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Comforting Each Other -- II Corinthians 1:1-7

I have always thought of the Apostle Paul as a stern, hard person who laid out a lot of rules and didn't experience a lot of emotions.  Of course, he explained a lot of doctrine to us, but that just confirmed in my mind that he was somehow above and beyond the messiness of life that most of us experience.  He was somehow able to cope with all the hardships he faced in victorious ways that the rest of us can never hope to achieve.  

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But I've been spending a lot of time in II Corinthians and am learning to see Paul in a new way.  He very much struggled with his emotions.  He actually wanted to be liked and respected.  He despaired of life and was very discouraged and depressed at times.  This letter is very personal and helps us see Paul as just an ordinary man fully devoted to the gospel rather than some sort of super saint who found it easy to face hardship and to be a good Christian and who expected the same of others.  No, Paul knows first hand what it is like to struggle in the Christian life and II Corinthians really helps us see into his heart.

I will be doing a few blogs about what I'm learning in II Corinthians.  I hesitate to do yet another devotional type of blog, but this is what I'm learning and the process of putting it into words is helpful to me whether or not anybody else reads this.

I am also reading a book called Paul for Everyone:  II Corinthians by N.T. Wright, which I highly recommend.  Rev. Wright is able to take you deep into the Word of God while keeping it simple to understand.

II Corinthians starts out by talking about the God of all comfort.  The word comfort is used in 10 times in the first seven verses of II Corinthians.  

The dictionary defines comfort as 

a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.
"room for four people to travel in comfort"
the easing or alleviation of a person's feelings of grief or distress.
"a few words of comfort"
ease the grief or distress of; console.
"she broke down in tears and her friend tried to comfort her"
I often think of comfort as being without pain or discomfort.  But the word in the Greek, as used in this passage,  is the idea of calling someone to come near.  It is the idea of:

  • being with another person 
  • speaking words that change another's mood and situation
  • giving courage, new hope, new direction, new insights
  • meeting people where they are and helping them be strong enough to see new hope, new possibilities, and new ways forward  (NT Wright)
One of the things I don't like about the culture we work with in Niger is that during times of grief people are not allowed to cry or carry on.  Instead they must show strength and acceptance.  But one thing they do so very well during times of grief and hardship is come near, to come along side, to give comfort.  For three days friends and relatives come and sit with the family.  They tell stories of the person's life and of how they died.  Friends and family add their stories.  People bring meals, do laundry, and just live alongside the person who is grieving.  This is the comfort Paul is talking about.  Coming alongside others and living their life with them.

Living in community

Comfort is so much more than just patting somebody on the back, giving them a quick hug, or quoting a verse to them.  All of those things will be involved in comforting, but it really means I must walk with people and to be with them during their hard times.  It means having to leave my comfortable routine and it means getting involved in other people's messy emotions. It will be exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally.  One of the hardest parts of comforting others is that I want to make things better and after all the energy I spend in comforting somebody, it might still not be better for them.

As we go through II Corinthians, we see how much Paul was in need of comfort.  But Paul tells us that knowing how to comfort others is learned from the comfort we receive from others and from our Father.  This passage also gives some practical ways we can comfort others:
  • Simply share your story of how I came through a difficult time.
  • Let Christ overflow from my life to others.
  • Tell others my experiences of suffering, but be empathetic.  Their experience is not the same as my experience.
  • Pray for and with that person.
  • Give thanks for answered prayers.
  • Encourage continued holy and sincere living, even in suffering.
  • Focus on God's grace.
  • Remember with them that we are owned and loved by the Father and He guarantees that some day the world will be set right.
  • Stand firm in faith.

I'd like to learn from you, too.  In what ways have you been comforted?

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