The New Testament book of 2 Corinthians was written because the church at Corinth was weak. Surrounded by idolatry and immorality, the Christians at Corinth struggled with their faith and life-style, much as Christians in the modern age still do. What made matters worse still was that false teachers abounded who denied Paul’s authority, and slandered him. Second Corinthians was written to defend Paul’s position as an Apostle of Christ, and to denounce those who were twisting the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians begins with Paul reminding his readers of: 1) his relationship to them – Paul had always been honest and straightforward with them (1:12-14), 2) his itinerary – he was planning to visit them again (1:15-2:3) , and 3) his previous letter (2:4-11).
Paul then moves directly to the subject of false teachers (2:17), and he reviews his ministry among the Corinthians to demonstrate the validity of his message and to urge them not to turn away from the truth (3:1-7:16).
Paul next turns to the issue of collecting money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He tells them how others have given, and he urges them to show their love in a tangible way as well (8:1-9:15). Paul then gives a strong defense of his authority as a genuine Apostle while pointing out the deceptive influence of the false apostles (10:1-13:3).
2 Corinthians is an intensely personal letter, within which one can feel the depth of Paul’s love for Jesus Christ, and for the Gospel. It is a letter of both love and exhortation that can be used by everyone to remain committed to the truth of God’s Word, and to reject false teachings.
The Layout of 2 Corinthians
Paul Explains His Actions:
This is concentrated in (1:1-2:11) … Paul praises God as the God of all comfort, explains the actions that he has taken in his ministry (including his change of plans regarding another visit to the Corinthian church), and the pain that he suffers willingly for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul Defends His Ministry:
This is concentrated in (2:12-7:16) … Paul speaks with sincerity before God, displays the glory of the new covenant, explains that he (and all believers) are treasures in jars of clay, mentions the heavenly dwelling that awaits, and explains the ministry of reconciliation: that God has reconciled sinners to Him through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, no longer holding men’s sins against them. Additionally, he urges the acceptance of God’s grace now, not to be yoked with unbelievers, and expresses his joy in those who have experienced Godly sorrow.
Paul Defends The Collection:
This is concentrated in (8:1-9:15) … Paul exults in the generosity of the Macedonian churches, encourages generosity for the support of Christians in the various churches, and explains that selfless giving pleases God, in addition to serving the needs of His people.
Paul Defends His Authority:
This is concentrated in (10:1-13:4) … In responding to attacks on his character and authority, Paul explains the essential nature of Christian ministry: to be blameless, sincere, confident, caring, open, and willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
Paul experienced great suffering, persecution, and opposition in his ministry. He even struggled with a personal weakness – a “thorn” in the flesh. Through it all, Paul affirmed God’s faithfulness.
God is faithful. His strength is sufficient for any trial. When trials come, they keep us from pride and teach us dependence on God. He comforts us so we can comfort others.
Paul defends his role in church discipline. Neither immorality nor false teaching could be ignored. The church was to be neither too lax nor too severe in administering discipline. The church was to restore the corrected person when he or she repented.
The goal of all discipline in the church should be correction, not vengeance. For churches to be effective, they must confront and solve problems, not ignore them. In everything, we must act in love.
To encourage the Corinthians as they faced trials, Paul reminded them that they would receive new bodies in heaven. This would be a great victory in contrast to their present suffering.
To know we will receive new bodies offers us hope. No matter what adversity we face, we can keep going. Our faithful service will result in triumph.
Paul organized a collection of funds for the poor in the Jerusalem church. Many of the Asian churches gave money. Paul explains and defends his beliefs about giving, and he urges the Corinthians to follow through on their previous commitment.
Like the Corinthians, we should follow through on our financial commitments. Our giving must be generous, sacrificial, well planned, and based on need. Our generosity not only helps those in need but enables them to thank God.
False teachers were challenging Paul’s ministry and authority as an apostle. Paul asserts his authority in order to preserve correct Christian doctrine. His sincerity, his love for Christ, and his concern for the people were his defense.
We should share Paul’s concern for correct teaching in our churches. But in so doing, we must share his motivation – love for Christ and people – and his sincerity.
