The God of all Comfort
Howard A. Barnes, Bromborough, Merseyside
The apostle Paul was very relieved to hear that the Corinthian assembly had, generally speaking, reacted positively to his very critical First Epistle, 2 Cor. 7. 6-7. Not surprisingly, therefore, in writing his Second Epistle, he commenced it so differently from his first, immediately confiding in the Corinthians, sharing with them his personal experience of God’s comfort through the most difficult days.
After his normal salutations, Paul introduced the Epistle with one of his two opening divine eulogies.1 In both, the particular word ‘blessed’ is from the Greek word eulogeo, which means ‘to speak well of’, giving us our English word ‘eulogy’.2 After the expected divine title, ‘God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’, Paul adds two extra divine titles, ‘Father of mercies’, and, ‘God of all comfort’, 1. 3, both being found nowhere else in the Bible.
We will concentrate here on the final title ‘the God of all comfort’. The Greek word usually translated as ‘comfort’ in our King James Version is of quite wide meaning and it has been rendered as ‘help’, ‘exhortation’, ‘encouragement’, ‘cheer’, ‘solace’, ‘support’, ‘aid’, and ‘a cheering and supporting influence’, so as ‘to stir up our hearts’.3
The point Paul is making is that God Himself is the source of such comfort, so we may paraphrase verses 3 and 4 as ‘well spoken of be God . . . the God of each and every experience of comfort. This is the God who comforts us in all our trouble and tribulation. He does this for us so that we in turn may then be able to comfort those who are in any kind of trouble, through our own practical experience of His comfort’.
These general truths are then particularized by Paul by sharing a very distressing incident which had happened to him in Asia, which he describes in verses 8 to 11. For a number of reasons, we cannot be dogmatic as to whether this was his experience in Ephesus, with its ferocious mob described in Acts chapter 19, but whether there or elsewhere in Asia, Paul was ‘in deaths oft’, 2 Cor. 11. 23. In this very distressing incident, he certainly stared death in the face, and, humanly speaking, he was ‘pressed out of measure, above strength’ and he ‘despaired’, v. 8. He had certainly given up all hope of escape, but God rescued him from ‘so great a death’, v. 10. This itself had a purpose, reminding him that ‘we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead’, v. 9. Trusting in God when we despair is then a great ‘comfort’ truth that he could and did share with others. Of these thoughts, William Kelly wrote, ‘Grace delights in sharing all it can; and faith gives the highest character to whatever it can discern to be of God’.4 The best helpers for us when we are in any kind of trouble are those who have been there themselves, and, in their trouble, found God’s help and strength. Perhaps we could be such helpful people ourselves, who have found that although God did not necessarily take away the trouble quickly, He helped us all the way through it.
Paul explained that the comfort that he experienced was in proportion to the affliction suffered, v. 5, so that suffering for Christ brought the same degree of comfort through Christ; if the affliction overflowed, then so did the comfort.
Paul explains that not only will God comfort us through extreme difficulties, but He can, in His will and time, rescue us from them. Young’s Literal Translation of phrases in verse 10 is very marked, that God – ‘did deliver – doth deliver – will deliver’, where to deliver is simply to rescue. Two other instances of such deliverance were elsewhere in Paul’s thoughts, so though he had known persecutions and afflictions – to the extent of being left for dead – in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra; ‘out of them all the Lord delivered me’, 2 Tim. 3. 11.5
What a great truth that God is the true source of every comfort in every instance! Sometimes we miss the awe of this truth, but when we realize that the original Greek word translated as comfort (or the verb arising from it) occurs no less than ten times in the five verses, vv. 3-7, then we get nearer to a proper appreciation. Paul was glad to share his own experience of this truth and assure the Corinthians that God was able to help them in ‘enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer’, v. 6. It is important for us to realize that our problems can become opportunities for us to help others, if, through them, we find that God is indeed ‘the God of all comfort’.
- The other beginning in Ephesians Chapter 1 verse 3.
- See Mark 14. 61; Luke 1. 68; Rom. 1. 25; 9. 5; 2. Cor. 11. 31; 1 Pet. 1. 3.
- Note, in this chapter, the words ‘comfort’, vv. 3, 4, 5, 6 (twice), 7, and ‘consolation’ are the same original Greek word; similarly, ‘tribulation’, v. 4, is the same as ‘trouble’, vv. 4, 8.
- William Kelly, Notes on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, http://www.stempublishing.com/authors/kelly/2Newtest/2corinth.html
- Later, after his first court hearing during his last imprisonment, he would be able to write, ‘I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth’, 2 Tim. 4. 17.