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How well do you suffer? I am God’s adopted child, but I’m not good at it. I’m sure you also need to grow in this area.
As God’s adopted children, we suffer for a variety of reasons. First, because of Adam’s sin, we face suffering in a fallen world. God’s providential poundings are meant to drive us to repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:1–5; 8:18–39). Second, we often suffer as the result of our sinful thoughts, desires, words, and actions (1 Peter 4:12–19). Sin always has results. Yet, God’s mercy and grace call us back to the Good Shepherd (2:18–25; 1 John 1:5–2:2). Last, we also suffer as a target of the world and the devil because we are united to Christ.
When we suffer, whatever the cause, we hurt. Like a punch to the stomach, suffering seems to cause all the wind of the Holy Spirit to gush out. We struggle to catch our breath. What do we need? We need the God of all comfort to hold and comfort us as the Spirit rejuvenates us. God’s comfort soothes sorrow and distress. It also strengthens us and leads us to repentance if needed.
The Old Testament lays a foundation for our comfort. While Solomon says the oppressed have no defender and the wicked seem to have the power, this vanity is not the final word. For the Shepherd cares for God’s children (Pss. 23; 50; 52; 65; 70; 82; 119). God’s Word comforts. The prophets say God will comfort His people after their discipline in the exile (Isa. 12:1; 22:4; 51:3, 19; Zech 1:17). The good news is that God comforts His own (Isa. 40:1–5). Jesus fulfills these promises (61:1–4), as He declared in His sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–21). God’s comfort is complete in Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10:1–21).
This comfort is crystal clear in the New Testament. You will find comfort throughout the New Testament, but for now focus on Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1. God’s comfort is a major theme in the whole epistle. Paul suffered more than you and I combined, yet God comforted him (2 Cor. 4:7–12; 6:3–10; 11:16-–12:10). Read 2 Corinthians 1:3–11. Paul blesses God; he focuses on two of His characteristics. First, God is the Father of mercies. Our heavenly Father is tender-hearted, not hard-hearted. He showers us with mercies even in the midst of the suffering and pain. This is better than His wonderful self-description to Moses on Sinai (Ex. 34). He gives bread, fish, and eggs—yes, even the Spirit—not stones, snakes, and scorpions (Matt. 7:7–11; Luke 11:9–11).
Second, He is the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all of our afflictions. He not only showers us with undeserved mercies but also pours out comfort on us for two purposes. One, He comforts us so that we can, in turn, comfort others with this same merciful comfort. This is loving our neighbor as ourselves.
The second purpose in the severe, unmanageable afflictions and providential poundings is to kill self-confidence and self-reliance and shift our confidence and reliance to the God of the resurrection. This is trusting God with everything within us in the valley of the shadow of death. These two purposes—comforting others with the Father’s comfort and trusting the supernatural power of the Father to get us through the afflictions—should help us catch our breath as the Spirit rejuvenates us.
Yes, when afflictions and hard providences hit, and when we feel the Spirit has left us, what do we need? We need to cling to the promises of our comforting Father as the Spirit gives us comfort (Acts 9:31). The Father is tender-hearted: what a comfort. We are welcome before the throne of grace.
One final observation: Paul wants us to imitate him insofar as he imitates Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6). Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. He is also the model of faithful new covenant service (1 Peter 2:18–24). Jesus applies the mercy and comfort of the Father through the poured-out Spirit. Jesus is our faithful and merciful High Priest (Heb. 2:14–18; see Westminster Larger Catechism 55). He, better than all others, can sympathize with us as He suffered, was tempted in the midst of those sufferings, and yet did not sin (Heb. 4:14–16). He learned through those sufferings (5:7–10). We need to look to Him as the pioneer and perfecter of the faith (12:1–11). He brings us to the Father (John 17), and the Father’s comfort is a chief blessing of the new covenant.
Dear friend and fellow sufferer: Let us not waste our sufferings. Let us suffer well. Let us suffer like Paul. Let us suffer like Jesus. Why? So we will depend not on ourselves but on the Father of mercies who raises the dead. Why? So we can comfort others with the same comfort we received from the Father. Let us pray that we will all learn to suffer well for His glory.
May we receive these benedictions:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess. 2:16–17)