Address, Thanksgiving, and Consolation. 2 Cor. 1, 1-11.

The address of the letter: V.1. Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy, our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: v.2. Grace be to you and peace from God, our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. As in the first letter and in most of his other epistles, Paul’s personal interest in, and deep love for, the people won for Christ by his work caused him to expand the usual short form of address at the beginning of a Greek letter. He calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus; he was sent out, commissioned, by the great Lord of the Church Himself. And he held this position, especially also with reference to the Corinthians, through the will of God, not by any frivolous choice. Timothy, his assistant, he names as a brother, not as coauthor, but as coworker, and as one who was well known to the Corinthians in that capacity. To the church, or congregation, of God Paul addresses himself, which owed its existence to the work of God through the Gospel. This congregation was established in Corinth; it was an organized body of such as confessed their belief in Jesus Christ. But in the second place it was addressed also to all the saints, to all the believers sanctified by faith, in the entire province of Achaia, to all other congregations that had been established from Corinth as a center and were intimately connected with the Corinthian Christians through the bond of their common belief and confession. Though not a circular letter in the full sense of the word, it was yet intended to serve a large circle of Christians united in the common cause of the Master.

The apostle’s opening greeting and wish has reference to the greatest and most wonderful gifts which the Christians possess: Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. To the believers, God is the common Father, they are all His children by faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord; they are united by the bonds of a common love toward Him and toward one another. “Grace is the key-note of the Gospel; and peace, the traditional and beautiful salutation of the East, on Christian lips signifies not earthly peace merely, but the peace of God, Phil. 4, 7.” 1)

Thanksgiving and comfort: V.3. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, v.4. who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. V.5. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. V.6. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. V.7. And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing that, as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. The dominant note in a Christian’s life at all times should be that of thankfulness to the Lord for His loving-kindness and tender mercies. This was true in an unusual measure in the case of Paul, who begins all but two of his letters with an expression of his deep thankfulness to God. So in this instance: Praised be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The blessing which the believer gives to God includes glory, praise, and honor. As God, the one true God, we praise Him, as the Lord of the entire universe, and especially as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom He has entered upon the relation of true fatherhood to us, that of a gracious, loving Father. As the God of mercies we praise Him, the Source whence all tender mercy upon us flows, in time and in eternity, compassion being the characteristic of our heavenly Father’s providence. As the God of all comfort we praise Him, the Fountain whence all consolation, happiness, and bliss flows down upon us abundantly, and in every form of trouble and affliction.

The last name applied to God is now explained at length: Who is comforting us in all our affliction. No matter what trouble may come upon a Christian, no matter what trials may be besetting him, he is sure of finding the proper and adequate consolation, as Paul and his companions experienced it repeatedly and continually. Although sorrows and dangers of body and soul were surrounding him, yet he was able to enjoy the consolations of God in His Word and thus to conquer all his afflictions. And God’s final purpose in leading the apostle and his companions, as well as all Christians, in such a peculiar way was that they also might be able to comfort them that were in any affliction through the comfort wherewith they themselves were being comforted of God. That is always the final aim of God when He permits trials to come upon His children, that the consolation which He then imparts from the Word of His grace may be a blessing not only to the afflicted, but through him also to others that may not yet have reached the calm trust in God which should characterize a Christian at all times. Those that have been tried in God’s crucible and have learned to rely upon His promises in unwavering faith are in a position in which they can pass on the benefits which have been conferred upon them. It is the golden chain of the merciful consolations of the Lord that unites His believers here on earth.

The reason why this consolation from above is so sure and includes such wonderful qualifications for the individual Christian is given: For as Christ’s sufferings abound, flow over, to us, even so through Christ our comfort also abounds. That it is the lot of the Christians to partake of His sufferings here on earth is a thought which is found throughout the New Testament, Matt. 16, 24; Rom. 8, 17; Phil. 3. 10; Col. 1, 24; for they are a part of the persecutions which come upon them for the sake of righteousness, in their struggle with the powers of darkness. In this way the sufferings of Christ flow over to us. But since this fellowship with Christ includes also the consolation and strength which flow from the union with Christ, therefore the very existence of the afflictions brings comfort ineffable, through Christ, comfort in rich measure. The sufferings may be numerous, while the comfort is but one and the same at all times, and yet the latter exceeds the former, Phil. 4. 4.

