bible blog 1050

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Sentence against murderous dictator Rios Montt anulled by Guatemala

relatives of victims await the verdict on Montt

relatives of victims await the verdict on Montt

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

1 This letter comes to you from Paul, God’s messenger for Jesus Christ by the will of God, and from brother Timothy, and is addressed to the church of God in Corinth and all Christians throughout Achaia.

2 May grace and peace come to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s encouragements are adequate for all life’s troubles

3-7 Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity

8-11 We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia. At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end. Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead. It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it is he who still preserves us. Further, we trust him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us, so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers will mean eventually that many will thank God for our preservation.

The temple of Artemis at Ephesus (model)

The temple of Artemis at Ephesus (model)

In my own research I’ve come to accept the view that chapters 1-9 of “2nd Corinthians” are the last part of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church. There seems to have been at  least three letters comprising a) most of “1st Corinthians” a letter trying to guide the church community away from arrogant forms of knowledge into the love that is God’s true gift; b) 2nd Corinthians 10-13, plus perhaps material lost altogether, a direct and savage attack on those who are challenging his authority as an apostle; and c) 2nd Corinthians 1-9, a letter of reconciliation and profound counsel. Doubtless the truth of the matter is more complex than this, but perhaps it helps to make sense of the very serious concern Paul showed for his converts in Corinth.

I think Paul was writing from Ephesus where, he says, he “fought with wild beasts”, a phrase which probably describes the same crisis as he mentions in this passage. Possibly he and other believers were exposed to the fury of a mob defending their traditional religion. (Those who are interested can find an account of this period of Paul’s life in my e-book “Paul: An Unauthorised Autobiography” published by Kindle).

Paul uses his experience of mortal danger to expand on an idea he used in his first letter to Corinth, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” These words challenged a conventional view of self-reliance; the one who is at the end of his tether finds that “God’s kindness is sufficient as His power is made perfect in weakness.” Here Paul says that this experience of sharing the suffering of Christ and the consolation of God who raised Christ from the dead, has given him the means to console others and give them strength in time of trial. In this way, through trust in God, the worst experiences of life can be turned into benefit for others. 

Margaret Howard of Missouri, trafficked when 13, now helps other victims

Margaret Howard of Missouri, trafficked when 13, now helps other victims

This is an astonishing example of Paul’s understanding of Jesus: if God in Christ has experienced the pit of hell and nothingness, then not even the worst suffering can separate humanity from the love of Christ; and evil itself can be turned to goodness. The scope of this theology is impressive. Its realism insists that life is harsh and beset by evils; nevertheless, through the God whose Son has suffered these evils, all of life can be raised into the goodness of God. Paul’s thinking is a great gift to everyone as it gives us hope of splendour while not concealing the miseries of living; and does so, not by taking us out of life as it is, but by giving us a means of transforming it.

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