I. Introduction (2 Corinthians 1:1-11)
I. Introduction (1:1-11)
1:1 Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus. This was not because Paul had volunteered for the job but because God had called him to service (see Acts 9:1-22). He was an apostle by God’s will. Paul’s co-laborer Timothy is also listed, but the first person pronouns throughout the letter make clear that it is primarily from Paul. The city of Corinth was located in the Roman province of Achaia, in modern Greece.
1:2 Paul greets them with grace and peace, which can only come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1:3-7 The apostle praises God who provides comfort when we are in affliction (1:3-4). It’s clear from the following verses that Paul had been in a painful situation. He speaks of affliction (1:4, 6, 8), suffering (1:5-7), despair (1:8), and death (1:9-10). Thus, Paul was able to validate Jesus’s promise to his disciples: “You will have suffering in this world” (John 16:33).
If anyone assures you that you can avoid suffering like health problems, mental anguish, relational difficulties, or financial straits—provided that you have enough faith—they’re not telling you the truth. Paul was a visible and verbal follower of Christ who stood head and shoulders above other Christians in terms of faithfulness. And he suffered greatly—not in spite of his faith but because of his faith in and obedience to Christ. Paul’s suffering and ours is directly related to God’s purpose of using us to minister to others. So if you’re suffering, read on.
In addition to the words of pain, there’s another word repeated in these verses with which we need to come to grips: comfort. God is the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction (1:3-4). We must not be so overcome by our suffering that we miss the unlimited comfort that God makes available in every circumstance.
Notice two things. First, God is sovereign over our suffering. Christians follow in their Master’s footsteps, sharing in the sufferings of Christ that overflow to us (1:5). Our trials and tribulations don’t catch God off guard. Nothing happens to you that hasn’t first passed through his fingers. Remember that “all things work together for the good of those who love God” (Rom 8:28). When Jesus promised his disciples that they would undergo suffering, he also told them, “Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). Don’t run from the Lord when suffering strikes. Run to him and let him work in you so that you may be comforted.
Second, there is an important purpose for our affliction: it equips us to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God (1:4). Paul knew that he was afflicted and comforted so that he could bring comfort to the Corinthians (1:6). God often lets us experience difficult circumstances so that he can use us to experientially minister to others, since they empower us to empathize with their pain. When you offer comfort to a fellow believer, you serve as a conduit for the comfort of God, and you open yourself up to experience a deeper level of his reality at work in your life.
1:8-11 How bad had it gotten for Paul? He and his ministry companions were completely overwhelmed, enduring situations that were beyond their strength (1:8). It was like they had received the sentence of death. But Paul realized the reason they had been besieged by suffering: It was so that they would not trust in themselves but in God who raises the dead (1:9). Paul and his partners had the opportunity to experience God’s deliverance so that they might hope in him to deliver them again (1:10). Therefore, God will place on us what seems more than we can bear when he is preparing us for a special ministry to others and when he wants to give us a deeper manifestation of his presence and power in our lives.
One of the important truths of Scripture is that God must remove our attitude of self-sufficiency. When you encounter a seemingly hopeless situation, it opens your eyes to the reality that you cannot depend on and deliver yourself. Allow personal brokenness that strips you of your self-sufficiency to move you to a deeper level of trust in and dependency on our all-sufficient God. The one who is able to raise the dead can surely breathe life into your seemingly impossible circumstances.