1:1 From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia. 1:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace…to you – This giving of grace is in contrast to his readers, who could be described as ‘grace-robbers’. (a) They loved to label. They labelled Paul as noneloquent and weak. (b) They made comparisons. They compared Paul unfavourably with Apollos. (c) They had unrealistic expectations. Paul did not measure up to what they wanted him to be. Grace-robbers can be pessimists, whose negative words and attitudes destroy hope; they can be perfectionists, who set everyone up for failure; or they can be pedagogues, who insist they know it all and can tell everyone else how to do it right. Paul, however, was a ‘grace-giver’. He didn’t write off the Corinthians; he repeatedly stressed their potential; he loved them; he desired the best for them. (Adapted from Robert Crosby, How to be a Grace-Giver, Discipleship Journal, Mar/Apr 1996).
Thanksgiving for God’s Comfort, 3-11
1:3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 1:4 who comforts us in all our troubles so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – This remarkable description (see also 2 Cor 11:31; Eph 1:3,17; Rom 15:6; 1 Pet 1:3; Rev 1:6; Jn 20:17) does not conflict with our belief in the deity of Christ. It relates to Christ as Mediator, who as God’s anointed servant humbled himself and suffered as a man. Cf. Mk 15:34.
God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our own sonship is dependent and derivative; a sonship ‘in Christ’. It is ours not by hereditary right, but by gracious adoption.
The Father of compassion = ‘the all-compassionate Father’. See Ps 103:13-14.
The God of all comfort – Here is the specific reason why God is to be praised: he is the author of all true and lasting comfort. This is an excellency peculiar to the true and living God, for the heathen deities are represented as being so cruel and ferocious that even their own worshippers regard them as objects of dread (Pink).
The word ‘comfort’ occurs ten times in vv3-7. The idea is of standing beside someone to encourage him when he is undergoing severe testing. Each member of the Trinity is involved in this work of comfort. In this passage, the role of the Father in comforting and consoling us is very much in mind. But the Holy Spirit, as Paraclete, strengthens and guides us, Jn 14:16. Likewise, Jesus is our Paraclete also, for he is our Advocate with the Father and our Helper in time of temptation, 1 Jn 2:1; Heb 2:18.
…who comforts us…so that we can comfort – The comfort we receive is not for our personal benefit only. The Christian experience of suffering, and the experience of divine comfort, equips us for the ministry of comforting and encouraging others. If we are afflicted, it is so that we can sympathise with others in their affliction. If we are blessed, it is so that we might be a blessing to others.
‘The riches of the Spirit are not to be kept to ourselves but whatever a man receives he is to pass on to others’ (Calvin).
‘God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters’ (J.H. Jowett). And Paul, who had received such comfort, wished to be a channel of comfort to the Corinthians, v6. See also Ps 94:19.
Paul no doubt finds such comforting preferable to administering the faithful wounds of a friend, Pr 27:6: though he did not flinch from this duty, he did not rejoice in it (Wilson).
This assertion is in the present tense, showing that this comfort is not just occasional, but constant and unfailing.
When Paul says that God comforts us in all our troubles, he speaks from personal experience, 1 Cor 11:23. Paul often felt overwhelmed with anxieties for the churches. Moreover, he had a thorn in the flesh to trouble him. And yet, God’s comfort enabled him not merely to endure, but actually to rejoice in affliction, 1 Cor 12:10.
‘This state of mind can be experienced only by those who are so filled with the love of Christ, that they rejoice in everything, however painful to themselves, whereby his glory is promoted. And where this state of mind exists, no afflictions can equal the consolations by which they are attended’ (Charles Hodge).
1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow toward us, so also our comfort through Christ overflows to you. 1:6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort that you experience in your patient endurance of the same sufferings that we also suffer. 1:7 And our hope for you is steadfast because we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you will share in our comfort.
This drives home what has just been stated. It reminds us of that relationship between Christian suffering and Christian comfort in which the latter more than compensates for the former.
But Paul is not speaking of suffering in general, but of the sufferings of Christ. Suffering which is the consequence of sin is not ‘of Christ’ and has no blessing in it. ‘It is true that both good men and bad share in the miseries and hardships of this present life, but for the ungodly they are signs of God’s curse because they are the results of sin’ (Calvin).
