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GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- PSALMS 1-17--- ECCLESIASTES --- ISAIAH 1-5 --- 6-12 --- 13-23 --- 24-27 --- 28-35 --- 36-39 --- 40-48 --- 49-55--- 56-66--- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 ---




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Commentary On Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD


Paul's first letter to the Corinthians was written in order to deal with problems that had arisen in the church at Corinth, but it did not completely dispel those problems. Indeed it would seem that he soon learned that things were worse than he had thought. Opposition to the Apostle persisted and Paul's critics, especially seemingly one prominent one, continued to speak out against him in the church. One main issue was Paul's apostolic authority. His critics were claiming that their authority was equal to Paul's, or even that he had no authority at all.

News of these continuing problems in Corinth reached Paul in Ephesus during his prolonged stay there during his third missionary journey. He then decided to make a brief visit to Corinth. However his efforts to resolve the conflicts appear to have fallen on deaf ears (2.1; 12.14; 13.1-2). Indeed he apparently suffered insults which caused him to lose face during that visit (2.5-8; 7.12). Consequently the visit was very hurtful, not least because he saw it as a defeat for the full truth of the Gospel.

So he returned to Ephesus where, in spite of determined opposition, things were flourishing. His next step in dealing with the situation in Corinth was to send Titus , with a companion, bearing from Ephesus a severe letter which Paul had compiled (2.3-4; 7.8-12; 12.18). Paul apparently directed this letter, which is now lost, at the parties opposed to him, and particularly at their leadership. Some commentators believe that 2 Corinthians 10-13 contains part of this letter, but there are good grounds for doubting this.

Paul evidently hoped to hear from Titus while still in Ephesus. However, persecution made it expedient for Paul to leave there earlier than he had expected (Acts 20.1), and he eventually found an open door for the gospel in Troas to the north. But eager to meet Titus, who was taking the land route from Corinth back to Ephesus, Paul decided to leave Troas and moved west into Macedonia (2.12-13). There Titus met him and his report was encouraging (7.6-16). A majority of the church had responded to Paul's words and the church had disciplined the troublemakers (2.5-11), although this does not mean that all the problems described in 1 Corinthians have been put right (12.20-21).

But some in the church still refused to acknowledge Paul's authority over them. He was still being accused of fickleness (1.17-24); he was aware of a still unwilling minority (2.6); there were still suggestions that he was corrupting the word of God (2.17); there were still some who rejected his teaching (4.2-5); there were still those who gloried in appearance and not in heart (i.e. preferring his opponents to him for the wrong reasons - 5.12), thus demonstrating that there were still those who stood in opposition to him. And there were still some who were compromising with idols (6.14-18).

It is possibly to these that 10.1-13.10 are directed, but it may be that we are also to see that as arising because of the unexpected arrival of visitors from elsewhere (whom he describes as 'pseudo-apostles') who again sought to undermine his position. News of this latter as he came close to ending his letter may well have caused this final powerfully expressed end to his letter, as the fears, which had been quelled, again began to mount.

So Paul had cause to rejoice at the change of heart of the majority, and 2 Corinthians is to quite some extent a letter of rejoicing, but there was still much that required putting right and it is rejoicing with a sharp edge. Serious things have to be said by him, coming to their climax in the final chapters.

Thus his concern in respect of the unrepentant minority, his continued concern over the general state of the church, his desire to oversee for the despatch of the money the Corinthians had begun to collect for their poorer brethren in Jerusalem (compare 1 Corinthians 16.1), and possibly the sudden news of dangerous opponents who had arrived in Corinth, were all factors to be taken into account, and these affected the contents of 2 Corinthians, which was written from Macedonia in or around 56 AD.

Opening Greeting (1.1-2).

1.1 'Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.'

Having again established his reputation in Corinth Paul addresses the believers as 'an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God.' He is, he says, a directly God-appointed 'Apostle of Christ Jesus', chosen as such from birth and called by God in accordance with His will (Galatians 1.15). For a similar greeting compare Ephesians 1.1; Colossians 1.1; 1 Timothy 1.1; 2 Timothy 1.1. It is noteworthy that when he includes others in his greeting, and he does not separately cite the fact that he is an Apostle, no title is ever used, unless we consider the word 'bondmen' (douloi) (Philippians 1.1) to be a title. Apostleship was unique, and gave unique authority. The others were 'brothers'.

This introduction in 2 Corinthians was a fairly standard introduction, and did not introduce any special further comment. He clearly felt that it was all that needed to be said. Later in the letter he will defend his right to the title to the hilt, but it seems that he did not feel it necessary at this stage.

