Today: [2 Corinthians 1:] When Suffering and Pressures Come: In 2 Corinthians 1 Paul begins his letter with a very personal disclosure of his own struggles and difficulties. The Corinthians are criticizing him for not keeping his word to visit them, but he insists that his heart is unchanged toward them nonetheless. Are you going through pressures in your life? Are you facing suffering and difficulties? Paul message is that God is faithful and we are to be encouraged to expect Him to come through for us in deliverance and power.
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[2Co 1:1-24 KJV] 1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy [our] brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: 2 Grace [be] to you and peace from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed [be] God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 6 And whether we be afflicted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, [it is] for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope of you [is] stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so [shall ye be] also of the consolation. 8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: 9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver [us]; 11 Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift [bestowed] upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. 12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. 13 For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; 14 As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also [are] ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. 15 And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; 16 And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea. 17 When I therefore was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea yea, and nay nay? 18 But [as] God [is] true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, [even] by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. 20 For all the promises of God in him [are] yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. 21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, [is] God; 22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. 23 Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. 24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
Sometime after the writing of the letter we title 1 Corinthians, Paul writes a second letter to the church in this city. In the interim, it is known that Paul spent time in Ephesus (from whence he wrote 1 Corinthians) and was making plans to travel to Philippi and beyond. He is revisiting his concerns regarding the Corinthian church because of continued problems there that are exacerbated by the fact that now there is an active element in the church that questions his apostolic authority.
Paul begins his salutation with the mention of Timothy who is likely acting as Paul’s secretary in penning the letter that Paul dictates. Timothy is mentioned in 1 Corinthians as an emissary that Paul planned to send to Corinth, which no doubt took place. Now Timothy has returned from Corinth to continue his travels with Paul, and the mention of Timothy is perhaps to identify him as an eyewitness of the problems in Corinth that Paul will now address in his letter.
Paul begins with a friendly tone speaking of the God as the Father of all mercies and the God of all comfort. This is in prelude to what will be one of his most strident and reproachful letters in all the New Testament. He is attempting to strike a very personal and conciliatory tone in hopes to bring the people to their senses and back to a posture of receptivity to the counsel he purposes to give them. In verse 2 Paul declares the Father to be the source of comfort to all who are in any trouble who will comfort them with the comfort that Paul himself in his difficulties is comforted as well. Are you in trouble? How do you think God responds to your problems? Is He an austere and disinterested deity looking down with benign neglect on your suffering? Paul insists this is not the case. God’s response to you in the midst of difficult situations is to be your source of comfort and consolation that verse 5 tells us “abounds in Christ.”
In v. 6 Paul states that the sufferings the Corinthians are facing are the same that Paul and his traveling companions are also enduring – specifically the persecution that was raging through the ancient world against the Christian faith. This is important to note. The Corinthians are upset because they feel misunderstood and mistreated. When we are struggling our response is often “doesn’t anybody care what I am going through?” Paul is attempting to show himself as rushing to their side and showing them that they are not alone in the trials they are facing. In v. eight he gives greater detail of being “pressed out of measure, above strength” to the point that they “despaired even of life.” Have you ever gone through something like this? Being under so much pressure and difficulty, you don’t want to go on living. You are not alone. Even the towering figures such as Paul who wrote two-thirds of our New Testament knew what it was to be overwhelmed by despair.
Even though Paul went through these struggles, he buttresses himself with the commitment of his call saying “we had the sentence of death in ourselves” that their trust no matter what would be in God to deliver as He had in times past. In other words, Paul was determined even in the midst of personal suffering to stay faithful to the call of God as “the Lord’s dead man” or “martyr” or witness, as expressed in other places in the scriptures. In the midst of what he was going through he brings to mind that he knew (v. 11) that there were those in Corinth who prayed for them and not only that but also many followers in Corinth sent financial support to help them in the work of the gospel even when they were under such devastating pressure.
In v. 13 Paul speaks of the letters that he has written and refers to other latters that may have come to the Corinthians in his name that were in fact forgeries. This was a common problem in the New Testament era and even today in the age of social media we regularly hear of falsified pages and profiles claiming to be this ministry or that ministry but are imposters seeking to rob the people of God.
