Grace, Love and Fellowship.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. – 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 ESV

How do you close out a letter like this one? For 13 chapters, Paul has had to defend his ministry, confront the Corinthians about their lack of giving, encourage their continued spiritual growth, and expose the false apostles who were undermining his authority and impacting his work. Now, as he wraps up his letter, he does so with five simple statements. First, he tells them to rejoice. He doesn’t explain what it is they are to rejoice about, but he most likely is referring to their position in Christ. They are children of God, heirs of His Kingdom, recipients of His grace, and possessors of His Holy Spirit. They have much about which to rejoice. Yet it is so easy to lose sight of all that God has done for us and to allow ourselves to live ungrateful, joyless lives. The life of the believer should be marked by joy and rejoicing. But it is a choice. We must decide to express to God our gratitude for all that He has done for us. And even if we should find this life difficult and full of trials, we can rejoice in the fact that our future is secure and that all God has promised for us is guaranteed. We have an eternity ahead of us, free from sin, pain and sorrow. Even if we must suffer in this life, we face a suffering-free future because of our faith in Christ.

Secondly, Paul tells them to “aim for restoration.” This could actually be translated, “set things right” or “put things in order.” This interpretation seems to be more appropriate, because Paul has been pointing out some issues within the church that were not as they should have been. He was concerned about their lack of giving for the saints in Judea. He was worried about the impact the false apostles had had on their faith. Paul wanted them to get their proverbial act together and pursue spiritual maturity. It is quite easy for believers in Christ to find themselves distracted from their primary God-given directive: spiritual maturity. Yes, we are to witness. We are to share the gospel with those who have not yet heard. But our transformed lives are one of the greatest testimonies to the veracity of the gospel we can give. Disorder and disunity in the church are antithetical to our calling as the children of God. Selfishness and self-centeredness are not to be the characteristics for which we are known. As Paul had written them in his first letter, they had a habit of living as if they were still part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Paul wants them to put things in order, to restore things to the way God wanted them to be.

Next, Paul tells them to “comfort one another.” Actually, this might be better translated, “be encouraged” or “be comforted.” This seems to fit in with what Paul said earlier in his letter.

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 ESV

Paul wanted them to find encouragement in the content of his letter. He knew that their situation was far from perfect. He realized that their pursuit of spiritual maturity was anything be easy. So he wanted them to be encouraged and comforted. God was not done with them yet. And as they were comforted by God, they would be better able to live in unity and peace with one another. It was a common practice in the early church to greet one another with a kiss. It was a sign of their unity and common bond in Christ. But Paul insists that they must greet one another with a holy kiss. It must be without hypocrisy and not just for show. A holy kiss can only come from holy lips. You can’t tear down a brother in Christ, then greet him with a kiss as if nothing was wrong. James writes, “Sometimes it [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10 NLT). Holiness is the key to true unity and peace.

Finally, Paul closes his letter with a salutation that alludes to all three members of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Grace, love and fellowship. These three things are critical to the health and well-being of the church. We exist because of the grace of Christ, His unmerited favor, made possible by His death on the cross. And we are to extend that grace to all those within the body of Christ.

Jesus’ death was the direct result of God’s love for us. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). God loved us so much, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion, that He sent His own Son to die on our behalf. And we are to love one another in the same selfless, sacrificial way.

Finally, as believers in Jesus Christ and recipients of the love of God, we have been given the Spirit of God. We are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, who makes our fellowship with one another possible. He has given each of us spiritual gifts designed for the benefit of the rest of the body. He empowers us with a capacity to love like Christ loved. He produces within us fruit that is designed to minister to one another: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Our unity is Spirit-empowered, not self-motivated. Our love for one another is made possible by the Spirit of God, not our own self-will.

Grace, love and fellowship – made possible by the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit. We have all we need for living together as the body of Christ, as sons and daughters of God.

 

 

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Do What Is Right.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-10 ESV

At first glance, it may appear that Paul is calling on the Corinthians to examine themselves in order to see if they are truly saved. But in reality, Paul is calling on them to do the right thing, because they are saved. They have Christ within them. Therefore, they have all they need to do what is right – what God would have them do. The real issue here is sanctification, not salvation. Paul wants them to live as who they are – children of God. He wants their behavior to match their confessed belief in Christ. He has no doubts as to whether they have the capacity to do the right thing. It is more a matter of commitment. Are they willing to do what is right? Paul is praying that they will and assures them that he “cannot do anything against the truth, but on for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8 ESV). He is unwilling to act in a way that would be contrary or detrimental to the gospel.

