Have you ever been reading through an epistle and thought, “Wow. That sounds pretty arrogant, Paul.” I had this happen to me recently while reading through 2 Corinthians. In the first chapter, Paul says he had planned to visit them “so that you might twice receive a blessing” (1:15). This sounds like Paul was going to “bless” them with his presence. However, that isn’t exactly what he meant.
Throughout the whole chapter, Paul has been overflowing with joy about what God is doing. As he is sharing these truths, he is building up to verse 15 through the careful shaping of his argument. He starts in verses 3 and 4 when he speaks about how God “comforts us in all our affliction.” That’s an amazing promise and a whole different blog article right there. But as marvelous as the comfort we receive is, that is not Paul’s focus.
Paul emphasizes the purpose of the comfort. One of the benefits and reasons for the comfort we receive from God is so that we can “comfort those who are in any affliction” (v. 4). Again, an amazing thought that the King and Creator of all would choose to use us as vessels in His work of comforting His children. Yet Paul’s argument doesn’t stop there.
He begins to shift to his own experience by saying, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer” (v. 6). A lot packed in there, but Paul is emphasizing that what he experienced and received was not for him alone—the Corinthians shared in it.
In the following verses, he expounds this in various ways. After recounting an incredible difficult circumstance God delivered him through, Paul says, “And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers” (vv. 10, 11). There was a partnership that resulted so that even more “thanks may be given” to God (v. 11). Then we come to verse 14 where Paul says that “we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.”
This may seem a little bewildering, but Paul is making a very profound claim. The truth Paul explains is that the comfort, blessings, and gifts we experience from God are not exclusively or ultimately for us. Rather, they are gifts and equippings for us to serve others for God’s glory. Comfort through trials is the specific focus of the passage, but the principle extends to other blessings we receive from God.
So the being “proud” of verse 14 is not a prideful boast of “look what I did.” Instead, it’s a joyous exclamation of “look what God did!” This is exemplified in Paul’s life when he and Barnabas come to the Jerusalem counsel. These men “were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). The emphasis is on what God did—Paul and Barnabas were only vessels.
Now let’s bring this back to where we started, with Paul telling the Corinthians they would be blessed by his visit. Verse 16 explains what Paul means by indicating the fellowship the Corinthians would receive and the opportunity to help Paul financially in his ministry. The blessing did include the fellowship, but it was also the opportunity to use what God had given them in a way to serve others. As they did so, God’s mission would be carried on, the gospel would spread, and Christ would be glorified. The blessing was the chance to take part in that.
Though our own situations may be different, the principle extends to us. God has graciously chosen to bless us individually, and we should absolutely praise Him for that. But a secondary purpose of that blessing is so we can be used by Him to serve others. We are not the final destination of His comfort, His love, or His gifts. They are bestowments to be used in His service.
This doesn’t downplay the comfort we receive. Quite the opposite. Think about it—the Lord of all, the One who commands thousands upon thousands of angels, the One who spoke and all things came into existence—He chooses to use us. What a privilege and what an honor. We should praise Him for these opportunities and seek to be vessels He can use.
How will He use us? that varies from person to person. It’s not always financial. Here in 2 Corinthians 1, prayer is held up as this type of partnership. We also serve God by walking alongside one another for the long term, and not just when things are easy. Whatever the specific application, the Holy Spirit will guide us.
But the bottom line is this: God blesses us with His love, comfort, and gifts so that we can turn around and serve others with those same things. This is a great privilege we are blessed with. So will we see our blessings this way? We should praise Him for the comfort and love we receive, but will we do so by our actions and not just our words? Paul encouraged the Corinthians to. Let us heed his words and follow the pattern of Scripture.
For an excellent discussion of how we use our comfort and demonstrate love to others, check out “Instruments in the Redeemers’ Hands” by Paul David Tripp.