Series: 2 Corinthians
As of last week we have begun a study in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and we encourage you to invite others to share this time with us. As we stated last week, Paul has five main objectives in writing this letter.
a. To defend himself from the charge of unreliability made by some opponents.
b. To encourage the Corinthians to restore someone who had been disciplined.
c. To clarify the nature of his apostolic ministry.
d. To encourage the Corinthians to complete their collection for the suffering believers in Jerusalem.
e. To teach them the true nature of the Christian way of life.
In this section, the apostle starts to work on the first, third, and fifth of these purposes. But the way that he does this is very instructive. Paul has a “big picture” view of life and what happens in our lives. Everything is part of a comprehensive whole, which is very much different from our contemporary compartmentalized and disjointed views.
One of the major problems of the Corinthians believers that he wrote to is an incorrect Biblical theology that affected their way of life. They failed to comprehend what God accomplished in Christ Jesus and just how that formed the basis of their way of life. At some points they failed to grasp exactly what happened through the events of the gospel and the start of the new covenant, and so they were tempted by false teachers to think the old was better. At other points they thought that being in Christ somehow lifted those in Christ above troubles and suffering—and so they looked down on Paul in his sufferings. Their view contains an “over-realized eschatology”. For this reason Paul needs to teach them God’s perspective on suffering. He does not say everything that the Holy Spirit says in the Bible on this topic. But what he says will help them understand God’s ways more correctly.
I. God’s point of view begins with Christ-focused worship of God (1:3-5).
Comment: Usually Paul begins with thanksgiving to God for those to whom he writes. But here he does not. The reason for beginning with praise to God is not due to his troubled relationship with them, because Ephesians and 1 Peter begin the same way. Instead, praise for what God had done for him is much on Paul’s mind at this point, and provides an opportunity to teach.
A. The way Paul states his praise shows his Christ-focused outlook.
1. Here is how God was praised from an old covenant perspective (cf. Gen 14:20). “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, great, mighty, and fearful God, most high, who bestowest abundant grace and createst all things and rememberest the promises of grace to the fathers and bringest a Redeemer to their children’s children for thy name’s sake out of love. O King who bringest help and salvation and who art a shield. Blessed art thou, Lord, Shield of Abraham” (quoted by Barnett).
2. Now that Christ has come and has established his new and better covenant, the teaching of Christ changes how we view God (1:3a). God is first of all the God of Christ, since he is the Anointed Mediator and Redeemer, and God is his Father, since he is the Son of God. So then, since we are in Christ, we can call the Almighty Creator our God and Father. Also, God is for us the Father of compassion or mercies (cf. Ex 34:6; 25:6). God is moved with pity at the troubles of his people. The Father is also the God of all comfort (Ps 51:2; 103:4; 119:76-77). In our therapeutic culture we can misread “comfort” as consolation or emotional relief, satisfaction, and freedom from pain and anxiety. Instead, the correct idea is encouragement that provides strength to face the trials of life.
B. The praise is for the way that comfort comes to believers. At this point Paul states a worldview changing concept (1:5) that corrects their “over-realized eschatology”. They assumed that being in Christ guaranteed blessing in this world and freedom from suffering. That idea is very wrong, as Paul now states.
1. The sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives. Ouch! Our Lord Jesus Christ really suffered, so what does he mean? Clearly, it is not talking about his redemptive sufferings, because these were finished on the cross (cf. Rm 6:10; Hebrews). Instead, this refers to our Lord’s union with his people. He is the head of the body, and all suffering affects the whole body. As we stand up as witnesses for Christ and the good news, we will face opposition, and perhaps persecution, suffering, and death. To follow Christ is the way of the cross (Mk 8:34). Paul had already written that it was the lot of the apostles to suffer (1 Cor 4:8-10). But the Corinthians didn’t get it. They thought that if you served Christ, everyone would see God’s blessing—prosperity, prestige, power, and popularity. He says, “No, service for Christ is marked by suffering.”
2. But the Father also comforts his suffering people through Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is everything in the new covenant. And this comfort through Christ overflows! Throughout the rest of this letter, Paul will talk about his experiences of this overflowing comfort, so that they can grasp how they share with him in it. But think of three examples (1:8-11; 6:4-10; 12:7-10).
Point: Paul praises God the Father for the overflowing comfort he received as he suffered for Christ’s sake. They looked down on him because of his sufferings. He rejoiced because of God’s overflowing comfort. They—and we—need this change in our world and life view.
II. God’s point of view develops the interdependence of those who share in Christ (1:4, 6).
A. God works in our sufferings for Christ and the good news (1:6).
1. God the Father has people like Paul suffer trouble. But God does this for the comfort and salvation of others. Do not be mistaken. The good news of salvation came to you through someone’s hardships or troubles or suffering or persecution for Christ’s sake.
2. God the Father has people like Paul experience comfort from God, so that they might tell about the comfort they received. This in turn produces endurance in suffering in other of God’s people.
Point: “Suffering, then, is a training ground for service in the body of Christ” (Belleville).
B. God wants to produce wider benefits with the comfort that he gives us (1:4).
1. God gives his people comfort in all our troubles. Notice that it is not rescue from trouble but encouragement “in all our troubles”.
2. Then we can comfort others in the same way that God comforted us. Our comfort is not for self-satisfaction. It is for the benefit of others in the church. We must move far away from the western obsession with self that is destructive of our purpose to live for God’s glory as adult sons and daughters of God.
III. God’s point of view produces confidence (1:7).
A. The outlook Paul had for the Corinthian believers.
1. He confidently expected their glory in Christ. Paul will later explain the details of their hope in Christ (cf. 4:7-18). It is impossible to live the Christian life apart from a mind focused on the blessings that will be ours when we are with the Lord in glory. Jesus told us where to store up our treasures—in heaven (Mt 6:19-21).
2. But for now he says that this hope or confident expectation is firm or guaranteed. The word used here is a commercial term for a legally guaranteed security.
B. The reason for Paul’s confidence
1. He knew that they shared in his sufferings. Their failures in understanding did not move Paul from correct ideas. He knew the power of God’s grace that was working in them. God was working for their good through what Paul suffered. For example, God was using his experience of suffering to wean them from this over-realized eschatology that thought all Christians prosper in this world.
Point: We need to let ourselves be affected by what our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for Christ’s sake in other places.
2. So this meant that they also share in his comfort. Again, the union of every believer in Christ guarantees this shared experience. This letter is an example of the comfort they, and we, are able to share from Paul’s sufferings.
Apply: The unity of believers in all that is ours in Christ is a reality that we must not neglect or make light of. But practically, this requires us to tear down high walls of individualism that have long been erected. Paul writes that they might tear down such walls. Back in the 1980s, President Reagan said to the leader of the Soviet Union about the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” So we must tear down the walls that separate Christians from one another, that we might know more of the sufferings and encouragement of Christ. Will you open up your hearts to one another?