Sunday, February 12, 2023
Lesson Text: II Corinthians 1:3-11; Time of Action: 56 A.D.; Place of Action: Paul writes from Macedonia
Golden Text: “And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation” (II Corinthians 1:7).
I. INTRODUCTION. The love that binds the church together expresses itself in concern for each other. This is especially the case in times of suffering. The body of Christ is similar to the human body in that “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (see I Corinthians 12:26). Every Christian has the responsibility of extending comfort and consolation to suffering brethren in Christ. This week’s lesson teaches that God does not bestow comfort and consolation on us simply for our own benefit. The trials we endure through God’s mercy enable us to help others who experience similar troubles.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians was written within a year of the first letter to the same church. With a little detective work, some scholars have come to accept by Scripture that Paul wrote four letters to the church in Corinth, but of course we only have two. He founded this church on his second missionary journey (see Acts 15:36; 18:1-11). During his third missionary journey (see Acts 18: 21-23; 19:1), Paul received word about immorality in this young church at Corinth prompting him to write his first letter (see I Corinthians 5:9-11). However, that letter has been lost. Sometime later, Paul learned that the sexual problems still persisted along with many others (see I Corinthians 1:11). The second letter he wrote, many scholars believe to be I Corinthians in which the apostle addressed various issues raised by the Corinthian believers (see I Corinthians 1:10; 5:1; 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). This letter failed to correct the problems at Corinth, so Paul apparently made a visit that was painful for him and the church (see II Corinthians 2:1). From Ephesus, Paul sent Titus with (see II Corinthians 7:6-9) a third letter (see II Corinthians 7:6-9) which many believe is also lost (see II Corinthians 2:6-9; 7:12). However, some scholars believe that this letter was attached to II Corinthians and became chapters 10-13. When Titus failed to return with news of how the Corinthians were doing, Paul left Ephesus with a troubled spirit (see II Corinthians 7:5) and went to Troas and then to Macedonia (see II Corinthians 2:12-13). Finally in Macedonia, Titus met up with Paul and to Paul’s relief and joy, Titus reported that the Corinthians had repented and punished the guilty party (see II Corinthians 2:5-11). Paul then wrote a fourth letter which many believe is actually II Corinthians.
III. THE VALUE OF COMFORT (II Corinthians 1:3-7)
A. God comforts us (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
1. (vs. 3). After greeting the believers in Corinth and all of Achaia in verses 1-2 which are not part of our printed text, Paul says in this verse “Blessed be God, even the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” Paul began by expressing praise and adoration to God. First, he said “Blessed be God.” Although the word “Blessed” is sometimes used to mean bestowing prosperity or help upon someone, here it means “to speak well of” or “to praise.” Paul wanted to honor and praise God for His bountiful blessings. Next, the apostle used several titles to describe God. He called Him “the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ” which reminds us of the goodness of God in giving His Son for our salvation (see John 3:16). Often Christ is praised for His saving grace, but the Father is just as responsible for our salvation (see Romans 5:8). Paul also used Jesus’ full title, “LORD Jesus Christ.” The term “LORD” emphasizes His authority, for He is the Master and Owner of His children. “Jesus” which is His human name, emphasizes His ministry in salvation. His name means “Yahweh saves” or “Jehovah is salvation.” The term “Christ” speaks of His regal power. The word means “anointed one” and is the translation of the Greek word for Messiah. Paul also calls God “the Father of mercies.” He is the source of all mercy. This description shows God as having compassion, and demonstrating pity. God is merciful. He withholds deserved judgment from those who accept His gracious salvation. Simply put “mercy” is God not giving us what we deserve—judgment. God is also described as “the God of all comfort.” This means that He is the ultimate source of encouragement. The term translated “comfort” can mean consolation, encouragement, or exhortation. God provides encouragement and whatever help is needed to those who trust Him. Note: The Greek word “parakalesis” means “comfort” and comes from the word “parakaleo” which means “to draw near” in order to give someone consolation or encouragement. Of course, a term that we have surely heard at some time or another is “paraclete” used to refer to the Holy Spirit (see John 14:26) as One who comes alongside to help.
2. (vs. 4). Still talking about God, Paul continues to say “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” In the phrase “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation” Paul is speaking personally and using the word “us” to include his travelling companions, especially Timothy (see II Corinthians 1:1), as being comforted by God in all their “tribulations” or sufferings. Paul said that God “comforted” him and his companions so “that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble.” In other words, as Paul received “comfort” from God while experiencing trials, he in turn “comforted” others in their trials. The phrase “by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” simply means that when we have been “comforted” by God in our hard times, we are to share that same “comfort” with others who are going through similar trials.
