As with past studies, I'd like to provide a few thoughts and comments in regards to each unit. Primarily as an accountability and personal growth exercise for myself, but also as a resource for any of our members looking for further insight, and as an archive for future reference. The notes come from a weekly distribution to our discipleship leaders.
Week 1 : Comfort Through Suffering
Read Chapter 1 Here / Find Sermon Guide Here
In Acts 9:15, the Lord pronounces Paul to be “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles.” And that is exactly what Paul became. In fact, check out Acts 13:42-48 for an example of the early work of Paul among the Gentiles, and consider what a great privilege it was to hear God’s Word preached (can you imagine if we were as excited about being exposed to God’s Word as these early Gentiles?
I mention this because it is an interesting footnote to the founding of the church in Corinth. Specifically, in Acts 18:1-9 we see the origins of the Corinthian Christians. Having met up with fellow tentmakers, Priscilla and Aquila, Paul began preaching in the synagogue. Almost immediately, the Jews opposed Paul, so he begins to preach Jesus to the Gentiles. Acts 18:8 says; “And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” This occurred on what we refer to as Paul’s second missionary journey, during the years AD 50-52, as he stayed over a year and half in Corinth during this time (Acts 18:11).Fast-forward to the writing of 2 Corinthians in what is believed to be circa AD 56. A lot has occurred between the Corinthian Church and Paul since these early conversions some four years prior—much of it not very good at all. There are accusations and slander against Paul, there were outsiders misrepresenting the ‘Good News’, there was disunity in the church, and there were ungodly cultural influences everywhere the Corinthians looked. Paul had addressed much of this in 1 Corinthians, but now he was preparing to visit Corinth himself and decided to spill out his heart in letter form before he arrived on the scene.
Speaking of visits and letters; one additional point of historical context is something that many of us are not that familiar with, but it gives us insight into Paul’s concern for the Corinthians and his determination to disciple these young Christians. That is, the letter we refer to 2 Corinthians is most likely Paul’s fourth letter to the Corinthian Church, not his second. Why do most biblical scholars come to this conclusion, and how do they know that? Good questions. So, when in doubt, go to Scripture (actually, when not in doubt, go to Scripture!)
The following is a taken from Burges’ book The New Testament in Antiquity. It highlights Paul's trips and letters to Corinth, according to Scriptural references.
- 1st Visit: AD 50 – 52 (as discussed above) / Acts 18:18
- 1st Letter: ca. AD 52 (lost to history) / 1 Cor. 5:9; also 1 Cor. 7:1, the Corinthians write back
- 2nd Letter: AD 54 (known as 1st Corinthians) written from Ephesus / 1 Cor. 16:8
- 2nd Visit: AD 54 / “a painful visit” 2 Cor. 2:1
- 3rd Letter: AD 55 (lost to history) / “a letter of tears” 2 Cor. 2:3-4
- 4th Letter: AD 56 (known as 2nd Corinthians) written from Macedonia / 2 Cor. 7:5-7
- 3rd Visit: AD 56 or 57/ 2 Cor. 13 (Note: Paul warns them that although he is weak, he is coming in God’s power; uh-oh!)
Question: When we give comfort to someone, is it a passing relief, a sympathetic word, or is it the standing alongside to weather the storm as one?
Lastly, you’ll notice in the study guide there is a comment regarding Paul’s prolific use of the terms suffering and comfort, “more than any other writer in the Bible” (pg. 3). This is an interesting insight, and it should make us think about this correlation of the two. We often think of the Psalms, and maybe King David, as writing more about suffering and comfort. And it’s true, there are great psalms of lament, and peace, and trials, and joys, and suffering, and comfort. Some of this might be due to the poetic language of the Psalms versus the prose of Paul. However, I think there is a difference in the type of suffering that Paul speaks of than that of the Psalmist (even a different comfort as well). Paul speaks of sharing in the suffering of Christ—the persecution, the betrayal, the physical, and the emotional. It is real suffering that we face if we follow Christ in the taking up of our cross daily and going with Him even unto death. Yet in knowing that suffering is imminent, so is the comfort through God’s presence just as certain. This perspective is what drove Paul to disciple others as one serving the kingdom. May God grant us a similar perspective over the next several months.
For the record; Paul wrote of the suffering and comfort found in 2 Corinthians some 30 times across his letters. More than 3 times that of any other writer in the Bible.