Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:1-7 ESV
Obviously, as the title of this letter indicates, this is a second letter that Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth. Some time between the writing of the first letter and the receipt of this second one, Paul had been able to visit Corinth. But evidently, things had not gone well. His visit had ended up being a painful one for both Paul and the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:1). There were still those in Corinth who opposed Paul and questioned his apostleship and, therefore, his authority. Later on in this second letter, Paul deals directly with those who stood against him. “This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:1-2 ESV).
It would appear that Paul wrote a third letter, now lost, that he sent to the Corinthians some time before writing 2 Corinthians. He refers to this lost letter several times.
I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. – 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 ESV
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-9 ESV
So Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to encourage the congregation there and to continue his efforts to refute the accusations of an influential minority who were questioning his authority and undermining the work there.
But before Paul deals with the issues going on in Corinth, he spends some time reminding the Corinthians of just who he is and what he has had to endure as an apostle of Jesus Christ. His journey has not been an easy one. His ministry to them and to the other churches he helped found has not been without its problems. But Paul is not complaining. He is simply stating the facts and letting them know that he is grateful for having had the opportunity to serve them and for being able to receive comfort from God Himself. In verses 3-7, Paul will use a variation of the word “comfort” ten times. He will refer to “affliction” or “suffering” seven times. And each and every time he is applying these words to himself and the other men who minister alongside him. These opening verses are an autobiographical look into the life and ministry of Paul as he faithfully ministered the gospel, in keeping with the commission he had received from the risen Christ.
Paul refers to God as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV). First of all, God is compassionate and merciful. But He is also comforting. The Greek word Paul uses is paraklesis and it means consolation, encouragement or refreshment. Notice its similarity to the Greek word used for the Holy Spirit: paraklētos. Before His crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16 ESV). He refers to the coming Holy Spirit as an advocate, comforter, and intercessor. The Holy Spirit, as the third member of the Trinity, has the same nature as God the Father and Christ the Son. And Paul has experienced this comforting presence in his life as he faced the trials and afflictions that accompanied his gospel ministry.
Paul had learned to expect opposition and affliction. It came with the territory. But he had also learned to rejoice in it because it brought with it the comfort of God.
…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5 ESV
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known… – Colossians 1:24-25 ESV
Paul saw his sufferings as reflective of his relationship with Christ and a tangible expression of the bond he shared with his Savior. “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5 ESV). Paul’s sufferings were not the result of sin, but because of his obedience to the will of Christ. He was suffering as Christ did, for doing the will of the Father. The affliction he endured was due to obedience to Christ, not disobedience. And therefore, he could rely on the comfort and mercy of the Father. This included the rejection of his apostleship by those in Corinth. As long as he was doing the will of God, Paul knew he would face opposition and experience difficulties. But he also knew he would receive the comfort and encouragement of God, which he willingly passed on to others. “ If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:6 ESV). Paul suffered. So would they. He was comforted by God. And he passed that encouragement on to the Corinthians.
Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:34 NLT). And just after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Jesus told Ananias to go and anoint him, saying, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT). Suffering is an inevitable and unavoidable part of the Christian life. But so is the comfort of God. And that should bring us courage. As Paul told the believers in Rome, who were facing persecution and affliction:
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 NLT
We serve the God of all comfort.