Pop quiz: what’s the major theme of the passage from Paul below?
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! He is the compassionate Father and God of all comfort. He’s the one who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort other people who are in every kind of trouble. We offer the same comfort that we ourselves received from God. That is because we receive so much comfort through Christ in the same way that we share so many of Christ’s sufferings. So if we have trouble, it is to bring you comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is to bring you comfort from the experience of endurance while you go through the same sufferings that we also suffer. Our hope for you is certain, because we know that as you are partners in suffering, so also you are partners in comfort. (2 Cor 1:3-7, CEB)
Not exactly a difficult question, right?
“Comfort”: in this short passage, Paul uses some form of the word 10 times (though only 9 in this English translation). That’s more than anywhere else in the New Testament; it’s almost as if, once he gets going, Paul can’t stop talking about it. The root word literally pictures a person being called to your side, to console, to encourage, to pray — even to act as your defense attorney.
And here, it is God himself who comforts.
For someone raised as a devout Jew as Paul was, the word has deep significance: it heralds the coming of God’s comfort through the Messiah. “Comfort my people!” God declares through the prophet Isaiah (40:1), in a chapter replete with images familiar to New Testament readers. The Messiah comes to comfort those who mourn (Isa 61:2; see also Matt 5:4; Luke 4:16-21), with the good news of the end of exile and captivity, the return of divine favor.
Small wonder that as an apostle of the Messiah, Paul breaks out in praise: “May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed!” His words echo a benediction that would have been heard in the synagogue, blessing God as the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — but Paul, of course, co-opts the wording to proclaim the coming of God’s messianic and comforting presence through Jesus.
In the previous post, we looked at Paul’s account of what he had already suffered for the gospel. This is a controversial subject to bring up with the Corinthians; their perspective, apparently, was that his sufferings discredited his claim to be an apostle.
But that’s precisely why Paul must deal with the issue up front. To share in the work of the gospel doesn’t mean a life of ease or unending favor and success; it means to share the sufferings of Christ. But to share in such suffering also invokes the promise of divine comfort, a comfort which Paul has already experienced. “God rescued us from a terrible death, and he will rescue us,” Paul declares confidently. “We have set our hope on him that he will rescue us again” (2 Cor 1:10, CEB).
Again, we can’t be certain what incident Paul refers to here. No matter. It’s enough that in the face of death, he learned to put his hope in a God of resurrection (2 Cor 1:9). And just as God had come alongside to comfort Paul in his suffering, so too does Paul come alongside to comfort the Corinthians in their suffering.
More on that in the next post.