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You can only really understand this letter well if you have read the first letter to the Corinthians. In that letter Paul had to write about many things that were wrong with the Corinthians. He is very excited to see how they received the first letter. Had they listened to what he had written to them in that letter or did they tear it off in anger? He did not know and therefore he was waiting anxiously for their response. Fortunately he received news that the letter was well received. All problems did not vanish immediately, but they had taken the letter to their heart and consented to cooperate with him in rectifying things.
When Paul heard this he was very happy. Therefore he again takes up the pen and writes to them in a way that touches hearts and feelings. Here he opens up his heart without any qualms. Sometimes it looks as if he would lose his train of thought because his heart is so full and he has to tell them so much. But although you will meet a lot of different themes in this letter one can see an impressive order.
What makes this letter so impressive is that it appears that it is written especially for you. You were certainly not in all the situations Paul was in and most probably you will not come into such situations. However one can learn much from Paul’s example of how he conducted himself in these situations. This of course will be a great help to you. Anyone who wants to serve Christ in his life will have to face difficult situations. It will also be the same in your case if you want to serve Christ.
Introduction, Praise and Tribulation
This letter speaks about how someone who wants to be a servant of God has to deal with all sorts of difficulties and trials. But the difficulties and trials never have the last say. God wants to use them to show you that He is still in control. Sometimes the future looks bleak and you might even ponder giving up to live for the Lord. And at that critical moment the Lord comes to you and comforts you and encourages you. Surely you would not want to miss such moments not even for all the wealth the world can offer.
2 Corinthians 1:1. Let us have a closer look at the first five verses. In reading them you will agree with what I said. First Paul introduces himself again. He clearly presents himself as “an apostle”. He does this to impress and underline his apostolic authority. But he does not do this as the world around us does. Worldly men want to impress and win the admiration of people. Paul does this to impress that he was sent by Someone else.
The word apostle means ‘messenger’. Paul is not speaking for himself but on behalf of another. Who is the one who stands immediately behind him? Christ Jesus is He! Paul did not usurp this office, but he is the apostle “by the will of God”.
Together with Timothy he addresses both the Corinthians and the other believers who live in the province of Achaia. I believe this will speak to you as his other letters.
2 Corinthians 1:2. Paul wishes them grace and peace as he does in many of his other letters. Such words of blessings are not hollow phrases, nor meaningless expressions. On the contrary Paul puts his whole heart into it. It is great to approach someone in this way and draw attention to what happens further.
2 Corinthians 1:3. As I said earlier, this letter speaks much about sufferings that one can meet while serving God and Christ. What is the benefit of suffering? Why does God allow it? Or even: Why does God bring sufferings over His children? It is quite remarkable that the Bible book that probably first was written, even before Moses wrote Genesis, was the book of Job. It is further noteworthy that the theme of the book of Job is suffering! Suffering is a part of human life since the fall into sin. There is no man born on earth who is not involved in some kind of suffering or other. I trust you agree with me.
Then the next question that arises is how to deal with suffering. Different kinds of answers are possible for this question. One can also pose another question. How does God see suffering? I think Paul has a beautiful answer for this question in the bible verses ahead. Such an answer is not simply to be repeated in our speech but it must be experienced.
He begins with praising God. Think of it a little more deeply. He was in terrible distress, even close to death. But he praises God for that. When you read Acts 16:19-Lamentations : you will discover that they are not simply glossy words. You can never understand God better than when you are in the way of suffering.
Paul calls God the “Father of mercies”. Here you see a Father putting his arms around His suffering child. He also calls God the “God of all comfort”. Did you read well? It says: of all comforts, so not just a little bit of comfort and also without excluding certain circumstances.
2 Corinthians 1:4. God gives this comfort “in all our tribulation”. Again you must read it right. God does not take away our afflictions to comfort us, but He comes to us in our afflictions and carries us through them. It is very beautifully written in Isaiah 63: “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). Do you understand? God comes to you in your affliction, puts His arms around you and speaks “gracious words, comforting words” (Zechariah 1:13). A world full of sufferings needs comforting words. Do you ever speak such words?
