“Comfort in Times of Trouble”
Lesson Text:2 Corinthians 1:3-11
Background Scripture:2 Corinthians 1:3-11
Devotional Reading:Psalm 46
2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (KJV)
3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
7 And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;
11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
To understand the nature of the suffering and consolation that Paul writes about.
To understand the relationships between suffering, comfort, and prayer in the life of Christians
To encourage and console others in their time of need.
Have you noticed how many things are described as “extreme” these days? The trend seems to have started with so-called extreme sports: snowboarding, mountain-bike racing, etc. Then advertisers latched onto the word extreme to promote features of various products, products said to have extreme flavor, extreme comfort, extreme value, etc. And at its own extreme, the first letter of the word extreme is dropped, with an xtreme result!
What about the exercise of our Christian faith? Is there such a thing as xtreme Christianity? If so, what does it look like? Today’s text has answers.
Time: probablyA.D. 55-57
Paul wrote letters to the church at Corinth in response to several problems. Our previous five lessons considered the first such letter, 1 Corinthians, written from Ephesus in about A.D. 56. That letter contains many strong statements about the church’s failure to live out the gospel message.
Paul then seems to have made a brief trip from Ephesus to Corinth to see how the church was responding to his instructions. Apparently, that visit was not a great success (see 2 Corinthians 2:1; compare 7:8; 13:2).
At about the same time, Paul also faced great difficulties while in Ephesus. Acts 19:23–20:1 tells us of a massive protest—nearly a riot—against him and the gospel. This happened after Paul had sent two of his key assistants ahead of him to Macedonia (Acts 19:22), so he was left without the support of two of his most trusted associates during this trying time.
All this meant that Paul was saddled with enormous mental and emotional burdens as he left Ephesus and traveled toward Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Along the way, Paul undoubtedly wondered about the fate of the great church in Corinth. What would he find there as a result of his diverting time and energy to Ephesus? Arriving at Troas, Paul expected to find his friend Titus, but he was not there—another setback (2 Corinthians 2:13). Paul was at best discouraged, at worst deeply depressed. “For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (7:5).
But Paul eventually received good news. Arriving in Macedonia (A.D. 57), he at last met up with Titus, who informed him of the Corinthian church’s positive regard for Paul and repentance (2 Corinthians 7:6-8). There was still more for that church to do, but the commitment of their faith was reaffirmed.
Events and circumstances caused Paul to reflect deeply on what it means to face hardship in following Jesus. The results of Paul’s reflections are found in several passages of 2 Corinthians. One such passage is our text for today.
Reality of God’s Comfort: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Thanking the Father (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)
1. How does Paul describe God in spite of having problems to deal with? (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)
Discouragement is no respecter of persons. In fact, discouragement seems to attack the successful far more than the unsuccessful; for the higher we climb, the farther down we can fall. We are not surprised then when we read that the great apostle Paul was “pressed out of measure” and “despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Great as he was in character and ministry, Paul was human just like the rest of us.
Paul could have escaped these burdens except that he had a call from God (2 Cor. 1:1) and a concern to help people.
What was Paul’s secret of victory when he was experiencing pressures and trials? His secret was God. When you find yourself discouraged and ready to quit, get your attention off of yourself and focus it on God. Out of his own difficult experience, Paul tells us how we can find encouragement in God. He gives us three simple reminders.
Remember Who God Is to You (2 Cor. 1:3)
Remember What God Does for You (2 Cor. 1:4a, 8-11)
Remember What God Does through You (2 Cor. 1:4b-7)
As usual in his letters, Paul followed up his greeting with an expression of praise to God. In this case, the Apostle, realizing the limits of his own strength, recognized the Lord’s constant presence with him and eagerly gave thanks to God for His “mercies” (2 Cor. 1:3) and “comfort.” Indeed, God had so consoled Paul during the most distressing events of his life that he felt God’s encouragement could flow through him and touch the lives of those to whom he ministered during their times of affliction, (v. 4).
What Do You Think?
In what circumstances do you experience God’s comfort the most? How have these experiences helped you to extend His comfort to others?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Family situations | Church situations | Job situations | Other
Standing with Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5-7)
2. In what way did Paul say we suffer for being united with Christ? How can share with those who are suffering? (2 Corinthians 1:5-7)
Belonging to Christ means experiencing what Christ experienced as well as receiving all that Christ gives. This is the great insight that Paul shares from his reflection on the gospel and his recent experiences.
At the core of the gospel is the truth that those who belong to Christ have been united with Christ (Romans 6:4-6; Colossians 2:12). That means that we enjoy all the blessings of Christ’s supreme rule (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1). But being united with Christ means also sharing in His sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:10; Philippians 3:10, 11). Such sufferings are not signs that God has abandoned us. Rather, they are signs that we truly belong to Christ, the Christ who died on the cross.
Paul’s statements in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 indicate that his afflictions served a divine purpose. Paul and his associates experienced many calamities as a result of being followers of Christ. In this case, when Paul and his colleagues were afflicted, it resulted in the Corinthians being consoled and strengthened in their saving faith (v. 5). Likewise, if the apostle and his missionary team were comforted (solaced), they were better able to empathize with and encourage the Corinthians when they were weighed down with hardships.
This help from Paul and others increased the Corinthians’ ability to steadfastly persevere through the same sorts of troubles the apostolic team routinely weathered. The solace the Corinthians received would give them the endurance they needed to undergo suffering with the right mind-set. Indeed, Paul declared that his confidence in his readers was steadfast. After all, they not only took part in the afflictions, but also partook of the consolation to be found in union with the Son by faith. By using himself as an example, the apostle encouraged his readers to consider their trials as an opportunity to gain insight, into how they could be consoling to others. People who are hurting do not seek out those who seem to have trouble-free lives. Instead, the afflicted look for those who can empathize with their hurts and give them wisdom based on experience with suffering. Our being consoled by God will attract people who have felt pain in ways similar to ours. When they approach us, will we be ready to comfort them as God has consoled us?
