A. Paul’s trouble in Asia.
1. (1-2) Introduction.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ: Paul’s introduction of himself as an apostle is both familiar and necessary, because he was held in low regard among the Christians in Corinth.
i. By the will of God strengthens the point. Paul was not an apostle by the decision or desire of any man, including Paul himself. Paul was an apostle by the will of God. If the Corinthian Christians held him in low regard, it did not diminish his standing as an apostle before God.
b. With all the saints: It is remarkable that Paul freely calls the Corinthian Christians saints, considering their many problems. We often use the term saints in a different way today, thinking it applies to the “super-spiritual” instead of those who are set apart by a relationship of trust in Jesus Christ.
i. With all the saints who are in all Achaia also shows us that Paul intended his letters to be spread among churches. This wasn’t just for the Christians in the city of Corinth, but for all the Christians in the region who might read the letter.
c. Grace and peace are familiar greetings of Paul (used as a greeting in all 13 of his New Testament letters), but we never get the impression that they are used insincerely.
d. From God our Father reminds us that we are children of God, yet not in the same exact sense as Jesus is the Son of God.
i. We are sons of God, but by election, not nature; not by ancestry but by adoption; not by right but by redemption.
2. (3-4) Praise to the God of all comfort.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 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.
a. Father of mercies and God of all comfort: Paul opens this letter by praising the God who has shown so much mercy and comfort to Paul. We get the feeling that Paul knows the mercy and comfort of God on a first-person basis.
i. The word all comfort in this passage is the Greek word paraklesis. The idea behind this word for comfort in the New Testament is always more than soothing sympathy. It has the idea of strengthening, of helping, of making strong. The idea behind this word is communicated by the Latin word for comfort (fortis), which also means, “brave.”
ii. “Here was a man, who never knew but what he might be dead the next day, for his enemies were many, and cruel, and mighty; and yet he spent a great part of his time in praising and blessing God.” (Spurgeon)
b. Paul considers the Father a Paraclete (paraklesis is the Greek word in 1 Corinthian 1:3). We also know the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete (John 14:16, 26; 15:26, 16:7) and that God the Son is our Paraclete (1 John 2:1; Hebrews 2:18, Luke 2:25). God in every aspect of His being is full of comfort, strength, and help for us!
c. That we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble: One great purpose of God in comforting us is so that we can bring comfort to others. God’s comfort can be given and received through others.
i. Often, we never receive the comfort God wants to give us, because He wants to give it to us through another person. Pride often keeps us from revealing our needs to others, so we never receive the comfort God would give us through them.
ii. “Even spiritual comforts are not given us for our use alone; they, like all the gifts of God, are given that they may be distributed, or become instruments of help to others. A minister’s trials and comforts are permitted and sent for the benefit of the Church. What a miserable preacher must he be who has all his divinity by study and learning, and nothing by experience!” (Clarke)
iii. “Mr. Knox, a little before his death, rose out of his bed; and being asked wherefore, being so sick, he would offer to rise? He answered, that he had had sweet meditations of the resurrection of Jesus Christ that night, and now he would go into the pulpit, and impart to others the comforts that he felt in his soul.” (Trapp)
3. (5-7) Paul’s personal suffering and consolation.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 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. 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.
a. The sufferings of Christ abound in us: Paul had a life filled with suffering. He describes some of these sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28: stripes . . . prisons . . . beaten . . . stoned . . . shipwrecked . . . perils of waters . . . robbers . . . in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Yet, Paul knew that all his sufferings were really the sufferings of Christ.
b. So our consolation also abounds through Christ: Because Paul’s sufferings were the sufferings of Christ, Jesus was not distant from Paul in his trials. He was right there, identifying with the apostle, and comforting Paul.
i. “As the hotter the day, the greater the dew at night; so the hotter the time of trouble, the greater the dews of refreshing from God.” (Trapp)
ii. We can count on it: when sufferings abound, consolation also abounds. Jesus is there to bring comfort, if we will receive it. Of course, this assumes we are not suffering as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Peter 4:15-16)
iii. “It is not of suffering as suffering that the apostle here speaks. There is no tendency in pain to produce holiness. It is only of Christian suffering and of that sufferings of Christians, that is, of suffering endured for Christ and in a Christian manner, that the apostle says it is connected with salvation, or that it tends to work out for those who suffer an eternal weight of glory.” (Hodge)
c. Our consolation also abounds through Christ. God may allow situations in our life where our only consolation is found through Christ. Sometimes we think the only consolation is found in a change of circumstances, but God wants to console us right in our difficult circumstances, and to do it through Christ.