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 1:1-24
Paul is grateful for the goodness of God, in one of Second Corinthian’s high points that demonstrates how God cares for us:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Co. 1:3-4)
Paul speaks of suffering, and of the reason for it, which is a lesson for all believers:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Co. 1:8-9)
Paul declares how God has governed their teaching:
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. (2 Co. 1:12)
Paul affirms what Christ has accomplished with regard to the promises of God, and how we as believers are to echo this:
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He annointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Co. 1:18-22)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 2:1-17
Paul speaks about an offender within the church at Corinth, regarding his punishment, and the approach the church should now have for that offender because he has repented:
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Co. 2:6-8)
This is an important lesson for us. As Christians, while we are compelled to correct the errant behavior and/or beliefs of our brothers and sisters, when those efforts have been rewarded with success because they have repented, we must forgive and comfort them, and reaffirm (over and over if that is what it takes) our love for them. This is what Christ did, and this is what we are also to do to build up the body of the church.
Paul speaks with confidence regarding his ministry:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. (2 Co. 2:14-17)
Be aware that the Gospel is a two-edged sword: the acceptance of its message means life, but the rejection of its message means death.
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 3:1-18
Paul knew that his ministry was affecting the Corinthians; we know today that Christ and the Spirit also change lives:
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Co. 3:1-3)
Paul speaks of the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Law) versus the New Covenant (Jesus Christ):
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills , but the Spirit gives life. (2 Co. 3:6)
Some explanation is needed here. The new covenant is the grace of Jesus Christ, through which sins are forgiven and eternal life is assured. The letter is the whole of the Mosaic law, which kills because it cannot, in and of itself, either forgive sin or assure eternal life. For proof of this:
Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Ac. 13:39)
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Ro. 3:20)
The work of the Mosaic law, and it was accomplished admirably, was to make men realize that they were sinners:
Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Gal. 3:21-25)
We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for law-breakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Ti. 1:8-11)
Paul goes on to speak of the glory of the new covenant as opposed to the old covenant:
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Co. 3:7-11)
The Mosaic law was suitable for its time and for its purpose, but its temporary nature and limited purpose have caused its glory to fade in the presence of the blazing light of the grace of Jesus Christ, which has as its purpose the bringing of many sons into eternal glory:
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (Jn. 1:17)
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Heb. 2:10)
Paul speaks of the veil that covers the hearts of those who regard the Mosaic law as permanent and sufficient in itself, and of He who takes it away, and for what purpose:
Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Co. 3:12-18)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 4:1-18
Paul speaks about the character of his ministry, which really is the ministry that all Christians have even today as the result of the Great Commission:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Co. 4:1-2)
Paul speaks bluntly as to why, for some, the Gospel is not the truth:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (2 Co. 4:3)
Those who are hard of heart to the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ have been made that way through the work of the evil one:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Co. 4:4-6)
Even in our human frailty we have been blessed by the power that God has given, but it is given only by God, and belongs only to God:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Co. 4:7)
Paul says that while the world confronts Christians and presses in on them from every side, we have Jesus Christ, and he indicates what the glory of the ministry of spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ is:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2 Co. 4:8-12)
This is a lesson for us: if you believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is Lord, then speak as you believe, not only for the glory of God and of His Son, but for the reward that shall be given to all who do this:
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. (2 Co. 4:13-14)
Paul ends this chapter of Second Corinthians with one of the high points of the letter, a passage speaking boldly and confidently of hope in Jesus Christ:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Co. 4:16-18)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 5:1-21
Paul says that the resurrection is assured, and speaks about it in a way that is comforting, even though one must experience death to know it. He speaks poignantly regarding what we, as children of God, feel:
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Co. 5:1-5)
In light of this, Paul says we Christians are confident, but also know where we want to be:
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not be sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Co. 5:6-9)
The natural desire we have is to want to hold onto the life that we have. To believe and to think like a follower of Jesus Christ is not to want the things of the world, but to want the things of God, one of which is to know, through what He has shown us in His Son Jesus Christ, that there is a life larger and more beautiful than what we can know with our limited knowledge. Just because what God has prepared for us is beyond our capability to understand doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist: we must trust in God.
