9 January 20192 Corinthians 1:3-12
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction. (v 3)
Psalm: Psalm 149
Paul knows only too well from his own experience that life brings troubles. He lists some of them later in 2 Corinthians: hunger and sleeplessness, shipwreck and bandits (11:23-29). It isn’t clear exactly what he refers to at this point in the letter. It may be the riot in Ephesus (which was in the Roman province of Asia) mentioned at Acts 19:23, or he may have been ill. In any case, his suffering was life-threatening (v 9).
It is, then, surprising and encouraging that in these sufferings he finds cause for thanksgiving. It was usual to start letters with a brief address to the recipients and then a section giving thanks for God’s goodness, but it’s uncommon to find the thanksgiving focusing on suffering and trouble. The key word in the first few verses is ‘consolation’, translated ‘comfort’ in the New International Version. This word is repeated so many times it becomes almost like a mantra. It’s the same word as the one Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete or Comforter (John 14:26).
Paul believes that he has found his way through this time of trouble because of the support he has received from God. The pattern of suffering and consolation is modelled above all in the suffering of Christ, who moved from death into new life with God. God is the one who rescues (the word here is the same one used in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray “deliver us from evil”). Each time a believer finds comfort and strength to withstand suffering, they are living in the pattern that Christ set for us. Each time we hear the story of another believer’s trouble and the ways in which they find comfort, our own faith and resilience is strengthened.
These stories of suffering and consolation are, then, a powerful witness to the real strength of God’s love for us and an encouragement to pray for one another in times of trouble. The early Methodists knew this when they encouraged the practice of testimony in worship and class meetings, and we are rediscovering its power in our own discipleship and evangelism. Can we too find ways of blessing God, who consoles us in all our affliction?
- How far does Paul’s description of the pattern of suffering and consolation fit with your own experience of living in the light of God’s love?
- Who is there in your circle of family or friends who might need to hear the good news of God’s comfort in trouble? How could you share this with them?