In yesterday’s lesson we saw that although Paul’s letter had been well received by the Corinthians, there were still some problems. Apparently people had come to Corinth who were not altogether unlike those who had come to Galatia and had caused trouble there earlier. They were speaking against Paul particularly, saying that he was not really an apostle and that he certainly was not a faithful minister. These troublemakers also accused Paul of theft. They said that when he was collecting money for the poor of Jerusalem, he was really collecting for himself, thus growing rich at the Corinthians’ expense. All sorts of evil and unjust things were said about him.It is hard to imagine a man with the character we know Paul possessed being accused of fickleness, but that is exactly what the troublemakers did. They said Paul had told the Corinthians that he was going to come to see them, but then failed to come. As a result, Paul wrote this second letter, and these accusations were one of the things he addressed.
In our study, we are going to look closely at the first 11 verses, especially verses 3 through 11, where Paul speaks of the comfort that God gives to us in our suffering. This flows directly out of what I just mentioned. As I looked through a variety of commentaries on 2 Corinthians, I noticed that people have difficulty knowing how to outline this particular portion of the book. The book is hard to outline anyway because it is what we would call an “incidental letter,” which means that Paul wrote as the thoughts of his heart unfolded. This letter does not have the same kind of logical consistency that Romans does, for example. But that does not mean that it does not have an outline.
Many of the commentaries I looked at place verses 3 through 11 as part of the introduction, because Paul did that in some of his other letters. He frequently gave a formal introduction: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the saints at….” Then he would proceed with another little section, also introductory in nature. It is probably because of this particular format that so many of the commentators refer to these verses as an introduction.
However, I think Philip Hughes is right in his commentary. He said that this is not an introduction, but, rather, it is the first part of Paul’s argument. Paul starts right from the beginning to explain why it is he did not come to visit. Then, at the end of the chapter, he explains that he did not come because he did not want to cause them difficulty. That is a perfectly valid reason, also.But here in these opening verses, he explains that the reason he did not get to Corinth was that he experienced great difficulties in Asia, some kind of severe suffering that he does not fully explain. He wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Here is the Apostle Paul engaged in God’s work. Nevertheless, he is so distressed by suffering in the province of Asia that he despaired even for his life.
We look at our lives, and we say, “Things didn’t go very well this morning. I am having difficulty with someone at work. And that pain in my back is still bothering me. Things are so bad in my life.” Here is the Apostle Paul, this great saint of God, enduring all that has happened to him. It makes our daily troubles fade by comparison.It is interesting that an apostle engaged in God’s work was the one who experienced this suffering. It is important because it says that God allows things to come into our lives for a variety of reasons. I have looked at the subject in Scripture from time to time because, like any pastor, I often talk to people who are suffering from one calamity or another. A question they ask–and ask rightly–is this: “Why is this particular thing happening to me?” Or someone who has lost a member of their family, someone close to them–a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter–says, “Why did this happen to me?” Or they have lost their job and they say, “Why should I be the one who loses my job? Here I am trying to live as a Christian. I’m trying to do the right thing. Why did this happen?”