In reading through the Bible the other day, I came across this peculiar passage.
This is the very first thing Paul says to the Corinthian church in his second letter to them. He wrote the following:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
It’s interesting to see these two things put together like that. After all, no two aspects could be more opposite than suffering and comfort. Yet, according to Scripture, there is a profound connection between the suffering and comfort of a Christian.
I was at first reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 8:16-17, which tell us that we share an inheritance with Christ if we also share in his sufferings. You can make that connection with verse 5 of our main text. It seems that Paul is continuing the notion that Christians will, in fact, suffer. This isn’t a popular thing to discuss nowadays, yet the Bible mentions it a good bit, so we have to deal with it. In this passage, Paul joins suffering and comfort together as two common realities of the Christian life. This leads us to the primary question of this text: How can any comfort be found in suffering? In order to answer that question, we need to examine its parts.
What is meant by suffering?
When the Word uses the term “suffering,” it is not referring to just any kind of suffering, but that which is distinctly Christian. In order to describe Christian suffering, we must understand that it is multifaceted, meaning, it takes on many forms. We also need to understand that just because something bad or negative has occurred, it does not mean that you are experiencing Christian suffering.
Christian suffering is that which the believer endures in their pursuit of Christ and in their work for the Gospel. We can find no better example of Christian suffering than the very person who penned the words of our text: the Apostle Paul. His life was marked by suffering. So much, in fact, that his detractors attempted to use it as evidence to prove that Paul was not called of God. That’s actually what quite a bit of 2 Corinthians is about.
Instead of countering this claim with another, Paul simply turned this objection on its head. He turned his sufferings into a badge of authority in Christ. He had endured suffering, just as Christ has said His followers would. Suffering was undeniable proof of Paul’s apostleship. He faced riots, stonings, shipwrecks, sickness, and other maladies and forms of persecution. It could be argued that no one else suffered for the sake of Christ like Paul.
So, looking at Paul and the other apostles, and seeing that they suffered greatly in pursuit of Christ, it is safe to say that suffering will mark the life of a Christian. But how does comfort play into all of this?
What is meant by comfort?
Clearly, we aren’t speaking of ordinary comfort. Paul is not saying that some suffer so others can take a nap or get into some comfortable position. We don’t get to excuse ourselves from the work if someone is suffering. We don’t get to stop and put our feet up.
No, what is meant here is a type of strength and encouragement to continue the work that was started. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “the Comforter.” As you may well know, the Spirit doesn’t come to us and give us a blanket and a pillow and put on our favorite movie. He doesn’t make us comfortable, but we are comforted by Him. He gives us a renewed strength to face what we need to. He comes to us and grants peace and many of the fruits of the Spirit. So, if we are being comforted, it’s not on a TemperPedic mattress. It is through strength and encouragement brought to us by the Holy Spirit.
So, then, how can any comfort be found in suffering?
We find the definite answer in verses 6 and 7 of our main text. Reading those verses suggest that Christians will pass back and forth between the realities of suffering and comfort. Seeing some suffering for the faith encourages other Christians, knowing that suffering does in fact mark the life of a Christian. Then, when we ourselves go through suffering, it is our suffering that will encourage others, and we will draw comfort from those who are being comforted and from our own past experiences of comfort.
So, whether you are in comfort or in suffering, know that it isn’t unique to you. God has said in His Word to expect these things and that they are for the benefit of all. Suffering doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It may very well mean the opposite. With this know that where suffering is, comfort is not far behind.