Introduction to 2 Corinthians

By Josh Peltier and James Rochford

For an introduction to the letter, see our earlier article “Introduction to 1 Corinthians.”

These authors generally prefer the NASB for teaching the epistles, due to its specificity and word-for-word translation. However, 2 Corinthians would be an exception. The reader would do well to read a more fluid translation like the NIV or NLT, which grasp this letter much better.

2 Corinthians 1 (God’s comfort)

(1:1-2) As he was about to travel to Corinth for a third visit, Paul prepared the Corinthian believers for his visit by sending them this letter from Macedonia.

Paul points out that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s choosing, not by his own will. Timothy had experience ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:5, 1 Cor. 16:10-11, 2 Cor. 1:19), so his association with Paul in this greeting is more than a mere formality. They knew him well.

The letter was written to the church in the city of Corinth, but also to the surrounding region of Achaia.

(1:3-4) The source of all comfort in the midst of all troubles is God Himself. The word “comfort” (paraklēsis) means “to come alongside” or “encourage.” This promise covers any and every form of hardship or suffering. We see here that comfort received from God through trials enables believers to comfort others. Not only this, but this is one of the purposes of God’s comfort: it’s intended to be given out to others.

It’s interesting that Paul opens by writing about the personal comfort he was receiving from God. Even though he was in deep anguish and stress (presumably from the personal attacks at Corinth), he was able to experience God’s comfort through this.

(1:5) We will suffer more if we choose to follow Christ, but we also have access to comfort that others know nothing about.

(1:6-7) Both his suffering and comfort were for the purpose of building up the Corinthians’ faith (cf. Eph. 3:13; 2 Tim. 2:10). In hardship and receiving comfort from the Lord, Paul’s perspective was others-focused. He had a stewardship mindset even with his sufferings and with the comfort he received.

Paul was confident of their perseverance because he was confident in the comforting and encouraging ministry of Jesus.

As Christian believers, we know God can use suffering to change us and teach us valuable lessons that we wouldn’t gain otherwise. Suffering is a means of growth. However, do we view suffering only as a means of growth for ourselves? Or do we consider suffering as something God intends to use to build others up?

(1:8-10) Paul explains a practical outworking of the theological principles he explained in verses 3-7. He expresses vulnerability in his account (“far beyond our ability to endure, we despaired of life itself”). Many say God will not give us more than we can handle. This is obviously false. It would be better to say that God never gives us more than He can handle. We see here that Paul endures more suffering than he can handle on his own, yet not more than he can bear with God. God will often use hardship in our lives to draw us into deeper dependency.

Paul says that he “despaired” (v.8). Later, he will say that we have no reason to despair—even if we are perplexed (2 Cor. 4:8).

(2 Cor. 1:8) Will God give us more than we can handle or not?

(1:11) Paul models humility, not only in his transparency, but also by requesting prayer.

One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that the grace of God is most often experienced in the worst of times, rather than the best. Many Christians desire to more deeply understand the grace of God, but fail to realize that this is often given through humiliation, suffering, and hardships.

Paul faced death many times in his ministry. This “deadly peril” in Asia Minor might have been the riot in Ephesus, which was caused by his preaching of the gospel (Acts 19).

Why is comforting and suffering the first thing Paul brings up?

Paul may have opened the letter this way for several reasons.

First, it is a highly personal way of opening a letter. This fits with Paul’s passionate appeals throughout the letter for the Corinthians to give their hearts over to Paul (and his team), just like Paul had given his heart to the Corinthians.

Second, Paul emphasizes dependence on God, not self. This is a prevalent theme in the letter. It also goes along the same vein of Paul’s argument against the false apostles later on in the letter. True spiritual authority comes from God, not from self-asserted claims.

Third, the relationship of power and weakness is another running theme throughout the entire letter. In the Christian, weakness is actually the location of true power because it is through weakness that God can powerfully go to work. Our weaknesses and sufferings help us shift perspective from the external and temporal to the internal and eternal—from a horizontal perspective to a vertical one.

Fourth, Paul’s selfless attitude for the sake of the Corinthians is introduced here and continually brought up. Paul points to his own actions of selflessness in order to argue for the Corinthians to not place trust in the false apostles, but rather reaffirm trust in him. This was not for the sake of approval, but to defend the gospel and for the sake of the Corinthians’ well-being.

Discussion questions

Compare and contrast: How might viewing suffering only as personal means of growth affect a believer? How might viewing suffering as avenue to build up others affect a believer?

What practical advice might we give to a friend who is trying to depend more on Christ in the midst of suffering?

Why is suffering a uniquely strong means of growth? Why is hardship able to draw us closer to God than almost any other avenue?

Paul defends his decisions

Paul deals with two general accusations: (1) that he acted shamelessly and insincerely in his relations with the Corinthians, and (2) that his letters were shrewd and evasive (writing one thing but meaning another).[1] Paul counters these points by pointing to his sincerity and authenticity of his lifestyle.

