Once again, The Father of mercies and God of all comfort—focus on 2 Corinthians 1:7

The Amphitheater at Ephesus

The Amphitheater at Ephesus

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).

“The Father of Mercies and 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 affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor 1:3-4 (ESV)

Last night’s Wesley Biblical Seminary class on 2 Corinthians was rich. We were studying 2 Cor 2:3-11 using both the English and Greek text. This class is a wonderful mix of people, men and women of various ages involved in various ministry contexts—all motivated to understand and obey God’s word. There were five of us in the room and three more who joined us by Skype—one in Portland, Oregon, one near Mobile, Alabama, and one in Mexico City. Their three faces on the large TV screen at the end of the room reminded us of news correspondents—we had our correspondent on the west coast, our correspondent on the gulf coast, and our correspondent in Mexico City. We, however, were not interested in the evening news, but in the unchanging but every relevant truth of the Gospel found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.

Together we traced the logical structure of this passage. The God of all comfort who comforted Paul was also the God who would comfort and sustain the Corinthian Christians in the middle of their sufferings for Christ (2 Cor 1:3-7). Paul adds his own testimony to the faithfulness of God in verses 8-11. He begins by praising the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” and ends by urging the Corinthians to join in prayer for his deliverance so that, when God delivers, they, along with many others, will give God thanks.

Our study reminded me of that summer day in 1978 when this Scripture became so precious. I said “summer” day, but I should have said “rainy season” day, for we were in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The person who had been mission coordinator had been forced to return to the US because of a heart problem. There was no one else to do the job but me. The responsibilities were intimidating. My wife Rosa, who knows me well, was afraid that the responsibilities would tear me apart. I had taken the former mission coordinator and his wife to the airport—a round trip that took about six hours. The next day I returned to the airport to meet a visiting General Superintendent. His plane was delayed—when it finally came, he wasn’t on it. I arrived back where we were staying about two o’clock in the morning. The next morning I arose late, preparing for another airport run, but began the day by filling the tub with hot water—this was the only place in our mission where we had hot running water. I was going to have a soaker. It seemed a good idea to have my devotions while sitting in the tub. There I was, reading 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 – “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 affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. . .” (ESV). “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” spoke to me and said, “That’s who I am, and, if you will let me, I will give you the “comfort” you need to “comfort” your colleagues and to do this job I have given you for the next year.” I looked up and said, “Lord, that’s a no brainer. If you will give that comfort, I’ll take it!” God did! The year that followed was one of the best in my life. He gave me strength and joy, he enabled me to support my colleagues, and he blessed our ministry.  At the end of our previous term of missionary service I had gone home sick. After that year of God’s comfort we returned to the states with both health and joy. I bear witness—the God of our Lord Jesus Christ is, indeed, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

“Mango” Christmases–the Best I Ever Had

Well, I’ve been away for some time. My children and grandchildren who live in Central Asia have been home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had a great Christmas together. Our family saw them off at the airport today. Their return to Asia reminded me of our “Mango” Christmases in Africa when our children were young.

When I went to Sierra Leone, West Africa, I thought that Christmas in America would be one of the things I missed most. How mistaken I was. Some of my family’s best Christmases were our African “mango” Christmases. Christmas there was uncomplicated. There was little commercialism or shopping bustle. Gifts were simple–and meaningful. One year I made doll houses for our daughters–out of five-eight inch plywood! Those doll houses had to be sturdy enough to ride in the back of a pickup over bumpy roads! Some of the paint wasn’t quite dry Christmas morning. Then there were the Christmas carols. Our Sierra Leonean friends–and others who didn’t even know us–would come around at night singing Christmas carols, sometimes late at night. One night about eleven o’clock members of the brass band from the local teachers’ college showed up at our doorstep playing the familiar songs about Christ’s birth. Of course we got up and “thanked” them.

It was in Sierra Leone–on our eldest daughter’s first Christmas–that we began our long standing tradition of having Jesus’ Birthday Party on Christmas eve! Over the years we have invited all sorts of people to this party. The cake has been different every year. Some of those cakes have become famous. However, it has never been just a birthday party–it has always been a celebration of the Incarnation. Every year we explain–in child-friendly language–that we celebrate Christmas because on that first Christmas God’s Son became a human being like us!

And Christmas day–O, Christmas Day in Sierra Leone. Of course we opened presents, but then it was off to a wonderful Church service, that lasted from two to three hours. Everyone came in new clothes. There would be singing groups and testimonies. It was a joyful celebration of our Lord’s birth. Then, when we lived in a village, all of the believers ate Christmas dinner together. We would invite passers-by to join us. When we lived in town, people sent special Christmas dinners to each other–we would usually get dinners from about three of the best cooks around! The best Sierra Leonean food you could put in your mouth! We discovered that Sierra Leoneans liked popcorn. So we usually made traditional popcorn balls of different colors and sent them to our friends. They were always a big hit.

Those Sierra Leone “mango” Christmases taught me and my family to keep our focus on the true meaning of Christmas–the unspeakably wonderful incarnation of the Son of God. They helped to insulate us against the superficiality of the so-called “holiday season.” Thus, thank God, they have made all of our subsequent Christmases more joyful, as we wait the return in Glory of the one born in a manger.

Stones are Better than Sore Bones–Mangoes Once More

As noted below, our first home in Africa was in a mango grove. In  season, boys liked to throw stones into the branches of the trees in order to dislodge those juicy mangoes. Not a problem–except stones don’t do well when they land on a tin roof. One day I thought I’d stop the young stoner who was bombarding our roof in his effort to get mangoes. I got within a few feet of him by walking up on the other side of a tree that was between us. Then I jumped out. He ran, and I fell over a root and had sore ribs for a week. Who cares about stones on a roof. Stones are better than sore bones any day!

Mangoes. It seemed fitting to begin this blog with “mangoes.” I don’t remember ever seeing a mango until I arrived in Sierra Leone, West Africa, September 2, 1969. Rosa and I had just been married on August 15. I’d been ordained to the ministry on August 17. Here we were in Sierra Leone. When we woke up the first morning in Freetown, we heard a child’s voice outside saying in Sierra Leonean Krio, “they done come from the United States of America.” By September 4 we were in the town of Kamakwie, about 175 miles from Freetown, in our house–which was in the middle of a mango grove. I would develop a love for those mangoes, and a love for the country where I first tasted them, the country of Sierra Leone.