All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7, NLT)
2 Corinthians is arguably Paul’s most transparent letter. Throughout its chapters we see Paul express candid vulnerability about the personal difficulties he faced, whether they be personal or professional. Before I dive into the passage, I want to pause and offer a reminder that the pastors and ministers that serve you and your family are not perfect people with perfect lives. Unfortunately, some pastors will project the image of having it all together. But the truth of the matter is that no pastor has it “all together.” They struggle with many of the same challenges that pew occupants face. At the end of the day, pastors are humans who have human problems. We’re all citizens of the human race.
While Paul is transparent, he simultaneously offers counsel that is based on his own experience. Clearly he hasn’t obtained his advice from the self help section of the book store. He begins by pointing his readers to God, the Father of Jesus Christ. This is important because God is most clearly revealed through his Son. Jesus is described in relationship to us (Lord); in his incarnation (Jesus); and in his role (Christ). Not only is God the Father of Jesus, he is the Father of mercies who is the source of our encouragement and comfort regardless of our difficult circumstances.
The comfort God provides for us enables us to endure troubles and grow in the midst of them. If God simply patted our shoulder and offered nothing else, he would be full of pity for his children. Comfort moves beyond third party pity and walks with us to stand beneath the weight as well as carry the weight.
But the most important thing that we can take away from his introductory remarks is that the comfort of God comes to us in our troubles so we can in turn provide comfort for others. In other words, God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable. He comforts us to make us comforters. His compassion is designed to teach us to be compassionate toward others. This is what Tasker calls, “the mystery of pain.” There is a two fold purpose behind our suffering, one being our growth as we learn to trust God’s grace for us, the other being our ability to extend the same grace to others. The dynamic is real. As we share with those who suffer similarly, we find strength and encouragement through sharing the burden. This is why support groups and recovery programs are effective. As we receive help in community, we offer help in community, and it comes full circle. The help we offer becomes helpful in return.
Going it alone doesn’t make us stronger. It merely makes us harder. It’s the strong people who are able to stand. The hard people become brittle and ultimately break.