(198) Inscription 75_Comfort
Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 75: Comfort Through Christ
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
May 13, 2012
* Life is hard, but God is good; he comforts us so that we might comfort others.
Scripture reading: 2 Cor. 1:3-7
Moms need comfort
Coming to 2 Corinthians, I’d planned to speak about generosity and giving – that is preachers’ favorite theme in the book. Indeed, the church finances continue to be tight.
* But the closer I got, I just wasn’t feeling it, especially with Mother’s Day.
So Monday morning I still wasn’t sure what I’d preach on, but as I re-read the book, one thing kept coming forward: Comfort.
* It occurs more often “per capita” here than any other Biblical book and occurs 10 times in those five verses.
And comfort seems like a good message for moms. You have a pretty tough job, as most of the dad’s are going to realize next week with the Women’s retreat.
* I challenge you guys to still come to church.
Mom’s are in a tough place today. They feel like they are in competition both with the full-time moms and the full-time employees. There is no doubt in my mind that the expectation on moms has increased significantly more than for dads.
* Personal opinion – dads need to be upping their game.
But with all of those expectations it is so easy to beat yourself up, even on a good day. Then there are the bad days:
* Forgetting about a messy diaper and finding a diaper rash.
* Injuries due to turning your back for a moment.
* Defiance from your seemingly sweet, perfect child.
And all that is the best case scenario: Mother’s Day is not a happy day for everyone:
* Being single.
* Loss of a mother.
* Painful childhood.
Yeah, I am pretty sure a sermon on giving is not what the doctor ordered. Let’s talk about comfort.
A raw book
As many of you know, I am one thesis shy of a Masters in Biblical Studies. I did all of the course work, but get bogged down in the details of writing a thesis.
My thesis was on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, so spent a lot of time in the book; it is the rawest of his epistles, emotionally speaking, covering the full spectrum of Paul’s emotions – joy and pain, hope and discouragement.
* It was written in one of his darkest hours.
The end of last year and the beginning of this year we pretty tough for me as the pastor of this church. Balancing Starbucks and the church was quite a strain, but even harder was church discipline issue that impacted me deeply.
I am so grateful to God that my marriage was strong during all that. I could always look forward to coming home; Marilyn was an amazing comfort and support during all that.
* I don’t know what I would have done without that; I know God would have been there, but I don’t like to think about it.
Now, when Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, he was in a place where life has been almost unbearably hard:
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
But here’s the kicker: The church that he wanted to turn to for comfort was a big part of the problem. Their relationship was deeply strained by false teachers who were coming in and trying to create divisions.
Blessed art thou
What do you do when your source of comfort has become your source of suffering? Paul turns to God for his comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
* There is so much packed in these few verse. But we must start where Paul starts: Praise.
The literal Greek here is “Blessed be God” probably a reference to the Hebrew “Barukh attah Adonai, “Blessed are thou O Lord.” This is common Jewish praise that begins many blessings, for times of joy and suffering. You heard it a lot at the Seder.
* The point is that even in his suffering, Paul’s thoughts go straight to praising God in good Jewish fashion.
Foundation of Trust
Q How could he praise God in the midst of the troubles? In 2 Cor 11 he gives quite a list.
Because he came from a rich tradition of trusting God even in the midst of trials. This gave him a foundation that allowed him to endure many things with hope.
* As a good Jew, Paul was immersed in Psalms, and I’m convinced they helped provide him with the foundation of trust.
A frequent theme in Psalms is praising God in hardships: Being chased by a maniacal king, the temple has been desecrated, sickness, but they come back to “God I trust you.”
* If we don’t start with a foundation of trusting God, everything that follows is almost impossible.
Q How can we develop that kind of trust?
I have found that the Psalms can be of great help to me. When I am discouraged, I turn to them. They give voice to my frustrations, my fears, my needs.
This one is very encouraging for its honest expression of need and its acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness. Let it comfort you if you need the comfort of his love:
Psalm 86:1-7 Hear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you. 3 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long. 4 Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 5 You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. 6 Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. 7 In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me.
If you struggle with discouragement or doubting God’s goodness, I encourage you to immerse yourself in these.
* I have a little Psalms I carry with me at Starbucks, and it is a far better way to spend my 10’s than Angry Birds!
Life is hard
The next key point is that life is hard sometimes. We tend to think if we are doing the right thing, life should go well.
Cars are great mysteries to me. I know they are based on science and mechanics, but to me they seem to be magic, meaning that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.
In spite of all of my theological training, I always assume that the reason I have car trouble is because God is mad at me, not because starters have a limited life span.
* Paul does not assume life should go smoothly if God loves us.
2 Corinthians 1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
Q What is the suffering of Christ?
Basically it means the suffering Paul received because he is a servant of Christ. Because he is doing God’s will in the preaching of the Gospel he is suffering.
