2 Corinthians 1:1-11
I have claimed 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 as a sort of “life verse” for the last several years.
My favorite paraphrase is found in the Message:
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
Now, isn’t that a nice, warm and fuzzy couple of verses? All about receiving comfort, and giving comfort, and I don’t know about you, but (as we say here in the South) I LOVE me some comfort.
So, when I began praying about what Bible study to do this fall, God said “Why don’t you go a little deeper into this ‘life verse’ of yours? As in the context, the writer, the setting,…” And I was like, “That is a GREAT idea. I love 2 Corinthians, and Paul is awesome, and there are 13 chapters I can fit neatly into a 10 week study. Let’s do this!”
And then the commentary I ordered arrived. I noticed the box was kind of heavy. I tried to remember what else I had ordered on Amazon to get to the magic number for free shipping (I think I am the last Prime hold-out). I opened the box. Only the one book. It was bigger than my whole BIBLE.
I almost chickened out right then and there.
And then. THEN I discovered that Kelly Minter has a new study on 2 Corinthians coming out in November. I kind of love her. But I really didn’t think I wanted to tackle the same book of the Bible as her. I realized as I processed this information that she probably wouldn’t mind, since we aren’t exactly in the same market.
Despite all that, I just kept coming back to what God said. So here we go! (and you can do Kelly’s study after this and I won’t mind a bit.)
Opening Lines (vs. 1-2)
2 Corinthians is a letter to a body of believers in Corinth in the region of Achaia during Paul’s third missionary journey. He states right from the beginning who he is- “an apostle of Christ by the will of God”. Paul is a guy who knows who he is. He is also claiming his authority over this body of believers- an apostle by definition is “one directly commissioned by the Lord for a unique and authoritative role in the early church.” (George Guthrie) But even in claiming his rightful authority Paul remains completely God-centered.
Corinth was a thriving, wealthy city. We see in 1 Cor. 1:26 that the congregation was made up of both ends of the spectrum socioeconomically speaking, so it is pretty easy to understand why they experienced some internal friction.
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth” 1 Corinthians 1:26
“Not many” implies that some were wise, some were influential, and some were of noble birth, right?
The church at Corinth struggled to live out their newfound faith in the context of community partly because they were just so different from each other. Does that sound familiar to you? Much of Paul’s extensive correspondence with this church is addressing their conflicts with each other. More about that later.
This letter would be read and circulated throughout the region to other groups of believers. In this age of instant communication that is a little hard to wrap our minds around, isn’t it? No GroupMe, no mass email, no copy machines… No one ever got trapped in a group text for days, and days, and days… But I digress.
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” is Paul’s favorite opening line. He uses some form of this greeting in every single one of his letters. Always, always directing the attention back to God the Father and to Jesus.
The Reason for Comfort (vs. 3-7)
How many times does Paul use the word “comfort” in these 5 verses? 9 times! I would say that is a key word!
We also see the words “suffering” and “trouble” and “distress” quite a few times as well.
To sum it up, where there is abundant suffering there is also abundant comfort.
The Greek word for “comfort” here means “called to one’s side to help”. Our English word “comfort” comes from 2 Latin words meaning “with strength”.
I think we often confuse comfort with sympathy. They are not the same. Sympathy is nothing more than a feeling.
Sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune
There isn’t anything wrong with sympathy except that it just isn’t going to accomplish anything. Comfort ACTS. Comfort comes alongside and strengthens us at our weakest moments, equipping us to share it with others who need it.
Paul is saying “No matter what we are facing, God comes alongside us and gives us His strength. Not for our own sake, but so that we can then come alongside you when you need comfort and share what God has given to us.”
Depths of Despair (v. 8-9)
Things look hopeless. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. The pressure is more than you can take. You don’t know how you are going to survive. The heartbreak, the loss, the illness, the anxiety, the depression, the abuse…
Paul knew that feeling. He wastes no time getting to the news of the intense persecution and suffering he has been experiencing, along with his companions.
We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (v. 8)
Most of us haven’t experienced exactly the kind of suffering Paul was experiencing… At least not for the same reasons.
Suffering exists in many forms, but for now I am going to lump them together into 4 categories:
- Suffering as a result of living in a fallen world. Illness (physical and mental), death of loved ones, things that just happen.
- Suffering as a result of our sin. CONSEQUENCES of wrong choices.
- Suffering as a result of the sins/choices of others– broken relationships, preventable accidents, abuse, etc.
- Suffering as a result of following Jesus.
What do these 4 types of suffering have in common? They all HURT.
I don’t know about you, but most of the suffering I have experienced has been a result of my own poor decisions and trying to run my own life MY way. Doesn’t usually work out too well.
One of the most precious truths about our loving Father is this: No matter what kind of suffering you are experiencing, even if it is YOUR OWN FAULT, He stands ready to offer His comfort the very instant you turn to Him. He will even walk with you through the consequences of your own sins against HIM. That doesn’t mean He will always remove the suffering, or the consequences- because they teach us to rely on Him- but He will come alongside us and offer His strength in exchange for our weakness as we walk through it.
Paul suffered for a much nobler cause- the cause of Christ.
Divine Deliverance (v. 10-11)
We all love a good rescue story, don’t we? These last couple of verses we are looking at today are just that. When all hope is lost, the Rescuer steps in…
“And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing.” v. 10 MSG
I don’t know about you, but I have needed a lot of rescuing. And I am still here today, so there’s proof He keeps rescuing me.
“On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.” (NIV)
How does He do it? He comes alongside us and helps us in all our troubles(v. 4). He may not remove the trouble or the pain or the “thorn in our flesh” but He gives us His strength in exchange for our weakness so that we can bear it. He walks with us even through the consequences we bring on ourselves and shows us a better way. He uses the pain to soften our rough edges and make us more like Jesus.
Why does He do it? We certainly don’t deserve it. Here is the thing: Because it isn’t about us. We aren’t rescued for our own sake but for His glory and for the sake of others. God had a purpose for Paul and He has a purpose for you. He rescues us again and again so that His glory is revealed in our lives and shared with others.
What role does prayer have in this process? (v. 11) The rescue operation happens “as you help us by your prayers”. Why bring anyone else in on this mission? God doesn’t need our help… Wouldn’t it be easier for Him to just do the thing?
Here is why: More prayers equal more thanksgiving by more people which equals more glory to the Rescuer.
This book, like every other one in the Bible is about the Rescuer. It isn’t really about Paul, or the Corinthians, or us. It is about Him. He is the reason we, like Paul, can be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Rom. 12:12)