By Sam E. Stone
Last month’s lessons were all based on Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. This month we study his second letter to the Corinthians. Apparently the apostle wrote his second epistle around AD 55. Some of the false teachers in the church continued to misrepresent him, seeking to diminish his influence there. This letter responded to these attacks coming from a brazen minority in the church.
J. W. McGarvey said, “These . . . charges and innuendoes were so . . . gross in their nature . . . that, for the good of the cause, Paul felt impelled to write this defense. Being strongly emotional from end to end, it is in style the most difficult of all Paul’s Epistles, and it is also the least systematic.”
Reality of God’s Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Paul begins by calling for “grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2), a typical greeting in New Testament times. He offers praise to God, calling him the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Just as the Lord knew what Paul was going through, so his love and understanding includes every believer.
Jesus himself described the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter” (John 14:16 and 16:7, King James Version). Paul urged all who were sorrowing and troubled to find strength in God. Whatever difficulties we may face, God’s comfort is adequate. The word comfort occurs four times in 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
Paul testified that he himself had found God’s comfort through God’s people (2 Corinthians 7:6, 7). God works through Christians to provide comfort for those so desperately needing it. Just as Christians share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, likewise they share in receiving comfort from other believers as well as from God himself. Our comfort abounds through Christ. The church is to live as Jesus did, and its work is, in a sense, supplemental to his (Colossians 1:24; John 17:14).
“The apostle attributes to the Corinthians the same feelings of sorrow and grief over the estrangement he himself experienced, and also trusts that they now enjoy the same comfort from God” (W. C. G. Proctor). For this reason the apostle declared, Our hope for you is firm. Sharing in suffering, they will also share in comfort.
Reliance on God’s Strength
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Paul takes care not to “sugarcoat” the difficulties he has faced. Although he does not list them here, it is evident that the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia were serious. Some are mentioned elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, and others can be learned from the book of Acts. Paul was forthright, not mincing words when he described how serious these challenges had been to him. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.
From his trials the apostle learned the same lesson that President Abraham Lincoln once described: “I have often been driven to my knees in prayer because I had nowhere else to go.” All of us will face adversity at times. How we react to it is the key.
Through the challenges that he faced, Paul became the person God wanted him to be (compare 2 Corinthians 11:23-29). He learned what the psalmist declared, “For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8, 9).
Paul could see the results of his hardships: This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God. In writing to the church in Rome, he reminded them, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
Paul’s readers were also a part of the solution. You help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many, he assured the Christians of Corinth.
God still answers prayer for believers today, just as surely as he did for those in the first century. And he uses us to help comfort others in their time of trouble.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.