comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-14).
Purpose of Comfort
Comfort is a gift from God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (1:3). Paul gives the Corinthians four reasons to praise God. 1) He is God. 2) He is Jesus’ Father. 3) He is the Father or source of mercies. 4) He is the God of all comfort. When suffering from pain and problems we are quick to blame God instead of praise Him. God is the source of all our troubles. God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are full of compassion (Ps. 119:156; 116:5; Mk. 1:41; Js. 5:11). One who is filled with compassion is not likely to sit on the sideline and not lend a helping hand. God is able and willing to help the hurting.
Why? Why does God allow us to hurt? Why do all these bad things happen in the world and in our lives? Perhaps, like Job, we will never know in this life. Others suffering thorns in the flesh to humble them and keep them from sin like Paul (2 Cor. 12:7). Others brought it upon themselves because of their own sins, like David. Many of the prophets suffered because of their preaching and others because of their faithfulness. Trouble and woe are a part of living in a post-paradise and post-flood world.
God does not give us all the why’s. He is more interested in the how’s. How can He help us with our pain and suffering. God comforts us by His Word (Rom. 15:4); by the Holy Spirit (Ac. 5:32); and through fellow Christians (1 Th. 5:11).
Instead of blaming God for the hurt in your life praise Him for the comfort He longs to give.
Another purpose of comfort is to turn us into comforters. God “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” (1:4). Much of our attempts to help and comfort others ends up being more discouraging than helpful. Like the wise guy who put “s” in the word “lisp.” Job has suffered like no other man in history. His three friends came to comfort him. They were of little help. All they could conclude was that only a very wicked man could bring upon himself such misery. Job told them they were wretched comforters. Peter often thought he was being helpful to the Lord. When He took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for foretelling of His death, Jesus rebuked Peter, saying “Get behind Me, Satan.” Peter was not comforting, he was tempting. Later, when soldiers came to arrest Christ, Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the men. Jesus putting Malchus’ ear back on turned and rebuked Peter, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.”
Many of our attempts to comfort the hurting come from old, canned expressions that only offer false hope and unscriptural assurances. Many such adages are of little comfort, such as, “It could be worse” or “Everyone has to suffer” or “when life hands you lemons make lemonade”, etc. Others are quick to offer advice without learning to first listen.
If someone could only teach us how to comfort others. God is our teacher. We receive comfort from Him in our tribulations. This experience helps us comfort others when they are going through something similar. If God helped you through the loss of a loved one, you can now know how to help another. Comfort is a gift from God that just keeps on giving. We receive comfort as a gift from God and then give it as a gift to others in need.
Thirdly, comfort is sharing in Christ. “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (1:5). “Abound” carries the idea of an overflowing river. Not only do we as Christians suffer for the cause of Christ, Christ causes Christians to receive abundant comfort. Through His death on the cross He rubs sin out, He did not come to rub it in. This is why Christians are more blessed than those outside of Christ. We can cast all our cares upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). We can come to Him when we are weak and heavy laden and find rest for our souls (Matt. 11:27-30). Since Christ was tempted like we are, He brings great comfort (Heb. 4:15).
Conflict and persecution should never take a Christian by surprise. Those who live godly in Christ will (not maybe) suffer persecution (2 Tim. 2:13). Jesus warned His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you, `A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (Jn. 15:20). The greatest comfort is knowing that when we do have to face life’s troubles we never have to face them alone.
Finally, comfort is for the purpose of blessing the sufferer for the future. “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” (1:6,7). Suffering and comfort are working together to accomplish the same objective: the Christian’s salvation and comfort. This passage looks to the future, but not just to the Heavenly reward and eternal comfort. First, we are comforted in this present life in Christ. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). Also, Christians will receive the consolation of eternal salivation (Rom. 8:18). Furthermore, by both suffering and comfort we are equipped to help others. Paul’s hope is unwavering in their ability to be comforted now, be comforted in eternity, and be a comfort to fellow Christians in the near future.
Power In Comfort
Paul informs the Corinthians that God controls all trials. To demonstrate this he reminds them of his own personal experience. “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” (1:8). Paul was threatened wherever he went by both Jews and Gentiles. It is not clear what particular incident he has in mind. Corinth was a very wicked city. He spent a year there preaching and teaching. Whatever the trouble, Paul could find no safe passage through which to exit from his trouble. One night God spoke to Paul in a vision saying, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9,10). Although his very life was threatened he trusted God’s power to control the situation. As Christians, we may be cast into the lion’s den, but God as the power to stop their mouths and control their appetite.
Secondly, God can empower Christians to bear all trials. “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (1:9). Paul does not mean that a death sentence had judicially been handed down by officials against his life. Paul, himself, has given his life a death sentence. He is dying to self by trusting his life to God and not himself. God is powerful enough to rescue our lives any time and in any situation. After all, God did raise Jesus from the dead. Paul is not expecting to be raised from the dead nor is he suggesting to the Corinthians that they will be. One day all Christians will be resurrected unto life. Here, Paul encourages them to trust as he does in a powerful God that will help them endure all trials even if we feel like they are on death row with no more appeals.
Additionally, God delivers Christians from all trials. He “who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (1:10). Paul was permitted to suffer so that he could learn to trust in God’s power to deliver. This deliverance is past, present, and future. Paul had an abundance of experience with God’s power of deliverance. This does not mean that in life God will always deliver all Christians from all threats. After all, James was beheaded by Herod, while Peter’s neck was spared (Acts 12:1ff).
Participation In Comfort
Since God has a purpose in comforting those who hurt and has the power to bring comfort, Paul now turns the Corinthians attention to their role to giving comfort. First, Christians participate in comforting others through intercessory prayer. “You also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many” (1:11). Paul often mentioned his need for such prayers and his thankfulness for the prayers of fellow-Christians (Rom. 15:30-32; Eph. 6:18,19; Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Th. 5:25; 2 Th. 3:1; Phile. 1:22). Seeing God’s comfort coming to the saints with purpose and power is reason enough for all to offer up prayers of thanksgiving. Weekly prayer lists are indispensable for this.
Furthermore, Christians participate in comforting the hurting by maintaining a honest relationship. “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end” (1:12,13). The term for “sincere” literally means “without wax.” Some dishonest merchants were known to take a defective piece of pottery and fill in the cracks with wax and sell the damaged goods. A good shopper would hold each piece of pottery up to the sun’s light to see if there was any wax. If it was without wax, is was sincere or genuine. Paul could confidently boast that the Corinthians were sincere. This would be of great comfort to the hurting apostle. “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
Once a lady’s car stalled at an intersection. She tried and tried to restart it while the light kept cycling through green, yellow and red. All the while the man behind her just kept honking his horn. In frustration the lady left her car and approached the man. She offered this solution to the problem. “Sir, if you would go up to see if you could start my car I will sit in yours and continue to honk the horn for you.” Just honking your horn at others is not a genuine encouragement for those who are troubled. Paul knew that the Corinthians were genuine comforters and not merely honkers.
Finally, Christians who wish to comfort others will show mutual respect. Paul said “(as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1:14). As Paul boasted in their sincerity, they mutually respected his.
All Christians should equip themselves to be a comforted and be a comfort to others. An indispensable tool is the Bible. “Remember the word to Your servant, Upon which You have caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life” (Psalm 119:49-50). Prayer is just as important (James 5:13-15). As suggested by James, perhaps all Christians need to find comfort in the use of their hymn books. One of these famous songs is very encouraging it is called, “Make me a Channel of blessing.”
– Daniel R. Vess