* The false teachers were trying to say that his suffering was proof he was a fraud.
Paul draws a different lesson – in the same way the suffering overflows into my life, so also does his comfort.
In some way, that’s depressing: Life just stinks sometimes. But it’s also encouraging: If you’re in the middle of troubles or suffering and need comfort, that doesn’t mean you are a failure.
* Sometimes suffering is the result of disobedience.
* Sometimes suffering is the result of obedience.
* Sometimes we don’t know why we suffer.
Comfort through Christ
Q Are you in need of comfort right now?
Q Are you feeling worn and weary?
Q Are you feeling hopeless or worthless?
God is “the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles.” Not just the ones from serving Jesus, also the ones we don’t understand, also the ones from sin.
Q And how does that comfort come?
It overflows “through Christ.” Again, Paul is a good Jew, and he knows God’s comfort to the saints of old, but now that Christ has come, he focuses on the comfort that comes through Christ:
1. Forgiveness for the past
How much of your discouragement comes from the past? All of your failures are just lurking in the past trying to make you feel like a failure even still.
I remember when Grace was less than a year old, we were playing with block together – I’d build it and she’d know it down. But while Grace and I were doing that, Marilyn and I were working our way into a beauty of a fight.
I got more and more angry about whatever stupid thing it was and (I am ashamed to admit this) I screamed at Marilyn. Then I watched as Grace’s smile faded into a blank look, then tears. Worst father ever. That sucked.
But the really cool thing was that Grace, in her own way, forgave me. After a little while she let me pick her up and comfort her, even though I didn’t deserve it.
* Granted, if that happened too many more times, it would have started to have some serious consequences in our relationship.
Through Christ’s death, God’s forgiveness overflows, is abundantly given to us. Through Christ, all of the failure of the past are wiped away, and that gives us great comfort.
* And with forgiveness comes acceptance – God loves and accepts us in spite of it all.
2. Grace for the present
Not only is there forgiveness for the past, but through Christ there is grace for the present. Grace isn’t simply forgiveness, it is God’s gracious help in the midst of trouble.
Paul doesn’t say, “Praise be to God who pulled me out of here!” but, “who comforts me in the midst of my trouble.”
* We want relief, Paul knew he needed comfort.
The problem is that we don’t really understand comfort. In English, comfort is related to “comfortable,” but not in Greek.
The comfort that Paul has in mind has nothing to do with a [lazy] feeling of contentment. It is not some tranquilizing dose of grace that only dulls pains but a stiffening agent that fortifies one in heart, mind, and soul.
Comfort relates to encouragement, help, exhortation. God’s comfort strengthens weak knees and sustains sagging spirits so that one faces the troubles of life with unbending resolve and unending assurance.1
* Comfortable is a foot massage and beer at mile 25, comfort is Gatorade and a cheering on.
Through Christ, we are give the help we need to continue on.
3. Hope for the future
Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul is comforted by his hope. He has a clearer picture than any man of shortness of this life, which gave him the ability to see beyond the present trouble.
It helped that he has seen it:
2 Corinthians 12:2-4 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
It was like reading the last chapter of the book; he just wasn’t as worked up by the details.
* EG: Laura reading the epilogue in “Deathly Hallows.”
I think we can get a glimpse of that sort of comfort in worship: Simply having a vision of God’s glory in worship helps lift the burden not because the material facts have changed, but the perspective has.
* Our problems may be big, but God is far bigger and greater.
Blessed to be a blessing
But Paul does not stop with God’s comfort; in fact he barely takes a breath:
2 Corinthians 1:6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.
Another major theme in 2 Corinthians is generosity – he is asking the Corinthians to be generous in their help for starving Christians in Jerusalem.
But generosity is not just about money: We are blessed to be a blessing. It is a major theme flowing through the Bible. God never gives you anything for the purpose of hoarding it. Not money, not a house, not your time, and not God’s comfort.
When we are in the midst of troubles, we are tempted to retreat into either isolation or self-centeredness. Paul instead embraced generosity in his comfort.
* Comforting with your comfort is the ultimate “have your cake and eat it too,” because your comfort increases.
I said last week that each of us have a role to play. Likewise each of us have comfort only we can give. If you want help with doubts about the Bible, I am your guy. But you don’t want me comforting you about lactation problems.
* God’s comfort flows through us, that is an amazing gift and responsibility.
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
A firm hope
Paul finishes this section by saying:
2 Corinthians 1:7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
This verse confused me for awhile: Even with all of the struggle with false preachers, persecution, and day to day trials, Paul is sure that they will make it just fine.
* Why? Because God is also comforting them.
Through Christ, God continues to give us the resources we need to make through the trouble. Life is hard, but he is good. He will comfort us so that we cannot simply survive, but thrive.
Q & A
1 New American Commentary, 2 Corinthians.