2 Corinthians – Introduction
You can bypass this introductory material, but I thought I would include it, just in case you’re interested.
Paul the Apostle planted this church in Corinth during his second missionary journey (you can read the account in Acts 18:1-17); unlike his previous church plants, where he would normally spend brief periods of time in each city, Paul ministered there in Corinth for 18 months, a whole year and ½ – and he poured his heart into the congregation.
It was a miracle simply to have a church in Corinth, because it was a wicked city in that day. Not to demean any city, but it was like the Las Vegas of the day, or a Los Angeles, or a New York, basically a big city with big problems. God did a great work.
But after Paul left Corinth, because he was a moving missionary, a lot of the worldliness of the city had crept into the congregation, it became a very carnal church where there were divisions, there was sexual immorality among them, Christians going to court against Christians, without first trying to work it out asChristians; there was confusion in their services, there was no order – tongues seemed to be the priority, rather than prophecy, and by that I mean the clear teaching of the Word of God, so much so that Paul wrote in, 1 Corinthians 14:19 “yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
They were a very gifted church, but they were abusing those gifts, they were exercising them without the Biblical parameters, without discernment and without love. Even the church potlucks, which in those days were called lovefeasts, lacked love, the rich looking down on the poor, not really wanting to share their food, kind of like me with my French fries, but I have a feeling it was even worse.
The Corinthian church digressed; so Paul had to make a painful visit to Corinth to confront the people causing the problems (2 Cor. 2:1ff; 13:1). He then wrote a severe letter of correction and sent it with Titus to the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 2:4–9; 7:8–12). Paul was pacing back and forth, wondering how they would respond to the letter. We’ll see later he even had open doors to preach the Gospel in Troas, but he just couldn’t, he was worried and wondering how the Corinthian church received his letter – so he traveled over to Macedonia and waited for Titus.
Eventually Titus returned to Paul with good news from Corinth, that the majorityhad repented, but there was still a minority, in rebellion.
Undoubtedly these problem people were those in the church who wanted to continue in their divisions and false doctrines, and their emphasis on the gifts over and above the teaching of the Word – but the onlyway they could accomplish their agenda is if they attacked the leader.
And that’s exactly what they did, they attacked Paul, and his Apostolic authority, they slandered him, talked smack about him, in their attempt to diminishhis influence in the church, even though Paul was the one who planted the church and was commissioned by Christ. They even tried spreading a lie, that Paul didn’t really love them.
Now again, most of the church had come around, but there were still some who hadn’t – and Paul, in this letter appeals to them, for a couple of reasons:
#1 Paul loves them (the unrepentant minority)
#2 Paul loves the entire congregation; and when people in the church get divisive, unruly and disorderly, rejecting the God-given authority, then they can infect the other sheep.
It’s like a cancer that spreads throughout the congregation.
And so, we will see that 2 Corinthians is probably Paul’s most personal letter to any church; he wears his heart on his sleeve, and makes himself very vulnerable, because sadly he was “cornered” and forced to make his case in order to prove his calling as a pastor, as a pastor’s pastor, and as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 1
Paul identifies himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and he makes it clear that it’s “by the will of God.” In part, this letter would be a defense of his calling as an Apostle.
We will go through extremely hard times in life, because we live in a fallen world, in fallen bodies, and we fight fallen angels. But God will go through it with us, and He will comfort us – not that we get comfortable, but that we can comfort others. I always think of my friends Carlos and Christina, whose 21-year-old daughter, Nadine, passed away of cancer, she went home to be with the Lord before her parents and the rest of her family. For the rest of their lives, they will be able to comfort others who experience the passing of a loved one, especially a child, because they’ve gone through it themselves; they can do this much more effectively than me, because I haven’t experienced this. My heart aches for them, but God is using them mightily.
Paul had gone through many, many trials, and he knew part of the reason was because God wanted him to be able to minister to others. In verses 8-11 Paul reveals the fact that there were times they were crushed and overwhelmed beyond their ability to endure, they thought they would never live through it, but God graciously delivered them, and He will always do that, until it’s our time (Hebrews 9:27). I thought it was interesting that Paul, in part, credits their prayers that brought them through it all (see v. 11).
