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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

God of All Comfort

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a] 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

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Last week’s post concluded 1 Corinthians with Paul’s blessing to the congregation.

We now progress to 2 Corinthians.

John MacArthur has two good introductions to the book.

The Corinthians’ problems continue but, having received a visit from some of the prominent members of the congregation, Paul is more hopeful. Titus also visited Corinth and gave the Apostle a positive report.

MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

With the Corinthian church – as with some others, but particularly with the Corinthian church – he had to face rebellion, disloyalty, dishonesty, immorality, unfaithfulness, inadequate help, ineptness, ignorance, pride, at all levels. His own narrow escape from death was one kind of external trouble, but it came and it went. The Corinthian trouble came and stayed, and he writes this epistle in the vortex of trouble. Just narrowly escaping from death, that burden having been for the moment relieved, he is now left with the pressure, the concern, for this church that he loves.

If you take the first eleven verses as kind of an introduction – which they really are – you find in them five different words to describe trouble. From verse 3 on, there are five words describing trouble. But there is one word that is used ten times, and that is the word comfort. He describes his trouble five different ways, and then ten times refers to the comfort that he finds in God. So, while it must be admitted that when he writes the letter he realizes there’s trouble, at the same time, he also is experiencing tremendous comfort.

The reason he feels the trouble is because he knows the problems. The reason he feels the comfort is because he knows that there are some people who have gotten into line with God’s way and God’s Word. In fact, in chapter 7, verse 6, he refers to “God, who comforts the depressed, comforting us” – that is, he and Timothy – “by the coming of Titus; not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.”

He has just gotten good word from Titus, who made a visit to Corinth, and Titus has told him, “The majority are responding to your first letter. They’re falling in line with God’s Word. They’re doing what they were supposed to be doing. Things are turning around. It’s a good day there.” And so, he was experiencing comfort. At the same time, he knew the battle wasn’t over. The problems were still there. The immorality was still there. The corrupt culture was still there. The demonic assaults were still there.

The false apostles – who tried to undermine the whole church, who tried to deny Paul’s apostolic authority – were still there. The people who had been enamored and deluded by the false apostles were still there. And all of the potential for disloyalty, and rebellion, and the smoldering smoke of the mutiny to sort of ignite itself again, was still there. And so, as he writes, he is very aware of his trouble, but he is, at the same time, very aware that God provides comfort.

In another introduction, MacArthur provides us with more information.

He tells us when and where it was likely to have been written:

Several considerations establish a feasible date for the writing of this letter. Extrabiblical sources indicate that July, A.D. 51 is the most likely date for the beginning of Gallio’s proconsulship (cf. Acts 18:12). Paul’s trial before him at Corinth (Acts 18:12–17) probably took place shortly after Gallio assumed office. Leaving Corinth (probably in A.D. 52), Paul sailed for Palestine (Acts 18:18), thus concluding his second missionary journey. Returning to Ephesus on his third missionary journey (probably in A.D. 52), Paul ministered there for about 2 1/2 years (Acts 19:8, 10). The apostle wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus toward the close of that period (1 Cor. 16:8), most likely in A.D. 55. Since Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until the following spring (cf. the reference to Pentecost in 1 Cor. 16:8), and 2 Corinthians was written after he left Ephesus (see Background and Setting), the most likely date for 2 Corinthians is late A.D. 55 or very early A.D. 56.

These are the themes of 2 Corinthians:

Second Corinthians complements the historical record of Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church recorded in Acts and 1 Corinthians. It also contains important biographical data on Paul throughout.

Although an intensely personal letter, written by the apostle in the heat of battle against those attacking his credibility, 2 Corinthians contains several important theological themes. It portrays God the Father as a merciful comforter (1:3; 7:6), the Creator (4:6), the One who raised Jesus from the dead (4:14; cf. 13:4), and who will raise believers as well (1:9). Jesus Christ is the One who suffered (1:5), who fulfilled God’s promises (1:20), who was the proclaimed Lord (4:5), who manifested God’s glory (4:6), and the One who in His incarnation became poor for believers (8:9; cf. Phil. 2:5–8). The letter portrays the Holy Spirit as God (3:17, 18) and the guarantee of believers’ salvation (1:22; 5:5). Satan is identified as the “god of this age” (4:4; cf. 1 John 5:19), a deceiver (11:14), and the leader of human and angelic deceivers (11:15). The end times include both the believer’s glorification (4:16–5:8) and his judgment (5:10). The glorious truth of God’s sovereignty in salvation is the theme of 5:14–21, while 7:9, 10 sets forth man’s response to God’s offer of salvation-genuine repentance. Second Corinthians also presents the clearest, most concise summary of the substitutionary atonement of Christ to be found anywhere in Scripture (5:21; cf. Is. 53) and defines the mission of the church to proclaim reconciliation (5:18–20). Finally, the nature of the New Covenant receives its fullest exposition outside the book of Hebrews (3:6–16).

As always, Paul begins with a warm, spiritual greeting.