'An Apostle of Jesus Christ.' This phrase primarily, of course, referred to the Apostles appointed by Jesus (and named 'Apostles' by Jesus - Luke 6.13), 'the twelve' (John 20.24; Acts 6.2; 1 Corinthians 15.5), who had directly received revelation from Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1.22; 1 Corinthians 15.5). They had come to include James the Lord's brother (Galatians 1.19), who possibly replaced the martyred James (Acts 12.2 with Galatians 2.9) as Matthias replaced Judas (Acts 1.10-26).

In Acts the twelve are clearly distinguished as unique. When writing about those who met in the Jerusalem church to make vital decisions, the leaders apart from the Apostles are called 'the elders', and the Apostles are mentioned separately. Note the phrase 'the Apostles and the Elders' (e.g. Acts 15.2, 4, 9, 22, 23), even though the Apostles could also be called Elders (1 Peter 5.1; 2 John 1.1; 3 John 1.1). The 'Elders' are those usually responsible for churches (Acts 14.23; 20.17). Thus Paul, by calling himself an Apostle here, sets himself alongside the twelve as having this unique position. Like them he too claimed to be a primary source of direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1.12), and was recognised as such by the twelve (Galatians 2.7-9). And it is clear that he looked on his calling to Apostleship (Romans 11.13; 1 Corinthians 9.1) as being on a par with, and as personal as, theirs (Galatians 1.16-17).

'Apostolos', an apostle, is derived from apostellein, (to send forth,) and originally signified literally a messenger. The term was employed by earlier classical writers to denote the commander of an expedition, or a delegate, or an ambassador (see Herodotus, 5. 38), but its use in this way was later rare as it came to have a technical meaning referring to 'the fleet', and possibly also the fleet's admiral. It may be that Jesus spoke with a sense of humour when he named the fishermen 'Apostles' using this term, seeing them as the future 'catchers of men' (although it would require that He gave the title in Greek. This is not, however, impossible. They were bi-lingual).

In the New Testament, apart from its use of the Apostles, it is also employed in a more general non-technical sense to denote important messengers sent out by churches on God's service (see Luke 11.49; 2 Corinthians 8.23; Philippians 2.25; 1 Thessalonians 2.6), but presumably the only authority it then gives is their authority as messengers of whoever sent them, and it is nowhere suggested that it is permanent. And in one instance it is applied to Christ Himself, as the One sent forth from God (Hebrews 3.1). But in the main it is reserved for the twelve (including James, the Lord's brother), and Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14.4, 14). Paul certainly saw it as giving him a recognised authority direct from Jesus Christ. He saw himself, along with the twelve, as being specifically and personally commissioned by Jesus.

'Through the will of God.' This solemn statement stresses the importance of his office. He declares that it is through the sovereign will of the eternal God that he has been so appointed. He is deliberately emphasising that he was called as an Apostle by the direct will and purpose of God, so underlining that he has been chosen out within God's specific purposes. He no doubt intended them to see this as being evidenced by his experience on the Road to Damascus, where God had set him apart in a unique way through the appearance to him of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to a unique ministry among the Gentiles. He wanted them to know that he spoke with maximum authority.

But in the light of what comes later in the letter we may probably also see this 'through the will of God' as in direct contrast to those who 'transformed themselves into the Apostles of Christ' (11.13), those who 'call themselves Apostles and are not' (Revelation 2.2), appointed by themselves and not by the will of God. He wants to stress that, in contrast to theirs, his Apostleship is through the will of God.

With him in his greeting he includes Timothy, who is with him at the time, who is simply 'our brother'. This mention was because they knew of Timothy from an earlier letter (1 Corinthians 16.10), and, if his proposed visit had ever taken place, actually knew him personally. It also had the purpose of establishing Timothy as one who worked with him and could be relied on. The intention was that it would give him authority if ever he again went to Corinth on Paul's behalf.

'To the church of God which is at Corinth.' This covers all the Christians in Corinth no matter which gathering they attended. The 'church' is the sum of the believers. 'Church of God' is equivalent to 'all the saints (sanctified ones)'. That it is 'of God' confirms that they are seen as belonging to God and therefore 'sanctified' (set apart for a holy purpose) to Him (1 Corinthians 1.2).

'With all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia.' The letter is intended to go throughout Achaia. This was probably intended to indicate a local area around Corinth, based on ancient usage, rather than the larger Achaia of Paul's day. The ancient usage was probably preserved in the area itself as such usages tend to be. The title 'saints' is taken from the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 33.3; 1 Samuel 2.9; 2 Chronicles 6.41; Psalms (20 times); Daniel (4 times)) and confirms that the church was seen as the new Israel (compare Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.12-22; Romans 11.13-24). God's people are God's 'holy ones', God's separated ones, sanctified (set apart for God) in Christ Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 1.2).

