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. 2 Corinthians 1.3-4.
Paul had just been through a time of such extreme hardship and difficulty in Asia that he had despaired of getting out alive (2 Corinthians 1.9-10) yet in that time of extreme trial (he doesn’t tell us what it was) he had discovered the “comfort” of God the Father.
“Comfort” is paraklesis in the Greek text, and its root is found in verb and noun forms ten times in these two and the next three verses. The two elements of the root are “called” (the verb is kaleo) and “alongside” (para)” so that “to comfort” means to come to the aid of someone who is in difficulty or danger and to be their helper and encourager and the one who stands by them. Likewise, “comfort” meams the support and encouragement and help that the one who comes to you in your difficulty brings to you. (In a legal context, the words have to do with “advocacy” but that is not their sense here.) In The Message paraphrase of the second of our two verses, Eugene Peterson catches it very well: “God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
Whenever I see the word “comfort”, I am, of course, always transported back to the Last Supper and hear Jesus saying, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor (“Comforter”) to be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14.16-18). There, the one who will not only be alongside but within all Christians in all the dangers and difficulties and hardships of their journey is the Holy Spirit … and he is Jesus’ alter ego; in those words from John 14, “he” and “I” are one and the same. The Spirit will ensure that it will always be for us as it was with the Twelve — we will always have Jesus to turn to. If we listen, we will always be able to hear his “comfortable words”.* And it is that same Spirit (who is also the Father’s alter ego) who has now come to the help of Paul in his trials in Asia and sustained him, strengthened him, encouraged him, come to his aid and rescued him.
But why? Paul supplies the answer in these verses. It was so that he could be a channel of that same strength, encouragement, help and deliverance to others … So that he could “be there” for others just as God “was there” for him.
And that must be where I end up in thinking about these verses this morning. God has been my comforter so many, many times. He has seen me through so many difficulties and disasters. And now part of my calling is to be such a comforter to others. I find that as a real encouragement today for I have just committed myself to follow what I believe is God’s prompting to train as a “money coach” for Christians Against Poverty (CAP) — someone who will “get alongside” and help and advise those in debt and financial difficulty.
Come down, O love divine,
seek Thou this soul of mine
and visit it with Thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.
* Note: In the Order of Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer that was used in the Church of England (and still is in some congregations) we are urged to “Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him”.