2 Corinthians 1:3-7
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. 
In his commentary on 2nd Corinthians, R. Kent Hughes tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and neo-orthodox theologian imprisoned by the Nazis for his opposition to Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s book, Letters from Prison, became a bestseller after World War II following Bonhoeffer’s execution in 1945. Among the letters is a poem written to his fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer. The third stanza of the poem is famous for its poignancy:
Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
Even to the dregs of pain,
At thy command, we will not falter,
Thankfully receiving all that is given
By thy loving hand.
Eighteen years later in America, when another bride to be who was mourning the death of her fiancé, she found great comfort in Bonhoeffer’s poem. She shared the poem with the parents of her deceased fiancé, one of whom was author Joseph Bayly who wrote a book of poetry entitled Heaven. Twelve years later, Bayly got a letter from a pastor friend in Massachusetts telling how his friend had shared Bailey’s book of poetry with a terminally-ill woman who stayed up all night reading the book and received great comfort from it. She died a few hours after she finished the book. That woman was Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller, Bonhoeffer’s fiancé from three decades earlier.
The point of the illustration is that God’s comfort circulates among his children, sometimes even coming full circle as it did from Bonhoeffer to his fiancé, to another grieving young woman in America, to the author Joseph Bayly, and back to Bonhoeffer’s one-time fiancé in her dying hours. Our text this morning shows this wonderful cyclical nature of mutual, overflowing comfort.
These five verses provide one of the bible’s greatest texts on comfort. the word “comfort” is found 10 times in both its noun and verb forms in this short paragraph. It forms 1/3 of all the 31 appearances of the word “comfort” in the New Testament. Paul writes more about suffering and comfort than any other writer in the entire Bible. It is here that he writes the most about this topic.
Paul writes about comfort in response to his critics in Corinth who claimed that suffering was evidence that Paul was not an apostle. If he was an apostle, they argued, he would not be experiencing so much trouble. God would be “blessing” Paul’s ministry. The apostle’s answer was that great suffering and great comfort are in fact signs of Apostolic authenticity and blessing.
CELEBRATING THE GOD OF COMFORT (1:3)
Paul recasts the traditional opening words of the synagogue blessing in Christian terms to celebrate God as the God of all comfort: “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort….” “This is the first occasion within Paul’s (extant) letters that he has adapted the synagogue liturgy in this way, and it may reflect his response to the Judaizing pressure evident at Corinth at that time (cf. 11:22, 31).”
The first of the nineteen synagogue benedictions then in use began, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob. . ..” Paul takes it and identifies “the God of our fathers” as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” thus testifying to the dramatic revelation of Christ to him on the Damascus Road and his radical conversion. This Christianized Jewish blessing is original here in 2 Corinthians and appears also verbatim in Romans, Ephesians, and 1 Peter. …It was of the utmost importance for the apostle to establish in no uncertain terms that the God of Israel’s patriarchs was the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the synagogue prayers in Paul’s day described God as “The Father of Mercies.” Paul enlarged the title to include “and God of all comfort” (v. 3). Paul adds this title because chapters 40 through 66 of Isaiah repeatedly emphasize the comfort, or consolation, of the Messianic Age. Isaiah 40 opens with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem….” The final chapter, 66, says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13). In his gospel account, Luke draws attention to devout Israelites, including Simeon and Anna, who were “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk. 2:25). Luke’s point was that the Messianic Age had arrived with salvation and comfort. It was and is only through Messiah Jesus that the comfort of God comes.
In our text, the word “comfort” means to encourage, to stand with another as that one endures God’s hard training. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that our merciful Father is the author of ALL possible comfort and consolation. Apart from him, there is no true, lasting comfort. Circumstances can never produce enduring comfort. Circumstances are not the source of comfort. The source of true comfort can only be the God of all comfort (v.3).
To explain God’s comfort, Paul began with the celebration of it. Now, he moves on to describe his apostolic experience of God’s comfort in verses 4-5.
