“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:1-7).
The first letter to the Corinthians, as we have seen,1 has to do with order in the Church of God here on earth. Someone has aptly called it, “The Charter of the Church.” There are some people who would foolishly set to one side most of Paul’s earlier epistles as though they did not have full dispensational place for our day, but it is an important thing to note that if we were to set First Corinthians to one side we would then have no other portion of the New Testament giving us any direction whatsoever as to the order and discipline of the churches of God here in the world. Here alone we get divine instruction as to these things.
When we come to the second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle unfolds for us the ministry of the churches of God. I say “churches” because we are thinking of individual congregations. The two terms are used in Scripture. Paul says, “I persecuted the Church of God, and wasted it” (Gal. 1:13). He means the entire Church wherever he found it, but he also speaks of the churches of God in Judea and in Galatia, etc., referring to local assemblies. God has Himself appointed the ministry for His churches, and we have the order and the choosing of that ministry, the nature of it, in this second letter to the Corinthians.
First of all we find that it is a divinely trained ministry. It is not a question of college training; it is not a question of graduating from a university nor of going through some particular seminary. All of these things may or may not be important in the training of a servant of God, but the first great pre-requisite is that Christ’s minister be one who has learned to walk with the blessed Lord Jesus and to go through the school of affliction. At the beginning of the letter we read how wonderfully God sustains His servants in the hour of trial.
In this first chapter we have the apostolic salutation (vers. 1, 2): “Paul, an apostle (a sent one) of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” Achaia was the name of the district, or province, as we would call it today, and Corinth was its chief city. Paul had labored for a year and a half in Corinth, and through his labors a great many throughout the entire district of Achaia had been converted. A church of God had been formed in the city, a rather remarkable church in some ways because we read, “They came behind in no gift.” Evidences of special divine favor rested upon them, and yet it was a church that, like others, had to endure trial and affliction for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Paul wishes, “Grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ,” in view of trial. It is not the grace that saves that is spoken of here; they were already saved; it is the grace that sustains. We who are saved by grace still need fresh supplies of grace for every step of the way, and so we are bidden to “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace for seasonable help” (Heb. 4:16, N.T.). This is the grace which the apostle prays may be the abiding portion of the people of God. And then he asks that peace may be given. It is not peace with God. That they already enjoyed. Every rightly instructed believer ought to enter into that. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1)—this is peace in view of the sin question. That has been settled and our consciences now are at peace, for we know that God is satisfied and we rest in that which has satisfied Him. But there is another aspect of peace that we need. We are going through a difficult scene, traveling through a world where affliction, sorrow, bereavement, and suffering abound, and if it were not for special mercy ministered to us from day to day we might be overwhelmed by the difficulties of our pilgrim journey. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in Thee” (Isa. 26:3). This is the peace for which the apostle prays, that the people of God may so walk before Him that they may enjoy His peace whatever their circumstances. As we read in Philippians 4: 6, “Be not anxious about anything; but in everything by prayer and suppli- cation with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
In the early days of the Church when thousands were sealing their testimony with their blood, God enabled His beloved people to go through the keenest sufferings not only without resentment toward their enemies, but with the peace of God garrisoning their hearts, and He still calls on people to give up their lives for the gospel’s sake. The noble army of martyrs praise Him. Christianity is a wonderful thing; it enables people to triumph over all circumstances. As we think of what some of the missionaries of the cross are called upon to endure, it ought to make many of us at home ashamed that we allow such trivial things to disturb our spirits. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb. 12: 4). Think of the little things that fret us because we are a bit short of money now and then, because we have pain and aches occasionally, because we have to face a little in the way of trouble and trial. How small these things are compared with what many of God’s dear servants in distant places are undergoing for Him! But the same grace that sustains them in their trial is needed to sustain us in ours, and, thank God, it is at our disposal. The apostle celebrates that grace in the verses that follow.
First, there is an overflowing of the heart in praise. “Blessed be God.” Does your heart often say that? Let the Lord be praised! Let Him be worshiped and adored! How much there is to praise Him for. “Blessed be God!” Billy Bray, the Cornish miner, used to say, “If they were to put me in a barrel, I would shout, ‘Glory to God!’ through the bung-hole.” When poverty stared him in the face, he said, “If the meal barrel is empty, I will put my head in the barrel and praise the Lord.” One day his wife came to him and said, “Do you know, we haven’t a penny left?”
“Is that so?” he said.