i. This is the same idea Jesus expressed in John 16:33: In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
ii. Jesus also suffered. He is a qualified comforter for us also! (Hebrews 2:18)
d. If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation: If Paul and other ministers were afflicted, it was for the sake of God’s people (like the Corinthian Christians). God had a larger purpose in Paul’s suffering than working on Paul himself. God was bringing consolation and salvation to others through Paul’s sufferings.
i. How? How could God bring consolation and salvation to others through Paul’s suffering? As suffering brought Paul closer to God, and made him rely more and more on God alone, Paul was a more effective minister. He was more “usable” by God to bring consolation and salvation to God’s people.
ii. Whenever we have prayed, “Lord, just use me. I just want to be used by You to touch the lives of others,” we had not realized we were praying a dangerous prayer. We were inviting God to bring suffering into our lives, if that was the proper tool to make us more able to bring consolation and salvation to the lives of others.
e. Which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer: The consolation and salvation the Corinthian Christians received from the suffering Paul worked in the Corinthians, making them able to endure the same sufferings Paul and the other apostles endured.
i. Significantly, Paul writes of the same sufferings. It is unlikely the Corinthian Christians were suffering in exactly the same way Paul did. Probably, not one of them could match the list Paul made in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Yet, Paul can say they are the same sufferings, because he recognizes that the exact circumstances of suffering are not as important as what God is doing, and wants to do through the suffering. Christians should never get into a “competition” of comparing suffering. There is a sense in which we all share the same sufferings.
ii. The New Testament idea of suffering is broad, and not easily limited to just one kind of trouble (like persecution). The Greek word for suffering (thlipsis) originally had the idea of actual physical pressure. In old England, heavy weights were put on certain criminals for their crimes, and they were “pressed to death.” Thlipsis describes that kind of “pressing.”
iii. Of course, sometimes it is useful to compare our sufferings to those of others – to see how light our burden really is! It is easy for us to think our small problems are really so large, and so great.
f. Effective for enduring: God’s desire is that we would be enduring through suffering. The Greek word for enduring is hupomone. It isn’t the idea of passive, bleak acceptance, but of the kind of spirit that can triumph over pain and suffering to achieve the goal. It is the spirit of the marathon runner, not of the victim in the dentist’s chair.
g. Or, if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation: God did not only work through the suffering Paul endured. God also worked good things in the Corinthian Christians through the comfort Paul received from the Lord.
i. We see Paul living in the footsteps of Jesus, who was truly an others-centered person. Paul’s life is not focused on himself, but on the Lord and on those whom the Lord has given him to serve. Is Paul suffering? It is so God can do something good in the Corinthian Christians. Is Paul comforted? It is so God can bless the Corinthian Christians. Suffering or comforted, it wasn’t all about Paul; it was all about others.
ii. “We are not brought to real submission until we have been laid low by the crushing hand of God.” (Calvin)
h. We know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation: Just as suffering is promised in the Christian life (Acts 14:22, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, Philippians 1:29, Romans 5:3), but so also is consolation in the midst of suffering.
4. (8-11) Paul’s desperate trouble.
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. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, 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.
a. Our trouble which came to us in Asia: We don’t know the exact nature of this trouble. It was probably either some type of persecution, or a physical affliction made worse by his missionary work.
i. There are at least five suggestions for this trouble: (1) Fighting with “wild beasts” in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32). (2) Suffering 39 stripes after being brought before a Jewish court (2 Corinthians 11:24). (3) The riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41). (4) A particular persecution shortly before he left for Troas (Acts 20:19; 1 Corinthians 16:9). (5) A recurring physical malady.
b. Whatever the problem was, it was bad: We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Because of this problem, Paul had to live with the anticipation of death (we had the sentence of death . . . who delivered us from so great a death).
i. Because of the threat of death, many feel Paul’s problem must have been persecution. But the idea of a recurring physical malady isn’t a bad choice. In that day, Jews could refer to sickness as “death” and healing as a “return to life.” the present tenses of verses 4 through 6 and 9 through 10 imply that the problem was still with Paul, which is more likely if it were an illness.
ii. In ourselves tells us that Paul’s sentence of death was something he felt within, not something that a court of law had imposed on him from without.