Nor, when he says that the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, is Paul suggesting that we share in the redemptive activity of Christ, for that is absolutely unique. But here he is speaking of a very real partnership with Christ in his sufferings, Php 3:10; 1 Pet 4:12f.
This fellowship with Christ in his sufferings is a willingness to be persecuted as he was persecuted, Jn 15:20; a readiness to drink his cup, Mt 20:23. As for Christ suffering preceded glory, so those who wish to share in his glory must first be willing to share in his sufferings, Rom 8:17; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim 2:12.
So, in proportion as we share in Christ’s sufferings, we experience his consolation. ‘As union with Christ was the source of the afflictions which Paul endured, so it was the source of the abundant consolation which he enjoyed’ (Hodge). Thus we follow in our Master’s footsteps, Heb 12:2.
‘Did you never run to a tree for shelter in a storm, and find fruit which you did not expect? Did you never go to God for safeguard in these times, driven by outward storms, and there find unexpected fruit, the peaceable fruit of righteousness, that made you say, “Happy tempest, which cast me into such a harbor”?’ (John Owen)
1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. 1:9 Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. 1:10 He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, 1:11 as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to God on our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
The affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia – ‘Paul does not give details about their hardships in Asia, although his accounts of all three missionary journeys record many difficult trials he faced. (Ac 13:2-14:28; 15:40-21:17) he does write that they felt doomed to die, and realized that they could do nothing to help themselves-they simply had to trust in God.
‘The thing he doesn’t mention explicitly, but which would be an important factor in his mind and that of his readers, is that illness and suffering in the ancient world was regularly regarded as a sign of divine displeasure. Whatever it was that Paul had gone through, it would have been easy for his enemies, or those who were jealous of him, to think to themselves that it probably served him right, that God was most likely punishing him for something or other. Not so, says Paul. These things come not because God is angry but because he wants you to trust him the more fully. Many of the greatest saints and mystics (insofar as we have any idea what ‘greatness’ means in such cases) have spoken of a sense of darkness in which they discern the call of God to trust him beyond what they can see or imagine. This is something the ancient world had not thought of. Paul was breaking new ground. He wanted the Corinthians to understand that this, too, was part of the earth-shattering implication of the gospel.’ (Wright)
We often depend on our own skills and abilities when life seems easy, but we turn to God when we feel unable to help ourselves. Depending on God is not defeat or weakness, but a realization of our own powerlessness without him and our need for his constant contact. God is our source of power, and we receive his help by keeping in touch with him. With this attitude, problems will drive us to God rather than away from him. Learn how to rely on God daily.’ (HBA)
Paul Defends His Changed Plans, 12-22
1:12 For our reason for confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that with pure motives and sincerity which are from God—not by human wisdom but by the grace of God—we conducted ourselves in the world, and all the more toward you.
1:13 For we do not write you anything other than what you can read and also understand. But I hope that you will understand completely 1:14 just as also you have partly understood us, that we are your source of pride just as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
1:15 And with this confidence I intended to come to you first so that you would get a second opportunity to see us, 1:16 and through your help to go on into Macedonia and then from Macedonia to come back to you and be helped on our way into Judea by you.
1:17 Therefore when I was planning to do this, I did not do so without thinking about what I was doing, did I? Or do I make my plans according to mere human standards so that I would be saying both “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 1:18 But as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”
‘To defend his change of travel plans Paul draws his readers’ attention to the nature of the message he preached to them: As surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ adding that no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. There is not arbitrary breaking of promises as far as God is concerned. And, Paul implies, just as God is faithful in fulfilling the promises of the gospel, so Paul, as a preacher of the gospel, may be trusted not to say one thing about his travel plans and then without real cause do another.’ (NBC)
Summary of vv18-22:- ‘Paul first defends the changes in his plans by reminding his readers of the faithfulness of the God whom he serves and that all of God’s promises will ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The Corinthians themselves affirm this whenever they join in the “Amen” of Christian worship (v. 20), and through the Spirit given at their baptism they have already experienced the reality of it (v. 22).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
1:19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the one who was proclaimed among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but it has always been “Yes” in him. 1:20 For every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him; therefore also through him the “Amen” is spoken, to the glory we give to God. 1:21 But it is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, 1:22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.
