1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. 6 If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.2nd Corinthians 1:1-7
Welcome to my new series on 2nd Corinthians. Please feel free to use this as a Bible study, a resource, or however God leads you to use any insight I may have. Personally, I feel that 2 Corinthians is a gold mine of inspiration and hope in the pandemic, and I hope it speaks to your heart. You can also just listen via youtube:
If there is a key word or concept I want you to latch on to today, it is the idea of consolation that Paul used throughout these 7 verses. In the end, all our challenges, even God’s correction, brings us to a place where we can experience God’s consolation that comes through the in-working of His Holy Spirit.
Paul opens in verse 1, as one typical does in a letter, by identifying himself. Please note here that he also identifies Timothy as well. This is important. You see, in the ancient world, you didn’t open a letter with a greeting from other unless they were family, or unless they also had a hand in forming the message being sent. There is no doubt that Paul’s genius was used by God in this letter, but being the church is a team sport. In fact, go back and read the openings and closings of all Paul’s letters, and you will see a pattern: he readily identifies others in his ministry who have a hand in shaping the message. What an important corrective this insight might be to Christians in North America fixated on big name faces and personalities. Humility is always key.
Paul names those the letter is written to, and that is the house churches in Corinth, and throughout Achaia. A quick note: Corinth was very wealthy, and filled with the new rich who spent a great deal of time trying to flash their money around in order to show them to be a good Roman colony that tried to outdo Rome itself in being Roman. The region of Achaia was part of this complex of wealth, all due to the business brought by shipping. This is important because wealth, status, and all that social finery plays a huge role in why this community is so troublesome.
He goes on in verse three by ascribing praise to God, a typical fashion in letter writing in those days. Interestingly, however, he uses the formula, “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation.” This is important because this was a typical ascription of praise of God, naming God’s most important attributes. Please, please note here: God’s most important attributes aren’t his wrath, judgment, or anger, contrary to theological fashion. No, God’s most important qualities are His mercy and compassion. God is merciful, and God consoles the broken and downhearted, and has a heart for the vulnerable. Read Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18, Nehemiah 9:17, Jonah 4:2. The list could go on and on.
But here is where we pick up the pace, and you really need to track this one word: console, consoled, or consolation. As we see in verse 3, God is a consoling God, and in verse 4, God is for us, and consoles us when we are afflicted. Having been consoled by God in our affliction, we console others undergoing the same thing with the grace God gave us. In other words, God’s consolation to us becomes a source of comfort and healing for the world.
I cannot stress how dynamite these two verses are, for you see, the word in Greek for console, or consolation comes from the root, parakaleo, from which we get the word, Paraclete, or the way Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as Comforter in John 14:16. The Holy Spirit is the Comforter who convicts of sin, and unites us to Christ so that we might be healed.
This is what Paul is about in verse 5 when he talks about Christ’s sufferings being present in us. God the Father has sent the Son so that through his life, death, and resurrection, we might be united to his new, resurrection life through the Holy Spirit to that we might be healed. As we are healed, God’s presence in the Spirit in us heals the world, and it is the hope of glory. Go see Colossians 1:27.
Here we go right into verse 6. Paul points out that any suffering he has experienced in their rocky relationship, it serves the ultimate purpose of not only healing Paul, but healing them as well. This is the process of God’s reconciliation. We suffer together in hope that we will be more than the sum of our sufferings and conflicts.
Here, I end this study with a final reflection. I don’t think it is possible to read these opening lines with any attention to detail and come away with the conclusion that the work of Christ and salvation in his name is just about us, and being whisked away to heaven when we die. This isn’t an escape plan.
No, instead, I think this opening salvo from Paul shows how messy the work of salvation is. Christ came into the deep brokenness of the world, not to condemn it, as John tells us in John 3:17, but instead, to save it. To save all of us. To renew us, to redeem us, and to heal us.
But healing takes time, and it is often painful. In short, the work of grace ultimately produces the fruit of long-suffering and patience, with ourselves, with each other, and with God. Along the way, as the messy places become healed places, we receive his peace and consolation, and we become ground zero of Christ reconciling work in the world.