“And what is more, we have no food left. I went to the barrel to see whether I could find something to do a little baking with, but there is nothing left. Now practise what you preach, and put your head in the flour-barrel and say, ‘Praise the Lord.’”
He said, “Well, if you will put yours in with me, I will.”
“All right,” she said; “I will.”
And so they went to the empty flour-barrel and both put their heads in and said, “Praise the Lord!” and then they prayed. When they came out, there was a lot of flour on their heads, they were pretty well powdered-up. They went into the study with a song of joy in their hearts, and almost the next thing there was a knock at the door, and some one said that the Lord had sent him to minister to them. It is a great thing to be able to bless the Lord whatever our circumstances are.
David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). I am afraid some of us do not know much about that. We bless the Lord when we have plenty, and growl when we have not. But David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” Job was able to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). You know the devil said to God, “That man loves You only for what he gets out of You; he loves You for the gifts You give him.” So God said, “Take everything away, and see.” And Satan took everything away, and Job says, “Bless the Lord anyway!” God grant that He may fill our hearts with praise! “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me.” Think of that the next time you feel like growling and complaining.
“Blessed be God!” And who is this God that we bless? “Even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Notice, He does not here suggest His Fatherhood of us as believers. That comes out later, but first of all He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You see our blessed Lord is His Son by a unique relationship into which no one else can ever enter. We are sons of God by a second birth, but our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God from all eternity, and therefore in a special sense God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here then is the proof of His love. He had but the one Son and He gave Him for us, and shall we ever doubt His love because times seem a little difficult, sickness lays us low, finances seem to disappear, bereavement enters our home? “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And then notice the next title Paul gives Him, “The Father of mercies.” That is, our God is the source of every mercy that comes to us. David says, “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Ps. 23: 6). Some of these mercies we do not always appreciate. We sometimes think perhaps that God is dealing hardly with us when He is really dealing with us in mercy. A friend of mine who went to Heaven some years ago, told of a time when he was riding on the top of an omnibus in Vienna, Austria, and they were held up because a flock of sheep was going down the street. As the folk on the bus leaned over to see what was going on, they noticed that there were two dogs running hither and thither to keep the sheep in the way. This friend turned to a stranger seated beside him and said, “Do you know the names of those two dogs?”
The man said, “Indeed, I do not; I have never seen a sight like this before.”
“Well,” said my friend, “I think I know their names.”
“Yes; one of them is ‘Goodness’ and the other is ‘Mercy,’ for David wrote about goodness and mercy following him all the days of his life.”
You might not think it was goodness and mercy to have a couple of dogs yapping at you to keep you from going to the left or to the right, but it is God’s mercy that keeps us in the straight and narrow way, and He uses trial and difficulty for that very purpose. He is “the Father of mercies.”
And then again He is called “The God of all comfort.” There are two things of which God is said to have the monopoly: He is “the God of all grace” and He is “the God of all comfort.” All grace comes from Him, all lasting comfort comes from Him. “Consolation” and “comfort” are the same in the original text, and you get it from God. I suppose you have noticed that in the Word of God the three Persons of the blessed adorable Trinity are all spoken of as engaged in the ministry of comfort. Here we have the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the God of all comfort. Then we remember the title the blessed Lord uses for the Holy Spirit. John 14, 15 and 16 speak of Him as “Another Comforter,” the “Parakletos,” the One who comes to our help to sustain and strengthen. And in 1 John 2:1 we read, “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The word “Advocate” is the same Greek word translated “Comforter” in the other passages. “If any man sin, we have a Comforter.” That refers to the Lord Jesus. So God the Father is the Comforter, God the Holy Ghost is the Comforter, and God the Son is the Comforter. How wonderfully well we are taken care of! The entire Godhead is engaged in comforting and sustaining the people of the Lord.
The first aspect of comfort we all need is that of forgiveness. It was the Lord Jesus who said to the poor troubled one, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matt. 9: 22). Has He said that to you? Do you know the comfort of divine forgiveness? “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people…cry unto her…that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1, 2). The “double” was really the doubling up of the bond after it was paid, and the debt that stood against us has been paid by our Lord Jesus, and so ours may be the comfort of forgiveness.
