Comfort in Afflictions
Greetings (II Corinthians 1:1-2)
Paul starts all of his letters in a similar fashion: Announcing who he is, the major people currently with him, and addressing who the letter is intended. Even in such seemingly mundane greetings, there is much to be gleaned from these few words.
Paul’s introduction of himself sets the tone for the letter. Like the first Corinthian letter, Paul places emphasis on his authority given to him by both God, the Father, and the Lord. This is a letter in which Paul is going to address controversies. Some might object to his instructions, but he starts out emphasizing that these instructions ultimately come from God (Matthew 28:18-20).
Frequently Paul mentions one or two other people in his greetings, even though it is evident that a number of people are with him. One possibility is that Paul is mentioning someone particularly well-known to the brethren receiving the letter to give extra evidence as to its authenticity. But more likely is that Paul usually had someone else scribe his letters and only added a small personal note at the end in his own handwriting. The additional people mentioned are most likely the ones who actually penned the letter while Paul dictated it. Another possibility is that Paul is showing his support for these particular men; thus, backing their preaching when they travel.
Still, the mention of Timothy tells us that Paul did catch up to Timothy, whom he had sent ahead of him (I Corinthians 4:17-19; 16:10-11).
The letter is addressed to both the church at Corinth and the Christians in the same region. This tells us that Corinth isn’t the only church in that area, though likely it was the largest. For example, we know there was a church in Cenchrea, just outside of Corinth (Romans 16:1) and one in Athens (Acts 17:34). Like the other letters, though they were addressed to a particular group, Paul intended the letters to be circulated among Christians so that they could learn from the instructions contained therein.
Paul often uses a salutation that includes a greeting of grace and peace from God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus (Romans 1:7; I Corinthians 1:3; Galatians 1:3; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:3). It both emphasizes the relationship between Christians and God, as well as reminding the readers that though these words come through Paul, they are the words of God.
The Past: Paul’s Joy and Afflictions
Comfort in afflictions (II Corinthians 1:3-11)
Paul commonly starts out his letters with a note of the things he is thankful for. Usually, those things are traits that the brethren exhibit, but here Paul expresses his thanks for what God has done for him. God is both merciful and comforting to His people (Ephesians 1:3; I Peter 1:3; James 5:11). God’s mercy does not protect us from the hardships in life; rather, His mercy and comfort allow us to appreciate God during our difficulties, and our experience allows us to help others through their trials (Psalms 34:2-6; Isaiah 49:10; 66:12-14; I Thessalonians 5:11). We often think of trials solely as hardships and rarely consider the benefits we gain from them (Romans 5:1-5; Hebrews 12:4-14; James 1:2-4).
Christ suffered because of his efforts to teach the truth. In this Paul and the other apostles considered it a privilege to suffer in a similar manner (Colossians 1:24; I Peter 4:13-16). They were not purposely seeking out trials, but they were content to accept those that came their way because of the message they preached (Matthew 5:10-12; John 16:2-4). Through that suffering, they knew a reward awaited them (Romans 8:17; II Timothy 2:12).
Paul and the other apostles’ sufferings and comfort served as examples for other Christians. They too would suffer but see how Paul handled his problems and endured, they would be encouraged to endure as well. Seeing how Paul received comfort from God would encourage them to hang on to be comforted as well by God. It is an example of God turning the difficulties in life into profit for His people (Romans 8:28). So while the trials were hardships, Paul could endure them knowing the benefit they bring to other Christians (Philippians 1:6-7,13-14).
In particular, Paul wanted the brethren to know about the problems he had since his first letter to them had been written. It is easy to read about the persecutions Paul faced and think that each was just another in a series that Paul took in stride. What Paul mentions are the riots in Ephesus, appears only as a brief statement in Acts 20:3, or perhaps was some other event that wasn’t recorded. Here we learn the depths of agony that Paul endured. At the time Paul was overwhelmed and thought he was likely to die. Paul doesn’t tend to overstate events (I Corinthians 15:31-32), so whatever he faced was truly extreme. Even though he expected to die, Paul learned a valuable lesson: that he could not rely on himself, but on God (Jeremiah 17:5-7). God raises the dead, and though Paul felt he would die soon, God raised him back to life (Hebrews 11:17-19). God delivered him and Paul trusts that God will continue to deliver His people (II Peter 2:9).
Because the Corinthians and others were praying on Paul’s behalf, Paul’s rescue also became a reason for many to rejoice and give thanks to God (Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:18-19; Philippians 1:19; II Thessalonians 3:1; Philemon 22; Hebrews 13:18).
Literary Style: Contrasting Terms
A variety of techniques are used to capture and keep the reader’s interest. Throughout II Corinthians Paul makes liberal use of contrasting terms. Comfort is contrasted to tribulation and affliction. Sufferings are contrasted to consolation and salvation.
- What are some things Paul expresses thanks about in other letters?
- What other contrasting terms are being used in II Corinthians 3-11?
- How is Paul drawing in the Corinthians to feel they are a part of what is going on in his life?