2 Corinthians chp 1 vs 3 to 7 - Suffering God's Preparation for Service - Dr J Stewart Gillespie 

2 Corinthians addresses the subject of suffering more thoroughly and systematically than any other NT epistle. 

Suffering and Spiritual Growth– chps 1 to 5 

Suffering and Salvation finding its conclusion in Sanctification – chp 6 

Suffering and Sorrow, repentance and restoration – chp 7 

Suffering and Service of the Macedonians as an example and the service of the Corinthians to follow in chps 8 & 9 

Suffering and Spiritual Warfare and (chp 10) 

Suffering and Satanic Attack (chp11) 

Suffering and all Sufficient Grace (chps 12 to 13) 

From suffering there emerges: 

Presence of God: ‘who comforteth us’ (v4); ‘so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.’ (v5) & the Provision of God: ‘comfort’ and ‘mercy’ 

It is in Suffering that we: 

Find the ‘God of all comfort’ 

‘παρακαλῶν’ : he draws along side 
‘to call to the side of’ - present active participle. 
In our suffering we find God there. 
We come into a fellowship with Him in suffering that we would not find elsewhere in the world! 
In our world God is: 

Denied in its politics 
Excluded from its society 
Mocked by its media 
Rejected in its philosophy 
Ignored in its entertainment 

But in persecution, tribulation and rejection, here is a place where God Himself has fitted in! 

‘Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.’(Heb 13:12-14) 

The old preachers used to ask the question, as a guide, a rule of thumb, as to where to go and what to do with my life; ‘would I be happy to take Christ there?’ Perhaps we could take the flip side of that question and ask ‘will I find Christ there?’ 

In its entertainment? 
In its theatres? 
In its pantomimes? 
In its culture? 
In its music? 
In its society? 
In its social activities? 

Does the world reject Him from all of these areas? - True 
Nothing there of Christ? - True 
But let us not demean the Lord – He too has a will and a choice! 
Does God abandon man in all of these areas? Nothing for Him and so He will not stay there! He withdraws? Nothing with which He can fellowship. Like the presence of God leaving the temple in Ezekiel or the preacher shaking off the dust from his feet? As Christ rejected and rejecting; ‘weep not for me, but weep for yourselves!’ In rejecting Him we are likewise rejected by Him! 
Be careful lest we fellowship with what He rejects. 
Does it matter if I find Him there? To the believer it ought to matter! Without Him, there can be no real joy. 

Feel the same way as the ‘God of all comfort’ 

As I enter into persecution, I find myself in a place which God shares, where I begin to appreciate the world for what it is and have the same view of the world as God has of the world! A place where I share the mind of God on something is a very precious place! 
I feel the same way about this world as He does! 

Fellowship with the ‘God of all comfort’ 

When ultimately this world is at enmity with God and is under the Prince of the Power of the Air, my rejection by it brings me into fellowship with Him: 

‘For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.’ (Isaiah 57:15) 
‘Can two walk together, except they be agreed?’ Amos 3:3 

What ‘comfort’ does God pour into my suffering? 

Presence in Suffering (1:3-4) 

Preparation for Service (1:3-7) 

Progress in faith by perfect, complete dependence upon Christ (1:8-10) 

Pursuit of Joy: Repentance and restoration (2:1ff), to seek a joy greater than sin! 

Perfume of Christ believer and unbeliever of Christ (2:14-17) 

Perfection of Christian Character (chp 4; 4:10-12, 16-18) 

Prospect of heaven and the eternal (chp 5) 

As we begin to read in 2 Corinthians chapter 1 there is little doubt that we are reading the Bible! 

v1 – Purposes of God: ‘by the will of God’ 
v1 – People of God: ‘church of God’ 
v2 – Peace of God 
v2,3 – Paternity of God: ‘our Father’… ‘the Father’… ‘the Father’ 

No doubt we are reading the Bible! 

It is all about God! 


Our preaching and our churches ought to be like our Bibles; all about God! As we will see in chapter 3 the written Word becomes the Living Word in us and text merges with testimony, the page of God’s Word merges with the people of God. 

But now, significantly we move onto the personal character of God: 

v3 – Personal character of God: ‘the God of all comfort’ 

Here is the key which will unlock the whole epistle; the character of God as the ‘God of all Comfort.’ 

The revelation of God in suffering as the ‘God of all Comfort’ will dominate this letter. 

The whole of the epistle will in a sense expound this character of God. 

Notice how this attribute of God as the ‘Father of mercies and the God of all comfort’ (v3) is reserved for separate treatment from the blessing of verse 2: ‘Grace be to you and peace from God our Father.’cf 1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4; 2 John 1:3; Paul does not roll them all together! 

As the ‘Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ He exemplifies and expresses His character as the Father of mercies and as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He as fulfilled His character as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

What He is in character, He is in practice. 

His character as the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; is to be seen most clearly in the giving of His Son! 

