Lesson 42: "Our Hope of You is Steadfast" (II Corinthians 1:7)
II Corinthians 1:1-11
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles.. This is lesson #42. Welcome to Second Corinthians! Please turn your N.T. to the beginning of that book, Second Corinthians. As you begin to focus in on this book, spend a few moments trying to envision that summer day in A.D. 57 when Titus finally found Paul in Macedonia. Undoubtedly Paul had directed Titus to meet him in Troas (city #23, according to 2:13). But after waiting for some time Paul decided to go on ahead into Macedonia, possibly Philippi, Thessalonica or Berea before Titus arrived in Troas. I suppose Paul left a message at Troas with the brethren for Titus to come speedily on to wherever he went in Macedonia. Take time to glance at your map! Find Macedonia! Most of the commentators seem to think Paul went to Philippi (city #26). But, I can't find any reason to assume Philippi over Thessalonica or Berea (i.e., cities #28 and 29). However, I would agree it was most logically one of these three congregations and it conceivably could have been all three in some stated order. You'll have to use your own imagination as to Paul's reception upon arriving in Macedonia. These were congregations Paul had planted some 5 or 6 years earlier. I can imagine a lot of chicken dinners, a lot of conversation under the shade trees that summer, and a lot of preaching, probably in the evening hours in something like what we would call a gospel meeting. Paul and those old timers must have had a lot in common as they rehearsed old times back when those congregations were established. Paul must have had a lot of stories about his year and a half at Corinth, his trip over Galatia at the beginning of his third missionary journey and his work at Ephesus over the preceding three years. However, be that as it may; one day Titus showed up with his report on the Corinthian church. I can imagine Titus going on and on for hours and the candle burning short as Titus explained what happened when Paul's letter was read in the Corinthian congregation - tears, sadness, repentance, sobering announcements, then happiness and rejoicing. However, there were still problems with the Judaizing teachers and others of Paul's outspoken critics as we said in the introduction. As Titus explained these things, Paul must have held sharp eye contact with Titus for hours and hours. Both Titus and Paul must have been misty eyed several times during that conversation. They must have paused briefly for prayers at times. Paul himself described this occasion in 7:6 by saying, "God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me: so that I rejoiced the more."
Now, the reason I said all of that is to try to help you visualize and get a handle on Paul's evident frame of mind and his elated spirit that day as he began to dip his writing quill into a little vat of ink and started shaping his thoughts into symbols at the top of a prepared scroll. These are inspired thoughts that have been preserved by the Holy Spirit for our learning and for our admonition. In Greek symbols, the apostle's first sentence read: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." With that beginning, the apostle began to pour out his heart and affection for his brethren at Corinth. In v. 1-2 that we just read, we find pretty much the standard beginning that Paul used in most of his epistles. Keep in mind, this letter was written by Paul. Paul was an apostle. For obvious reasons here, this old soldier of the cross laid more than just ordinary emphasis upon the fact he was called by God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. Some at Corinth questioned Paul's apostleship, you'll remember. Thus, Paul not only clarified that point, he emphasized that his apostleship was not merely some self-styled title he had assumed on his own. Paul's apostleship was imposed by God. It was God's idea; it was "by the will of God." Do you see that? Paul also included Timothy's name at the beginning of this epistle as he did the name of Sosthenes at the beginning of First Corinthians. This does not mean Timothy and Sosthenes were apostles. These were men that were well known to the Corinthian congregation and men that had assisted Paul in the founding of the Corinthian congregation. Then, Paul addressed this book to "the church of God which is at Corinth." I believe it's significant here to observe as we did in the first epistle that this was a church of God. Thus, those Corinthian members (Paul was writing to ) were children of God or more simply - Christians. There was not one brand of religion at Corinth, another brand at Philippi, and still yet another brand at Ephesus. These congregations were all alike in faith and in doctrine and in practice. Oh, there were some rogues and some non-conformists and some misfits in all those congregations. Some were just simply not obeying God's commands through the apostle's instruction. That was the problem that brought about the occasion for these letters. God was not finished with them. It takes time and obedience to become like Jesus. And to put it very plain, some in those congregations were lost, no doubt. Some probably drifted too far and Satan swallowed them up. However, the thing you need to see here is that those congregations that Paul wrote to were just plain people that believed in Jesus Christ as God's Son. They were all believers baptized into Christ Jesus. Or to say it another way; they were citizens of God's kingdom. That word "saints" near the end of v.l means very simply: "separated" or "set apart." the Greek word for church is "ekklesia" which means simply in the Greek language - the assembled citizens of a community. So the church of God at Corinth simply embodied the Christians of that community. Notice in v.l, Paul wrote to "all the saints," not only in Corinth but "in all Achaia." In the sentences that followed, he used the word "comfort," "comforted" or "comforteth" about 15 times. I suppose one might say that's the theme of this book. Paul was comforted by Titus' message. The old apostle wanted to pass that comfort on to his brethren in Corinth. He wanted the Corinthians to share in that comfort. Second Corinthians is only about six tenths as long as the book of First Corinthians. Chapters are shorter. The average is about 19 or 20 verses per chapter as compared to nearly 30 verses in First Corinthians. Some say Second Corinthians is one of the hardest books in the New Testament to understand. I'm not trying to tell you ifs easy; but, I believe if you can catch on to Paul's mood of comfort and thanksgiving, it will go a long way in helping to decipher Paul's words on that scroll. Furthermore, it will begin to fill in some of the blanks as to why the Holy Spirit preserved this book for our admonition and our learning. First of all, the word "comfort" as used here many not coincide exactly with the way we use that word most often. Paul uses the word in association with suffering, affliction, burden and struggle. Today we talk about a comfortable home and a comfortable income and associate it with a rocking-chair-like atmosphere. That is not the thought when Paul used that word. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." Thus, in a sense, Christians are to continue and carry on the struggle and the suffering that began in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Take up your cross...", i.e., carry on the struggle. Obviously, one who truly does this may be overwhelmed at times. Paul was exasperated (with the Corinthians) in their lack of obedience. Paul not only suffered physically at Ephesus, he suffered mental anguish. In 11:28, after a great listing of physical sufferings, the apostle added, "Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." Through the providence of God, those who deny themselves in carrying on the great struggle that began in Christ Jesus look upon such relief as a great comfort. That's what Paul called "comfort."
