Closer Than a Brother

Friday, January 6, 2017, 10:10 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “My Very Best Friend.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 (NIV).

Grace and Peace (vv. 1-2)

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

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:

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

To all God’s holy people, his church, his saints, i.e. to all those who love God and who are called according to his purpose be grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This word “grace” literally means “extension towards.” It has to do with God extending (putting forth; reaching; leaning) himself towards people to give himself to them (source: biblehub.com). For instance, it is mentioned in Romans 1 that God revealed himself (his divine qualities or attributes) to all humankind through all his created works. Then, we read in John 6:44 that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. So, here we see God extending himself toward humankind by drawing people to faith in Jesus Christ. Then, of course, we have God extending himself towards us by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for our sins so that we might be delivered out of slavery to sin and become slaves of his righteousness. And, we have him daily extending himself towards us who believe in Jesus via his many acts of love, compassion, kindness and mercy towards us.

The word “peace” literally means “wholeness,” “welfare,” and “peace of mind.” It has to do with “all essential parts joined together” (source: biblehub.com). This is not about absence of conflict, trouble or hardships, but rather speaks of an inner peace of heart and mind because one trusts in God and rests in his love, in his Word, in his sovereignty, and in his grace towards us. First of all, we are made to be at peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ, because of what he did for us in dying for our sins. And, then he fills us with his peace within our inner beings because we trust in him. We have no reason to ever be anxious about anything in this life, because our lives are now completely in his hands and under his divine control.

The God of Comfort (vv. 3-7)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

The word “comfort” in our English language means “ease, relief, cheer, security, reassurance or pacify” (soothe), etc. We think of it often in terms as someone coming alongside us during difficult times and making us feel better emotionally or mentally. Yet, the Greek word translated as “comfort” means “exhortation, entreaty, encouragement, comfort and summons.” It is a “’holy urging’ used of the Lord directly motivating and inspiring believers to carry out His plan, delivering His particular message to someone else. The core-meaning of 3874 /paráklēsis (‘personal urging’) is shaped by the individual context, so it can refer to: exhortation, warning, encouragement (comfort), etc.” – http://biblehub.com/greek/3874.htm

I believe this understanding of the word “comfort” fits very well with this passage of scripture in 2 Corinthians 1, also. First of all, we are not comforted by God merely for our own solace, but it is so that we can comfort others with the same encouragement (reassurance or urging) we received from God. So, how do I know this is speaking of more than just merely giving one another a pat on the back or a word of cheer to make us feel better emotionally? It is because this comfort produces in us patient endurance of the same sufferings others have had. If all we do is pat someone on the back and tell them “everything is going to be ok,” or we merely try to cheer them up so they feel better inside, temporarily, it is not going to produce in them patient endurance in suffering. They will want relief from suffering, instead, and thus the “comfort” won’t last.

Each and every situation will call for what type of comfort is needed, but if the end result is to be that we patiently endure suffering of the kind Jesus and the apostles suffered, then we need more than just cheering up. We need to be reassured of God’s love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and sovereignty over our lives, as well as of his calling and purpose for our lives.

We need that “holy urging” used of the Lord in motivating and inspiring us to carry out his plan. We need to be reminded that we are not in this world for ourselves or for our own ease, coziness or relief from suffering. In fact, the Bible teaches us that we are destined for suffering and that just as Jesus was hated and persecuted, so we would be also if we are truly to be his followers. We need to be exhorted (urged, pressed or incited) on toward greater faith, perseverance, fuller commitment to Christ, and holy living. In fact, one of the reasons for our suffering is that God is making us holy, he is purifying us, and he is conforming us into the image of his Son, i.e. he is pruning us so that we will be even more fruitful (Jn. 15:2).

Great Pressure (vv. 8-11)

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

When we believe in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives, God does not promise us that it will be one big party for us from this point on, even though today’s modern institutional church often leaves us with that impression. Faith in Jesus Christ is not about our personal comfort (ease) and enjoyment (entertainment, fun). It is about dying with Christ to sin and self, and being resurrected with him to newness of life, created to be like him in true righteousness and holiness (Ro. 6:1-23; Eph. 4:17-24). Does this mean we go around with frowns on our faces and it is all doom and gloom? No, certainly not! We should have way more reason to smile and to be joyful because of what Jesus did for us in giving us new lives free from the control of sin over our lives. And, we should be at total peace inside!

But, God does promise us that suffering is part of the Christian life, and that it serves a valuable purpose in our lives in training us in godliness, and in making us holy, and in purifying our hearts, and in teaching us patience and perseverance, etc. Paul said it is also so that we learn to not rely on ourselves but on God. Amen! I can attest to that! We can so easily get proud or self-sufficient when things are going well for us, but when we suffer, especially for the sake of the name of Jesus and his gospel, it does humble us and it teaches us that we must be totally dependent on our Lord in all things just to make it through each day. It gets us to lean on him. This is part of this “holy urging” we spoke about at the beginning of this writing. Suffering is often for the purpose to teach us what we need to learn.

Also, when we go through trials, difficulties and times of great suffering, it draws us to get closer to our Lord and it teaches us to lean on him, so this is also part of his grace to us, i.e. this is part of God’s extending himself towards us to give himself to us. He knows that, since we live in these flesh bodies, i.e. since we are but clay, that we need suffering to prune away the flesh so that we can mature in our walks of faith and can be more and more under the control (guidance, leadership) of the Spirit in our lives, because this is what is best for us. It is also his way of getting our attention when we get our eyes off him and on to ourselves or on to our circumstances. And, it is his way of extending himself towards us to show us his mercy, his compassion, and his grace that is always there for us to rest in, to find assurance in, and through which to experience renewed hope and purpose.

My Very Best Friend / Ron Hamilton – Patch the Pirate

Jesus is closer than a brother.
Every moment he is near.
I know he never will forsake me.
He has conquered all my fear.
Jesus is closer than a brother.
On his love I can depend.
King of kings, Lord of lords,
Conquering Son, oh, all of these,
He’s my very best friend.

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