2 Corinthians 1:5. One of the reasons why God allows sufferings in our life is that we should experience His mercies and consolation. This will enable us to comfort others who are going through affliction. So it was with Paul and so it can be with us too.
One other thing. Sometimes it is possible that you feel a suffering is quite unbearable in the service of Christ, and you fear that you will perish. Then you will experience the consolation of Christ that is beyond your imagination.
Now read 2 Corinthians 1:1-5 again.
Reflection: 2 Corinthians 1:3 is similar to Ephesians 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:3. What are the differences you are able to find in these two Scriptures?
Consolation for Others
2 Corinthians 1:6. Is it really true that the trials and afflictions of one person mean consolation to another? If you ask Paul he would answer with a loud ‘yes’. Now you and I do not have anything to do with the kind of suffering Paul went through. But that is not the most important thing. You need not necessarily endure the same kind of suffering as Paul did in order to empathize with someone. The important thing is that your experience of suffering can be a consolation for another person who also is going through tough times, though his suffering is of a different kind.
‘Shared pain is half pain’ says a proverb. Is this not your experience too? When you encounter something sad you can be absorbed in your grief in a way that you think you are the only person with such a grief and that there is nobody who can understand you. When you think of others who also have a grief, it can do you good (cf. 1 Peter 5:9). You can draw some comfort by that understanding. When a person knows that he is not alone in his grief, it gives him strength and courage to persevere, despite the troubles and worries. You can always share your experience of comfort with someone else.
2 Corinthians 1:7. Paul’s experience of sorrow has to do with his service to the Lord. He experienced much enmity and hatred through his service for the Lord. But he persevered. In each kind of suffering he had a fresh experience of comfort. He was convinced that it was so with the Corinthians too. The golden rule is that the one who has a share in a suffering also has a share in the consolation. This applies to you also.
2 Corinthians 1:8. Now after the situation in Corinth improved and the errors were confessed, Paul is able to talk about himself and what he went through and how he felt. One shares his experiences only with those who have genuine interest. Personal difficult experiences are not shared with everyone but only with those in whom you have the confidence that they are sincerely interested in you and that they sympathize with you.
It means so much for the other person when you open yourself to him. He understands that you reckon on his sympathy. This gives one a sense of appreciation. Paul considers the Corinthians as his friends by telling them of his suffering and comfort.
The troubles he encountered in Asia were not insignificant. We do not know exactly what Paul refers to. Some believe it was the tumult at Ephesus (Acts 19). But then Paul was not terrified, nor was he desperate, but was rather courageous and determined. Whatever the trouble was we understand that it was a trying time for him.
2 Corinthians 1:9. In such circumstances, when there is no more hope, there remains nothing and no one else but God. Only He can then give the answer. And that’s what God does too! God allows situations in our lives in which we don’t see a way out. He wants us to learn to trust in Him alone. Psalm 107 describes very pervasively how all the wisdom of man is of no use when storms erupt in life (Psalms 107:23-Jonah :). All that remains is to cry to the Lord and trust in Him.
There is another beautiful verse in Psalm 68 which says: “God is to us a God of deliverances; And to God the Lord belong escapes from death” (Psalms 68:20). Paul learnt this by experience and you can also.
2 Corinthians 1:10. Paul did not lament the way God dealt with him and the troubles which came to him. He knew how to make an opportunity out of every difficulty to know God better each time. God will use all difficulties in our lives to deliver us from all attempts and efforts on our part to save ourselves or free ourselves from difficulties. God wants us to learn to handover everything to Him and to trust that He is able to make a way out where we see no way out.
God wants us to learn Him better and better as the God of salvation and the God of resurrection and of life. Each experience by which we learn to know God in this way equips us to face future challenges in life. God can do one more time what He did before.
2 Corinthians 1:11. If you come across someone with whom God is busy in this way you may pray that God achieves His purpose with him. Paul was happy that the Corinthian believers were praying for him. In his other letters we read how much he appreciates the prayers of believers. He calls it “helping together in prayer”. Perhaps you would not say so, but praying for someone is helping him. Prayer is doing work. It is even hard work. That is probably why it happens very little.
