2 Corinthians 1:1-11

(watch here: https://youtu.be/tH72dGdHGmE)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted to us through the prayers of many.


As we set out on a new sermon series with Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, I’m reminded of the one about a farmer and his wife who were traveling in their one-horse wagon down the road. The horse faltered and caused the wagon to jolt. The farmer said, “That’s one.” The horse faltered again and the farmer said, “That’s two.” The horse faltered a third time and the farmer stopped the wagon, got out, and shot the horse dead. His wife cried out, “You monster! How could you shoot that poor animal? Have you no compassion?!?!” The farmer sat back down in the wagon and calmly replied, “That’s one.”

Oh, how refreshing a farmer’s perspective can be sometimes: simple, direct, and to-the-point…not to mention a little callous! I often wonder if Paul’s words to his beloved congregation at Corinth were of a similar nature. Simple, direct, to-the-point yet with a subtle tinge of callousness. Not that you get that impression from these opening verses to his second letter to his congregation. No, here we hear Paul take a decidedly different approach to pastoral care. Rather than chastise his congregation for their quarreling and divisive behavior as we heard him do in his first letter to them, Paul tries to comfort them with the consolation found in the “Father of mercies and God of consolation.” Indeed, Paul decides to show compassion to his beloved congregation…quite unlike that heartless farmer and somewhat against his own character…and it is in that compassion that we will dwell this week.

Over and over in our passage, we hear Paul use the expression, “to console” or “consolation.” Our God is a God of consolation, a Father of mercies. We are consoled in our sufferings and we are expected to console others in response. Just as God suffered and consoles us through Christ, so, too, must we console those around us who suffer. God didn’t suffer without a purpose. No, God suffered in order to not only show us He isn’t beyond suffering but also to show us what we are to do with our suffering. We are to convert our suffering into deeper compassion for others. That’s what Christ did. He didn’t complain about his suffering. No, he saw it as a way of empathizing and sympathizing with our suffering so that he might better show us deeper love and compassion. He knew just how difficult it is to adequately show compassion without first understanding what it is to suffer. So he welcomed his suffering. He didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t look forward to it. But he used it to fuel his love and compassion for us.

Friends, there is a lot of suffering in this world. Some of it is justifiable and expected. A LOT of it is unjustifiable and unexpected as we recently reflected on with our good friend, Job. Some of the suffering directly affects us, A LOT of it indirectly or not at all. Some of the suffering is caused by us, A LOT of it isn’t. Regardless, there IS a lot of suffering in the world. And rather than bemoan all the suffering of this world, I see it as a great source for compassion just as Christ did. And just because you might have reached a place of little to no suffering doesn’t mean you don’t know suffering to some degree. No, we all to some degree know the suffering of the world. Convert that suffering into compassion. Work to ease the suffering of those around you. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (4:32) Kindness, tender-heartedness, forgiveness…these are all great expressions of compassion towards each other. They won’t get rid of suffering all together but in their small, unique ways they do provide a little relief to those who are suffering. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul also writes, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (3:12) Humility, meekness, patience…what tools of compassion for the suffering! 

Now besides Paul’s call to console others because we have been consoled, there’s another key lesson in today’s reading worth noting. Just because there is a lot of suffering in the world doesn’t necessarily mean we understand it all. There is some suffering that is not only unjustifiable and/or unexpected but also unexplainable. Some suffering is a mystery and will always remain a mystery. But not to God. Implicit in those titles Paul gives him, “Father of mercies” and “God of ALL consolation,” is the truth that God understands ALL suffering. And that can be a comfort to a great many people. I don’t know why some people suffer the way they do. But I have faith that God does and is able to provide just the right consolation and compassion. Our God is an awesome God and wants to comfort us in our suffering. He wants to be with us in our pain and suffering. Every week we confess the great promises he makes to us: God will never leave you or forsake you. You who were lost have been found. Friends, these are great promises to cling to times of suffering…times in which we can easily feel lost or abandoned. God will console you! God will comfort you! God’s grace and mercy is unending for all us. 

So we set out on our journey through Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians on strongly positive and pastoral note. Paul wants to console and comfort his divisive yet beloved congregation. Let us use his pastoral words to help us console and comfort each other. The suffering of the world seems very apparent these days. Let us use it to fuel our own consolation and compassion just as Christ did. Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.