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The Cycle of Comfort

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 1:1–11

God never promised us a trial-free life. But He does promise to be right there with us in our troubles, encouraging us and ultimately delivering us from all our afflictions. He is teaching us to rely on Him and to pray for one another, leading to a great increase in thanksgiving.


Today we set sail once again for the metropolitan city of Corinth by way of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

Corinth had been rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. When the apostle Paul first visited this city some 100 years later in AD 49, Corinth had become a bustling city with a population of more than 80,000 people.[1] 

Because of Corinth’s location near the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it had been given the nickname, “The crossroads of Greece.”[2] By the time Paul planted this church in Corinth, the city had become the sports and entertainment center in that part of the empire. The city’s theater held up to 18,000 people, and a nearby concert hall held 3,000. In a city that was flourishing with commerce and tourism, sports and entertainment, you might expect that the drug and sex traffic in this city would be busy—and indeed that was the case. 

The Corinthians were proud of their elite status. The emperor Nero spent a great deal of time vacationing in Corinth. This was the place to see, and this was the place to be seen if you were anybody important.

This second letter to the Corinthians is one of the most transparent and emotional letters written by the apostle Paul. Frankly, this had been a difficult church for him to steer in the right direction. He had invested his life in them—he loved this church. He knew they faced tremendous pressure in this culture to compromise, to lose heart, to give in. And that is the last thing Paul wanted them to do.

Paul begins his letter in his rather typical manner. In these first two verses, he affirms that he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” He also reminds them that they do not belong to Corinth; they are “the church of God that is at Corinth.”

In this first section of chapter 1, Paul uses two key words: the word for “affliction” (thilpsis) and the word for “comfort” (parakaleō), which means “to call to one’s side,” or “to exhort, to cheer up.”[3] Jesus uses the same word to identify the Holy Spirit as our “Helper,” our “Comforter/Counselor” (John 14:16; 16:7).[4] Paul will use this word for “comfort” ten times in the next few verses.[5]

It is as if Paul is answering their question—and ours today—“Are there any benefits to going through times of affliction?” Paul answers that by giving us four benefits.

First, affliction allows us to experience the comforting presence of God. Note verses 3-4:

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 affliction.

When you face tribulation and pressure, you come to know God the Father according to this résumé provided here by Paul—He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. You find His Word especially meaningful; your prayer life is made deeper in the valley of affliction.

And do not miss this little word “all” in verse 4: “[He] comforts us in all our affliction.”

Not just some of it; not even most of it, but in all of it!

That is another way of saying, you have not been left alone. Keep in mind that God’s comfort is not always an escape route. Often the Spirit of God, our Companion, is cheering us along and calling us to press on in the midst of suffering.

A second benefit of going through times of affliction is being able to share God’s comfort with others. Paul writes this, again in verse 4:

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.

Suffering is never to be wasted. Paul implies here that affliction is a hand that opens the door of ministry to others. And, beloved, everyone around you is suffering from something. The universal language of the human race is affliction. And when you experience God’s comfort through some passage of Scripture, some insight, a poem, or song lyric, God never intended you to keep it all to yourself. You are to pass it on to others.

Here in verses 8-9 is a third benefit to suffering: we learn to rely on God instead of ourselves:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

We are not told what exactly Paul suffered that made him think his life was going to end. The book of Acts told us about some life-threatening instances where Paul and his missionary team suffered, but evidently, Acts did not tell us all of them.

The point here is that Paul himself grew deeper in his dependence on the Lord as a result. And if Paul could learn how to lean on the Lord even more, we can too.

Beloved, this is a good reminder that Christianity is not a cure for affliction. In fact, you might have been a Christian long enough now to realize that Jesus did not solve all your problems. In fact, He gave you some new ones. But He also gave you Himself. And as you walk with Him through that valley of affliction, just remember that it is a valley, not a dead end. He will lead you to the other side.

Fourth, and finally, we go through afflictions to encourage us to pray for each other. Paul makes this point in verse 11:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

Comfort has a way of coming around full circle. Someone is praying for you as you endure that season of affliction. Your heart and life are deepened by it, and you share what you have learned with others, who in turn help comfort even more people.

One day when we get to heaven, we are going to meet people we prayed for; we are going to meet people who prayed for us.

I recently read again of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young pastor in Germany during the terrible reign of Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer pastored and operated an underground seminary in Bavaria, Germany. When the seminary was shut down, Bonhoeffer joined the resistance movement and was later imprisoned. From his prison cell, he wrote letters, which were later published as Letters and Papers from Prison. Included among them was a poem he wrote to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer. The poem encouraged her to accept affliction as from the loving hand of God.

They never married, because three months after sending Maria that poem, Bonhoeffer was put to death in prison.

Eighteen years later, another young woman was unable to get married because her fiancé was killed in an accident. Even though her own heart was broken, she wrote his parents, Joe and Mary Lou Bayly, to comfort them. She included this poem written by Bonhoeffer. It did indeed comfort them. In fact, Joe would write his own collection of poems and include Bonhoeffer’s poem as well.

Many years later, Joe Bayly was told of a terminally ill woman in a Boston hospital who had been given his book of poems as a gift. She had been greatly comforted by his poems, and especially the poem Bayly included by Bonhoeffer. Just a few hours after reading that poem once again, she passed away. Her name was Maria. She had been the fiancée of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[6]

Comfort had come full circle. Beloved, this cycle of comfort is not a coincidence; it is part of the plan of God. Let us keep the cycle going today.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians (Crossway Books, 2006), 14.

[2] Ibid., 13.

[4] ESV note to John 14:16 and KJV translation.

[5] Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Tyndale House, 2017), 288.

[6] Hughes, 21.

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