1. The God of All Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:1-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (19:14)

Saint Paul writing. From an early 9th century manuscript version of Saint Paul's letters now in Stuttgart, ascribed to the Monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland, scribe Wolfcoz.
Saint Paul writing. From an early 9th century manuscript version of Saint Paul's letters now in Stuttgart, ascribed to the Monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland, scribe Wolfcoz.

Starting a new congregation in America is difficult, with only a modest chance of long-term success. But planting a church in a pagan city, known for its immorality and swirl of cults and religions was especially challenging. And the Church at Corinth, now about six years old, was in the midst of struggles.

Paul had founded the church about 50 AD on his second missionary journey. It had been a struggle from the beginning. But in the midst of threats to his life, the Lord had encouraged him in a vision:

"Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." (Acts 18:9-10)

All in all, Paul had remained in Corinth for two years, leaving in 52 AD. But in his absence, the church had experienced rampant immorality and deep divisions. Paul's reputation as a faithful apostle had been trashed by enemies trying to destroy his authority so they could garner power for themselves.

As mentioned in the Introduction, Paul, engaged in ministry in Ephesus, had written a letter and then dispatched Timothy to deal with the church's problems. In 55 AD, he wrote a longer letter that we know as 1 Corinthians, followed by a short, painful visit when he had tried to put things in order, only to have his authority challenged by one of the members. It was followed by a severe letter. Two planned visits were cancelled, as Paul could see that the timing was wrong.

In the meantime, Paul has been going through one of the most difficult periods of his life, trying to deal with physical threats, a severe depression, as well as his deep concern for the troubled Corinthian Church.

It is now 56 AD, and Paul is with Timothy in Macedonia, having just received encouraging news about the church in Corinth from his co-worker Titus. He now sits down to write yet another letter, seeking to repair this rift between the founding apostle and this rancorous church that has broken his heart.

Salutation (1:1-2)

Greek letters in Paul's time began with a kind of formula: first the name of the sender, then the name of the recipient, and finally a greeting.

"1 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: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1:1-2)

In his first sentence he asserts that his apostolic authority comes directly from God himself. Then he addresses the "church of God in Corinth." Though it no doubt met in numerous house churches rather than in a single building, Paul addresses it as a single church. Then he extends his address to the other believers throughout Achaia (that is, Greece), calling them "saints," that is, people who are dedicated or consecrated to God.[7]

He greets them with "grace and peace" from the Father and the Son. "Grace" was the typical greeting in the Greek-speaking world; "peace" (shalom) was the customary greeting among Jews. Paul combines them.

The God of All Comfort (1:3-4)

We usually get conversations started with small talk, and this was the pattern with Greek epistles also. They would typically begin with best wishes for the recipients' health or praise for an answer to prayer. To begin this letter, Paul offers praise to God who comforts them. Both the church and Paul had gone through severe trials since they had seen each other. So Paul begins by praising God on this common ground of comfort.

"3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 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." (1:3-4)

It's amazing how a traumatic experience can get us in touch with our emotions and produce deep thankfulness in us! Paul speaks of God's compassion and comfort because he has just been through horrendous difficulties and found God faithful.

"Father of compassion" (NIV), "Father of mercies" (NRSV, KJV), couples the word "Father" with oiktirmos, "display of concern over another's misfortune, pity, mercy, compassion."[8] God is not some distant deity out of touch with his creatures. Rather, he feels their pain and is full of mercy towards them. Jesus was our prime example of compassionate love in action as he reflected the character of "the Father of compassion."

"God of all comfort" uses the noun paraklēsis, literally, "the calling alongside." It can refer to exhortation as well as strong appeal. But here it means, "lifting of another's spirits, comfort, consolation."[9] Notice that this word is modified by the extremely common adjective pas, "all." He is the God of every kind of comfort imaginable![10] He is the one who comes alongside through his Spirit to encourage and console us in every struggle we go through.[11] He is there for us!

