Summary: Chapter one may be seen as a template in dealing with disappontment
2 Corinthians 1.1-22
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is written about 6 months after the first, in the year 55, from Macedonia. The Corinthian church had been infiltrated by false teachers who were challenging Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle. Because he had changed his itinerary from one long visit, to two shorter visits, these adversaries were asserting that his word was not to be trusted, and that he was pocketing the collection taken for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul thus asks the Corinthians to consider that his personal life was always honourable and his life transforming message of salvation was always true. He urges them to prepare for his next visit by dealing with the troublemakers in their midst. And so he starts the letter offering thanks to God for giving him divine comfort in his troubles, and expressing his integrity about his conduct and why he changes his plans. It is fact an intensely personal letter in which he vividly reveals his feelings and his faith as he faces peril and disappointment.
In fact, what we see in chapter one is a template in dealing with disappointment.
We turn to verse 3 and we see Paul offering Praise to God the Father, and that through God that we can receive comfort in our troubles.
My wife is currently training to be a counsellor, and for those of you who don’t know anything about counselling, there are various models, or styles of counselling. She is working as a Christian counsellor to people in all kinds of trouble, and again and again over the last two years, she has told me how the transforming power of God has helped people to turn their lives around. This is contrasted strongly with those who try to go it alone, and use all manner of self help manuals, spiritual searches that lead to darkness instead of light, and sometimes going down all sorts of fruitless paths to try to get their lives back together. But if we fail to recognise our dependence on God, and to receive his forgiveness after repentance, we are heading no where. Only if we turn to God and recognise his Lordship over our lives, then we are offered a truly new start. This is what is meant by being born again; it is as if our previous lives have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus and we are able to stand before Christ repentant, forgiven, and renewed.
Paul offers just such comfort and forgiveness to the Corinthians, knowing that this will only come through the love and power of the Lord Jesus. For in the same way that Paul’s suffering would also benefit the Corinthians, experiences that come to a Christian are not for the individual alone, but also for the profit of others. It’s a bit like asking someone who has not coped with the death of a loved one, to minister to someone who is in that process; it’s not that it can’t be done, but it certainly is true that it can be done with so much more empathy and understanding by someone who has been through that process. It is said that the best grief counsellors have been through grief themselves , which enables them to empathise better as they have experienced the deep feelings of loss and so know what it is like to go through that. So Paul was better prepared for the Corinthians because of what he had gone through, and could empathise with their position much better. In a similar way, they could also learn from Paul in a practical demonstration of Koinonia, or fellowship and sharing.
And now in verses 8 & 9 we see the source of Paul’s troubles and comfort; there is an unexplained incident in which Paul nearly lost his life; possibly he was ambushed by wild animals, or attacked by those who opposed his work, but what ever it was, it certainly left its mark on him, and he determined in that moment of terror to depend even more on God rather than his own strength. This can be compared to when a soldier is in a life threatening position, or the people who were in the burning twin towers before they collapsed; or people who were affected by the London bombings; they turn to God in their moment of terror. You see, deep down we all know that God is the source of our comfort and protection, it’s just that it takes some people longer to realise that, and then it comes to them in a moment of terror.
That’s not to say that Paul had not already realised this, but certainly to say that he had an additional cause of giving thanks to God for sparing Him; God of course had other plans for him, and Paul still had another 12 years of ministry before his death in Rome in 67AD. But Paul asks the Corinthians to support him in prayer as the danger is not passed, and so it is with prayer; we must keep on praying that God will guide us, protect us, and will help us to share in the thanksgiving. This is quite familiar ground; we might listen to the news and hear of disasters like the flooding in Pakistan, but unless we are personally linked, it doesn’t move us, which is exactly why reporters try to focus on the individual stories of people, to get beneath the headlines of the disaster. Another example might be Britain’s prison population, in the news quite a lot of late; in fact Britain has the second largest prison population per capita to the USA in the western world. So what has this to do with us? (insert current news story)