Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

March 8, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

Thanksgiving (1:3–11)      

2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (NKJV)

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.

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.

 

Introduction

From verse 3 through verse 11, the apostle bursts forth into thanksgiving for the comfort that has come to him in the midst of his distress and affliction. Undoubtedly, the comfort was the good news which Titus had brought him in Macedonia. The apostle then goes on to show that whether he is afflicted or comforted, everything turns out for the eventual good of the believers to whom he ministers.

Past experiences encourage us to have faith and hope, and oblige us to trust God for all our remaining days. And it is our duty not only to help one another through prayer, but in praise and thanksgiving make suitable reparation for the benefits we have received from Him. Thus, both trials and mercies will end in good to ourselves and others.

One of the paradoxes of the Christian life is that the grace of God is most keenly experienced not in the best but what seems to be the worst of times. However much a Christian longs for rejoicing (1 Cor. 4:8), it is often in humiliation where he finds grace [And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor. 12:9)]. That theme pervades this letter and finds moving expression in Paul’s thanksgiving.

 

Commentary

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

Blessed (the Greek word eulogetos, meaning “well-spoken of.”) is used in the New Testament as belonging to, relating to, or connected with God [for example: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).]. It is a term of adoration and praise. Blessed be God is a phrase that typically began a worship service in the synagogue (see Ps. 66:20; 68:35). The use of this phrase in New Testament letters (see also Eph. 1:3) indicates that the phrase may have become a common expression in worship, perhaps  a “call to worship” for early churches.

Paul praised the true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed Himself in His Son, who is of the same essence as His Father [And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)]. He is the anointed One (Christ) and sovereign (Lord) Redeemer (Jesus). Although the Son enjoyed this lofty position, He was willing to become a servant and submit Himself in His incarnation. Christ is the ultimate example of selfless humility [Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)]. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the full title of Christ in the New Testament. No longer is He addressed as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, or the God of Jacob. Now He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This name, incidentally, implies the great truth that the Lord Jesus is both God and Man. God is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ; this refers to His relation to Jesus, the Son of Man. But God is also the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This refers to His relationship to Christ, the Son of God. In addition, God is described as the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. This great benediction comprehends the entire Gospel.

The Father of mercies is a Semitic phrase for ‘merciful Father,’ andrefers to God (the source of all mercies), and the mercies in view here include everything from deliverance from the world, sin, and Satan, to participation in Sonship, light, and life. But the force of the expression is even more than this; for the idea stressed is that the Father is characterized by mercy [For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You (Ps. 86:5; cf. Dan. 9:9; Mic. 7:18).]. The apostle may have borrowed the expression, “Father of mercies” from Jewish liturgical language and a synagogue prayer that called on God to treat the sinful individual with kindness, love, and tenderness.

Comfort often means softness and ease, but that is not the meaning here. For Paul, comfort flows from experiencing God’s mercies. Paul was saying God came to him in the midst of his sufferings and troubles to strengthen him and give him courage and boldness (vv. 4-10). Like a true man of faith, he mentions mercies and comfort before he proceeds to speak of afflictions (vv. 4-6). God of all comfort is an Old Testament description of God [As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isa. 66:13)], who is the ultimate source of every true act of comfort. The Greek word for “comfort” is related to the familiar word “paraclete” “one who comes along side to help,” another name for the Holy Spirit. A good example of the work of the Holy Spirit can be seen in the apostles understanding of the spiritual. The Holy Spirit energized the hearts and minds of the apostles in their ministry, helping them produce the New Testament Scripture. The disciples had failed to understand many things about Jesus and what He taught; but because of this supernatural work they came to an accurate and inerrant understanding of the Lord and His work, and recorded it in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament Scriptures [All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16)].

Paul’s expression of thanksgiving for his recent deliverance from a serious threat forms a suitable introduction for this letter, since one of his purposes for writing was to seek reconciliation and give his reasons for not having fulfilled his promise to visit them (vv. 15-24). Being brought through the desperate situation mentioned in verses 8 and 9 has deeply enriched his understanding of God’s character. We need to recognize that nothing in this passage implies that God rescues his people from every discomfort, but that he gives them the tools, the necessary training, and the essential guidance to endure the problems of this life.

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.

Paul had a difficult letter to write to the Corinthians. Although they had not been hard-pressed by external persecution, the Corinthian church had gone through a lot of internal dissension. Opposing sides were vying for their points of view (1 Cor. 1:10-17), and people were even suing each other (1 Cor. 6:1-7). Instead of focusing on these persistent problems, Paul began his letter by focusing on God and his comfort. God would encourage —and even admonish—the Corinthians through these difficult times. When the troubles passed, and the Corinthians emerged faithful, then they would be able to encourage others who needed the same encouragement.