Paul says what believers must face, but for the sake of rewards, not for eternal life or eternal condemnation:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Co. 5:10)
Paul speaks of the richness of Christ’s love for us:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Co. 5:14-15)
Paul says that we are to look at no one any longer with a “worldly view”, as once even Jesus Christ was looked at with, in one of the high points of Second Corinthians that summarizes the unsurpassed power of Jesus Christ to change lives:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Co. 5:16-17)
God is gracious in what He has done:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Co. 5:18-19)
Paul speaks intensely, personally, and from the heart as one who knows the truth of what he is proclaiming:
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Co. 5:20-21)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 6:1-18
The central message of this chapter is to not receive the grace that God offers in vain; this is to say that the day you hear the Good News of Jesus Christ is the day that you should receive it:
For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Co. 6:2)
Allied with the central message of the chapter is the exhortation to be separated from that which is sinful; originally, this was likely a recommendation to be separated from the false teachers that were then plaguing the church, but there is much here for Christians to think about today:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Co. 6:14-18)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 7:1-16
Paul pleads for personal holiness, within and without ourselves:
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contamintes body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Co. 7:1)
Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians, and his remarks concerning it lead to a discussion of what type of repentance is valid in the eyes of God:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. (2 Co. 7:8-11)
“Godly sorrow” is that regret which results in changed behavior: this is what is commendable before God, rather than “worldy sorrow”, which is regret for the effects of one’s sins, or for being caught in one’s sins. Perhaps the greatest illustration of godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow is the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Judas Iscariot. Both of them disowned Jesus Christ, but it was the godly sorrow and changed behavior of Peter that restored him to faith and service to the Lord, contrasted with the worldly sorrow and unchanged behavior of Judas Iscariot that led to his suicide.
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 8:1-24
Paul talks about the purposes for giving – 1) it is just another aspect of the total Christian experience, 2) it proves the reality of one’s love, 3) it imitates Jesus Christ, and 4) it helps to meet the needs of others:
But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving. (2 Co. 8:7)
I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. (2 Co. 8:8-12)
Paul says, in effect, “what goes around comes around”:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Co. 8:13-15)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 9:1-15
Paul talks about the promises God makes when one gives:
Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Co. 9:7-11)
Paul states that one of the by-products of unselfish giving, perhaps the greatest one, is the effect that it will have on the hearts of others:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Co. 9:12-15)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 10:1-18
More than occasionally, Paul had to vindicate himself and what he was doing. Paul’s authority as a duly constituted Apostle (literally called by Christ Himself!) was challenged by those who: 1) claimed a higher authority than Paul’s, and 2) lorded it over the Corinthian church. Paul let them know that his was a different fight, fought in a different way, and what he was really doing:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (2 Co. 10:3-6)
Paul takes the “false apostles” to task, saying that they only see on one level: that which is before their eyes, without looking any deeper; Paul is not ashamed to do what Christ asked of him:
You are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he. For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it. (2 Co. 10:7-8)
The “false apostles” were false because their standard of measurement was a false one:
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. (2 Co. 10:12-13)
In a pointed lesson, Paul concludes what it is best to do, if one must boast:
But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Co. 10:17-18)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 11:1-33
Paul speaks about his conduct with the church at Corinth; he is sincerely concerned for it, and he expresses that concern:
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. (2 Co. 11:2-4)
Paul shows that he is not doing what he is doing for the purpose of making money, or for living off the efforts of others, and he boldly confronts the “false apostles”:
And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Co. 11:9-15)
Paul speaks of his sufferings; he boasts (in his weakness) that while he is (as the “false apostles”) a Hebrew… an Israelite… a descendant of Abraham… there is more to the story… the spiritual sufferings are even greater:
What anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Co.11:21-29)
Through all of this, Paul trusts in the grace and the provisions of Jesus Christ; he is in His hands, glorifies Him, and gives an example of this beautiful providence:
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands. (2 Co. 11:30-33)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 12:1-21
Paul speaks of a vision that he had fourteen years earlier (approximately 43 A.D.; before his first missionary journey), in which he was caught up into the third heaven (paradise; the dwelling place of God), and given revelations (“inexpressible things”) that he could not speak of:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – he was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. (2 Co. 12:2-6)
As knowledge such as divine revelation would easily cause corrupt man to become boastful in a way not pleasing to God, Paul goes on to speak as to how he was humbled; this is a passage that points to an important lesson for all Christians:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Co. 12:7-10)
Christians need to come to an understanding of the power of Jesus Christ, to know that nothing in the world can overcome it, even when we are at our weakest. The lesson for us is that the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all the circumstances of our lives, and while we must live in the world, we must be removed from it enough to understand this great truth, and to trust in God that His providence is always with us.
Paul appeals for the repentance of the church in Corinth:
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. (2 Co. 12:19-21)
A Closer Look… 2 Co. 13:1-14
Paul urges the Corinthians to do something important; in so doing, Paul encourages all Christians to do the same:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. (2 Co. 13:5-9)
Paul asks that we examine our hearts to be sure that we are truly believers; are we “walking the way we are talking”? Paul is nothing if not unselfish, because he prays to God for believers that they may have the grace to resist the evil one and his temptations. Paul is filled with joy because even if he is weak and afflicted, if those to whom he has brought the Good News are strong, he has fulfilled his purpose. A beautiful image is that of Paul praying for the perfection of believers everywhere; this is what we as Christians must do for each other.