II Corinthians 1–2. Paul in Distress.

Key Notes: The reward of pain is comfort for others.Paul's tangled schedule. Jesus is our "Yes" and "Amen". A guarantee? Smelling good and smelling bad.

In II Corinthians, Paul is dealing with distress. He is continuing his third missionary journey but the hardships pile up. He is upset with a problem of discipline in the Corinthian Church, and continuing challenges to his leadership. He has the burden of the many other churches he had started as well and the accumulated physical injuries of his many years of missionary work. He went through a crushing personal crisis in Asia, either sickness or persecution. He is more upset than we would expect when he could not find Titus at Troas.

We do not know the source of Paul’s distress in Asia, neither the nature of the new problem of discipline in Corinth, nor the content of the painful letter,  nor the time of Paul’s painful visit. We know a little about the false apostles. Yet there is a lot that we can understand and profit from. We will learn about the labors of an extraordinary missionary and get an inside look at the Christian ministry. He will also give us plenty of solid spiritual meat as a side dish, perhaps the main dish of this letter.

This is Paul’s fourth letter to Corinth. The first one is referred to in ICor.5:9. The third was the “painful  letter” (IICor.2:3,4)  which also did not survive. The second letter is our I Corinthians and the fourth is II Corinthians.

This letter is in three parts.
Chapters 1–7 deal with church discipline and his defense of the ministry.
Chapters 8–9 encourage the Corinthians to be generous givers.
Paul’s defense of his apostleship in chapters 10–13 is in reaction to Jews (11:12; 13,22) who are false apostles.

The theme  of the first half of II Corinthians is a discipline problem which required Paul to make a brief  “painful visit”to Corinth (2:1) and write a painful letter. (2:3,4). Some think it was the same person referred to in ICor.5:1, who was guilty of incest. It appears to have been one personal sin—one perpetrator and one victim (7:12)—but it was too much for Timothy to handle.

The themes of the book can be seen in some repeated words.
The word “comfort” (Gr. parakleseos) is used 10 times in the first chapter.
“Affliction” (Gr. thlipsis) is mentioned 10 times in the book.
Paul’s “weakness” (Gr. asthene)  is referred to 10 times if we include I Corinthians.
Paul speaks of “boasting” (Gr. kauchaomai)  more than 17 times in II Corinthians.

1:1 Paul and Timothy, presumably both still in Ephesus, address “ all the saints of Achaia….”  This is a general letter intended for circulation to other cities beside Corinth.

1:2 Grace and peace. Grace comes before peace.

1:3–7 This passage is about suffering and comfort. The word “comfort” is used ten times in this brief space.
God is the Father of all mercies, the God of all comfort.

1:5 We share abundantly in Christ’s suffering. “So through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

Paul and Timothy’s suffering is for the Corinthians’ salvation. Their comfort after tribulations is for the Corinthians’ comfort as well. They share with the Corinthians both suffering and comfort.

1: 6 Suffering is our common experience. The effect of suffering  is to make us rely on God (1:9), and to make us effective in ministering to other sufferers. 1:4

The New Testament confirms  our suffering.
“…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies.” (IICor.4:1)
 “…that I may know Him and the fellowship of His suffering....” (Phil.3:10)
“…in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the church….” (Col.1:24)
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings….” (IPet. 4:13).
“Therefore let us go forth to Him outside the camp, and bear the abuse He endured.” (Heb.13:13)

1: 8–11 The immediate cause of his suffering was a devastating experience which may have been persecution,  although  in Ephesus he did not get into the riot started by Demetrius and the silver-smiths. (Acts.19). I suspect that Paul, and perhaps others in his party, got sick from one of the endemic, and overwhelming diseases of the sub-tropics such as malaria, dengue (“break-bone fever”), typhoid or cholera. They were near death. God delivered them. He will deliver them and they hope that He will deliver them yet again.
“You must help us by prayer….”

1:12–2:11   Paul goes on with a defense of his travel plans because  he is accused of waffling, a man who cannot make up his mind. Paul’s writing is plain and easily understood. He and Timothy had, by the grace of God, behaved with sincerity and holiness.

He changed his plan for good reason. He had planned to visit Achaia (and Corinth) coming and going from Macedonia before he went on to Judea. He had to change his mind. He was forced to make a quick trip to Corinth from Ephesus, and back to Ephesus because of the discipline problem (2:2) which was resolved, with the person repentant (2:7) and forgiven (2:7–10).

Plan A. The original travel schedule was: Ephesus->Macedonia->Corinth->Judea. ICor.16:5
Plan B. His revised itinerary had been to make two trips to Corinth: Ephesus->Corinth->Macedonia-> Corinth->Judea. IICor.1:15
Plan C. was the emergency discipline trip : Ephesus.->Corinth. ->Ephesus. Paul then decided to spare them another painful visit. ICor.1:23
Plan A was finally carried out.

