Regarded by most Bible scholars as the fourth letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, it serves as an affirmation to its readers who had heeded to Paul’s harsh rebuke in the preceding letter. Paul also wanted to prepare the hearts of the congregation for his next visit and remind them of the commitment they had made to the believers in Jerusalem.
The city of Corinth was a Roman colony and one of the most influential cities in Achaia province. Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth during his third missionary journey while he was in Macedonia. Titus who had returned from Corinth brought news to Paul about the believers there and how they had positively responded to his earlier letter of rebuke. In his latest letter, Paul acknowledges the great strides the church had made and also defended himself against the accusations that had been levied on him by his opposers.
An Apostle of Christ
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,2 Corinthians 1:1-2
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul starts off his letter with a familiar greeting and lets his audience know about his current companions and the city of their present halt. He even calls himself an Apostle of Jesus Christ but addresses Timothy as a brother. Apostle literally means the one who is sent. Jesus chose twelve of his disciples and called them apostles as he sent them across the globe spreading His message. Even though Paul was not part of the twelve, he had seen Jesus and received the revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus. He was sent by God to various cities and towns as he educated the people on the Gospel of Christ. God even intervened when Paul was going off to another city and diverted his path according to His plans (Acts 16:9-10).
As to why this title was reserved only for him and not his other companions, is maybe Paul felt that he was the one being sent by God and he was only being assisted by people like Timothy along the way. It could also be that Paul wanted the people to know that he is on equal footing with the apostles of Jerusalem. His authority and the validity of his message would have been questioned in town after town, to the extent that Paul started calling himself as an Apostle of Christ.
I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles”2 Corinthians 12:11
Even today there are many self-proclaimed apostles who seek to add validity to their cause. Some like Paul are genuinely working for the extension of the kingdom of God while some are simply extending their own kingdoms.
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 receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.2 Corinthians 1:3-5
On one side, Paul says that our God is a God who comforts us during our times of trouble and on the other, he says that we share in the sufferings of Christ. Our God is God of all comforts. Wherever we are in life it is because of His grace. We can sing songs about sharing the cup of suffering with Christ, but just like James and John who wanted to sit on either side of Jesus’s throne, we do not realise what that entails. The sins of the entire world were put on him as he became the sacrificial lamb for all our sake. If there was a way we could sustain the suffering that he underwent, then it was pointless of God to send His Son to die for our sins.
Sufferings also sometimes reminds us to pray for others who are suffering alike. What Paul is alluding to here is the sufferings that the Church of Christ was going through back then, continues to go through even today and will do in the future. When the body of Christ is going through difficult times, Christ is suffering along with them. We share in the comfort of Christ but the problems that we go through in this lifetime can in no way compare to what Christ was put through on our behalf.
After the initial greetings, Paul informs the Church of the troubling times he faced in Asia. They were under great pressure, far beyond their ability to endure, and were despaired of life itself. Oftentimes people talk about their sufferings to garner sympathy. They want other people to know that their life is not a bed of roses and they have to struggle to get through the day. However, when Paul wrote about his sufferings in his letters to various churches, it was not to accumulate sympathy or donations but to reveal the mighty hand of God at work. So confident was Paul about God delivering him from his latest problem that he would tell of it to all his audience and in the next letter hoped to give them the good news of how God miraculously helped him come out of that difficult situation.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.2 Corinthians 12:9
Even our days of misery are an opportunity for us to praise God and bear witness to His name. In times of our weaknesses, His matchless power is revealed to us and those around us. We must learn to praise him in every situation and use every opportunity to lift his name rather than attempting to gain sympathy from our fellow believers.
Paul’s Change of Plans
Paul’s itinerary had changed quite a bit and it left some in Corinth puzzled as to why Paul did not turn up for a halt in their town during his return journey.
Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?2 Corinthians 1:17
Paul initially had planned to visit Corinth earlier but he added a few additional stops to his itinerary. This coincided with his third letter to the Corinthians which according to Paul was a stern warning and a harsh rebuke. He possibly did not want to face them right after the letter and gave them time to absorb the contents of his rebuke. On the receiving end, the harsh letter did not sit well with his opposers in Corinth.
Whenever we are rebuked by God or an elder looking out for us, satan will harden our hearts. We will be deceived into thinking that there is nothing wrong with us and that we are perfect. The same happened with the people of Corinth who started hating Paul because of the harsh words he used to make them change their ways. To negate his rebukes, Paul’s opposers tried to poison the minds of the believers in Corinth. They attributed Paul’s change of plans to his failure to follow through on his commitment.
Thus Paul was particularly agitated by these accusations as his intentions were being questioned. The way of Jesus has always been to turn the other cheek even when he was on trial and sentenced to death. But Paul keeps getting into a vicious circle of defending himself as his accusers keep finding new ways to bring him down. We must not get into that vicious circle by justifying our every action to our accusers. We must leave it up to God who justifies us with the blood of his Son.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.2 Corinthians 1:20
The relationship between Paul and the church of Corinth was complex and not without its struggles. The congregation kept turning to their old ways while some even questioned Paul and his authority. Paul on the other hand would have dreaded to come to a community that was speaking ill of him behind his back. He so often would try to conceal his anger with sugar-coated words of rebuke but usually, his true emotions would reveal themselves when he put pen to paper.
As we read further, we get to know that Paul purposefully skipped the journey back to Corinth in favour of some peace of mind. We must understand that no matter who we are the people of this world will usually disappoint us. They will say one thing but their actions will be the opposite. But God is the only one who stays true to His word no matter how far we have gone away from Him. Let us not depend on human relations and the pleasantries that come with it but solely look to God who is our ultimate comforter.
- 1:1 Why does Paul call himself an apostle?
- 1:5 How do we share in the sufferings of Christ?
- 1:8 Why is Paul informing the church about his troubles in Asia?
- 1:17 Why is Paul defensive about the change in his travel plans?