1.2 'Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'

'Grace' and 'peace' were the two terms used in greetings in Paul's world, the former by Gentiles the latter by Jews. But Paul, while taking them over, transforms them and imbues them with new meaning. It is noteworthy that with him 'grace' always precedes 'peace', for peace results from God's 'freely shown, unmerited favour'.

'Grace to you.' Nothing can be more desirable than to have God looking on us and acting towards us in undeserved love and favour, and this is what is signified by grace. It is God acting towards us in continual saving power in spite of our undeserving. Thus Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he desires for them only that they enjoy the continued experience of the unmerited and compassionate favour of God working to bring about their full salvation.

'And peace.' Peace results from grace, for it is through God's grace that we find peace. But this kind of peace is also God's gift, flowing from Him to us. Once we know that we are right with God, and experience His graciousness towards us, we have peace with God (Romans 5.1) and enjoy such peace, prosperity and success of spirit that our hearts can only overflow. On the other hand, however much things may seem to smile on us, if God is not pleased with us, we cannot fully know peace. The very foundation then of peace in our hearts is the favour of God, by which we enjoy true and genuine prosperity of spirit through the work of His Spirit, and find the peace of God which passes all understanding guarding our thoughts and hearts (Philippians 4.7). And it is this that Paul wished for, and prayed for, on behalf of the Corinthians.

'From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.' What a combined source of power and grace. This continual linking of the name of our 'Lord Jesus Christ' with 'God the Father' in perfect equality again demonstrates Paul's view of Christ (1 Corinthians 1.3; Galatians 1.3; Ephesians 1.2; Philippians 1.2 and often, and contrast Colossians 1.2). This is especially significant as 'Lord' (kurios) was the word used by the Greek translators to render the name of God, Yahweh. The two were one in equality and essence.

'From God our Father.' God is Father as the Lord of creation (James 1.17), the Father after Whom 'every fatherhood in Heaven and earth is named' (Ephesians 3.15), and especially as Father to those who are in Christ through the Spirit and thus called His true 'sons' (Galatians 3.26; 4.4-7; Romans 8.14-17; Ephesians 1.5). The use of 'our' lays stress on the third. They are sons and daughters of God.

'And The Lord Jesus Christ.' This is a powerful combination. 'The Lord' in context with God the Father indicates sovereignty and creativity. It carries within it the idea of 'the Lord' (Yahweh) of the Old Testament (compare Philippians 2.9-11). There is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ in contrast with many so-called 'gods' and 'lords' (1 Corinthians 8.6).

The name 'Jesus' brings us specifically to His manhood. This 'Lord' was One Who had become a man on earth, Who had lived among men and whom many could testify to knowing. They had seen Him, watched Him, handled Him, and touched Him (1 John 1.1). The Word (the eternal One through Whom God spoke) was made flesh (John 1.14).

The term 'Christ' emphasises both His mission as sent by God, and His resurrection and glorification. He had been promised from of old. He had been 'anointed' (Luke 4.18; Acts 4.27; 10.38), that is specifically set apart for His unique purpose. He had been raised from the dead and established as both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36), restored to the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17.5). The whole name sums up the totality of what He is.

God Both Afflicts And Comforts All Who Are His For Their Salvation (1.3-11).

The verses that follow lay the foundation of what he will say throughout the letter. At first sight they might appear to contain simply a message of comfort and strengthening in the face of suffering. And if it were so it would be an important message. And it would especially bring out that Paul and his fellow-workers were appointed as strengtheners of the churches. But deeper consideration brings out that it very much has reference to the 'salvation' that God has brought in 'the last days' (that is, the days following the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus, which were seen as the final days before the end), and the need in the light of it to share in the sufferings of Christ for the fulfilling of His purposes, and to be kept by God in the right way to the end.

In LXX 'comfort' (encourage, strengthen) is a word directly connected with the coming in of the last days, and of God's deliverance. When those come God will comfort (encourage, strengthen) His people (LXX - Isaiah 35.4; 40.1-2, 11; 41.27; 49.10,13; 51.3, 12; 61.2; 66.12-13 compare Exodus 15.13; Psalm 126.1). This is why Jesus called the Holy Spirit 'the Comforter' (John 14.16; 26; 15.26; 16.7). And His 'mercies' as mentioned here very much have in mind His great salvation (verse 6) and deliverance (verse 10), the resurrection from the dead (verse 9), and the coming day of our Lord Jesus (verse 14). And these constantly lie in the background to this passage. So all he says here has these ideas in mind and leads up to them. His final concern for the Corinthians is not so much their comfort in suffering, although that is important to him, but their salvation through it, although their comfort and encouragement play an important part within that. It is about comfort and encouragement and strengthening with a view to final deliverance.

