Monday, May 28, 2007

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

While living and traveling in the Mediterranean region, Paul corresponded several times with the Christian community in Corinth (in Achaia, southern half of ancient Greece). Of the correspondence between them, we have two of Paul’s letters, probably written around 57 and 58 A.D. The two letters cover a lot of ground – theological, spiritual, liturgical, ethical, and relational.

Paul and the Corinthians knew each other well. Paul had lived, preached, and taught in Corinth in the early 50s A.D. By the time of these letters, with Paul elsewhere, serious problems had erupted in Corinth in their theology, spirituality, worship, and lifestyle. Additionally, acrimony had soured the relationship between Paul and them. Hence, through passionate and profound arguments Paul sought to correct and renew faith and practice among the Corinthians. Just as passionately and profoundly, he hoped to reconcile with them, for he loved them very much.

Though Paul will soon address several problems in Corinth in this letter – 2 Corinthians for us – he began with a tender passage of praise for God and encouragement for the Corinthians. Paul’s praise and encouragement stemmed from God’s goodness and love – goodness and love most truly known in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Incarnating God’s compassion for us in our sinfulness and mortality, Jesus suffered and was raised for us. Thus God comforts us, bringing us new life, hope, and purpose in Jesus.

What can we take from this passage? First, we learn that, this side of the grave, God’s salvation in Jesus does not exempt us from trouble and death. The world apart from Jesus continues to fester with evil and suffering, and we live in this world. Those who are alienated from God still resist, ridicule, and attack God’s purposes and people as they did Jesus himself. And, most lamentably, we who embrace Jesus fail to live fully into the new life God seeks to work in and through us. From our failure comes further wrong and woe.

Second – yet this is the primary application we gather from today’s passage! – we learn that we can and should participate in God’s saving work through suffering love. Jesus suffered for us, and in that we experience God’s compassion and comfort. As we then follow Jesus faithfully, we also embody God’s love for the world, thus sharing in Jesus’ sufferings. Thereby we extend God’s compassion and comfort to others in their troubles, bringing them the good news – the salve – of new life, hope, and purpose in Jesus. So we, with Paul, may exclaim, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort…!”

Gregory Strong

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