False teachers had crept into the church at Corinth in an attempt to undermine and discredit Paul, they said that he had a hidden agenda of some sort, but I love what Paul says in v. 12, that they had conducted themselves “in simplicity and godly sincerity.”Those are things we should aspire to be as ministers, people who mean what we say, and say what we mean, it’s not necessary to read between the lines of our lectures, and we do so as servants who are sincere – we truly love the Lord and His people.
They criticized Paul for saying he would come, and then changing his plans. Due to their critical spirit, Paul had to explain himself. Paul didn’t make his plans lightly and he wasn’t flaky, Paul was faithful like Christ. His every intention was yes and amen to the glory of God. In one sense I believe Paul was saying that as an anointed Apostle of God, with the Holy Spirit in his heart, these were the plans of God for him and them, but God had to change those plans because of their sin. Paul says in v. 23 that the reason he had to change those plans is because he didn’t want to go to Corinth with a heavy hand of discipline – he would first attempt to iron things out. It’s so true, that he even called God as his witness.
Have you ever been there? Someone wronged you and rather than going into it with a full head of steam, you ask God for wisdom on how to deal with it? You wait and bathe it in prayer? That’s what Paul had to do, and they criticized him for it.
2 Corinthians 2
Paul didn’t want his next visit to Corinth to be a harsh visit, he didn’t want to make them sorrowful, because in one sense they were a source of joy for him. He was hoping that the letters he wrote would soften hearts and make things better before he actually visited them in person. He no doubt wrote his letters prayerfully, but honestly; he wrote his first letter, and especially the second letter (which we don’t have a copy of) out of anguish of heart, with many tears – he wanted them to know how much he truly loved them (v. 4).
One of the issues Paul dealt with can be traced back to his first letter to the Corinthians when a man in the congregation was sexually involved with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5). Rather than deal with the sin, or even mourn over the sin, the Corinthians were proud of the sin – that they allowed it in their church. I suppose they thought it was a good expression of God’s grace, but it wasn’t. Paul told them to deal with the sin, if the man didn’t want to repent, he needed to be excommunicated. They followed Paul’s lead and excommunicated the man; thankfully he repented. In light of that repentance, Paul thought that the punishment inflicted was long enough, but somehow there was a resistance to restoring the man. Paul urged them to forgive, and comfort, and reaffirm their love to him (v. 8) lest Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) condemn the man.
Verses 10 doesn’t teach forgiveness, as the Catholic church teaches the Sacrament of Penance and forgiveness through a priest, it simply teaches us that someone like Paul knew the Word of God, and he knew the promise and process of restoration; since Paul was the one who planted the church with Apostolic authority, they could follow his lead and hold to 1 John 1:9. Would they obey him in this, or would the drama continue? Pastor Chuck mentioned the tragic fact that “…unfortunately there will always be those harsh few who want to cut that person off forever…”even if they have a heart of repentance.
Paul cared so much about the Corinthian church, that when he sent the letter, he was anxious for their response through Titus. So much so that when there was an open door to preach in Troas, he didn’t. He left with that longing to meet up with Titus and find out what happened.
He was grateful and reminded of the fact that God always leads us in Triumph (isn’t that a great promise?). When the Roman General came home, the official parade would include the incense of the priest. For the Romans it was the smell of victory, for the prisoners it was an aroma of death. Paul knew he was being led victoriously and a large part of the reason was because the accusations against him weren’t true. He wasn’t a peddler of the Word, he preached it out of sincerity…he really did love the people.
2 Corinthians 3
Paul didn’t need letters of commendation (recommendations). The people in Corinth were his “letters,” they were his credentials, they were the evidence that God had done a supernatural work in Corinth, and indeed Paul was an Apostle. The letters were written on their hearts, not on tables of stone. Everyone could see, just look at the fruit!
Paul explains in v. 5, that it’s not that there’s anything special about him, in and of himself, but his sufficiency comes from God (and God gets all the glory). Indeed, Paul had been chosen to be a minister of the New Covenant…and what a glorious covenant that was!