1.3-5 '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, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.'

The connection of the emphasis on 'comfort' (exhortation, strengthening) with the final salvation comes out strongly in its connection here with the sufferings of Christ. The significance of 'the sufferings of Christ' as connected with His people is that they are sufferings borne with the final end in view, as part of the working out of salvation. In playing their part in the salvation of God's chosen ones His people will suffer as He suffered throughout His life on earth (John 15.20; 16.2). They will suffer with Him in the purposes of salvation (Colossians 1.24; 1 Peter 4.12-13; Philippians 3.10-11; 2 Timothy 3.12 compare Matthew 5.10-12), and Christ will suffer along with them (Acts 9.5), and they will be comforted.

Much of the letter will in fact be speaking of the sufferings of Christ as known by those who serve Him. Paul sees them as very much a sign of his Apostleship. God's ways are carried on through suffering, as they have ever been. Moses suffered. The prophets suffered. Jesus Christ Himself suffered. And He had warned His Apostles that they too would suffer (John 15.18-21; 16.2-3, 33). And now Paul and his fellow-workers suffer. This in itself is confirmation that they are in line with those previous men of God (contrary to the view of some of his opponents in Corinth)

So this introduction majors on comfort and encouragement in the face of the affliction that they are all facing up to for Christ's sake in the course of salvation, leading up to final salvation. Behind the words lies the fact that the comfort is needed because their sufferings and afflictions arise in the course of their faith, and in the course of the ongoing purposes of God. As they have their part in the extension of God's Kingly Rule in Christ, so they are having their part in the sufferings of Christ.

To the early church the 'sufferings of Christ' were twofold. Firstly were the unique sufferings of Christ necessary for our salvation, what we might call His atoning sufferings, in which His people could have no part except to receive the benefit of them. Christ suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18; Hebrews 9.26; 13.12 compare Luke 22.15; 1 Peter 1.11). But interestingly from this point of view, especially in view of Isaiah 53, the emphasis in Paul is more on the atoning significance of His death than on His sufferings. He dose not stress how much He suffered. And Peter here also really means 'suffered in death' (1 Peter 3.19; compare Hebrews 2.9). It was His final suffering in death that atoned, not His general sufferings.

And then, secondly, there were the general sufferings of Christ, which taught Him obedience (Hebrews 5.8), and included the sufferings of His people for His sake (Acts 9.4; 1 Peter 4.13, 19; Romans 8.17; Philippians 3.10), which taught them the same (Romans 5.3-5). These sufferings were a necessary part of His ministry (Luke 17.25) and of the ministry of the church (Philippians 1.29; 2 Timothy 2.12; 3.12). Suffering was seen as very much a necessary part of the ongoing carrying forward of God's purposes, as Paul was very much aware, for an essential part of his call was that he would suffer for Christ's sake (Acts 9.16). These were 'the sufferings of Christ' which abounded towards him.

Paul will himself in this letter thus declare that he has been enduring much affliction, including severe affliction in Ephesus, and the affliction that had come directly from the attitudes of the Corinthian church, but he assures them that he recognises that this affliction is for his good and theirs, for it teaches him important lessons and enables him also to encourage and comfort those who are afflicted, and it is his part in the eschatological sufferings. (And the same is true of the affliction he has caused for the Corinthians by his earlier severe letter, probably one which followed 1 Corinthians but preceded this one but is now lost. This has strengthened them too).

''Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.' In his letters, after his initial greeting, Paul regularly changes what follows to suit particular cases. And the liturgical nature of some of these introductions should be noted. The letter is to be read in the church and Paul wants it to be a part of their worship. For a similar blessing compare Ephesians 1.3; 1 Peter 1.3. He speaks like this because prior to hearing his letter read he wants their hearts to be upraised in praise and thanksgiving as they consider God the Father in the greatness of His mercies, and especially in His sending of our Lord Jesus Christ, to suffer on our behalf (verse 5). After all that is linked closely with his purpose in life.

'Blessed be God' was a liturgical phrase found both in synagogue worship and in the worship of the Qumran community. So Paul adapts what to him is a well known phrase, for Christian use. 'Father of mercies' also echoes the 'God of mercies' at Qumran and 'merciful Father' of the synagogues, but again it is seemingly adapted. The Father is both merciful, and the source of all mercies as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. His mercies abound towards His own, especially though His saving purposes and in the giving of His Son. Thus He is also the God of all comfort.

'The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.' In this is summed up God's saving purposes. God is the Father of the One Who has come to save, our Lord (the One Who is over all), Jesus (which means Yahweh is salvation) Christ (God's anointed and sent One). He is the Father of mercies, of all the mercies of salvation history, especially as revealed in the word of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.17-18). He is the God of all comfort, the One Who brings comfort, encouragement and strengthening to those who are suffering in accordance with His plan and necessary strategy of salvation (Isaiah 40.1-2, 31).

