Book 8 - PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
With people, places, definitions, map ......
Writer: The apostle Paul
Date: c AD57, a few months after his First Letter
Where written: Macedonia in northern Greece, after the return (2 Corinthians 7:5-7) of Titus from Corinth
Reader: The church in Corinth
Why: Paul continues to be attacked by false teachers in Corinth who question his authority as an apostle and the truth of the Gospel he preaches. In the first part of the letter he defends himself and Christ's Gospel against these charges. By chapters 8 and 9, by which time he is discussing the collection for the Jerusalem Church and Titus has returned from Corinth, he appears to be reconciled with the majority of the church.
With chapter 10, there is an abrupt change in tone. Chapters 10-13 are either a final warning to a small number of unrepentant church members who are still attacking Paul, or part of an earlier "stern" letter (the "third" letter described in the introduction to 1 Corinthians)
According to Some Modern Scholarship: See introduction to the First Letter to the Corinthians
Map - Paul Writes his Second Letter to the Corinthians
Map Key: Letter sent from 1 to 2
I - PAUL'S "GLAD" LETTER
SOME OF THE CHALLENGES PAUL HAS FACED
GREETINGS TO THE CHURCH IN CORINTH
2 Corinthians 1:1-2 - This letter comes to you from Paul, God's messenger for Jesus Christ by the will of God, and from brother Timothy, and is addressed to the church of God in Corinth and all Christians throughout Achaia.
May grace and peace come to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
AS GOD COMFORTS US THROUGH CHRIST SO WE CAN COMFORT OTHERS
God's encouragements are adequate for all life's troubles
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 - Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ's suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.
PAUL'S EXPERIENCES IN ASIA; A LESSON IN TRUSTING GOD
2 Corinthians 1:8-11 - We should like you, our brothers, to know something of what we went through in Asia (including the near riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:23). At that time we were completely overwhelmed, the burden was more than we could bear, in fact we told ourselves that this was the end. Yet we believe now that we had this experience of coming to the end of our tether that we might learn to trust, not in ourselves, but in God who can raise the dead. It was God who preserved us from imminent death, and it is he who still preserves us. Further, we trust him to keep us safe in the future, and here you can join in and help by praying for us, so that the good that is done to us in answer to many prayers will mean eventually that many will thank God for our preservation.
SOME OF HIS MISUNDERSTANDINGS WITH THE CHURCH AT CORINTH
HIS RELATIONS WITH THE CORINTHIANS ARE NOT BASED ON WORLDLY WISDOM & STANDARDS
2 Corinthians 1:12-14 - Now it is a matter of pride to us - endorsed by our conscience - that our activities in this world, particularly our dealings with you, have been absolutely above-board and sincere before God. They have not been marked by any worldly wisdom, but by the grace of God. Our letters to you have no double meaning - they mean just what you understand them to mean when you read them. We hope you will always understand these letters (as we believe you have already understood the purpose of our lives), and realise that you can be as honestly proud of us as we shall be of you on the day when Christ reveals all secrets.
PAUL'S ORIGINAL TRAVEL PLANS
- Paul planned to travel from Ephesus in Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea direct to Corinth in southern Greece; then north to northern Greece - Macedonia, before returning via Corinth. Instead he has gone first to Macedonia, Acts 20:1-3a. It is because of these changes, his opponents in Corinth accuse him of fickleness:
2 Corinthians 1:15-18 - Trusting you, and believing that you trusted us, our original plan was to pay you a visit first, and give you a double "treat". We meant to come here to Macedonia (where 2 Corinthians was probably written) after first visiting you, and then to visit you again on leaving here. You could thus have helped us on our way towards Judea (with the collection for the Jerusalem church). Because we had to change this plan, does it mean that we are fickle? Do you think I plan with my tongue in my cheek, saying "yes" and meaning "no"? We solemnly assure you that as certainly as God is faithful so we have never given you a message meaning "yes" and "no".
THE GOSPEL FIRST PREACHED IN CORINTH BY PAUL, SILAS & TIMOTHY
2 Corinthians 1:19-22 - Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom Silvanus (Silas), Timothy and I have preached to you (Acts 18:5), is himself no doubtful quantity, he is the divine "yes". Every promise of God finds its affirmative in him, and through him can be said the final amen, to the glory of God. We owe our position in Christ to this God of positive promise: it is he who has consecrated us to this special work, he who has given us the living guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts. Are we then the men to say one thing and mean another?
PAUL'S REASON FOR NOT MAKING AN EARLY RETURN TO CORINTH; HIS HOPE THAT A LETTER WOULD HAVE MORE EFFECT THAN A VISIT
2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4 - No, I declare before God that it was to avoid hurting you that I did not come to Corinth. For though I am not responsible for your faith - your standing in God is your own affair - yet I can add to your happiness.
