1 – The one-word theme of 2 Corinthians is: SUFFERING. Paul’s opponents sought to discredit his ministry by pointing to all of his suffering as though it meant God was dealing harshly with him. Paul instead shows how suffering is so important to the life of the Christian and our ministry one to another. We will not serve God one iota past what we are willing to suffer in serving Him. Those who want to serve Christ without suffering or who want to preach a Christianity devoid of suffering, distance themselves from the Lord who suffered for them. If suffering is automatically a sign of God’s displeasure or failure in the Christian life – then Jesus was the most miserable failure of all. This necessary theme is expanded upon by Peter in his first epistle.
2 – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
RAF: Christians are not as much repositories for God’s riches, as conduits. Many would like to be useful in ministering to others while at the same time failing to realize that God’s primary way of equipping us for that work – is in meeting OUR need SO that we can then meet another’s. If we are unwilling to need His comforts – the comforts which become ours in the midst and aftermath of suffering – then we need not be surprised if we have nothing to give to anyone else. His blessings pass to and thus through us to others. He does not give us what WE do not need to give to others – but binds us to others by means of the need and His supply in it. It is those who have been comforted in their grief, who are best enabled to minister Christ to the grief of others. Those who have found His supply in want, His support in trial, His peace in the storm and His presence in abandonment and lonliness – then have Him to share with others in the very same circumstances. It is amusing how we pray for faith, but then do not want any trials where we actually have to trust Him for anything. We will plead with Him for opportunities to minister to others, but are unwilling to have needs He has to meet in us first, so that we can truly minister Him and not ourselves to those in like need. It is when we’ve been comforted, that we can best bring Him as comfort to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We could add here that this then exposes the first foundation of any true Gospel ministry in evangelism as well. We are not equipped to call others to flee to Christ for salvation, if we have not known our own sinfulness, and fled to Him for mercy and grace ourselves. It is Heaven’s economy that those who call men to Christ, are those who first know their own desperate need of Him – and how He has met that need by His death at Calvary. Unregenerate preachers are an abomination. Like nurses with numb hands trying to be tender to burn victims in excruciating pain.
3 – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (ESV) For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
RAF: There is a vast difference between despairing of life or of a situation ever changing for the better, and yielding up to despair altogether. Christians are not required to be unrealistic in their assessments – either for the good or the bad. It is not faithlessness to be in a position where you say – “this does not look like it will ever get any better.” In fact, our unwillingness to accept certain unchangeable realities can bring us to the utmost frustration and defeat. Faithlessness, is seeing the situation, and forgetting that “this” – here and now, is not THE end – imagining that there is NO future whatever. Faithlessness fails to insert the sure hope of the resurrection into the equation. It stops with the circumstances. Paul points to the impossible place he was in with his companions, and then demonstrates how in it, indeed by means of it – God was getting them to look beyond the immediate, and remember that the God who raises the dead is the One above it all. And that if nothing changes here and now – in THAT day, it will. We may be so utterly devoid of resources as to despair that we will even make it through the present circumstance alive. And if we do not – our God will raise us up on the last day. And that is where our hope rests.
4 – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 (ESV) For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
RAF: Paul places no weight on enjoying great comforts or earthly, external trappings as somehow indicating God’s favor. What he prizes is how he has been enabled to live in all of life’s circumstances:
a. With a conscience right before God;
b. Having behaved – conducted himself – in simplicity: sticking to the necessary essentials;
c. and living in sincerity – plain, straightforward transparency, not needing to hide anything;
d. Not reasoning according to this world, but according to Heaven’s wisdom;
e. Living in the knowledge of being people who have received grace;
f. And thus living first and foremost in communicating that grace to others.
This is the the way he first came to them;
this is the way they accepted him at first;
this is the way it still is;
and this is how it is to be when Christ returns.
5 – 2 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV) For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
RAF: In our day, it is not unusual for many to think more about THEIR ministry, than THE ministry. In other words, some are about the business of building their ministry which they want to take on a certain form and by which they wish to identify themselves. It is not uncommon to hear it said: “I have such-and-such a ministry.” This mindset, which appears to be one Paul had to confront in some in the Corinthian Church is met most comprehensively in this text. Note:
a. The proclamation which Paul is about, is NOT about HIS ministry – it is about Christ Jesus. Paul is not as much concerned about having a church planting ministry or a counseling ministry or a healing ministry or a music ministry or anything else of that kind. What he is about, is proclaiming Christ. That may be done in thousands of different contexts – but as the central object, it never changes. The message is more important than the ministry. Whenever this gets reversed, monuments to men are not far behind.
b. The proclamation of Jesus is not simply or merely as Savior – but as Lord. Gospel preaching which does not in the end call men to come to Jesus as their God and King – as their Lord, fails to be Gospel ministry. His Lordship is inherent in the concept of the incarnation – He left His pre-existent glory to take on human flesh. It is inherent in His earthly ministry, displayed as Lord over disease, demons and even the Sabbath. It is inherent in His resurrection – where he is declared to be Lord of all! It is inherent in salvation where we are translated from the kingdom of darkness, into His kingdom – where we become His bond-slaves. We cannot truly preach Him apart from being Lord. This is what we are calling men to, to repent from self-government to Christ’s Lordship.
c. And how then does Paul classify his “ministry?” “Servants” – slaves, for Jesus’ sake. Slaves of Jesus, so that others might know Him.
6 – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (ESV) But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
RAF: This portrait of the Christian life is so foreign to our Americanized Western Christianity. Here, the picture painted is of a people constantly or at least repeatedly brought to the end of themseves by circumstances of every kind, SO THAT, His supernatural sustaining power might be demonstrated through us – IN us. While we are alive in these bodies, we are always being given over to circumstances which would seem to destroy us – and by means of it – He brings others to life. It is beyond our comprehension. But Dear Saint, you who have been trested and tried and who have thought that it must mean God has abandoned you or is hanging you out to dry for some unknown reason – listen to this passage. Ease, success, plenty and no adversity are not the presupposed norms of the Christian life. It is just the opposite. And those who would tell you different, are not reliable. This reality remains unknown to them. You in Christ who are standing today in the midst of severe trial, and know full well that you are not doing it by means of even the smallest ability of your own – He is manifesting Himself to the rest of us in your mortal flesh.