Now, try to apply that thinking as we read together v.3-11. Let's read. "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound hi us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us: Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf." O.K., please turn the tape player off and re-read those 4 or 5 long sentences at least one more time. Spend a little time trying to understand exactly what Paul is saying. Many of you will never know what a burden you have been to those that are really spiritual, your parents and your friends, your brothers and sisters in Christ, who have labored and toiled in trying to nurture you, whose commitment never seemed to grow. You many never know how they glory and how they are comforted by your spiritual growth when Christ is formed in you. Ifs like removing a great burden, a great load from their shoulders as you take on real spiritual initiative. When Paul began to see and hear of real spiritual growth taking place in the Corinthian brethren by the report of Titus, Paul said he was comforted It was like removing a great load from his shoulders. In addition to all that burden Paul carried in trying to nurture the Corinthians and others, Paul was much abused physically by that riot at Ephesus and by his so-called fighting with those wild-beast-people in Asia and Ephesus (I Cor. 15:32). We don't know all the details here; but, here's the point: Paul says in effect, he could staunchly suffer physical abuse, if only die burdens of his brothers and sisters in Christ were removed. Thus, the report of Titus brought great relief and great comfort to Paul in this way. So, Paul said (v.6) "whether we be afflicted...or whether we be comforted, it is for your...salvation." My friend when we learn, really learn, heaven is real. Hell is real. And, when you mature to the point you can see it afar (as the song says) by the eye of faith; then and only then does the importance of salvation begin to bear down upon you. Now, move on to v.7. Paul said, "our hope of you is steadfast," i.e., finally Paul was convinced the Corinthians were beginning to mature in a spiritual way and to accept spiritual responsibility for their own actions. You see, as this burden of care and concern for the Corinthians was lifted from the shoulders of Paul and his co-workers; Paul realized these burdens were being shifted to the shoulders of the Corinthians themselves very much like the burden of child rearing shifts from one generation to the next generation through maturity...first a ma and then a grandma. It doesn't take long. So, in this way you see, Paul said in the middle of v.7, "ye are partakers of the sufferings," i.e., as the Corinthians began to evangelize in the true sense of that word, they were assuming Paul's burden in nurturing themselves. Back up to v.4, Paul said that since God had comforted him and his co-workers, Paul and his co-workers "may be able to comfort them." Then get a good grip on v.5. You see the sufferings that began in Christ are passed on from spiritual generation to spiritual generation and in this way all Christians are partakers of Christ's sufferings. And, just as we must suffer, we are consoled in Christ also as we see our spiritual children begin to mature in Christ. Then down hi v.8-11, Paul said in effect, that not only were he and his co-workers relieved and comforted by the report of Titus; they had just narrowly escaped death through the physical abuse inflicted upon them at Ephesus; but God had delivered them from death. Paul said (v.9) "we had the sentence of death in ourselves." Then the apostle said in effect: we didn't let these things shake us because we knew that all they could do was kill this old body we live hi, however, we know just as well that God can and will raise us from the dead. You see, even physical death doesn't get in the way of salvation. However, since they had been delivered from such a death as well to know the Corinthians were now obeying; they had all the more reason to rejoice and they were thus comforted even more. This outcome Paul considered a "gift" (v.ll) and he expressed appreciation for the prayers of the Corinthians and says that it may have been, partly at least, through their prayers that Paul and his colleagues were granted this "gift" from the heavenly Father. Paul could see the hand of God working hi these events.
So, please now if I might be so bold; re-read these verses again (v.3-11). Embedded into these verses is another side to Christianity that many professed Christians never seem to comprehend. They think of the bible as complete love and rest for every restless soul, with nothing but release and happiness. However, as I said before there is another side to Christianity. I hope it doesn't come as a shock or a surprise to you that the other side of discipleship can be very burdensome, even to the point of suffering mental anguish. Many folks I know seem to think and even teach that Christianity is some kind of a tranquilizer that puts you into a sort of fantasy world of sunlight protected from the cold and etching winds of reality. Don't be so naive. Get Paul's point of view. Real Christianity is not easy. What some look upon as burdensome: attending the services and studying their Bible are really the cake and ice cream of Christianity. They have missed the point so far they can't even understand Paul's words when he speaks of suffering and burdens and affliction, etc. Paul had a genuine concern for the Corinthians, as strong as the maternal instinct. Just as a mother who has suffered the trauma of birthing pains and sleepless nights nurturing her children to the age of self sufficiency also gets her greatest comfort from seeing her children mature and succeed and
repeat the same process Christians (on the other side of that suffering coin) enjoy a kind of "comfort" as Paul calls it, that cannot even be imagined by the weak and the faint hearted and the practitioners of tranquilizer Christianity that we have talked about O.K., I've got to hit the stop button; it is time to end this lesson. Have a good day!