Thoughts from 2nd Corinthians
There are a couple of points in 2nd Corinthians that I thought I’d mention this morning. The first comes from chapter one, verses 3 to 7:
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 have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 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.
I am reading from the NIV.
We are all familiar with the ‘one body’ idea that underlies our fellowship. The passage I have just read has an interesting twist on that subject. “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 have received from God.” When we receive some blessing from the hand of God, when we receive some comfort, that comfort can be used to help others. It’s almost like when somebody in your family gets a lot of money from an insurance policy. That money doesn’t just benefit the direct recipient; it can be passed on to family members as well.
That’s not a desperately accurate simile. It is more that we can look at the troubles that have afflicted our brothers and sisters, and look at they way God has helped with those problems, or that God has used those problems for a positive outcome. We can then have our own faith strengthened by seeing how God works in the lives of others.
I don’t think even that quite encompasses what Paul is saying. There is also the implication that when we are strengthened by the hand of God, we could and should use that strength to help others.
“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.” Because the sufferings and the comfort we receive are shared among us they help to bind us together, both from mutual support, and by looking at the hand of God in others lives.
Continuing at verse 12:
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. Indeed, in our hearts we felt 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. 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 favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
Paul and his party had been in a great deal of danger while they were in Asia. It was actually too much pressure, beyond what Paul thought he could bear. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” Some time afterwards, when Paul was writing to the Corinthians, he knew the reason why he and his companions had suffered: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
For whatever reason, before his troubles in Asia, Paul was not depending completely on God. Even Paul, even after he had started his ministry, needed to be taught to depend on God. From time to time we all put our trust in the princes of men rather than God. There is no doubt, we shouldn’t be doing that, but great people, such as Paul during his ministry, have done the same. Yes, it is a failing, but it is not a fatal one. Once again we see how God is prepared to work with us, taking our willingness and helping us to build up strengths, rather than condemning us outright for our weaknesses.
Paul got through his troubles in Asia successfully, but he didn’t learn to trust a God who was some sort of vending machine, giving out whatever the user wanted. He came to trust “God, who raises the dead”.
The important lesson that Paul learned was that, no matter what happened to him, he could rely God raising the dead. When you set the prospect of eternal life against virtually anything else, all troubles pale into insignificance.
I have worked much harder,[says Paul in chapter 11] been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
I think, by any standards, Paul had a heck of a hard time. He was worked hard, beaten, imprisoned and stoned. Through these troubles, Paul learned to trust God. Not just any God, but a God who raises the dead.
Paul experienced all this trouble so that he would rely on God and not himself. Imagine the strength that must have given him, the courage – and imagine the humility. Chapter 12, verses 7 to 10.
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul’s weaknesses were what made him depend on God, and it was when he was depending on God that he was truly strong.
And finally, my second point – a short one. As we know, when Paul was at Corinth he supported himself rather than relying on the ecclesia to supply him. This seems to have put some noses out of joint. He writes, at verse 13:
How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you.
“What I want is not your possessions but you.”
In 1st Corinthians, we read about how the Corinthians were getting the breaking of bread confused with a literal feast, and how this was causing problems within the ecclesia. Maybe Paul didn’t want to accept financial support from them because that would have caused similar difficulties. Whatever his reasons, Paul did not want to accept financial support from them. He wanted the fellowship of his brothers and sisters in Corinth. He didn’t want their things, he wanted them.
What a beautifully succinct way of describing fellowship.