Paul goes on to list some of the contrasts between the Old and New Covenant.
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Of the Letter||Of the Spirit|
|The Letter Kills||The Spirit gives Life|
|Ministry of Death||Ministry of the Spirit|
|Engraved on Stones||Written in our Hearts|
|Ministry of Condemnation||Ministry of Righteousness|
|Passing away||Remaining always|
|No Glory (in comparison)||Excelling Glory|
Paul truly wanted the Corinthians to realize the glory of the New Covenant, in comparison to the Old. He brings up the fact that Moses wore a veil to cover his face, so that the people wouldn’t see the way the glory faded – and here’s where it gets super interesting – for our glory never, ever has to fade. We can be like Jesus, we can shine with His love and truth, and it never has to fade away.
The reason the Jews (and all unbelievers) aren’t saved is because they’re blind, a veil lies over their eyes and heart when they read (or hear) the Bible. But when one turns to Christ the veil is taken away. I still remember reading the Bible before I was saved, and I didn’t understand it – it was just a bunch of stories to me. But when I was born-again, the veil was lifted, and the Word came alive. I understood it, endeavored to live it, and it (God and His Word) changed me, He set me free.
So, now when we read the Bible, we can see Jesus, and Paul closes with that truth in v. 18, how we see Christ, and are being changed into His image, transformed, from glory to glory, little by little, more and more like Him. That’s my prayer.
2 Corinthians 4
Do you ever feel like giving up? Please don’t do it!
In this chapter Paul talks about the ministry he’s received in the Lord. He lives to glorify God and to serve the people, he’s been given this ministry, so he has it in his heart to never give up (we do not lose heart). You may not be an Apostle, but you do have a ministry; may that encourage you to never give up, even though it is extremely difficult at times, our emotions and feelings fluctuate, but may our convictions and faith, “steady-on.”
Maybe some were accusing Paul of being insincere – he explains in v. 2 that he has no secret sin, no hidden agenda, he does the best he can to live truthfully with every man.
Maybe he was tempted to by discouragement because not everyone was receiving the Gospel, but he explains in v. 3 that the reason some rejected the Gospel is because they were blind and perishing – if they did believe, the light of the Lord Jesus would shine in their hearts. Paul explains in v. 5 that he preached Jesus to them, and that’s all we’re called to do as preachers, we leave the results in God’s hands.
I love the way Paul connects God’s command in Genesis 1, to let there be light, to the way He speaks light into our hearts, revealing and bringing us face to face with the glory of God, who is Jesus Christ.
We have this treasure (Jesus and His glorious gospel) in us! This should be an encouragement through all the crazy-difficult times we will experience in life.
What was true for Paul is true for us (see Jesus’ promise in John 16:33). We’re hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we’re perplexed, but not in despair; we’re persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Paul was given a ton of trials and tribulations, but never too much for him to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). As a matter of fact, Paul goes on to say that all these things were doing a good work in-and-through him. Basically, what was going on, is he was taking up his cross, he was dying, dying to self, so that the life of Christ would be manifested through Him. It was death for him (Paul) that would lead to life for others – this is the life of the faithful minister.
Eventually he would be executed for his faith, martyred, but he would continue to speak and keep the faith because Paul knew that God would raise him up, just as Jesus rose, Paul would rise. It’s all for the Lord and the people He loves
Therefore, again Paul says (v. 16) “we do not lose heart.” The outward man was getting beat up, whipped, thorns, shipwrecks, you name it – didn’t matter, because the inner man was being renewed day by day. In comparison to the glory that will revealed one day, our sufferings in this life are merely a “light-affliction” (see also Romans 8:18). Friend, please remember this…and please, “do not lose heart.” Look to eternity.
2 Corinthians 5
Keeping that eternal perspective is of utmost importance. As Christians we realize that if this “tent” is destroyed (our body), we have a building from God, a home in heaven; we know that death is not the end, it’s simply the departure from mortality to immortality. God has saved us in Christ and given us the Spirit as a guarantee (down-payment) that He will finish what He’s started.
So, we walk with confidence as Christians, we walk by faith, and not by sight meaning that even though we don’t see these things physically, we thoroughly trust the truth of God’s Word about life after death.
I’m pretty sure if you’re reading these words – you know there’s life after death, and that when we die we will stand before God and give an account of our lives (Paul mentions that in v. 10). Therefore, we should make it our ambition, our goal, to always please God. As Christians this will be the Bema Seat, the judgment seat which will determine our rewards. As non-Christians this will take place at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) and what a terrifying time that will be. Paul says, in v. 11 this is why we try to persuade people to believe.
In v. 12 Paul is hoping the Corinthians would boast on their behalf, that they would defend Paul and his ministry. There were others who boasted in appearance superficially, but Paul’s ministry was genuine, it was from the heart. Perhaps to some he seemed crazy because of the way he served relentlessly and passionately, but it was the love of Christ that compelled him (cornered him and gave him no other option).
Paul’s reasoning was simple – if Christ died for all, then all (in one sense) died with Him. The old man (the old Manny) should be dead, nailed to the cross, and the new man should rise – I should no longer live for myself, but for Christ who loves me.
So, Paul concludes by saying he will no longer look at anyone apart from the eternal. If people get saved they are a new creation (how awesome is that?) the old has passed away, and everything is brand new. This is Paul’s mission in life, he prays for God to use him to save souls. As a matter of fact, he believes he’s been given the “Ministry of Reconciliation,” and he has, all “ministers” have been given that ministry.
God sent His Son to suffer and die for our sins; God treated Jesus as if He lived our life, in order that He might treat us as if we lived His life (what a great exchange). So, Paul would therefore spend his life doing all that He could – pleading, preaching, imploring people to be reconciled to God.
He’s not crazy, it’s perfect sanity to serve God and the people, with this type of reckless abandon.
2 Corinthians 6
I have a hunch that this first part of chapter 6 should have been included in chapter 5, where Paul elaborates on such a beautiful salvation we have as Christians, that ministry of reconciliation. God help us not receive this grace in vain, not to take it lightly, not to think that we can turn it on and turn it off – this is the day of salvation – God determines the acceptable time, if someone plays games or puts it off till “tomorrow” it just might be too late.
Paul goes on to describe true Christian ministry. We find it’s much different than what we may have envisioned. Allow me to simply highlight some of his words. I encourage you to read these lists slowly.
IN – much patience, tribulations, needs, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, working to the point of exhaustion, sleepless nights, fasting…
BY – purity, knowledge, longsuffering, kindness, the Holy Spirit, sincere love, the Word of truth, the power of God, the armor of righteousness on both arms…
And then Paul lists how certain things go hand-in-hand even though they seem to be anomalies – honor and dishonor, evil and good report, as deceivers and yet true, unknown and yet well known, as dying and yet living, chastened but not killed, sorrowful and yet rejoicing, as poor and yet making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things.
At the end of the day – this is true ministry. We shouldn’t be in it only to the point of convenience, or ease, or to see what I can get out of it. It’s war, it’s the fight of our lives, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Tragically men had crept into the church who were wolves in sheep’s clothing, claiming to be someone special, spreading lies that Paul wasn’t an Apostle, and part of the reason was because Paul didn’t throw his weight around, he didn’t demand that people serve him, and so some of the Corinthians saw this as a weakness.
Another issue pressing on Paul’s heart was his warning to the church not to be unequally yoked. A yoke is when you have 2 animals connected – carrying or pulling a load together. This is applicable to a best-friend, or a business partnership, but it is most frequently seen in dating and marriage. If you’re a Christian, please, please make absolutely sure that you don’t enter in to any of these types of relationships with a non-believer. The most important part of your life is God, so imagine the horror of spending the rest of your life with someone who doesn’t share that part (the most important part) of your life. There will be no fellowship, no communion, what will happen to your children? Truth is that non-believer might even turn you away from the Lord. My friend, please, be so careful – make SURE they’re a Christian – don’t chance it. And don’t get trapped in “missionary dating.” That person might go to church with you and pretend to be a Christian, only to get your hand in marriage, but then, after you’re married the true colors will show…and you may live the rest of your life in the realm of regret.
