Paul begins this second letter to the church at Corinth a year after the previous one. Where the first letter preached perfect unity among each other, Paul now urges the church to practice perfect unity with him in his ministry.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:1-4).
We would never have guessed, five years ago when we started this blog marathon through the entire Bible that the timing of this letter would be a bullseye for what many churches are facing today – seeking perfect unity in the ministry of our churches amidst an extended period of suffering. My point here is not to debate masks or no masks, but to acknowledge that some of our churches have thrived, drawing together in unity, and some have not.
Paul encourages us to turn, together to The Father of Mercies and God of all comfort, to comfort us in unity with the ministerial sufferings of churches everywhere.
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor 1:5).
When Paul says “we” here, he is referring to the sufferings of himself, Timothy, and the churches of Achaia. So we can ask what we have learned about the sufferings of the churches in America during the pandemic of 2020. How can we identify ministries that have thrived in suffering and those that have struggled? And how can we encourage each other in unity of ministry? Keep these questions in mind as we travel through this letter.
“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort” (2 Cor 1:6-7).
If you are running short on joy right now due to pandemic affliction, can you find joy in knowing that you are not alone and therefore join your brothers and sisters in the comforts of prayer for them?
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-9).
Read that second half of verse 9 again.
Are we relying on ourselves or on God? If the former, we will suffer more, but only to the extent that Jesus wants us to rely instead on unity with other ministries that are thriving, which we can do today much more powerfully through on-line worship services. Go to where you can feel the joy penetrating your soul in perfect unity and celebrate amidst afflictions.
Then you can say with Paul:
“He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1:10-11).
As the smoke from wildfires in Colorado suffocates us once again, we know God will deliver us again, just as he has from the pandemic madness.
Shall we rely on ourselves for that next difficult breath, or on God?