March 22, 2011

A Theological Jack-In-The-Box: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  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. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." 2 Corinthians 1:3-7

That's a lot of comfort in four verses.

I had to give a sermon on this passage. Here is the main gist of it.

2 Corinthians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul. This letter is profoundly theological but disorderly and marked by sudden breaks and digression. Due to its frequent departures into asides and brevity it is believed Paul was under a fair amount of stress and afflictions. The First Corinthian letter was written to address problems in the church including adultery, immorality, lawsuits. This is a follow-up to it and it may not be the only one. A second missing letter probably predates this one. Letter is extremely personal and highly autobiographical. Presents personal information about Paul’s pastoral work, supernatural experiences and list of suffering as an Apostle of Christ. Paul seeks to expose deceptiveness of his detractors in Corinth (Super Apostles) and discredit them. Paul had to address and rebuke his opponents in the church since they had been making inroads into church as false teachers and were undermining Paul’s apostolic authority. It is absolutely unclear exactly who these opponents were. They could’ve been Gnostics, Judaizers or what are referred to as Divine-men. Regardless, Paul writes and makes comparison of himself to the false teachers or so-called “peddlers of God’s word” or what I have dubbed the “Super Apostles”. This opposed to opponents/false teachers floating around in the Corinthians church stirring up trouble that could produce few or none of these evidences.

Paul also wants to show his delight in Corinth’s godly response to wickedness in their church. So what does that does Paul Write? Although there are other topics addressed in this letter such as collections, what is absolutely relevant to the greeting of thanksgiving above is Paul’s sufferings in his Apostleship for Christ. What we see in Paul in this latter is how a true apostle or disciples life parallels the Master’s in terms of self-sacrifice and love and for the well-being of others both physically and spiritually.

It is within this reasoning that we see the true core of a Christian whether they be Paul or you the reader.

What we will see over and over again in 2 Corinthians is the sufferings of Paul. Paul’s suffering dot the letter and include Chapter 4, Chapter 6 and the now infamous grocery list in Chapter 11 that included: (5) Five lashings of 39 lashes from the Jews. (3) Three times I was beaten with rods, (1) once I was stoned, (3) three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, etc. ,etc. Having endured these sufferings he did not mention them to bring glory to himself but rather to God. He saw his affliction as a method for furthering the message of the Gospel.

It appears that he adds this prayerful aside in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 to deliberately stand out in stark contrast to the brutality perpetrated on Paul that will follow. We see in Paul’s example: a man that is comforted by God the Father in his affliction and sufferings. A man who knows hardship and abuse as a Christian. A man that, having endured these hardships has seen God’s mercy that has got him through it and even allowed him to discuss the very afflictions he writes of in this passage and letter as a vehicle or method that glorifies God.

Why? 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. But we also know from elsewhere in the Scripture that preseverence also builds character:

Romans 5:3 “…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

To really make this greeting "pop" and stand out we need to do a Greek word study of a particularly necessary word and its cognates:

"Comfort" - paraklesis / παράκλησις ... The "Linguistic Key to NT Greek" literally says: “The One who encourages and stands beside to comfort” , parakaleo / παρακαλέω "to call to one's side"
Comforted”- parakaloumetha / παρακαλούμεθα : indicates a Present Passive Indicative (PPI) which denotes a continual action.

In other words comfort is received every time a one is afflicted (Rienecker 450). The frequency of this word or concept is tenfold in the four quoted verses above. Ten times some form of paraklesis or parakalos is used in just these 4 verses (v.3-7) of the first chapter. Paul is clearly trying to drive home a point with this noun stem (Nestle-Aland, et al 472). It is obvious why this word and its cognates are used when juxtaposed with Paul’s sufferings in the book of 2 Corinthians. Which is actually a letter which reads like an autobiography of affliction in Paul’s life. When used as a noun adjacent to the idea of being “In Christ”, it quickly becomes evident that the nouns paraklesis or parakaleo are manifestations of the Paraklete/Holy Spirit and can be deemed synonymous or the same as the actions and the Source are the same: The Holy Spirit.

The idea that it is Jesus Christ is mentioned in verse 3 as a praise of Him and then again immediately following verses 3 & 4 in verse 5 where we are told that not only do we share in Jesus’ suffering but also our comfort abounds in Him. If another Christian suffers and is then comforted it is so other Christians can learn vicariously that God is faithful to provide and like the idea of Parakaleo…the Holy Spirit uses the person to convey the message in their actions. It is through the work of encouragement of the Holy Spirit that we are able to endure the affliction. As James says in James 1:3-4…”Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It is only with the help of the Spirit of God that one could find joy in enduring affliction.

The overflow of the Holy Spirit is so pronounced in a believer’s life that not only does the believer being immediately aided in their affliction benefit but also those observing vicarious or secondary manner either through our actions or behavior or both. Or as (v.4) says He: “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” As believers we will not only be aided by God directly through the Holy Spirit but we will also receive indirect or perhaps even direct encouragement and comfort seeing others comforted by the same power. We will see others going through the same afflictions and we will be able to observe the faithfulness of God to comfort them and others through the outward manifestations of work of the Holy Spirit. Not only that but we will have others to relate to as Christians with the same trials. It is like a double support system. It’s like having a safety net under the safety net in terms of comfort.

To beat this up some more I will add that the same word stem is used in parakletos...i.e.: The Paraklete...i.e.: The Holy Spirit or “The One who encourages and stands beside to comfort.”

If this needs to be flogged even further I will quote Jesus from John 16:7:

"But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” …Helper…parakletos.

Paul is clearly trying to drive home a point with this noun stem and its cognates (Nestle-Aland, et al 472). It is obvious why when juxtaposed with Paul’s sufferings. What does not become immediately evident in the English versions is that the noun stem used in the Greek word for “comfort” is the same exact stem used in the stem used in the Proper Noun of “Comforter” used in John 16:7 when referring to the Holy Spirit. Once this is realized, this passage explodes like a theological Jack-In-The-Box. Bang!

I posit that although these words are used in different case endings, we are dealing with the same exact thing…or should I say the same exact One: The Holy Spirit. Paul’s greeting doesn’t explicitly state this but it is nearly impossible to miss in the Greek when seeing the compound word stems of parakletos and its cognate parakaleo which are shown 10 times in 4 verses.The comfort derived from the Father through belief in Jesus Christ is in the Holy Spirit.

Analogy: The Holy Spirit is like fruit that has the seed already within itself to reproduce its own comfort. When people see the comfort He produces in a believer they themselves become comforted and reproduce the same fruit. Like fruit on a tree it attracts us and invites us to partake of it. What is fruit? It is an overabundance of life or a surplus of internal life!!!

I will conclude with the with the Comforter’s Paradox.

We, the believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit end up being the very vehicle to comfort other believers…even in our affliction. ESPECIALLY IN OUR AFFLICTION! He (God) is not just the God of all comfort; God is the comfort. He comforts us effectively because through Christ, He understands our suffering and knows exactly how to comfort. The Paraklete/Comforter dwells in you as does his parakaleo/comfort which is a manifestation of the Paraklete’s presence. By the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, you are comforted. Since you couldn’t possible fully contain the Holy Spirit, His effects run over the brim and affect the other believers that are also in need of God’s mercy. This overflow is why we are called to go out into the world, through the good and even in suffering to bear witness to the truth-to Christ. Believers act as the vehicle for conveying God’s Spirit to others through God’s chosen method: Evangelism…even evangelism through our own affliction. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ.

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