This is very personal; ‘I’ and ‘me’ is better than ‘us,’ ‘our,’ and ‘we,’ in this passage. In 2nd Corinthians these terms are often to be understood of Paul himself; as shown clearly by 2nd Corinthians 7:5. It is God who comforts him when he must face trouble (tribulation). The term tribulation refers to crushing pressure, because in Paul’s ministry and life there was always something attempting to weaken him, restrict or confine his ministry, or even take his life. But no matter what confronted him, Paul knew God would strengthen and sustain him [And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)]. The apostle did not live for himself, but for the church; so, whatever graces God conferred on him, he considered granted not for him alone, but so that he would have a greater ability to help others. Likewise, Jesus’ participation in all the afflictions of man uniquely qualified Him to be Man’s comforter in all his various afflictions (Isa. 50:4-6; Heb. 4:15). In all Paul’s afflictions he was conscious of God’s presence with him. Troubles, Paul said, help Christians shift their perspective from the external and temporal to the internal and eternal (v. 9).

To us, the word comfort usually means consolation in the time of sorrow. But as it is used in the New Testament, it has a wider meaning. It refers to the encouragement and exhortation that come to us from one who is beside us in time of need. There is a practical lesson in this verse for us all. We should remember when we are comforted that we should seek to pass on this comfort to others. We should not avoid the sick room, or the house of death, but rather fly to the side of any who are in need of our encouragement. We are not comforted to be comfortable but to be comforters.

Comfort from God is not an end in itself. Its purpose is that we (believers) may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble. Having humiliated and convicted the Corinthians, God used Paul to return to them with a strengthening message after he himself had received divine strengthening [And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." (Luke 22:31-32)].

5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.

At his conversion, Paul was warned of the sufferings he would face as the apostle to the Gentiles [But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16)]. Also, Jesus had warned His disciples that they could expect to suffer as he had [Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).]. The clause the sufferings of Christ abound in us indicates that he means only sufferings which Christians endure in virtue of their union with Christ (2 Cor. 4:10), and not those due to their own sin. The same union explains why we can share in comfort too.

Paul knew what it meant to suffer, but it was when he was suffering that he experienced God’s comfort (vv. 4-5). Paul uniquely described the value of an experience of suffering before relating the experience (vv. 8-10) from which the value came. Paul praised Christ as the source of all comfort, the comfort he wished to pass along to the Corinthians (v. 4). Paul feared he might not survive the difficult experience (v. 8). God’s intervention seemed like a resurrection in his life (vv. 9-10). This reinforced Paul’s conviction that God’s resources alone, not human effort, can produce comfort and refuge.

The apostle declares, so our consolation also abounds through Christ, because he realizes that as the problems increase, so does the consolation (comfort). Both the problems and consolation are measured by the experiences of Christ (cf. Luke 24:26, 46; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pe. 1:11). Paul’s use of the term abound is significant throughout this epistle (cf. 2 Cor. 4:15; 8:2, 7; 9:8, 12). Abound in us, is, “abound unto us” in the Greek; and the words which follow it in the Greek are more forceful than in the English version; “Even so, through Christ aboundeth also our comfort.”

The sufferings of Christ are those He endured, whether by Himself or by His church, with which He considers Himself identified (Matt. 25:40, 45; Acts 9:4; 1 Jn. 4:17-21). Christ calls His people’s suffering, His own suffering:

1)      Because of the sympathy and mystical union between Him and us (Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 4:10).

2)     Because they are endured for His sake.

3)     Because they tend to bring Him glory (Eph. 4:1; 1 Pe. 4:14, 16).

The sufferings of Christ here cannot mean the Savior’s atoning sufferings. These were unique, and no man can share them. But Christians can and do suffer because of their associations with the Lord Jesus. They suffer reproach, rejection, hostility, hatred, denial, betrayal, etc. These are spoken of as the sufferings of Christ because He endured them when He was on earth. He still endures them when the members of His body experience them. In all our affliction He is afflicted (see Isa. 63:9). But Paul’s point here is that there is a rich compensation for all these sufferings, namely, there is a corresponding share in the consolation of Christ, and this consolation is abundantly sufficient.

The sufferings (plural) are many; but the consolation (though singular) swallows up them all. Paul said that he could rejoice in the suffering that he had endured for Christ: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). Paul had been insulted (Acts 13:45); chased out of towns, villages, and cities by angry mobs (Acts 17:8-10); beaten and thrown into dank, dark prisons (Acts 16:22-23); stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20); and he was even the object of murderous plots (Acts 14:5). God’s comfort for believers extends to the boundaries of their suffering for Christ. The more they endure righteous suffering, the grater will be their comfort and reward (1 Pe. 4:12-14). Paul knew first hand that these many sufferings would seem never-ending [that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. (Phil. 3:10)], and all genuine believers should expect the same (Matt. 10:18-24). Comfort prevails in this Epistle above that in the first Epistle, since by now the impact of the first Epistle had effected most of the Corinthians and they were very impressed by it.

