Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The gift of comfort – pay it forward

Some of the initial text in 2 Corinthians introduces us to a wonderful example of why the body of Christ is so important. We need each other; we encourage each other; we comfort each other. God uses us to minister to each other as Christ ministers to us and through us. When we share Christ, and he lives in us, we are equipped to encourage and comfort each other in times of trouble and hardship.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

When Paul is talking about comfort he is not talking about encouragement so we can go on living a happy-go-lucky, easy going, smooth sailing life. Comfort is presented as consolation and encouragement. This “comfort” is ultimately extended to believers who have suffered, often severely, for the sake of Christ. You can experience a level of this if you have had a bad day at the office, caught a mild cold, got a speeding ticket, missed a flight, or had a disagreement with a family member. However, the main purpose and net effect of this form of comfort discussed by Paul is to help believers endure the same kind of suffering he was suffering. Although we don’t see a lot of extreme suffering for Jesus’ sake in America, it does exist in many places throughout the world today and definitely was present in first century church.

Paul was saying that just as we are persecuted because of Christ, so we also receive comfort because of Christ. Yes, at times it can be tough being a believer, but praise God for the incredible encouragement and comfort we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ and this often came from Jesus to us through our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For instance, Paul received comfort and encouragement during his difficult ministry filled with beatings, ridicule, and imprisonment when he received good news of progress and spiritual growth from the churches such as the church in Corinth. This comfort, or encouragement, then gave him the strength to provide comfort to others. Do you see how this works? It is the gift from God that should keep on giving. It’s a kind of “pay it forward” experience.

It is important to point out that this gift of comfort is not self-serving, but rather for the equipping and the health of the church at large. Therefore, stay in fellowship with other believers. It is essential to you and to others. God created the church, the fellowship of the saints, for a reason. He uses the church in very real ways. Don’t be a loner. You could be missing out on great comfort or the blessing of being an encouragement to so many others.

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