'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, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.' He now applies the general to the particular. As well as being the Father of mercies, this gracious God is also the God of all comfort (encouragement, strengthening). The word is from the same root as that used of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (Helper, Encourager) by Jesus in John 14-16. God comes alongside to comfort, strengthen and encourage to the ultimate degree.

We should note again that 'comfort' is a prophetic word pointing towards the fulfilment of God's purposes. It is found for example in Isaiah 40.1; 51.3, 12, 19. (See also references above). So Paul is stressing that the 'end of the ages' is here. The God of comfort is at work in bringing about His promised comfort and deliverance to those who suffer for His name's sake. As God carries forward His purposes to the end He continually encourages and 'comforts' His people.

Thus, says Paul, aware of his part in end of the age activities, God comforts us (he and his fellow-workers) in our trials, and in all afflictions that we have to face. This not only strengthens us and brings home to us the love of God (Romans 5.1-5), but it also enables us to encourage and strengthen others, because of the encouragement He has given us, and results in our, and their, final salvation. Without the afflictions that they faced they would be in no position to comfort others who suffered, in a world where suffering was often commonplace. Nor would the process of salvation be carried through. Here we use 'salvation' in its fullest sense of the whole process of salvation.

Note the plural 'us'. Paul is not just thinking of his own afflictions, or even of his and Timothy's. He is aware of others who face what he does, as they minister for Christ. The 'us' primarily means him and his compatriots, and those who labour truly as they do, as they carry forward their ministry in the face of opposition and hatred. It also therefore includes us when we too carry forward that ministry in our lives. But he is, for example, also aware of how his severe letter to the Corinthians must have made them suffer too (7.8). They too are workers together with Christ. And the more a Christian gives such comfort and encouragement to others, the more God will give it to him, enabling him to do so even more.

'For as the sufferings of Christ abound to us, even so our comfort also abounds through Christ.' For as he and his fellow-workers have been called by Christ to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9.23), so do sufferings and affliction abound towards them, and so through Christ does His comfort also abound towards them. As His people they have been crucified with Him, and have been united with Him in His death and resurrection (Galatians 2.20; Romans 6.5), and they must therefore expect to endure sufferings for His sake. But they are also equally certain of His comfort, of His sustaining, of His encouragement. This affliction includes threats and persecutions and reproach, as well as the more subtle attacks of the Enemy. But the more these abound towards them, the more they know of God's comfort and encouragement through Christ.

For Paul above all men was very much aware that 'the sufferings of Christ' went far beyond what He had suffered at the cross, great though those were, for he constantly remembered how on the Damascus Road Jesus had said to him, 'Why do you persecute Me?' (Acts 9.4-5). He himself had helped to make those sufferings worse. This memory constantly brought home to him that all the sufferings and afflictions which came on those who spread forth His word were part of Christ's sufferings. They were the expected 'Messianic sufferings' which would bring in the final hope. To that end not only do His servants suffer, but He suffers with His servants. And as these sufferings abounded towards them so they knew that God's encouragement and comfort would also abound towards them through Christ.

We too if we are faithful to Christ will at times have to endure affliction in one way or another, sharing in His sufferings, but when we do, if we do it in line with His saving purposes, we too may be sure that God will abound towards us in comfort and encouragement in the midst of those trials, for to such He is the God of all comfort.

1.6-7 'But whether we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which he works in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer, and our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged), knowing that, as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also are you of the comfort.'

It was one of the accusations of Paul's opponents that he was a weak and suffering figure. To them this did not accord with the idea that he was God's chosen representative. Rather they considered that as such a representative of God he should be reigning and triumphant (compare 1 Corinthians 4.8). So, they argued, he was clearly not an Apostle. But Paul here draws attention to the fact that as Christ has suffered so will His true servants suffer, for it is through such suffering that God's purposes will come to fulfilment. God's strength is made perfect in weakness (12.9). Therefore, rather than it showing him as lacking in God's eyes, it reveals him as a true Apostle of God.

For those who serve God in ministry will go through differing experiences. Sometimes affliction will abound. This is a necessary part of them being able to participate in the encouragement and salvation of His people. And sometimes comfort will abound. God gives them both experiences so that they might be better fitted to bring help and blessing and comfort and salvation to others. But in both cases, whether of suffering or of comfort, it will be so that through their ministry God will work, through the patient endurance by His people of similar sufferings, towards their final comfort and salvation.