He announces himself as an Apostle through the will of God and includes young Timothy in his greeting to the church in Achaia, the wider region around Corinth (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul included Timothy as a second witness to what he was writing:

The apostleship itself was ordained by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God; and Paul was called to it by Jesus Christ, according to the will of God. He joins Timotheus with himself in writing this epistle; not because he needed his assistance, but that out of the mouth of two witnesses the word might be established; and this dignifying Timothy with the title of brother (either in the common faith, or in the work of the ministry) shows the humility of this great apostle, and his desire to recommend Timothy (though he was then a young man) to the esteem of the Corinthians, and give him a reputation among the churches. 2. The persons to whom this epistle was sent, namely, the church of God at Corinth: and not only to them, but also to all the saints in all Achaia, that is, to all the Christians who lived in the region round about. Note, In Christ Jesus no distinction is made between the inhabitants of city and country; all Achaia stands upon a level in his account.

Paul prays that the believers have grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 2).

Henry points out:

These two benefits are fitly joined together, because there is no good and lasting peace without true grace; and both of them come from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the procurer and dispenser of those benefits to fallen man, and is prayed to as God.

Paul blesses God, identifying Him as the Father of Christ Jesus, the father of all mercies and God of all comfort (verse 3). This is Paul’s first mention of comfort in this chapter.

MacArthur elaborates on this verse:

Over and over again this phrase that “God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is reiterated. The apostle Paul uses it in Ephesians 1:3. John uses it in 2 John 3. And not only in those places, it is repeated other times as well, that God revealed Himself in Christ; and that God is the God who is the Father, one in essence, with His Son, Jesus Christ. That is the heart of the Christian faith. If you don’t believe that, no matter what else you believe you cannot be a Christian.

But there’s more. Look back at that phrase in verse 3. Not just the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but would you notice, God is seen as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. How can He be one with God and have God as His God?

Well, that’s a fair question. Back in John 20, verse 17, Jesus said, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” On the cross He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Mark 15:34.

Listen carefully: in His deity, He is equal to God; in His humanity, He is submissive to God, right? In the incarnation, He is God, and He is also 100 percent man. As man, He must submit Himself fully to God. And God is not just His Father in deity, that is one in essence, He is His God in humanity. Jesus in His condescension, Jesus in His submission comes down, takes on the form of a servant, and obeys God, and identifies God as His God. That’s a marvelous reality.

In that incarnation He even restricted His divine knowledge, didn’t He? He said, “No man knows the day nor the hour, not even the Son of Man.” In His incarnation He submitted Himself to not knowing something voluntarily. He submitted Himself to not using His attributes voluntarily, taking upon Himself the form of a servant. God becomes His God, that is to say the one over Him, to whom He submits as well as His equal. And so you have in this marvelous blessing both the humanity and the deity of Christ brought magnificently together in one statement: “Blessed is the God,” – what God? – “the God who is the God of and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The word ‘comfort’ appears four times in verse 4, with God as the author of it.

Henry explains that our comfort is all the greater when we realise that God is its source:

Note, (1.) Then are we qualified to receive the comfort of God’s mercies when we set ourselves to give him the glory of them. (2.) Then we speak best of God and his goodness when we speak from our own experience, and, in telling others, tell God also what he has done for our souls.

Paul goes on to say that, although we suffer, as Christ did, yet we also share in the comfort that He experienced (verse 5). He says that being afflicted and being patient during that affliction brings about later comfort as well as salvation (verse 6).

MacArthur says:

to the degree that you suffer for Christ you will be comforted. To the degree that you suffer to Christ and are comforted, you will be rewarded in eternity. Your eternal reward is connected to the degree of your suffering, as is your comfort.

Paul encourages the Corinthians by saying that he and Timothy are hopeful for them. By sharing in the suffering affecting him and Timothy — a reference to persecution — they will share in the comfort from God that comes later (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

It’s a partnership we’re in. And you never can look at your own suffering independent of the whole body of Christ. You can’t bet a “poor me” mentality. a self-preservation attitude that says I’m not about to take a stand for Christ, I might suffer. You better take a stand for Christ, suffer, be comforted so God can use you to comfort others. There are some in the Corinthian church who are suffering for the Kingdom, for righteousness, for the gospel, the same reason Paul is suffering. Ordinary faithful Christians, and he says we can mutually share in each other’s lives the comfort we have received from the Lord. And this, he says, is effective because it allows you to patiently endure through these sufferings.

How does it do that? Because you see someone else doing it. He strengthens you. Because the lessons that you’ve – that he’s — learned come to you and you learn them. It helps you endure. We call that encouraging people. That’s really what comfort is. Because we’ve been there, we know there’s light at the end of the darkness. And then in verse 7, “And our hope for you is firmly grounded.” He doesn’t really doubt that God will be faithful and bring them through the difficulties. “Our hope for you is firmly grounded.” Why? What’s it grounded on? “Because we know that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” I – I know you’re going to be all right because there is a group in that church that are suffering for the cause of Christ and God will comfort you and strengthen you. And through that strength your hope will stand.

The partnership of comfort then goes like this. The multiplication of suffering in Paul’s life multiplies divine comfort to him and that makes him capable of comforting other Christians who are suffering the same kind of affliction. And this comfort aids their endurance. So Paul says whether I was afflicted or whether I was comforted, in my affliction it was for you. It was to make me strong, make me courageous, make me bold so that I could come to you and give you confidence. In spite of all the pain they had inflicted on Paul – and they had inflicted a lot of it, some of them in the church – he saw them not as the enemy but as partners to be helped.

There will be more on persecution and hope from Paul next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

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