(Chapter 2 ....) And I made up my mind that I would not pay you another painful visit (possibly referring to the short, unrecorded visit Paul may have made from Ephesus when the problems at Corinth first came to his attention). For what point is there in my depressing the very people who can give me such joy? The real purpose of my previous letter (Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians sent from Ephesus) was in fact to save myself from being saddened by those whom I might reasonably expect to bring me joy. I have such confidence in you that my joy depends on all of you! I wrote to you in deep distress and out of a most unhappy heart (I don't mind telling you I shed tears over that letter), not, believe me, to cause you pain but to show you how deep is my care for your welfare.
HE RECOMMENDS FORGIVENESS OF THE "IMMORAL MAN" IN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
2 Corinthians 2:5-11 - There was a reason for my stern words; this is my advice now. If the behaviour of a certain person has caused distress, it does not mean so much that he has injured me, but that to some extent (I do not wish to exaggerate), he has injured all of you. But now I think that the punishment you have inflicted on him has been sufficient (probably the immoral man of 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Now is the time to offer him forgiveness and comfort, for it is possible for a man in his position to be completely overwhelmed by remorse. I ask you to show him plainly now that you love him. My previous letter was something of a test - I wanted to make sure that you would follow my orders implicitly. If you will forgive a certain person, rest assured that I forgive him too. Insofar as I had anything personally to forgive, I do forgive him, as before Christ. We don't want Satan to win any victory here, and well we know his methods!
PAUL'S URGENT NEED TO RECEIVE TITUS'S REPORT FROM CORINTH
2 Corinthians 2:12-13 - Well, when I came to Troas (on the journey from Ephesus) to preach the Gospel of Christ, although there was an obvious God-given opportunity, I must confess I was on edge the whole time because there was no sign of brother Titus ....
Titus - For some unknown reason, Titus is not mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. By contrast, Paul refers to him in three letters, and sends him the Letter of Titus, covering in total a period of more than twenty years.
In Galatians, possibly written from Macedonia, c AD56 or 57, Paul describes how 14 years earlier (c AD43 or 44), Titus joined him and Barnabas on a visit to Jerusalem (2:1). And how, as a Greek and early Gentile convert, he was not forced to be circumcised (2:3).
Now, in 2 Corinthians (c AD57), as Paul reports making his way from Ephesus across to Macedonia, he finds Titus is not waiting at Troas as he had hoped (2:13). By 2 Corinthians 7:6, Titus has arrived in Macedonia with joyful news about the positive turn of events in Corinth. Verses 7:13,14, 8:6,16, and 12:18 refer to Titus's two visits to Corinth (this and an earlier one), his love for the church there, his part in collecting gifts for the Jerusalem church, and how he will apparently be carrying this, Paul's Second Letter, to Corinth (8:17). Paul also uses the letter as an opportunity to describe Titus' value as a companion and fellow-worker (8:23).
Ten years later, the Letter to Titus (c AD66) is sent to Titus (1:4) in Crete (1:5) where he is now serving as a minister.
Finally, in c AD67, Paul, writing from prison to Timothy reports that Titus has now gone to Dalmatia (2 Timothy 4:10).
.... So I (Paul) said good-bye and went from there to Macedonia (Acts 20:1).
THE WAY OF THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRIST
THE POWER OF GOD AS SEEN IN THE APOSTLE'S OF CHRIST
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 - Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable "scent" of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself.
Who could think himself adequate for a responsibility like this? Only the man who refuses to join that large class (of deceivers and false teachers) which trafficks in the Word of God - the man who speaks, as we do, in the name of God, under the eyes of God, as Christ's chosen minister.
THE APOSTLES NEED NO RECOMMENDATIONS; THE LIVES OF THE CORINTHIAN CHRISTIANS ARE THEIR CREDENTIALS
2 Corinthians 3:1-6 - Is this going to be more self-advertisement in your eyes? Do we need, as some apparently do, to exchange testimonials before we can be friends? You yourselves (the Christians of Corinth) are our testimonial, written in our hearts and yet open for anyone to inspect and read. You are an open letter about Christ which we ourselves have written, not with pen and ink but with the Spirit of the living God. Our message has been engraved not in stone, but in living men and women.
We dare to say such things because of the confidence we have in God through Christ, and not because we are confident of our own powers. It is God who makes us competent administrators of the new agreement, and we deal not in the letter but in the Spirit. The letter of the Law leads to the death of the soul; the spirit of God alone can give life to the soul.
THE WAY OF THE TRUE APOSTLE OF CHRIST
AS CHRIST'S POWER IS GREATER THAN THE LAW OF MOSES SO IS THE POWER OF THE APOSTLES
2 Corinthians 3:7-18 - The administration of the Law which was engraved in stone (and which led in fact to spiritual death) was so magnificent that the Israelites were unable to look unflinchingly at Moses' face, for it was alight with heavenly splendour (after his meeting with God on Mount Sinai, Exodus 34:29). Now if the old administration held such heavenly, even though transitory, splendour, can we not see what a much more glorious thing is the new administration of the Spirit of life? If to administer a system which is to end in condemning men was a splendid task, how infinitely more splendid is it to administer a system which ends in making men good! And while it is true that the former temporary glory has been completely eclipsed by the latter, we do well to remember that it is eclipsed simply because the present permanent plan is such a very much more glorious thing than the old.
