Second Corinthians is a defensive letter. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote it to the church at Corinth in order to defend his authority as an apostle, to defend the church against false teachers, and to defend the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a very personal letter, revealing the heart of a pastor who has a loving and honest relationship with a church — a church in such a strategic location that failure was not an option. In between this letter and First Corinthians Paul had made a personal visit to them, and it was apparently a difficult one (see 2:1). In lieu of another difficult, in-person corrective meeting, Paul wrote from his heart.
(I wish I knew how many times I have shared verses 3-4 with a struggling brother or sister in Christ.) When someone is hurting, suffering the fallout of conflict or loss, it is comforting to know that God knows how to comfort His people. He is a merciful Father, and He has a specific kind of comfort tailor-made for every kind of pain. It is also comforting to know that there is a purpose in our pain: God comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others. As Pastor Rick Warren has said, “God never wastes a hurt.” Pain that God has comforted becomes a platform for ministry to the hurting.
Paul wrote from his own experience. In verses 8-10 he recalls his mindset when he first went to Corinth. It was a time of intense pressure and persecution; he and his mission team thought they would not live through it. But God delivered them and taught them to rely on His strength, not their own. We learn through experience that we can “set our hope” on the Lord (v.10).
The situation in the Corinthian church (false teachers, attacks on Paul’s apostolic teaching, attacks on the gospel) required Paul’s personal attention. He had announced plans for another visit to the church, but he decided to send a letter instead. He wanted the church to know why he had changed his mind (v.15-24). He was not the type of person to say one thing (“yes”) and do another (“no”). He explained that he had made his “plans according to the flesh” (v.17), but he always surrendered his plans to the Lord — he had said an eternal “yes” to Jesus (v.19).
And that’s the way it goes in the Christian life. We seek God’s will and we follow His direction. We build our lives on what we believe He has led us to do, and we put down roots in the place we believe He has led us to be. But we don’t get so settled that we forget that He controls our lives and that He can reassign and reposition us whenever He wants to, and He doesn’t ask us to approve of His plans. As long as we are “established in Christ” and have said our “Amen” to His plans (“so be it”), we can be content anywhere, doing anything for His glory (v.20). Amen?