Paul believed that the prayers will be heard. He saw his life he once despaired of, as something he got back through the prayers of many persons. This is what made him say that his life was a gift of grace which he received from God. What is the result of such answered prayers? Thanksgiving, isn’t it? Many could give thanks to God, for Paul was still alive.
As you see Paul is not an individualist who goes his own way as though other believers meant nothing to him. No, all believers including the ones in Corinth were important to him. He knew he needed them. It’s beautiful to see this attitude in this great servant of the Lord.
Now read 2 Corinthians 1:6-11 again.
Reflection: Did you ever experience the consolation of God? Did you ever share it with others?
Postponement of Paul’s Visit
After the apostle opened his heart to the believers and shared his adverse experiences in the previous verses he must now clear a misunderstanding that has arisen. This misunderstanding arose because he changed his plan to visit to them. His original plan was to visit them and he even told them that he would do so. But later he changed this plan (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:23). Now this was the chance for the nitpickers to charge that Paul was unstable in his decisions. Therefore Paul takes up his defense.
It is not self-defense, but a defense of his ministry of which the Corinthian believers themselves are the fruit. It is a defense of Christ’s work in the hearts of the Corinthians. This work would be at stake if he does not take a firm stand against the false accusations circulating among the believers. This is not uncommon even today and it is present in the assembly and in the world. When the gossip mill is in full swing a warlike situation can arise in the shortest possible time. Peace can vanish. Here the good relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is at stake.
2 Corinthians 1:12. Paul must neutralize the threat. He begins pointing to the testimony of his conscience. If he harbored anything in his conscience he could not be as simple and sincere as he is. God never would permit that kind of behavior. Dissemblers must betray themselves at some point or other.
Paul did not resort to all sorts of clever gambits to get his message across the Corinthians. He didn’t use unfair practices to win souls. He used no fleshly wisdom, no political methods as in election time where much is promised and little is done.
He was conscious of the grace of God. That means that he did not project himself, nor did he write his name on the flag. He wanted to show how God worked through him. That’s the way he behaved in the world and among the believers.
We must always be conscious of the fact that both the world and the believers are watching us. When it is evident in your life that you have understood something of the grace of God no one will be able to bring any valid accusations against you. Then you will not be known as the one who is well versed in the trick of the trade. You are an open book for everyone.
2 Corinthians 1:13. Paul could point out that he wrote nothing else but what they already knew of him and what they saw in him. They moved closely with him and therefore they knew him as a straight forward man. He hoped that they did not give themselves up to people who sowed distrust and resorted to misguide them to doubt his sincere intentions.
Believers who watch or listen to each other with distrust will fall into a precipice that slides down to destruction. Each word and each act is misinterpreted and the relationship sours till they reach a point beyond rectification. If you come across such unhealthy tendency in your heart, you must nip it in the bud. When things are said about people and you are doubtful about the veracity of what is spoken of them pray about it and then talk to the concerned person. You can easily think something evil of a person, but when you speak to the affected person you will see how much your assuming was wrong.
2 Corinthians 1:14. Paul refers to the day of the Lord Jesus. On this day Paul and the Corinthians will stand together before the judgment seat of Christ. Then Paul will be able to boast of them and vice versa by pointing at them and saying to Christ: ‘They have listened and obeyed all what I said to them on Your behalf.’ All ambiguities and uncertainties have no place there.
What is so important now is that you already live now in view of the judgment seat of Christ. Paul did that. That’s why he could tell them without any qualms that he had plans to come to them. He did not have to excuse himself as if he had made a mistake.
2 Corinthians 1:15. How he granted them this second grace! The first grace was that he was with them for the first time and preached the gospel to them. That grace they had experienced. By his second visit he wanted to teach them further about this grace. His heart yearned for them; they were his children in the faith.