2 Corinthians 7
Continuing on with a conclusion from chapter 6, Paul wants the Corinthians to claim those beautiful promises – that God would dwell among them, that God would their people, that God would their Father. If these are the bountiful blessings of the Christian life, our response should be exactly what we read in 7:1 – “…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness,” let us truly be holy – how? With a healthy fear of God!
This letter finds Paul frequently defending his ministry, appealing to the people that he was genuinely called by God – and he truly cared. In spite of the lies that had been spread about him, the truth is, they hadn’t wronged, cheated, or corrupted anyone. This is very important. Ministers one day will give an account of how they treated people, how they spent God’s money, and how they handled and lived God’s Word. Paul wasn’t trying to condemn the Corinthians; he and his team loved the Corinthians to the point that they even had them in their hearts – to die and live together – wow! I’ve always said, “A shepherd’s work can never be done without a shepherd’s heart.”
Remember, Paul had sent Titus with a harsh letter of correction, and he wasn’t sure how the Corinthians would receive it. The great Apostle Paul was troubled, worried, conflicted, and we even read at the end of v. 5 that “…inside were fears.”I’m almost ashamed to say it, but it’s true, I can relate to those feelings (emotions) as a pastor. You wonder how “so-and-so” is doing, and it weighs heavy on your heart. You do your best to give them the Word and you wonder what the “results” will be.
In this case, Paul was comforted by God, for when Titus came, he arrived with good news, that the Corinthians were not only receptive to the letter, but they were earnest for what he had said, they mourned over their sins, and they were even zealous for Paul. It wasn’t that Paul wanted to be esteemed, per se, it’s just that Paul wanted so much to maintain that relationship he had with them.
When Paul initially sent the letter he had regrets – it was very corrective. But after seeing the results – that it brought about genuine repentance, his regrets faded away. I’m reminded of that passage in Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful arethe wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy aredeceitful.”It’s every pastor’s dream, that the friends he loves and wounds, would not simply cry because they were caught, but that they would shed genuine tears, cleansing the soul and honestly aspire to change.
Paul had boasted to Titus about the Corinthians…and now he’s ecstatic that his words proved to be true!
Did you notice how often the word “comfort” is found in this chapter?
May God comfort you with the good news that He really is working in the hearts of our loved ones.
2 Corinthians 8
The next couple of chapters have to do with the donations that were being collected for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. They had been hit with a famine (Acts 11:28) and many Bible teachers safely assume that not only were the Christians in Jerusalem being persecuted physically and spiritually, but also financially. Paul encourages the Corinthians to follow through with their desire to help them out (8:10).
I love the way this offering is described repeatedly by the word “grace” (vs. 1, 6, 7, 9). It’s by the grace of God that I would ever truly give to those who have genuine needs. Giving and generosity in such Spiritual fashion is a work of the Holy Spirit, it’s a privilege, a blessing, and even a joy.
Paul uses the Macedonian churches as a wonderful example of giving – I like the way the NLT translates v. 2, “They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.”Imagine that, here they are, very troubled and poor, and yet they gave generously and sacrificially. They were able to do that because God had lavished them with His grace, and because they first gave themselves to God and His work (v. 5). Paul encouraged the Corinthians, through Titus, to finish this work that they had started.
After using the Macedonian church as an example, Paul then uses Christ as our pattern, how Jesus was rich, but willing to become poor, that we might become rich, spiritually speaking. How beautiful and wonderful our Lord is! O, that we might be like Him, with open hearts and open eyes to see the needs around us, and then be willing to graciously help somehow someway in Name of Jesus. God help us to give charity benevolently so that people might taste and see God’s great love and then benefit spiritually.
It’s interesting to see in verses 13-15 how Paul sees the church as a family, open to help each other whenever there was that genuine need. This can happen in different ways. I’ve seen throughout the years Christians help other Christians directly, and we’ve also seen people give through the church. Maybe there’s a sister, or a family who is hurting financially and the church is able to help out with rent, or pay a utility bill, provide a food card, or maybe a gas card. We really are family.