It is essential that much of what Paul has been saying throughout this letter has been a defense of his apostleship. There were those who were casting doubt and dispersions on Paul’s qualifications. So when he asks them to examine themselves, he is really challenging them to take a long hard look at their lives in order to see if they themselves are not the very proof they are looking for. In other words, their changed lives were the greatest testimony to Paul’s calling they would ever find. The gospel message Paul had brought to them had been effective, resulting in their conversions and proving his calling as a messenger of Jesus Christ.

But they had struggled in their sanctification. They had hit some tough spots along the way. Since Paul’s initial visit, there had been divisions and disunity erupt in the church. There were some moral indiscretions that had gone unpunished and that remained unconfessed. Paul has already told them that he feared he was going to find them still struggling with the same old problems of “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (2 Corinthians 12:20 NLT). So he lets them know that he was praying for their restoration. Not only that, he was writing in a very blunt, in-your-face style because, when he arrived, he didn’t want to have to spend all his time playing bad cop. His goal was to build them up, not tear them down. He wanted to see them continue to grow in their salvation, increasing in their knowledge of Jesus Christ and developing an ever-deeper dependence upon God that resulted in a desire to do His will – to do the right thing.

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul reminded them that God’s will for them was their holiness or sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). In his first letter, the apostle Peter told his readers that it was God’s will that they do good (1 Peter 2:15). Doing good (what is right) and holiness go hand in hand. Our sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness should have an outward expression. It should manifest itself in godly living, doing what God would have us do. That is Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians. He wants them to live out their faith by stepping out in obedience to the will of God. We do good, not to win God’s favor, but because we have been the recipients of His favor. We do what is right, not to make God love us, but because He loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. Doing what is right brings God’s blessing. Doing what is wrong brings His discipline. Both are motivated by His love for us. But Paul would prefer that we learn to live obediently, doing what God deems best, even when it makes no sense. Paul would have us enjoy the benefits of a life lived within the will of God, faithfully doing what He deems right and good.

By the Power of God.

Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.

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. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.– 2 Corinthians 12:19-13:4 ESV

Paul is making plans for a third trip to see the Corinthians, and based on all that has transpired since his last visit, he is somewhat apprehensive and anxious. He is concerned that he will find them in a less-than-ideal spiritual state. They had obviously been influenced by those he has labeled the “super-apostles” and their degree of their spiritual maturity is somewhat suspect. In some ways, he is afraid that things were not much different than they had been since he had written his first letter to them.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 ESV

Paul’s greatest concern for them was their spiritual growth and maturity. All his time spent defending his apostleship was not to make himself look better in their eyes, but to get them to realize that he was God-ordained for his ministry and well worth listening to. Unlike his adversaries, he had their best interests at heart. The last thing Paul wanted to find when he arrived was his spiritual children still struggling with the same issues they had been before. He expected to see true life change. He desired to see signs of repentance and spiritual reformation. And he hated the thought of having to spend his time among them reprimanding and disciplining all those who remained unrepentant and addicted to their life in the flesh.

While Paul is not anxious or eager to find the Corinthians dealing with their same old problems, he warns them that he is ready to confront their sin in the power of God. if they want proof that he has been sent by God, they are going to get it – in the form of church discipline. But Paul is going to do things in a godly fashion. Any accusations anyone may have against a brother or sister will have to be based on two or three witnesses, just as Jesus had commanded (Matthew 18:15-20). There was going to be a fair and equitable process followed, but in the end, Paul was going to deal with the situation in a powerful way.

