- The Explore the Bible lesson for April 29 focuses on 2 Corinthians 1:3-14.
As we turn to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians, we must remember there still appeared to be a strained relationship between the apostle and this church. Consider one of the closing statements from the first letter: “If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Why is Paul so determined to prove to the Corinthians that they are lacking? Perhaps you could ask your group: What is it like to be around a person who just doesn’t “get it”? It is frustrating to be sure. When it comes to Paul, we can read his frustration.
As we begin, we should prepare for this interesting paradox of comfort during times of trouble. Paul was well acquainted with trouble and near-death experiences. Even so, he would say, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4a) in all circumstances.
Comforted (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
Following a brief greeting, Paul begins this doxology to God for comfort during troubles. Craig Keener points out that this doxology or blessing is directly replacing a “thanksgiving for his audience” (Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, 157).
Paul seems to be “cutting to the chase” to begin his teaching to the church—the body shares God’s comfort with others. Why would Paul go directly to these words? What is he trying to prove to Corinth?
Notice the word “overflow” in verse 5. Jesus’ sufferings “flow over” into the lives of the believer just as Jesus’ comfort will “overflow.” In both suffering and comfort, we draw closer to Christ. As Christ gave of himself, so also should we give of ourselves.
Verses 6-7 tell us Paul and his team are experiencing distressed situations as he writes this letter. Ask your group: What kind of tone do you sense in Paul’s words here? Are the Corinthians really sharing in their sufferings and comfort?
Tested (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
Perhaps this part of the letter may be viewed as a missionary report. The apostle wants the church to know about all that he and his team have endured. These words are more of a survival notice, letting them know that surviving the ultimate trials proves their reliance on God.
When we survive something difficult, how do we usually celebrate? Here, Paul did more than high-five the others. He told about how they learned to rely on God all the more, and he described the impact on others who witnessed their trials.
When we endure severe testing—illness or persecution—coming away without defeat should immediately cause us to respond with gratitude and hope. This is true celebration! Like Paul, we should be vocally grateful to God and others and continue to hope in God’s comfort. When we hope in God, we receive the ultimate comfort.
Accepted (2 Corinthians 1:12-14)
The remainder of chapter 1 shows Paul responding to his change of travel plans. Try as he did, he would not be making his visit to Corinth. This response seemed to bring criticism and disappointment: “Paul had not only rejected their benefaction; he had even more offensively robbed them of the privilege of showing an apostle hospitality” (Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, 159).
This should show the reader a struggling relationship being worked through, which is good news. Paul certainly had been offended by the church, just as the church had been offended by Paul. Now, he turns to explaining himself. This is a positive reminder to us that integrity always is worth proving.
While the wonderful news of God’s comfort during trials is the main theme, we also need to look at mutuality. The comfort of God is available to all who endure trials for his sake. All believers are mutually called and will be mutually cared for by God. This means we should work together hand-in-hand as we labor together.
This lesson points a good deal to the negativity of Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. This cannot be overlooked, but it also should not be dwelled upon. A great deal of teaching will follow from a committed apostle to a congregation that was worth commitment.
Laboring for God always is worthwhile. Remaining committed to God and one another also is worth laboring through challenging relationships. Consider closing with 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 to see the depth of Paul’s love for the Corinthian church. How would our churches be changed if we held to this same commitment and love?
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.