Paul wrote about suffering, and he wrote about comfort. And one of the interesting things about this passage is that Paul attributed both of them – suffering and comfort – to God.
“So as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”
The sufferings that Christ endured were sufferings Paul and the apostles shared as well. The sufferings of Christ included rejection by his own people, betrayal and abandonment by his followers, and a body subject to injury and death. Paul and the apostles were sharing abundantly in those sufferings.
Indeed, Paul wrote that in Asia he was so utterly burdened he despaired even of life itself. It was like he’d been given a death sentence. Those were sufferings and tribulations that overflowed from the sufferings and tribulations of Jesus Christ.
But just as Paul could attribute his sufferings to Christ, so could he attribute the comfort he received in the midst of those sufferings. God “comforts us in all our affliction,” Paul wrote. God, after all, is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
Paul went a step even further in this chapter by connecting the sufferings that overflowed from Christ to the comfort that came from God. Paul wrote, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
Afflictions and burdens and sufferings leave us in a place of death. Paul called it “deadly peril.” And the end result, for the Christian, is a greater reliance on the God who raises the dead – and the God who also raises those who are as good as dead.
And so 2 Corinthians 1 is about suffering and comfort and a kind of interplay that exists between the two. A Christian inevitably is going to undergo suffering, and a Christian in those moments will learn ever more clearly how to lean into the comfort and mercy of God.
And the Christian learns in the midst of this to set his or her hope on God – that God will deliver us.
With all of that said, we ought not to forget Paul was writing this in a letter to a church. He was writing it to a group of believers in ancient Corinth, a group of believers who seemed to have some sort of a bone to pick with Paul.
Paul seemed to be defending himself. Indeed, many Bible readers over the years have noticed Paul was writing about comfort and suffering even as he was trying to repair what seemed to be a fractured relationship with the church in Corinth.
We know from his first letter to the Corinthian church that there was much amiss in that congregation. They were a people who had been proud of their spirituality and lax in their morality and askew in their thinking about the resurrection. And Paul was trying to help them.
And at the point of this letter, as we will see as we continue reading, the Corinthian Christians had come into contact with some new teachers who may have been casting doubt on the apostleship of Paul. Some questioned him. Was Paul all that he seemed to be?
And so Paul wrote, “we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” And Paul assured the church that a recent change in his travel plans wasn’t because he was a worldly thinker but because he did what he thought was best for the church in Corinth. “Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh … ?” Paul asked. No, he said, “it was to spare you. … we work with you for your joy.”
Like in so many passages from these two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth, we learn here about what it’s like really to live as members of God’s church. Suffering and comfort are a part of the picture. Later, Paul would say his most recent visit to the church was “painful.”
No one should say that growing up in Christ is easy. There are growing pains. Like a restless teenager, sometimes our bones and our muscles simply ache with new growth in our faith. And the church is the seedbed for this suffering. We learn and are chastised, and we begin to question those in authority. And sometimes love grows cold and pride grows hot. And we invent new ways to create divisions among each other or between ourselves and our teachers.
And Paul talked about suffering in Asia as he underwent persecution from nonbelievers, and then he talked about suffering in Corinth as he navigated misunderstandings and distrust by the very people he guided into the kingdom of God. Suffering came to Paul both from outside and inside the church.
Suffering is part of the picture of life as a Christian – and of life in the church. And so is comfort. And Paul was leaning into God in this newest piece of suffering within the church as he grappled with the unfounded suspicions of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was trusting they would see things aright.
“I hope you will fully understand – just as you did partially understand us – that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.”
I sense one point here emerging above the others for us to remember. We suffer together as a church, and we are comforted together as a church. And in the end, we will boast together in each other. The church in Corinth would boast in Paul, and Paul would boast in the church.
As a church, we never ought to be divided. Each should seek the good of the other. Each should hope every suffering will meet with ample comfort. Paul already had written, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
This passage is about suffering and comfort and the superintendence of God over both. And it’s about the church.
I wonder sometimes whether one of the chief purposes of the church is to be a school of Christlikeness for each of us. I wonder whether our lives in the church – with all the things we like and don’t like, and the people who comfort us and who cause us to lose our patience – I wonder whether our lives in the church simply are training us to be like Christ.
I wonder – if we stick it out and if we endure and if we don’t quit – whether a long life in a God-fearing church is the most important investment we can make in life.
We endure the suffering and learn to rely not on ourselves but on God. Paul wrote, “I hope you will fully understand.” I hope, in the end, we will.