Earlier in this letter, Paul had appealed to them based on the gentleness and meekness of Christ.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. – 2 Corinthians 10:1-2 ESV

But it appears that Paul wasn’t too confident that they would listen to his pleas. He was going to have to “show boldness.” They were going to have to witness the power of Christ exhibited through the authoritative, disciplinary actions of Paul. He was going to get their attention and prove to them once and for all that he was speaking on behalf of Christ. Paul reminds them that Christ was crucified in weakness. In other words, He was beaten, humiliated, tortured and nailed to a cross – in his human flesh. He slowly bled out. He gradually and painfully asphyxiated as his lungs filled with fluid and he had to push down with his nail-pierced feet in order to take his next breath. This had gone on for hours, until He had finally breathed his last breath and died. But Paul reminds them that Jesus had not stayed dead. He was resurrected by the power of God and “lives by the power of God.” And they were going to experience that same power when Paul came to them. Even in his human weakness, Paul possessed the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead. And he was going to use that power to make sure that the Corinthians remained true to their faith in Christ, so that they might one day experience the resurrection of their bodies and enjoy all the joys of eternal life as promised by Jesus Himself. As Paul told the Romans:

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. – Romans 8:11 NLT

For Paul, the important matter was how you finished the race, not how you started it. Coming to faith in Christ was wonderful, but the Christian life was intended to be a journey with a final destination. The goal was to finish well. And the only way to do it was to rely upon the power of God – for daily strength, but also for discipline. “For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT). “My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT). The power of God. It guides and directs, empowers and protects, disciplines and corrects. The One who called us is powerful enough to keep us and ensure that what He began, He completes.

 

 

 

Unloved, But Undeterred.

I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps? – 2 Corinthians 12:11-18 ESV

Paul confesses that he feels like a fool. All this self-promotion is out of character for him, but he tells the Corinthians that their silence forced him to do it. They are the ones who should have been commending him. They had been the recipients of his ministry and message. They had enjoyed the benefits of his self-sacrifice and loving commitment to share the gospel with them. And as far as Paul was concerned, he had no reason to take a back seat to the “super-apostles” who were setting themselves up as his spiritual superiors. He had come to them as an apostle of Jesus Christ, armed with the gospel and backed by the power of God as revealed in the signs and wonders he had performed while among them. This had been Paul’s modus operandi everywhere he went.

Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum. – Romans 15:18-19 NLT

Paul had not short-changed the Corinthians. He had treated them the same way he had every other Gentile city he had visited. The only difference was that he had not burdened them with providing for his needs while he had ministered among them. Others had funded his ministry, and before that, he had paid his way by working as a tent maker. And yet, there were those who were accusing him of deception and craftiness, claiming that he acted as if he was sacrificing on their behalf, while hiding the fact that he was receiving outside aid. There were others who were saying that Paul had simply gotten money from them by sending his surrogates to collect it, under the guise that it was going to be used for the saints in Jerusalem. In other words, they were accusing Paul of sending Titus and others to take up a collection, all the while using that money for himself. It seems that, in the eyes of the Corinthians, Paul could do nothing right. His actions were constantly under attack and his motives were always suspect.

But Paul pledges to keep on loving and giving whether they returned the favor or not. It is his sincere desire to return to Corinth for a third time and he intends to act in the same way he always had. He will love them like a father loves his children. And while he would greatly desire that love to be reciprocal, he wasn’t going to let their lack of love prevent him from doing the will of God. He tells them, “I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15 NLT). Everything Paul had done for them, he had done out of love. He had sacrificed greatly in order that they might received the gospel. He had already written two other letters intending the encourage them in their faith and to provide them with wise counsel regarding real-life scenarios taking place in their midst. He was like a loving father, gladly providing for the needs of his children, willingly sacrificing his own needs on their behalf. And while he would have longed for them to return his love, he would not let their distrust and disloyalty sway his actions, because all his efforts were motivated by his desire to please his heavenly Father. When all was said and done, Paul was out to please God, not men. He was looking for the praise of God, not the praise of men.

Paul’s only regret was that he was having to waste time defending himself before the Corinthians. There were other pressing needs he would have preferred to address. Instead of wasting time “boasting” about his qualifications and defending his actions, he would have liked to have been helping them grow in their faith. Paul was a teacher, yet he having to spend all his time playing defense attorney. He could have given up. He could have decided enough was enough and written the Corinthians off as too stubborn and hard-headed to waste any more of his valuable time on them. But Paul was committed to their spiritual well-being. He was not content to see them languish in their faith and settle for the status quo. He was not going to allow their complacency to deter his commitment to the call of Christ on his life. He was out to make disciples, and nothing was going to stand in his way, including the false accusations of false apostles, the lack of love from those to whom he had shared the gospel, or the constant demand that he defend his actions. His attitude remained, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

Good Grief!

Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 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 7:2-9 ESV

Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians, which has long been lost. It was evidently written some time between 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, and contained some difficult topics that Paul was forced to address. In writing the letter, Paul was concerned that its tone and content would be poorly received by them. But he was encouraged to find out that, while the letter did produce grief among the Corinthians, it led to their repentance. Paul’s intentions were always for the best. He loved ministering to the churches he had help plant and he was zealous to both encourage and convict. He never meant to hurt, deceive or take advantage of anyone. Each of the letters he wrote were couched in love. Yes, they sometimes contained tough words that had a convicting influence. Paul was not one to pull punches or worry about political correctness. He could be painfully blunt and direct, speaking with “great boldness”.

Even in the midst of his trials and difficulties, Paul could find joy in knowing that the believers in Corinth had received his last letter appropriately and were responding properly. This news made the difficult circumstances he encountered in Macedonia easier to endure. He was encouraged. He was comforted. The good news he received from Titus of their longing for him, sadness at hearing of his troubles and strong desire to see him again was a boost to his system. Rather than being mad at him for his letter, they missed him.

Paul eludes to the fact that his most recent missionary journey had been anything but easy. He says, that while traveling through the region of Macedonia, “our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (2 Corinthians 7:5 ESV). He doesn’t elaborate on what kinds of struggles he encountered, but they had been enough to cause him to fear, even for his own life. Paul was used to facing opposition and found himself on more than one occasion of having to leave a city with a crowd in hot pursuit, seeking to take his life. But it was all worth it if he could see people come to faith in Christ and have the unique privilege of helping young believers grow in their faith.

That is why their positive reception of his previous letter meant so much to him. Their repentance was what his heart longed for and was the reason he had written the letter in the first place. And while he felt some regret for having had to write it in the first place, he knew that it was for their own good. “Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way” (2 Corinthians 7:9 NLT). Tough love is hard to administer and equally hard to accept. But Paul had been motivated by his love for them and his deep desire to for them to see their sin, repent of it and enjoy the restoration that God can bring.

Paul’s letter had left them feeling bad, but in the end it produced a good kind of grief – a grief that led to their repentance. The truth is, each of us as believers should long to have our sins exposed in order that we might repent of them and enjoy the forgiveness that comes with confession. The apostle John would have us remember, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NLT). But in order to confess our sins, we have to be made aware of their existence. Sometimes this happens as the result of a loving friend, who like Paul, is willing to speak truth into our lives. Other times, our sins are exposed to us through the Word of God by the Spirit of God who reside within us. And if repentance is so important to restoration, it would seem that we would want God to reveal to us any sins we are ignorant of and incapable of seeing. That is what led King David to pray…

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

The exposure of our sins, while unpleasant, is critical to our ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. Asking God to “point out anything that offends” Him is risky, but well worth it. When it comes to sin, ignorance is not bliss. It is totally untrue to assume that what we don’t know can’t hurt us. Unknown sin becomes unresolved sin. And unresolved sin leaves us in an unrepentant state. And as long as we remain unrepentant, we are unable to enjoy the full joy of our relationship with God. As Paul will elaborate on in the following verses, there really is a good grief, a godly grief that produces good results.

Make Godliness Your Goal.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

What promises? Paul has just quoted from several Old Testament passages containing the following promises from God:

I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. – Leviticus 26:12 ESV

My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. – Ezekiel 37:27 ESV

I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. – 2 Samuel 7:14 ESV

Now, he declares, with those promises in mind, what should our reaction be? How should we respond? Paul is reminding his readers that they, like the Israelites of the Old Testament, have been set apart by God. He has chosen them to be His people and has graciously agreed to be there God. He has consecrated them, set the apart from the rest of the nations, to be His own possession. As children of God, they were to live separately and distinctively. That does not mean that Christians are to live their lives in isolation or in some kind of segregated society, separated from the rest of the world. This is not a call to monastic isolationism. But it is a call to sanctification or holiness. Paul expected the believers to he was writing to live in such a way that their behavior differentiated them from the rest of the world. As Jesus prayed in the garden on the night He was betrayed, they were to be in the world, but not of it.

