Monday, April 22, 2019

READ IT! - Introduction to 2nd Corinthians 1-6

Readings for this week

Monday: Habakkuk 3
Tuesday: 2nd Corinthians 1
Wednesday: 2nd Corinthians 2
Thursday: 2nd Corinthians 3
Friday: 2nd Corinthians 4
Saturday: 2nd Corinthians 5
Sunday: 2nd Corinthians 6

Introduction to 2nd Corinthians 1-6

Context of 2nd Corinthians 

Author: Paul 

Date: Mid-50s A.D. 

Place of composition: The “severe letter” was probably sent from Ephesus, and the letter of reconciliation from Macedonia. 

Audience: The congregation at Corinth, Greece 

Structure of 2nd Corinthians 

The Letter of Reconciliation (1:1–9:15) 
The “Severe” Letter: Paul’s Defense of His Apostolic Authority (10:1–13:14) 

Themes of 2nd Corinthians 

Whereas in 1 Corinthians Paul deals with ethical and doctrinal issues, in 2 Corinthians he struggles to define the qualities and motives that distinguish the Christian ministry. Underlying the writing of 2 Corinthians is a dramatic conflict between Paul and the church he had founded. After he had dispatched 1 Corinthians, several events took place that strained his relationship with the church almost to the breaking point. New opponents, whom Paul satirizes as “super-apostles”, infiltrated the congregation and rapidly gained positions of influence. Paul then made a brief “painful” visit to Corinth, only to suffer a public humiliation there. His visit a failure, he returned to Ephesus, where he wrote the Corinthians a severe reprimand, part of which is preserved in chapters 10-13. Having carried the “severe” letter to Corinth, Titus then rejoins Paul in Macedonia, bringing the good news that the Corinthians are sorry for their behavior and now support the apostle (7:5-7). Paul subsequently writes a joyful letter of reconciliation, included in chapters 1-9. 

Chapter 1 

The first nine chapters of the book are made up of what is known as the Letter of Reconciliation. It begins with a salutation. The letter claims to be written by Paul and Timothy who offer greetings and a blessing of grace and peace to the church at Corinth and the believers throughout the region of Achaia. They then offer thanksgiving for the comfort of God in affliction. They say that God comforts us so that we may comfort others 

Paul says that everything they are is for the sake of the Corinthians:

Our distress for your comfort and salvation
Our comfort for your comfort
This produces perseverance in suffering for you
This produces hope for us in knowing that you share both our comfort and our suffering

Paul then speaks of their deliverance from death, saying that they had many hardships in Asia and were under great pressure. He says that they were unable to endure in their own strength and that they despaired of life, and that they felt as though they had received a death-sentence. He then asks why they experience these things, and his answer is that so they would rely on God who raises the dead, and not on themselves. He says that they have been delivered and they will be delivered again. He also adds that the prayers of the believers are helpful . And he declares that many will give thanks when God answers all their prayers for them

In the next part of the letter Paul offers an apologetic defense of apostleship which serves as an answer to the critics’ charges. First, Paul offers a defense of his conduct starting with an explanation of his altered plans and a claim of a clear conscience in the way they have lived in the world and in the way they have interacted with the Corinthians in particular. He says that this was all by God’s grace, and not by worldly wisdom. He says that he hopes that their partial understanding will grow to complete understanding, so that they can boast about each other in the Day of the Lord Jesus.

Paul then says that he wanted to visit them twice on his way to and from Macedonia, adding that his intentions were not fickle – “I did not say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the same breath as the fickle world does.” Paul says that the message of Jesus that he and Silas and Timothy have preached to them has never been “yes and no,” but always “yes!” And he adds that no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by the apostles to the glory of God. And he says that it is God who makes all of them stand firm in Christ through his anointing and his seal of ownership on them all. He put his Spirit in their hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Paul then says that the reason he didn’t return to Corinth was to spare them a painful visit. He says that he wrote to them before in the way that he did so that when he would come he would not be distressed by their conduct. He says, “I had confidence in you that you would have shared in my joy. When I wrote to you, I was in anguish and tears. I wasn’t trying to grieve you – I wanted you to know how much I love you!” 

Chapter 2 

Paul then discusses an issue of forgiveness of an offending brother. He says to the Corinthians that If any person among them has caused him grief, that person has caused the Corinthians all the more grief. And he adds that the punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. But then he says that now they ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Then he says that another reason he wrote to them was to see if they would stand the test and be obedient in everything. He says, “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. We must forgive everyone, so that we will not fall for Satan’s schemes against us.”

Paul then mentions that he had missed Titus while in Troas. Paul says that when Christ opened the door for him to preach at Troas, he still had no peace because he couldn’t find his brother Titus there, so he said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.