B. We are comforted (II Corinthians 1:5). In this verse, Paul went on to say “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” The word “abound” means “an abundance” or “an excess.” The “sufferings of Christ” are those afflictions we experience as we do Christ’s ministry. Paul was still speaking personally referring to himself and his companions, shown again by the word “us.” Yes, they suffered an abundance of hardships for Christ, but they also received an abundance of comfort from Him. This is what is meant by the phrase “so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.” The “consolation” or comfort that Paul and his coworkers received from the good hand of God was plentiful. It “abounded” just as their sufferings “abounded.” God’s grace was always sufficient for their needs and it’s sufficient for ours as well (see II Corinthians 12:9). Note: Paul suffered for “Christ” because of his service for Him. He was not ashamed of the gospel of “Christ” (see Romans 1:16). Some of the specific hardships he endured for the LORD are given in this letter (see II Corinthians 11:23-28). Through all of his sufferings, Paul also experienced God’s grace and comfort (see II Corinthians 12:8-10). What he wrote to the Christians in Corinth concerning God’s gracious comfort, he had experienced firsthand. Paul and Timothy had suffered much for “Christ.” Paul may have had in mind not only what he had suffered in Asia (see II Corinthians 1:8; Acts 19:22-32) but also the suffering some of the Corinthians had caused him (see Acts 18:1-12).
C. We comfort you (II Corinthians 1:6). Paul continues to say in this verse “And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” Paul didn’t believe his “sufferings” were just for his own benefit. He told the Corinthians that the “sufferings” with which he and Timothy were “afflicted” or experienced, were for “your consolation and salvation.” These believers were the recipients of the comfort and encouragement that came from Paul and Timothy’s “suffering” and “consolation.” God had provided Paul with “consolation and salvation,” and he knew that God would do the same for the Corinthians. The word “salvation” here refers to the deliverance from defeat and discouragement brought on by “suffering,” not to salvation from sin’s condemnation. Paul also said that the “sufferings” he and Timothy were experiencing was for the Corinthians’ benefit and was “effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” In other words, the comfort they received from Paul and Timothy would help them “endure” or stand firm when they went through the same “sufferings” as Paul and Timothy. This verse may better be translated like this: “If we have troubles, it’s for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it’s so that we can comfort you. And this helps you patiently accept the same sufferings we have.” Note: As our “suffering” level goes up, so does our ability to comfort others. If we are to help others bear their burdens, we need to experience suffering and hardships ourselves. No Christian can spiritually endure trials by himself. All the members of Christ’s body need each other. A key purpose in “suffering” is so that we might encourage and comfort other believers in their “suffering.” It’s comforting to know that another believer has successfully gone through the same type of difficulty that we are experiencing.
D. We hope for you (II Corinthians 1:7). Here Paul said “And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” Paul and Timothy had a “steadfast” hope that the Corinthian believers would remain faithful and not let their “sufferings” turn them away from God. The word “stedfast” means “firm.” We can be tempted to turn from God when we start to doubt His goodness and our trials seem extremely difficult and never ending. Paul and Timothy had no doubts that just as the Corinthian believers were “partakers (or partners) of the sufferings” with them for Christ, they would also share in Christ’s “consolation” or encouragement.
IV. THE VALUE OF PRAYER (II Corinthians 1:8-11)
A. Burdened beyond measure (II Corinthians 1:8). In this verse Paul says “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” Paul wanted his readers to be aware and not “ignorant” of their troubles, so he proceeded to tell his readers more about the specifics of the suffering he and his companions endured. He called attention to the sufferings that had come to him and those who were with him in Asia, but he didn’t say exactly what they experienced. He did say that they were “pressed out of measure, above strength.” In other words, the suffering was severe. The phrase “pressed out of measure” mean that they were under great pressure and heavy burdens. Their hardships weighed them down, so that they felt crushed under them. The terms “above strength” mean that what they were experiencing was beyond normal human endurance. What they endured was more than most people could bear. The circumstances were so difficult that Paul said “we despaired even of life.” Whatever the trials were, they were great enough to make Paul and his companions think that they were going to die. Note: Many believe that the suffering Paul alluded to is found in Acts 19:23-41(see also I Corinthians 15:32). In Acts chapter 19 we have the account of Paul and Timothy’s experience in Ephesus, the capital of the Roman province of Asia. A great uproar occurred there during their three year stay (see Acts 20:31). We can’t know for sure which trials Paul was referring to in Asia since he didn’t say what they were.