If you haven't experienced God's comfort, then you will have little to say to someone crushed by life's difficulties. But if you have gone through hard times with God's help, you can point people to his faithfulness. You become an evangelist for what God can do.

"It is no secret what God can do!
What he's done for others, he can do for you...."[12]

Dear friend, is there any redeeming value in the struggles and losses you've experienced in your life? Yes! They enable you to experience the Father of compassion and God of all grace and to share him with those around you who are suffering:

"... 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." (1:4)

Comfort as We Share Christ's Sufferings (1:5-7)

"For just as the sufferings[13] of Christ flow over[14] into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." (1:5)

Notice how Paul links our sufferings with the "sufferings of Christ." Often, we suffer the same heartache and trouble that is common to all humankind. But sometimes, we suffer for our stand for Christ and our commitment to a lifestyle congruent with his.

As we'll see later in this letter, Paul is aware that his sufferings "“ and his response to them "“ serve as a blessing to others.

"So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you." (4:12)

He is saying something similar here: that the common experience of suffering and God's comfort unites God's people.

"6 If we are distressed,[15] it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance[16] of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 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." (1:6-7)

As hard as life is, the Christian can lay hold on the resources of God himself. Think of the struggles and pain of your non-Christian friends who face life without God and his ultimate hope. Friends, we have a comfort and hope worth passing on.

Look again at verse 7:

"We know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." (1:7)

"Share" (NIV, NRSV), "are partakers" (KJV) is koinōnos, "one who takes part in something with someone, companion, partner, sharer in something."[17] Even though people may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from us, there is a spiritual sense in which we are one with them and can feel both their pain and their comfort.

Q1. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) What kind of comfort do you receive from your faith in God? From your personal daily relationship with God? How might you share the blessing of this kind of comfort with a friend or relative who is currently suffering? What words of comfort can you bring to others?
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A Crushing, Hopeless Burden (1:8-10)

Now Paul begins to share with this church he loves some of his own pain. Since the goal of this letter is to effect a reconciliation with the Corinthian church and reestablish his authority as founder and apostle, his strategy is to open up to them personally and with transparency so they can begin to understand what he's been going through. Indeed, 2 Corinthians is by far the most revealing of any of Paul's letters about the depth of his suffering for the gospel.

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships[18] we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." (1:8)

 The phrase, "we were under "¦ pressure" (NIV), "we were "¦ crushed" (NRSV), "we were pressed" (KJV) employs the verb bareō, "to press down as if with a weight, weigh down, burden," so the clause would read, "we were burdened altogether beyond our strength."[19] But the extent of this pressure is accentuated by two prepositional phrases:

  1. Beyond measure. The noun hyperbolē (from which we get the English word "hyperbole") describes a "state of exceeding to an extraordinary degree a point on a scale of extent." With the preposition kata, it carries the meaning, "to an extraordinary degree, beyond measure, utterly."[20]
  2. Beyond our power. The noun is dynamis (from which we get our word "dynamic"), "power." It is preceded by the preposition hyper, here connoting "over and above, beyond, more than," in the sense of excelling, surpassing.[21]

"Despair" is exaporeō, "to be at a loss psychologically, be in great difficulty, doubt, embarrassment," used here and at 4:8.[22]

This sentence in Greek powerfully expresses Paul's desperate situation. Here is how some translations render it:

"We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." (NIV)

"We were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself." (NRSV)

"We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." (KJV)

"It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it." (The Message)[23]

"The burdens laid on us were so great and so heavy, that we gave up all hope of living" (TEV)[24]

"At that time we were completely overwhelmed; the burden was more than we could bear; in fact, we told ourselves that this was the end." (Phillips)[25]

We're not told the exact situations that Paul was facing. But twice more in this letter he alludes to the types of sufferings he has experienced (4:8; 11:23-29).

Relying on God's Deliverance (1:9-10)

His most recent situation involved the threat of death.