Paul then discusses the nature of a true apostleship. First, he talks about the glory of the ministry through the triumph of Christ. He says they thank God for parading them in Christ’s triumphal procession and for making them the aroma of Christ that is spreading to all. He says, “Our aroma brings death to some, but life to others.” And he adds that they are the best for the task, because they are sincere and do not peddle the word of God for money like so many others do.

Chapter 3 

He then points to the product of the ministry, asking, “Can we speak on our own behalf, or do we need to present letters of recommendation? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 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.”

Paul then talks about the superiority of the new covenant, saying that they are confident not in their own competence, but in the competence that God gives them. He says, “God has made us ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” He says that the ministry of Moses was written on stone and brought death, but even that ministry was glorious – to the point that Moses frightened the Israelites with the radiance of his face. If even this temporary ministry was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that lasts forever! He says that this hope they have makes them bold. He says, “We are not like Moses who put on veil to hide from the people the fact that the glory emanating from him was only temporary. They were dimwitted people – and even today they still live as though the covenant in which they read of and partake in is hidden behind a veil.” And he says that only Christ can remove this veil from a person’s heart. He then declares that the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. He says, “And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 

Chapter 4 

Paul then discusses the light of the Gospel. He says that since it is through God’s mercy they have this ministry, they do not lose heart and they renounced secret and shameful ways. He says that they do not use deception, nor do they distort the word of God but rather set forth the truth plainly, and commend themselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And he adds that even if their gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. He says that the god of the age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. He says that what they preach is not themselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and themselves as the Corinthian’s servants for Jesus’ sake. He says that God made his light shine in their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Paul then discusses the frailty and trials of the ministers, saying that they have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from themselves. He says that they are…

Hard pressed on every side, but not crushed
Perplexed, but not in despair
Persecuted, but not abandoned
Struck down, but not destroyed.

He says that they always carry around in their bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in their bodies. He says that the ones who are truly alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in their mortal bodies. He says that since they have that same spirit of faith, they also believe and therefore speak, because they know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise them with Jesus and present them along with the Corinthians to himself. He says that all of this is for the benefit of the Corinthians, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Paul then speaks of an unseen glory… or the hope of the ministers. He says that though outwardly they are wasting away, yet inwardly they are being renewed day by day, for these light and momentary troubles are achieving for them an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. He declares that they fix their eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

Chapter 5 

Paul then addresses what called the “earthly tent” and the reason for his confidence in the face of death. He says that they know that if the “earthly tent” they live in is destroyed, they have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. He says that while they are in this tent, they groan and are burdened, because they do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with their heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Paul says that the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. And he adds that he knows if they are at home the body, then they are far from the Lord – for they live by faith, not by sight. And he says that he would rather be with the Lord, than with his body, but whether they make their home in this body or away from it, their goal is to please God. He says that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

Paul then proclaims the message of reconciliation as well as their motivation, which is the love of Christ. He says that they try to persuade others because they know what it is to fear God. He says, “God knows what we are – we hope you also know.” He says that they are not trying to show off to the Corinthians, but the Corinthians ought to take pride in who they are in Christ rather than being proud of surface details. He says, “If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God… If we are in our right mind, it is for you.” He says, “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.”

Paul then delivers the point of the message, which is to be reconciled to God. Paul says that they all used to view Christ and other people from a worldly point of view – but no more! He says, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation – throw out the old, bring in the new!” And he adds that all of this is from God. God gave us Christ who reconciled us to himself, so that he wouldn’t count our sins against us. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. He says, “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.” He urges them not to receive God’s grace in vain because today is the day of salvation. 

Chapter 6 

Paul then talks about the hardship of the Apostles. He says that they put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that their ministry will not be discredited. He says that as servants of God they commend themselves in every way:

In great endurance
In troubles
In hardships
In distresses
In beatings
In imprisonments
In riots
In hard work
In sleepless nights
In hunger
In purity
In understanding
In patience
In kindness
In the Holy Spirit
In sincere love
In truthful speech
In the power of God
With weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left
Through glory and dishonor
Through bad report and good report
Genuine, yet regarded as impostors
Known, yet regarded as unknown
Dying, and yet we live on
Beaten, and yet not killed
Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing
Poor, yet making many rich
Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul then makes his appeal to the Corinthians, requesting first their mutual affection. He says that he has spoken freely to the Corinthians, not withholding any affection from them, but he says the Corinthians have not returned the favor.

He then tells them to not be yoked together with unbelievers since righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common… there is no fellowship between light and darkness… there is no harmony between Christ and Belial… there is nothing in common between a believer and an unbeliever… there is no agreement between the temple of God and idols. And he adds that they are the temple of the living God.

And he quotes scripture where God has said:

“’I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.’


‘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.’”

And Paul says that since they have these promises, they ought to purify themselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

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