EXPERIENCING GOD’S COMFORT (4, 5)
First, we need to understand that Paul is referring to his own experience alone. His use of the plural “we” and “us” is what is sometimes called the “apostolic we.” That distinction becomes clear in verses 6 and 7 where there is a contrast between the apostolic “we” and the Corinthians, addressed as “you (all).” “We/us” is a pleural reference to Paul in his apostolic office as a representative of God in Messiah Jesus. It is Paul’s up-front reminder to the Corinthians that he speaks for Christ Jesus.
In verse 4, Paul describes his own experience of Godly comfort and how he passes on that 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.” Paul’s afflictions are well documented later in this letter. He suffered cold, nakedness, beatings, imprisonments, criminal assaults, shipwrecks, betrayal, desolation, desertion and more. His was a life a perpetual death. “For we who live or always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake” (4:11a). Yet, he found that God comforted him in all his afflictions. Not some, but ALL!
Each and every one of Paul’s miseries was comforted. Every jail and prison in which Paul was left in Asia minor, in Greece, in Israel, and in Rome’s dark imperial dungeon were venues of God’s comfort. All of the five instances where Paul received deeply-wounding lashes, and through the torturous days of healing that followed each of the five beatings, he experienced the comfort of God. When he was stoned to the point of death in Lystra, he experienced the comfort of God.
Adrift on the high seas three times, he knew the comfort of God each time. When he was endangered by flooding rivers, endangered by robbers, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, in danger from false brothers – in all these terrible situations he received God’s comfort. Paul always experienced God’s comfort. Never once was he without the comfort of God.
As a result of Paul’s outward misery and inward peace, he was able to comfort those “in any affliction” and he did so because he himself had been comforted by God. How did Paul comfort others? He did so by his example as they observed his attitude in and through and after his sufferings. He comforted others through his prayers. He comforted others with words of comfort, graced with Apostolic authority in power, so that God’s comfort was administered through him.
Affliction was the key to Paul’s effectiveness in ministry, and affliction is the key to effective ministry for us today. That is as upside down a concept for us today as it was for the congregation in Paul’s day. It certainly runs counter to “health and wealth” theology that believes affliction is evidence of personal sin or deficient faith, while sleekness and ease are clear evidence of divine blessing. The Corinthians and the Judaizers among them were “health and wealth” theologians.
Afflictions are friends to authenticity and effectiveness. God’s comfort does not end in the one who receives it. As Bishop Paul Barnett writes in his commentary:
The corporate character of the messianic fellowship (= those who are “in Christ”) clearly emerges from this. God comforted Paul by Titus, who had been comforted by the Corinthians (7:6–7), enabling Paul in turn (by means of these words in this letter) to comfort the Corinthians—and indeed members of other churches—with the comfort of God. The Corinthians had sustained pain through Paul’s “Severe Letter” to them (7:7–11); now he comforts them. Thus God’s “comfort” comes full circle among his people. The closeness and reciprocity of fellowship within, and between, congregations as expressed here by Paul is rather pointed, given the Corinthians’ coolness to him at that time. It also calls into question the individualism of modern Christianity and the sense of remoteness within and among many contemporary churches.
This is something of what Maria von Wedemeyer-Weller experienced from Bonhoeffer to her, to another grieving young woman, to the Baylys, and back again to her. The circle began with the experience of affliction and God’s comfort overflowing to the comforted.
Verse 5 gives the reason why suffering equipped Paul to pass on God’s comfort. “5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Paul is not writing about the atoning sufferings of Christ, but about the general suffering that comes to those involved in Christ’s service (4:11,12). They are Christ’s sufferings because they come from following him. They are his sufferings because he is in and among his people. Christ did not suffer so that his people might not suffer. He suffered so that our sufferings might be like his – that we might receive and pass on God’s comfort. Paul prays in Philippians 3:10-11: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” 
What you miss in the English Standard Version translation of verse 5 is that Paul uses a metaphoric expression conveying the idea of a flooding river overflowing its banks. “For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ, our comforting overflows.” Paul’s emphasis in verse 5 is upon his experience of overflowing comfort, a flood of God’s consolation.
Paul had recently experienced God’s overflowing comfort in Asia where, he writes in verses 8b-9a: “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” But God delivered him with resurrection power. “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” God not only delivered Paul from danger, but God also comforted Paul with a visit from Titus who brought good news about the Corinthian congregation’s repentance and their love for him (7:6,7).