"9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us." (1:9-10)

It could have been a fatal illness, perhaps. But it seems more likely to be some kind of external threat.

"Sentence" in verse 9 is apokrima, "official report, decision,"[26] but in this case the "sentence of death" seems to be Paul's own assessment.[27] He thought he was a "gonner." He calls it a "deadly peril," literally "so great a death,"[28] that he believes God rescued him from certain death.[29] Was Paul afraid of death? I don't think so, since later in this letter he talks about his desire to be "at home with the Lord" (5:8). But when we are threatened with bodily harm, especially a threat that continues for a period of time, it takes its toll on our emotional and physical well-being. Though we are believers in Jesus, we are still human. We are not immune to stress. Jesus wasn't immune to stress either (Luke 22:44).

This traumatic experience had a profound effect on Paul:

"This happened that we might not rely on[30] ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.... On him we have set our hope[31] that he will continue to deliver us." (1:9)

When things are going well we are prone to trust in our own resources. This event caused Paul to rely on God in a new way and to refocus his hope on God's deliverance, rather than his own ingenuity and survival skills.

Q2. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10) How does facing a harrowing crisis help us grow in the Lord? How has a crisis helped your spiritual life? What is the value of learning not to rely on ourselves? What does this do to our pride? How does this improve our effectiveness as God's servants?
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Intercessory Prayer (1:10b-11)

Notice how Paul is eager for the prayers of the saints as they call out to God on his behalf:

"10b"¦ He will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers.[32] Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor[33] granted us in answer to the prayers of many." (1:10b-11)

How prayer works is a mystery to us. It's natural, of course, to call out to God for help when we're in trouble, just like a child would call for a parent. But since he is both omnipresent and omniscient, why doesn't he just help us without us having to ask? And why should the prayers of many influence God more than the prayers of one person? The Bible doesn't really answer these philosophical questions.

But we see again and again in Paul's writings a reliance on the prayers of others to call on God for him. For example:

"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." (Ephesians 6:18-20)[34]

Jesus taught his disciples to pray by his own example of personal prayer and intercession (Luke 22:31-32; John 17:9-11). The united prayer that the early church practiced surely resulted from Jesus' teaching while he was with them (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:31; 6:4; etc.). One of Jesus' keys to prayer was praying with one mind, in one accord.[35]

"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree[36] about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:19-20)

Q3. (2 Corinthians 1:10-11) Why does Paul ask people to pray for him? How do the prayers of others have an effect? What happened in your life that has helped you enter into a ministry of intercessory prayer?
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2 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Also available in e-book and paperback

We've spent quite a bit of time on the first few verses. It's amazing how much we learn from hardship. It's also such a comfort to have brothers and sisters around us who will comfort us and pray for us when we are going through difficulties! What a blessing!

Prayer

Father, thank you for your love for us, even when we are stretched beyond our own resources and find ourselves far out of our comfort zone. Thank you for teaching us. Thank you for your patience with us. Thank you for your comfort. Now teach us to comfort others as you have comforted us. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"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." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

 "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." (2 Corinthians 1:8b-9)

End Notes

[7] "Saints" is hagios, originally an adjective, "pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to the service of God," but here used as a noun, "believers, loyal followers, saints," of Christians, as "consecrated to God" (BDAG 11, 2dβ).

[8] Oiktirmos, BDAG 700.

[9] Paraklēsis, BDAG 766, 3.

[10] Depending on the context, pas can refer to: (1) Pertaining to totality with focus on its individual components, "each, every, any," (2) any entity out of a totality, "any and every, every," (3) a marker of the highest degree of something, "all," (4) pertaining to a high degree of completeness or wholeness, "whole," and (5) everything belonging, in kind, to the class designated by the noun, "every kind of, all sorts of" (BDAG 784).

