September 3, 2023. Sermon Title: The God of All Comfort

First Mennonite Church

September 3, 2023

The God of all Comfort

Text: 2Corinthians 1:1-11

Although we refer to this letter of Paul as his second letter to the Corinthians, it might indeed be his fourth letter to them. In 1Corinthians five, verses nine to 11, Paul makes reference to a previous letter he had sent the Corinthians. That would mean that the First Corinthians is in fact Paul’s second letter. And in 2Corinthians, chapter two, Paul declares that after his previous visit, which he promised to do when he wrote 1Corinthians, he sent the Corinthians another letter, which would have been his third letter to them. That makes clear that 2Corinthians is in fact Paul’s fourth letter.

All of this internal evidence of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian congregation shows Paul’s great interest and concern for that church.

In an earlier visit of Paul to the Corinthians, someone verbally attacked the apostle, and to his surprise, no one came to his defense from the congregation. Paul left Corinth grieved, humiliated, and in pain. Yet, he wrote them a harsh letter, which we do not have. And from what we see in chapter two, the Corinthian church responded unanimously and disciplined the erring brother. In chapter two, Paul extends his forgiveness to the offender and appeals to the Corinthians to forgive the offender too.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul opens with joyful praises to God. By doing so, Paul shows from the start of his letter, not only gratitude to God for the Corinthians but also that his grief and humiliation are things he has left behind. Paul is no longer discouraged nor angry about what he suffered during his last visit with the Corinthians.

Therefore, after he presented his credentials of apostleship, he began to praise God. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Paul’s joy is not simply a show of a positive attitude in the midst of adversity. Paul’s source of gratitude comes from the God who called him to ministry and who said Paul will face hardship, abuse, and ill-treatment for the sake of Christ (Acts 9:16). Paul calls God, “The Father of compassion and God of all comfort.” These qualities of God are not mere qualities God shows on occasion but are permanent qualities of his character. God gives of himself to the believer, not for them to take as personal possessions, but to become channels of his grace and mercy. God comforts us in all our troubles so that we would be able to comfort those who are in trouble.

It is important to take note that for the believer, all suffering, hardship, and affliction should be seen or looked at in light of our relationship with Christ. That is, even though we believe in God and live in Christ, suffering will continue to be part of our life experiences, However, Christ will become the prism through which we see those afflictions. Our pain, distress, misfortunes, and even losses are experienced within the sphere of God’s abundant consolation and compassion. They are experienced in the light of Christ’s suffering and the hope of his resurrection from the dead.

Paul says that God comforts us so that we become comforters to those who are suffering. Put in other words, God has placed you and me within our respective contexts to bring to those who are afflicted, distressed, and troubled, the tender heart of God’s compassion and consolation to them. And, this is how Paul puts it: For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (v.5). Paul describes Christian suffering as something that is abundant, which also becomes, not only the measure of Christ comfort to us, but also the measure with which we comfort others. But this poses a challenge. Oftentimes, we give the appearance of never having troubles. When asked, “How are you doing?” “Oh, just fine,” is the common answer we give. Somehow, Christians have bought into the idea that admitting having difficulties is a sign of spiritual weakness or even worse, of sin. Sometimes, for the sake of modesty or pride, we can’t see ourselves admitting we are facing a hard time. Therefore, how in the world can we be of comfort to others when we cannot admit to having troubles ourselves but that Christ is our source of abundant comfort and peace? With such an attitude, people will think we are a bunch of “fakers” or “liars.” Therefore, instead of attracting them to the goodness of God’s comfort, we repel them. The caveat here is not that we only admit our share of trouble, but that we share with them the source of our strength, comfort, and hope. That is exactly what Paul does.

Let us look at Paul’s example on this: verses 8-11.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.   

Paul did not shy away from sharing what his troubles were. In fact, he clearly tells his brothers and sisters because he doesn’t want to leave them in the dark regarding the troubles he has endured. Paul tells them he came to the point of despair and was afraid he had come to the end of his life. How about that? Paul does not play being a superhero. He strips himself from all pretensions that he is impermeable to difficulty or pain. In chapter four, Paul elaborates on the troubles he faces on a daily basis. This is what he states:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body (4:8-11).

In chapter six he says:

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also (6:3-13)

And in chapter 11:

(I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (11:23-29)

Paul’s openness about his difficulties and personal challenges becomes the basis for his powerful testimony about God’s faithfulness, compassion, and consolation. This openness helps Paul connect with those he shares the gospel. God becomes visibly present in the life of Paul. His readers become attracted to such a God who not only relates with them in their troubles but also who gives them comfort and hope beyond measure.

What kind of image do we present to our friends? How open are we, not only about the issues we face in life but also how our trust in the Lord brings us through? We represent what kind of God we serve. If we pretend we never have troubles or suffering, our friends and neighbors who have difficulties in life will have difficulty relating with us. Paul used his perils in life to give testimony about God’s consolation.

It is said that friends are those with whom we feel safe and who understand us. Friends are those with whom we open ourselves without fear of being judged. We trust those we call friends. The script in a greeting card reads: Friends are special gifts from God!

We are gifts of God to one another. In that sense, I am a gift of God to you and you are a gift of God to me. Therefore, in light of who we are to each other, we seek to bless, encourage, support, guide, and love one another. God’s gifts are always good; thus, it is incumbent on us to do our best to serve one another in the name of Christ.

But there are open gifts and mystery gifts. Let us be open gifts to one another and in that openness, let us share from our heart and the blessings of God’s comfort to us. Amen!

Pastor Romero