Summary: Paul shares with the Corinthian believers the blessing he has known from the God of all Comfort, telling them that the Triune God is its Source and Supply, and having received it we should be Sharing it with others.
THE MINISTRY OF COMFORT
One of the hal1marks of a true Christian is that he or she can praise God even in times of adversity. This is illustrated no better than in the life of the Apostle Paul. It’s a keynote of his second letter to the church at Corinth. In the opening verses he delivers a great doxology or thanksgiving to God: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (1:3-5).
The Corinthians were quick to believe and to evangelise but they were slow to develop. They were Paul’s children in the faith, and like most children, they brought caused him heartache as well as joy. In reading Paul’s letters to them it’s like eavesdropping on someone else’s private correspondence. I suppose that all of us at some time or other have wished we might have been "a fly on the wall" to witness what went on in a meeting we weren’t permitted to attend. Well, it would have been fascinating to have been present as Paul discussed the situation at Corinth with Timothy his younger colleague, and especially with Titus when he reported back to the Apostle on the state of the church as he’d found it. No-where does Paul open his heart to his readers so completely as he does so in his letter.
News had reached Paul of the mixed reception of his first letter. There were those Christians at Corinth, a majority of the church, who had genuinely repented of sin, sadly present in the church and had dealt with it thoroughly, but there was a minority who challenged Paul’s authority, suspected his motives, and even questioned the validity of his ministry. A fly on the wall of Paul’s study would have witnessed a disappointed and hurt pastor. Paul refers to the episode as a "painful" one but the message that shines through is his resilience, his ability to bounce back. Later on in the letter he was to write in utter frankness of the fierceness of the spiritual battle which spilled out into his physical life as well: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed" (4:8,9).
Someone has summarised the experience Paul had as "blessings out of buffetings". He had a strength that went beyond his own resources. What was his secret? It was his inner relationship with God. That’s why in even the most trying circumstances he could lift up his heart in praise to God. The
word "comfort" is repeated five times and so it was full of meaning to him. We can think of it in terms of the:
SOURCE OF OUR COMFORT
When a Christian is in trouble and distressed, when he or she is experiencing heartbreak of one kind or another, from where does true comfort come? Is it from the enjoyment of privilege or position or possessions? No it’s not. When real comfort is needed, these things count for little. The Apostle tells us that the source of true comfort is God. He’s "the Father of compassion and God of all comfort." God himself is our comforter, and there’s no comfort apart from him. How very wonderful this is. When the Christian is troubled and tried, God himself - the triune God - comes and stands by him. God is revealed in the Scriptures in three persons and all three are described as being engaged in this ministry of comfort.
When it comes to the vital role of comforting and sustaining the people of God, Paul sees God not only as our creator, but also as "our Father". The term "Father" shows a more intimate and tender relation-ship. Jesus spoke of the Father as knowing what our needs are (Matt 6:32), while the Psalmist confirms, just "as a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him" (103:13).
Paul describes him as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Until Jesus came in the flesh God’s revelation of himself was incomplete and hard to understand, but now we know God as he’s disclosed in his Son. Jesus told Philip, "anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Paul was writing to the Corinthian believers probably not more than 20 years after the ministry of Jesus. They would have a rich collection of the stories of Jesus’ actions on Earth, of his ministry of healing and deliverance. They would have many examples of his tender, loving, compassionate, sympathetic, acts to those in need, of how he was always ready to stand by those in trouble.