[11] "Troubles" (NIV), "affliction" (NRSV), "tribulation" (KJV) is thlipsis, literally, "pressing, pressure," used twice in verse 4 as well as in verse 8. Here is refers to "trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation" (BDAG 457, 1).

[12] Stuart Hamblen, "It Is No Secret" (Β© 1950, Duchess Music Corp).

[13] "Sufferings" is pathēma, from which we get our English word "pathos." It means "that which is suffered or endured, suffering, misfortune," in the New Testament almost always in plural: "sufferings" (BDAG 747, 1). The related verb (verse 6b) is paschō, "suffer, endure," from which we get our word "Paschal," as in "Paschal Lamb."

[14] "Flow over" (NIV) "are abundant" (NRSV), "abound" (KJV) is perisseuō, "be in abundance, abound," with the connotation of "to be more than enough, be left over," hence the NIV translation of "overflow," or "be present in abundance" (BDAG 805, 1aα,β).

[15] "Distressed" (NIV), "be/being afflicted" (NRSV, KJV) in verse 6 is the related verb, thlibō, here in the passive sense, "be afflicted, distressed" (BDAG 457, 3).

[16] "Patience endurance" (NIV), "patiently endure" (NRSV), "enduring" (KJV) is hypomonē, "the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance" (BDAG 1039, 1).

[17] Koinōnos, BDAG 553, 1bα.

[18] "Hardships" (NIV), "affliction" (NRSV), "trouble" (KJV) in verse 8 is thlipsis, which we saw in verse 4 above.

[19] Bareō, BDAG 166, b.

[20] Hyperbolē, BDAG 1032).

[21] Hyper, BDAG 1030, B).

[22] Exaporeō, BDAG 345. This is a compound verb from aporeō, "to be in a confused state of mind," the extent of which is heightened by the appended preposition ek-, which carries the idea here of "utterly, entirely (Thayer 192, ek, VI-6).

[23] Eugene H. Peterson (translator), The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress, 2002).

[24] Today's English Version (Third edition; American Bible Society, 1966, 1971).

[25] J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English (Macmillan, 1947, 1958).

[26] Apokrima, BDAG 113. "An official resolution that decides a matter" (Friedrich BΓΌchsel, krinō, ktl., TDNT 3:933-954).

[27] Paul describes the judgment as literally "in ourselves" (KJV), rather than from some magistrate or court.

[28] "Deadly peril" (NIV, NRSV), "death" (KJV) is thanatos, "death," here, "danger of death" (BDAG 443, 1c).

[29] "Delivered" (NIV) is rhyomai, "to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve someone" (BDAG 907).

[30] "Rely on" (NIV, NRSV), "trust in" (KJV) is peithō, "depend on, trust in." (BDAG 792, 2a).

[31] "Set our hope" (NIV, NRSV), "trust" (KJV) is elpizō, "to look forward to something, with implication of confidence about something coming to pass, hope, hope for," here, specifically, "put one's confidence in someone or something" (BDAG 319, 1c).

[32] "Help" (NIV), "join in helping" (NRSV), "helping together" (KJV) is synypourgeō, "join in helping, co-operate with by means of something" (BDAG 977). This is a triple compound verb syn-, "along with" + hypo, "under" + ergō, "to work, toil." "Prayers" is deēsis, "entreaty," in the New Testament, "urgent request to meet a need, exclusively addressed to God, prayer" (BDAG 213).

[33] "Gracious favor" (NIV), "blessing" (NRSV), "gift" (KJV) is charisma, "that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift" (BDAG 1081, a).

[34] Also Romans 15:30-32; Colossians 4:2-4; Philippians 1:19; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2; James 5:16-18.

[35] Acts 1:14. "Together" (NIV, NRSV), "one accord" (KJV) is homothymadon, "with one mind / purpose / impulse" (BDAG 706), from homos, "one and the same, common" + thymos, "passion."

[36] Symphōneō, "to have come to an agreement about something, be of one mind, agree" (BDAG 963, 3).

 


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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