If this were a movie, the screen might show an image of seasons rapidly changing or a calendar with pages being torn from it. Time has passed since Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and along with it, circumstances have changed. Between these two letters, opposition to Paul had arisen, sparked by the arrival of some who Paul ironically describes as “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11).
Paul begins this letter with an update that is also a kind of defense. His failure to follow through on a planned visit had sparked criticism from his opponents. They claimed his change of plans was proof that Paul did not keep his word. Instead, Paul had faced severe difficulties while ministering in the province of Asia. Their exact nature is unclear, but Paul states their effect on him in plain language: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (1:8). The situation was so dire that Paul saw it as a death sentence (v. 9). But the main reason Paul had delayed his visit was to give the church time to repent (1:23; 2:1). He chose to write to them instead, “out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears” (2:4). This probably refers not to 1 Corinthians but to another letter sent between 1 and 2 Corinthians that Paul’s detractors characterized as “forceful” (2 Cor. 10:10).
Paul will have some hard things to say to the Corinthians in this letter. But it is important to note that his criticism springs from love. This is one of the ways we can identify those who truly love us. They are the ones who care enough to tell us hard truths.
>> This letter serves as a reality check for anyone who has romanticized church life and Christian ministry. But there is great encouragement in knowing that “just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (1:5).
There are many disheartening ways that the church has failed to live up to Christ’s character—and yet You have loved Your bride throughout history. Comfort us and remind us that our faith is in You, not each other.