Our Impossible Challenge – God's Opportunity
(2 Corinthians 1:1-2:17)
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." -2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Paul, like others we admire in the scriptures, were often not foreign to deep personal pain and heart-wrenching conflicts that they shared with sincere transparency. They did not believe their spiritual credibility would be marred if they honestly used themselves as an example of how to walk through some of life's most painful experiences. King David left us with a painful and honest example of this in Psalm 51. Like David, Paul the Apostle wrote many times in his letters about the deep inner struggles of his life and the painful conflicts with people. He openly expressed the comfort he needed to make it through the tough times he experienced. He never pretended to be a "superhero." He was a man among men who had learned to conquer his many troubles through Christ. He described having been burdened "beyond measure," despairing that his Asian persecutors might take his life (1:8-9). He also openly expressed the personal hurt and turmoil he went through because of the attacks on him by certain Corinthian Christians.
It is important to remember that Paul used these experiences, which are common to all of us, to teach us how to get through them victoriously. He teaches us of the comfort we can receive and then give away to then comfort others in their own pain (1:3-5). He directs us to put faith in God when all seems hopeless (1:8-10). Paul teaches us that we can find genuine triumphant victory amid the pressures of life is possible. The crushing pressures that come upon us will release a fragrant aroma of Christ's life before believers and non-believers (2:14-16).
Let us be honest about life's troubles, but also remember that life is full of hope. The challenges in life that overwhelm us are God's opportunities to show us what He can do. Out of ashes of failure, weakness, and sin, God can be glorified as the One who can give us the sweetest of victories from what appears to be irreversible tragedy.
NKJV Bible Text
2 Corinthians 1:1-2:17
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This letter was written most likely between 56-57 A.D. It's the most personal letter of Paul in that it reveals some of his deepest hurts and vulnerabilities in relationship to those he served.
In the previous letter to them (1 Corinthians) he dealt with several problems that were in the church. Most of them were the result of the ungodly influence upon these believers from their city that was renowned as one of the most immoral in the Roman Empire.
Some in the church had rejected this previous letter of correction, along with its author Paul. This faction began building arguments against Paul that severely undermined his ability to properly serve this church. Some of these arguments against Paul are seen in his statements in 1:12 and 10:2. Therefore much of this letter is devoted to clearing up the misunderstanding of who Paul is and what his relationship with these people should be.
v. 1 Apostle – "apostolos" (Gk.) This Greek word is defined as "one sent as an ambassador." There were the original 11, Judas having been removed prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Matthias was chosen to replace Judas in Acts 1:16-26. Paul is later called to be an apostle, as revealed in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8. In Acts 14:14 we also see Barnabas referred to as an apostle.
By the Will of God – Paul's calling in the body of Christ was not by men but God. Man's organizations can only recognize the call God has given.
Timothy – He was led to Christ during Paul's first missionary journey. Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother who had instructed him in the Old Testament scriptures. He later became a key leader who helped Paul in the establishment of churches, as seen in Paul's letters to him (1 and 2 Tim.) Paul said of Timothy that there was no one else he had worked with who so fully cared for the things of Christ above his own personal interests (Phil. 2:19-22).
Church of God – It is always critical to remember that the church does not belong to any organization of man but to God.
Corinth – This key commercial center drew people from many different religions. It was known throughout the Greek-Roman world as being extremely hedonistic.
v. 2 Grace – "charis" (Gk.) Grace is an outward expression of God's "agape" love that bestows divine blessing upon those who have no right or claim to it.
Comfort in Suffering
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
Comfort in Suffering
v. 5 Abounds In Us – Paul saw the value in his sufferings for Christ as giving him an abundant experience in God's comfort, resulting in having within him a great reservoir of comfort for others in need.
v. 6 Your Consolation and Salvation – Paul pointed out that the suffering he had gone through was the reason he had been able to be a source of encouragement and a messenger of salvation in Christ.
