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2 Corinthians 1:1-7 meaning

Paul writes his second letter to the church at Corinth. He greets the believers there with blessings of grace and peace. He shares some of his own sufferings for the sake of the gospel, but declares that we have a God of mercies who will comfort us in the measure of our sufferings. We will be delivered in these sufferings by a God who raises the dead.

Paul begins his letter by listing himself and a second author: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother (v 1). The church at Corinth was planted by Paul (see Acts 18). He spent eighteen months planting and establishing the church there. As Acts 18 explains, he began in the house of Titius Justus, whose house was next door to the Jewish synagogue. There is no record of how many "house churches" were established or how many followers of Christ there were when Paul left Corinth, but Acts 18:8 gives some insight,

"Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his household, and many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized."
(Acts 18:8)

Corinth was located in Achaia (Greece) and was situated on the Isthmus of Corinth (see map). It was served by two nearby seaports: Cenchrea to the east and Lechaion to the west. It was on a major trade route between the Aegean and Ionian seas. It was an ancient city, dating from perhaps 800 B.C. The Romans had destroyed the city in 146 B.C. However, Julius Caesar reestablished Corinth as a Roman Colony in 44 B.C. By the time Paul arrived, probably around AD 50, Corinth could be considered one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire, along with Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. 

As we will discover later in the letter, Paul declaring himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus was an intentional and controversial description. After Paul left Corinth and the church developed and grew, there were "growing pains" and we can see some of these "pains" addressed in the first letter he wrote to the church at Corinth. 

After perhaps receiving reports as to the acceptance of his first letter, Paul was made aware of other, outside influences that were causing confusion and concern in the church. Some of those influences were directed at Paul personally; in particular, some were contesting whether his apostolic authority was genuine. Accordingly, the second letter to the Corinthians is perhaps the most personal letter that we have recorded from Paul that is written to a church. His personal integrity (2 Corinthians 1:12-24) and his authority as an apostle (Chapter 4) were being called into question by these outsiders.

We see in I Corinthians that Paul defended his apostleship, presumably from those who questioned his authority. It seems the attack he defended against was that he was not a "real" apostle because he funded his own ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2-12). 

Apostle is a word that refers to one who is sent as a messenger and implies that the one who does the sending is a recognized authority. In the church of the first century, the usage of the word apostle in a biblical context was mostly used to apply to the twelve apostles designated and chosen by Jesus. However, the Greek word translated apostle ("apostolos") is also translated "sent" as in John 16:13. Context determines when "apostle" refers to those whom Jesus appointed as His "sent ones" (Luke 6:13). 

Paul saw his authority as a commissioned apostle coming directly from Jesus. Paul's partner in ministry, Luke, recorded this commission in Acts 9:15-16, as Jesus said to Ananias about Saul (Paul): 

"Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake."
(Acts 9:15-16)

Paul describes his own apostleship to the church at Corinth in his first letter: 

"For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me."
(1 Corinthians 15:9)

By introducing himself as Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (v 1). Paul is refuting any claims that he is some sort of self-proclaiming Apostle. Rather, in the providence of the will of God, Christ Jesus is the one who sent Paul as an apostle to "the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." (Acts 9:15

Paul adds and Timothy our brother; Timothy is listed as a coauthor/co-sender of the letter. Timothy was a brother and colleague in the mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus, but he was not designated as an apostle. Timothy had been with Paul in the establishment of the church in Corinth (Acts 18:5) and had made recent visits on behalf of Paul to the church (1 Corinthians 4:17, 16:10). Paul was affirming the validity of Timothy's ministry among the Corinthians as well as his own apostolic authority.

He begins: To the church of God which is at Corinth (v 1). This phrase is also packed with meaning. We probably see a wide variety of names every day as we pass the different churches in our community. Paul uses this phrase in both letters in the greetings to the Corinthian church, but he does not use this particular designation—church of God—in any of his other epistles to churches. We can infer from this that Paul seeks to emphasize that the gathering of believers in Corinth is of people who are called together by God

The Greek word for church is "ekklesia," which literally means "the called-out ones." The word was used in secular Greek for some kinds of political groups that were "called-out" to assemble at meetings (such as to vote) or even in societies. Also, as we will see later in this letter, the church in Corinth had allowed the culture of the day to influence their thinking. It seems Paul's intent here might have been to remind the Corinthians that they had a high and special calling, having been called out by God.

