Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is such an amazing bit of real estate in the Bible! In it, we discover that Paul, the great apostle, church planter and New Testament author experienced the same kind of deep, personal pain we experience when our motives, our message and our mission come under attack. It can be argued that 2 Corinthians contains the most spiritually and emotionally intense portions in all of his writings. In it, Paul bared his soul, and he revealed how he was so deeply wounded by the fickle hearts of men and women he had loved and served for over a year and a half.
“I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me” (2 Corinthians 12:15 NLT).
In this letter, the Holy Spirit reveals to us so much of Paul: his sufferings, his values and his motives. In it, we gain invaluable insight into Spirit-led leadership, and how a man with legitimate authority should exercise that authority when it was being challenged! THAT is no easy bit of road to navigate! The Holy Spirit shows us how Paul could love (11: 11) — but also rebuke (12: 11). He shows how Paul was legitimately angry with the Corinthian believers — yet he constantly grieved over them and continued to love them.
But here’s another really big reason why 2 Corinthians is so important for us that the Holy Spirit inspired it and preserved it for us: It’s in the context of Paul’s heart crushing dealings with the Corinthians that we find some of the MOST precious promises and powerful doctrinal teaching in the New Testament. In 2 Peter, we’re told that God has “granted to us His precious and very great promises.” On this side of heaven, we have read and held fast to many of those promises found in 2 Corinthians. But they become even greater — even more precious — when we understand the pit from which they were mined.
It was in the context of wading through the muck and mire of a messy church and all the personal pain and spiritual challenges that arose from it that Paul wrote: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
That truth was the solid ground that Paul held to in the maelstrom of spiritual and emotional chaos involving the church in Corinth. When the lives and ministry he had invested in there at Corinth were like shifting sand, Paul was able to hold his ground because he knew that God’s promises were unchanging and unfailing. We learn from Paul that the only solid thing in the universe is the Word of God (Matthew 7:24-25). When our emotions cause us to question the Word of God, we need to cling to the Word of God not our emotions.
Here’s another great promise that is even more precious when we think of the situation Paul was in when he wrote it: “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).
Ministry is not simply a matter of man doing God’s work.
Ministry is God doing His work through human agency. The men and women in the church in Corinth had pretty much decided that Paul wasn’t competent to minister because he had no credentials — no letters of recommendation. Paul stood on this great truth: NO credentials or training are sufficient to make one a minister. Gospel work is simply beyond the scope of human man capacity. It is the gifts and power of the Spirit ALONE that make a man or woman able ministers of the Gospel. All that Paul had done for Jesus was being assaulted! The men and women he loved so deeply, served so well and suffered so long with agreed with those who attacked Paul’s motives and message. Yet, Paul held fast to the truth that it is God who qualifies us and enables us to live on mission with Jesus and for Jesus. When the spiritual warfare is intense and we’re being bombarded with the thought, Who do you think you are to think you can do anything for Jesus — remember everything Paul was going through when he wrote 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.
Here’s another great and precious promise that becomes even greater and more precious to me in light of all that Paul was dealing with when he wrote it:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
This is perhaps the key verse for the entire book. The tense of the verb in 2 Corinthians 12:9 is important: “And He [God] has once-for-all said to me.” This was serious stuff that God wanted settled once and for all in Paul’s heart. The problem is that we HATE those circumstances that show us our weakness! Paul Tripp calls those circumstances uncomfortable grace. As Paul prayed about his problem, his thorn in the flesh, God gave Paul a promise and a truth. Both the promise and the truth are totally counterintuitive — totally against every natural inclination and desire.
“My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul was desperate in his desire to find relief from his thorn in the flesh. There are two ways of relief: Remove the load or strengthen the shoulder that bears the load. Instead of taking away the thorn, God strengthened Paul under it and showed His strength through Paul's apparent weakness.
We really don't believe God's grace is sufficient until we believe we are insufficient. For many of us, especially in the American culture, this is a huge obstacle. We are the people who idolize the "self-made man" and want to rely on ourselves. We also idolize comfort. But we can't receive God's strength until we know our weakness. We can't receive the sufficiency of God's grace until we know our own insufficiency.
"My grace is sufficient for you." We can read this with emphasis in several places
"My grace is sufficient for you." Grace is the unmerited favor and love of God in action. Can you hear it from God? ”The love and favor that you don’t deserve from Me is enough for you."
"My grace is sufficient for you." Whose grace is it? It is the grace of Jesus. What will Jesus fail at? Remember too that Jesus suffered thorns, so He cares; and He knows.
"My grace is sufficient for you." It is right now. Not that it will be some day but right now, at this moment, His grace is sufficient.
"My grace is sufficient for you." I'm so glad God didn't say, "My grace is sufficient for Paul the Apostle." YOU can be the "you" in for you. God's grace is sufficient for you! Are you beyond it? Are you so different? Is your thorn worse than Paul's or worse than many others who have known the triumph of Jesus? Of course not, this sufficient grace is for you.
Paul’s personal suffering at that time was the very thing by which God’s power would have it’s most perfect manifestation. CHRISTIANS — We treasure the very thing that will mute — obscure — diminish or distort the display of God’s strength! We do not live on explanations; we live on promises. Our feelings change, but God’s promises never change. Promises generate faith, and faith strengthens hope. I’ll close with this one
“Blessed be the 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 Corinthians 1:3-4).
J. Sidlow Baxter said this about 2 Corinthians: “It was written with a quill dipped in tears, from the apostle’s anguish of heart, and contains more of human pathos than any other of his letters. Yet there is a lovely rainbow shining through it all, for in his dire distress and deep disappointment he is discovering more than ever before that 'the Father of mercies is the God of all comfort.'”
"The Father of Mercies" — The New English Bible reads it as “the all—merciful Father”
"The God of all comfort," Please remember the real life context in which Paul wrote these words!
This is theology experienced in real time! Paul experienced it. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to state it. All comfort comes from God. When we are uncomfortable, we should come to Him because He calls us, invites us, urges us and appeals to us in all our affliction. God comforts us no matter what the problem is.
I love this fourth verse in 1 Corinthians 1 because it tells how the economy of the divine comforts works: We are troubled. We receive comfort from the Lord. We look for others who are struggling and seek to provide the same comfort we have received from Christ.
Don't miss this. Paul knew this as reality from out of his total experience as a Christian. But he shared his experience of God’s comfort with the very people whose actions and attitudes towards him were soul crushing!