Introduction: an Account of Paul’s Missions & Motives
2 Corinthians 1 – 2
2 Corinthians 1 – 2
- Salutation (1:1-2)
- Suffering and Encouragement in Service (1:3-14)
- Consistency in Service (1:12-22)
- Consideration for Others in Service (1:23 – 2:11)
- The Lord’s Leading in Service (2:12-17)
1 Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will, and the brother Timotheus, to the assembly of God which is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia. v.1 Paul was now writing from Macedonia, where Timothy had apparently rejoined him. Paul writes this epistle as an “apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will”, a fact that was doubted by some in Corinth, including a divisive faction led by “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul associates “the brother Timotheus” with him in this epistle, which gives us an important assembly principle: when Paul wrote to an assembly he always associated one or two other brothers with him in writing (1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). This is because “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). Even today, when one assembly communicates with another assembly it ought to be signed by two or three. He included the surrounding assemblies in addition to those in Corinth, “all the saints (sanctified ones) who are in the whole of Achaia”, which is the southern region of Greece. This would indicate that perhaps the issues that had come up in Corinth were not contained in the city, but had spread to the whole region. Still, the second epistle was directed to a narrower sphere than the first; i.e. “the whole of Achaia”, compared to “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It was very important that the saints all through that region be aware of the restoration that had taken place in Corinth.
2 Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. v.2 Paul desired two things for them: “grace and peace” from God as our Father, and from Jesus Christ as our Lord. First, grace or ‘favor’ which characterizes our standing before God, and peace which characterizes our condition. Paul desired that their enjoyment of neither grace nor peace would be disturbed. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace. There are two aspects of grace: (1) grace to us and for us, and (2) grace in us and with us. The first is that disposition of favor on God’s part which He shows toward us, the second is an attitude on our part of favor which we should show towards others. Most epistles begin with the grace of God for us, and end with the grace of God in us. First and Second Corinthians are not exceptions. How wonderful, at the very beginning for Paul to remind the assembly of the grace of God toward them, and the peace of our condition in Christ! In 2 Corinthians the title “Our Lord” or “The Lord” is found twenty-eight times! In six of those occurrences His full title is given; our “Lord Jesus Christ”. The Lordship of Christ is heavily emphasized in this epistle, particularly because authority is in question.
Suffering and Encouragement in Service (1:3-14)
Suffering and Encouragement (vv.3-7)
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; 4 who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God. vv.3-4 The epistle begins with the subject of comfort. The Apostle Paul had suffered much (“all our tribulation”) in the previous year, as a result of both the sorrowful condition in Corinth, and the persecution he had endured in Ephesus. The coming of Titus had comforted Paul on both accounts, but he took the comfort as directly from “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement”. What a way to refer to God the Father! It takes in the relationship we have with God, not only as our Father, but as seen by Him in the very way He sees His own Son. Compassion is what the Father feels for us, and encouragement is what God gives to us. The encouragement of God is not intended only to comfort one suffering servant, but also to equip that servant with means to comfort others! Here is a great principle of Christian ministry: God will often pass His servants through deep trials that they may be better equipped to help others. How true that is. Rather than crippling our ministry, trials often expand our capacity for service, howbeit in ways we never could have foreseen.
5 Because, even as the sufferings of the Christ abound towards us, so through the Christ does our encouragement also abound. 6 But whether we are in tribulation, it is for your encouragement and salvation, wrought in the endurance of the same sufferings which “we” also suffer, 7 (and our hope for you is sure;) or whether we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement and salvation: knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also of the encouragement. vv.5-7 Paul further expands the previous thought, and explains exactly how his own sufferings had led to the blessing of the saints. In v.5 the sufferings and encouragement of Christ are linked with Paul, and in vv.6-7 the sufferings and encouragement of Paul are linked with the Corinthians. Paul had found Christ in both the sufferings and the consolation that he experienced. He felt the reproaches of Christ falling on him in the persecution of Ephesus. He felt the sorrow of Christ’s own heart at the dishonor in Corinth. His sufferings were an extension, in a sense, of the sufferings of Christ (yet not atoning, of course); see Col. 1:24. But likewise, he felt the corresponding encouragement of Christ through it all. Paul could see that that God was working “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28), by weaving the lives and hearts of the saints together with his own. Now, Paul was very gracious to include the Corinthians in this. The magnitude of their sufferings did not measure up to what he had endured, but as another has said, “grace delights in sharing all it can; and faith gives the highest character to whatever it can discern to be of God” . They knew something of Paul’s circumstances, and as one member was suffering, they also – as member of the same body – suffered sympathetically with him. How wonderful that Paul could say, “our hope for you [restoration] is sure”. His sufferings were in part for the Corinthians, and he was comforted that it was not in vain.