Whatever the reason for Paul to call attention To the church of God, we can be reminded that the church is instituted by God, built by God, sustained by God, blessed by God, and filled with the glory of God. The church is made up of all who have believed on Jesus; those who have been born again by receiving the free gift of being justified in God's sight (John 3:3, 15-16). Paul here is addressing those who have believed on Jesus and who are dwelling in the city of Corinth

Paul addresses the letter To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia (v 1)

We might be surprised at the use of the word saints, particularly in light of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth, a church plagued with overt sin and dysfunction within the body. An alternate translation is "holy ones." The word "holy ones" can be applied to anyone who has believed on Jesus, because it is the blood of Jesus that has made them holy in God's sight. 

Those who believe in Jesus are made holy because they are placed into the Body of Christ. It is Jesus who makes them holy in the sight of God. It is not because of any deeds. All that is required to be born into God's family is to have enough faith to look upon Jesus, hoping to be healed of the poisonous venom of sin (John 3:15-16). Each believer is holy in God's sight. Paul is writing this letter to encourage the believers in Corinth to live out their identity in their daily lives, that they might experience the great benefits of living in the power of God rather than walking in sin. 

As Paul adds the phrase who are throughout Achaia, he is writing to all of the believers in Christ in the region called Achaia (see map). He is not talking of a spiritual elite when he says saints in this context. Rather, he is seeing the church as those who are part of the Body of Christ—that is, all who have believed. 

It is interesting to note that the word saints in the New Testament is always in the plural except when it is used in description of Jesus Christ. Most of us would be uncomfortable if an epistle was written to the church of God at Los Angeles, New York, or Dallas with all the saints who are throughout the city's respective state. But, again the context of the use of saints here refers to all those who have been made righteous in the sight of God through receiving the free gift of Jesus's righteousness, received by faith (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

In our current era it is sometimes popular to refer to the church as being a bunch of sinners saved by grace. That is similar to what Paul said of first century believers, as Paul writes to the Ephesians 2:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
(Ephesians 2:8-9)

One of the key verses in the second letter to the Corinthians says:

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

This asserts that anyone who has believed on Jesus is "in Christ" and has become a new creation in Christ. Since all believers are now "in Christ," we have moved from the "old things" (sinner) to the "new things" (saints) in God's sight. Both of Paul's letters to the church at Corinth are pleas, encouragements, and admonishments to live up to and live out the calling of the church "in Christ." 

Paul exhorts his disciples to live out their spiritual reality into the physical world. Jesus gifted to them new life, Paul exhorts them to live that into their physical experience. To live and walk by faith in this manner is the way to experience real life (connection with God's design) rather than death (separation from God's design). Life (as an experience) is to live in harmony with God's design, for humans to live in love and service to one another (Matthew 22:37-39). Death (as an experience) is to live consistent with the world and according to its values of exploitation and abuse. 

The Apostle Peter also gives us a picture of what we are and ought to be "in Christ":

 "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
(1 Peter 2:9)

A major theme in scripture is that we have been fully accepted into God's family by His grace. This is without condition; it is a free gift, given because of God's love (John 3:16). God will never reject His children from being members of His family. 

However, although our acceptance into God's family is given unconditionally, to be approved by God requires walking in obedience. Just as a human parent should not approve their child's behavior if it is self-destructive, God does not approve or reward self-destructive behavior among His children. Sin is walking apart from God's commands, and leads to an experience of death, which is separation from God's (good) design (Romans 6:23). 

Paul continues his greeting of the Corinthians with Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (v 2). We might assume that this is just a greeting, not much different than meeting someone nowadays and saying, "How are you?" However, here it is possible he was using a play-on-words as the usual Greek word for "hello" is "charein" and Paul begins with the Greek word for grace which is "charis." 

His use of the word grace is packed with rich meaning. It is by the grace of God through Christ that the saints can continue to experience the forgiveness and cleansing of sin and to live in the certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Grace means favor. We can see this in verses such as:

"And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor ["charis"] with God and men."
(Luke 2:52)

God bestows His favor upon anyone who has faith in Jesus to forgive them of their sins (John 3:14-15)—in this case His favor is through delivering them from the deadly venom of sin, and birthing them anew to become a child of God. This is the grace of new birth. 

