Second Corinthians is arguably the most personal of Paul’s nine letters to the churches (not including those to Timothy, Titus, or Philemon). Over thirteen chapters he shared his physical and emotional distress, he encouraged a volatile group of believers, and he defended his own authority as an apostle. The first section (chapters 1-5) contains the major key to the letter’s theme (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and reveals the apostle as weak and sickly, battling heartache and depression. In this letter, Paul truly wrote out of his pain.
Paul’s exact location at the time of this writing is uncertain, but his account of waiting for Titus at Troas then going to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:5-7) seems to place him in Macedonia in Acts 20 (Philippi, Thessalonica, or Berea), so wrote this letter around A.D. 56.
Chapter one breaks slightly from the traditional ancient letter format. Following the writer’s name and intended recipients, we find Paul’s standard blessing of “grace and peace” (2 Corinthians 1:2). Often there would be a short prayer of thanksgiving for the readers as well (see Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; et al), but Paul chose to focus his attention immediately upon God, the Great Comforter. Paul was quick to declare a major purpose they were comforted “in all our troubles” was “so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The cliché, “Blessed to be a blessing,” is more appropriately stated, “Comforted to extend comfort.”
The reason for Paul’s introductory remarks are obvious very quickly: he and Timothy were sick and discouraged (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Consider his descriptions of their current state: “affliction…burdened excessively, beyond our strength…despaired even of living…sentence of death…so great a risk of death.” Whatever the situations that combined to bring them to that point, Paul’s only hope was that the believers would join together with him in prayer and that God would deliver them from death again.
A second purpose of this letter is revealed in 2 Corinthians 1:12-22. Paul had intended to visit Corinth again, in order to provide them with a spiritual blessing and experience mutual comfort and growth (2 Corinthians 1:15; see Romans 1:11-12). While he was with them, he expected that they would help him get to Macedonia and back to Judea. Although he deliberately chose to not live off of their financial support, Paul knew he had that right and was not hesitant to seek support when he thought it necessary (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-12). However, as he would explain shortly, he had to change those plans.
Unfortunately, it appears that someone had used his delay to malign Paul and make it seem that he was two-faced, promising one thing yet doing something else. Paul questioned his accusers and those who listened to them: “Is this my normal method you have to come expect? Is this the gospel I preached to you, how I presented Christ? Have my co-workers, Silas or Timothy, ever given that impression?” His answer was, “Of course not. God speaks only truth, and we glory him by doing the same.” Paul claimed that the truth of his promises (and plans) were based in God’s own strength, our unity in Christ, and the Spirit’s indwelling and sealing (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
What a great reminder for us that speaking the truth is the very work of the Trinity in our lives.