I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. – John 17:14-17 NLT

The promise of citizenship in God’s Kingdom was to create in them a passion to live as who God had called them to be. They were His possession and their lives were to reflect that unique privilege and totally undeserved position. They were to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit. Like a stained and soiled garment, they required removal of the impurities that accompanied their sinful flesh. Their old habits and sinful predilections had to be systematically and regularly done away with. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasized the essential nature of this ongoing cleansing of the believer’s life.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. Never harm or cheat a Christian brother in this matter by violating his wife, for the Lord avenges all such sins, as we have solemnly warned you before. God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7 NLT

The privilege of sonship carries with it responsibilities. As children of God, we are to behave in such a way that our lives honor our heavenly Father. Ongoing sin is not to be a defining characteristic of the child of God. Paul was not insinuating that Christians cannot and will not sin. He would have wholeheartedly agreed with the apostle John when he wrote:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 NLT

The presence of and potential for sin is not eliminated when we come to faith in Christ, but sin’s power over us is. We are set free from its control over us. Because of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us, we have a capability to choose righteousness over unrighteousness. We can refuse to give in to the temptations that once captivated and controlled us. 

Paul’s point in all of this is that our salvation in Christ has a second step: Our sanctification. Coming to faith in Christ is to be accompanied by our ongoing transformation into His likeness. And it is as we cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit that we experience what Paul refers to as “bringing holiness to completion.” The goal of our salvation is our ultimate glorification by God. There is a day coming when He will complete the process of renewal and reformation of our lives by giving us a new body. Sin will be completely eliminated and our transformation into the likeness of Christ will be complete. John describes that day in the following way:

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

In the meantime, while we wait for that day, we are to strive toward holiness. In order to accomplish that objective, we are required to put off our old sinful nature and put on our new nature. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to expose the sin in our lives so we can confess it and enjoy forgiveness for it. We are to flee sin and pursue righteousness.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT

Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts. – 2 Timothy 2:22 NLT

…so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.1 Timothy 6:11 NLT

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 ESV

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT

If you have been called by God to be His child, live like it. If you know the joy of having your debt to God paid for and your sins forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross, your lifestyle should reflect your gratitude and your recognition that you are a new creation with a new capacity to pursue holiness, not sinfulness. The behavior of children reflects back on their parents. Our behavior as sons and daughters of God reflects back on our heavenly Father. Our attitudes and actions should honor Him. Our behavior should bring glory to Him. It was Jesus who said, “let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:16 NLT). And it was Peter who echoed that sentiment when he wrote: “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Pursue holiness. Strive after righteousness. Make godliness your goal. For the glory of God and the good of others.

Insufficiently Sufficient.

When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:12-17 ESV

Paul seems to have felt it necessary to defend his movements since the time that he had sent his troubling letter to the Corinthians. He has already told them, “I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea” (2 Corinthians 1:15-16 ESV). He had already made one painful visit to the city of Corinth and had no desire of doing so again. “I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you” (2 Corinthians 2:1 ESV). In addition, he had been quite busy in the meantime, traveling to Troas and on to Macedonia. The Corinthians needed to understand that they were not the only fellowship for which Paul was responsible. He had many congregations over which he served as an apostle and their spiritual father. His dance card was full, so to speak. He was pulled in many different directions and always wrestling with the weight of the responsibility he felt for the spiritual well-being of the new believers who made up the churches he helped found. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he described his attitude regarding his relationship with them.

For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you. – 1 Corinthians 4:15 NLT

But at the end of the day, when all was said and done, Paul knew that his schedule was in the hands of God. He was the one leading them “in triumphal procession” as they followed the will of God and the example of Christ. There might appear to be setbacks and detours and there would most certainly be difficulties along the way, but the outcome was guaranteed to be a victorious one, because of Christ. Paul was content with being a means by which God spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere he went. Whether he ended up in Corinth, Troas, Macedonia, Asia, Palestine, Greece or Rome, it really didn’t matter. He knew that his mission remained unchanged – to share the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone with whom he came into contact.

But Paul was also painfully aware that the “fragrance” of the knowledge of Christ wasn’t always pleasant to everyone who heard it. He sadly states, “to those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom” (2 Corinthians 2:16a NLT). In his first letter, the apostle Peter refers to those who refuse to believe the gospel message as “those who do not believe” and who “stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:7-8 ESV). Because of sin, they are destined to condemnation and death – eternal separation from God. And in their condition the fragrance of the gospel comes across as a stench. It isn’t good news. As Paul wrote in his first letter, “…people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means” (1 Corinthians 2:14-15 NLT).