c. But in God who raises the dead: Even though the resurrection is a future event, there is a sense in which it is every day for suffering Christians. It is as we know the power of His resurrection that we also can be blessed by the fellowship of His sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)
d. Who delivered us . . . and does deliver us . . . we trust that He will still deliver us: Paul knew that God’s work in our life is in three tenses. God does a work in our past, present, and future.
e. You also helping together in prayer for us: Paul knew the value of intercessory prayer, and was not shy about asking the Corinthians (even the Corinthians) to pray for him. The Corinthian Christians were really helping together with Paul when they prayed for him.
i. Paul knew that blessing in ministry was granted to us through many; that is, through the prayers of many people. We often think of the great things God did through Paul, and we rightly admire him as a man of God. But do we think of all the people who prayed for him? Paul credited them with much of his effectiveness in ministry.
ii. “Even an apostle felt the prayers of the Church necessary for his comfort and support. What innumerable blessings do the prayers of the followers of God draw down on those who are the objects of them!” (Clarke)
f. Persons is literally “faces.” The idea “is that of faces upturned in prayer, the early Christian (and Jewish) attitude of prayer being one of standing with uplifted eyes and outstretched arms.” (Bernard)
B. Paul defends his ministry.
1. (12-14) Paul’s boast: his integrity and simplicity in ministry towards the Corinthian Christians.
For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.
a. The testimony of our conscience: In this section, Paul defends himself against the accusation that he is fickle and unreliable. Here, he simply states that he has a clear conscience before God, and trusts that the Corinthian Christians will understand.
b. We conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom: The Corinthian Christians were so used to dealing with ministers who were calculating and manipulative, they figured Paul must be the same way. Therefore, when Paul said he was coming to them (1 Corinthians 16:5), but did not, they figured he was just manipulating them. Paul is letting them know this is not the case at all.
i. The Corinthian Christians had become cynical. They believed that everyone had bad motives, and everyone was out for personal gain and power. They didn’t trust Paul because they were cynical.
c. We are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand: Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to know he had no “hidden meanings” in his letters. His meaning was right out on top, for all to see.
i. A cynical heart will always think, “You say this, but you really mean that. You aren’t telling the truth.” Paul assured the Corinthian Christians that he really was telling the truth, and he wasn’t communicating with manipulative hidden meanings.
ii. “In Paul’s life there were no hidden actions, no hidden motives and no hidden meanings.” (Barclay)
2. (15-17) Paul considers the accusation that he is unreliable and can’t be trusted.
And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit; to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea. Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No?
a. I intended to come to you before: The Corinthian Christians accused Paul of being unreliable and untrustworthy because he said he would come at a certain time and did not, instead, he sent a letter.
i. In 1 Corinthians 16:5-7, Paul promised to see the Corinthians after his trip through Macedonia.
ii. He changed his plans and decided to see them first on his way to Macedonia, and then again on his way back, to give them a second benefit (2 Corinthians 1:15-16).
iii. Paul made the first visit on the way to Macedonia, but it was painful for both him and the Corinthians (I would not come again to you in sorrow, 2 Corinthians 2:1). That visit was hard because it was full of confrontation.
iv. At some time after this visit, Paul (or perhaps his representative) was openly insulted in Corinth by someone from the “anti-Paul” party (2 Corinthians 2:5-10, 7:12).
v. Because the first visit was so unpleasant and sensing no benefit in a second visit, Paul abandoned his plan to see them on the way back from Macedonia.
vi. Titus was sent from Ephesus to Corinth with the “severe letter” (2 Corinthians 2:3-9). Titus was also there to collect the contribution for the church in Judea, but the Corinthians didn’t give as they should have.
vii. Paul left Ephesus, and suffered his “affliction in Asia.”
viii. Paul then went to Macedonia, and among other things, he organized a collection for the needy Christians in Judea. Titus met Paul in Macedonia, and told Paul about the Corinthians’ response to the “severe letter.”
ix. Later, from Macedonia, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians when he heard of more problems at Corinth. The letter was probably written in the fall of 56 a.d.
b. Helped by you on my way acknowledges the custom of sending a traveler on their way at the outset of their journey. In the ancient world, when a distinguished guest was coming to a city, his friends and supporters would meet him a distance away from the city, and walk with him in. They would also send him away the same way, walking with him a distance away from the city.
c. When I was planning this, did I do it lightly? The Corinthian Christians were accusing Paul of being fickle, and were insisting that if Paul were a man of integrity, he would have come in person. Paul’s change in plans made the Corinthian Christians say that Paul must be a man for who Yes is No and No is Yes.
i. Paul was being criticized as a man who couldn’t decide on a plan, or who could not carry through on a plan. His enemies among the Christians in Corinth seized on these circumstances to make Paul look bad.
ii. The Corinthian Christians were not wrong in being disappointed that Paul didn’t come and visit them. It was all right for them to be disappointed. But they were wrong in trying to blame Paul for the disappointment. They needed to see Paul’s heart and God’s hand in the circumstances.