(1:12) Paul immediately jumps into defending himself and his ministry, a theme in this letter. This is not for the sake of self-preservation, but because if they do not trust him, they will not trust his message, which is from God.

Paul states that his motives in ministry have been rooted in holiness and sincerity. Some translations render “holiness” as “simplicity,” which in the context seems to express a single-mindedness (as opposed to double-minded) in pure motives (which is how the NET renders it). Paul is basically saying “I have no hidden agenda, I’m genuine.”

(1:13a) Paul is being straightforward, nothing in between the lines.[2]

(1:13-14) It seems like Paul is speaking of his desire for them to trust him, just as now they do in part, and that in the day of the Lord (likely the bema-seat of Christ) these motives will come to the surface (1 Cor. 4).

(1:15) Because of Paul’s confidence in his relationship with the Corinthians, he had planned to visit them.

(1:15-17) In 1 Corinthians 16, we get Paul’s ‘Plan A’ for visiting Corinth, but here we see his ‘Plan B’ itinerary. Paul not only had to explain these changes (from A to B), but what his actual itinerary seems to have been: Ephesus—Corinth (“the painful visit”)—Ephesus (where the Demetrius riot occurred)—Troas (2:12-13)—Macedonia (7:5—place of writing). So neither ‘Plan A’ nor ‘Plan B’ was carried out as intended.

 

Plan A

Plan B

Actual Route

(1 Cor. 16:2-8) Ephesus-Macedonia-Corinth-Judea (1:15-16) Ephesus-Corinth-Macedonia-Corinth-Judea

Ephesus-Corinth (= the “painful visit”)-Ephesus (where the Demetrius
riot occurred)-Troas (2:12, 13)-Macedonia (7:5—the place of writing)-and eventually Corinth-Judea

 

Paul’s critics used this as an opportunity to charge Paul’s intentions, motives, and fickleness (“yes, yes and no, no at the same time”; cf. Mt. 5:37). Murray Harris writes, “To Plan A Paul had seemed to say, “Yes—No—Yes”; to Plan B, “Yes—No.” The apostle had apparently provided his opponents with a convenient handle for a charge of fickleness!”[3] This charge is not only at his fickleness, but an attack of his motives and character. They must’ve been accusing Paul of changing his travel plans based on self-interest. The word “vacillating” (elaphria) literally means “lightly.” It has the effect of charging Paul with not having a stable or considerate character.

(1:18-20) Paul defends himself. Remember, if he loses this argument, it could reflect poorly on God himself. He doesn’t want their cynicism to reflect poorly on Christ.

If they trusted Paul with the gospel message, how much more should they trust him in these “relatively trivial affairs.”[4]

(1:21) Paul was telling them that he didn’t want them to think that he (or God!) were being fickle.

(1:22) The Corinthians were accusing Paul of being fickle and backing out of his trip. Is God this way as well? No! God promises his Holy Spirit, and he won’t ever leave them.

(1:23) Alongside the accusation of Paul’s fickleness, was the accusation that Paul was a spiritual dictator (“not that we lord it over your faith,” v.24), who tried to didn’t hesitate to cause them pain. The Corinthians were judging Paul’s motives. In reality, Paul didn’t come for their benefit. Paul’s purpose was to promote the Corinthian believers’ highest good and joy (1:24) and saving them from unnecessary pain or sorrow.

(1:24) Paul appeals that they are on the same team. They are coworkers together—not enemies who cynically judge each other.

2 Corinthians 2 (Forgiving a wayward brother)

(2:1) We see that Paul’s decision to not visit them was to avoid mutual pain.

(2:2) Paul takes joy in the Corinthians. His joy was connected with their joy, as members of the same Body.

(2:3-4) Paul didn’t write his “painful letter” to hurt them. His intention, which they misunderstood, was to show his love for them. Paul didn’t want them to experience sorrow. He wrote to them for their own good—to bring them to the point of repentance. This would bring both them and Paul joy.

This “sorrowful letter” could be a lost letter, or in our view, it is likely what we know as 1 Corinthians. Like most commentators, Murray Harris doesn’t link up the man of 1 Corinthians 5 with 2 Corinthians 2—though Harris admits that many older commentators did hold this view.[5]

Paul is pleading with them to let the brother that they disciplined out back into their church, to forgive him for his sake. Apparently the brother was repentant.

(2 Cor. 2:4) What is the “sorrowful letter” (c.f. 2 Cor. 7:8)?

(2 Cor. 2:5-8) Who is this believer described here?

(2:6) Not everyone voted in favor of removing this man from fellowship. There must have been some detractors even after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 5.

(2:7-8) The Corinthians were formerly licentious with the man from 1 Corinthians 5. Perhaps they had swung to the opposite extreme, and now they were more rigid and legalistic with discipline.

(2:9) Paul wrote to see if they would be willing to take a moral stand in this man’s life. Now that he was repentant, they should allow him back in.

(2:10) This is an interesting element of forgiveness. Paul viewed forgiveness as being “in the sight of Christ” (NIV). Before Jesus, Paul took this man’s sin and found the ability to forgive him.

(2:11) “We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes” implies that Paul understands that Satan has schemes and what those are (see “Satan’s Tactics”).

In the immediate context, Paul is likely referring to how Satan uses bitterness and absence of forgiveness in relationships as a “beachhead” to establish ground from which to launch accusations into believers’ lives in hopes of dismantling the church.

(2:12) Troas was a city and region in the northwest corner of Asia Minor. God opened a great opportunity in Troas for Paul to preach the gospel. Paul changed his plans, not out of self-interest, but actually for the sake of the Corinthian church. He still wanted to communicate his concern and lovingly call them to change, so he sent Titus with a letter (1 Corinthians).

(2:13) Even though Paul had this ministry opportunity, he had no peace of mind because Titus was not there. Apparently they had planned to meet in Troas. Paul was already concerned with the state of the Corinthian church, and he may have at this point become concerned also with Titus’ safety. This would make sense since Paul hoped Titus was collecting a portion of the proposed Corinthian collection (2 Cor. 8:6), and would have been a lucrative target for bandits. This troubled Paul to the point of leaving Troas for Macedonia (Greece).

(2:14) Murray Harris writes, “Paul likens the irresistible advance of the gospel, in spite of temporary frustration, to a Roman triumphus (“triumph”) in which the victorious general, along with his proud soldiers, used to lead in triumphal procession the wretched prisoners of war who were thus exposed to public ridicule.”[6]

Regarding the “fragrance,” Paul is probably referring to the sacrifices that were offered in the Roman triumphus, as the army reached the temple of Jupiter (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.6.153).

(2:15-16) The aroma of the incense would smell like “life” to the victorious soldiers coming home from war. But the aroma of incense would smell like “death” to the POW’s who were being dragged along with them.

Paul was feeling discouraged. Here he gets the focus off of his self-effort, and he puts it back onto Christ’s triumphant power.

(2:17) NLT states, “We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us.” Harris writes, “As those who dispense the life-giving remedy for sin, preachers must avoid diluting or adulterating the medicine of life, the Word of God.”[7]

The context for this is the suffering he experienced serving Christ (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 2:4). Do you know what it’s like to have no rest for your spirit, like Paul? This is really a description of internal anxiety. This can really wear you down. Paul rarely talks about his personal agony. This is the price of caring for people. You see tons of disappointment and setbacks.

Have you ever felt discouragement in trying to make an impact for Christ?

Ever wondered if what you’re doing is really making a difference?

Ever felt anxious that all of your service for Christ is just a house of cards, waiting to crumble?

Discussion questions

How would you counsel a believer who didn’t want to love people deeply because of the pain, disappointments, and setbacks that they might suffer?

What characterizes a soft approach to discipline? What characterizes too harsh of an approach to discipline?

How might you discern if someone is truly repentant? What signs might throw us off from discerning repentance accurately?

What is the difference between discipline and punishment?

2 Corinthians 3 (The Letter on our Hearts)

(3:1) The Greek construction of these questions anticipates a negative response, “No.”

Paul’s critics were probably arguing that he is self-assured, but he doesn’t have the proper credentials coming from Jerusalem.

These letters of recommendation might be seen in Paul’s travel from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9:2; 22:5).

(3:2-3) Paul doesn’t need a letter of recommendation. The proof of his leadership credentials comes from the Corinthians themselves (1 Cor. 9:2). This letter was written was written in Paul’s heart. It gave him a boost in confidence to think about this. This letter wasn’t given by the Pharisees in Jerusalem, but from Jesus Christ himself and the Holy Spirit. The way to know that God is leading us in his triumph (2:16) is to look at the people who came to Christ and are being transformed by Christ.

“Carving” this letter into your heart is evocative language. You need to let God carve the letter into your heart. Believe he’s with you. Not discount his work around you. Remember what he has done, rather than forgetting.

(3:4-5) Since Jesus Christ gave him this “letter,” he could take no credit for it. We have “confidence,” but we don’t have “competence.”

(3:6) Paul blends the “letters of recommendation” with the “letters on stone,” which is the Ten Commandments. I wonder if the teachers “peddling the word of God for profit” (2:17) were specifically law-teachers from Jerusalem.

The Law sentences people to separation from God, the Spirit gives eternal life with God.

(3:7-9) This is an a fortiori argument: “If this, how much more that?”

This passage really speaks against the “third use of the law.” The Law brings “death” and “condemnation.”

(3:10-11) This is another a fortiori argument: If the Law had glory and faded, how much more will the glory with the Spirit which does not fade? We might compare this to the moon lit up at night: Once the sun comes, the moon is just a fading luminary compared with the sun.

