‘Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation’, 2 Cor. 7. 4.
In our previous article, we briefly considered Paul’s care for the Philippian believers. We now turn our attention to the Christians at Corinth. Although they were different local churches, both remind us of Paul’s deep care and concern for the saints. With this comes the challenge relating to my concern for the people of God everywhere; just how much do I care?
We are going to consider why Paul could state ‘I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful’, particularly given that this joy was linked with tribulation. We’ll start by getting a sense of what Paul was teaching in this section; then think about what he meant by his statement about comfort and joy, before drawing some practical lessons.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians seems to follow a report from Titus about their ‘earnest desire . . . mourning . . . fervent mind’ towards him,
2 Cor. 7. 7, which caused him to rejoice. His first letter had followed a report from ‘the house of Chloe, that there’ were ‘contentions among’ them, 1 Cor. 1. 11. In it he had robustly addressed division and error in the assembly and as a result there had been good progress. Now, he could write with a rejoicing heart.
John Heading calls chapter 7 ‘encouragement after discouragement’1 as it outlines Paul’s rejoicing at the repentance of the assembly. It is interesting that verse 1 concludes the previous section that deals with the character of ‘servants of God’, 2 Cor. 6. 4, ESV.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 14 to 18, Paul
As a separate study, look at the lists of things beginning with the preposition ‘in’ from chapter 6 verse 4; these relate to the conditions for the servant of God. Then, note the occurrence of the preposition ‘by’ from verse 6; this relates to the qualities of the servant of God. Finally, the preposition ‘as’ from verse 8, relating to the acceptance of the servant of God.
teaches the Corinthians about practical holiness and separation from evil. He uses references from Leviticus and Isaiah to prove that those separated from evil to God will enjoy rich blessings. He emphasizes that as believers we must 'cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit’, covering both external and internal aspects of life, and bring to completion ‘holiness in the fear of God’, 2 Cor. 7. 1, with the aim that no unholiness be present.
Against this backdrop of characteristics for the servants of God, plus cleansing and holiness for the people of God, Paul can say ‘great is my boldness of speech toward you . . . I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful’, 2 Cor. 7. 4. The Corinthians had received corrective teaching and made progress, so Paul could speak boldly, or openly; he could rejoice.
‘Filled with comfort’ has the idea of being encouraged and of grief being removed. The change in the Corinthian believers turned Paul’s sorrow into encouragement. Just as sin among believers should bring grief, spiritual progress among believers should bring encouragement.
The Greek word for ‘exceeding’, v. 4, huperperisseo is only used in one other place in the New Testament; in Romans chapter 5, verse 20, ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound’, the same word is translated ‘did much more abound’. Strong defines the word as ‘to overflow, to enjoy abundantly’2 such was the extent of Paul’s joy! It didn’t reduce with difficult circumstances; this was a joy that lasted in spite of persecution.
William Kelly writes ‘Sorrow closes the heart, joy opens it; and now the apostle’s gladness of heart was proportionate to the depth of his pain over saints so dear in the Lord’.3
The response of the believers at Corinth to the word of God through Paul’s first letter is a lesson to us. There was conviction, repentance, and change in their lives. Conviction without repentance has no lasting benefit; repentance without change is not true repentance! There is a challenge for us: how often does the word of God bring about conviction, but the moment passes and there is no change? There is a danger that, over time, this can lead to hardness. Let us have teachable hearts, that we may diligently seek to respond to the word of God and adjust our lives.
Another lesson is the example of Paul in his state of joy. Although his overflowing joy resulted from the encouragement from the Corinthians’ spiritual progress, it seemed to be his permanent condition of heart, regardless of the difficulties he endured, ‘I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation’, v. 4. The source of his joy was the Spirit of God and the ‘spiritual blessings … in Christ’, Eph. 1. 3, rising above the troubles and experiences of life. With the Lord’s help, we can experience this overflowing joy!
‘Every joy or trial falleth from above
Traced upon life’s dial by the Sun of love:
We may trust Him fully all for us to do;
They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true’.
F. R. Havergal