Our ministry is an open and splendid thing
With this hope in our hearts we are quite frank and open in our ministry. We are not like Moses, who veiled his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing its fading glory (Exodus 34:32-35). But it was their minds really which were blinded, for even today when the old agreement (or covenant, the Law of Moses or first five books of the Old Testament) is read to them there is still a veil over their minds - though the veil has actually been lifted by Christ. Yes, alas, even to this day there is still a veil over their hearts when the writings of Moses are read. Yet if they "turned to the Lord" the veil would disappear. For the Lord to whom they could turn is the spirit of the new agreement, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, men's souls are set free.
But all of us who are Christians have no veils on our faces, but reflect like mirrors the glory of the Lord. We are transfigured by the Spirit of the Lord in ever-increasing splendour into his own image.
THE APOSTLES PREACH CHRIST'S GOSPEL PLAINLY, BUT MANY, INCLUDING THE FALSE TEACHERS, CANNOT SEE IT
2 Corinthians 4:1-6 - This is the ministry of the new agreement (... the Gospel of Christ) which God in his mercy has given us and nothing can daunt us. We use no hocus-pocus, no clever tricks, no dishonest manipulation of the Word of God. We speak the plain truth and so commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. If our Gospel is "veiled", the veil must be in the minds of those who are spiritually dying. The spirit of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, and prevents the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, the image of God, from shining on them. For it is Christ Jesus the Lord whom we preach, not ourselves; we are your servants for his sake. God, who first ordered
'light to shine in darkness' (Genesis 1:3),
has flooded our hearts with his light. We now can enlighten men only because we can give them knowledge of the glory of God, as we see it in the face of Jesus Christ.
THE APOSTLE'S SUCCESS IN SPITE OF THEIR APPARENT WEAKNESS IS TO DEMONSTRATE THE POWER OF GOD
2 Corinthians 4:7-14 - This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar - to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us (apostles). We are handicapped on all sides, but we are never frustrated; we are puzzled, but never in despair. We are persecuted, but we never have to stand it alone: we may be knocked down but we are never knocked out! Every day we experience something of the death of the Lord Jesus, so that we may also know the power of the life of Jesus in these bodies of ours. Yes, we who are living are always being exposed to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be plainly seen in our mortal lives. We are always facing death, but this means that you know more and more of life. Our faith is like that mentioned in the scripture:
'I believed and therefore I spoke' (Psalm 116:10).
For we too speak because we believe, and we know for certain that he who raised the Lord Jesus from death shall also by him raise us. We shall all stand together before him.
THE APOSTLES MAY SEEM DEFEATED BUT THEY KNOW THEY HAVE ETERNAL GLORY WITH GOD
2 Corinthians 4:15-18 - We wish you could see how all this is working out for your benefit, and how the more grace God gives, the more thanksgiving will redound to his glory. This is the reason why we never collapse. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. For we are looking all the time not at the visible things but at the invisible. The visible things are transitory: it is the invisible things that are really permanent.
THE APOSTLE'S CONFIDENCE IN IMMORTALITY AND THEIR READINESS FOR DEATH
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 - We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling - these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these "clothes" but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.
Death can have no terrors, for it means being with God
Now the power that has planned this experience for us is God, and he has given us his Spirit as a guarantee of its truth. This makes us confident, whatever happens. We realise that being "at home" (... alive) in the body means that to some extent we are "away" from the Lord, for we have to live by trusting him without seeing him. We are so sure of this that we would really rather be "away" from the body (in death) and be "at home" with the Lord.
It is our aim, therefore, to please him, whether we are "at home" or "away". For every one of us will have to stand without pretence before Christ our judge, and we shall be rewarded for what we did when we lived in our bodies, whether it was good or bad.
CHRIST'S LOVE FOR THE APOSTLES COMPELS THEM TO SERVE THE CHRISTIANS OF CORINTH
2 Corinthians 5:11-15 - All our persuading of men, then, is with this solemn fear of God in our minds. What we are is utterly plain to God - and I hope to your consciences as well. (No, we are not recommending ourselves to you again, but we can give you grounds for legitimate pride in us - if that is what you need to meet those who are so proud of the outward rather than the inward qualification). If we have been "mad" it was for God's glory; if we are perfectly sane it is for your benefit. At any rate there has been no selfish motive. The very spring of our actions is the love of Christ. We look at it like this: if one died for all men then, in a sense, they all died, and his purpose in dying for them is that their lives should now be no longer lived for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.
THE APOSTLE'S SPIRITUAL MINISTRY IS TO RECONCILE MAN TO GOD; SUCH MEN ARE NEW CREATIONS
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 - This means that our knowledge of men can no longer be based on their outward lives (indeed, even though we knew Christ as a man we do not know him like that any longer). For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether - the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new. All this is God's doing, for he has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ; and he has made us agents of the reconciliation. God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself - not counting their sins against them - and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. We are now Christ's ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As his personal representatives we say, "Make your peace with God." For God caused Christ, who himself knew nothing of sin, actually to be sin for our sakes, so that in Christ we might be made good with the goodness of God.
NOW IS THE TIME TO RECEIVE GOD'S GIFTS
2 Corinthians 6:1-2 - As co-operators with God himself we beg, you then, not to fail to use the grace of God. For God's word is-
'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you' (Isaiah 49:8)
Now is the "acceptable time", and this very day is the "day of salvation".
THE HARDSHIPS AND THE PARADOX OF BEING AN APOSTLE; THE TRANSPARENT HONESTY REQUIRED
2 Corinthians 6:3-13 - As far as we are concerned we do not wish to stand in anyone's way, nor do we wish to bring discredit on the ministry God has given us. Indeed we want to prove ourselves genuine ministers of God whatever we have to go through - patient endurance of troubles or even disasters, being flogged or imprisoned; being mobbed, having to work like slaves, having to go without food or sleep. All this we want to meet with sincerity, with insight and patience; by sheer kindness and the Holy Spirit; with genuine love, speaking the plain truth, and living by the power of God. Our sole defence, our only weapon, is a life of integrity, whether we meet honour or dishonour, praise or blame. Called "impostors" we must be true, called "nobodies" we must be in the public eye. Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always "going through it" yet never "going under". We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have "nothing to bless ourselves with" yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having.
We have used utter frankness, won't you do the same?
Oh, our dear friends in Corinth, we are hiding nothing from you and our hearts are absolutely open to you. Any stiffness between us must be on your side, for we assure you there is none on ours. Do reward me (I talk to you as though you were my own children) with the same complete candour!
PAUL'S APPEAL FOR RECONCILIATION; HIS JOY AT TITUS'S REPORT
YOU CANNOT COMBINE CHRISTIAN AND PAGAN WAYS OF LIVING
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 - According to many commentators, 1 Corinthians 5:9 refers to a "Lost" Letter, part of which is preserved in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, and another part, here, in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1:
Don't link up with unbelievers and try to work with them. What common interest can there be between goodness and evil? How can light and darkness share life together? How can there be harmony between Christ and the devil? What business can a believer have with an unbeliever? What common ground can idols hold with the temple of God? For we, remember, are ourselves living temples of the living God, as God has said:
'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people' (Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27).
'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you' (Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34,41).
'I will be a father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty' (2 Samuel 7:14).
(Chapter 7 ....) With these promises ringing in our ears, dear friends, let us keep clear of anything that smirches body or soul. Let us prove reverence for God by consecrating ourselves to him completely.
PAUL'S HONESTY AND LOVE
2 Corinthians 7:2-4 - Do make room in your hearts again for us (Paul and his fellow-workers)! Not one of you has ever been wronged or ruined or cheated by us. I don't say this to condemn your attitude, but simply because, as I said before, whether we live or die you live in our hearts. To your face I talk to you with utter frankness; behind your back I talk about you with deepest pride. Whatever troubles I have gone through, the thought of you has filled me with comfort and deep happiness.
PAUL JOYFULLY RECEIVES TITUS' REPORT ON THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
2 Corinthians 7:5-16 - For even when we arrived in Macedonia (Acts 20:1) we had a wretched time with trouble all round us - wrangling outside and anxiety within. Not but what God, who cheers the depressed, gave us the comfort of the arrival of Titus (in Macedonia with his good news from Corinth). And it wasn't merely his coming that cheered us, but the comfort you had given him, for he could tell us of your eagerness to help, your deep sympathy and keen interest on my behalf. All that made me doubly glad to see him. For although my letter (Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians) had hurt you I don't regret it now (as I did, I must confess, at one time). I can see that the letter did upset you, though only for a time, and now I am glad I sent it, not because I want to hurt you but because it made you grieve for things that were wrong. In other words, the result was to make you sorry as God would have had you sorry, and not merely to make you offended by what we said. The sorrow which God uses means a change of heart and leads to salvation - it is the world's sorrow that is such a deadly thing. You can look back now and see how the hand of God was in that sorrow. Look how seriously it made you think, how eager it made you to prove your innocence, how indignant it made you, and in some cases, how afraid! Look how it made you long for my presence, how it stirred up your keenness for the faith, how ready it made you to punish the offender! Yes, that letter cleared the air for you as nothing else would have done (perhaps suggesting Paul decided to defer his planned visit so the letter would have time to do its work).
