My earliest memories of Sunday school class are about the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. The teacher, Mrs. Daniels, had flannel boards that she used to show Paul being lowered in a basket over the wall in Damascus to escape. I would come home and retell that story with hand motions and my father would ask me to retell it at larger family events. Take a moment with me to say a word of thanks for the teachers and influencers in your life especially those who were part of the early portions of your journey setting in place a reverence for scripture. Their influence continues to present time as we read II Corinthians and journey together through our own joys and struggles.
In Paul: A Biography
, N.T. Wright places the writing of II Corinthians in 56 AD shortly after Paul was released from prison in Ephesus. The words of the Apostle Paul provide insight into his experience in Ephesus beginning in Ch 1 vs 8:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
We may never encounter anything like Paul's experience in Ephesus, but most of us have been through difficult circumstances. And we pray:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
The letter continues with his description of dialogue with the Corinthian church, decisions regarding another visit and encouragement for contributions. He traveled to Troas 200 miles to the North, but he "still had no peace of mind because he did not find Titus there". But things change in Chapter 7
"when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within." 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever." 8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my (previous) letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. 12 So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. 13 By all this we are encouraged.
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. 15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling. 16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.
All of us are grateful for companions on our journey. Are you a Titus for someone? Is there a friend who would appreciate a phone call or letter? (BTW, people still write letters or notes by hand--not everything is electronic). You can feel the shift in Paul's mood when he finds Titus and hears the good news from Corinth. Let's pray for someone who would be lifted by our presence or a word of grace from us.
Paul says in Chapter 3:
"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."
Also, in Chapter 5:
"So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Let's pray that each of us can be a 'letter from Christ' or an 'ambassador' that will represent Him and His kingdom well. Let's pray that we can be 'transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory that come from the Lord."
For many of us one of the more challenging and profound aspects of Paul's message is from Chapter 12 after he talks about his 'thorn in the flesh'
9 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
You come to God not by being strong, but by being weak; not by being right, but through your mistakes; not by self-admiration but by forgetting yourself. As the angel said to Mary, this is "good news for all the people" (Luke 2:10) Let's pray that as we live in culture that celebrates winning, achievement and the associated materialism that we have the humility to embrace this good news.