2 Corinthians 1:1-11
Whatever contextual confusion there may be in this letter, it begins with the typical opening of a first century letter written in the Greek style. Paul identifies himself as the author, along with Timothy, and addresses the contents to the church at Corinth. He continues into the second part of the greeting with a thanksgiving for the recipients as he does in all of his New Testament letters, with the exception of the one he wrote to the Galatians.
This is where the similarities with the others begins to end.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (1:3-7)
Do you see what is different here? Paul wins the prize for most uses of the word “comfort” in a single paragraph, six times as a noun and four times as a verb in this one paragraph. I might as well tell you now, he uses it five times more as a noun, and twelve times more as a verb in this letter: Clearly, “comfort” will be a big issue in 2 Corinthians.
I think it’s safe for us to assume right off the bat that Paul has gone through some troubles recently, and so have the Corinthians, and although things have been rough, God has provided them with the comfort they needed through trials. As Paul continues in the next paragraph, he makes reference to something more specific:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (1:8)
Clearly something has happened, but what? Just as clearly, the Corinthians knew all about it, and since they were familiar with the subject, Paul did not need to spell it out, leaving us in the dark. Naturally there are theories about this, but in the end, we cannot know precisely what Paul is talking about, and maybe that’s for our benefit, for what is really important, the aspect of this that is enduring for all ages, is that even though Paul has gone through a time that caused to him to despair, God provided for his needs spiritually, and Paul came out the other side of his troubles stronger in faith than before, and since “comfort” seems to be the word of the day, we can surely take comfort reading this.
All of us endure trials in this life, trials that seem so big, sometimes they may seem bigger than can be endured; hopeless even. Yet our God, the God of all comfort will see us through.
Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (1:9-11)
It seems to me that this is the greatest lesson Paul learned in his trials: But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (9b) We want to rely on ourselves, it is normal, it is natural to want to rely upon ourselves. Yet, self-reliance, even though it is often a very good thing, can also be a danger. After the resurrection of Jesus, many came to accept the gospel, yet many more preferred to rely on their own strength to keep the Law which ultimately brought about their destruction. Our faith in God is our hope, our strength. Some might see this as weakness, but in our weakness God is strong, and it would certainly appear that Paul is giving testimony to this great fact so that we will take it to heart.