3. (18) Paul denies the accusation made against him.
But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No.
a. As God is faithful: Paul can say, “As God is faithful, so we were faithful in what we said to you.” That is integrity!
i. “As God is true to his promises, so he hath taught me to be true to mine.” (Poole)
b. Our word to you was not Yes and No: Paul was not saying Yes and meaning No or saying No and meaning Yes, as the Corinthian Christians accused him.
4. (19-22) The spiritual reasons their accusations were wrong.
For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us; by me, Silvanus, and Timothy; was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
a. Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us . . . was not Yes and No: Paul preached a Jesus who is completely reliable and worthy of trust. How could he be so quickly considered unreliable and untrustworthy?
i. Paul is alluding to a principle: the message affects the messenger. Paul could not so sincerely, and so strongly, preach a Jesus was not Yes and No and be untouched by that Jesus. This should have made the Corinthian Christians more trusting of Paul.
b. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes and in Him Amen: Can we imagine God the Father ever saying “no” to God the Son? God the Father will always say Yes to the Son, and will always affirm what the Son says (Amen).
i. “We might never have had this precious verse if Paul had not been so ill-treated by these men of Corinth. They did him great wrong, and caused him much sorrow of heart . . . yet you see how the evil was overruled by God for good, and through their unsavoury gossip and slander this sweet sentence was pressed out of Paul.” (Spurgeon)
c. He who establishes us . . . and has anointed us is God, who has also sealed us and given us the Spirit: Paul and his associates were commissioned by God and filled with the Holy Spirit. Don’t they deserve better than hasty accusations?
d. Anointed us . . . sealed us . . . a deposit: Paul refers to three aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work within us.
i. Has anointed us: The only other place where the New Testament speaks about anointing is in 1 John 2:20 and 27. Every use speaks of an anointing which is common to all believers, not a special anointing for a few Christian superstars. The idea behind anointed is that we are prepared and empowered for service. The fact that we are anointed means that we share something with the prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Testament, who were also anointed ones.
ii. Sealed us: In the ancient world, a seal was used to identify and to protect. If something was sealed, everyone knew who it belonged to (the seal had an insignia), and the seal prevented anyone else from tampering with the item. The Holy Spirit is upon us to identify us and to protect us.
iii. A deposit: The word deposit is the word for a down payment. We have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment for the fullness of what God will do. The Holy Spirit is just a pledge of greater things to come. As Christians, God has purchased us on the lay-away plan, and has given us an impressive down payment. He won’t walk away from the final payment, because He has so much invested already!
5. (23-24) The personal reasons their accusations were wrong.
Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.
a. I call God as witness against my soul: Paul is taking a serious oath. While Jesus said we should live our lives in such a way so that oaths were not necessary (Matthew 5:33-37), it does not mean oaths are prohibited. On occasion, even God swears an oath (Hebrews 6:13).
b. That to spare you I came no more to Corinth: The Corinthian Christians had assumed that Paul did not come in person because of selfish reasons. They wanted to think he simply was not a man of integrity, or was just afraid of conflict. Paul is setting them straight: to spare you I came no more. Paul insists that it was out of concern for the Corinthian Christians that he did not make the visit at that particular time.
c. Not that we have dominion over your faith: Paul is careful to point out that he is no one’s lord in the church, even though he is an apostle.
i. It has been said that God reserves three things to Himself: first, to make something of nothing; second, to know future events; third, to have dominion over men’s consciences.
ii. Sadly, there are far too many that are entirely willing to take dominion over other believers in a manner that Paul would not. “The Sacred Writings, and they alone, contain what is necessary to faith and practice; and that no man, number of men, society, church, council, presbytery, consistory, or conclave, has dominion over any man’s faith. The word of God alone is his rule, and to its Author he is to give account of the use he has made of it.” (Clarke)
d. Fellow workers for your joy: Instead of seeing himself as some kind of “lord” over the Corinthian Christians, Paul gives a great description of what a minister should be. Leaders among Christians should work alongside their people to increase their joy.
© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission