Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians
In order to understand this letter we must realise that Paul wrote at least five letters to Corinth.
First letter Lost
Second letter Known as The First Letter to the Corinthians
Third letter Lost
Fourth Letter Known as the Second Letter to the Corinthians
Fifth letter Lost
An interval of not much more than a year separates Paul’s two letters to Corinth. The Second Letter (which was actually the fourth) was written from Macedonia about the year 57A.D. His First Letter (which was actually his second letter) had not been well received and Paul had made a swift unscheduled visit to Corinth which proved unpleasant both for him and the church. He promised to return, but instead, to avoid an even more painful visit, wrote a letter (the third letter) which is lost. He is anxious to meet Titus to find out Corinth’s reaction to that letter. Eventually they meet somewhere in Macedonia, probably in the capital Philippi. Titus was able to tell him that his letter (the third lost letter) had brought the Corinthians to their senses. Paul’s relief knew no bounds.
Now, as he writes again, the worst is over. He looks forward to a third visit which he hopes will be a happier one. So the final part of the letter is specifically intended to clear the air. (He did pay that visit, and wrote his letter to the Romans during his stay.)
The Second Letter to the Corinthians is perhaps the most intensely personal of all Paul’s letters. As we read, we feel the weight of his burden of care for all the churches: the depth of his love for them and his anguished concern for their spiritual progress. We see in personal terms the cost of his missionary programme: hardships, suffering, deprivation, humiliation, almost beyond human endurance. And we see his unshakeable faith shining through it all, transforming every circumstance.
In the last four chapters the letter is vehement against his critics and adversaries who are telling the Corinthians that Paul is not a true apostle and even suggesting that he is pocketing the money which they have collected for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.
1. The letter opens with the usual salutations and greetings though it is a more personal note than usual. Paul thanks God for his special goodness during recent trials. 2 Corinthians 1:7.
Persecution and Deliverance.
2. Paul explains that while in the province of Asia (whose capital was Ephesus) he ran into trouble which was so serious that it seemed likely to cost him his life. This might have been a reference to the problem with the silversmiths (Acts 19:23-40) or some other event or it might even have been an illness he suffered. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.
Paul Explains Why He Changed His Plans.
3. He had intended to make two visits to Corinth but had not done so. Because of that he had been accused, by the Corinthians, of shilly-shallying. His last visit had been a painful one so he wanted to make sure that the next visit would not be the same. It seems that one particular male Christian Corinthian had caused Paul a lot of trouble. Paul didn’t want a head on clash and so had managed to sort out the problem or to get the
Corinthians to sort out the problem. ‘The punishment already imposed by the majority was quite enough for such a person’. Paul continues by saying that the man should be forgiven and encouraged.
2 Corinthians 1:12-24 & 2:1-11.
Frustration at Not Receiving News.
4. After writing the third letter Paul could not rest. He travels around hoping to meet Titus who will have the answer to the letter. But we have to get to Chapter Seven before Paul meets up with Titus. (In our modern world of telephone, fax and e-mail we can understand the frustration and difficulties of not being able to make contact.) 2 Corinthians 2:12-17.
5. Paul is sensitive to the fact that everything he wrote or said was liable to be twisted and used in a hostile manner. He compares the glory of the New Covenant of Christ with that of the Old Covenant given to Moses. 2 Corinthians 3:1-18.
6. Paul refers to false teachers in Corinth; by contrast Paul is able to appeal to the conscience of everyone. He tells of the hardships and hopes of the apostles; never distressed, never despairing, never cut off, knocked down, but still having ‘life in us.’ 2 Corinthians 4:1-18.
Reward After Death.
7. ‘The tent we live in’, our mortal bodies, are frail and temporary. Our belief in the resurrection is that our mortal bodies are swallowed up by ‘life’ not by ‘death.’ Paul uses the words ‘out of mind’. Probably Paul’s enemies were asserting that he was suffering from religious mania – exemplified by his story of conversion on the road to Damascus and his insane way of life. The chapter ends with an exhortation to ‘Be reconciled to God’.