So what do they do? If the good news is incomprehensible to them, how do they get saved? It requires regeneration. Jesus told the Pharisee, Nicodemus, “unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3 NLT). Because of the fall, men are born spiritually dead. They are without spiritual life and condemned to remain spiritually separated from and dead to God for eternity, unless something happens to regenerate them. In his letter to Titus, Paul reminds us that God “saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NLT).  J. I. Packer describes regeneration as “the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His will.”

So until the Holy Spirit regenerates the unbeliever, opening his eyes and giving him the capacity to see and comprehend the truth of the gospel, he will find the good news onerous and odorous.

But to those who “are being saved” the gospel and those who share it are “a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:16b NLT). And while Paul feels completely inadequate for the task, he knows he is being used by God. He has been an eye-witness to the power of the gospel as exhibited in the changed lives of countless individuals who were once dead in their sins.

Paul wasn’t in it for the money. He wasn’t out to make a name for himself or build up his own reputation. He was like a captive being led in a victory parade by the victorious Christ. His place in the line had been made possible by Christ. His role in the spread of the gospel was the result of Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross. So he gladly preached the word “with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT). He had learned to go with the flow, to go where God directed him. He had learned to see apparent setbacks as nothing more than God’s orchestration of His divine will. He had learned to recognize his own weakness and God’s all-sufficient power. He was insufficiently sufficient, because he believed it when he said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). And as he would tell the Corinthians near the end of this letter, “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). As the old hymn so clearly teaches:

I am weak, but Thou are strong,

Jesus, keep me from all wrong;

I’ll be satisfied as long,

As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.

Just a closer walk with Thee,

Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Daily walking close to Thee,

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

 

 

Tough Love.

But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And 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 1:23-2:4 ESV

Even as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul did not see himself as spiritually superior to the Corinthians. He viewed himself as their ally and an asset to their spiritual development. He claims, “we work with you for your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24 ESV). He, Silas and Timothy were tools in God’s hands, used by Him to assist the Corinthians in their growth and development. And in spite of some of the issues going on within the church in Corinth, Paul still felt like they were firm in their faith. This made his decision to delay his visit, fully based on the will of God, much easier to make.

But there was another reason he postponed his visit: to keep from causing them pain and sorrow. Evidently, Paul had made a second visit to Corinth some time between his original one when he helped establish the church there. It was on this second visit that he had to deal with some particularly difficult circumstances taking place in the church. This occasion had caused great pain. Being reprimanded is never easy. And having to be the one to call them out had not been enjoyable for Paul either. So, he says, “I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2 NLT). It hurt Paul to have to reprimand those whom he loved. This reveals his pastor’s heart, his deep care and affection for the believers in Corinth. They were his children in the faith and he had a deep and abiding love for them and felt a strong sense of responsibility for them. 

Instead of paying them a potentially painful visit, Paul decided to write them a letter. “That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful” (2 Corinthians 2:3 NLT). The letter, now lost, was evidently quite blunt and caused Paul “great anguish” to write. Having to write it caused him great sorrow and left him in tears. But it was necessary and written in love. It was Paul’s hope and desire that the Corinthians would take seriously the painful rebuke and loving reprimand found in his letter and do something about it. What he had written had been for their good and he longed for them to listen to his words and change their ways. Otherwise, when he did finally visit them, it would be another painful reunion.

While Paul loved and cared for the Corinthians, he loved them too much to allow them to continue in sin. His affection for them was based on the love of Christ and his knowledge that he was responsible to God for their spiritual welfare. Paul did not enjoy or take pleasure in hurting them. He simply wanted to see them enjoy all that God had in store for them, made possible by the death of Christ on the cross. Later on in this letter, Paul gives them an explanation for the harsh nature of his previous letter.

I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NLT

Paul found joy in their repentance, not in their happiness. To refrain from telling someone the truth just because you don’t want to cause them pain is not love. It is a twisted form of hate. To knowingly allow them to continue in sin is cruel and makes you an accomplice in their sin. You are actually enabling their sinful behavior through you silence. Too often, as Christians, our fear of losing face or friends keeps us from saying what needs to be sad. But Paul believed that holiness was far more important than happiness. Our love for one another is best expressed in our unwillingness to tolerate sin in one another’s lives. Which is why Paul told the Colossian believers: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16 ESV). Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3 ESV). Solomon wrote, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:3 ESV). David wrote, “Let the godly strike me! It will be a kindness! If they correct me, it is soothing medicine. Don’t let me refuse it” (Psalm 141:5 NLT).

