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Words of Life

The Nevertheless of Comfort and Community

By Mark Rutland September 20, 2009 Words of Life

“Nevertheless…” (II Corinthians 7:6)

There is a remarkable menagerie of words expressing pain of every kind in Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth; words like affliction, anguish, beatings, distresses, fastings, fightings, labors, perils, persecutions, sorrows, stripes, sufferings, tears, tumults, weak, and weakness. They snap and snarl at the reader ferociously, in such obviously inconsolable anguish that comfort is unimaginable.

“When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings and within were fears.” (II Cor. 7:5)

Yet even in the midst of the most pain-filled epistle in the New Testament there is…Nevertheless.

“Nevertheless God, who comforteth those that are cast down comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only, but by the consolation herewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me, so that I rejoiced the more.” (II Cor. 7:6-7)

To be sure, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, but Spirit-filled persons in community comfort one another. A friend having sent his little daughter up to bed heard her whimpering and went to check on her.

“What’s the matter, darling?”

“Daddy, I’m scared in here alone.”

“But you’re not alone,” he explained. “Jesus is right here with you.”

“I know,” she wailed. “But I want somebody with skin on his face.”

We all do. The scripture says that God inhabits the praises of His people. He also inhabits the comfort of His people. Beaten, afflicted, persecuted, suffering and weak, Paul the Apostle found the comfort of God—in Titus and in his report of the love and concern of the Christians at Corinth. Was it God who comforted Paul? Or was it Titus? The answer is “yes.”

The community of faith does not scold the grieving widow for her grief or dismiss it lightly. The people of God dare not tell the hurting in their midst that they do not hurt, do not have a right to hurt. Even so, we are not wordless in the face of their pain. We do have one thing to say.

Nevertheless, we are here.

Like Titus, we are here. God in us, God as us can be with you and comfort you just as God comforted the great apostle through Titus.

Paul wrote in II Cor. 7:6 that God “comforts those that are cast down.” If, as many seem to think, God is peevish with the downcast and irritated at their lack of faith, He would upbraid them, not comfort them. We, the community of faith, like our God, must comfort the downcast who long for a word, a touch, a face with skin on it.

The nevertheless of Paul was a very human Titus. We, likewise, can be there for someone else, just on the other side of nevertheless from their deepest anguish.

John Wesley said, “I know of no holiness save social holiness.” He meant that we do not live out our piety in relationship with God alone but in community with others. The downside of community is that no one can test your sanctification like your brother-in-law, the antichrist. The upside is that just when you are ready to collapse under the unbearable weight of grief and suffering, Titus shows up with love letters from Corinth.

Some believers tend to so over-spiritualize their faith that the relational aspect gets lost in the glow. Jesus painfully peeled away the soft spiritual goo to reveal the hard core realities of relational holiness as no other teacher ever has. Probably, that was a large part of what got Him killed.

The golden thematic thread that runs through the entire tapestry of the Sermon on the Mount is relational holiness. In that great teaching, theology (spiritual theory) was not Jesus’ point. It was human application (spiritual practices). He was teaching, not about what we ought to believe, but about how we should act, love, live, and forgive. You want to get folks angry enough to kill you, just leave the theoretical realm and deal with horizontal, relational reality. Preach on love and win medals. Talk to a man about how he treats his mother-in-law and wind up nailed to the wall.

Jesus taught that everything, even, or perhaps especially, offerings to God, must be seen in the light of human relationships. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matt. 5:23-24)

The Bible never envisioned our being reconciled to God apart from our being reconciled to each other. No amount of spiritual language can change that. Nevertheless beautifully bridges the gap between the spiritual and the pragmatic.

This Week
Be that Nevertheless for someone by focusing on the relationships God has placed in your life.

“Lord, allow me to comfort someone in my community just by being in the right place at the right time, so I can share your love with them.”

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