(3:12) We don’t get confidence from ourselves, but from our hope.

(3:13) When the Israelites would see Moses’ face, the “were afraid to come near him” (Ex. 34:30).

(3:14-15) Paul expounds on this same “veil,” by relating it to unbelieving Jewish people of his day. They were still behind the “veil” and weren’t able to see God’s glory through Jesus.

(3:16) He now relates this Jewish phenomenon to all people (“If anyone turns to the Lord…”).

(3:17) Harris writes, “This is an affirmation about the Spirit, not about Christ; it describes his function, not his identity (as though the Spirit were the Lord [= Yahweh] of v. 16).”[8]

The Holy Spirit comes to bring “freedom.”

(3:18) This is an interesting picture of spending time with God: namely, we start to glow when we’re in his presence and bring that glory out to others.

Discussion questions

Lyle Schaller is an expert in church planting movements. In his research, he states that the factor that correlates with church growth more than any other factor is the attitude that Christians have toward their own fellowship. Schaller writes, “First, are they enthusiastic about their faith as Christians? Are they enthusiastic about this congregation? Are they enthusiastic about their [teachers and leaders]? Are they enthusiastic about what is happening in this congregation today? Such contagious enthusiasm is the most distinctive mark of the rapidly growing church.”[9]

Do you agree with Schaller’s assessment? What would you say to a person who said, “If my church was better, then I probably would be more enthusiastic”?

Why do some believers give up (internally or externally) in ministry when they meet rejection? Why do other believers gain stronger resilience in ministry when they meet failure?

How do we shift our focus from people’s response to God’s perspective? What shifts in beliefs, or practical steps can we take?

How do we develop a resilient faith like we see here in Paul?

COMPARE/CONTRAST: What might we see in a believer’s life whose confidence in ministry is rooted in their own competence? What might we see in a believer whose lack of confidence in ministry is rooted in distrust of God’s competence?

What is the difference between confidence in self, versus confidence in God? How can we distinguish between the two?

2 Corinthians 4 (Breaking of the Outer Man)

(4:1) Being given a ministry is an act of God’s mercy. Paul viewed this as a privilege, and he felt that this outweighed the trials he was going through.

(4:2) Paul rejects the idea that he was self-serving, which his critics were accusing him of (cf. 2 Cor. 7:2; 12:16). Instead, he argues that he was out in the open with his views about God. Paul contrasts twisting God’s word with his open proclamation of the truth. This could be a backhanded contrast with the false teachers.

(4:3) Paul returns to the concept of people not understanding the gospel—specifically “those who are perishing” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).

(4:4) Satan has blinded people’s very minds (cf. Jn. 12:31; 1 Jn. 5:19). He stops people from seeing the light of the gospel. He largely blinds the minds of non-believers through his kosmos or “world system.”

We can pray in faith that God would bind Satan’s influence here.

(4:5) Paul is trying to get the discussion off of himself, and back onto Jesus. His critics keep making everything about Paul, so he needs to defend himself insofar as it would help defending his gospel.

Rather than building himself up, Paul gets under people as their “slave” or servant. His attitude and deeds add credibility to his message.

(4:6) This is a paraphrase of Genesis 1:3. It also could be an allusion to Jesus appearing to Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3). Just as in the physical creation account light shined out of darkness, so also spiritual light shines out depraved people. This spiritual light shines out of those who are new creations in Christ.

(4:7) God placed an incomparably expensive gift (the gospel) into jars of clay (like us). The message of Christ is about the message—not the messengers.

(4:8) Paul compares the very real suffering we experience with the very real presence and provisions of God.

We feel like we’re breaking, but we’re never broken.

We are confused during suffering, but we are never despairing. Despair occurs when we have no ultimate answers to our suffering.

(4:9) We are persecuted, but God never abandons us.

We take beatings, but we are never beaten.

These are the “comforts” we get from following Christ (2 Cor. 1:3ff).

(4:10-11) Something about the suffering of believers points to the resurrection power of Jesus.

(4:12) The suffering of believers is for the purpose of building others up.

(4:13) Paul cites Psalm 116:10 (or LXX of Psalm 115:1). The Psalmist refers to “the anguish of the grave” (116:3), but he affirmed his confidence that God would deliver him “from death” (116:8). Paul had this same confidence, which he goes into in the next couple verses. Paul’s trust in God’s eternal plan is what gives him the strength to keep on speaking for Christ.

Paul seems to be saying that he formed his faith convictions first, and then he went out and started to share them with others. If we aren’t convinced, we won’t be very convincing to other people.

(4:14) Paul’s comfort and motivation is not rooted in this life, but is found in the resurrection of Christ, his future resurrection, and the Corinthians’ future resurrection.

(4:15) Paul’s critics accused him of being self-serving. In reality, he’s pointing out that he suffers daily for the Corinthians! Paul equates his suffering in serving Christ with suffering for the sake of the Corinthians. Paul sees serving Christ and serving the body of Christ as interchangeable.

