This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Horacio Herrera (from Cuba. Mr. Herrera writes using a pseudonym because of his leading role in the Cuban church), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:6)
There is an infinite and glorious harmony enclosed in these verses which is a reality for the Body of Christ, worldwide. If one is distressed, it is for the comfort of somebody else.
What does Paul mean by this? The answer is found in the preceding verses (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God comforts Paul in his troubles so that he can comfort those in trouble with the comfort he himself received from God.
If we have never been poor, how can we fully understand the situation of those who are?
If we have never been in pain, how can we help those who are? Having experienced it ourselves, we can feel with others who go through that hardship today.
What a wonderful unity in the body. Even if it is dispersed throughout the world, it keeps a harmonious unity. If anyone is troubled, the other is comforted. It is almost a mystery.
Our present times of suffering become your encouragement. Because we share with you--even through this [writing]--how God has strengthened us in times of trouble. So that you can be assured that God has not forsaken us and that He will not forsake you if you may ever have to endure the hardships we have already endured.
'And surely I am with you always' (Matthew 28:20)
A moment of introspection: When we hear the word, "comfort", do our thoughts right away waft over the concepts of "ease", "luxury", "the lifestyles of the rich and famous"? Might I suggest--think again. Consider Luke 12:13-21, wherein ease, or living in comfort is presented in less than a positive light. The Palmist describes "the ungodly, who are always at ease." (Psalm 73:12). But the point to be made, is not regarding a life of ease and comfort, but the oft-misunderstood relationship between suffering for the sake of Christ and His Name, His message, His gospel--and the comfort that such sufferings bring to those of us who do not suffer for the sake of Christ, and have not in the past done so, either. Consider the instruction of God to Isaiah, to comfort God's people (Isaiah 40:1-3) for his time in the history of Israel. We too are called to comfort God's people "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14)
When the apostle Paul said, "If we are distressed, it is for your comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:6), he was drawing a link between persecution for one's faith, and comforting of the hearers or readers of such reports of persecution. Paul's suffering bringing us comfort. How does that work? Let's consider this.
Mr. Herrera states, "God comforts Paul in his troubles so that he can comfort those in trouble with the comfort he himself received from God." Another noted theologian, William Barclay, wrote: "The supreme result of all this is that we gain the power to comfort others who are going through it. It is Paul's claim that the things which happened to him and the comfort which he has received have made him able to be a source of comfort to others. Barrie tells how his mother lost her dearest son, and then he says, 'That is where my mother got her soft eyes and why other mothers ran to her when they had lost a child.' It was said of Jesus Himself, 'Because He Himself has gone through it, He is able to help others who are going through it.' (Hebrews 2:18). It is worthwhile experiencing suffering and sorrow if that experience will enable us to help others who are struggling with life's waves and billows." (Wm. Barclay, in The Letters to the Corinthians, The Saint Andrew Press, 1956, p. 191)
The apostle Paul received comfort from God and passed along what he learned--what was communicated to him from God--to us so that we might also be comforted by Paul's suffering and God's ensuing comfort to him. The lessons we learn from the Paul's trials/persecution experiences and that of other apostles and disciples of our own day, are not just for our benefit, though, but should be used to help others who we know are discriminated against or abused in our vicinity because of their faith in Jesus. This is perhaps an economic lesson from the divine instruction book (the equation might look something like this:
in which "a" is God, "b" is a suffering Christian who has learned from and been consoled or comforted by God, we "c" Christians benefit from what the persecuted Christians learned from God and how they were comforted by Him, but also the combined experience of the embattled saints and that comfort (instruction) from God)) resulting in changed lives. "d" is someone who we can help with a new perspective and who we can comfort if and when needed.
We have read and perhaps heard of how God provided a new perspective (comfort) to a persecuted Christian. Can we in turn use such information and comfort to help others? Let's see how we might do this. There are a number of ways in which we can reach out to encourage others. Here are a couple:
1. We could encourage beleaguered Christians in prison be writing letters to them on sites such as the VOM Prisoner Alert or the Open Doors USA Letter Writing websites or via using the Doing Time For God resource.
2. We can reach out to, comfort and encourage any who we may know, who does suffer for the name of Jesus. Ask for the aid of the Holy Spirit (the Comforter/Helper which Jesus promised just prior to His ascension [cf, John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7 [KJV])
In Mr. Barclay's writing, he extrapolates to providing comfort to anyone experiencing a loss of health, or family member, or job, or relationship, or any other part of our lives as humans. For our purposes, we focus on those who because of their faith in Jesus Christ, have lost all, lost family members because of persecution, or lost any other major component of their life. Keep in mind that, "...there is always a certain inspiration in any suffering or effort which a man's Christianity may incur, for such suffering, as Paul puts it, is the overflow of Christ's suffering reaching to us. It is a sharing in the suffering of Christ. In the old days of chivalry, the knights used to come demanding some especially difficult task, some especially perilous dragon to face, in order that they might show their devotion to the lady whom they loved. To suffer for Christ is a privilege. When the hard thing comes, the Christian can say, as Polycarp the aged Bishop of Smyrna said when they bound him to the stake, 'I thank Thee that Thou hast judged me worthy of this hour.'" (William Barclay, in The Letters to the Corinthians, The Saint Andrew Press, 1956, p. 191) This is a wise reminder that when people suffer for the name and sake of Jesus Christ, one perspective focuses on loss, the other on the privilege (Hebrews 2:18; 2 Corinthians 4-5). One focuses on injury and hurt, the other on rejoicing (Romans 5:3-5, Matthew 5:10-11). One focuses on sorrow, the other on encouragement (John 16:33). Perspective often is the comfort that God brings, in the midst of suffering. In this world, suffering is real; suffering for the name of Jesus is real, concrete and painful. Can we bring God’s comfort to others?
We who have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, have a wonderful opportunity to serve God through bringing that real Holy Spirit to comfort those who mourn. Be open to the leading of the Spirit, and be available to those who hurt. Perhaps we may be for that person, the morning of joy (Psalm 30:5) for those who suffer man’s wrath. As Horacio Herrera has stated, when we might ourselves be in need of comfort (John 15:20), "you can be assured that God has not forsaken us and that He will not forsake you if you may ever have to endure the hardships we have already endured." May God comfort His presently-persecuted family here on this world (and may we be a part of the expression of that comfort, if called to be), and to us, if the time comes that we too suffer the wrath of man in our lives and we plead for such comfort.