In this joyful assurance, Paul was able to write: But whether we endure affliction, it is for the sake of your consolation and salvation; or whether we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effectual in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope in your behalf is steadfast, since we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also of the comfort. So perfectly and completely is Paul engrossed in matters pertaining to their benefit that he considers both his afflictions and consolations only inasmuch as they will be of benefit to them. He is willing to endure tribulation, if only they are comforted and saved; he is glad of any comfort, if only it may be transmitted to them in such a way as to produce in them steadfast, endurance in bearing the sufferings of Christ. 1 Pet. 5. 9, the common lot of all believers. And with true Christian. loving optimism the apostle holds the firm hope concerning them, his hope in their behalf is unshakable, because it is based upon the knowledge that they also share in the sufferings which lie is enduring, not only in sympathy, but in fact, 1 Cor. 12. 26. and will therefore also share in the comfort which he is enjoying. Thus the entire Church is a brotherhood of common comfort in common suffering.

Paul's recent peril: v.8. For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, in so much that we despaired even of life; v.9. but we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead; v.10. who delivered us from so great a death and doth deliver; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us; v.11. ye also helping together by prayer for us that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf. Paul here recounts a bit of personal history, concerning which he does not want the Corinthian Christians to remain in ignorance; he frankly shares his troubles with them, assured in advance of their prayerful sympathy. He had withstood the many adversaries in Ephesus, 1 Cor. 16, 9, he had escaped the enmity of the Jews, Acts 19, 9. But the storm broke in the insurrection raised against him by Demetrius and his fellow-craftsmen, Acts 19, 23. It was an affliction without parallel in his history: Beyond measure, beyond power we were weighed down, oppressed, distressed. The persecution was an exceedingly great load of affliction, and it went beyond all power of human endurance, it caused the great hero in faith to despair even of life, he saw no way by which his life could be saved.

He now repeats the same idea in positive form: Not only saw we no method by which our lives could be saved, but we ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves; Paul had the conviction that the time had come when he must die, and an inglorious death at that: there seemed to be no way of escape. The language is so unusual in the case of Paul that many commentators have insisted that a most extraordinary peril must have befallen him. But his case was merely the normal experience of the average Christian, in whose life periods of heroic faith and confidence alternate with times of deepest distress, as we see in the Psalms. “For Paul had also experienced manifold perils and troubles, had also been saved from them in various ways; sometimes he shows himself to have a great and mighty courage that he fears nothing.... There his heart is full of joy and he would have all to rejoice and be comforted with him.... But on the other hand, he says 2 Cor. 1, 8. 9: We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life; also: We had the sentence of death in ourselves. But that was done, he says, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead. What is that, dear Paul? Why art thou not happy and full of comfort? Why dost thou not cheer the others? Shall Paul, that great apostle, be humbled to that extent that he would rather die than live? He that was just full of the Holy Spirit now appears to be entirely without spirit.” 2)

The object of God in permitting such peril and distress to befall the apostle is clearly stated: That we should not place our trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead. The gravity of Paul’s situation in the peril at Ephesus was so great as to impress upon him the utter uselessness of putting his trust anywhere but in God, who alone has power over life and death. Since He has the power to raise from the dead, to bring the dead back to life, much sooner is He able to close the gates of death before the dying. To Him, therefore, Paul also gives all honor in this case: Who delivered us out of so great a death, and does deliver, toward whom we have set our hope that he will still deliver. The picture drawn by Paul is that of a powerful tearing away from a danger to which he had been exposed, an emergence from its teeth or jaws through the almighty power of the Lord. This confidence he has, in this direction his trusting hope is directed. At the same time he trusts in the intercessions of the Corinthian brethren: While you also help together on our behalf by your supplication. Their urgent pleading would prove a great help for him in his position at all times; he would receive strength for his work. In the midst of afflictions the communion of prayer prospers, and for that reason the very sufferings of Paul were a cause of benefit to the brethren: That from many persons, literally, faces (upturned to God in a prayer of thanksgiving), for the gift bestowed upon us, thanks may be given through many on our behalf. The gift of grace, namely, the deliverance of the apostle, the preservation of his life, caused the sincere thanksgiving of the many people that had united in supplication for his life, this result agreeing exactly with the object of the Lord, for by His hearing of prayer God intends to provoke the grateful praises of the believers.

Paul’s Vindication of His Conduct and Life. 2 Cor. 1, 12-24.