God also bestows favor upon those who walk in obedience to His word. This is the favor of eternal rewards; what Jesus referred to as "treasure in heaven" (Matthew 19:21). God's favor is always a matter of His mercy, for there is no standard that is above Him. No one can demand anything from God, for He is not accountable to any standard. 

When scripture speaks of rewards from God for faithful service, such rewards from God are still a matter of His grace, for God alone decides what He approves. This letter from Paul is written to believers, and he will warn them to take care how they live, for each person will face the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). 

For many people, even followers of Christ, peace is a rather benign word or thought. Peace is often thought of as the absence of hostilities or some kind of respite from troubling circumstances. However, in Paul's greeting and blessing of peace, there is much more. The Jewish idea of "shalom" (peace) is a broad concept that means all things are working in harmony with their created design. The Jews use "shalom" as a greeting even to this day. 

This idea of peace as all things working in harmony with God's (good) design can be seen in various applications within scripture. Jesus says:

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you."
(John 14:27)

The peace of God is not like the peace of the world. The peace of God is from God. Paul picks up on this in Philippians, when he writes:

"And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 4:7)

The peace that Paul uses here has its roots in the Old Testament greetings and meaning of "shalom." It is a peace linked not so much to our circumstances, but rather a transcendent well-being. In Paul's letter to the church at Colossae, he writes:

 "through Him [Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross."
(Colossians 2:20

No matter what may be taking place in the world and in our lives, we may experience a sense of well-being through the presence of Christ in us and who we are in Christ. This peace always carries with it a sense of righteousness, which is being in harmony with God's (good) design for His creation. Though Paul is bringing the greetings to the church, he is only a messenger to point them to the source of grace and peace—which is From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (v 2).

Paul follows this statement of the source of grace and peace with a blessing on that source. He adds Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (v 3)

It was not uncommon for letters (also known as epistles) in Paul's day to carry a praise or blessing, which Paul includes in this verse. He is beginning to come to the main content of the letter, but he wants his readers to understand that what follows, while in many ways personal, is based and grounded in Christ. God is sovereign in all things and we know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is not only our savior, He is also our Lord. To be a lord means to be ruler and sovereign over all. Because Jesus was faithful and learned obedience, He was given all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18). 

God is not only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He is also The Father of mercies. All grace, mercy, and compassion come from the Father and as Paul begins to introduce his themes of comfort and "affliction," he wants his readers to know the source of comfort, which is the Father. True comfort does not come from circumstances. True comfort does not stem from the Apostle Paul. God is the God of all comfort. 

Here and in the following verses, Paul's use of the word comfort is from the Greek word "paracletos." Jesus used this word when He promised to send the Holy Spirit: 

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper [Paracletos, Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you."
(John 16:7

True comfort is not found in circumstances or other people. True comfort comes from the person of God. Jesus sent His Spirit to dwell within us and be our comforter. 

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." This makes clear that it is God that gives true comfort, not circumstances. 

This statement, and the above mentioned saying of Jesus in John's Gospel referring to the Holy Spirit as the "comforter," gives us context for Paul's use of the word comfort in the next verses of Chapter 1. 

The Father is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction (vv 3b-4a)

As we see in John 16:7, the Holy Spirit "paracletos" is one who is given by God to be our advocate, intercessor, and comforter. One of the alternate meanings of comfort in the current Webster's dictionary is "contented well-being, a life of ease and comfort." This reflects our culture's concept of happiness or comfort being based on material prosperity, or circumstantial ease. Paul is speaking of something wholly different; he is speaking of spiritual condition that completely transcends circumstances. 

When Jesus, and now Paul, use the word "comfort" it is important to understand the context in which the word is used, and apply the understanding that Paul and Jesus refer to the spiritual condition that transcends physical circumstances. Paul will make it clear that those who follow Christ in full obedience, seeking His reward, will encounter "afflictions" and "sufferings"—the opposite of physical comfort. This is another of the many great paradoxes in scripture; the way of true (spiritual) comfort is through (physical) suffering. 

This was likely not a popular reminder to the church at Corinth, nor is it welcome to the church of any age. None of us welcome physical discomfort. When Paul says the Father is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, he is presenting the reality that the affliction we experience may largely be difficulties that stem directly from being faithful witnesses who choose to follow Christ, walking in obedience to His commands. 

