(A Sermon Series from 2 Corinthians)
Westgate Chapel 10-29-06 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Proposition: Unlike the world, that has no hope, we serve a God who calls us to abundant comfort SO THAT we can comfort others, persevere, and live firmly grounded.
- WE live in a world where stuff happens.
* Unexpected illness hits and brings a halt to all of your plans.
* A miscarriage shatters your hope for a baby in the home.
* A traffic accident either cripples, paralyzes or ends a life.
* A marriage full of promise ends up simply being a charade behind which there is all kinds of pain and rejection.
* A career that never delivers.
- THE list could go on and on.
- IT is the stuff of life.
- WE all experience it.
- THERE is no immunity from it…..it happens to good people and bad people.
- AND the Bible doesn’t shy away from the subject.
- ONE of the words used in the Bible to describe the stuff that happens to us all is the word, affliction.
- IT shows up twice in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
* The word, affliction, can also mean trouble, anguish, persecution, distress, to be squashed, pressed or hemmed in.
- MY guess is that if I took the microphone and walked around in this room and asked about what is going on in your lives, that we would be amazed at the amount of and the depth of affliction here this morning.
- THERE is another word that shows up 10 times in the context of these 5 verses....and that word is comfort.
- DO you ever stop and think about how people facing the stuff of life are comforted, who are not in relationship with God?
- I DID a little research on the Greek word for comfort used in the New Testament and found some fascinating facts:
* Comfort came from personal visits to the afflicted, and in the form of poetry or the words of the philosophers…some of whom were paid for their services.
* The basis for comfort in those days came from the following:
- Epicurean philosophy that death brought an end to everything, including the emotional pain of affliction.
- Reminiscing about the happiness you had at one time.
- Reflecting on the good things that might happen in the future.
- Recognizing that in comparison with the vastness of the universe, your affliction is petty.
- The gods experience the same fates we do.
* Since most of the gods were unfriendly, unpredictable or immoral….most comforters stayed away from the subject, and references to God or the gods are scarce in the body of literature on the subject of comfort.
* In spite of the prolific writings of that period on the subject of comfort, says the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, “there is at bottom a profound lack of hope or comfort in the world of antiquity.”
* Let me read you some quotes from this period on the subject of comfort:
“Happier are the dead than those still living and happier than both are the unborn.” (A philosopher named Theognis)
“Many wise men regard life as a punishment and the birth of man as his greatest misfortune.”
* One final lament, putting words in the mouth of a deceased teenager, responding to questions about living:
Q: How is it in the underworld?
A: Deep darkness.
Q: How about returning to us?
A: All [life] is a lie.
Q: And Pluto [one of the gods]?
A: A myth!
Q: So we are lost!
- THAT is how people face the stuff of life who are not in relationship with God!
ii. comforting others who are afflicted
- NOW listen to the apostle Paul, from 2 Corinthians 1:3, who is writing into this kind of cultural milieu.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction...” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4a)
- UNLIKE the immoral gods the Greeks worshipped…our God is holy, pure, sincere, genuine!
- UNLIKE the unpredictable gods of the Greeks…our God never sleeps and never changes.
- UNLIIKE the unfriendly Greek gods…our God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that we could be reconciled to Him.
- OUR comfort does not come from death. Death is our enemy and it was defeated on the cross of Jesus and by His resurrection…and when we die it is but a transition into the eternal presence of God.
- OUR comfort does not come from reminiscing about what happened in our past. Paul writes,
“…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
- OUR comfort does not come from fantasizing about what might happen to us in the future. That is futile and foolish. Only God knows the future.
- OUR comfort comes from the FACT that we are saved from sin, from Satan, from death and hell through faith in Jesus Christ.
- OUR comfort comes from the fact that we are saved for an eternal future that is waiting for us in God.
- SO, the only way for you and me to handle the stuff of life is to know God!
- PAUL tell us in 2 Corinthians 1:3 that He is,
“…the God of all comfort who comforts us I in all our affliction!”
- COMFORT is not sympathy!
- THE word used in the Bible for comfort means “the act of consoling, refreshing and encouraging the believer for the purpose of strengthening their faith.”
- IT is very interesting to me that one historian I read on this subject says that the purpose of the “comfort industry” in Greek times was designed to “simply silence the weeping but left the heart where it was before.”
- GOD’S comfort does several things….and leaving the heart where it was before is not one of them.
- HE is the Author and Finisher of our faith….and He is not going to allow us to stagnate in our faith, but IF we allow Him to, will come along side us in our suffering and lead us forward in triumphal procession in Christ Jesus.
- BUT not only is God’s comfort strengthening our faith in the middle of our affliction….there is another purpose. Look at the rest of verse 4,
“…who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
- ONE of the reasons it is SO important for you and me to come through our afflictions strengthened in our faith instead of cowering in a corner of self-pity….is because when we come through stronger for it all GOD INTENDS THAT WE COMFORT OTHERS WHO ARE AFFLICTED.
- THERE is a time needed for healing in the comfort of God…but that healing is perfected not in withdrawal, but engagement in the lives of others as God’s agent for comfort.
- WHAT about the measure of comfort available to us?
- SOME people are going through so much affliction that they must wonder if they are going to make it!
- PAUL writes in 2 Corinthians 1:5,
“For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:5)
- THE word, abundant, means “to exceed a fixed number of measure.”
- THAT is how much comfort is there for you in God.
iii. persevere in affliction
- LET’S move on to verse 6,
“But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” (2 Corinthians 1:6)
- PAUL gets a little autobiographical…..”if we are afflicted…??”
- HOW about…
“…beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 …in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)
- WATCH the “comfort” sequence back in 2 Corinthians 1:6…(put slide # back)
* Paul’s afflictions AND comfort are for the purpose of the Corinthian believers’ comfort and salvation.
* (God’s comfort is “the act of consoling, refreshing and encouraging the believer for the purpose of strengthening their faith.”)
* And if the Corinthian believers receive this comfort from God….the result will be “patient endurance” when they face their afflictions.
* Which will free them to then be an encouragement to others.
- WALKING in the comfort of God in the middle of affliction is EFFECTIVE producing perseverance in you and me!
- RATHER than the typical reaction to isolate in affliction…because you are embarrassed or convinced you are strong enough to gut it out.
- NO! The net result of us walking together in the comfort of the Lord is that perseverance is a quality produced by the Holy Spirit amongst us.
- DO you see why the Christian life can only be lived in community?
- WE need each other!
iv. confident in your future
- ONE last thought on this subject from verse 7,
“…and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:7)
- IN spite of the problems in the church at Corinth…and there were many.
- IN spite of the quarrels and in-fighting.
- IN spite of spiritual immaturity.
- IN spite of all the problems in the church, Paul says that he has joyful and complete confidence in their eternal future….that is what the word hope means.
- WATCH this! Paul’s confidence in the eternal future of the Corinthian believers is based on knowing that they were allowing affliction and God’s comfort to work in tandem in their lives.
- BECAUSE you see in everybody’s life, at one time or another, there will be stuff.
- AND at the moment that stuff happens you and I have two choices:
1. Get angry at God, withdraw from Him and His people, and immerse yourself in self-pity, which becomes like a rip tide. It will pull you out to sea and drown you!
2. The other choice is to…
a) pull deeper into God AND His people
b) receive from Him AND His people that comfort that “consoles, refreshes and encourages the believer for the purpose of strengthening their faith.”
c) begin comforting the people around you who are suffering affliction.
- LET’S put this into practice….especially those of you here this morning who are in the middle of affliction!