Gods attributes of mercy are most perfectly expressed in the revelation of His Son. Gods activities of mercy and forgiveness is only possible because of His Son. 

Preparation for service: ‘that we may be able’ (v4) – our service is enabled by the experience of His ministry on our suffering. 

Why do I need to go through suffering in order to comfort others? Can I not just do a Christian counselling and pastoral care course? Many think you can. 

Before I can teach others I must learn. One of the worlds leading authorities on learning ancient languages; Bill Mounce advices that in order to learn a foreign language, use as many senses as you can, don’t just read it, speak it, hear it and write it. Before I can truly and sincerely teach Gods comfort in suffering I must learn it and that goes beyond reading about it but being immersed in that comfort. My whole person must be engaged in this experience 

God prepare and equips Paul through suffering because Christian ministry is: 

Credibility - Authentic  - for Pauls ministry to be credible, it must be authentic and to be authentic it must be experienced. 

Character of the comfort - The comfort which he shares is the comfort of relationship with a person (1:4), not a philosophy of words! 

Change which suffering brings about - This suffering experience changes him; ‘that we may be able.’ 

1. Credibility - Authentic  - for Pauls ministry to be credible, it must be authentic and to be authentic it must be experienced. 

Authentic preparation for ministry; Pauls comfort flows from His experience of the comfort of God in his sufferings.  
Sincerity cannot be educated, it must be experienced 
Theories we learn in theory 
Philosophy is ideas; we can learn ideas in theory 
Suffering is an experience which I must learn in practice. 
David in the cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1-2) – a fugitives fugitive; they could identify with David. 
David was credible as a comforter 

Some subjects can be learned theoretically – theoretical subjects can be learned theoretically! 
Christianity is not just an idea like philosophy, it is a living relationship and is experienced in practice. 

This is no theoretical service, but an authentic ministry flowing from a genuine relationship with Him. 
‘that we may be able to comfort them,’ (v4) – this ministry requires that I draw alongside those with problems. It is not simply a case of handing out advice but being able to draw alongside those with problems, in a way taught to me by the Lords as He drew alongside me in my problems and trial. 
The diversity and intensity of Paul’s suffering experiences are due to this; that as an apostle he must be able to meet the multitude of diverse needs amongst Gods people; ‘them which are in any trouble,’ (1:4). Paul must possess an experience of suffering as broad and diverse as the sufferings which Gods people have to meet. 

Authentic comfort proceeds from 
Authentic consolation which comes from 
Authentic suffering 

2. Character of the comfort - The comfort which he shares is the comfort of relationship with a person (1:4), not a philosophy of words! 

3. Change which suffering brings about - This suffering experience changes him; ‘that we may be able.’ Paul doesn’t make a big issue of it here, he will in chapters 3 and 4 but suffering changes the one who suffers! 

How does it change a person? 

It changes our PERSPECTIVE on life – cf. Elijah after rejection by Ahab and Jezebel; ‘let me die..’ or Samson with the Philistines; ‘let me die’. 

Changes our PRIORITIES; cf the King of Sodom; ‘ give me the persons and take the goods to thyself;’ or Satan to God; ‘all that a man has will he give for his life.’ 

Deepens our PERSONAL faith in God; cf David as he goes out to meet Goliath; this is not undertaken in a spiritual vacuum but against the backdrop of already having rested in His God for the lion and the bear! Previous trials had prepared and equipped him for this moment beyond any of Saul's armour! 

Changes his POSITION before God; cf the thief on the cross. It took death and crucifixion to change his perspective on Christ! 

Changes a man PERSONALLY – cf Jacob the usurper, changed to a humble man on his final meeting with Esau; cf. The firey Egyptian slayer, Moses; described as the meekest man in all the earth; cf. The prodigal son; ‘I am no longer worthy to be called thy Son.’ 

Israel in their suffering in Babylon – left idolatry behind them; changed for good! 

Through suffering: 

Moses was able to lead Gods people 
David was able to rule Gods people 
Elijah was able to leave Gods people 
Samson was able to free Gods people 
Thief on the cross was able to become one of Gods people 
Saul of Tarsus was able to love Gods people 
Ruth and Naomi were able to return to Gods people 
John on the Isle of Patmos was able to encourage and inspire Gods people 

Gods comfort in suffering is not simply a set of lessons I learn, it is a Person I experience (1:5) in the trial, after the pattern of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednigo, in the firy furnace. 

The experiences through which I am being brought changes me, affect me, mould me, like the weathered sand stone rocks of Utah. Not sufficient to know the theory of it, it must actually happen to me for the difference to be made; then I am ‘able’ (1:4). Experiences which come from: 

Plumbing the depths like Jonah 
Sinking in despair like David 
Facing my doubts like Gideon 
Physical suffering like Job 
Persecution like Jeremiah 
Isolation and rejection like Elijah 
Facing the flames as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo. 