So he and his fellow-workers can through their sufferings and through God's working, bring comfort, encouragement and saving deliverance to God's people, as God's people too face the similar sufferings and afflictions which are inherent in serving Christ. For all who are Christ's must suffer in one way or another (2 Timothy 3.12; 1 Peter 4.12-14), and Paul is sure that in doing so they will also experience God's comfort and strength, and salvation, both during it and as its final consequence.

'As you are partakers of the sufferings.' The Corinthian church was no exception. They too would suffer trauma and afflictions. They should therefore recognise that they are one with the suffering church, and that such sufferings are a sign of the carrying forward of God's final purposes, and of their partaking in Christ' saving work.

The first century church was necessarily a suffering church, and the next three hundred years would at times compound those sufferings, but through it God would establish them and keep them pure. In the words of Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs would be the seed of the church. And through it all God would be their strength and comfort. And through the ages His people have suffered in many ways, sometimes external, sometimes internal, as they have taken forward God's purposes, and they too have experienced His 'comfort'.

'It is for your comfort and salvation.' This latter does not infer, of course, that the sufferings of God's ministers are in any way atoning. For full salvation consists of more than just atonement. Atonement is the foundation and the necessary beginning of salvation. And that was what Christ accomplished, sufficiently and totally (Hebrews 10.14). Without it there could be no salvation, and it must necessarily continue to be applied to the end (1 John 1.7), but 'salvation' is also that whole process which is carried on from when we first believe in Christ through to our finally being presented before Him holy and without blemish, and those who minister to us are part of that process. And in order that this process may succeed, His servants must endure the sufferings which are a necessary part of that process, as must we.

For God's saving work involves them in participating in Christ's sufferings. As Paul says boldly elsewhere, they 'fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ' (Colossians 1.24). Christ's sufferings obtained full atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the world. They were completely sufficient for that. Nothing else is required. The sufferings of His people as they serve Him are a part of the work of ensuring that the efficacy of those sufferings are applied to all Whom He has chosen, with the result that God works within them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2.13). Those who are engaged in battle must expect their battle wounds.

'Our hope for you is steadfast (firm, gilt-edged).' In spite of his afflictions Paul has no doubts. He is fully confident and certain. God has issued a guilt-edged promise, and that is the basis of his hope. So Paul knows that just as he suffers they will suffer, but he knows too that it will be for their final comfort and salvation.

We today do not fully understand these words, for we see ministers of God living in luxury, and we too endure so little. Perhaps we should stop and consider that it may be that which explains why we are so ineffective. Not that we should seek suffering. We should never do that. Jesus warned us that we must pray, 'deliver us from testing and trial'. To do anything else is to be presumptuous. (Those who deliberately sought martyrdom were often those who failed in the end). But our 'suffering' can constitute that which we willingly sacrifice for the cause of Christ, and the price we pay in labouring faithfully in His service, and the attacks that we will inevitably face from the Enemy and from sinners if we are live faithfully and speak faithfully. And if we were willing to face up to more of the cost perhaps there might be more of the benefit.

For then we would also find that we have at times to face different afflictions in different ways, for we can be sure that if we serve Christ Satan will not leave us alone for long, and while sinners may approve of us for a time, it will not be long before we cross them because we stand firm to God's demands, with the result that they will suddenly turn sour. So we must not expect that the way will be easy. We too will at times face afflictions and trials. But in the midst of them we may rejoice in that we in some small way thereby share the sufferings of Christ, and will find God's comfort and encouragement abounding in the midst of our afflictions so that we too will have our part in the salvation by God of His people.

1.8 'For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life.'

Paul now goes on to illustrate this by telling the Corinthians about his more recent difficult experiences. He will not hide from them the fact of his weakness and suffering. It is part of God's saving activity. In his activities in Asia he and his fellow-workers had been constantly afflicted and heavily weighed down, almost beyond endurance. It had been outside their control (beyond our power), and it had reached such a stage that he and his compatriots had despaired even of life.

1.9 'Yes, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.'

Indeed they had felt themselves under sentence of death, and had accepted the fact that they were probably going to die, but he recognised that this had happened so that they might not trust in themselves, but in God Who raises the dead. It had forced them to face up to what the Gospel was all about. And so they had faced up to death, looking it in the face, accepting its inevitability, and yet willingly continuing on towards it, and they had done it because they believed in the God 'Who raises the dead' (compare 4.14; Romans 4.17).

What this experience was of which Paul was speaking we do not know. It may have been a severe bout of illness which appeared at first mortal, from which he was raised as one dead, although in that case we would expect his words to be in the singular, or it may be the same situation that made him speak of 'fighting beasts at Ephesus' (1 Corinthians 15.32), the opposition of violent men, or it may be that they had been caught up in mob violence time and again and had only just escaped with their lives, or it may be that they were under threat from the authorities. Acts, however, gives us no indication of such a situation, and there the authorities appear as reasonable men. Whatever it was it seemed to have passed.