Christ is the center and source of all comfort. Paul’s union with Christ was the source of his suffering, but Christ was the source of his overflowing comfort as well. Paul’s overflowing comfort overflowed to the Corinthians, who also experience God’s comfort.
CORINTHIAN COMFORT (6,7)
The flood of God’s comfort means there is abundant application. We see this in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “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” (v. 6). Paul saw his experience of afflictions and his experience of God’s comfort as the two things that contributed to the Corinthians’ comfort.
Paul’s perspective on afflictions and comfort gives importance to all our Christian living. The hard things we go through are just as much graces as the comforting we receive. They are all graces that authenticate and empower our ministries to one another and to our unchurched neighbors. Those who truly desire to minister to others will patiently endure their circumstances from God’s hand and they will labor on.
Paul was able to give much more comfort than he ever received because he suffered so much more than those around him. In this way, he lived like his Savior, Messiah Jesus. Paul connects the Corinthians’ comfort to their patient endurance of sufferings: “it is for your comfort, which you experience and you mentation endure the same sufferings that we suffer” (6b). The phrase “comfort, which you experience” is more literally translated, “comfort, which is energized.” Paul writes: “it is for your comfort, which is energized by patient endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer.” Suffering energizes and activates the comfort of God.
Paul’s patient endurance through numerous afflictions was the key to his experiencing the comfort of God. He did not run from his hard circumstances or curse God because of them, but patiently endured them and so found God energizing his comfort. This is a wise principle. The apostle Peter, 1 Peter 2:20b-21, would later write:
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
If you are trusting into the perfectly lived life of the risen and ascended Christ as your only righteousness and into his sacrificial, blood shedding death as the only payment of the wages of your sin, then every affliction you suffer is to be patiently endured so that you will overflow with comfort for others. If you are not trusting into the person and work of Christ, then every affliction you suffer is partial taste of judgment for your sins. It is a call for you to turn to the only one who can provide true overflowing comfort for affliction.
Paul viewed the Corinthian congregation with an unshakable confidence, despite their struggles with biblical ethics, despite their shameful questioning of his apostleship, despite their infatuation with more attractive ministries and accommodating theologies and despite their recent rejection of his authority. Paul wrote in verse 7: “7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
Paul had suffered under the Corinthian church’s contempt. The Corinthians had suffered over Paul’s “painful visit” and his subsequent painful follow-up letter. Paul’s unshakable hope was founded in the fact that all believers have fellowship with Christ. As he wrote to them in the letter we call 1st Corinthians, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). Additionally, all believers have fellowship in the Holy Spirit. Paul states this in his famous benediction in 13:14, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” All believers have fellowship in the entirety of the Holy Trinity. St John wrote, “indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn.3b).
Our fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit creates a fellowship in Christ’s sufferings and so leads to Paul’s unshakable hope: “we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (1:7b). Despite their sordid past, blue the Corinthians would rise to their divine fellowship and ultimately experience the full comfort of God. In Christ’s service there will be disagreements, but there is no need for despair. There will be conflicts, but there is never a need for doubt. There will be afflictions, but they never come without comfort.
Paul’s great blessing should resound in our souls: “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (1:3). We do not need to suffer as orphans when our Father is the “God of all comfort.” As our merciful Father, he alone is the author of all possible consolation. The Holy Spirit is near to the afflicted. He speaks to their souls, and they breathe in his comfort for themselves and pass it on to others.
Those who follow Christ will be afflicted. This passage promises overflowing comfort in affliction. Paul gives us the biblical truth that God’s comfort always exceeds our afflictions. “5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” Only affliction can properly humble us and drive us to greater and greater Jesus-dependence. As our afflictions bear down upon us, the Holy Spirit gently draws us to the overflowing comfort of God. So, Paul writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 1:3–7.
 Hughes, 2 Corinthians. Kindle Edition.
 Barnett, 69.
 Hughes, R. Kent. 2 Corinthian. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:1–2.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 66:13.
 Barnett, 73.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Php 3:10–11.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:20–21.