Uniform 08.24.2014: Afflictions, Hardships, and Calamities

2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 7:2-4

This has been a difficult few weeks in the news. In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has taken a thousand lives, has infected at least twice that many, and continues to wreak havoc on everyday life. In the Middle East, the Islamic militants of ISIS continue their campaign of violence in Iraq while the tenuous cease-fire in Gaza makes us wonder how long it will be before the Israelis and Palestinians launch more missiles at each other. And in our own backyard, the community of Ferguson, Missouri, reels from the death of a teenager and faces unprecedented police presence.

This week, we might read Paul’s words to the Corinthians who face “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (6:4-5) more as a summary of contemporary news than as a list of Christian trials. Many terrible things are happening, both in faraway places and close to home. It would be easy for us to retreat into our lives and convince ourselves that these things don’t matter to us. That’s certainly the safest and most comfortable option. But Paul’s message encourages us to be less afraid of conflict and trials. Our faith should give us the strength to remain strong in even the most difficult situations.

His words of solidarity and strength are helpful for this difficult global moment. But I am most struck by Paul’s appeal for reconciliation. Originally written for a community dealing with deep emotional wounds, Paul’s plea for “open hearts” seems like just the salve the broken and bleeding world needs this week. There are no easy fixes for entrenched violence and global health crises, but no one will solve anything by retreating to their own corners and viewing everyone who is different as the enemy. Maybe the first step is to put “no restriction [on] our affections” (6:12) and to “open wide [our] hearts” (6:13).

Even in his personal relationship with the Corinthians, Paul knew that healing would take time and work. This remains true today. Good will cannot stop the spread of violence or disease, and certainly not overnight. But the attitude Paul expresses to his friends in Corinth seems like the best place to start: “you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (7:3).


1. How has the news of recent weeks affected you? Which stories have been most difficult to read or hear about? Why?
2. What is your first reaction to bad news? Do you try to learn more about this situation? Or do you try to ignore it?
3. How can we remain confident in our faith in the midst of situations like we see in the news?
4. How can we open our hearts to others who are suffering, even those in distant countries?
5. What does it mean “to die together and to live together” (2 Cor 7:3)? How can we apply this sentiment to our relationships with others?

Reference Shelf

We pick up at 7:2 where Paul continues his appeal. Having asked them to “open wide” (rather than be restricted) in 6:13, now he exhorts them: “make room for us.” Then he insists, “We treated no one unjustly, we corrupted no one, we cheated no one” (v. 2b). These verbs may reflect accusations made against Paul, especially since they match earlier hints that Paul had been called deceitful and manipulative. If so, he flatly and forcefully denies the charges. Since he insists he’s not done the things with which he has been charged, there is no reason for them not to make room for him.

But at v. 3 Paul seems to make an effort to soften his tone: “I do not say (this) for condemnation…” The imperatives of 6:13 (“open wide”) and 7:2 (“make room”) give way now to affirmation: “for I have said that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together” (v. 3b). Then he gets downright effusive: he has much confidence in them and boasts over them; he has been filled with consolation/encouragement (parakl∑sis); he is overflowing with joy in all his trials (thlipsis) (v. 4).

Bruce Malina and John Pilch point out that the phrase “to die together and to live together” is the language of friendship. Sampley adds that Paul is promising that nothing, not even death, can confine his love for the Corinthians, which is the ultimate pledge of friendship. Furthermore, in that culture friends were expected to boast over each other as Paul says here that he does. Then he returns to two terms that have been significant in the letter: parakl∑sis and thlipsis. He has faced much affliction (thlipsis), but even so he is filled with consolation/encouragement (parakl∑sis) as he said at the beginning of the letter. Perhaps he means that he finds consolation in his afflictions because of his relationship with Corinthians. Or perhaps he means that he cares so much for them that the struggle to work things out, the reconciliation that has happened with many of them, and the reconciliation he hopes will happen with the others are sources of parakl∑sis for him even in the midst of thlipsis. Clearly he is emphasizing his view of the Corinthians as his friends.

Sampley suggests that Paul’s insistence that he is not condemning them along with his language of friendship show a concern that he may have pushed the Corinthians too hard in some respects. Frank speech may have been a sign of true friendship, but it was to be used rarely, even when it was a “soft sting” rather than a harsh blow. The emotional letter he sent previously (2:3-4) appears to have been a harsh one. This letter is softer but still contains frank speech here. There has been a lot of it from Paul in a short period of time.

There’s also the matter of Paul calling them “children” in 6:13. Whether he meant he wanted their affection and obedience as their father in the gospel (see 1 Cor 4:14-16), or that he had to speak to them as children because they had shown themselves to be immature, it is hard to imagine the term was well received by the Corinthians. In addition, he calls them children in a context where he’s been employing the language of friendship. As noted before, the Corinthian believers cannot be Paul’s friends and his children at the same time (see the commentary on 1:12 and 1:24). This paragraph might be another instance wherein Paul is justly accused of doublespeak.

Finally, there is the issue of him commanding their affection. Rhetoricians tell us that frank speech involves the thinking and reasoning powers, not emotions. It is designed to aid a friend’s decision-making regarding behavior or direction. It does not work well with emotions. Plus, affection cannot really be commanded by any rhetoric. Yet, Paul tried to do so.

No wonder, then, that he is concerned that he may have pushed things too far with the Corinthians and tries to soften his appeal in 7:3-4. Two observations surface at this point. First, though Paul’s earlier harsh letter had resulted in reconciliation with a majority of Corinthian Christians (2:5-6), the minority that was still at odds with him must have concerned him. Most folks won’t push a relationship so hard unless it is already near enough to the brink of some disaster to warrant the risk of an extra push. Thus this minority group may have had enough influence in the community to make the reconciliation that had happened feel tenuous. Second, if 2 Corinthians 10–13 is a separate letter written after 2 Corinthians 1–9 as is assumed in this commentary, then Paul’s concerns appear to have been well founded. He may have pushed too hard, and the minority group may have had significant influence in the community, for in those chapters the relations between Paul and the Corinthian community are strained to the point of being broken. We will see that part of this story unfold when we get there.

As for now, we have come to the end of Paul’s defense of himself and his ministry with his emphatic appeal for them to open themselves wide to him. He is now ready to return to the story of Titus, the emotional letter, and the Corinthians who had already opened their hearts wide to him.


Mitzi L. Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 132-135.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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