By the time the Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians it appears that some time had elapsed between him and being with the believers in Corinth. Whereas Paul felt comfortable enough to rebuke them for problems and to solicit funds for Jewish believers in Israel (1 Cor. 16:1-4), something clearly had changed. It appears that a conflict erupted that possibly had something to do with the fact that Paul changed his plans when he would return to them (2 Cor. 1:23; 2:1; 7:12).
Sometime after Paul visited Corinth he wrote another letter, marked with tears, about his painful visit with them (2 Cor. 2:3-4). Although this letter is not available, by the time he wrote 2 Corinthians Paul had left Asia Minor for Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:13), where he received a report from Titus that they had received this “letter of tears.” They were reconciled, which greatly encouraged Paul (2 Cor. 7:5-16).
Thus the beginning of this second epistle makes sense as Paul the Apostle explains why he changed his travel plans (2 Cor. 1:15-20). He begins with the comforting words that God will be with them in the midst of their troubles (1:3-11). These words remain as relevant today even though they were written long ago. Today we seek “comfort through Christ in the same way that we share so many of Christ’s sufferings” (vs. 5, CEB). The Bible does not promise that we will avoid trials and sufferings, but instead, we seek comfort during such times through Jesus Christ. And as fellow believers we have the opportunity to recognize those around us who “are partners in suffering” as well as “partners in comfort” (vs. 7).
On the campus where I teach we recently lost a young man in the prime of life (he was only 23 years old!). It is easy during such times to recognize our own fears. Yet if we are honest we all recognize that there are times, when like the Apostle Paul, we do not think we will survive (vs. 8). Yet we are a people of hope because it is Jesus Christ who rescues us from a more “terrible death,” the alienation with God brought about by sin. This rescue was made possible through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. In the meantime, Paul says, we are grateful for the many prayers for our ministry and suffering, and for the precious gift of salvation through Jesus Christ (vs. 11). Prayer does not prevent suffering, but rather, it gives us strength to endure it.
Michael W. Campbell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Historical/Theological Studies
Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies