One aspect of 2 Corinthians that emerged as new to me is the comfort that it offers for believers distraught in their relationship with people, perhaps especially other believers.
In the first half of the epistle, as Paul lays out the intent of his first letter, he explains that he has not lost all confidence in the Corinthians, and that his letter of admonition was predicated on his confidence that the Corinthians would listen to such admonition. As I read today, I realized that Paul was doing more than explaining what he meant before, and even more than explaining the way a Christian has confidence in the grace of God, and boldness in the truth of God.
It seems that Paul wrote the the Corinthians more severely perhaps than he might have spoken to them in person, not knowing all the details and subtleties of what was going on in the Corinthian church; and it seems that the Corinthians also perhaps took his words to heart a little more than he expected. In technical terms we might call this a miscommunication, and say that Paul was writing to clear the past miscommunication and give principles to prevent future miscommunication. In part, I suppose, this is valid.
But in this kind of miscommunication hurt is felt on both sides. Initially Paul was very worried for the Corinthians, and very worried and dissappointed and grieved by what seemed to be their betrayal of the teaching they had, by their profession, accepted from him. On receiving his letter, the Corinthians appear to have felt that he was calling them worthless Christians, writing off their faith completely and telling them they had to start over right from square one as new converts, knowing nothing in the faith. When Paul heard of this perception, he also felt sorry for their humiliation and bewilderment.
When Paul expresses to the Corinthians that he, too, has had heartache in this exchange, at the same time he teaches the Corinthians how to deal with the heartache that they felt–how to find comfort in all the doubt of “What is this my brother is saying?” And that comfort is of course in Christ.
But put yourself in the mind now that you have received 1 Corinthians; that it is addressed to you. Is it not a harsh letter? If you receive it from an apostle, would it not send tremors through your confidence of faith? So then, in 2 Corinthians, is Paul speaking of himself only, or of the Corinthians also, when he says:
We were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us […].
For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience […]. For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as you also have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus. [2 Corinthians 1:8-14]
If you are keeping the word of God, than your confidence and hope is in the word of God; not in the approval of an apostle, who does not ratify the truth but only brings the message, and not in the efficacy of your message if you are an apostle who has preached. For God surely will keep his own.
And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of oursleves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant […] Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. [2 Corinthians 3:4 – 4:1]
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed–always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body […].
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory […].
For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. [2 Corinthians 4:7 – 5:4]
Some perhaps may not understand what longing to leave the fleshly life has to do with hurt feelings. But if you take that the Corinthians genuinely loved Paul, and he them, then you may understand that few things can cause you to lift up your eyes to heaven and groan–few things would crush you, few things perplex you–like the rejection of a beloved, as both Paul and the Corinthians seemed somewhat to experience.
To see how all of this is of one thought, look how Paul begins to close this first half of his letter. Look at the terms he uses, “conscience” and “boasting,” just as he began with:
But we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are aof sound mind, it is for you. [2 Corinthians 5:11-13]
What then is this boasting? Joy, confidence, that in Paul’s anguish on their behalf, and theirs on his, they bear witness that they are of the same mind and of the same heart toward God, that each having concern for the other demonstrates the love of Christ. And more than any comfort we might have in this fellowship, the hope that this lovingcare was born in our hearts by Christ Jesus, who alone can transfrom all our sorrow into surpassing glory.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]