Every one of God’s promises are “Yes” in him – Clarifying what has been said in the previous verse about it always having been ‘Yes’ in Jesus Christ, Paul reminds them that the Scriptures contain many promises of God concerning the gospel age, and all of these find their fulfilment in Christ. If this is the case, then we should always read the OT with Christ in mind, and with Christ as the interpretative principle.
‘The Old Testament contains many promises of God that would find their fulfilment in Christ, including, for example, the seed of the woman who will bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the raising up of one like Moses (Deut. 18:15; John 7:40; Acts 3:22; 7:37), one who will sit on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12–13), and the servant of the Lord who will bear the sins of the people (Isa. 53:4–11). Not one of these promises would fail to find its fulfilment in Christ.’ (Kruse, 2nd ed.)
‘For over a thousand years Israel had lived on those promises, trusting that the God who had called Israel to be his people would lead them forward, and accomplish in the end what he had planned and purposed. Paul’s whole life was built on the belief that in Jesus of Nazareth God had done exactly that: Jesus was the Messiah, the culmination and crown of Israel’s long story, the answer to all Israel’s hopes and prayers, the fulfilment of all the promises. God had finally said Yes, and had said it so loudly through Jesus’ resurrection that it was now echoing all around the world.’ (Wright)
‘Christ is the fulfiller and fulfilment of all the promises of God because he is the sum and substance of them. From Genesis to Malachi – from the protevangelium, the first promise of a Redeemer, to prophecy’s last witness to his coming – each and every promise finds its affirmation and accomplishment in him..’ (Lk 24:44; Gal 3:16; Heb 10:7) (Wilson)
‘The promises of God are amen in Christ, because he is the sum and substance of them. He says in a sense which includes the idea here expressed, “I am the truth,” Jn 14:6; and in Rev 3:7 he is designated as “He that is true;” and in Rev 3:14 he is called, “The Amen, the faithful and true witness.”‘ (Hodge) Cf. Heb 6:18.
‘The entire New Testament is a testimony that God’s promises have been and are being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Mt 5:17-18), to remove the curse of the law (Gal 3:13), to grant the gift of righteousness (Mt 6:33), to give eternal life (Jn 17:3), and through the Father to send the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16; 14:26; 15:26). In Jesus Christ God’s promises have been realized, and the Corinthians will have to acknowledge the truth of this matter.’ (Kistemaker)
Through him the “Amen” is spoken by us – ‘Christ’s “Yea” to all the Divine promises is appropriated by the “Amen” of faith. In affixing this seal to his faithfulness, faith gives glory to God. (Jn 3:33 Rom 4:20) It is both through Christ and through those who preach him (“through us”) that men are brought to say the “Amen” of faith. For though Christ is the great awakener of faith, “His appeal reaches the world through his representatives.” (Goudge) Rom 10:17.’ (Wilson)
Note the natural Trinitarian sequence of v21-22: ‘God…Christ…the Spirit’.
His seal of ownership – such a seal would have been placed on an important document, or container, to affirm its ownership and to protect it from interference. See Dan 6:17; 1 Kings 21:8. In the same way, God gives the Holy Spirit to those who are his, to show that they belong to him and that they are secure for ever. Cf. 2 Tim 2:19 ‘Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”‘
A deposit – cf. 2 Cor 5:5. Not simply a pledge, but a first instalment, guaranteeing that the full amount will be paid later. In NT times, such a deposit might have been paid as a dowry for a wife. Christians have received ‘the firstfruits of the Spirit’, Rom 8:23, as the guarantee of full harvest to follow.
Lightfoot emphasises that the present work of the Spirit is the same in kind as ‘what is to come’. ‘The actual spiritual life of the Christian is the same in kind as his future spiritual life; the kingdom of heaven is a present kingdom; the believer is already seated on the right hand of God… Nevertheless the present gift of the Spirit is only a small fraction of the future endowment.’
Why Paul Postponed His Visit, 23-24
1:23 Now I appeal to God as my witness, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. 1:24 I do not mean that we rule over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy, because by faith you stand firm.