Paul closes the chapter with assuring the Corinthians that there would be great accountability financially in carrying the gift to Jerusalem. Titus was among that team of disciples responsible for the donation, along with a well-known brother chosen by the church to accompany them. This would keep everyone accountable, this was honorable, the team was responsible, and therefore blameless and above reproach. It’s sad today to see so many ministers steal God’s money. Billy Graham said that the three things that will ruin a minister are, “Pride, women, and money.”It’s for that reason there must be many, many safeguards, checks and balances, in the area of church finances.
God help us in all these things. Let’s be excellent stewards congregationally and personally – let’s show our love by giving obediently (v. 24).
2 Corinthians 9
I think it’s important to keep in mind that Paul wasn’t presenting this opportunity for the people to give, in order that hemight benefit from it – this offering was for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. I’m amazed and even angered when I see some televangelists soliciting for money that would be contributing to their lavish lifestyle. Ministers should never live above the people. This is why Paul warned his protégé in 1 Timothy 6:8-9 “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and intomany foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Paul had boasted about the Corinthian’s earnest desire to give and everyone was stirred up by their heart. Paul now wanted to make sure that when his team arrived in Corinth, the contribution would be generously completed so that no one would be embarrassed – neither he nor they.
For the rest of the chapter Paul teaches us that giving can be compared to sowing seeds in the ground. If you sow little, you’ll reap little; but if you sow bountifully, you will also reap bountifully. Makes sense to me.
Of course, the true motive is not giving so that I might get – for that’s not love – and this whole act of benevolence is motivated by love (8:24). But Paul doeswant us to know that as we give to God we can trust God to take care of us in every way. We must not give grudgingly or out of obligation, for God loves a cheerful (literally “hilarious”) giver. We should give generously, obediently, and purposely; God will show us what to give (as we purpose in our hearts).
Verse 10 is interesting because there we see that God is the one who supplies the very “seed” we sow. He makes it to grow to grain, wherein we might have bread for food – and fruits of righteousness.
Verse 11 teaches us that afterwards we are blessed and that causes us to give even more thanksgiving to God.
Verse 13 teaches us that our generosity to the poor, brings them to a place where they glorify God.
Verse 14 teaches us that they then pray for us, who give, and how important are those prayers? Can you see the blessings all the way around? Again, I think it’s awesome how Paul describes this whole realm of giving with the word “grace.”
O Lord, please grant me that grace to give more and more to You.
Verse 15 has always been one of my favorite Christmas passages. There are no works we can work, or words we can express that would adequately communicate how grateful we are that the gift of Jesus our Savior has been given to us!
2 Corinthians 10
We read in v. 2 that there were some there in Corinth who thought Paul ministered in the flesh (carnally, sinfully). Imagine that, the Lord’s beloved Apostle, writer of at least 13 books in the Bible, clearly and unequivocally called by God. Paul was no doubt tempted to lash back, but he didn’t…he approached them meekly and gently. This is his third letter, and it would be his third visit (13:1) and he was trying so hard to settle things peacefully and without any unnecessary drama. But if that unrepentant minority continued to create confusion and division in the church, Paul was ready and willing to boldly confront them on his next visit.
They accused him of ministering in the flesh, but Paul explains to them that the battle was spiritual, and so were his weapons. We’re in a spiritual war and therefore we fight with things like prayer, the Sword of the Spirit, the love of God, and the Armor of God. Have you ever noticed that the moment we try to fight with carnal (fleshly) weapons we lose? If I lose my temper, I lose the battle (see James 1:19-20). On the flip-side, when we fight the good fight, we pull down the enemies’ fortresses and lies lodged within the heart of the people. When we bring every thought to the obedience of Christ, we deal real blows to the enemy.
