Abundant consolation

by Michael E. Brooks

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NKJV).

A number of Church members and co-workers in South Asia are currently struggling with various problems. One young preacher and his wife lost their anticipated first child to premature delivery.

Another co-worker’s mother has been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer and has undergone surgery and treatment. The continued global economic crisis places virtually all Christian families in under-developed nations in great stress.

One frustration of cross-cultural ministry is the difficulty of bringing comfort. It is hard enough in our own language and among people we know well.

Many think, “I just don’t know what to say.” When different ways of thinking, social expectations, and manners of expression are involved, we really do not know what to say.

We cannot be certain how our well-meant words will be interpreted or whether we may do something that is taboo or offensive. On the other hand we may fail to do something that is expected.

I must continuously remind myself that comfort comes from God. What a great name, Paul ascribes to him — “The Father of mercies and God of comfort.” We are simply channels through which he sometimes works. Notice the progression of activity in the verses quoted above.

First, God comforts us “in all our tribulation.” There is no circumstance in which we can be prevented from experiencing and knowing God’s love and mercy (compare Romans 8:38-39). However devastating and tragic a loss we might experience, the Almighty and all-loving Father can restore peace to our hearts and purpose to our lives.

Secondly, we then can comfort others. As has often been pointed out, we cannot repay God directly for the good he gives us. We show gratitude by service to others of his children (Matthew 25:40).

But note that the source of our comfort is that consolation with which God has filled us. Until we have received God’s comfort ourselves we cannot be in position to fully console others.

This does not mean that we must have experienced the exact same tragedy as the person we are seeking to console. All humans know sorrow.

All Christians should know God’s help in dealing with our troubles. Once we are awakened to that knowledge — once our spirits are sensitive to and in tune with God’s spirit of mercy — we are equipped to pass on that wonderful aid to others.

In subsequent verses, Paul adds a third event to this sequence — salvation.

“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for entering the same sufferings, which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation” (2 Corinthians 1:5-6).

It has long been recognized that times of grief and suffering often provide evangelistic opportunity. It is not necessarily the time to begin a Bible Study or an evangelistic appeal. Rather it is the time to live the message by showing the love of Christ as we minister to those in need.

All of us suffer afflictions of various kinds. Comfort is needed because of suffering. The apostle reminds us that these facts can be factors in drawing others to God.

He is the God of comfort — the Father of mercies. Let us turn to him in times of need, and let us bring others to that fountain of blessings.

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