2 Corinthians 1:1-11
The particular focus this series for our Bible studies is going to be a section of 2 Corinthians (2:12-7:1) where Paul makes an extended digression speaking about what it meant for him to be “Christ’s ambassador”. As an apostle, in many respects Paul’s ministry was unique of course, but there are many lessons we can learn about what it means for us to be servants of the Gospel, committed to making Christ known. Paul has much to say about the difficulties, the motivation, the pattern of Gospel ministry that apply readily to us today. I hope it will encourage us and challenge us in our evangelistic endeavours.
Whilst 2Cor.2:12-7:1 will be our focus, we will begin with 2Cor.1:1-11, which introduces the letter and many of its themes. And it is a great passage to study and learn from. It raises the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian. Our own suffering can sometimes raise doubts in our mind; Paul raises the matter here though because his suffering was raising doubts in the Corinthians’ minds, causing them to question his spiritual credentials. He seemed a bit of a loser because of it. Paul is wanting them to see that his suffering, far from disqualifying him, actually qualifies him and authenticates his ministry. So he is not ashamed of it – “we don’t want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered”, he says in v.8 – and indeed, later in the letter he will even boast of his suffering and delight in his weakness (12:9, 10).
I would suggest that a way to work through the passage would be to draw out the ways God might use our sufferings and hardship as a means of blessing.
Paul speaks of God as “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (v.3). We might assent to that truth, but we will only know it in our experience, know Him in this way, in and through suffering. One reason He might allow us to suffer is so that we might better know Him as He is and know His grace and comfort. How much less truly and profoundly would we know Him if we never endured any hardship!
v.4 speaks of how He comforts us so that we can comfort others. God uses our experience of suffering to equip us to help and serve others. That had been Paul’s experience (vv.5-7). So God uses suffering to deepen our fellowship with Him and to deepen our fellowship with others. And it suggests that a proper response to suffering is not to look in on ourselves in self-pity, but to look to God, that we might know His comfort, and to look out to others, that we might help others in similar need.
We are to see and understand our suffering in the light of His suffering. His sufferings here would seem to speak of the sufferings of Christ’s followers (His body) in the Last Days, which we share in because of our union with Christ. But such suffering will not be purposeless or fruitless, through our union with Him we will also know His power and comfort, and others too will come to know His grace.
In vv.8,9 Paul speaks of part of the purpose he saw in his own severe suffering (so severe he “despaired even of life”) – it was so that “we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead”. As someone has said, “ Faith can only be built on the ruins of self-despair”, so God uses hardship to wean us off our self-confidence. And how much greater can our confidence be when our trust is in Him, as Paul shows in v.10.
The spin off for Paul was that he was led to trust God more, the spin off for the Corinthians was that they were prompted to pray (v.11). Few things motivate a church to pray than the knowledge of fellow Christians in severe trouble. Again we see suffering strengthening fellowship with God (as we’re led to trust Him more), and fellowship with each other (as we depend on each other for prayer). And as the volume of prayer increases, so surely the volume of praise and thanksgiving will soon increase too (v.11).