2 Corinthians 1:16. He further believed that they would give him what he needed so that he could continue his journey. This is not a self-seeking exercise. It is just beautiful to count on the support of brethren being conscious of the fact that we are connected with one another for the same Lord. Here the suspicion that he was only after his own advantage at the cost of the Corinthians is ruled out.
2 Corinthians 1:17. He had already prepared his itinerary. From the way he invited them to participate in his plans it is clear that his plan was not made lightly nor planned haphazardly. He also had not sat down and planned on the basis of calculations that would support his own advantages the most. No, he was guided by God and by the love to Christ and His own.
As people falsely suggested he was not a capricious man. Indeed we know of people who make all kinds of promises, but of whom you know they are not keeping any of them. Such people are not trustworthy. It is unbecoming of a believer not to fulfill promises.
The Lord Jesus says that our yes must be yes and our no should mean really no (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12). Do people know you so? Then it is also not necessary that you underscore your promises with all kinds of pious and solemn assurances. Put simply, you must be reliable.
If Paul were someone who said ‘Yes’ which meant ‘No’ then how could people trust him? How could he lead others? Such a person lacks authority. People cannot trust anyone who is wobbly. If people are not sure that someone is speaking the truth everything he says will be called into question.
Now read 2 Corinthians 1:12-17 again.
Reflection: Can people count on you? How do you react to a false accusation?
In Him It Is Yes
2 Corinthians 1:18. God is faithful! This is in contrast to all infidelity and inconsistency Paul is accused of. He does not say: ‘I am faithful.’ He leaves that judgment to God. He knows that God is faithful in everything He has said. God does not say one thing today and another the next day. What He says is certain. He does not change His purposes. You can trust that He does what He says.
2 Corinthians 1:19. Paul unambiguously underscores this assertion in his attitude, in his conduct and in his speeches. The gospel he shared with the Corinthians testifies to this. He had not declared to them a dubious message. He had presented a crystal clear gospel to them in a way that needed no clarification. The content of the gospel he preached was indeed “the Son of God, Christ Jesus”.
Mentioning this Name he touches the kernel of the gospel and the center of all God’s plans. For God all things revolve around the glory and honor of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is something you must be more and more aware of, just as Paul showed it in the way he conducted himself.
In the names of the Lord Jesus you see His glory. The name Son of God reveals His eternal divinity. He is the eternal Son. The name Jesus reveals His humiliation. He received this name when He came on the earth to accomplish the work of redemption. The name Christ means the anointed One. Here you must bear in mind that He will fulfill all the counsels of God.
When you have Him before your eyes in that way, you cannot be talking back and forth and making unsure plans. Then there is only one desire: to show in your speech and action that nothing but Jesus Christ means everything to you. More and more uncertainties will disappear from your life. But this is a process and this does not happen overnight. Once you are sure of God’s purposes for your life you will no longer be the person doubting God in any situation. Although you know that things in Christ are “Yes, and … Amen” you do not experience this always. That is why you must deal with things that are firm and sure. This will lift you up. This is what is presented here.
2 Corinthians 1:20. Regularly we see Paul handling practical issues and immediately he connects them with the Lord Jesus. For instance 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 speak about this. There we find that believers contribute money to others who are in need. Paul connects their act with the Lord Jesus Christ and with God (2 Corinthians 8:9; 2 Corinthians 9:15). Each time he deals with the down to earth things he shows how they stand in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ and God. He shows whatever is done in the cause of the ministry of God is connected to the unchanging promises of God. He tells the believers that the content of his preaching is sure and certain because it is all about God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God will fulfill all His promises in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether it is of Israel or of the church He does not leave any promise unfulfilled. In the Old Testament you see many promises made to Israel. Today it looks as if these promises will never be fulfilled. Sure if those promises depended upon those rebellious people indeed they would never be fulfilled. Nevertheless the Lord Jesus Christ will make God’s people inherit all His promises. He can and will do this because He died on the cross and took away the guilt of the repentant people.
When He returns He will first cut off the wicked from among His people. That done, the remnant, the believing Israel – the repentant ones who acknowledged their sins before God – will only be left. They are the people whose King will be the Lord Jesus Christ! During the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus these are the people who will receive all the promises God made to His people.