The Severity of Paul’s Suffering in Asia (v.8)
8 For we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, as to our tribulation which happened to us in Asia, that we were excessively pressed beyond our power, so as to despair even of living. v.8 Paul gives them an example of his suffering in the path of service. Specifically, her refers to what he had suffered in Asia, Ephesus being the capital. In Acts 19 we find that Paul reached Ephesus and stayed for two years, disputing daily in the school of Tyrannus; a great and effectual “open door”. There were many adversaries opposing him, both from the Jews and Gentiles, but Paul remained because the “door” was still open. He speaks of these adversaries in the first epistle as “beasts” with whom he fought (1 Cor. 15:32). Shortly after sending the first letter, a riot broke out in Ephesus over the effect Paul’s preaching had on idol-makers. The persecution grew even greater, and here Paul reveals the severity of it; “we were excessively pressed beyond our power, so as to despair even of living”. They thought they were going to die. Note: Asia was the greatest sphere of Paul’s labors and sufferings. Yet at the end of Paul’s course, all of Asia had turned away from Him. He had no greater joy than to see these ones go on in the truth he had suffered for, but he had no greater sorrow than to see them turn away from him.
How to Endure Severe Trials (vv.9-11)
9 But we ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; v.9 Realize Our Death with Christ, and the Truth of Resurrection. It is beautiful to see that while the apostle and his companions were in danger of death, and at the same time the fact they recognized the truth of our death with Christ. If we count ourselves as already dead, we are free from the fear that would paralyze natural men. There are a number of things that men fear about death: (1) for those who believe in an afterlife, the judgment that is coming, and (2) for those who believe in annihilation, their ceasing to exist as a person. But for the believer who is dead with Christ, the judgment is already past, and we see ourselves as dead already, with our true identity in a risen Christ. The realization of our death with Christ is a liberating truth. It allows us to once-and-for-all give up on ourselves; “that we should not have our trust in ourselves”. But then, our truth is directed to One who has all power at His disposal, “God who raises the dead”. Even if God does not see fit to deliver us from the persecution, we will ultimately be delivered through resurrection.
10 who has delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver; in whom we confide that he will also yet deliver; v.10 Have Confidence in a Savior God. The thought here is that our trust in God is not in vain. God is a Savior God… He delivers His people. Paul speaks of the deliverance of God in three tenses: “who has delivered us” (past), “and does deliver” (present), and “he will also yet deliver” (future). There are a few ways to look at these three deliverances. First, taken in context, they seem to primarily refer to past, present, and future deliverance from martyrdom. Paul and his companions had been delivered from the mob in Ephesus, was currently being delivered from other persecutors, and would continue to be delivered. However, as an application, we cannot help but think of the three deliverances we have as believers in Christ. These three are taken up in the book of Romans. Past deliverance from the penalty of our sins (“so great a death”), present deliverance from indwelling sin, and future deliverance from the sin-cursed creation, which will take place at the rapture.
11 ye also labouring together by supplication for us that the gift towards us, through means of many persons, may be the subject of the thanksgiving of many for us. v.11 Take Comfort in the Prayers of the Saints. Paul was counting on the prayers of the saints who were lifting him up in the midst of the trial. They are called “supplications” here. Supplications are an intense form of prayer. Lifting up the apostle Paul and his companions in prayer led to their taking seriously his epistle when it arrived. Admittedly, the “gift” mentioned here is not and easy idea to follow. I think it is clear that it could not refer to the monetary gift Paul was hoping for from the Corinthians for the poor saints of Judea. We learn in ch.8-9 that the gift still hadn’t been received from Corinth. What therefore had the “many persons” in Corinth done or given that had been “the subject of thanksgiving” for Paul and his companions? I believe the “gift towards us through the means of many persons” is a contrite heart among the Corinthians, manifested after the first epistle was received and self-judgment had taken place.