1.10 'Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver. On whom we have set our hope that he will also yet deliver us.'

This verse contains a number of significant points. It speaks of 'so great a death', which in the light of Paul's continued use of 'death' as the prime way of signifying man's final fate, must surely have special significance. It speaks of 'our hope', a thought that in Paul is regularly looking forward to salvation and deliverance and Christ's coming. It depicts the past, the near future and the far future as covering the whole of life until that day. (To make 'he will deliver us, on whom we have set our hope that he will yet deliver us' signify merely a hope of escaping a violent death in the future seems a little trite). And it follows immediately a reference to the supreme fact of 'God Who raises the dead'. This must surely suggest therefore that we are to look here beyond the simple idea of death as depicted in verses 8-9, which to Paul was something he regularly faced, to something of more permanent significance.

So we must first ask, why does he speak here of 'so great a death' and of 'setting his hope'? Surely death is death, whether it be by illness, drowning, execution or violent men. One death is not greater than another. This in itself alerts us to the fact that there are two possible ways of looking at these words. One way is to see them as arising directly from the idea of 'God Who raises the dead', and thus delivers from 'the great death', an idea which we may see as making him briefly digress in order to glory in the fact of full salvation, past, present and future, as he considers the glorious truth of total deliverance from 'death', even 'so great a death'. And the other which sees him as going well over the top in his thoughts about his own vulnerability, and declaring confidently that God will preserve his life, not only yesterday and tomorrow, but into the distant future. (In which case some of his later protestations about death as though it were constantly imminent seem a little exaggerated. Paul does not elsewhere give the impression of great invulnerability).

The first alternative then is that as he considers that greatest of all triumphs, God as the One Who 'raises the dead', it calls to mind that even greater deliverance than his recent deliverance from mere earthly death, a deliverance from the even 'greater' death, from Death the great enemy itself (1 Corinthians 15.26, 5-57), by the resurrecting God, a death from which God has delivered him through his participation in the resurrection of Christ, and would continue to deliver him, which then leads on to him triumphing in the fullness of salvation.

For in the end to Paul it is death that is the great enemy. Not physical death, but death in all its finality. That is what he surely sees as 'so great a death'. In which case we may see his words here as a typical Pauline flight into a declaration of triumph at the certainty of the final defeat of that death, of the final deliverance from 'so great a death', brought to mind in the light of their recent experiences of facing and escaping physical death.

That would mean that we are here to see him as declaring in awe and gratitude that He Who raises the dead had indeed also acted on their behalf in an even greater way than delivering them from a momentary physical death. He had delivered them from an even greater death ('so great a death') through the cross, the eternal death that is the wages of sin (Romans 6.23), giving them life from the dead when they believed in Him (4.10-11; 6.9; Romans 6.4), and that He would continue to deliver them as they walk with Him, and that he has 'set his hope' on the fact that God will finally deliver them in the end by the final triumphant resurrection (4.14; Romans 6.5-10). For this is what is involved in the Christian hope, the knowledge of having been delivered from 'death', the need for continual recognition of our deliverance from death, and the certainty of having a glorious part in the coming 'day of our Lord Jesus' (verse 14), with the joyful expectancy of the resurrection from the dead or its living equivalent (1 Corinthians 15.52) when death will have been finally defeated (1 Corinthians 15.26).

For we must remember that to Paul all death was ever a reminder of the greater death that was the last enemy, the enemy which was defeated at the resurrection and would finally be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). He ever thought of man's final fate as 'death' (Romans 1.32; 5.10-21; 6.23 compare 2 Timothy 1.10). (He never speaks of Hades or Gehenna). Deliverance from this 'death' was what the cross and resurrection was all about. It was a foe which sought to gain victory and, in those who belonged to Christ, finally failed (1 Corinthians 15.55). And behind it lay the dark figure of Satan (compare Hebrews 2.14). This was surely the 'so great a death'.

For in all that he is saying here Paul is constantly aware of the great saving purposes of God (compare 7.10), and as we have seen already (verses 5-7 in general but specifically verse 6), it is ever in the background and especially so earlier in this passage. We have already noted the sense of the 'end of the age' apparent in his references to God's 'comforting' of His people, in the light of Isaiah 40.1, and to the process of salvation as 'the sufferings of Christ' abounded towards them (verse 5), along with his sudden introduction of the idea of 'salvation' in verse 6, all lying behind the words he speaks, and this is further apparent in verse 14 in his reference to 'the day of our Lord Jesus', which demonstrates that the glory of God's eschatological deliverance is lying behind all he is saying. What more likely then that he should burst into praise in this way?