Is Effective – Paul pointed to the results of the encouragement and salvation he had given them as proof of the effectiveness of God's comfort in their suffering.
v. 7 Hope of You – Paul based his hope for these believers to endure their difficulties on the fact that they will experience the same strengthening encouragement from God that he had.
Delivered from Suffering
8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, 10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, 11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.
Delivered from Suffering
v. 8 Despaired Even of Life – The Book of Acts does not specifically describe this event when it recounts Paul's experiences in the Roman province of Asia. Whatever happened caused Paul to literally think he was going to be killed.
v. 9 Not Trust In Ourselves – Paul revealed a second blessing to be found in suffering. The first is that it provides an opportunity to be comforted by God. The second blessing is that it provides an obvious situation when only God can be looked to as a means of deliverance. This brings undeniable honor to God before a world of unbelief.
v. 10 Who Delivered – Paul's experience and hope in God's faithful intervention was both past, present, and future.
v. 11 Prayer for Us – Paul revealed a third benefit from suffering. Not only does it provide an opportunity for receiving God's comfort and a way to trust God rather than ourselves, but it also fosters our interdependency with each other. Paul genuinely needed the prayer support of other believers.
12 For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. 13 For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end 14 (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.
v. 12 Our Rejoicing – Paul found great joy in having a clean conscience in regard to the methods he had used to bring Jesus Christ to the Corinthians.
Not Fleshly Wisdom – Paul contrasted his approach with those who win influence by using the methods of fallen humanity. Paul approached the ministry with honest sincerity and dependency upon God, along with the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.
v. 13 Acknowledge – Paul was confident that the people at Corinth would attest to his sincerity. He affirmed that he will continue in this approach to the end of his ministry.
v. 14 Us in Part – There had been some at Corinth who had not fully recognized Paul's ministry among them. However, the overall position stated here is that both Paul and the vast majority of the Corinthians were grateful for the relationship they shared.
Sparing the Church
15 And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit— 16 to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea. 17 Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. 20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, 22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
23 Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. 24 Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
Sparing the Church
v. 15 In this Confidence – This is a confidence Paul affirmed in verse 14. The majority of the believers at Corinth did recognize Paul as a man sent by God.
To Come – Paul's plan to return to Corinth on his journey from Ephesus to Macedonia was based on his confidence that he would be well received by them and be able to minister to them for their benefit (1 Cor. 16:5-6).
Second Benefit – Paul had no element of pride when he declared that they would benefit from his visit. This was because he knew he was simply a vessel in the hands of God. Any benefit that is lasting is by the work of God through His servants.
v. 16 Into Macedonia – Paul was headed to Troas in Macedonia.
Brought on my way – His plan was to stop in Corinth in route to Troas in Macedonia. This was out of the way, but Paul had a strong desire to clear up the troubled relationship with them that had developed. After going to Troas, he would return to Corinth in route to Judea.
Toward Judea – The purpose of Paul's trip to Judea was to deliver the financial gift that he had collected from the Gentile churches for the poor in Jerusalem.
v. 17 Did I Do It Lightly – Evidently, some had accused Paul of revealing a personal character flaw because he decided to wait to go to Corinth on his return trip from Macedonia rather en route to Macedonia. He was accused of making this statement about his trip lightly and not showing a commitment to keep his word, nor knowing the will of God.
In the Flesh – He stated that his decision was in no way based on having been influenced by some personal desire to gratify his self-serving old nature. In verse 23, he states the only reason he did not yet come to Corinth at that time was because he had concluded it was not in the interests of them or Paul to come at this time.
v. 18 God is True – As God's servant, Paul declared that his actions regarding his proposed visit to them was in harmony with the God he served. Paul's words and actions were in no way designed to deceive or manipulate them.
v. 19 In Him Was Yes – Paul pointed out that the life he lives was in harmony with the God he serves. Paul did not lie or seek to deceive them by his change of plans.
v. 20 All The Promises – Paul took this opportunity to affirm the complete consistency that God upholds in regard to His promises to His people.