This idea might be difficult for many to swallow. It is a human tendency to seek God's aid to alleviate physical discomfort. This is fine, as there are many instances in scripture where God provides such comfort. However, Paul is speaking here of something that transcends physical circumstances, it is comfort that occurs in all our afflictions, rather than comfort in being delivered from affliction. 

God's comfort is not something that comes and goes. It is something that is always present. Since God's comfort is always present, regardless of circumstances, we are not only spiritually comforted, we can also comfort others: 

So that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (v 4)

Paul is opening himself to the Corinthians in a personal manner so that they may be able to see the bigger picture. He will in this letter soon defend his own apostleship against detractors seeking to displace his influence. Given that Paul is defending his apostolic authority, we might expect him to

present himself in a more conquering light. 

If he now admits that he shares in "afflictions" and "sufferings," might these not be signs of weakness? 

It would be natural to think that if Paul has the great apostolic authority he claims, then he would not suffer or be afflicted. We might expect that God would deliver any such man of great faith from these hindrances to the advancement of the gospel. 

Paul, however, doubles down on these statements regarding his own suffering by declaring For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ (v 5)

This brings to mind Paul's letter to the Philippians when he says, "that I may know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). 

It is this fellowship with Christ in suffering His sufferings that he is describing in II Corinthians. Paul understands and teaches his followers that it is through enduring the sufferings of Christ together with Him that we also share in the reward of His inheritance (Romans 8:17b, Revelation 3:21). 

Many of us as followers of Christ would be excited for or readily anticipate experiencing the "power of His resurrection." But this power is demonstrated through the "fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). Paul has just said in verse 5, For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. We will see some severe physical sufferings vividly described in Chapter 11. But this "fellowship" with the sufferings of Christ is more than just physical. 

Much of the suffering that Christ suffered was rejection by those whom He came to serve (John 1:11, Hebrews 12:2). To walk in Christ is to walk apart, or be sanctified, from the world and its ways (1 John 2:15-17). The world is a harsh master, demanding full obedience. It rejects those who do not follow its ways (Matthew 6:24, John 7:7, 15:18, 17:25). 

Some of the abundance that Paul mentions in the sufferings of Christ, Paul will set forth in this letter. They will include physical persecution (2 Corinthians 11:22-23). The sufferings will also include "conflicts" and "fears" (2 Corinthians 7:5). We will see that following Christ will continue to lead us along this road to walk apart from the world, and accordingly "sufferings" and "afflictions" will not cease in this life. At a minimum, it is inevitable that our outer body will decay (2 Corinthians 4:16, 5:1-2). 

That is why Paul goes on to say so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. Paul will speak of a series of things that provide him comfort. Of chief importance in his comfort will be the knowledge he has, by faith, that all his suffering for Christ will receive the greatest of rewards. He says it this way:

"For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."
(2 Corinthians 4:17)

We will see that the "eternal weight of glory" Paul looks forward to has multiple applications. But all are rooted in a deep faith that God will greatly reward our obedient walk of faith in this life, far beyond all comprehension (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

It is of the greatest comfort to know that what we are suffering has a purpose—that it will result in something good. Part of the good that stems from suffering occurs in this life. It provides us the opportunity to invest in others:

But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation, or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort (v 6)

If the Corinthian believers are looking for comfort that will make their "afflictions" and "sufferings" go away, they will not see these as something that God uses in their mission of salvation

When we see the word salvation or "save" it is important to ask "What is being delivered from what?"

We can see this in verses like Mark 5:34, where the Greek word "sozo" (which is often rendered "save") is translated "well" referring to a woman being delivered from illness:

 "And He [Jesus] said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has made you well ["sozo"]; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.'"
(Mark 5:34)

Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth and calls them "saints" because they have all believed on Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:1). They came to saving faith, being justified in God's sight, through Paul's direct ministry (1 Corinthians 9:2). Therefore, they have no further need to be saved from separation from being a member of God's family, for they have been born again. 

The thing they need to be saved from in this context is the discouragement of living in difficulties that can lead us astray. The world tries to beat believers down so we will despair of walking in faith. The world wants us to conclude, "It just isn't worth it." Paul will set forth in this letter that walking as a faithful witness to Christ, enduring rejection of the world, is more than worth it. In fact it leads us to "an eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

It is difficult for the athlete to endure the toil of training, and it is the hope of "glory" of the victory of competition that spurs them on. In the same manner, Paul will give us great comfort that there is a victory of a better and enduring sort than a mere trophy that awaits all who walk in obedience to Jesus's commands. 