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.

The idea conveyed by verses 6 and 7 is this: If we are afflicted it is for our own good, and if we are comforted it is for our own good. Everything else in this passage is subordinated to these two main ideas. Paul does not glory in suffering in itself. But he knows that suffering for Christ identifies us with Him and His church [and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Rom. 8:7)]. Consolation means comfort. Only those who have gone through deep testings know how to speak a fitting word to others who are called upon to go through the same. A mother who has lost an only child can better comfort another mother who has just been crushed by that heartache. Or, best of all, a father who has lost an only son can best console those who have lost loved ones.

The line “which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer” reveals how deeply Paul was burdened by desire for their salvation as he ministered to the Corinthians, and how he was suffering from the opposition of the Jews and false teachers. Those who believed suffered along with Paul and were enabled to endure, along with the apostle, which exemplifies the communion of saints. Their hearts were, so to speak, mirrors reflecting the likeness of each other.Paul is referring to the body of Christ who have a partnership of suffering with Christ, which mutually builds godly patience and endurance (1 Cor 12:26). All believers need to realize this process, avoid any sense of self-pity when suffering for Him, and share in one another’s lives the encouragement of divine comfort they receive from their experiences. The apostolic church did not grow because of a lack of hostility and persecution, but in spite of it. He paid a price to bring them the Gospel, guide their growth, and comfort them in their trials; but Paul’s willingness, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, to suffer and then be comforted, and then comfort and strengthen the Corinthians, enabled them to persevere. The apostle’s sufferings and comfort would benefit the Corinthians in two ways. First, Paul himself was now better prepared to serve them, for experiences that come to Christians are not for them alone, but also for the benefit of others (v. 4). Secondly, we are told in verse 7 that the Corinthians too could learn to draw from the same source of comfort. This is one practical illustration of what is meant by the communion (‘fellowship,’ ‘sharing’) of the saints. Therefore, Christians should encourage each other.

Salvation, as used here, refers to the Corinthian’s ongoing perseverance to final, completed salvation when they will be glorified [And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (Rom. 13:11)]. Paul doesn’t have our justification in view, but the final feature of our redemption, glorification. We will be glorified when Jesus returns. Until then we groan with grief over our remaining sinfulness. The process that began with Christ’s choice will culminate with our glorification, and the redemption of all of man’s remaining fallenness—the full realization of our inheritance.

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.

As you are, or rather, “As we are, so are you.” He means, there is a cooperative spirit of consolation, just as there is of suffering, between me and you. Some in the church at Corinth, perhaps the majority, were suffering for righteousness, as Paul was. Although that church had caused him much pain and concern, Paul saw its members as partners to be helped, because of their faithfulness in mutual suffering. Paul’s severe letter produced in them a profound sorrow as they understood how their reprehensible behavior had grieved Paul. It had certainly distressed him to write it, but he did it out of love for them, and for their comfort and salvation. Sufferings never come alone for the Christian. They are always followed by the consolation of Christ. We, too, can be as confident of this, as was Paul.

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.

Paul uses the plural our throughout the letter. It usually was a humble reference to Paul himself, but in this instance it could include others as well. When the apostle uses the expression for we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, it is usually to introduce a point he wants to emphasize.  The trouble which came to us in Asia is clarified in verse 9. Asia was the Roman province of that name, and Ephesus was its most important city. This was a recent occurrence (following the writing of 1st Corinthians) that happened in and around Ephesus. Paul faced something that was beyond human survival, was extremely discouraging because he believed it threatened to end his ministry permanently, and created an atmosphere where he despaired even of life. Some suggest it was a deadly sickness, an others think that it might refer to disheartening news from Corinth. Fortunately, the value and enjoyment of such a passage does not depend on knowing the exact details.

The Greek word for “despaired” means literally “no passage,” the total absence of an exit. That he does not give more details concerning his trouble in Asia, seems to indicate that the Corinthians were aware of what had happened to Paul, but did not realize the utter severity of it, or what God was doing through those circumstances.