Consistency in Service (1:12-22)
Simplicity and Sincerity before God (vv.12-14)
12 For our boasting is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and sincerity before God, (not in fleshly wisdom but in God’s grace,) we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly towards you. v.12 They sought to walk with clearness and transparency. It was only by the grace of God, not in fleshly wisdom, that Paul and his companions were able to maintain a good testimony. It was not showmanship, or political maneuvering.
13 For we do not write other things to you but what ye well know and recognise; and I hope that ye will recognise to the end, 14 even as also ye have recognised us in part, that we are your boast, even as “ye” are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. vv.13-14 Paul had written nothing to the Corinthians that was a departure from orthodox Christian teaching, which the Corinthians themselves knew and recognized. In v.14, Paul speaks of the mutual appreciation between the minister and those ministered unto. It is similar to the way Paul said to the Thessalonians “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? “(1 Thess. 2:19), or what he said of the Philippians, “my brethren dearly beloved, my joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). Our appreciation for those who had served us will continue even in heaven! Paul set before them the “day of the Lord Jesus”… the day of manifestation, when all will be transparent. Read more…
Consistency of Communication: Answers to Accusations (vv.15-22)
15 And with this confidence I purposed to come to you previously, that ye might have a second favour; 16 and to pass through to Macedonia by you, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and to be set forward by you to Judaea. vv.15-16 Paul had confidence that the truth God had given him to preach and teach was good; it would be a benefit to those he taught, like the virtuous woman, “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good” (Prov. 31:18).
17 Having therefore this purpose, did I then use lightness? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to flesh, that there should be with me yea yea, and nay nay? v.17 Paul made his plans, but he remained subject to the Lord’s will (1 Cor. 16:7).
18 Now God is faithful, that our word to you is not yea and nay. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, he who has been preached by us among you (by me and Silvanus and Timotheus), did not become yea and nay, but yea “is” in him. 20 For whatever promises of God there are, in him is the yea, and in him the amen, for glory to God by us. 21 Now he that establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God, 22 who also has sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
Consideration for Others in Service (1:23 – 2:11)
A Deeper Reason for Staying Away (1:23 – 2:3)
23 But I call God to witness upon my soul that to spare you I have not yet come to Corinth. 24 Not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workmen of your joy: for by faith ye stand. vv.23-24 The human tendency when we perceive some change or inconsistency is to attribute it to the worst possible motive. Here Paul reveals that, far from some fault in himself, he had changed his plans because he desired their blessing and restoration! Let’s try to assume the best motive, not the worst, when we see a change in others.
1 But I have judged this with myself, not to come back to you in grief. 2 For if “I” grieve you, who also is it that gladdens me, if not he that is grieved through me? 3 And I have written this very letter to you, that coming I may not have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy; trusting in you all that my joy is that of you all.
The Restoration of the Fallen Brother (2:4-11)
4 For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you, with many tears; not that ye may be grieved, but that ye may know the love which I have very abundantly towards you. 5 But if any one has grieved, he has grieved, not me, but in part (that I may not overcharge you) all of you. 6 Sufficient to such a one is this rebuke which has been inflicted by the many; 7 so that on the contrary ye should rather shew grace and encourage, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with excessive grief. 8 Wherefore I exhort you to assure him of your love. 9 For to this end also I have written, that I might know, by putting you to the test, if as to everything ye are obedient. 10 But to whom ye forgive anything, “I” also; for I also, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, it is for your sakes in the person of Christ; 11 that we might not have Satan get an advantage against us, for we are not ignorant of “his” thoughts.
The Lord’s Leading in Service (2:12-17)
12 Now when I came to Troas for the publication of the glad tidings of the Christ, a door also being opened to me in the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit at not finding Titus my brother; but bidding them adieu, I came away to Macedonia. 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in the Christ, and makes manifest the odour of his knowledge through us in every place. 15 For we are a sweet odour of Christ to God, in the saved and in those that perish: 16 to the one an odour from death unto death, but to the others an odour from life unto life; and who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we do not, as the many, make a trade of the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ.
- Kelly, William. Notes on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.