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.
The comfort God gives, however, isn’t for us alone. We can’t hoard it. The ways the gospel has changed us must be shared; the truth of who Christ is and what he has done must be voiced.
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.
What does such comfort look like in the church?
- When the Spirit helps us put sin to death, we share that joy with other believers so they too can rejoice in the gospel’s power at work.
- When we’ve endured a season in which God met us in our pain, we share it with other believers so they too can see God’s faithfulness.
- When God provides what we need in the eleventh hour, we share that joy so others can know that God is Jehovah-Jireh, our provider.
- When God strengthens us in weakness, when he heals and brings redemption, when he teaches us through discipline—in all these ways and more—we share that comfort for another’s spiritual good.
May our friendships in the church be unique. May they be marked by gospel comfort. And just as Paul, Titus, and the Corinthians experienced God’s comfort, may the gospel come full circle in our own churches as we witness and testify together to what our King has done.