(4:16) Paul “doesn’t lose heart” because he is reflecting on the ministry he’s been given, the impact it has, and the security of knowing that he’ll be raised with Christ.

“Therefore” connects resurrection and the spreading of the gospel with Paul not despairing. Despair and discouragement in ministry are definitely at the front of Paul’s mind with the topic of the hardships faced in ministry. He brought this up in verse 1 and again here in verse 16. Paul does not despair because of the power of God and the eternal picture.

The physical suffering was very real, but so was the inner renewing by God (Eph. 3:16).

(4:17) This suffering for the cause of Christ is viewed as “light and momentary troubles,” when viewed against the backdrop of eternal reward. Paul is able to call his intense suffering for Christ “momentary, light affliction” not through denial of this harsh reality, but rather because it pales in comparison with the “eternal weight of glory.” These afflictions are not only outweighed, but according to Paul are the means of “producing” this “eternal weight of glory.”

(4:18) Paul had his mind focusing on the “things above” (Col. 3:1-3).

“Look” (skopeo) means “to fix one’s eyes upon.” This verb is not a passive observation, but is actually an intense concentration on a specific object. We might compare this to a quarterback in the pocket who has a linebacker ready to tackle him. Even though the threats are real, we need to keep our eyes focused downfield.

Discussion questions

What would characterize a believer’s life who had an eternal perspective in suffering? What would character a believer’s life who lacked this eternal perspective in suffering?

What would it look like for a believer to minimize the eternal perspective when going through suffering?

What are practical steps we can take to gain Paul’s perspective on adversity?

Why is a ‘life out of death’ process necessary for spiritual growth? What might trusting God through suffering teach us that other means of spiritual growth wouldn’t?

Application

We must NOT learn how to avoid suffering, but how to victoriously suffer. If we do not learn this, we will not have the life of Christ manifested in our lives, because our outer man will not be broken down.

Can we say with Paul, “therefore, we do not despair”? Or do our circumstances dictate the level of confidence we have in God?

Do I see serving my church and the people around me as synonymous with serving Christ?

2 Corinthians 5 (Ambassadors for Christ)

(5:1) Paul though that he could live until the return of Christ, but not that he necessarily would live during that time. Here he admits that he could die first. This is no contradiction. He believed in the imminence of Jesus’ return (i.e. Jesus could return at any moment).

Paul was a tentmaker in Corinth, so he compares his body to one of those worn and aging tents (Acts 18:3). Paul had said his mortal “body” (4:10-11) was “wasting away” (4:16). Now he compares his body to a worn-out earthly tent soon to be destroyed.

(5:2) Paul most likely had physical sicknesses and injuries. This makes sense when you consider how he likely had a vision impairment (Gal. 4:15; 6:11), and he had been through incredible torture that likely made him quite crippled (2 Cor. 11:23-33). This is why he would “groan” in his mortal body (cf. Rom. 8:23).

(5:3) To be “naked” would be to have a soul without a physical body.

(5:4) When we go to the Present Heaven, we will have a soulish body, but not a resurrected body. The soulish body is “eternal in the heavens” (v.1), but our physical, resurrected body is still to come. All groaning and being “burdened” will give way to satisfaction and laughter (Luke 6:21).

“What is mortal will be swallowed up by life” echoes Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55.

(5:5) Regarding the “pledge” of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 1:13-14), Murray Harris writes, “The crucial word in the verse is arrhabōn, which had two basic meanings in commercial usage. It was (1) a pledge or guarantee, differing in kind from the final payment but rendering it obligatory or (2) a partial payment (first installment, downpayment, deposit) that required further payments but gave the payee a legal claim to the goods in question… Significantly, in Modern Greek arrhabōna means ‘engagement ring.’”[10]

(5:6-8) These three verses hang together as a unit. Paul gained courage because death would only bring him “home with the Lord” (cf. Phil. 1:21-24). He viewed this through the eyes of faith. This perspective made Paul confident, not discouraged (cf. 2 Cor. 4:1, 16). As believers we are either in the body with God, there is no middle ground or “soul sleep.”

Sandwiched between these verses is Paul’s famous line “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” Paul is not advocating being simple-minded or ignorant of reasons to believe in God. Rather, the context shows that Paul is arguing for a deep trust in the word of God over and above the visible circumstances he is surrounded by. Paul is promoting living in light of ultimate rather than immediate realities.

(5:9) Paul was an ambitious man. His “ambition” was to please God.

We will not be living to “please” God in heaven in the way that we do here on Earth. Notice the connecting word in verse 10 (“for”). The “pleasing” Paul has in mind refers to the bema seat judgment.

(5:10)

(2 Cor. 5:10) Will Christians be judged?