By Us – Paul referred to himself as one who has given his life to reveal the glory of God discovered in God's promises.
v. 21 Anointed Us – Paul referred to being established and anointed by God to serve the Corinthians. He stated this because some questioned his call and used the canceling of his visit (referred to in verse 15-17) as proof that he did not know the mind of God.
v. 22 Sealed us – This phrase refers to a stamp of ownership. Just as shipments in their day were stamped with the seal of the owner, Paul, along with all believers, had been given the Holy Spirit as the seal that affirmed God's ownership of them.
v. 23 To Spare You – Paul explained his change of plans. It was only out of love and concern for them that he felt it best to wait. He believed that the conflict and misunderstanding that had risen should be worked out before he came.
v. 24 Have Dominion – Paul showed his sensitivity to their needs and tried not to assert authority over them beyond what they acknowledged.
Helpers of Your Joy – Paul made clear that his goal was not to assert authority over them but to bring spiritual blessing to them.
Faith You Stand – Paul did not want to in any way circumvent their relationship with Jesus. They were not to stand before God in Paul, but in Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 2
1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow. 2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
Forgive the Offender
3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
Forgive the Offender
v. 1 Not Come Again – Paul had stated in 1:15-23 that the reason he had not followed through on his proposed visit was to spare them and him any further painful conflict. Paul felt that those who had rejected his leadership and had not followed his council on certain moral problems in the church should come to terms with those issues before he came to visit them.
v. 2 Makes You Sorrowful – Without the conflict being resolved prior to Paul's visit, he knew that he would be forced to rebuke those in sin and demand repentance. In that type of confrontational environment, Paul knew that they as well he would be deeply grieved by it.
v. 3 I Wrote – It was Paul's deeply held conviction that it would be better for all involved if he made his concerns and the actions that needed to be taken known in a letter rather than in person.
My Joy – Paul was confident that the position of the majority of people at Corinth would not want to see him troubled by the problems in their church. Therefore, he had asked them to resolve these issues before his arrival.
v. 4 Affection and Anguish – Paul knew that some people would use his disciplinary actions directed at this church as a weapon against him. Paul would be accused of not having love or acceptance for the church. However, Paul made it clear that it was with the pain of a broken heart and a deep concern for their well being that forced him to correct the sin in their lives.
5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. 9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
v. 5 Not To Be Too Severe – Paul restated his deep sensitivity here in not wanting to add guilt to those who had brought about this situation. Therefore, he said that he doesn't want anyone to feel they have especially troubled his life. He had simply shared in the hurt equally with all the others in the church.
v. 6 This Punishment – There were several areas that action needed to be taken in dealing with sin, as listed in Paul's previous letter. Here he referred to the specific actions that needed to be taken concerning the incestuous relationship between a man and his father's wife (1 Cor. 5:1-13). The church had obeyed Paul's council to remove these two from the church. This action had led to repentance on the part of the man and woman. Paul stated that this discipline was sufficient and should now end because it had resulted in repentance.
v. 7 Forgive and Comfort – Paul reminded the church that the goal of the punishment was to bring about repentance and restoration. Paul saw no value in any emotional pain in these two believers beyond promoting repentance. The goal was to strongly affirm the churches' love and sensitivity to those who have dealt with their sin.
v. 9 Put You To the Test – Paul was not saying that he arbitrarily used this issue of discipline to test them. What he did do, however, was to use this situation as a means to call this man and woman to repentance, and to do so in a way that required the church to follow Paul's guidance.
v. 10 In the Presence of Christ – Paul walked in the realm of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ. In God's presence, he had been led to deal with this situation as he had. In Christ's presence, Paul had lifted up the forgiveness, love, and acceptance to God on behalf of these people.
v. 11 Lest Satan – "Satan" means adversary, one who is an enemy. Paul readily admitted that Satan is a real personal being who opposes our relationship with God. This opposition is ultimately directed against God, not just the believer. Satan fell from perfection by a prideful desire to be in the place of God (Is. 14:12-15). Now Satan and his demonic forces direct much of their effort in seeking to destroy the object of God's love—His bride, the church. If Satan cannot draw a person to deny Christ, then he will try to destroy those who follow God rather than him.