But then we need comfort to help in every time of trial as we go through this world, and we have the blessed Holy Spirit dwelling within us to be our Comforter. There is a lovely word in the sixty-sixth chapter of the book of the Prophet Isaiah, “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” There are different Hebrew words translated “comfort.” This particular one really comes from a root that means “to sigh.” “As one whom his mother sighs with, so I the Lord will sigh with you.” Why did they translate that “comfort”? Do you get any comfort like that? Do you remember when you were a little tot and in some trouble and distress, and mother drew you into her arms and patted your head and said, “Yes, yes, mother understands; mother feels with you in it all”? Your mother “sighed” with you, and it helped wonderfully. Mothers are wonderful people. I sometimes say they are amiable witches, they are wonderworkers. A little chap running around the yard hurts himself, the knee is cut, and mother picks him up in her arms, and even before she gets the mercurochrome she kisses it and says, “Yes, yes, mother knows it hurts,” and the little fellow says, “Mamma, it is better already.” Our God enters with us into all our troubles; He is not an indifferent spectator.
A minister tells the story how years ago when he was a young preacher he had been very busy one entire week and did not have time to get at his Sunday sermons until Saturday morning. He felt he must take the entire day to concentrate and get ready for the Lord’s Day services. He said to his wife, “My dear, I must not be disturbed this morning. I am going into my study and have to get up two sermons for tomorrow. You just tell everybody I cannot see them.” And so she took her place as guardian. She had not been told to keep the children out, and the little folks came in and were playing noisily. Finally he said, “Mother, I cannot study with these children making so much noise,” and so she came running with a wooden basin full of nuts and a nut-cracker, thinking that would keep them occupied. But there was only one nut-cracker and there were three children, and they soon began fussing about who should have it. The little girl found she could crack nuts without a cracker; she could go to the door and put the nut against the jamb and pull the door and the nut was cracked. And so she held the nuts while her brother pulled the door, but suddenly the door came too quickly and she did not get her finger away, and she let out such a scream that the poor man with his overwrought nerves jumped up and said, “Mother, mother, you must come and take these noisy children away. I can- not study with them here.” She came running along and said, “Come, you must come away,” and started down the hallway with them. The little thing was crying so hard, and the minister could hear the mother saying, “Oh, my darling, does it hurt so much? Does it hurt so dreadfully?” And between her sobs she said, “It isn’t that it hurts so much, but Daddy never even said, ‘Oh’!” To feel there was no loving sympathy was what hurt.
Dear child of God, am I speaking to some one lying on a bed of sickness, enduring pain and anguish?2 Do you love the Lord Jesus? He loves you, and your God and Father is looking down upon you and saying, “Oh”. For it is written, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity he redeemed them” (Isa. 63: 9). As one whom his mother says “Oh” with, so the Lord your God says “Oh” with you. His comfort is a very real thing. He feels for you, and it is said of the Lord Jesus, “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, apart from sin” (Heb. 2:15, N.T.). He has been over the road. You can never suffer as He did; He sounded the depths of human lone- liness and anguish, and now He can feel for you in all you go through.
And so the apostle says, “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” We are often so selfish. We want people to take cognizance of our suffering; we want sympathy and a kind word and love. But we forget that there are others all around us who need it too, and if God comforts you in your trial, it is that you may comfort some one else. You will be able to say, “I know; I have been through it myself, and let me tell you how wonderfully the Lord undertook for me. He can do it for you too.”
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” The greater the suffering, the more we are called upon to endure, the more wonderful the opportunity we have of learning what a God our God is, and how marvelously He can meet every need of the human heart.
“Whether we be afflicted,” says the apostle, “it is for your consolation and salvation.” He was willing to suffer that others might be blessed. “Which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Since you Corinthians became Christians you are suffering for Christ. We suffered to bring Christ to you, and you are now entering into what we have been enduring. Let us together find our comfort in God.
“Whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” What a word of cheer that ought to be to any tried, troubled saint of God. You are partaker of the suffering, you are going through a time of special stress, but according to the Word of God you shall be partaker of the consolation. The Lord is ready to undertake for you, He in His infinite grace is waiting to minister to your deep need. Just trust Him, and after that you have suffered a while He will bring you out to His own praise and glory. Meanwhile may it be yours and mine to “glorify Him in the fire.”
If you are unsaved, how much you are missing! You do not know the comfort of the Triune God. You are turning away from your best Friend, and you do not realize it. You remember the invitation of the Lord Jesus as He looked out upon the sin-sick world and said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11: 28). And this invitation comes to you today. Will you come? Will you find in Him that rest which you can never find anywhere else? No matter what your sin, no matter what your anxiety, He waits to meet every need if you will only trust Him.
1 In “Addresses on First Corinthians,” same author and publishers.
2 These messages were broadcast over the Radio as well as addressed to the audience in the church auditorium.