(5:11) Harris writes that the “fear of the Lord” refers to the “reverential awe Paul had for Christ as his divine assessor and future judge (v.10).”[11]

(5:12) Paul’s critics prided themselves on knowing about Jesus in his earthly ministry (5:17), their Jewish pedigree (11:22), and their supposed supernatural visions (12:1-7). However, Paul was content to take his integrity from what was in his heart before God. Paul hopes they will trust him (“be proud of us”) for that reason and so that they can have a rebuttal to the influencers around the Corinthians. These influencers (false apostles) were into human recognition and outward credentials, rather than what God cares about—“the heart.”

(5:13) Paul responds to their accusations against him by arguing that his purpose is to put others first, rather than himself. To affirm his sincerity, Paul was willing to be thought of as a fool or insane (“out of our minds”). Who, but one out of his mind, would show such disregard for himself? (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9-13) Would a sane person willingly face a riotous mob intent on destroying him? (Acts 19:30, 21:35-40) Who would be crazy enough to walk back into a city in which he had just been stoned and dragged out of? (Acts 14:19-20) To have such disregard for himself Paul had to be either insane, or utterly devoted to God. Yet the Corinthians were also well acquainted with the sane and rational side of Paul (Acts 18:11).

(5:14-15) Paul’s motivation for serving was found in Jesus as Judge (v.11) and has Savior (“the love of Christ controls us”). Christ’s sacrificial love is what motivated this lifestyle (cf. Phil. 2:5-11, 1 Jn. 3:16).

“All died” does not mean that all receive forgiveness. Whatever Paul means, he is not speaking literally, because the next verse mentions these same people living (“they who live…”). Clearly, not all people choose to live for Christ—specifically non-Christians! “They who live” refers to those who choose to accept Christ’s offer. Harris rightly understands this as salvation being universal in its offer, but particular in its acceptance.[12] Verses 18-21 make it clear the people need to surrender to the love of God in order to be reconciled to him.

(5:16-17) Paul had been terribly wrong about the reality of who Jesus was. He thought that Jesus was a messianic pretender. He recognized Jesus “according to the flesh.” From this, Paul makes the connection with his fellow believers: Is it possible that I’m mistakenly recognizing them according to the flesh, rather than in their new identity in Christ? After all, they are a “new creature.”

(5:18-19) God uses former enemies to reach His enemies in love.

(5:20) This is the key to true evangelism. We need to have God’s heart for lost people. Rather than viewing them as enemies, we view them as people whom God died for. We should pray for God’s eyes to see people and God’s heart to feel people’s lost state.

(5:21) The Reformers called this “The Great Exchange.” We gave Jesus our sin, and He gave us his righteousness. We aren’t just forgiven and brought to “zero.” We are forgiven and given the rights of sonship. It would be like a war hero giving a defector his Purple Heart Medal. People would salute you for the altruistic act that the soldier did—even though you didn’t deserve it.

Discussion questions

How would you respond to someone who said, “You shouldn’t obsess over eternal things too much, you’ll get out of touch with reality and disconnected from people”?

How would you respond to someone who said, “Doesn’t the ‘bema-seat’ contradict the concept of grace?”

Application

Do I consider my hardships for Christ as a means of building others up and through which God can be glorified? How has the love of God been manifested to others through my suffering?

Are we groaning for ‘things to be made right’ in this life? Or are we groaning for ‘things to be made right’ in the next life?

2 Corinthians 6 (Suffering for Christ)

(6:1) Paul is a “fellow worker” with the God of the universe. What an audacious claim! (cf. 5:20; 1 Cor. 3:9).

“Vain” can also be rendered “useless.” Imagine if you received your driver’s license and never drove. This would be ridiculous! You still have the driver’s license, but it is useless. The driver’s license was received in vain.

(6:2) Paul cites Isaiah 49:8. The context for Isaiah 49 is one of the Servant Songs. These passages predict the coming of Christ. In this context, the Servant will work with the Jewish people after the Exile. Paul applies this to the day of salvation being now. The Suffering Servant has come, and so, today is the day of salvation.

Paul quotes this passage to emphasize the importance and urgency of spreading the grace of God since “now is the day of salvation” according to Paul. How unthinkable that such grace should be received in vain! That it would be tossed aside, made useless!

(6:3) This may relate back to verse 1. Paul wanted to have integrity so that the message of Christ would not be discredited.

(6:4) Not only does lifestyle authenticate the message, but it authenticates the person as a servant of God. What lifestyle authenticates a person to truly be a servant of God? Suffering for the cause of Christ.

“Afflictions, hardships, distresses” are general states of suffering.

(6:5) “Beatings, imprisonments, tumults” are sufferings related to persecution.

“Labors, sleeplessness, hunger” are the sufferings of serving Christ.

(6:6) “Purity” can refer to both moral living, as well as having a “singleness of purpose.”[13]

“Understanding” refers to having a sensitivity to the needs of others, as well as God’s will.

