In my own trials, I thank God for the comfort and prayers of believers who helped me persevere in my darkest days. When Job experienced calamity, his friends’ many words accusing him of weak faith and sin failed to bring the comfort Job longed for. I shudder to think how I have likely been a miserable comforter to one who was suffering. Thank God that through a deeper understanding of the gospel and the example of other believers, He has given me words of life to offer suffering saints. 2 Corinthians 1 indicates four marks of a person God uses to encourage others.
1. A godly comforter is one whose life is increasingly shaped by the gospel (v. 2-3): The gospel says that those who deserve God’s wrath, through Christ have received mercy and have peace with Him. I find that those most acutely aware of God’s grace in their own lives most gladly extend grace to others whose lives are messy and faith is struggling. They understand they have nothing to offer apart from the grace that has been given to them through Christ. It was God’s Spirit who, when Paul was despairing of life itself, delivered him, gave him courage, and taught him to rely on God, not himself. We must make it our aim to saturate our lives with the gospel.
2. A godly comforter is one who has personally received God’s comfort and is better equipped to comfort others in affliction (v.4). Tim Keller says, “Suffering is almost a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people when they go through their own trials. Adversity makes us far more compassionate than we would have been otherwise. When we have suffered, we become more tenderhearted and able to help others in suffering.” A person who has received comfort from God in her suffering counts it a privilege to enter into another’s pain in a way that many would deem inconvenient or too costly. We must look expectantly to God to provide comfort in suffering.
3. A godly comforter is convinced that all suffering serves God’s purposes for His glory and for the future glory of the saints (v. 5-6). Where do we go when life doesn’t make sense, God seems far away, and we start to question His love? The cross reminds us that at the darkest, most hopeless moment in history, God was doing His greatest work of love on our behalf. Through Christ; God demonstrated for all time and people His steadfast mercy and faithfulness. This is truth we must preach to ourselves and then, with sensitivity and grace, remind those who are suffering.
4. A godly comforter’s hope is not shaken in spite of things shaking around her because she is confident that those who share in Christ’s sufferings will one day be delivered and share in His comfort (v. 7, 10). When we encounter those burdened beyond their strength, we can pray with confidence that God’s grace will be sufficient, remembering that “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” 2 Corinthians 4:11. We stand on a firm foundation.
Do these characteristics mark your life? Do others seek you out in times of trouble? Let us ask God to help us not fall short of offering the only hope that will bring true comfort.
Next time we will look at 4 things that might make us a miserable comforter.