B. Delivered from death (II Corinthians 1:9-10).
1. (vs. 9). Paul continued to say “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” When Paul said “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves” he was saying that from a human standpoint, they thought “death” was imminent (see Acts 14:19-20). But he realized that they were put in those positions as he said, so that “we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” The point here is that when our suffering or trials are great, “we should not trust in ourselves,” but instead trust “in God,” who has the power to “raise the dead.” If “God” can “raise the dead,” He certainly can and will provide for His own. During their time of suffering, Paul and his companions came to experience the resurrection power of “God” (see Philippians 3:10). Note: Once Paul and his co-workers realized that they didn’t have the power to do anything to help their situation “God” came to their rescue. The deliverance may not have come at that precise moment, but God’s grace was sufficient to hold them up until He stepped in. It’s so easy to act as if we are self-sufficient. Trusting in our own abilities is a common sin among God’s people. Whether the problem we face is small or large, our confidence must be in “God.” He is able to deliver us in His own way and in His own time. A good principle that I try to live by is “anything that you can fix, fix it; but what you can’t fix, turn it over to God believing He will.”
2. (vs. 10). Still referring to God who is able to raise the dead, the apostle continued to say “Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” Deliverance is what is stressed in this verse in three tenses, past, present and future. Paul stated that it was God “Who delivered us from so great a death” which is a reference to the past trials they faced in Asia (see verse 8). That deliverance in Asia was to Paul nothing less than a resurrection from the dead. Not only did God “deliver” them from trials, Paul said that God also “doth deliver” which refers to any present trials they may be experiencing. The apostle also said that God in whom we trust “will yet deliver us” referring to any future trials they would experience. Paul was clear: the deliverance and protection God provided in the past would encourage him to “trust” God to “deliver” him in the present and in the future. Paul didn’t know what the future held for him and neither do we. What’s important is not what trials the future may bring, but knowing intimately the One who holds the future.
C. Thanks through prayer (II Corinthians 1:11). In our final verse Paul says “Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” Paul knew that many of his readers were praying for him and his associates. The word “Ye” refers to the Corinthian Christians. Paul said that they were “helping together by prayer for us.” In other words, the prayers of the Corinthians were used by God to bring comfort and deliverance to His servants. God works through the prayers of His people (see Luke 21:36; I Peter 3:12; James 5:16). Paul continued to say that the prayers “of many persons” caused “the gift” to be bestowed upon them. The word “gift” here could refer to either the “comfort” in verse 4 or the “consolation” in verse 7, or even the deliverance that Paul and Timothy received from God. Finally, Paul stated that just as “many persons” had prayed for them, “many” would now give thanks to God on their “behalf” meaning giving thanks to God for answering their prayers. Note: Paul wanted to encourage the Corinthian believers by informing them that they had a part in his deliverance from his sufferings. Their part was prayer. Paul felt that he would never have made it through his sufferings without their prayers. The believers in Corinth were one with Paul because of their prayers. When we understand the true nature and purpose of prayer, we are well prepared to go to God in prayer for our struggling brothers and sisters. One reason God allows suffering or trials is so that other believers will pray for the person who is hurting. God then answers those prayers and believers are encouraged. Too often we underestimate the power and importance of intercessory prayer for the help of Christian brethren. There are many ways in which we might be able to help fellow believers: with words of consolation, physical labor, financial support and so on. However, we should not neglect prayer. That’s something we can always do. Prayer is an appeal to the only One who can ultimately help when a person needs peace and consolation.
V. Conclusion. The Apostle Paul endured severe sufferings on many occasions. Some of his sufferings were so devastating that he nearly died (see Acts 14:19-20). This is an indication that even God’s most faithful servants are not exempt from sufferings. Paul was always kept by the “God of all comfort.” We can apply this lesson to our lives as we accept the fact that because God comforts us in our sufferings, we can likewise comfort other people in their sufferings. For sure, God wants Christians to keep an attitude of mutual concern for one another, especially in times of trouble.
***The Sunday School Lesson; Union Gospel Press Curriculum***