Now I did not write that letter really for the sake of the man who sinned (probably not just the man guilty of incest, but others, including false teachers, who had attacked Paul), or even for the sake of the one (Paul?) who was sinned against, but to let you see for yourselves, in the sight of God, how deeply you really do care for us. That is why we now feel so deeply comforted, and our sense of joy was greatly enhanced by the satisfaction that your attitude had obviously given Titus. You see, I had told him of my pride in you, and you have not let me down. I have always spoken the truth to you, and this proves that my proud words about you were true as well. Titus himself has a much greater love for you, now that he has seen for himself the obedience you gave him, and the respect and reverence with which you treated him. I am profoundly glad to have my confidence in you so fully proved.
COLLECTING FOR THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM
PAUL REFERS TO THE COLLECTION FOR THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM AND THE GENEROSITY OF THE MACEDONIANS
2 Corinthians 8:1-5 - Now, my brothers, we must tell you about the grace that God had given to the Macedonian churches. Somehow, in most difficult circumstances, their joy and the fact of being down to their last penny themselves, produced a magnificent concern for other people. I can guarantee that they were willing to give to the limit of their means, yes and beyond their means, without the slightest urging from me or anyone else. In fact they simply begged us to accept their gifts and so let them share the honours of supporting their brothers in Christ. Nor was their gift, as I must confess I had expected, a mere cash payment. Instead they made a complete dedication of themselves first to the Lord and then to us, as God's appointed ministers.
HE URGES THE CORINTHIANS TO EXCEED THE GENEROSITY OF THE MACEDONIANS
2 Corinthians 8:6-15 - Now this had made us ask Titus, who has already done so much among you, to complete his task by arranging for you too to share in this work of generosity. Already you are well to the fore in every good quality - you have faith, you can express that faith in words; you have knowledge, enthusiasm and your love for us. Could you not add generosity to your virtues? I don't want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich.
I merely suggest that you finish your original generous gesture
Here is my opinion in the matter. I think it would be a good thing for you, who were the first a year ago (.. this might refer to Paul's original request for help in the "lost" letter to Corinth - 1 Corinthians 5:9) to think of helping, as well as the first to give, to carry through what you then intended to do. Finish it, then, as well as you can, and show that you can complete what you set out to do with as much efficiency as you showed readiness to begin. After all, the important thing is to be willing to give as much as we can - that is what God accepts, and no one is asked to give what he has not got. Of course, I don't mean that others should be relieved to an extent that leaves you in distress. It is a matter of share and share alike. At present your plenty should supply their need, and then at some future date their plenty may supply your need. In that way we share with each other, as the scripture says,
'He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack' (Exodus 16:18 - referring to the daily collection of manna "from heaven").
PAUL COMMENDS TITUS AND THOSE WHO WILL BE COLLECTING THE GIFTS FOR JERUSALEM
2 Corinthians 8:16-24 - Thank God Titus feels the same deep concern for you as we do! He accepts the suggestion outlined above, and in his enthusiasm comes to you personally at his own request. We are sending with him that brother (number 1) whose services to the Gospel are universally praised in the churches. He has been unanimously chosen to travel with us in this work of administering the gifts of others. It is a task that brings glory to God and demonstrates also the willingness of us Christians to help each other. Naturally we want to avoid the slightest breath of criticism in the distribution of their gifts, and to be absolutely above-board not only in the sight of God but in the eyes of men.
With these two we are also sending our brother (number 2), of whose keenness we have ample proof and whose interest is especially aroused on this occasion as he has such confidence in you. As for Titus, he is our colleague and partner in your affairs, and both the brothers are official messengers of the Church and shining examples of their faith. So do let them, and all the churches see how genuine is your love, and justify all the nice things we have said about you!
The two brothers - Surprisingly Paul does not name these obviously important members of the church. Some sources suggest they were subsequently expelled from the church; others, they may have been Luke, or Apollos, or Timothy, who were not identified for some unknown reason.
PAUL'S EMBARRASSMENT IF THE CORINTHIANS DO NOT RESPOND GENEROUSLY
2 Corinthians 9:1-6 - Of course I know it is really quite superfluous for me to be writing to you about this matter of giving to fellow Christians, for I know how willing you are. Indeed I have told the Macedonians with some pride that "Achaia (including Corinth) was ready to undertake this service twelve months ago" (again reflecting the "lost" letter of 1 Corinthians 5:9). Your enthusiasm has consequently been a stimulus to many of them. I am, however, sending the brothers (Titus and the two unidentified Christians) just to make sure that our pride in you is not unjustified. For, between ourselves, it would never do if some of the Macedonians (possibly including Sopater from the city of Berea, and Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Acts 20:4) were to accompany me on my visit to you and find you unprepared for this act of generosity! We (not to speak of you) should be horribly ashamed, just because we had been so proud and confident of you. This is my reason, then, for urging the brothers to visit you before I come myself, so that they can get your promised gift ready in good time. But, having let you into my confidence, I should like it to be a spontaneous gift, and not money squeezed out of you by what I have said. All I will say is that poor sowing means a poor harvest, and generous sowing means a generous harvest.
