The God of All Comfort
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God (2 Cor. 1:34).
There is no life which is exempt from pain, adversity, and stress. All of mankind finds the need for comfort at one time or another. This passage reminds us that God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
Paul had just recently survived circumstances which gave him the experience to know that God indeed comforts man. He described his plight saying, "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. 1:89). Exactly what those circumstances were is unclear.
Earlier he told the Corinthians that he "fought wild beasts at Ephesus" (1 Cor. 15:32), although commentators are divided over whether those "wild beasts" were literal beasts or a figurative description of wicked men (such as those who organized the mob at Ephesus, Acts 19:23-20:1). Others think that the problem which Paul had recently overcome was a physical illness which brought him to death's door before the Lord rescued him.
Man's body does wear out and become weak. Many very active men find accepting their physical debilities very difficult. A man's spirit wants to go and do but his body cannot respond; this leads to depression. The Scriptures record Paul to have said, "But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). Our outward man will experience this aging process which weakens us.
We should not despair as we face the sufferings of old age. We can learn a lesson about old age from nature. Henry Ward Beecher remarked,
Autumnal days are the most beautiful days of the year, and they ought to be the most beautiful days in a man's life. In October things do not grow any more, they ripen, they fulfil the destiny of the summer, and the thought of autumn is that it is going down, going forth. When all things in nature know and feel that death is coming near, do they sheet themselves in black as pagan Christians do? They cry: "Bring forth our royal garments," and the oak puts on the habiliments of beauty, and all the herbs of the field turn to scarlet and yellow and every color that is most precious; and the whole month of autumn goes tramping towards death, glowing and glorious (Great Texts of the Bible: 2 Corinthians 10).
As the autumn years approach for us, let us remember that "now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Rom. 13:11). Like the runner who is nearing the finish line in the race, let us look forward to the victor's crown.
God's Words of Comfort
God's words of comfort sustain us through adversity and conflict. Paul tells us that God is the source of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Here are some of his words of comfort:
1. God is ever present to sustain us through the adversity. The psalmist David said, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psa. 23:4). God promised, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:5-6).
In writing of God's sustaining of William Cowper the poet, Joseph Larson said, "It was William Cowper on his way in a cab to the Thames River to commit suicide, who, when the driver could not find it for the dense fog, returned to his house and thanking God for the fog, wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps on the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his works in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
God saved this poet from despair of melancholia and he lived to write, 'There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,' 'O For a Closer Walk With God,' and 'Prayer,' and other famous selections in our hymnals" (Christian Comfort 9).
2. The time of suffering is relatively short-lived. One reminded me that one of the most important statements in the Bible is "it came to pass." Hard times do not last forever. The psalmist wrote, "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psa. 30:5).
3. There is hope for man beyond earth life. Paul wrote, "For which cause we faint not; b~.it though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
4. Earth things are relatively unimportant. Jesus taught us that spiritual matters are more important than temporal things. Many of those things which give us stress are relatively unimportant. What difference will these things which trouble me make 200 years from now? The only thing which will matter is whether or not I have obeyed the gospel and kept God's commandments.
These comforting words of Scripture do help sustain us through the adversities of life.
Sufferings Drive Us To Trust In God
Paul said, "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9). Adversity drives us away from our arrogant self-reliance to trust in God. Many a person has resolved in a time of personal crisis to devote himself to the service of the Lord. That which produces such a result cannot be all bad.
The only gospel to the poor and unfortunate, we are told, is the gospel of better wages, better homes, less work and more play. But there is more than that, and we simply rely on the evidence of the fact when we say that in the circle of each one of us some of the noblest and strongest characters we have known have been the product of very hard and, as it seemed, very cruel circumstances. These men were strengthened to serve by these circumstances.
Comforted to Comfort
Those who have received the Lord's comfort become his agents to administer that comfort to others. God has "comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Cor. 1:5). Those who have experienced sufferings are most qualified to comfort those who are enduring it. R. Tuck wrote,
The unstricken can find beautiful words, and be truly sincere as they utter them. But the stricken ones can express unutterable things in silence and look. Send the long-widowed woman to cheer the newly widowed. Send the mother who has children in heaven to comfort the mother who sits so still, with broken heart, bending over the baby's coffin. The plant of healing sympathies grows and blossoms and fruitens out of our very wounds and tears and deaths. Then it will but be reasonable to expect that, if God has high places of work for us, and valuable influence for us to exert, he will need to bring us through great and sore troubles (The Pulpit Commentary: 2 Corinthians 31).
We are the Lord's agents to administer his comfort just as he are his agents to carry the message of his salvation to others.
The poet Lula Klingman Zahn wrote the song "There Is A Sea" in which she compared the two seas - the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea - to two different attitudes toward life. The Sea of Galilee is fed by the streams from the north which empty into that body of water; it empties into the Jordan River which waters the valley southward. In contrast the Dead Sea which receives the Jordan River does not empty into anything. It is so full of brine that nothing can live in it. The poet therefore wrote,
There is a sea which day by day
Receives the rippling rills.
And streams that spring from wells of God
Or fall from cedared hills;
But what it thus receives it gives
With glad unsparing hand:
A stream more wide, with deeper tide,
Flows on to lower land.
There is a sea which day by day
Receives a fuller tide;
But all its store it keeps, nor gives
To shore nor sea beside;
It's Jordan stream, now turned to brine,
Lies heavy as molten lead
Its dreadful name doth e'er proclaim
That sea is waste and dead.
Which shall it be for you and me,
Who God's good gifts obtain?
Shall we accept for self alone,
Or take to give again?
For he who once was rich indeed
Laid all his glory down;
That by his grace, our ransomed race
Should share his wealth and crown.
We who are Christians have been comforted in order to comfort others. Let us take the healing and comforting words of God to those who need his comfort.
Those Who Suffer Teach Us
Some of life's greatest lessons are taught by those who are experiencing suffering and who never say a word. "A father tries to teach his little son self-restraint, but it is a long task. One day that father's pride and indignation are touched to the quick, and the boy looks on and sees the inward conflict, and that a strong hand is laid on the rising anger, and the evil conquered. He has learnt the lesson; the father's sanctified suffering has taught what self-restraint is, when nothing else could. A mother tries in vain to make her child know what patience is. After a time she is in trouble, in which nothing is harder than to 'stand still and see the salvation of God.' But she does stand still, and in her trustful waiting she has taught what words could not. . . . Sufferers little know how much they are doing for the Master and His word! For myself I have learnt many of my best lessons in sick rooms where they thanked me for going, as though they were the gainers, and not I" (Great Texts of the Bible: 2 Corinthians 23).
Let us resolve to learn the lessons of suffering and then use the comfort with which God comforted us to help others who are walking through the storm and darkness.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 23, pp. 706, 725-726