“Patience”

“Kindness”

“In the Holy Spirit and in sincere love” The key to all of these virtues is to live in and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(6:7) “In truthful speech”

“In the power of God”

“With weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left” These probably look forward to the weapons Paul further expounds in Ephesians 6:10-18.

(6:8) “Through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors” Paul was slandered by people frequently (Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:13).

These paradoxes in verse 9-10 below show the different views of Paul’s life: one from his critics, and the other from God.[14]

(6:9) “Known, yet regarded as unknown” God knew Paul and his work and approved of it, but his critics wrote him off as a substandard or even deceitful man.

“Dying, and yet we live on” Paul’s physical body was falling apart for Christ, but God was sustaining him until he was done with him.

“Beaten, and yet not killed” Paul did experience pain, but God sustained his life.

(6:10) “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” This shows that rejoicing is not primarily an emotion, but an action. Otherwise, how could you feel sorrowful and joyful at the same time? Instead, the key to times of sorrow is to actively give thanks.

“Poor, yet making many rich” Paul was a poor tentmaker, but he was using his resources to build others up. Presumably, this made him feel like a “rich man.” Or as he puts it later, “having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Discussion questions

What is the relationship between our lifestyle and our message about Christ? How are these two similar? How are they different?

Application

In order to live the life of a servant of God we need to depend on Him for “great endurance.” Our level of dependence or abiding in Him will determine the level to which we can withstand adversity, have godly character, and see these apparent paradoxes in our lives.

Would people say that our attitude seems to be one of ‘always rejoicing,’ ‘making others rich,’ and ‘possessing everything’? Does this attitude waver depending on circumstances?

Are we servants of God only by name, or also by lifestyle and character?

(6:11-13) Paul wrote about his suffering above in order to show his heart to the Corinthians. He wants a two-way street in their intimacy, trust, and affection for each other.

Unequally yoked

(6:14) The letter may take a digression here. On the other hand, in context, Paul has been calling for the Corinthians to show him affection. In these verses, he calls on them to break off affection from unbelievers.

Perhaps the reason the Corinthians were suspicious and distrusting was not because Paul was compromised, but because the Corinthians were spiritually compromised.

Clearly, Paul cannot be writing about all connection and friendship with unbelievers. This would explicitly contradict his first letter (1 Cor. 5:9-10; 10:27). He also encouraged inter-faith marriages to continue (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

Being “bound together” or “unequally yoked” harkens back to Deuteronomy 22:10 “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” A yoke is the piece of wood that held two animals together as they helped plow a field. Plowing with an ox and donkey yoked together would be unfair and painful to both parties, since they have different strengths and could cause harm or injury to one another when bound together. Paul likens this to believer being united in some way with unbelievers. Murray Harris believes that this could refer to initially getting married to an unbeliever.[15]

(2 Cor. 6:14) Why is it wrong to marry a non-Christian?

(6:15) Each of these questions show the inconsistency of believers sharing fellowship with non-believers (1 Cor. 10:21).

Belial is a reference to Satan.

(6:16) Paul cites Leviticus 26:11-12 (cf. Ex. 6:7).

(6:17) Paul cites Isaiah 52:11. In context, Isaiah was calling Jewish believers to separate from Babylon.

He also cites Ezekiel 20:34, 41.

(6:18) Finally, Paul cites 2 Samuel 7:14, which is the Davidic Covenant.

Discussion questions

Why would God not want believers to marry non-believers? Isn’t this a form of religious prejudice?

2 Corinthians 7 (Repentance versus remorse)

(7:1) The promises refer back to having the Holy Spirit (6:16) and being sons of God (6:18). Because God has done this, our role is to “purify ourselves.” The Greek word katharisōmen means “to make physically clean… to heal a person of a disease that makes one ceremonially unclean… to purify through ritual cleansing, make clean, declare clean” (BDAG). Since Paul was just using the language of the temple (6:16-18), this could be an allusion back to that concept for the believer’s life. In other words, believers should pursue sanctification.

It seems that this verse would’ve been better in chapter 6, rather than chapter 7.

(7:2) Some of Paul’s critics must have been accusing him of these things.

(7:3) Paul needs to defend himself, but he doesn’t want them to take this as a personal attack against them. He reaffirms just how much he cares for them.

(7:4) Even though Paul was going through a malicious “character assassination,” he still was experiencing the joy of the Lord.

(7:5) Paul has already written about this anguish (cf. 2 Cor. 2:12-13). It sounds the focus of his fear was on the safety of Titus. He was deeply worried for him. This is the cost of caring for others.

(7:6) God sometimes comforts us through other believers (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3ff).

(7:7) Paul hadn’t hardened his heart toward this church—even though some of them were horribly critical of him.

(2 Cor. 7:8) What is the “sorrowful letter”?

(7:8-9) Paul spoke the truth in love. Sometimes, the truth hurts, but it also helps. This is provided that we find repentance.