HOW GOD REWARDS THE TRULY GENEROUS
2 Corinthians 9:7-15 - Let everyone give as his heart tells him, neither grudgingly nor under compulsion, for God loves the man who gives cheerfully. After all, God can give you everything that you need, so that you may always have sufficient both for yourselves and for giving away to other people. As the scripture says: "He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness remains forever."
He (God) who gives the seed to the sower and turns that seed into bread to eat, will give you the seed of generosity to sow, and, for harvest, the satisfying bread of good deeds well done. The more you are enriched by God the more scope there will be for generous giving, and your gifts, administered through us (in this case, Paul and his companions collecting for the church in Jerusalem), will mean that many will thank God. For your giving (by the church in Corinth to the church in Jerusalem) does not end in meeting the wants of your fellow-Christians. It also results in an overflowing tide of thanksgiving to God. Moreover, your very giving proves the reality of your faith, and that means that men thank God that you practise the Gospel that you profess to believe in, as well as for the actual gifts you make to them and to others. And yet further, men will pray for you and feel drawn to you because you have obviously received a generous measure of the grace of God.
Thank God, then, for his indescribable generosity to you!
II - PAUL'S "STERN" LETTER
- Following Paul's reconciliation with the majority of the Corinthian church, chapters 10:1-13:10 may be a final warning to those unrepentant members who still discredit Paul and the Gospel he preaches. Otherwise it is part of the earlier "stern" letter - the third in a possible series of four listed in the introduction to 1 Corinthians 10). Various Bible commentaries give complex pros and cons for these alternatives:
PAUL DEFENDS HIS MINISTRY AGAINST THE CLAIMS OF THE FALSE APOSTLES
IN EARTHLY TERMS PAUL APPEARS WEAK BUT IN GOD'S HE IS SPIRITUALLY INVINCIBLE
2 Corinthians 10:1-6 - Now I am going to appeal to you personally, by the gentleness and sympathy of Christ himself. Yes, I, Paul, the one who is "humble enough in our presence but outspoken when away from us", and begging you to make it unnecessary for me to be outspoken and stern in your presence. For I am afraid otherwise that I shall have to do some plain speaking to those of you who will persist in reckoning that our activities are on the purely human level. The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God's warfare for the destruction of the enemy's strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. Once we are sure of your obedience we shall not shrink from dealing with those who refuse to obey.
PAUL ANSWERS THOSE WHO SAY HE MIGHT WRITE WITH POWER BUT IS NOTHING IN PERSON
2 Corinthians 10:7-11 - Do look at things which stare you in the face! So-and-so considers himself to belong to Christ. All right; but let him reflect that we belong to Christ every bit as much as he. You may think that I have boasted unduly of my authority (which the Lord gave me, remember, to build you up not to break you down), but I don't think I have done anything to be ashamed of. Yet I don't want you to think of me merely as the man who writes you terrifying letters. I know my critics say, "His letters are impressive and moving but his actual presence is feeble and his speaking beneath contempt." Let them realise that we can be just as "impressive and moving" in person as they say we are in our letters.
HE ALSO RESPONDS TO THE FALSE TEACHERS WHO HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS; HE KNOWS HIS HUMAN LIMITATIONS
2 Corinthians 10:12-18 - Of course we shouldn't dare include ourselves in the same class as those (the boastful false teachers) who write their own testimonials, or even to compare ourselves with them! All they are doing, of course, is to measure themselves by their own standards or by comparisons within their own circle, and that doesn't make for accurate estimation, you may be sure. No, we shall not make any wild claims, but simply judge ourselves by that line of duty which God has marked out for us, and that line includes our work on your behalf. We do not exceed our duty when we embrace your interests, for it was our preaching of the Gospel which brought us into contact with you. Our pride is not in matters beyond our proper sphere nor in the labours of other men. No, our hope is that your growing faith will mean the expansion of our sphere of action, so that before long we shall be preaching the Gospel in districts beyond you, instead of being proud of work that has already been done in someone else's province.
'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord' (Jeremiah 9:24).
It is not self-commendation that matters, it is winning the approval of God.
PAUL'S GODLY JEALOUSY THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD FOLLOW THE TRUE GOSPEL
2 Corinthians 11:1-6 - I wish you could put up with a little of my foolishness - please try! My jealousy over you is the right sort of jealousy, for in my eyes you are like a fresh unspoiled girl who I am presenting as fiancée to your true husband, Christ himself. I am afraid that your minds may be seduced from a single-hearted devotion to him by the same subtle means that the serpent used towards Eve. For apparently you cheerfully accept a man (either a specific false teacher, or a number of them) who comes to you preaching a different Jesus from the one we told you about, and you readily receive a spirit and a Gospel quite different from the ones you originally accepted. Yet I cannot believe I am in the least inferior to these extra-special messengers of yours. Perhaps I am not a polished speaker, but I do know what I am talking about, and both what I am and what I say is pretty familiar to you.