Tough love is tough to pull off. It is difficult to confront those whom we love. It caused Paul pain to say what he had to say to the Corinthians. But it was necessary. It was the godly thing to do. He told the Corinthians that he wrote the previous letter “to let you know how much love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4 NLT). When we care for another believer’s holiness more than we do their happiness, we truly love them. When we’re willing to risk their rejection in order to bring about their repentance, we truly love them. When their relationship with God takes precedence over their friendship with us, we truly love them. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

 

 

When God’s Will Isn’t Ours.

Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 2 Corinthians 2:15-22 ESV

When reading any book in the Bible, but especially the pastoral letters, it is important to recognize that there was an original audience to whom the letters were written. That means there was a particular context which drove the content of the letter. That is the case with our text for today. Paul was addressing an issue that unique to he and his audience in Corinth. In his previous letter to the church there, he had told them that he had planned to come and see them.

I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. – 1 Corinthians 16:5-7 ESV

Evidently Paul’s plans had changed and he was not able to follow through on his plans. The result was that there were those in Corinth who began to question his word. So on top of having to deal with a faction in the church who were questioning the validity of his apostleship and therefore, his authority, he was now having to defend his integrity.

Paul wanted them to know that he had been sincere when he told them he was going to visit them. In fact, twice in this passage he claims that his intentions had been to go to Corinth.  “I wanted to come to you first” 2 Corinthians 1:15 ESV). I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 1:16 ESV). But his plans had changed. His agenda had been altered by God. We can read in the book of Acts that it was not uncommon for Paul’s plans to be impacted by the Spirit of God.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. – Acts 16:6-8 NLT

Paul was a servant of God and as such, he was obligated to do what God wanted him to do. His plans were subservient to those of God. And yet, the Corinthians were viewing his failure to visit them as vacillation or, even worse, disingenuousness. So Paul asks them, “You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say ‘Yes’ when they really mean ‘No’?” (2 Corinthians 1:17 NLT). Paul insists that his failure to come to see them has nothing to do with vacillation, but everything to do with submission to the will of God. In fact, he claims that he, Silas and Timothy were simply being faithful to what God was calling them to do, just as Christ was faithful to do the will of His Father. Paul’s point seems to be that his will and desires were completely subservient to the will of God. He was completely obligated to do what God wanted him to do, even when it was in direct conflict with his own well-intentioned desires. 

In essence, Paul is boldly claiming that to question his integrity and faithfulness was to question the very will of God. He was simply doing what God was telling him to do, and God is always faithful. His yes is yes and His no is no. He doesn’t lie. His word can be trusted. And because Paul was doing the will of God, the Corinthians were essentially questioning the integrity of God and His Son. In fact, Paul states, “For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says” (2 Corinthians 1:19 NLT). The bottom line for Paul was that Jesus was the ultimate “Yes” from God. He was the unquestioned expression of God’s faithfulness because through Him all the promises of God had been fulfilled. This wasn’t about Paul keeping his word, but about God keeping His. It was about the gospel and the spread of it throughout the known world. That was Paul’s duty and responsibility and in doing his job, if it meant that his own will had to take a back seat, he was okay with that. And the Corinthians needed to be so as well. Their unmet expectations had to take second place to God’s divine plan. God’s will took precedence over their personal and somewhat petty disappointments.

Rather than being put out with Paul, they needed to remember what God had done for them. As much as they may have desired to see Paul and were disappointed that he had failed to keep his word, they needed to recall that God’s promise was unbreakable and Paul had been the one to bring it to them. 

It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT

People will let us down, but God never will. Even faithful believers, who are committed to and bound by the sovereign will of God, will occasionally disappoint us. But we must remember that God’s word is always reliable and the fulfillment of His will is unstoppable. What appear to be setbacks from our perspective are simply God’s will being done in ways that we can’t understand. What come across as disappointments or delays are nothing more than the will of God conflicting with our own desires. Paul was disappointed that he had not been able to make it to Corinth. But he knew that God’s will was better than his own. He had plans and aspirations, but he knew that God’s plans were superior to His own. We can know we’re learning to trust God when we find ourselves gladly submitting our will to His, displaying dependence rather than disappointment.

 

Comfort and Affliction.

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.