The deepest consequence of suffering in the Christian life is fellowship with Christ, an encounter with Christ (1:5, 9-10). It is this personal encounter with Him which changes us. This cannot be replicated / duplicated any other way! He ‘comforteth’ : ‘παρακαλέω’ - He draws alongside us in our suffering; like the 2 on the road to Emmaus; ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ (Luke 24:32) 

This is no intellectual exercise! 

This ministry requires that I am able to draw alongside those with problems. It is not simply a case of handing out advice, but of being able, spiritually, emotionally and mentally prepared to draw alongside those with problems. 

Here we have an insight into what is really happening in suffering. Suffering is not ‘out of control,’ suffering is part and parcel of Christs ministry for us, in the setting of a fallen world. 

Note that Paul can bring comfort to others in their suffering (1:4) but he cannot bring ‘mercy’ (1:3); only the Lord can do that! He can be a conduit of comfort but not of mercy! 

To extend mercy into anothers sufferings I must be in control of the experience, or greater than those experiences. 

God shows mercy to David in his chastening (2 Sam 24:16-17) 
Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-6) – given an additional 15 years 
Lot (Gen 19:19) 
Joseph (Gen 39:21) 
Mercy Seat: Ex 25:12ff; 35:12ff; 37:6ff; Lev 16:2ff; Romans 3. 
Mercy to those doomed to die (Judges 1:24) 

For all of this God must be sovereign over our sufferings 

Notice Pauls confidence for the comfort of these Christians in their suffering (1:7); it is presented almost in the form of a scientific formula; with the total confidence that if we fulfil the criteria then we shall receive the consolation! 

How can this confidence arise? 

Believers are tapping into a spiritual law upon which this universe is founded: 

‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:’  2 Timothy 2:12 

Hebrews 6:10 

These sufferings are the: 

‘sufferings of Christ’ (1:5) 

This ministry of mercy and comfort applies to sufferings which can be described as the ‘sufferings of Christ’ 
Clearly these cannot be the redemptive sufferings of Christ for the Salvation of sinners; ‘Christ has once suffered, the just for we the unjust.’ 
These are sufferings we encounter because we belong to Him 
Sufferings such as: 

Suffering of Sacrifice 

Exemplified in Christ in Philippians 2:5ff 
To live the Christian life means sacrifice and a loss of what we leave behind. 
Of giving up what you do have / could have / did have for Him – to promote the interests of Christ in this world. 
Jim Elliot: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ 
CT Studd; international cricketer, his name is still on the urn of the English Ashes from the 1882 game that England lost to Australia. For 6 years after his conversion as a result of Sankey and Moody he was in an, ‘unhappy backslidden state.’ He writes that; ‘I knew that cricket would not last and honour could not last and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come.’ He left cricket and gave away his substantial inheritance; £29,000 (equivalent to £2.6 million). He became a missionary to China, India and Africa and wrote; ‘one life twill soon be past and only that which is done for Christ will last.’ 

Suffering of Satanic attack 

Deliberate, insightful, carefully considered and planned attack on the person of Christ to derail and destroy. We see this in the temptation in the wilderness, in the epidemic of demonic possession and in the demonic possession of Judas. 

Suffering of Spiritual Sensitivity and Sorrow 

consider Lot for example: ‘For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds’; (2 Peter 2:8) 

Suffering of Sinful Persecution 

Recognised as foreign, as not belonging here; we are ‘strangers’ and ‘pilgrims’ 

To the Samaritans ‘thou being a Jew’ (John 4:9) 
To the Jews ‘thou art a Samaritan’ (John 8:48) 
To His own; ‘His own received Him not’ (John 1:11) 
The two on the road to Emmaus, they surely would have better insight; ‘art thou a stranger in Israel?’ 
To the religious He had a devil (John 8:48,52) 
To the lawyers He was a criminal ‘Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.’ (Matt 26:65; Mk 14:64) 
To the criminals; ‘this man has done nothing amiss’ (Luke 23:41) 
To Pilate He was the ‘King of the Jews’ 
To the Jews; ‘we shall not have this to reign over us’ 

He endured sinful persecution: 

They Resented His Position (Matt 27:18; Luke 8:37; John11); His Power (John 11+ 12), Popularity. 
They hated His Righteousness (John 3:19-20) 
They Rejected His testimony (John 8:12ff) 
They Ran from His Light ‘And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil’ John 3:19; His Purity – ‘despised and rejected of men,’, ‘men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.’In contrast to the sinfulness of this world, Christ: 

He knew no sin 
He did no sin 
In Him was no sin 

They Rebelled against His authority; ‘But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us’ Luke 19:14. 

Where did He fit in? - Only you can answer that. 


Rebelled against His Position with God: ‘before Abraham was I AM.’ and His Power. 
Resented His Power (John 11+ 12), Popularity and His Position as real and close to the Father. 
His Person (Luke 22:66ff; John 8:23; 8:37ff; 8:42ff)