For this idea of being 'delivered' ('ruomai) soteriologically compare Colossians 1.13, 'delivered out of the power of darkness' (in the past), and 1 Thessalonians 1.10, 'Who delivers us from the wrath to come' (in the future). Compare also Romans 7.24, 'who shall deliver me from this body of death (body which deserves death and is dying)?'. The Gospel not only contains the idea of 'salvation' but of 'deliverance'.

This would seem to be confirmed by his reference to 'set our hope'. This idea of 'hope' regularly refers to the expectation of salvation and deliverance and of Christ's coming (compare especially 1 Timothy 4.10; see also 1 Corinthians 13.13; 15.19). In the light of this New Testament usage can we really see it as an expression he would use merely in relation to facing death in the future? Was he really just hoping not to die? Surely his hope was something that went beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15.19). To him the facing of death in the normal sense was a commonplace experience. And even something to be desired (Philippians 1.23). And added to this is the fact that we know of no reason why Paul should have had such a portent about a continual facing of death in the future, other than that which he was used to and treated lightly (1 Corinthians 4.9; Romans 8.36). He even exults in it (4.10-12). Would he then here give deliverance from it quite such prominence and importance?

On the other hand it must be admitted that most do see it as referring to the fact that they were aware that they had been marvellously saved from a particularly unpleasant death and that this situation of facing such a death was weighing heavily on them, so that they were trusting Him for continual deliverance on and on into the future. They had been delivered out of the violent death they faced, they were sure that God would continue in the same way to deliver them from such a death which would constantly face them, and indeed they had set their hope on the fact that He would go on and on delivering them, presumably until their time was come.

But in the light of Paul's desire to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1.23) and the fact that he believed that to die was gain (Philippians 1.21) this interpretation would seem to make the verse go rather over the top (some good manuscripts exclude 'and will deliver', possibly for this reason). Would Paul really have been so overwhelmed at the thought of facing death, something which he had faced many times, and even looked forward to, that he would write about it in this extended and exaggerated way even to the extent of speaking of escape from it as his 'hope'? The only possible reason for such a deep concern might be that he was afraid of what effect his death might have on the progress of the Gospel, but that would have been a slight on God's sovereign power. He knew as well as any that no man is indispensable, even though he was aware of his value to the church (Philippians 1.24).

We might also ask, would Paul have seen this mere deliverance from earthly death in terms of the 'raising of the dead', unless it was leading on to a declaration of the greater hope. Jewish writers did so, but while they believed in the resurrection, they did not have the great vision of the resurrection and the Christian's triumph that Paul had (1 Corinthians 15).

And we might add that if the possibility of constant death had so deeply weighed on him at this time for so long a period is it likely that we would receive no hint of it from Luke in Acts, who would surely have known about the events he had in mind if they were so serious and long lasting.

So we might rather feel that the earlier part of the passage has been building up to such a triumphant statement of God's saving purposes, which he has now released. If it is seen like that we have here the whole sweep of God's purposes revealed, as guaranteed by His being the Raiser from the dead, salvation in the past from 'so great a death' accomplished once and for all as they trusted in Christ and were delivered from the power of darkness and the fear of death; salvation in the present and near future as they walked daily with Christ trusting in His daily deliverance; and salvation in the end future as they were raised by God to share eternity with Him and were delivered from the wrath to come. (See our summary of the evidence below).

1.11 'You also helping together on our behalf by your supplication, that, for the gift bestowed upon us by means of many, thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf.'

Having risen to the heights Paul now returns to earth, and commends 'many' who had contributed to his deliverance from death. As a result of their supplication he and his fellow-workers had been given the gracious gift (charisma), in context of having their lives preserved, with the result that many could give thanks on their behalf. The use of 'many' may have reference to the fact that he was still aware that he could not say 'all', that he was aware of the minority in Corinth who would not have prayed for him, and would certainly not give thanks for his deliverance. Or it may simply indicate that he knew that 'many' were praying for him, and would thus have cause for thanksgiving.

The fact that this appears to look back to this gift as having in mind just one event would support our view of verse 10, for otherwise we might have expected Paul to apply their prayers more widely to past, present and future. It is, of course, possible that he sees 'the gift' as being continual. This would then indicate that he sees his continual deliverance from death as a 'gift of grace' and as due to their constant prayers, a gift for which also they will be able continually to give thanks. But if he saw his certainty of not dying the while as a gift of grace, would he then elsewhere put such stress on how he constantly faced death? It would destroy his whole argument. Its impact would be lost. We, and they, would argue that it was not consistent.

Thus on balance, and contrary to the majority view, we would see verse 10 as being soteriological because, to summarise;