PAUL'S WILLINGNESS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL WITHOUT BEING A BURDEN ON THE CORINTHIANS; HIS CONSEQUENT CONDEMNATION OF THE FALSE TEACHERS
2 Corinthians 11:7-15 - Perhaps I made a mistake in cheapening myself (though I did it to help you) by preaching the Gospel without a fee? As a matter of fact I was only able to do this by "robbing" other churches, for it was what they paid me that made it possible to minister to you free of charge. Even when I was with you and very hard up, I did not bother any of you. It was the brothers who came from Macedonia who brought me all that I needed. ...
- Probably Silas and Timothy bringing gifts from Thessalonica and Philippi to Paul during his first stay in Corinth -
... Yes, I kept myself from being a burden to you then, and so I intend to do in the future. By the truth of Christ within me, no one shall stop my being proud of this independence through all Achaia!
Does this mean that I do not love you? God knows it doesn't, but I am determined to maintain this boast, so as to cut the ground from under the feet of those who profess to be God's messengers on the same terms as I am. God's messengers? They are counterfeits of the real thing, dishonest practitioners, "God's messengers" only by their own appointment. Nor do their tactics surprise me when I consider how Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is only to be expected that his agents shall have the appearance of ministers of righteousness - but they will get their deserts one day.
HE EVEN "BOASTS" OF HIS QUALIFICATIONS AND EXPERIENCES AS A CHRISTIAN
PAUL "BOASTS LIKE A FOOL" TO JUSTIFY HIS ROLE AS AN APOSTLE
2 Corinthians 11:16-33 - Once more, let me advise you not to look upon me as a fool. Yet if you do, then listen to what this "fool" has to boast about.
I am not now speaking as the Lord commands me but as a fool who must be "in on" this business of boasting (like the false teachers are doing). Since all the others are so proud of themselves, let me do a little boasting as well. From your heights of superior wisdom I am sure you can smile tolerantly on a fool. Oh, you're tolerant all right! You don't mind, do you, if a man takes away your liberty, spends your money, makes a fool of you or even smacks your face? I am almost ashamed to say that I never did brave strong things like that to you. Yet in whatever particular they enjoy such confidence I (speaking as a fool, remember) have just as much confidence.
Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.
Are they ministers of Christ? I have more claim to this title than they. This is a silly game but look at this list:
Only some of the following incidents are reported in the Acts of the Apostles. Most of them must have happened during Paul's earlier years as a Christian:
I have worked harder than any of them.
I have served more prison sentences!
I have been beaten times without number.
I have faced (the dangers of) death again and again.
I have been beaten the regulation thirty-nine stripes by the Jews five times (a punishment described in Deuteronomy 25:1-3 - one less than the maximum 40 in case there is a miscount and the victim is unintentionally degraded in the eyes of the punishers).
I have been beaten with rods three times
- Of this total of eight beatings, only the one in Philippi is recorded, Acts 16:22:
I have been stoned once (at Lystra, Acts 14:19).
I have been shipwrecked three times (none of which are recorded in Acts. The shipwreck on Malta, Acts 27:27-44, was some years in the future).
I have been twenty-four hours in the open sea (presumably adrift in a small boat after his ship sank).
In my travels I have been in constant danger from rivers and floods, from bandits, from my own countrymen, and from pagans. I have faced danger in city streets, danger in the desert, danger on the high seas, danger among false Christians. I have known exhaustion, pain, long vigils, hunger and thirst, going without meals, cold and lack of clothing.
Apart from all external trials I have the daily burden of responsibility for all the churches. Do you think anyone is weak without my feeling his weakness? Does anyone have his faith upset without my longing to restore him?
Oh, if I am going to boast, let me boast of the things which have shown up my weakness! The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I speak the simple truth.
In Damascus, the town governor, acting by King Aretas' order had men out to arrest me (c AD37, Acts 9:23-25). I escaped by climbing through a window and being let down the wall in a basket. That's the sort of dignified exit I can boast about.
Aretas - King of Nabatea (9BC-AD40), capital Petra, apparently ruled Damascus even though it was a city of the Decapolis. His daughter was the first wife of Herod Antipas. Antipas divorced her for his niece Herodias, the mother of Salome who was responsible for the death of John the Baptist. King Aretas avenged his daughter's treatment by going to war against Antipas, who only survived with Roman help.
HIS "BOASTING" CONTINUES - HIS VISION OF HEAVEN, HIS "THORN IN THE FLESH"
2 Corinthians 12:1-10 - No, I don't think it's really a good thing for me to boast at all, but I will just mention visions and revelations of the Lord himself. I know a man in Christ (Paul himself) who, fourteen years ago (c AD41-44), had the experience of being caught up into the third Heaven (or Paradise). I don't know whether it was an actual physical experience, only God knows that. All I know is that this man was caught up into paradise. (I repeat, I do not know whether this was a physical happening or not, God alone knows.) This man (Paul) heard words that cannot, and indeed must not, be translated into human speech. I am honestly proud of an experience like that, but I have made up my mind not to boast of anything personal, except of what may be called my weaknesses. If I should want to boast I should certainly be no fool to be proud of my experiences, and I should be speaking nothing but the sober truth. Yet I am not going to do so, for I don't want anyone to think more highly of me than his experience of me and what he hears of me should warrant. So tremendous, however, were the revelations that God gave me that, in order to prevent my becoming absurdly conceited, I was given a physical handicap (also referred to in Galatians 4:13-14, and possibly a painful eye disease, epilepsy, or malaria) - one of Satan's angels - to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, "My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely." Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ's sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him.
