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Observations on 2 Corinthians 1

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1) Verse 4 moves from the affliction of the apostles ("our") to the comfort of "those who are in any affliction." This movement does not depend on any similarity or identity between the affliction of the apostles and the affliction of other sufferers (though cf. v. 6b). Members of the church may be afflicted in ways that the apostles have never experienced, but the apostles are still able to provide comfort through their own experience of comfort in affliction. Here is an apostle who has been flogged and imprisoned; here is a young woman bereaved of a newborn baby; does the apostle's experience give him authority to speak comfort to her? Paul says Yes: "any" affliction.

The reason, perhaps, is that the dynamic of affliction and comfort is a constant, despite the infinite variety of particular circumstances. Affliction is always a kind of dying, comfort a kind of resurrection, and an apostle who has been raised from a sentence of death, or has been hopeful in the midst of death, can assure any other believer that God will raise him as well.

2) Verse 5 suggests a proportion between suffering and comfort. This is evident from the "just as . . . so also" structure of the verse, and also from the similarities of language: sufferings/Christ/abundance – comfort/abundant/Christ. (The Greek more chiastic, with Christ at the hinge: "just as (a) abounds the (b) sufferings (c) of Christ through us, so also (c) through Christ (a) abounds (b) our comfort." Or, more simply: "just as (a) abounds the sufferings (b) of Christ through us, so also (b) through Christ (a) abounds our comfort.") The greater the affliction, then, the greater the comfort. No wonder Paul boasts of his sufferings, since the more he suffers the more his life exalts the resurrection power of God. And, because the comfort is mediated through the apostles to the church, the greater the effectiveness of the apostles' ministry.

3) Did Paul die for the Corinthians? In 1 Corinthians, he vehemently denies it (1:13). Yet, notice the powerful statement of 2 Corinthians 1:6: The affliction of the apostles, and especially Paul, is for the purpose of bringing comfort and "salvation" to the Corinthians. Paul is not talking about offering a substitutionary atonement for the church, but what is he talking about? How do his afflictions bring about the "salvation" of the church? Paul goes on to talk about the need for the Corinthians to endure patiently through sufferings, and this might provide a clue. Paul is afflicted; Paul finds confidence and comfort in the Lord; because of his experience, he can give confidence and comfort to others. And because of the comfort they receive from Paul, they are encouraged to persevere through suffering, rather than turning from the Lord and falling by the wayside (as many did – cf. Hebrews). Paul's sufferings contribute to the salvation of the Corinthians by providing a living example of patient endurance, since it is those who persevere to the end that shall be saved.

4) Scott Hafemann points out that Paul's letter opens with a section that begins and ends in praise – beginning with the berekah of verse 3, and ending with the "thanks" offered by many because of the deliverance of the apostles. Suffering and comfort is thus set in this doxological context, and the dynamic of affliction and deliverance, death and resurrection, aims to evoke thanksgiving from the church.

posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, April 06, 2006 at 02:30 PM

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