Thanksgiving: Part 3 of 4 (series: Lessons on 2 Co.)
by John Lowe
6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
The idea conveyed by verses 6 and 7 is this: If we are afflicted it is for our own good, and if we are comforted it is for our own good. Everything else in this passage is subordinated to these two main ideas. Paul does not glory in suffering in itself. But he knows that suffering for Christ identifies us with Him and His church and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Rom. 8:7). Consolation means comfort. Only those who have gone through deep testings know how to speak a fitting word to others who are called upon to go through the same. A mother who has lost an only child can better comfort another mother who has just been crushed by that heartache. Or, best of all, a father who has lost an only son can best console those who have lost loved ones.
The line “which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer” reveals how deeply Paul was burdened by desire for their salvation as he ministered to the Corinthians, and how he was suffering from the opposition of the Jews and false teachers. Those who believed suffered along with Paul and were enabled to endure, along with the apostle, which exemplifies the communion of saints. Their hearts were, so to speak, mirrors reflecting the likeness of each other. Paul is referring to the body of Christ who have a partnership of suffering with Christ, which mutually builds godly patience and endurance (1 Cor 12:26). All believers need to realize this process, avoid any sense of self-pity when suffering for Him, and share in one another’s lives the encouragement of divine comfort they receive from their experiences. The apostolic church did not grow because of a lack of hostility and persecution, but in spite of it. He paid a price to bring them the Gospel, guide their growth, and comfort them in their trials; but Paul’s willingness, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, to suffer and then be comforted, and then comfort and strengthen the Corinthians, enabled them to persevere. The apostle’s sufferings and comfort would benefit the Corinthians in two ways. First, Paul himself was now better prepared to serve them, for experiences that come to Christians are not for them alone, but also for the benefit of others (v. 4). Secondly, we are told in verse 7 that the Corinthians too could learn to draw from the same source of comfort. This is one practical illustration of what is meant by the communion (‘fellowship,’ ‘sharing’) of the saints. Therefore, Christians should encourage each other.
Salvation, as used here, refers to the Corinthian’s ongoing perseverance to final, completed salvation when they will be glorified And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. (Rom. 13:11). Paul doesn’t have our justification in view, but the final feature of our redemption, glorification. We will be glorified when Jesus returns. Until then we groan with grief over our remaining sinfulness. The process that began with Christ’s choice will culminate with our glorification, and the redemption of all of man’s remaining fallenness—the full realization of our inheritance.
7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
As you are, or rather, “As we are, so are you.” He means, there is a cooperative spirit of consolation, just as there is of suffering, between me and you. Some in the church at Corinth, perhaps the majority, were suffering for righteousness, as Paul was. Although that church had caused him much pain and concern, Paul saw its members as partners to be helped, because of their faithfulness in mutual suffering. Paul’s severe letter produced in them a profound sorrow as they understood how their reprehensible behavior had grieved Paul. It had certainly distressed him to write it, but he did it out of love for them, and for their comfort and salvation. Sufferings never come alone for the Christian. They are always followed by the consolation of Christ. We, too, can be as confident of this, as was Paul.
8 For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
Paul uses the plural our throughout the letter. It usually was a humble reference to Paul himself, but in this instance, it could include others as well. When the apostle uses the expression for we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, it is usually to introduce a point he wants to emphasize. The trouble which came to us in Asia is clarified in verse 9. Asia
was the Roman province of that name, and Ephesus was its most important city. This was a recent occurrence (following the writing of 1st Corinthians) that happened in and around Ephesus. Paul faced something that was beyond human survival, was extremely discouraging because he believed it threatened to end his ministry permanently, and created an atmosphere where he despaired even of life. Some suggest it was a deadly sickness, and others think that it might refer to disheartening news from Corinth. Fortunately, the value and enjoyment of such a passage do not depend on knowing the exact details.
The Greek word for “despaired” means literally “no passage,” the total absence of an exit. That he does not give more details concerning his trouble in Asia, seems to indicate that the Corinthians were aware of what had happened to Paul, but did not realize the utter severity of it, or what God was doing through those circumstances.
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
In verses 8 and 9, the apostle informs them of the imminent loss of life he faced while preaching Christ in Ephesus (see Acts 19:23-41). There, a great multitude was stirred up by Demetrius against Paul and his associates for attacking the religion of Dianne of Ephesus. The words (v. 9) “we had the sentence of death in ourselves” mean that he looked upon himself as a man condemned to die. There can be little doubt that had Paul been found by that mob, they would have torn him to pieces. Besides that, Luke records in Acts that there were other dangers faced by Paul which were equally dangerous, such as the Jews lying in wait and hoping to kill him (Acts 20:19), his ceaseless foes. They, no doubt, incited the multitude at Ephesus (Acts 19:9) and were the chief among the “many adversaries” and “wild beasts” which he had to fight with there (1 Cor. 15:32; 16:9). His weak state of health at the time, combined with all this to make him regard himself as all but dead (2 Cor. 11:29; 12:10). This was the very cause of him not visiting Corinth directly as he had intended, and for which he will later apologize (vv. 15-23). But he would take time to see if the evils arising in Corinth, not only from the Greek, but from the Jewish agitators of the church, would be checked by His first Epistle. When he found out that it was not fully checked he was led to write this second Epistle. Other reasons for the sufferings he mentions here have been proposed by commentators as (1) the pain brought to him by the problems of the Corinthian church (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28-29); or (2) the beating he experienced at the hands of the Jews in the Lucus Valley; or (3) a drastic illness which he contracted. All such views are merely speculation. He did not expressly mention his reasons here, but that is to be expected at the beginning of this letter; towards the close when he had won their approval and support by a kindly and firm tone, he gives a more distinct reference to Jewish agitators (See 2 Cor. 11:22). Being unable to be specific in identifying this experience permits believers today to apply this to themselves, especially when they find themselves in desperate circumstances where deliverance seems impossible.
Above strength means that his troubles were a burden beyond the ordinary, natural powers of human endurance. The result was that he despaired even of life—as far as human help or hope from man was concerned. But in respect to help from God, we were not in despair We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair (2 Cor. 4:8)
. In other words, we did not trust in ourselves but in God. That was God’s ultimate purpose for Paul’s horrible experience. The Lord took him to the point that he could not fall back on any intellectual, physical, or emotional human resource (2nd Cor. 12:9-10)
But in God who raises the dead, or rather,we had given up all thoughts of life, so that our only hope was in the coming resurrection; so in 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul says, “If, in the manner of men, I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantage is it to me? If the dead do not rise, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” The resurrection was what buoyed him up when he was contending with his foes, who he describes as savage as wild beasts. Paul understood that trust in God’s power to raise the dead was the only hope of rescue from his extreme circumstances. Here he only touches on the doctrine of the resurrection, taking it for granted that its truth is admitted by the Corinthians, and urging its inspiration on their lives. God who raises the dead was a title of God with which Paul was familiar, since it was from the Jewish prayer, the Eighteenth Benediction: ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou makest the dead to live.’