Summary: Challenges and suffering are in God’s plan. They enable us to experience His care and pass His comfort on to others.
Today we begin our study of the book of 2nd Corinthians.
During the last few months, as we have studied through the book of 1st Corinthians, the extent of the problems at the church in Corinth became apparent to us. The church was characterized by disunity, dissention, arguing, and immorality. Factions had developed, with each faction promoting the leader it followed and arguing with the others about whose theology and teachings were supreme. Some people desired the more visible spiritual gifts, and the miraculous spiritual gifts became like prideful badges of spiritual maturity.
During our study of 1st Corinthians, we recognized that many of these problems are still with the church now 2,000 years later. In Corinth, however, the problems had simply gotten out of hand. The church’s meetings were disorganized, even chaotic, as various people shouted for recognition to demonstrate their spiritual prowess by speaking in tongues, demonstrating their gifts of preaching and teaching, or even asking questions or giving opinions. Even the fellowship meal and Lord’s Supper, which were celebrated weekly when the church met, were chaotic, as people sought to impress others with their lavish meals, refused to share their food with other Christians who had less. Perhaps worst of all, some Christians got drunk at the Corinthian church’s weekly fellowship meal!
Paul had established the church at Corinth just a few years before and had stayed at Corinth for a year and a half, most likely in 52-53 A.D. (see Acts 18:1-19). When he had left Corinth, the church was functioning smoothly and was well-grounded theologically. Less than two years later, it had lost its love for the gospel, had lost its witness in the culture, and was on the point of breaking apart. It’s no wonder his first letter to the church at Corinth, most likely written in the spring of 55 A.D., contains some blunt--even harsh--criticism and instruction. We know this letter as the book of 1st Corinthians.
The book of 2nd Corinthians has a different tone. It was written a few months later, after the Christians at Corinth had read his first letter. They had taken his criticisms to heart and had implemented many of his instructions. In this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses his joy that things have turned around, and he encourages them to grow even deeper in their faith. He also encourages them to be generous with their gifts to the Christians in Jerusalem, who were very poor and under great persecution. (Paul first discussed the collection for the Jerusalem church in 1 Corinthians.)
But the book of 2nd Corinthians is not all praise for the church at Corinth. The first 9 chapters are full of joy and thankfulness for what they have accomplished in so short a time. In the latter part of the book, however, Paul does not pull any punches. Some of the Christians in Corinth continued in their resistance to sound teaching. He calls them false teachers and urges the church to reject them.
In 2nd Corinthians, we see what we might call Paul’s devotion--pure devotion to the gospel and his Savior and his pure devotion to theological and doctrinal truth. We also see a human, personal side of Paul here more than we see in any of his other letters. While many of Paul’s writings are more quotable--for example, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 13, and Ephesians 2 & 5--nowhere else in his writings do we see so much of the inner Paul, as he frankly discusses his own weaknesses and gives us the prescription for dependence on Christ alone. That is expressed in what we might call the key passage of 2nd Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 12:10--When I am weak, then am I strong.
Paul begins his 2nd letter to the Corinthian Christians in this way:
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.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also though Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.