In verse 15 Paul speaks of plans to come and visit them on his way to Macedonia with a view to make his way to Jerusalem and Judea. We know from the book of Acts that he does ultimately go to Jerusalem from whence he is incarcerated and will spend many years in prison and confinement. Paul has promised to visit the Corinthians before because in v. 17 he insists that he is sincere in coming to them and not intended to make promises that he can’t keep. This happens in ministry when leaders have plans and make those plans known to their supporters only to find that life and circumstances intervene and changes have to be made. Paul is saying in v. 17 and 18 that his heart is to keep his word and that he had no intention of disappointing them in any way.
In verse 19 Paul states that the message of the gospel was not a message of inconsistency. His point is that just as God is faithful, he as a minister of God wants to be dependable and consistent likewise but circumstances of life have intervened that made it necessary to change his plans and cancel parts of his itinerary that included visiting Corinth which is now delayed because of unspecified difficulties Paul is facing.
In verse 20 we see that the promises of God are “yea” or yes in Him and “amen” or so be it. This is a significant statement. When you go through difficulties and the promises of God are not coming to bear in your situation it is very disconcerting. Theologians and uninspired leaders make the case that God in His word makes many promises, but because He is sovereign, He is not bound by those same promises. In other words, if you are not seeing God’s promise come to pass in your life the religious understanding is that this is not caused by anything other than God choosing to allow you to suffer for some ineffable or mysterious higher purpose. Paul’s statement in v. 20 defies this contaminated thinking. Man says “God always answers prayer, but sometimes He says no.” That false statement is in direct contradiction to what Paul is saying in v. 20. All the promises of God are yes and amen to the glory of God. What does that mean? It means that God will NEVER say no to what the cross says yes to.
Another point to make in v. 20 is the wording that states “all the promises of God…” In other words, men teach that if an unbeliever asks Jesus into his or her heart that God will ALWAYS come in and save that person and give them a new birth experience. On the other hand, however, the religious understanding is that while God always saves He doesn’t always heal. You can ask Him for healing, and He may or may not heal because He is sovereign. If it is true that God doesn’t always heal then it must be concluded that He doesn’t always save. There is no variableness or shadow of turning in God. We have to be careful not to twist our understanding of God to that which makes sense to us in the light of our experiences to the contrary regarding His promises. Again Paul’s emphatic statement is that ALL the promises, not just SOME of the promises are YES and AMEN. If this is not so then, there is no way we can ever put faith in God if He might answer or might not answer on the basis of some alleged right He reserves to deny us the explicit promises of His word. We need to adjust our thinking in this area to come into alignment with God’s word.
In verse 21 Paul says that the same God that established the Corinthians in their faith was the same God that anointed Paul himself and his companions for the work of the gospel. He is the same God that gives us the earnest or down payment of His full blessing in the form of the Holy Spirit that lives within us. This is important to note because even in Paul’s day there were Gnostic teachings that suggested there were many gods or “demi-urges” and that one god could be in Corinth, and another god be accompanying Paul in his journeys and still other gods be in other cities and churches throughout the ancient world. This is derived from pagan influence, and the thought that Paul is combating is that some of the Corinthians would reject Paul as not representative of the god they served. We think this is ridiculous but even today when there is disagreement among believers one might say “my God doesn’t think like that…” or “my God would never do such a thing…” as though they were entirely at their leisure to craft their own idea of God without any accountability to anyone other than themselves. In making this statement, Paul is striving to maintain the monolithic nature of the church as one body serving one God who was in all and through all and with all.
In verses 23-24 Paul gives some warning as to the character of his letter by saying his deeper motive for canceling his planned visit to Corinth was to spare them the personal chastisement that is to come in subsequent chapters of 2 Corinthians. He desires to bless and not reprove them. He doesn’t want to assert harsh dominion over them but to come to them as a helper of their joy. If you were one of the Corinthians and your pastor or another leader sent you a corrective letter addressing very personal issues in your life how would you respond? In my experience as a leader for over 30 years I have found pitifully few Christians who were correctable or who would receive chastisement or rebuke for any reason whatsoever. This is very unfortunate because Heb. 12:8 tells us if we reject chastisement we are bastards and not sons. This is a direct inditement of Christian culture as we know it and on an individual basis, we need to address this in our own hearts. Are we correctable? Can we receive rebuke? The answer to that question speaks directly to the validity of our sonship in Christ.