There were some in Corinth who looked at Paul, only through the eyes of the flesh. They thought he was all talk from a distance, impressed with his letters, but not impressed with his speech (maybe he wasn’t smooth or eloquent in his delivery). They were not impressed by his looks either. Sandy Adams writes that, “Paul was not impressive in appearance. Tradition tells us that he was short, bald, ugly, sickly, and may have spoken with a lisp. But he warns his critics not to judge a book by its cover.”
I love the way Paul caught the teaching of Christ, that as leaders with “authority” – we only have it so that we can serve others and build them up (10:8). But there was a false teacher in Corinth who was trying to deceive the people and take the credit and the congregation away from God’s man. Pastor Chuck Smith elaborates on this, “Paul had taken the gospel to the Corinthians, but another man was building on the foundation Paul had laid. There are always those who come into an established work and try to draw people after themselves. This man in Corinth was trying to build himself up by tearing Paul down.”
Paul would never do that. He knows that God had called him to serve the Corinthians and they were part of his God-given responsibility. The enemy was trying to ruin the work, but Paul had a heart for the people to grow, and that God through them would cary the work even farther (15-16). Isn’t that what we want? Lord work IN us, and then also work THROUGH us. The enemy will do everything he can to stop that grow-flow.
Paul quotes from Jeremiah 9:24 – that allthe glory must be given to God, not men. These guys commended themselves, but it was God who had commended, appointed, anointed and approved Paul.
2 Corinthians 11
It’s been said that a shepherd’s work can never be done without a shepherd’s heart. I can’t help but think of David who, as a shepherd, protected his sheep, even to the point of killing lions and bears! (1 Samuel 17:34-36) This is what Paul is doing in this chapter – he fears lest the people be led astray by these false teachers who were trying to undermine his ministry, and essentially take over the church.
Verse 3 has always been a heavy verse on my heart because Paul was fearful that if a false teacher came in and preached a different Jesus, or a different Spirit, or a different Gospel, they just might put up with it; Paul wanted to protect them from being corrupted. Tragically, I see it all the time, the cults preying on Christians who don’t know their Bibles. Paul was forced to defend himself in order to defend the flock.
These false teachers questioned Paul’s calling, his apostleship; they criticized his teaching style. They even thought Paul was wrong or weak in that he wasn’t supported by the Corinthians financially. Paul asks in verses 7-9, “Did I do wrong in not charging you?” Paul was supported by other churches while he was in Corinth and there were other times that he worked with his own hands to support himself. For Paul it was never about being rich or famous, he only wanted to be real and right in God’s sight, he wanted to be faithful. He truly loved the people and God knew it (v. 11).
Paul goes on to boast (he’s kinda forced to). These false teachers were manipulating a portion of the church, dominating them. Similar to a coach who’s overbearing on his team and for some strange reason, certain athletes appreciate being pushed – to the point of being pushed around. That may be the way the world operates, but it’s not the way the church is to be run! We are never to be shoving leaders, but loving leaders; we are not to be dominant leaders, but servant leaders. We read in v. 20 that these guys were enslaving the people, taking advantage of them, controlling, and even slapping them in the face! Paul says, we were too weak to do that!
Paul goes on to boast, but he doesn’t boast about the churches he’s planted, or the people he’s healed, the conversions he’s seen, or the disciples he’s made – he knows that all that is the work of God and God alone. He doesboast about the pain and sacrifices he’s made, because he wants to communicate the fact that he’s not in it for himself, he’s simply a servant, a slave, willing to suffer for the Lord. That’s the ministry. It’s not convenient or glamorous or self-aggrandizing, especially if one is effective, that person will be a target of the enemy!
Some people measure their ministry by the size of their building, or body, or budget. Paul measured his ministry by the size of his sacrifice…and we should too. Not that we purposely go and get arrested and beaten, endangering our lives, but we must go wherever God calls us to go and do whatever it is He’s called us to do, it’s as simple as that.
As I sift through this list, I see things God is calling me to do – to labor more, even to the point of weariness and toil, to journey more, sleep less, and fast more frequently. How about you?
2 Corinthians 12
Paul continues to defend his ministry with a few more “credentials.” Paul was caught up to the third heaven (the first heaven is our atmosphere; the second heaven is space, stars, and galaxies; and the third heaven is God’s dwelling place). Many Bible teachers believe this event occurred when Paul was stoned to death in Lystra (see Acts 14:19-20) it seems to fit the chronology of his life.
