Since my previous post by this title we have continued studying 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 in two more Thursday night classes, with four or five of us in the room and our three friends joining us by Skype from Seattle, greater Mobile, and Mexico City. We have become acutely aware that Paul is talking about the severe real-life suffering that he has endured in the Roman Province of “Asia” (verse 8) for the sake of Christ. From Acts we know about the riot in the Amphitheater at Ephesus that was caused by the success of Paul’s Asian ministry (Acts 19:21-41). You can see a bit of this Amphitheater in the attached picture.
When we realize the severity of Paul’s suffering—he says that he had “despaired of life” itself—verse 7 becomes all the more shocking: “Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (ESV). How can Paul be so sure that the Corinthian believers will share in God’s “comfort” because they share in the same kind of sufferings that Paul has endured? Is “suffering” a guarantee of “comfort”?
Paul is confident that the faithful believer will receive God’s “comfort” in the midst of suffering because God is faithful. As the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” He is the “Father of mercies” and thus the source of the truest and deepest “comfort.” Since He is the “God who raises the dead” He is able to provide “comfort” for those toward whom “the sufferings of Christ” abound. No situation, however dire, is beyond his reach.
Paul is talking, first of all, about the affliction through which we identify with Christ’s suffering because it is endured for the sake of Christ and in order that we might be faithful. Suffering from other sources, however, may well threaten the faithful endurance of the believer. God’s “comfort” is there first of all in the form of grace and power to faithfully persevere in obedience whatever we may face (verse 6). God’s “comfort” may also be expressed in deliverance from peril and danger, as it was for Paul “in Asia” (verse 8). Resurrection life is the ultimate “comfort” offered by the “God who raises the dead.” As Paul says in verse 9, suffering is the occasion for deepening our trust in God.
I often fret in the middle of difficulties because I cannot see God’s solution (come to think of it, if I could “see” the solution, what need would there be for faith?). Paul, however, would have us take “comfort” in God’s “comfort”—even when we don’t see His solution—because we know He is faithful, and we know that the “Father of mercies” “knows our frame” and “remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).