Does Paul vacillate? Is he a worldly man who can’t make up his mind? His plans were based entirely on the needs of the churches. The message of the Gospel is “yes”, and “amen” and “guaranteed”.

2:12–17 Paul was so agitated in Troas that he could not be effective. Titus was expected to meet Paul there returning from Corinth with news of how they had responded to Paul’s painful letter. Titus was not there. They met in Macedonia. He reported to Paul that the Corinthians had grieved and repented. (7:5–17). Someone had been wronged by another (7:12) but the Corinthians had reacted in a godly manner. They had been forgiving and Paul extended his forgiveness as well.

So what Paul feared would be a disaster turned into triumph.
A Triumph was a ceremonial parade in which a Roman army commander was rewarded for a great military achievement. Behind the victorious army was a parade of captured people. The last people in the parade were the priests with their censors, leaving behind a fine fragrance at the end of the parade.
Paul takes the idea and notes that to the believers (cheering spectators) they are the fragrance of life. To the perishing (the captured and defeated enemy in the parade) , they smell of death because the prisoners were liable to execution at the end of the parade.

We are all inadequate. But he is not a Gospel peddler; he is commissioned to speak sincerely of Christ.


I. Suffering, like temptation, is part of everyone's existence. Christians have extra suffering because we are members of Christ, and are therefore liable to be hated by the World. Suffering serves two purposes. It makes us rely on God, as the farmer must rely on God for rain and sun. It also makes us servants of other sufferers. As we have been comforted, so we can comfort others. The ex-alcoholic, the no-longer-depressed, the survivor of a broken marriage or child abuse, and the persecuted are able to help other sufferers in unique ways. An older woman who has recovered from  her depression is a wonderful aid to a young mother trying to get over post-partum depression.

“The sufferer finds his pain equipping him as a missionary of comfort.”

II. Prayer is vital in the comfort ministry. It may not be the only thing we can do, but it is the more important.

“In Him it is always ‘yes’”. “All the promises of God find their “Yes” in Him. That is why we utter the “Amen” through Him, to the glory of God.” Amen is a Hebrew word used at the end of a prayer, or a curse or a vow to add emphasis. (ICor.14:16, for example). We mean the same if we say “Yes, Lord. “…we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God”. We pray through Christ to the Father (Jn.16:23), and we pray in the Holy Spirit. Eph.6:18

If we read an OT prayer, such as Neh.1 or Dan.9, we find the pray-er making a long preface to the prayer request. God’s covenant promises are repeated, the sins of Israel are confessed; God’s promises are repeated, and finally there is a short petition. When we pray, we go right to the petition. We do not usually think of hallowing the Father’s Name, or advancing His Kingdom, although Jesus said we should. But when we close with “Amen” or, “in Jesus’ Name, Amen”, we have summarized all that God has promised to us. One of Jesus’ names is “the Amen”. (Rev.3:14). Jesus is the sum of all that God has promised, has done and will do in the world.

III. God has put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (Eph.1:14) The Greek word (“arrabon”)  is commonly used  in Greek for a down-payment, as we would pay down money in advance to rent a room for a party;  or put down earnest money for the purchase of a house; or give an engagement ring as proof of the promise to marry. The Holy Spirit is also the down payment on our resurrection body. IICor.5:5

No other world religion has a guarantee. There is no assurance of salvation is Islam, or even in Roman Catholicism for that matter. The Buddhist or Hindu expects reincarnation although longing for extinction in Nirvana. The animist will be gathered to the ancestors and hope that his children will give rest to his soul by prayers to the spirits.

Perhaps you are not sure of the Holy Spirit and need some other assurance, some other guarantee to stake your future on? Is the Holy Spirit really in my life?
“…no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” ( 12:3).
If Jesus is Lord and you can say so with conviction, the Holy Spirit has given you that word.

  1. Paul made a special trip to Corinth for the purpose of church discipline. The discipline was effective. Paul made sure that forgiveness and restoration was accomplished. Satan can take advantage of unresolved conflict as well as unfinished judgment. David’s treatment of Absalom is an example of unresolved discipline and judgment and it was disastrous to both of them. Absalom lost his life; David almost lost his kingdom.

    Church discipline is a difficult and strenuous task. It can be brutal, as it was in the Inquisition. It can be trivial. Churches dread litigation. The church worries about which sinner should cast the first stone. The large denominations fear divisions. Discipline is usually ignored and the church is much weakened by tolerating corruption, especially in its leaders.

“Who is sufficient for all these things? “ We can see Paul shrugging his shoulders. We smell good to those who are saved and smell bad to those who are dying. We are not hucksters. We operate sincerely, commissioned by God, speaking in Christ.

Speaking of Christ, in Christ,  is our task.