There are also promises given by God to the church. God will fulfill these also through the Lord Jesus Christ. This will not take place on earth as with Israel, but in heaven.
Certainly and surely He will make the end all well. This is the “Amen” in 2 Corinthians 1:20. When God or Christ says Amen it means that it is so and it will be so. It emphasizes the absolute certainty of what is said or promised. The Lord Jesus always glorified God in His life and He will do so for all eternity.
The great wonder is that He will also glorify God “through us” the once lost sinners. Isn’t it a great miracle that you and I are saved and are now members of the church? This has become possible by the work of the Lord Jesus. All that He did on earth and what He does in heaven always redounds to the glory of God. Also the results of His work glorify God.
2 Corinthians 1:21. But God has done more for us. He has established us in Christ and that means He has firmly connected us with Christ. We are inseparably connected with Christ. When God sees Christ He sees us.
But He has done still more. He also has “anointed” us with the Holy Spirit as He did with the Lord Jesus. It happened to the Lord Jesus immediately at His baptism (Matthew 3:16; Acts 10:38) – at the beginning of His public appearance – because He was perfect. It happened to us only after we were redeemed from our sins. This anointing makes it clear that we have a special place in God’s heart.
In the Old Testament kings, priests and prophets were anointed with oil. By this anointing they were ordained for service. The anointing gave them a special place among the people of God which signified that they were chosen by God especially for this service. The act of anointing made them conscious of their calling. The same is true for you and for me. After you believed you are anointed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30). Thus God set us apart for Himself and for His ministry. The Holy Spirit always keeps you conscious of this.
2 Corinthians 1:22. You are also sealed with the Holy Spirit. This means that you are His property. You belong to Him and He has His right on you. Here you have the assurance that the devil and his angels do not have any say on you anymore.
Finally the Holy Spirit Who has been given into our hearts is called “a pledge”. This conveys two things. First you are not in full possession of the thing, for it is a pledge. You are waiting for its fulfillment. Secondly this pledge is an advance on the fulfillment. You already can enjoy it now. In chapter 5 we are reading about the same pledge (2 Corinthians 5:5). There it is about the desire that we have about the house God prepared for us in heaven. Here it is about the enjoyment of the promises God has given to us.
We can and should enjoy them in advance because the Holy Spirit has been given into our hearts. The heart is the center of life and experience. The things that you enjoy have an impact on your life and in all that you say or do. Don’t they give the sheen to your everyday life?
2 Corinthians 1:23. The real reason why Paul had not come to Corinth yet was love. All accusations for changing his itinerary were false and he rejected them resolutely. God was his Witness! If he had come to Corinth, he would have had to deal with them harshly as there were many pestering spiritual issues. He would have had to take hard decisions. He wanted to spare them this exercise. He waited till they were convinced from his first letter that things were not in order with them.
2 Corinthians 1:24. The attitude he assumes in his relationship with the Corinthians might appear to be like that of a ruler over their faith. But in reality it is not so. No apostle, not even Paul, ever wanted to come between a believer and God. Never should a man however great he may be stand between you and God.
If you are still young in the faith beware that you do not hold any great Christian luminary whom you love as a pattern for your faith life. Nothing can go wrong as long as you take care to stay in good relationship with the Lord Jesus. The danger lies in making anyone other than the Lord Jesus as your model. Lot was someone who solely hung on Abraham for his faith life. It is true Abraham was a great believer but he was not the perfect model. There is no man who can be a perfect example.
Let no one dominate your spiritual life and take care that you do not rule over someone’s spiritual life either. Paul did not want to rule over the Corinthians but he wanted to work with them so that they would be happy again. Sin in the church does not make anyone happy. Only when sin is put away there is joy again. That’s why Paul wrote to them and not to rule over them. They stand in their “faith” and that means they are focused on God and not on men.
Now read 2 Corinthians 1:18-24 again.
Reflection: Thank God for all the certainties that you have received in Him and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Call these certainties by name.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany