What’s Your Comfort Level?
As human beings we find comfort in a variety of things and experiences in life. Comfort can be physical, like relaxing in an easy chair at the end of a hard day’s work or finding that just right mattress for each night’s rest. It can also be emotional, a state of contentment and wellbeing. We’ve all heard the expression, “comfort foods,” particular food items that leave us feeling uniquely satisfied. It’s a combination of the physical and emotional.
Comfort can also be finding oneself in a situation where there are more knowns than unknowns. All of us have felt that tightness in our stomach or an increase in our heart rate when we’re in a new and unfamiliar situation. Those are signs that we’re beyond our comfort level. That’s why we often talk about the comforts of home. Home is predictable, it is known to us. The room layouts, the furnishings, the habits, and rhythms of life with our families are all familiar.
But what about comfort on a spiritual level? What does that look like? If you are a born-again follower of Jesus, think back to the time when the Spirit of God was drawing you to Himself. What did you feel as you were confronted by your sinfulness and by your inability to measure up to God’s righteous standard for living?
I remember the spiritual struggle in my own heart that resulted in physical discomfort. As I wrestled with admitting that I was an incurable sinner in need of a Savior, my chest felt tight, my palms were sweaty, and my heartrate increased. And when I finally yielded to the calling of the Holy Spirit, a feeling of incredible peace and comfort came over me. Maybe your experience was similar to mine. That’s really not surprising, is it? After all, Jesus, in John 14:16 referred to the Holy Spirit as the Comforter.
The apostle Paul opens his second letter to the Corinthians with an emphasis on comfort, but not just any kind of comfort. In these five short verses he uses the same Greek word 10 times! It is translated into two different English words, comfort, and consolation. I hope you’ll join me in our study from Second Corinthians chapter one titled, “What’s Your Comfort Level?” Listen now as I read that Scripture text, Second Corinthians 1:3 to 7.
In this text, we observe several LEVELS of comfort and how each one impacts our life and relationships.
The First Comfort LEVEL is,
The Source of Comfort
As I said in the introduction, we all like comfort. But really, where does genuine comfort come from and why is it important for us to find the answer to that question? It’s important because until we find the source of genuine comfort, we’ll keep trying things that fail to provide what we’re looking for. It was Augustine who said, “…our heart is restless until we find our rest in You.” Restlessness is tension, it’s the opposite of comfort. Augustine believed, and rightly so, that true comfort can only be found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Paul begins his letter by blessing, or eulogizing, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. He refers to God as the Father of mercies. In this, he borrowed from a synagogue prayer that called for God to treat the sinful individual with kindness, love, and tenderness. In his sin of numbering the people in Second Samuel 24, David was given a choice of his punishment. He understood the need to cast himself on the mercy of God. He said, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
You and I know God as the Father of mercies in His provision of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Paul wrote in Titus 3:4 to 7, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It is only God’s mercy that spares us from eternal judgment.
Paul expands this blessing by identifying God as the source of ALL comfort or consolation; not just some comfort, but all of it. This is the earliest passage in the New Testament where this word comfort is applied to God. Numerous Old Testament verses refer to the comfort provided by God. In Isaiah 66:13, God says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” No one can give earthly comfort quite like a mother can, and they get their ability from God. Paul blesses God as the ultimate comfort giver.
The Greek word here translated comfort or consolation is paraklesis and is related to the familiar word paraclete, the one who comes along side to help. This is the word Jesus used when He promised the disciples another Comforter – in the person of the Holy Spirit, John 14:16 and John 16:7. This “other” comforter that Jesus promised would be another comforter of the same kind that Jesus was. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and His oneness with the Father and the Son enable Him to comfort and console us like no human being can.
You and I may equate comfort with ease, but as we continue through the text and this entire book, we’ll see that God’s comfort is more about bringing encouragement, strength, and boldness to help us through our difficulty and hardship. We can be assured that God’s encouraging comfort always exceeds our discouragement and distress.
Have you found God to be the source of your comfort? If not, you’ll be frustrated until you do.
The Next Comfort LEVEL is,
The School of Comfort
School is a place where learning is supposed to happen; not indoctrination but education, training in how to think and reason. Paul reminds his readers that the events of life are educational as well.
He states, matter-of-factly, that God comforts us in all our tribulation. In Paul’s life there was always something or someone who was attempting to weaken him, restrict or confine his ministry, or even take his life. But Paul was confident in God’s ability to comfort, strengthen, and sustain him.
Tribulation refers to crushing pressures, opposition from Satan and the world around us. The word is related to the crushing of grapes in a winepress. In chapter four of this same letter Paul revisits this analogy, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair…” This ability to bear up under extreme pressure is possible only through the mercy and comfort of God.
