Contributor: Leye Olayiwola
Last week, we concluded on the first letter of Paul to the church in Corinth. In the 16th chapter of the first letter, Paul gave general advice on charitable giving and his intention to visit and fellowship with the brethren. As is customary of the apostle, he admonished the brethren to stand strong in their faith and to do all things with love. Apostle Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthian brethren by praying and reiterating his love for the brethren. Today, we will continue our study of the first chapter of the second epistle of Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church.
1. The Salutation (verses 1-2)
• Paul gives the church one of his standard greetings. Grace refers to that unmerited favor of God toward unworthy sinners that leads to peace in their hearts (i.e., God’s peace that he possesses in himself), in their relationship with God, and also in their relationships with others.
2. God’s comfort and reason for His comfort (verses 3-5)
• Paul starts this section off by ascribing blessing to God. While this opening was a typical way a Jew approached God it was nonetheless an expression of deep piety and reverence. But here, as in Ephesians 1:3 and 1 Pet 1:3, God is specifically identified as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
• God is to be praised for many reasons, for all that He is and does, and the sheer greatness of His being (Ps 145:3), his love (Ps 86:15), faithfulness (Lam 3:22-23), strength (Isa 41:10), and inscrutability (Romans 11:36). Here Paul, in light of his deliverance from deadly circumstances in Asia minor reflects on and gives thanks to God for his immeasurable mercy. In fact, he calls God the Father of mercies (note the plural, “mercies”) and the God of all comfort (Mic 7:19; Isa 40:1; 66:13). God’s mercy is His pity upon us in our helpless (though not necessarily innocent) state and it results in his comfort being shown to us. Paul had experienced that deep compassion of a father who gives mercy a totally new name and who loves a needy son and extends mercy to him in the midst of his struggles (Rom 5:1-5: God has poured out his love into our hearts…”). He comforted the apostle undoubtedly through the Holy Spirit and ultimately by delivering him from the deadly peril (v. 11).
• God does not pick and choose when he will comfort us. Further, there is never a time when we deserve his special presence in mercy. Remember it is according to his mercies—which are many—and in all our affliction or in every affliction we go through. You may have sinned and as a result suffering the consequences, but God will nonetheless draw near to you to comfort you if you allow him.
• So why does God comfort us in all our afflictions? One reason he does this is so that we can comfort others who are in affliction with the comfort by which we were comforted by God. In other words there is a reason why God comforts us. To be sure it is so that we ourselves experience his love and help, but he also wants us as Christians to be conduits of that love, not storehouses. Once we have experienced God’s compassion and comfort in the midst of a trial we are better equipped to minister that same comfort to others. We know what it takes, by the grace of God, to help others who are suffering. This is at the heart of the gospel.
• Paul gives the reason why the argument of verse 4 is true. It is true because just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows. The sufferings of Christ do not refer to any suffering Messiah endured on the cross en route to securing our redemption. Rather, they refer to the sufferings Paul underwent in the context of his apostolic ministry, that is, suffering for Christ which in fact every Christian encounters as a result of living godly. They are Christ’s sufferings since they come as a result of his life in us. Indeed, as he lives in us in the current expression of the kingdom, he endures them with us until they are completed. But as the sufferings overflow so also our comfort through Christ overflows. But, Paul says, the more I suffer the more I experience comfort through Christ. The particular emphasis here is on the experience of comfort in the midst of suffering, not being comforted by being removed from suffering. Though God did save Paul from such a deadly peril (1:8-11), he was nonetheless comforted in the midst of the trial.
3. Learning from Apostle Paul’s Experience (verses 6-7)
• Two points must be noted in v. 6. First, Paul’s afflictions in the course of his ministry of preaching the gospel for Christ result in the salvation of those who hear the message. This, of course, included the Corinthians. Thus they owe their salvation—which brought them comfort and the experience of God’s presence—as it were, to the suffering of the apostle.
• Second, the fact that Paul is comforted in his trials, demonstrates to the Corinthians that they too can be comforted by God. The mention of this fact, though we are ignorant of the particular afflictions of the Corinthians, awakens them to the possibility of God’s comfort. The end result is that everything God did through Paul was both for his benefit as well as the benefit of the Corinthians.
• Since the sufferings Paul refers to are unique to the Christian—sufferings the Christian undergoes in consequence of being a Christian in a fallen world—and the Corinthians are sharing in these sufferings, Paul is confident that the church will also share in a similar comfort; Paul is ultra confident that God will minister his comfort to them. The implication is that they too will be able to comfort each other in the trial they are enduring.
4. Hardships In Asia (verses 8-11)
• With the use of a common formula in Pauline writing, the apostle says for we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters. Paul wants them to know the affliction that happened…in Asia, that he and others were burdened excessively, beyond their strength, so that they despaired even of living. The word for connects this paragraph, namely, vv. 8-11, with vv. 3-7 in the following way: since they can share in his sufferings and comfort he tells them about his great struggle in Asia. No one knows precisely what hardship Paul faced in Asia but some school of thoughts are;
a) Fighting wild beasts in Ephesus (1 Cor 15:32);
b) Riots at Ephesus instigated by Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 18:23-41)
c) Deadly sickness of some kind (2 Cor 1:9)
d) Trial in Asia due to the Jews who gave him a great deal of grief (Acts 20:19)
Although we cannot know for certain what the struggle was, it nonetheless brought Paul to his knees—so to speak. He was burdened beyond his ability to endure, beyond his strength, with the result that he despaired of life.
• Paul says that he felt as if the sentence had been passed and death was the verdict. At least this is the place he had come to in his own thinking. He thought for sure that there was no way out whatsoever and that death was inevitable. But, after the entire affair was over he said that God permitted it so that we (he and others with him) would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. Paul had come to view all of his life in the sovereign hands of God and his good purposes. He knew that God had permitted all of his affliction to occur for many reasons, one chief one being the apostle’s dependence on God.
• Paul is convinced that God delivered him, and those with him, from so great a risk of death and that he will continue to do so in the future. But he wants the Corinthians to know that such deliverance comes about when God’s people pray and petition him in such cases. But the prayer is for more than mere deliverance; it is also for the whole work of proclaiming the gospel and all that such an enterprise entails. The end result of such prayer and “help” is that many will give thanks to God on behalf of his gracious gift of deliverance for Paul and His advancement of the gospel.
As Christians, we have, by virtue of becoming a Christian, learned to rely on Christ and not ourselves. We learned that through conversion. But the lesson really never ends and in certain ways is greatly accelerated when we suffer. The deeper the suffering, the deeper the despair. The deeper the despair, the deeper the feelings of death. The deeper the feelings of death, the deeper our cry goes forth to the one who can save us from death. What does all this produce: a greater God-given ability to comfort others who are suffering.
Most parts of this study was culled from bible.org