Bible: What Does 2 Corinthians 1-2 Teach Us About Paul and True Apostleship?
The Apostle Paul
The Comfort of God
Have you known the comfort of God in your life?
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Second Epistle to the Corinthians
II Corinthians 1
Accompanied by Timothy, Paul greets the Corinthian church and other believers in the Roman province of Achaia (a region south of Macedonia), designates himself as “an apostle . . . by the will of God” and the Corinthians as “the church of God,” and prays God’s grace and peace upon them (vv. 1-2).
[A rather typical salutation, it is nonetheless important for Paul to assert upfront his authority as an apostle to persuade his detractors to accept his leadership.]
Paul prefaces his remarks about his suffering for the gospel by praising God the Father as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” Who strengthens him in his trials, so that he can afterwards comfort other sufferers (vv. 3-4).
[How does God “comfort” sufferers?
Is His “comfort” primarily a supernatural calm that descends upon an individual’s soul, or is it a strengthening of the “inner man” through the knowledge of God?]
Christ mediates God’s strength to Paul, so that the latter can weather overwhelming sufferings similar to those the Lord endured (v. 5).
Whether he is afflicted or comforted, Paul notes that the Corinthians receive benefits (“consolation and salvation”) from his experience and are encouraged to endure suffering also (v. 6).
The apostle’s unwavering hope in God convinces him that the Lord will comfort them in any affliction He calls upon them to suffer (v. 7).
Paul begins his defense by informing the Corinthians about the desperate trials he experienced in Asia—troubles that far exceeded his human strength to endure (v. 8).
In fact, he reports that he “despaired even of life,” and “had the sentence of death” in himself (v. 9a).
The apostle then shares a life lesson with his audience: in allowing these difficulties into his life, God purposed for him not to rely upon himself, but to trust in the Lord as the One who raises the dead (v. 9).
Paul reminds himself that God rescued him and continues to deliver him from “so great a death”; now he trusts that through Corinthian prayers and thanksgiving, He will save him from all future distresses as well (vv. 10-11a).
Besides enduring persecution for Christ, Paul “boasts” about another evidence of apostleship: his righteous conduct (“simplicity and godly sincerity”).
His conscience bearing him witness, Paul asserts that God’s grace had enabled him to live with integrity among them and in the world; he has not behaved according to the wisdom of the culture (v. 12).
He notes that he is not attempting to fool them by means of his epistles, but that he wants them to understand that they constitute a reason for pride for him on the day he stands before Christ’s throne.
Paul hopes the reverse holds true as well (vv. 13-14).
Confident that he has a godly relationship with them, Paul relates that he desired to visit them again on his way back to Jerusalem, minister to them, and then receive financial support from them to pay for his expenses (vv. 15-16).
However, the apostle indicates that he changed his mind at some point, and his opponents in Corinth considered it vacillation (v. 17).
Seeking to clear up this misunderstanding, he contends that he did not make his plans capriciously like a worldling, testing the wind with his moistened finger (v. 18).
Paul argues that he and others faithfully preached Christ to them, and he reminds them that God, Who is always faithful, never reneges on promises, but fulfills them in Christ (vv. 19-20).
The Lord has established, anointed, and sealed all believers with the Spirit, guaranteeing the fulfillment of all of His promises (vv. 21-22).
Now Paul reveals why he decided not to visit Corinth again: he wanted to spare them sorrow (v. 23).
The apostle does not consider himself their master, the ruler of their spiritual lives, but as an individual who works with them to bring them joy.
They live their lives independently of him by their own faith (v. 24).
II Corinthians 2
Paul relates that he decided not to visit them again in sorrow until he knew the results of his second letter (that is, the non-extant “sorrowful” letter), reasoning that no one would be able to encourage him if he made them all sorrowful (vv. 1-2).
[The apostle wrote the Corinthians this sorrowful letter after visiting them in order to deal with unresolved problems that I Corinthians raised.]
He says that he is writing II Corinthians (his third missive, but only the second one that survived), so that he would not be sorrowful about people whom he wanted to bring him joy when he visited them again (v. 3).
He purposed to communicate his great love for them through this second letter, not to make them grieve (v. 4).
Paul refers to a rebel in the Corinthian church who did not grieve him, but did make the church unhappy (v. 5).
The apostle learns that most of the church had chastened this now repentant fellow so harshly that he found it necessary to encourage them to forgive, comfort, and “reaffirm your love” for him, so that he would not experience great emotional harm (vv. 6-8).
Paul indicates that he wrote about their need to restrain their wrath against this man as a test to see if they would obey his directive (v. 9).
If they forgive him, the apostle agrees to accept this man for the Corinthians’ sake, not wanting Satan to use those with an unforgiving spirit to cause a further rift between Paul and the church (vv. 10-11).
Myrrh: A Fragrance
Paul next reveals a certain spiritual restlessness he experienced (even while taking advantage of a great preaching opportunity in Troas), because Titus, the bearer of his sorrowful letter, had not yet returned to him with news about his missive’s effect.
The apostle consequently had to leave that seaport and sail to Macedonia (vv. 12-13).
He thanks God for relieving this anxiety and turning the circumstance into joy through the immoral man’s repentance (v. 14).
Paul relates that this incident reminded him of God’s faithfulness in leading him as a captive and for diffusing “the fragrance of His knowledge” among both the unsaved and saved through him (v. 15).
Recognizing that in himself he is nothing, the apostle nevertheless acknowledges that he, as a promulgator of the gospel, smells like death to the spiritually dead but like life to the elect (v. 16).
Paul maintains that many men sought to reap financial gain from preaching the gospel.
On the other hand, since his ministry originated in God, he contends that he speaks the Word sincerely, understanding that the Lord sees all and will judge accordingly (v. 17).
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