Based on this truth, the comfort we give to one another in the church isn’t the “you can do it” and “everything will be okay” comfort of the world. No, this comfort is honest about sin and its effects. It doesn’t sugarcoat or wish things away. Instead, it seeks hope and help outside of our own strength and in the only One who can save. It’s grounded in the glad news of who Christ is and what he descended to do.
C. S. Lewis once said friendship is born at the moment when one says to another, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . . .” We’ve all had that “You too?” moment with another person when we discovered a common interest. We instantly felt encouraged, connected, and less alone.
While friendships based on similar likes and interests are wonderful, there is a deeper level of friendship. When we have friendships in the church, we receive comfort and encouragement we can’t get anywhere else.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul points the suffering believers to their union with Christ in his sufferings, and he describes God as the “God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3).
Paul had experienced his own suffering while in Asia, even to the point that he “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8), but God delivered him and his co-laborers. As he wrote to the Corinthians, then, he was thankful for the God “who comforts us in all our affliction, 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” (2 Cor. 1:4)
Having received comfort from God, Paul was positioned to extend comfort to others.
But the Corinthians were also able to comfort Paul—though they did so after giving him some trouble. In an earlier letter, Paul confronted the Corinthians and was grieved by their sin. This grief was good, for it provoked them to repent. He wrote:
For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. (2 Cor. 7:5–7)
Paul had to confront the Corinthians, which was not a comfortable thing for anyone; but when they responded well, they brought Titus comfort, who then brought it to Paul. And when the Corinthians received this letter, surely they were comforted by Paul’s joy. So the news of the Corinthians’ repentance came full circle, comforting all who encountered it.
This story of gospel comfort in 2 Corinthians reminds us that we’re all united to Christ, and that when he is at work in one of us, it affects all of us. God’s grace multiplies as it works through the life of a local church.