Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
—2 Corinthians 1:3-4
This is a letter between people who know each other well. 2 Corinthians may be Paul’s fourth letter to the church in Corinth, a city in Greece. It doesn’t read like a formal letter of strangers with common interests, or even of acquaintances, but, rather, it is a very intimate letter. We will see Paul refer to his love and open heart for the Corinthians several times throughout the letter, and here, after a brief greeting, he immediately gets into serious matters. One would not talk to mere acquaintances about the struggles, affliction and humiliation Paul shares here. He seems to not only trust in the friendship shared with the Corinthians, but also that they will understand what he is going through. At the writing of this letter, the Corinthians do not seem to be suffering for their faith in the acute ways Paul has. Paul is keenly aware that the more faithful the Corinthians become, as the church in Corinth grows, the potential for persecution would become greater.
Paul encourages the Corinthians to grow in their faith, to stay with true teachings, not just following the latest, flashiest teachers in town, and to open their hearts, to him and to one another. Paul knows that it is through these things that the love and life of Jesus will remain strong among the Corinthian church, and when persecution, failure and humiliation come, they will be able to continue to trust in God and in one another, knowing that truth and love are more powerful than any suffering. In order to do this, however, they must not give in to petty conflicts or split into factions based on this teaching or that.
Living in the United States, we are not subjected to persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ (despite a few, loud voices on the internet), so we may not truly understand or experience what Paul describes, twice in this letter. In fact, sometimes the worst suffering we experience as Christians in this country is not inflicted by non-believers, but rather from our own communities. Sadly, sometimes church members can be very hard on one another. This concerns Paul.
As you read this letter, take Paul’s advice to heart – to go deeper in faith, to continue to stand up for and follow truth and to build stronger community in order to prevent the types of small-minded, petty arguments that do so much harm to other members of the Body of Christ.
Reflect: Think about your own church community – whom do you think of when you think of people with strong faith? Who do you turn to when you are struggling or life seems to be falling apart? Who turns to you?
Notes are from A Heart for Reconciliation, by Megan Hansen and Michael Rinehart. Available on Amazon, it offerers daily readings through 2 Corinthians.
The texts for the six weeks in the Narrative Lectionary are as follows.
- 5/22/2016: 2 Cor 1:1-11, Consolation
- 5/29/2016: 2 Cor 2:1-10, Forgiveness
- 6/5/2016: 2 Cor 4:1-15, Treasure in Clay Jars
- 6/12/2016: 2 Cor 4:16—5:10, Walk by Faith not Sight
- 6/19/2016: 2 Cor 5:11-21, Reconciliation
- 6/26/2016: 2 Cor 8:1-15, Generosity