Devices – Satan sought to use this situation at Corinth to create division and misapply truth that would result in countless problems over time. Satan knew there would be great value in undermining the church by causing some to believe it would be unloving to seek to correct the sexual sin of those in this church. Conversely, Satan also saw the value in causing others in this church to become harsh and unforgiving toward those in the church who had sinned. These efforts of Satan are seen as being through one who appears as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14), opposes God's work (Zech. 3:1; 1 Thess. 2:18), hinders the gospel (Mt. 13:19; 2 Cor. 4:4), works lying wonders (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 16:14), and perverts the scripture (Mt. 4:6; Ps. 91:11-12).
Not Ignorant Of His Devices – As a wise and experienced leader, Paul had developed a keen awareness of Satan's methods to undermine the church and destroy the souls of humanity. This component of ministry is essential for believers. We must be able to identify those things that are often brought into our lives and into the church as influences that can be as destructive as a wolf in a flock of sheep.
Triumph in Christ
12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.
14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.
Triumph in Christ
v. 12 Came To Troas – Troas, located north of Ephesus in western Asia Minor, was part of Paul's missionary efforts recorded in Acts 16. He went there to meet up with Titus, one of his closest friends in the ministry. His motivation in meeting Titus was to discover the results of the letter Titus had delivered for Paul to the Corinthian church. Paul was deeply concerned to see how they reacted to this "severe" (v. 4) letter of correction.
Door Was Opened – Paul gave himself to preaching the gospel while in Troas, and it resulted in God providing effective access to the lives of the people of Troas.
v. 13 No Rest In My Spirit – Even though God was doing such a great work among the people in Troas, Paul's inner being was distracted by not meeting Titus in Troas. Paul's concern for these Corinthians was so intense he simply could not avoid the internal distractions he felt as he, like a loving father, waited to hear of their condition and how they had responded to him.
Departed To Macedonia – Paul explained why he went on to Macedonia, which was located northwest of the Aegean Sea. Paul had hoped to meet up with Titus there, as he knew the route Titus was taking.
v. 14 Thanks Be To God – Having conveyed the proof of his sincere love and concern as seen in the deep inner struggle he went through for them, Paul pointed these believers past these struggles to the overriding victory they have in Christ, a victory in the midst of the storms of life.
Leads Us – The life of spiritual victory is something we are led into by God Himself through His Spirit. He does not leave us to try and find this all on our own.
Triumph In Christ – This life that overcomes deep personal hurts and struggles like the ones Paul was going through is a possibility for all God's children. Paul described this powerfully in Romans 8:28-39.
Diffuses the Fragrance – The pressures of life can result in a revelation of what God is like and what He can do for not only a man such as Paul but for anyone who puts faith in Christ.
v. 15 To God – This fragrance is first a form of honor and worship to God who is the source of these blessings.
v. 16 Aroma of Death – When believers live in the power of God, the irrefutable evidence of Christ angers and frustrates the hard hearts of nonbelievers. To them it is a fragrance that exposes their spiritual death.
Aroma of Life – For the believer, the proof of Christ's power to enable us to endure painful and perplexing issues fosters a joyful evidence of the new life we share in.
Who Is Sufficient – Paul declared that none of us are able in ourselves to produce this fragrance of life in the midst of the crushing events we go through. It is sourced in God.
v. 17 Peddling the Word – Paul contrasted himself with those who attacked him. He was not one motivated by personal gain but love.