The sincerity of his purpose: V.12. For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. V.13. For we write none other things unto you than what ye read or acknowledge, and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; v.14. as also ye have acknowledged us in part that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. In expecting that the Corinthians would give thanks on his account as for a gift of grace delivered and restored to them, Paul was placing no small estimate upon his own worth, but he knew that his glorying was of a nature that would not put him to shame. For his act of boasting consisted in this, namely, the witness of his conscience, that in holiness and sincerity of God, not in fleshly wisdom, but in God’s grace, he had behaved himself in the world, but more abundantly (than toward any one else) to the Corinthians. Paul could expect this consideration from the Christians of Achaia, he could be joyfully confident of their prayer and thankfulness, because his moral conduct was above reproach, as his conscience testified to him. The holiness and sincerity which characterized his conduct were divine qualities, they were God’s gift to him, of which he made the proper use. And he did not make use of fleshly wisdom, but conducted himself as under the influence of God’s grace which had been given to him for the discharge of his apostolic work. Of the faithful Christian conduct of the apostle the Corinthians themselves could testify, for his opportunities at Corinth had been greater than elsewhere for displaying the holiness and sincerity of the Christian life. “Not as though his Christian intercourse with them had been characterized by anything extraordinary, or beyond what he had shown at other places. He intended simply to say: If there are any to whom I have not been manifest as a single hearted and sincere minister of Christ, surely it cannot be you (cp. 1 Cor. 9, 2), for where in all the world have I been more completely known than among you?” 3)

Paul is absolutely frank with the Corinthians, knowing that his record is above attack: For nothing else do we write to you than what you read or indeed acknowledge. He means what he says, there is no hidden meaning in his letters; and in all his other dealings with them he has not made use of ambiguity; the words of his oral teaching and the communications of his letters agreed exactly. And this state of affairs will continue, his hope being that they will acknowledge him to the end, as also some of you made this acknowledgment. For himself he is asking steadfastness to continue in the pure doctrine and in godly life; for them, that they might acknowledge with a grateful heart what God has given them in the person and through the work of the apostle. For, as Paul says: We are your cause for glorying; the Corinthian Church could well be proud of the fact that he had been their first teacher. And, on the other hand, they represented his reason for glorying on the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even before the throne of God he will confess them and boast of them: in their company he wants to appear before the Lord’s tribunal and proudly exhibit them as the products of the divine grace.

No fickleness can be charged to the apostle: V.15. And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; v.16. and to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judea. V.17. When I, therefore, was thus minded, did I use lightness? or the things that I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yea, yea, and nay, nay? V.18. But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. V.19. But the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in Him was yea. V.20. For all the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. Because Paul had changed his original plan as to his visit to Corinth, some of his personal enemies in that city were trying to represent him as an unreliable person. But he has his defense ready: And in this confidence it was my will first to come to you. In the assurance of their ready acknowledgment of his unblamable conduct, and that the Corinthians, in proper gratitude, considered him a cause of their glorying, Paul’s plan had been to journey to Macedonia over Corinth, to stop off there first, in order that they might again, for the second time, have the benefit and the blessing of his presence and instruction. This plan had been abandoned even when he wrote the first letter, 1 Cor. 16, 5. On his return from Macedonia he had planned to come to Corinth once more, and to make the journey to Judea from there, accompanied by a delegation from their congregation. He confesses to a change of his plans, but that fact does not argue for fickleness of purpose.

This charge St. Paul rejects with solemn emphasis: When now I had this intention, did I make use of levity? Or did I make my proposition, my plan, according to the flesh, as the unregenerate people make plans and promises, that with me yes and no amount to about the same thing? Are my plans made like those of a man of the world to be changed at my own caprice, affirmative today, negative to-morrow? The insinuation of his enemies was that Paul either did not reflect sufficiently upon his plan and the way in which he might carry it out, or he had changed it without valid reasons and therefore had little regard to the binding quality of promises. But Paul contends that his adversaries are in the wrong when they impute such a fickle behavior to him. Inconstancy is indeed the characteristic of the carnal, selfish person, and he cannot be relied upon. But in his own case this deduction is false, as Paul solemnly states: But as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yes and no. As surely as God is faithful and true, all the words and instructions which he made use of in the case of the Corinthians were reliable. This wider protestation is purposely used by the apostle; for if he actually were unreliable in such small matters as promises, his personal affairs, then he might be untrustworthy in the greater matters of his word to them, in every form of teaching. On the other hand, as he solemnly asseverates, his every word to them was sincere, even to the matter of his promise to come to them before journeying to Macedonia.

