Summary: In this lesson, we learn that life is hard, God is faithful, and that God can use our suffering for good.
A. Last week’s sermon was the first lesson in a sermon series on 2 Corinthians that I’m calling – “Learning to Lean on God.”
1. Last week we introduced the city of Corinth and Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian congregation.
2. We discussed some of the problems the Corinthians had in their relationship with Paul that required him to write them on a number of occasions.
3. 2 Corinthians is, perhaps, Paul’s forth letter to them.
4. Paul has been suffering because of the conflict between himself and the Corinthians, and because of other persecution he was facing.
5. As I mentioned last week, one of Paul’s purposes for writing 2 Corinthians was to defend his apostleship against the many attacks of the false teachers in Corinth.
6. In this opening section, Paul defends himself against the false charge that his trials were God’s punishment for his sin and unfaithfulness.
7. The apostle makes the point that God was comforting him in suffering, not punishing him.
8. In so doing, Paul penned one of the most significant passages on comfort found anywhere in Scripture.
I. Understanding the Word
A. Let’s begin by walking through the first 11 verses of 2 Corinthians chapter one, so that we can understand what Paul has written, so we can apply it to our lives.
B. Look at verses 1 and 2: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The opening greeting follows the pattern which Paul adopted from the customary letter-writing in the ancient world.
2. He started by identifying the writer – “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus” – his apostleship refers to his official position as a messenger representing Christ Jesus.
a. He points out that this was not his choice but was by the will of God – his mission was not a self-appointed one, or based on his own achievements – rather, his credentials were by divine appointment.
b. Paul also mentioned “Timothy our brother” – Timothy was Paul’s cherished son in the faith and a dominant person in Paul’s life and ministry – he was with Paul during the establishment of the church in Corinth – so he knew the Corinthians and they knew him.
3. Next Paul identified the recipients of the letter – “to the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia.”
a. We notice that the circle of readers has widened.
b. In the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, Paul simply addressed the Christians in Corinth.
c. But now in this letter, we notice that the letter is also addressed to the other towns and villages of southern Greece, known as “Achaia.”
d. This very address bears witness to the power of the gospel which was at work and was spreading. That same gospel is still powerful and is at work and is spreading.
4. Finally, Paul’s ends his greeting with “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
a. This was part of Paul’s normal salutation in his letters.
b. “Grace” is God’s unmerited favor, and “peace” is one of its benefits.
c. There are few things better than God’s grace and peace!
C. It was customary in ancient letters to follow the opening address with a brief thanksgiving to God.
1. Paul often began the main part of his letters with a prayer in which he laid before God the main theme he wanted to get across to his readers.
2. Paul’s main theme comes through clearly in 2 Corinthians - comfort.
3. Paul repeats the word “comfort” in one form or another 10 times in 5 verses.
4. The density of this concentration is even more striking in view of the fact that of the approximately 31 times these words are found with this meaning in the NT, 25 of them are in Paul’s writings.
5. And of these 25 occurrences, 17 occur in 2 Corinthians, and 10 in this short section.
6. If Paul is the apostle of comfort, then 2 Corinthians is the letter of comfort, and 2 Cor. 1:3-7 is the paragraph of comfort.
D. As its counterpart, the theme of comfort is matched by the theme of suffering.
1. The Greek word for “affliction” occurs 45 times in the NT, and is mentioned more often by Paul than by any other NT author.
2. It is mentioned 9 times in 2 Corinthians which is more than any other letter.
3. And it is mentioned 3 times in this small section which is more than any other section.
4. In other words, Paul talks about comfort more than any other author because he talks about suffering more than any other author, and he does so in 2 Corinthians more than any other letter.