PAUL JUSTIFIES HIS BOASTING; HIS LOVE FOR THE CORINTHIANS; HIS APPROACHING VISIT
2 Corinthians 12:11-18 - I have made a fool of myself in this "boasting" business, but you forced me to do it. If only you had had a better opinion of me it would have been quite unnecessary. For I am not really in the least inferior, nobody as I am, to these extra-special messengers. You have had an exhaustive demonstration of the power God gives to a genuine messenger of his in the miracles, signs and works of spiritual power that you saw with your own eyes. What makes you feel so inferior to other churches? Is it because I have not allowed you to support me financially? My humblest apologies for this great wrong!
What can be your grounds for suspicion of me?
Now I am all ready to visit you for the third time (suggesting that Paul did make an intermediate short visit from Ephesus to Corinth), and I am still not going to be a burden to you. It is you I want - not your money. Children don't have to put by their savings for their parents; parents do that for their children. Consequently I will most gladly spend and be spent for your good, even though it means that the more I love you the less you love me.
"All right then," I hear you say, "we agree that he himself had none of our money." But are you thinking that I nevertheless was rogue enough to catch you by some trick? Just think. Did I make any profit out of the messengers I sent you? I asked Titus to go, and sent a brother with him. You don't think Titus made anything out of you, do you? Yet didn't I act in the same spirit as he, and take the same line as he did?
PAUL'S FINAL WARNINGS
PAUL'S AIM IS NOT TO DEFEND HIMSELF BUT TO WARN THEM TO TURN AWAY FROM SIN BEFORE HIS ARRIVAL
2 Corinthians 12:19-21 - Are you thinking that I am trying to justify myself in your eyes? Actually I am speaking in Christ before God himself, and my only reason for so doing is to help you in your spiritual life.
For I must confess that I am afraid that when I come I shall not perhaps find you as I should like to find you, and that you will not find me coming quite as you would like me to come. I am afraid of finding arguments, jealousy, ill-feeling, divided loyalties, slander, whispering, pride and disharmony. When I come, will God make me feel ashamed of you as I stand among you? Shall I have to grieve over many who have sinned already and are not yet sorry for the impurity, the immorality and the lustfulness of which they are guilty?
PAUL'S WARNING THAT SIN MUST BE DEALT WITH; HE MAY BE WEAK BUT GOD IS STRONG
2 Corinthians 13:1-10 - This third time (presumably after his first missionary visit, and second short trip across from Ephesus at the start of the church's difficulties) I am really coming to you in person. Remember the ancient law:
'By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established' (Deuteronomy 19:15).
My previous warning, given on my second visit (again appearing to confirm the second intermediate visit), still stands and, though absent, I repeat it now as though I were present - my coming will not mean leniency for those who had sinned before that visit and those who have sinned since. It will in fact be a proof that I speak by the power of Christ. The Christ you have to deal with is not a weak person outside you, but a tremendous power inside you. He was "weak" enough to be crucified, yes, but he lives now by the power of God. I am weak as he was weak, but I am strong enough to deal with you for I share his life by the power of God.
Why not test yourselves instead of me?
You should be looking at yourselves to make sure that you are really Christ's. It is yourselves that you should be testing, not me. You ought to know by this time that Christ is in you, unless you are not real Christians at all. And when you have applied your test, I am confident that you will soon find that I myself am a genuine Christian. I pray God that you may find the right answer to your test, not because I have any need of your approval, but because I earnestly want you to find the right answer, even if that should make me no real Christian. For, after all, we can make no progress against the truth; we can only work for the truth.
We are glad to be weak if it means that you are strong. Our ambition for you is true Christian maturity. Hence the tone of this letter, so that when I do come I shall not be obliged to use that power of severity which God has given me - though even that is not meant to break you down but to build you up.
III - PAUL'S "GLAD" LETTER (concluded)
A FINAL APPEAL; FINAL GREETINGS; A BLESSING
2 Corinthians 13:11-14 - Last of all then, my brothers, good-bye! Set your hearts on this maturity I have spoken of, consider my advice, live in harmony, be at peace with one another. So shall the God of love and peace be ever with you.
A handshake all round, please! All the Christians here (in the Macedonian city which Paul has reached on his way to Corinth) send greeting.
- Paul closes his letter with a short passage implicitly summarising the doctrine of the Holy Trinity:
The grace that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ, the love that is of God the Father, and the fellowship that is ours in the Holy Spirit be with you all!
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