What Do You Think?
What are some ways to keep from sinking into a “pity party” when we suffer for Christ? Which have you found most helpful in this regard?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Methods that involve your fellow Christians.
Remembering that God is faithful to those who suffer for being united with Christ.
Remembering that God’s comfort and encouragement are always greater than suffering.
Remembering that this is the extreme, abundant life to which the Christian is called, a life that deeply reflects Christ’s own life.
Reliance on God’s Strength: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Burdened Heavily (2 Corinthians 1:8, 9)
3. How did Paul describe his suffering? (2 Corinthians 1:8, 9)
Paul now moves from providing a thankful overview of God’s comfort to describing his own experience. He does not try to hide the harsh realities of his life. He does not want the Corinthians to be ignorant of his troubles, imagining that his life is somehow protected from suffering. Rather, he wants them to know all about it.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9, Paul referred to severe afflictions he and his missionary team suffered while they were in the Roman senatorial province of Asia (that is, in western Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey). Paul revealed that God allowed this distressing situation to occur so that His emissaries would not depend upon or put their confidence in themselves. Instead, they were to place their trust in God, who alone had the ability to preserve their lives.
Even so, Paul does not narrate all the specific circumstances here. Some of those we learn elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, and some we learn from Acts. Undoubtedly, many other specific events are unknown to us. Rather than sharing the details now, Paul shares the effect that the hardships have had on him. His suffering, he says, has exceeded what he could have endured on his own. The suffering has been beyond the limits of natural strength. Had Paul known beforehand what he was to face, he would have said that it was more than he could possibly bear (compare Acts 9:16).
The full extent of Paul’s suffering is captured at the end of the verse: “we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). It is hard for us to imagine that Paul, a towering figure of spiritual strength, would reach such a point. But this is what he expresses. At some point, hope had left him. The pressures, disappointments, and threats had seemed too great at certain times (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-29).
What Do You Think?
When should we take the initiative to inquire about a fellow Christian’s burdens rather than waiting for him or her to reveal them to us? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Missionaries in difficult fields of service | Preachers facing congregational disunity
Those rejected by family members for becoming Christians
Students challenged by unbelieving teachers | Other
Delivered Providentially (2 Corinthians 1:10, 11)
4. What did Paul say about trusting in the Lord, and the importance of prayer? (2 Corinthians 1:10, 11)
Even though Paul and his colleagues did not have the ability to survive their oppressive circumstances, they still succeeded in doing so. The apostle gave God the credit for rescuing the missionaries from mortal danger (2 Cor. 1:10). Regardless of how future situations they faced might turn out, Paul and his associates placed their full confidence in God. The apostle believed that the Lord, who could raise the dead (v. 9), would not hesitate to deliver His emissaries again, should that be His will (v. 10). That miraculous deliverance impressed upon Paul his need to totally depend on God. The life-threatening episode stripped the apostle of undue self-confidence and taught him to rely wholeheartedly on the Lord.
Moreover, Paul’s experience made him vividly aware of his weakness in contrast to God’s power. The apostle also acknowledged that more tribulation awaited him (v. 10b). Paul knew that the prayers offered by the believers in Corinth-as well as other Christians-would play a role in the apostle’s upcoming rescue (v. 11). Also, when God accomplished these future acts of deliverance, many believers would join in thanking Him. The fact that the Lord graciously responds to the prayers of His people should motivate us to continually pray for others who are enduring hardships. God responds to our prayers in part because our prayers move us to recognize His gifts. When we pray and see God’s answer, we are able to acknowledge God’s action as we thank Him for his abundant faithfulness.God can be depended upon to use our prayers, just as He did the prayers of the early Christians, to further His cause in the world.
POINTS TO PONDER
1.God knows that His people experience discouragement, suffering, and setbacks of all kinds. In His committed love, God addresses His people’s suffering not always by taking it away but by granting encouragement and sustaining strength that they (we) need in order to endure. Whatever the problem God’s people face, in the long run God’s comfort is greater. (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4)
2.God’s love and comfort are made real and tangible as His people become vessels that carry to others what God has already given to them. (2 Cor. 1:5-7)
3.Paul did not deny the way he felt, nor does God want us to deny our emotions. Sometimes God delivers us from our trials, and at other times He delivers us in our trials.
God’s deliverance was in response to Paul’s faith, as well as to the faith of praying people.
Know that God is shaping us to comfort people who will have experiences like ours.(2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
Power to Overcome Suffering
Some may caricature the Christian life as dull and bland. Christians are known for what “thou shalt not” do. Christians are often characterized as withdrawn, timid, and fearful. Others may search for what they think should be the ideal Christian life: a life without difficulty. Are not God’s promises of protection and blessing sure? Do not the hardships in a Christian’s life indicate a lack of faith?
Paul shows us that neither characterization is true. The gospel begins with Jesus, with His death and resurrection. The power at work in Him is also at work in us. Like Christ, we live under a sentence of death. But like Him, we have God’s resurrection power on our side. That power does not insulate us from suffering. Rather, that power enables us to overcome it. As it does, we can see that God himself is the one at work in us.
Almighty God, as You have forgiven us in Christ, also please comfort us in Him to face hardships we experience in His name. May You be praised because the world sees Your power at work in us. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
When in trouble, look up.