Why does God provide this comfort? First of all, because He loves us and wants our experiences to draw us closer to Him. But secondly, and perhaps just as important, He wants to school us or teach us how to comfort others. That’s what the text says. So, comfort from God isn’t an end in itself. The purpose of being comforted is so that we can turn around and give comfort to others. If we don’t experience the comfort of God in our own lives, how will we know how to extend comfort to others?
Think about Paul’s own experience. On the road to Damascus, God had humbled his proud heart and convicted him of persecuting Jesus. But Ananias was sent to him by God to comfort, encourage, and strengthen him. Similarly, God had convicted the members of the Corinthian church for their rebellion against Paul’s apostolic authority. Now, God was sending a message through Paul that would strengthen and encourage them.
All of us have been through hard experiences, like dealing with cancer or some other devastating disease. For others it’s broken relationships with a spouse or family. Sadly, many have suffered hurt in their church families, even to the point of abuse. We mustn’t minimize any of these kinds of experiences, but we must realize that God expects us to learn from them and then use what we learn to comfort and encourage those who are going through those hard things right now. Personal experience of God’s comfort is necessary before we can pass it on to others.
Sadly, too many of us in western Christianity have bought into the idea that following Christ should make our lives easier. That mindset is contrary to the entire Scripture and especially the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. In Colossians 1:24 Paul makes an interesting statement. He writes, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…”
What does Paul mean by his statement about filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ? One thing he cannot mean is that Christ’s suffering for our salvation was not sufficient. That conclusion would fly in the face of many other portions of Scripture.
The word Paul uses here is never used of the things Christ suffered on our behalf to secure our reconciliation. It refers to the trials and tribulations that Jesus went through during His earthly ministry and to the same kinds of trials that all true followers of His will experience. Hebrews 5:8 states it this way. “…though He was a Son, yet He learned [was schooled in or experienced] obedience by the things which He suffered.” And because He suffered, He is able to be our faithful and merciful High Priest.
Are you looking at the hard experiences of your life as an opportunity to grow and learn? What lessons have you learned from the painful experiences of life that God wants you to use to equip and encourage others?
The Final Comfort LEVEL is,
The Scope of Comfort
In verse six, Paul assures his readers that scope or extent of God’s comfort reaches beyond time and on into eternity. This is so important for us to understand because it gives greater meaning and purpose to our suffering. Without this eternal perspective, our suffering can seem to be at best, a distraction, and at worst, pointless. But we have God’s promise that “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Paul reminded them that his affliction should be a means of comfort to them and a strengthening of their salvation. This, in turn, will empower them to endure similar experiences. The salvation Paul speaks of isn’t a reference to our acceptance of the gift at our initial conversion, but rather, the current process of our salvation being fleshed out, and then the culmination of our entire experience with Christ when we meet Him face to face.
Paul reminds us that our focus ought not to be on suffering or comfort. Instead, we should see every experience as moving us along the upward pathway of spiritual maturity, equipping us to help a brother or sister now going through a similar experience to what we’ve been through. So, whether one suffers or is comforted, the goal is the same, encouragement to flesh out the reality of your salvation.
Paul reminds us in Romans 8:17 that if we expect to be glorified with Jesus, we will first need to suffer with Him! And Peter counsels us to “…rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad, with exceeding joy.” Did you catch that? Peter connects the extent of our sufferings with the depth of our joy!
Finally, Paul reminds the Corinthian Believers that he is steadfast in his hope for them. In other words, he isn’t being pushed back and forth by his feelings. He is firmly convinced that as they endure suffering or comfort from an eternal perspective, it will have the desired effect in their lives. I can think of people I know in whose lives I’ve seen this process working out so clearly. And they are a blessing!
It’s important to understand that the biblical concept of hope is different than our common use of the word. Often, when we speak of hope, we’re talking about things within the realm of what’s possible. That kind of hope is often disappointing because circumstances don’t work out the way we want them to.
The biblical concept contains the idea of assurance, waiting with confidence, expectation, and patience. In another place, Paul speaks of this hope as a “hope that does not disappoint.” This ultimate hope is captured in these words from Psalm 16. “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” What more could anyone want?
So, I ask the question again, “what is your comfort level?” Have you found the source of comfort by entering into a relationship with the God of ALL comfort? Remember, if you haven’t, you’re not going to find what you’re looking for. There is no genuine comfort outside Him.
If God is your Father, then you are currently enrolled in the school of comfort. Are you chaffing at the suffering you experience, hoping to escape the classroom, or do you believe that God is using it to teach you valuable life lessons? Are you seeing your difficulties as opportunities to learn how to comfort and bless those around you?
And finally, do you understand the scope of comfort? Are you aware of the fact that everything that happens to you is part of the process of working out your salvation? And have you embraced the hope through Christ that will never disappoint you? I pray this teaching will raise your comfort level and bring you much joy in the Lord!