2 Corinthians 5:1-21.
8. Corinthian Christians are urged to receive God’s Grace: ‘In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ Paul continues “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” As in Chapter Four he has detailed the problems he has had to contend with, now he elaborates further: beatings, hardships, imprisonment, riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. He concludes ‘Having nothing, and yet possessing everything.’ (Nothing of the world’s goods, but everything of God’s grace and love.) 2 Corinthians 6:1-13.
(There is an abrupt change of tone between verse 13 and 14. Some suggest
that a section may be missing or misplaced.)
Avoid Mixed Marriages with Unbelievers.
9. Paul warns ‘do not be yoked together with unbelievers.’ This can be a warning against both mixed-marriages and listening to false teachers. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.
10. Paul makes it clear that there is no common ground between God’s Temple and a temple which honours false gods. His earlier letter had not resolved some of these issues. (The Christian Corinthians were perhaps trying to follow Christ whilst remaining on good terms with their idol worshipping neighbours.) The chapter finishes with a quotation from
2 Samuel 7:14 ‘I will be your father and you will be my sons.’
2 Corinthians 6:17-18.
11. At this point in the letter Paul tells of his meeting with Titus and his joy at the good news from Corinth. Paul’s relief and joy are overwhelming. His faith in Christian Corinthians has been completely vindicated.
2 Corinthians 7:1-16.
Relief Fund for Christians in Jerusalem.
12. Now that confidence is restored, it is possible to raise the matter of the relief fund for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Titus is to return to Corinth to supervise the completion of the collection. He will be accompanied by delegates form the Macedonian churches. There is a hint of accusation against Paul regarding the administration of the collection. That Titus and the Macedonians are involved will safeguard any charges against Paul. (The Jerusalem church seems to have been in financial trouble from the start, probably because the break with Judaism cut converts off from their families and often cost them their jobs.) 2 Corinthians 8:1‑24.
13. In Chapter Nine Paul continues his encouragement for the Corinthians to give generously. He quotes from the Old Testament ‘To the needy he gave without stint…..’ Pslam 112:9. ‘….seed for the sower and food to eat…’ Isaiah 55:10. ‘….the harvest of your uprightness….’ Hosea 10:12.
2 Corinthians 9:1-15.
14. Paul now turns his attention to the hostile minority at Corinth who have challenged his authority and criticised his behaviour. They say that Paul is brave in his letters but a coward when met face to face; that he is no speaker; that he is a second rate apostle. Paul answers showing the hollowness of their standards of judgement. 2 Corinthians 10:1 ‑18. 11:1 ‑15.
15. Paul boasts about his suffering. He refers to his lashings, stoning, shipwreck, danger in rivers, danger from bandits, being cold, being naked, being hungry, being thirsty. Yet he faces the daily pressures of all the churches. God the Father of the Lord Jesus, knows that Paul is not lying.
2 Corinthians 11:16-33.
Paul ‘Caught Up Into Paradise.’
16. Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of being ‘caught up into paradise’ but is not certain whether it included his body or whether he was separated from his body. He tells of ‘…..a thorn in the flesh…..’ which might have been some chronic illness. He glorifies in his infirmities, that the strength of Christ may dwell in him. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.
‘I Was Never a Burden to You.’
17. The fact Paul refused to accept any payment when preaching to the Corinthians had been slanderously twisted by his adversaries. (Paul was concerned that he may be considered a sponger.)
2 Corinthians 12:11-13.
Paul Looks Forward.
18. Paul looks forward to his third visit to Corinth. But he is concerned that he will find bickering and splinter-groups, the same arrogance and general disorder that made him write the previous letter (the lost second letter). He calls them to put things right (possible problems of sexual promiscuity, bitter quarrels and disorder) before his visit. He does not want to be harsh with them on this visit. 2 Corinthians 12:14‑21. & 13:1-10.
Conclusion With Instructions.
19. Paul finishes with final instructions ‘…..listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace…..’ The final sentence contains ‘The Grace’ used by Anglicans and Methodists (and probably all Protestants) at the end of meetings; ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ (That wording would be used when a Vicar/Minister is giving the Blessing.) ‘…..with us all’ would be the wording when the blessing is shared between clerical/lay people at meetings. 2 Corinthians 13:11-14.