The danger being that the Corinthians might be influenced to believe him unreliable in his promises and then extend this supposition to his doctrine, causes Paul to emphasize the truth and the reliability of the Gospel-doctrine as taught by him: For God’s Son, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you through us, through me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yes and no, but yes is in Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the content of all apostolic and evangelical preaching, is not an uncertain foundation, an unreliable base. Right and wrong, truth and falsehood, certainty and unreliability, are not found in Him at the same time; He is not a reed shaken by the wind, but a rock that remains unmoved, though assailed by the fiercest attacks of the portals of hell. This Gospel-message had been brought to the Corinthians by Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to mention only three of their teachers, and they all, in spite of the difference in talents, had preached the same Jesus, in the same way, without contradiction. In Him we have the positive benefits of divine wisdom, of righteousness, of sanctification, of salvation and glorification. In Jesus the divine and eternal yes has come into being as a true human being; Christianity is the only positive, certain religion. For, as Paul continues his comforting assurance: However numerous may be the promises of God, in Him is the yes, wherefore also through Him the Amen to God for glory through us. Jesus Christ in His own person is the embodiment and fulfillment of all the promises of God to mankind; He either fulfilled them personally or secured their fulfillment through His servants. And because Christ is thus the consummation of all the divine promises, therefore He is also the Amen, therefore all our prayers in His name are fitly closed with this confession of our trust in the willingness of God to give us all the spiritual blessings which we need throughout our lives. To the positive fulfillment of all the promises of God for the redemption of fallen mankind the believers give their joyful assent by their confession at the end of all creeds and prayers. And thus the Gospel-promises redound to the glory and praise of God out of the mouth of the believers, until the whole world rings with hymns in His honor.

God Himself Paul’s witness: V.21. Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ and hath anointed us is God, v.22. who hath also sealed us, and given thee earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. V.23. Moreover, I call God for a record upon my soul that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. V.24. not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy; for by faith ye stand. The content of the Gospel-preaching, which is so unquestionably reliable, naturally suggests the Author of its glorious message: He that sets us firm with you into Christ and has anointed us is God. That is the ultimate ground of St. Paul’s steadfastness and of that of all Christians. Teachers and hearers alike are firmly fixed in Christ by the power of God; they are grounded and rooted in Him; they have been anointed by Him, have been given spiritual endowment. Cp. 1 John 2, 27. At the same time, God also sealed us, that is, all believers, and gave us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. The terms used by St. Paul are in part legal terms to designate a definite guarantee. In Christ, through the anointing of the Spirit, God has paid us the earnest money of our salvation, and now He guarantees the delivery of that redemption, the consummation of our Christian hopes. 4) Note: A more definite promise and assurance of the certainty of salvation in the case of those that accept the redemption of Christ by faith can hardly be conceived of: God pays the earnest-money in the blood of His Son, He anoints us to know and believe His plan for the salvation of the world, He seals this knowledge in our hearts, He guarantees the full enjoyment of all our hopes. This was the climax of Paul’s message, and by its proclamation he vindicated his claim to the possession of an unblemished moral character.

The situation being such, however, the apostle could now bring out his most solemn asseveration: But I invoke God as a witness against my soul. As he had appealed to the faithfulness of God above, v.18, he here goes a step farther. If what he now says is untrue, may God appear as a witness against his soul, to its condemnation by His righteous sentence. This solemn oath was in this instance justifiable, because Paul’s credit as an apostle had been called into question, and with this was essentially connected the honor of Christ, who had sent him, and the cause of God, which he represented at Corinth. It was not a matter of levity or fickleness on account of which he had not come to Corinth as planned, but he gave up the thought of coming in order to spare them. He had hoped that his first letter would restore the Corinthian Christians to the proper relation with him, and that it would not become necessary for him to come with the rod, 1 Cor. 4, 21. Far from being the outflow of a selfish disposition, therefore, his treatment of the Corinthians in not revisiting them was a manifestation of his indulgent love. And lest this statement be again misconstrued as though he presumed upon rights over them which he did not possess, he adds, in a parenthetical form: Not that we are lords over your faith; it is not a part of his apostolic office to control their faith, their religious life, their relation to the Christian truth. But we are fellow-workers of your joy; it was his greatest delight to be able to serve them in bringing into their hearts the joy of faith. For by your faith you stand; that Paul gladly concedes to them. If in this respect they were submitting themselves to the authority of another, it would be impossible for them to show such uniform steadfastness. Note that the apostle speaks in a general way whenever he refers to the Christian character of his readers, always assuming, for the sake of charity, that his statement holds true of them all.

Summary. After the address the apostle opens his letter with a thanksgiving to God, which is continued as a word of consolation to his readers; he vindicates his conduct and life and the change in his plans in a passage emphasizing the certainty of the Gospel-promises.