By Stephen W. Hiemstra
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 ESV)
Paul begins his second letter to the church at Corinth with a statement of his apostleship: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God (1:1). An apostle in the New Testament has roughly the same job description as a prophet in the Old Testament. Prophets do not volunteer; prophets are called (e.g. Jeremiah 1:4-9).
Paul follows the normal form of a letter—from, to, and greetings—but he adds his own twists. Most of his letters then offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the recipient. Here, Paul follows the greeting with a lengthy (1.3-7) blessing of comfort suggesting the purpose of his letter.
In my experience, God is mostly obviously present in times of trial and can be recognized by the comfort He brings. The psalmist writes: Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:18-19 ESV) Noah recognized God’s comfort and covenant through the sign of a rainbow (Genesis 9:13). The apostle Paul writes:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who 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. (1:3-4)
Interestingly, Paul talks about God’s seal—a sign of ownership and protection—and guarantee—the Holy Spirit given as a down-payment on eternal life. The Apostle John uses the word, Paraclete (παράκλητος; John 14:26 BNT), which is often translated as helper or comforter.
Garland  identifies 4 motifs in this chapter:
- Affliction and suffering;
- Life and death; and
- The interconnectedness between Paul and the Corinthians.
Affliction and Suffering (1.4, 6, 8). As we have discussed previously, affliction and suffering help us to abandon our idols—particularly the idol of control—and focus on God. Paul writes: But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (1:9).
Comfort (1.3, 4, 5, 6, 7). As mentioned above, the Holy Spirit specializes in offering comfort. Holy dreams and visions, for example, often not designed to inform us but simply to offer comfort. To let us know that we need not be afraid. Paul writes: Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (1:7)
Life and death (1.8, 9, 10). Paul is not a complainer, yet, he sketches out a recent near death experience to reinforce the point that God is not only our comforter, but also our deliverer. Likewise, the Jewish people remember the Exodus from Egypt not as a spiritual salvation, but a deliverance from physical destruction (Exodus 14:26-28).
Paul’s Relationship with the Corinthians (1.6, 7). The Corinthians are the beneficiaries of Paul’s afflictions. Paul writes: If we [Paul and his friends] are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (1:6) Elsewhere, Paul makes it clear that Jesus is the template for our life, death, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). When we minister to others, we then perform a similar sacrificial function on their behalf, like Christ for Paul and Paul for the Corinthian church (and us).
Comfort is God’s trademark. Paul looks to God in his own afflictions. So should we.
David E. Garland, 1999. 2 Corinthians: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. New American Commentary. Nashville: Holman Publishing. Pages 56-58.