Setting

Paul begins his letter with a salutation that is typical of most of his letters. Then, in the following words of praise to God, Paul introduces a major theme of the letter, namely comfort or consolation. Speaking from personal experience, Paul shares with the Corinthians God’s comfort in his affliction. His hope is that the Corinthians, who are partners in his affliction, will also benefit from God’s comfort.

Key Verse

(1:3–4)

Did You Know...?

Timothy (1:1): A coworker of Paul from Lystra. Paul personally recruited him to be a fellow traveling worker and regarded him as his own child (Acts 16:1–3; 1 Tim 1:2, 18).
Achaia (1:1): A Roman province in the region of central and southern Greece. Corinth was its capital.
Comfort (1:3, etc): The Greek word is also translated “encouragement” (e.g. 1 Cor 14:3; Phil 2:1), “appeal” (cf. 2 Cor 8:17), and “consolation” (Lk 2:25).

Outline

  • Greeting
    (1:1–2)
  • God’s Comfort in Affliction
    (1:3–7)
  • Deliverance from Affliction
    (1:8–11)

General Analysis

  • 1.

    In what kinds of circumstances do we need comfort?

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    As is evident in Paul’s words in this passage, a person needs comfort in times of affliction and suffering. Similarly, those who are in sorrow also need comfort (cf. 2 Cor 2:7).

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Segment Analysis

  • 1:1–2

    1.

    What does Paul mean when he says he is an apostle “by the will of God” (v. 1)?

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    It was God, not men, who had set Paul apart and appointed him to serve as an apostle (Acts 9:15–16; 26:16–18; Gal 1:1, 15; 1 Tim 1:12).

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  • 1:3–7

    2.

    How does Paul describe God?

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    Paul calls God the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. God cares about us and helps us in our weakness and suffering (2 Cor 1:3–4).

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  • 3.

    How does the word “mercies” in verse 3 explain the meaning of “comfort”?

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    The word for “mercies” denotes concern over another’s misfortune. [ref] “Comfort” is related to “mercies” in that it is directed to another’s suffering. But comfort goes beyond a heartfelt concern. It brings strength and joy to the one who is suffering (cf. Acts 15:31; Phm 7).

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  • 4.

    Recall an experience in which you received God’s comfort.

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  • 5.

    What is the goal or outcome of comfort from God (v. 4)?

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    Paul writes that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (v. 4). When we have received comfort from God, we are to pass on the comfort we have received to others who are in suffering.

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  • 6.

    How do we comfort someone in affliction?

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    The Scriptures are a source of great comfort (Rom 15:5). They record the experience, thoughts, struggles, prayers, and triumphs of the saints of the past, who are witnesses of God’s love and power (cf. Heb 12:1–2). By reading the Scriptures about the lives of the people of faith and of Jesus Christ Himself, we can receive encouragement to run with endurance the race set before us. To those in suffering, we can share words of the Bible to bring them encouragement. This is a ministry of those who speak words of the Bible in the church (cf. 1 Cor 14:3).

    Besides speaking words of encouragement, our deeds of love also bring comfort to others (cf. Phm 7). Barnabas was called “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Not only did he have the gift of speaking words of exhortation (cf. Acts 11:22–23), he probably also always helped those who were weak through his action. When the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid to have fellowship with Saul, it was Barnabas who brought Saul to the apostles and testified to God’s works on Saul (Acts 9:26–27). When Paul would not take Mark along because of Mark’s poor performance, it was Barnabas who gave Mark another chance (Acts 15:36–39). It is no surprise that the Bible commends him as “a good man,” and through his ministry many people were added to the Lord (Acts 11:24).

    In addition to helping the afflicted with words and action, we can also pray to God to bring comfort to the person. God is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:3–4). For this reason, Paul also requests the believers to help him and his fellow servants by prayer (2 Cor 1:11).

     

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  • 7.

    What does Paul mean by sharing abundantly in Christ’s sufferings and in comfort (v. 5)?

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    Peter reminds believers that their trials of faith make them partners in Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet 4:12–13). Whenever we suffer for our faith or for the ministry, we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. For Paul and his fellow workers, they have endured much suffering for the name of the Lord but have also received much comfort from God in their ministry.

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  • 8.

    How does Paul’s affliction bring about the believers’ comfort and salvation (v. 6)?

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    Although Paul does not explain specifically how his affliction brought about the comfort and salvation of the believers in Corinth, we may cite the experience of the believers in Philippi as an example. Paul relates in his letter to the Philippians how his imprisonment has make most brethren more bold to speak the word without fear (Php 1:14). Paul is a role model to the believers in his conviction and dedication to the gospel of Christ. His example of endurance itself is a source of strength for the believers. Furthermore, the goal of Paul’s ministry and suffering is to present everyone mature in Christ (Col 1:24–29). As believers mature in faith, they learn to lean on God for His comfort in suffering and have assurance in their salvation.

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  • 9a.

    In what ways do believers share in the sufferings of the ministers?

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    The Philippians were partners in Paul’s sufferings by suffering as a result of preaching the gospel and by living a life worthy the gospel of Christ (cf. Phil 1:5, 27–30). Likewise, we also share in the sufferings of the ministers by living out our faith and spreading the good news even in the face of opposition or hardship.

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  • 9b.

    What is the reward in sharing in their sufferings?

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    Just as ministers like Paul receive abundant comfort from God in their affliction, we too may experience God’s comfort in our affliction (2 Cor 1:7).

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  • 1:8–11

    10.

    What is it like to be “utterly burdened beyond our strength” and being “despaired of life itself” (v. 8)?   a) How did Paul turn around in this situation (v. 9)?   b) Recall a dire situation in which you were made to rely on God alone

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    Because of our limitations, we all have a “breaking point,” whether perceived or real. Sometimes, sufferings can be so great that we feel we have exhausted all our strength to endure them. We may become hopeless because no help is in sight. Intense hardships can even drive a person to give up living completely. Like Paul and his coworkers, other servants of God in the Bible also went through such low points because of the immensity of their burden and suffering (cf. Num 11:14–15; 1 Kgs 19:4; Job 3:20–26).

    a) Paul realized that the utmost trial made them rely not on themselves but “on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:9). God is able to do what is impossible for men, even raising someone from the dead. As such, He can certainly deliver one who is near death from his peril. When we have reached our limits, we become keenly aware that God is our only source of hope and we tend to depend wholeheartedly on God. It is also in our moments of helplessness that God’s power and grace in us are most evident (cf. 2 Cor 12:9–10).

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