9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,

In verses 8 and 9, the apostle informs them of the eminent loss of life he faced while preaching Christ in Ephesus (see Acts 19:23-41). There, a great multitude was stirred up by Demetrius against Paul and his associates for attacking the religion of Dianne of Ephesus. The words (v. 9) “we had the sentence of death in ourselves” mean that he looked upon himself as a man condemned to die. There can be little doubt that had Paul been found by that mob, they would have torn him to pieces. Besides that, Luke records in Acts that there were other dangers faced by Paul which were equally dangerous, such as the Jews lying in wait and hoping to kill him (Acts 20:19), his ceaseless foes. They, no doubt, incited the multitude at Ephesus (Acts 19:9) and were the chief among the “many adversaries” and “wild beasts” which he had to fight with there (1 Cor. 15:32; 16:9). His weak state of health at the time, combined with all this to make him regard himself as all but dead (2 Cor. 11:29; 12:10). This was the very cause of him not visiting Corinth directly as he had intended, and for which he will later apologize (vv. 15-23). But he would take time to see if the evils arising in Corinth, not only from the Greek, but from the Jewish agitators of the church, would be checked by His first Epistle. When he found out that it was not fully checked he was led to write this second Epistle. Other reasons for the sufferings he mentions here have been proposed by commentators as (1) the pain brought to him by the problems of the Corinthian church (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28-29); or (2) the beating he experienced at the hands of the Jews in the Lucus Valley; or (3) a drastic illness which he contracted. All such views are merely speculation. He did not expressly mention his reasons here, but that is to be expected at the beginning of this letter; towards the close when he had won their approval and support by a kindly and firm tone, he gives a more distinct reference to Jewish agitators (See 2 Cor. 11:22). Being unable to be specific in identifying this experience permits believers today to apply this to themselves, especially when they find themselves in desperate circumstances where deliverance seems impossible.

Above strength means that his troubles were a burden beyond the ordinary, natural powers of human endurance. The result was that he despaired even of life—as far as human help or hope from man was concerned. But in respect to help from God, we were not in despair [We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair (2 Cor. 4:8)]. In other words, we did not trust in ourselves but in God. That was God’s ultimate purpose for Paul’s horrible experience. The Lord took him to the point that he could not fall back on any intellectual, physical, or emotional human resource (2nd Cor. 12:9-10)

But in God who raises the dead, or rather,we had given up all thoughts of life, so that our only hope was in the coming resurrection; so in 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul says, “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” The resurrection was what buoyed him up when he was contending with his foes, who he describes as savage as wild beasts. Paul understood that trust in God’s power to raise the dead was the only hope of rescue from his extreme circumstances. Here he only touches on the doctrine of the resurrection, taking it for granted that its truth is admitted by the Corinthians, and urging its inspiration on their lives. God who raises the dead was a title of God with which Paul was familiar, since it was from the Jewish prayer, the Eighteenth Benediction: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou makest the dead to live.’

10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,

God will deliver his people immediately from imminent danger. In whom we trust that He will still deliver us refers to the continuation of God’s delivering help in the future, but it may also indicate that the danger mentioned in verses 8 and 9 is still not over, and so he asks the Corinthians to help by praying. When those prayers are answered, they will be able to share in the thanksgiving (cf. 1 Cor. 4:15; 9:11). Thus in Christian fellowship, God can use us to involve and enrich one another, to His own greater glory.

Christian life was certainly no bed of roses for Paul. Some suggest that this near-death experience which He only touches on in this passage, may have irrevocably altered Paul’s perspective on his own destiny. Before this he expressed the hope that he might be numbered among those who would be alive at the coming of Christ [Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)]. Now his focus was on the resurrection [that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11)]. What was certain was Paul’s trust that God would deliver him from the peril of death (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8-14) until his course was run (2 Tim. 4:7), and his task completed. Then later, God, he knew would deliver him from the dead ["O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" (1 Cor. 15:55)].

In dark moments when the light of God’s presence is removed and feeling has dried up, the memory of past experiences keep hope alive. The Bible itself is a storehouse of such recollections on which the Christian mind can feed. God can never cease to be in the future what He has been in the past [Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8)].

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.

Helping together in prayer for us conveys the idea of helping by your prayers on our behalf. Paul generously assumes that the Corinthian Christians had been praying for him while he was going through this time of deep testing. Actually, many of the believers had become critical of the great apostle, and there could have been a serious question of whether they were remembering him before the throne of grace at all. However, he is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. They must help Paul by their prayers as he goes through trials in the future, so that when God has answered their prayers by delivering Paul, many, not only Paul, may give thanks to God on his behalf. For the gift—lit., “That on the part of many persons the gift (lit., gift of grace; the mercy) bestowed upon us by means of (i.e., through the prayers of) many may be offered thanks for (may have thanks offered for it) on our behalf.” In this instance, the gift was probably the blessing or favor Paul would receive in the divinely answered prayer in being delivered from death. Intercessory prayer is crucial to the expression of God’s power and purpose. In this regard, Paul wanted the faithful Corinthians to know that he needed their prayers then and in the future [praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. (Eph. 6:18)].

The purpose of prayer is not to change God’s plans, but that thanks may be given and that He may be glorified. Paul was certain that God’s sovereign purpose would be accomplished, balanced by the prayerful participation of believers.

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