Gordon E. Johnson

DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians


Paul's Call to Courage and Hope in Suffering


Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute


I begin a new series on the same Message of the Cross --Our triumph in union with Christ having died to sin now to know the risen Christ in the midst of stress and suffering.  In 2 Corinthians the Holy Spirit gives us a rare insight into the very heart of the Apostle Paul --every bit human but drawing from the very life of the Crucified and Risen Lord. In no way do we differ from Paul's position in Christ. Ours is the same Lord. Ours is the same Holy Spirit. Our ministry may differ in extent, but in quality we share the very life of Christ.

Paul's theme so often repeated is: "it is no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20); "yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (1 Cor. 15:10); "for me to live is Christ and die is gain." (Phil. 1:21) Then Paul extends that spiritual relationship to:  "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life . . . ." (Col. 3:3, 4) Paul in defense of his apostleship and ministry opens for us the essence of what the Christian really is. It will be seen as strength in weakness, resurrection through death, God's glory through our sharing Christ's sufferings. 

The Shadow of 1 Corinthians as Seen in the Understanding of 2 Corinthians

Any in depth study of the two epistles will recognize that Corinth loomed large in Paul's life and ministry. In one sense the church in Corinth was Paul's "crown of rejoicing" but became also his greatest challenge and sorrow. 2 Corinthians reveals to us the heart of Paul in his dealings with his own spiritual children. For any parent or grandparent there is neither greater joy nor greater sorrow than to face acceptance or rejection in one's own children.

In 1 Corinthians Paul deals faithfully with nine broad problem areas in his conflicted church: 

  • party divisions rooted in personal pride 1-4;
  • discipline for immorality for which Corinth was infamous 5-6;
  • the implications of marriage and celibacy 7;
  • the problems of Christian liberty in an idolatrous society 8-10;
  • disorder in the church scene 11;
  • the imbalance of gifts and the governing principle of love as the prime motivation for ministry, not power but humble service 12-14;
  • {I remember so vividly my esteemed professor, L. E. Maxwell who always required us to read 1 Corinthians 13 substituting for love or charity --CHRIST IN ME suffers long and is kind, etc.};  
  • finally the vital importance of the resurrection as the high water mark of the Christian faith. What a masterful response to questions and concerns that threatened his spiritual children!

2 Corinthians may be divided in three major segments: 1.) Paul's apostleship and defense of ministry 1-7; 2.)  the challenge of the Gentile offering for the poor of Jerusalem 8, 9; 3.)  his rebuke of the false teachers who sought to alienate the church from Paul 10-12. But the common thread of the three divisions is Paul's passion, his purpose and his solemn duty to the local church.

Frederic L Godet, the famous Reformed French theologian (1812-1900) sums up in anticipation what we will see in 2 Corinthians: "In this second Epistle to the Corinthians we get the fullest insight into the  heart of the apostle, so full of tenderness, human insight and Divine. From it we learn what were his views of apostleship, and the Christian ministry generally. Nothing finer has been written on this subject than the passages in which it is treated in this letter. And if in the Epistle to the Romans we find the fullest statement of the Gospel and the First Epistle to the Corinthians the most complete chapter on church discipline, we have in this Second Epistle the very mind of God with regard to the institution of the Christian ministry."{emphasis mine}


The Themes of 2 Corinthians --  Strength in Weakness  --  Fellowship of His Sufferings

No one doubts the authorship of 2 Corinthians.  It bears the indelible marks of Paul's personality, gifts and calling.  Godet has called 1 Corinthians Paul's letter of sorrow and 2 Corinthians his letter of gladness, notwithstanding the stresses of the ministry.  If 2 Corinthians teaches us anything, it is that the Cross for Paul was a vibrant reality. It was his lodestar, his magnetic North Star. His hearts gravitates back to the Cross, the work of justification and progressive sanctification: Christ FOR Paul and Christ IN Paul and Paul IN Christ.  

Several key verses will resonate throughout our study and lay the groundwork of Paul's heart: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place ."(2 Cor. 2:14 --emphasis mine) "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Cor. 3:18) "For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you." (4:11, 12)

A Triumphant Burst of Faith and Courage   2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

Paul begins on such a high note that one could hardly imagine the harsh reality of his surroundings. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort." (1:2)  There is only one other Pauline epistle, the epistle to the Ephesians, that begins with such an exuberance of faith. 2 Corinthians compares favorably with the only other epistle that transports us to the heights of God's sovereign grace. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ . . . ." (Ephesians 1:3)

Paul's greeting in each epistle will reveal his state of heart. To the Galatians shock and shame; to 1 Corinthians thanksgiving with faith in God's grace; to the Prison Epistles a fervent prayer and commendation; to the Pastoral Epistles a doxology of grace, mercy and peace; to Romans a measured

doctrinal statement of his message. Now with this in mind we can be assured of Paul addressing his children in a most difficult church situation but doing it from that full victory won at Calvary.  He is not pressing toward a future victory but rather positions himself from that victory to its re enactment even in Corinth.  What a lesson for the believer to grasp! The victory was won and we must stand in it with the attitude of " Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (encouragement)."

The Beatitudes of our Lord express the inherent joy there is in suffering for his name sake. The very first beatitude in Matthew 5 is:"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall inherit the earth." Each beatitude of our Lord's seems to defy human circumstances. And in the same vein Paul is finding in the stress and strain of ministry, the very blessedness of which Jesus speak. Our following study will deal more directly with the passage before us 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 illustrating the blessedness of  serving amid suffering,

Yours in the Message of the Cross,

Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Edinburg, TX 78539