Through his being afflicted, Paul seeks to lead his disciples to comfort and salvation. In this case the comfort is likely from seeing Paul prospering spiritually although suffering at the hands of the world. The salvation the Corinthian believers can experience through observing Paul's affliction is to be delivered from fear of suffering at the hands of the world.

Any suffering can lead believers to doubt God and question His provision. Paul intends that his witness of being strengthened through suffering and his resolve being elevated through affliction will encourage and build up the Corinthians. Through Paul's example they can learn and avoid the temptation to doubt their own experience with Christ. The evil one will plant the thought in our minds, "If I were really following Christ, then these things would not come my way." We know this directly because the book of Job tells us that this is one of Satan's key deceptions. 

Now, however, Paul shares his experience with them in saying if we are comforted, it is for your comfort. We can comfort you, he says, because we realize these "afflictions" and "sufferings" are a part of God's plan and purpose. God is using these difficulties to conform us to His image (Romans 8:28-29). In suffering the world's rejection through our faithful obedience, we seek the rewards of Christ (Philippians 2:5-10, Revelation 3:21). 

Paul now offers a definition of your comfort—Paul says it is that Which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer (v 6). True comfort in suffering comes about through realizing that they are a means to an end. They are leading us to an "eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). Therefore, we can embrace these sufferings with a measure of patient enduring. It is akin to an athlete experiencing the discomfort of training for an event.

Patient enduring is not something experienced often in the developed world of the 21st century. We live in a world of great convenience; we flip a switch and the light comes on. We don't have to fill the lamp, trim the wick, then ignite and tend the flame in order to get light. We get annoyed if the internet connection takes ten seconds to connect us to a vast store of human knowledge, because we are accustomed to instant access. 

It is natural to transpose this experience upon God. We can expect Him to be a "genie in a bottle" or a "cosmic vending machine" whereby we appease Him in some way in order to gain our wish. So when we think of "comfort" we tend to think of making the "affliction" or "suffering" go away. 

Paul here says the opposite. He says we have gone through these same sufferings and we have through patient enduring experienced the comfort of God as He has come alongside us. We have the opportunity to be like Paul and be guided through the sufferings. It is then that we can, by faith, see His purpose be accomplished. It may be that we see God's purpose accomplished, at least in part, in this life. More often it seems that suffering will see its purpose accomplished in the next life; in an "eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

Thus, knowing that his suffering is a testimony that allows his Corinthian disciples to follow his example, Paul can say and our hope for you is firmly grounded (v 7). The hope Paul refers to is the hope that the Corinthians will be sharers of our comfort. Paul says this hope is firmly grounded. The phrase firmly grounded could also be translated steadfast. This could be both because of Paul's unwavering faith in God's promise and provision, as well as his faith in the Corinthians. 

Paul expresses his hope for the Corinthians: Knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (v 7). Paul desires the Corinthian disciples to see that the difficulties they are enduring make them sharers of our sufferings. The our here would presumably include Paul and Timothy (2 Corinthians 1:1). 

Even though it is doubtful the Corinthians were experiencing the degree of difficulty which Paul suffered (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-29), Paul apparently considers that all suffering for Jesus falls into the same category. Paul does not say "my suffering is greater than yours so I am more holy." Rather, he considers that any suffering for the name of Christ is being sharers of our sufferings. Therefore, if they share his suffering, they are also sharers of Paul's comfort. 

His experience of being comforted by God in the midst of his sufferings and seeing the resurrection power of Jesus that he references in 2 Corinthians 1:9 becomes the firm foundation of his hope. And it is in this confident hope that Paul and his Corinthian disciples can gain comfort. The comfort comes through faith in the certain outcome we gain through the promise of God.

Paul is encouraging the Corinthian believers to look and see that with "afflictions" and "sufferings" will come the comfort of God. That comfort comes from hope in God's power, and in God's promises (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

Some of the comfort Paul refers to will likely come from God through Paul and Timothy. All such comfort ultimately comes through the Comforter Himself, the Holy Spirit. Paul gives the open invitation to the church to be sharers of our sufferings as well as sharers of our comfort. To share both in Paul's sufferings as well as in his comfort, which leads to patient endurance of suffering, is the path to gain the incredible reward of the "eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). 

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