Paul considered it to be unlawful to share his experience in detail – perhaps because there are no words to adequately articulate Paradise from an earthly perspective – or maybe it was because he didn’t want that kind of attention. Nowadays, people write books and make movies about their alleged trip to heaven and back.
At the end of the day, Paul doesmention his experience as a whole…and I was thinking that this, along with the appearance of Christ to him on the road to Damascus, must have been instrumental in making him the man of God he was.
With the trip to heaven, God also gave Paul a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what this was, precisely, some say it was a physical malady, others say it was an actual person, or demon; we doknowthat this messenger of Satan was somehow able to “buffet” Paul (beat Paul). So, he prayed, three times that God would take it away, but God said, “No.” The “thorn” kept Paul humble, the “thorn” kept Paul usable, the “thorn” made him acutely aware of his utter weakness, so that his only hope was the power of Christ. I need to be cognizant of the fact that oftentimes the best thing for me are physical weaknesses, insults, needs, persecutions, circumstances under which I am subject to extreme pressure on behalf of Christ; Paul teaches me to take “pleasure” in this.
Pastor Chuck Smith said, “Sometimes we find that we will never truly experience the strength of God until we first experience our own weakness in some glaring way. Do you want power? It might come through infirmities.”
Paul was hoping that this letter would bring the Corinthians to repentance. This would be third time he was coming to them – would it be a peaceful visit, or would he need to discipline them as a loving father would? In v. 15 Paul gives us a great description of ministry – in essence we are willing to be “spent” for the people – to lay down our lives for them. Some will love us, but many won’t, and it hurts, but that’s the reality of the ministry and that’s a large part of life – we must continue to serve our Savior by serving His people whether they love us or not.
Paul’s ministry and ministers (such as Titus) were blameless. Paul had modeled and taught Titus to never take advantage of the people, on the contrary, do all things for their edification (v. 19).
2 Corinthians 13
As Paul closes the letter, he ends it with the hopes that what he has written will bring about a change of heart in those people who despised his Apostleship, so that by the time he arrives in Corinth (this would be the third time) there wouldn’t be any confrontations necessary.
I don’t know about you, but I hate drama, I’m uncomfortable with confrontations – but I also realize that there are going to be those times when we have no other options, we must deal with the sin in the camp. If we don’t address it, if we allow it to fester, it will ruin the family, as well as the flock. We read in Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
Paul challenges the Corinthians to take a long look in the mirror, “Are you truly saved?” It appears that some were slanderously saying that Paul was disqualified – maybe they were the ones who were disqualified, counterfeit Christians. They needed to get their lives right with God, we all do, because there’s someone else who’s coming again. We too are expecting another “visit” from someone much more important than Paul the Apostle – Jesusis coming!The first time He came in relative weakness, as a Lamb to save. The next time comes it will be in absolute power, as a Lion to judge. Are we really ready for HIS coming?
Paul was hoping that things would be ironed out by the heat of his letter as opposed to the heat of his presence. Sometimes God has a tough message for us to hear and it hurts, but that’s only intended to protect us from harming ourselves and others. I love the way Paul repeatedly said that this “authority” he’d been given was intended for their edification – this is what “positions” of leadership are all about, that we might lay down our lives for the people.
In v. 9 Paul prays for the people to be made “complete.” He uses the same word in v. 11. And what we discover as Christians is that “positionally,” we are already complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10), but “practically,” we are a work in progress. To be complete in this sense is to grow to maturity, that’s my prayer for me, that’s my prayer for my family and the flock.
What a beautiful prayer and benediction Paul shares in v. 11, become complete, be encouraged and encourage others, be united by putting on the mind of Christ, don’t just speak peace – live peace – and guess who shows up? The God of love and peace will bless our lives.
Verse 14 is another one of those implicit examples of the Trinity at work – grace, love, and fellowship, from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “One God in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, equal in essence and nature, but not in function and office.”