(7:10) Not all sorrow leads to a changed life. Some sorrow can lead to “death” in the life of the believer. Sometimes, this can include physical death (e.g. Judas; Mt. 27:3-5).

(7:11) Whatever their sin was, Paul says that they had a radical change of heart. Paul’s application of “speaking the truth in love” caused them to have a change of heart. The Corinthians showed their repentance not just through words, but also through action and attitude.

(7:12) Paul wrote his words so that they could get their minds cleared up on the matter.

(7:13)

(7:14) Paul engaged in “good gossip” to Titus about the Corinthians.

(7:15) There is something deeply ironic about them being in a state of “fear and trembling,” because this is how Paul originally felt when he had come to them (cf. 1 Cor. 2:3). The Corinthians treated Titus with a new, repentant perspective. When he came, they wanted to do whatever they could to do right toward him.

(7:16) This meeting with Titus boosted Paul’s confidence in this group.

Discussion questions

What’s the difference between a loving emotional appeal and a manipulative emotional appeal?

How can we discern repentance versus remorse? What do these look like?

2 Corinthians 8 (Collection for the Jerusalem Church)

Paul had already had a correspondence going with the Corinthians about this financial giving campaign for the poor believers in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor. 16:1-4). Before Paul could write about money, he needed to make sure that he addressed their personal conflict with him. Now that this was settled (2 Cor. 1-7), he addresses this ongoing need in the church.

The example of the Macedonians generousity

(8:1-2) Instead of going right for the issue of financial giving, Paul starts with the example of other generous believers. Even though the Macedonians were poor (v.2) and persecuted (1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14), they were generous. Harris writes, “Their poverty no more impeded their generosity than their tribulation diminished their joy.”[16] This example would fit with the maxim, “The poor give more.” This radical spirit was energized by God’s grace (cf. 9:14).

The Macedonian churches included those in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16-17).

(8:3) These believers were generous givers. They were going without so that they could meet the needs of their Jewish-Christian brothers in Jerusalem. They gave until it hurt.

(8:4) These believers were eager to give. They considered this a privilege. They wanted to be in on what God was doing. They wanted to “share” (koinonia) with the ministry of financial giving.

(8:5) The believers gave beyond expectations. This is giving under grace, rather than law. You don’t do the bare minimum; you give as you have been given to. Giving yourself to the Lord leads to giving out to others.

God wants us to commit our lives to following Him before we commit our finances. This shows how God places relationship as top priority. Those who give their whole lives to Christ also give their wallets to Christ.

What about you, Corinthians? Will you join in?

(8:6) The Corinthians were not under financial strain or persecution. Will they give generously?

(8:7) Paul compares financial giving to the other imperative aspects of ministry.

(8:8) Financial giving should not be coerced or forced. It is a free expression of the heart. Paul could have used his apostolic authority to command giving, but he preferred persuasion instead.

The Bible affirms personal ownership of our money, but it just as firmly teaches the principle of generosity.

(8:9) Paul uses a deep theological doctrine like the incarnation and substitutionary death of Jesus to urge them to give generously. If giving is based on understanding the love of Christ, then how much should we give? Truly, to become Christ-like is to become a giver (Phil. 2:5-11).

(8:10) Paul points back to a time when they were generous givers. He’s calling on them to do it again (“Do the deeds you did at first,” Rev. 2:5).

(8:11) The Macedonians gave more than they were able (v.3). Paul is just making a call for the Corinthians to give within their means.

(8:12) God doesn’t call for what we don’t have to spare, but for what we do have. Jesus praised the poor widow for giving what she was able to give (cf. Mk. 12:41-44).

(8:13-14) “Their need” refers to the believers in Jerusalem who had undergone intense poverty, probably largely due to persecution and being excommunicated from the Jewish community.

This is the principle of giving up greed to meet another’s need. We shouldn’t give our way into personal poverty. The point is that we should give up our surplus to bring our brother out of poverty.

(8:15)

(2 Cor. 8:15) Why does Paul quote Exodus 16:18?

 

Giving Under Grace Giving Under Law
Voluntary/Independent decision (8:3) Coerced action
Eagerness (8:4) Reluctant
Viewed as a privilege (8:4) Viewed as a duty
Often give more than expected (8:5) Give bare minimum
Gives in midst of trials (8:2) Constant excuses
Motivated by Christ’s example (8:9) Motivated by guilt
Focused on the effect (8:13-15) Focused on recognition (Mt. 6)

 

Strategy in the collection

(8:16-17) Paul reaffirms his personal concern for this group. He isn’t trying to bilk them of their money. He cares for them, and he is sending Titus—his dear friend—to support them.

(8:18-19) Paul wanted to be “above the board” in his handling of this large sum of money. He not only has Titus but another who is “praised by all the churches” (i.e. he’s a man of integrity and character). Paul wanted to make sure that their generous giving wasn’t squandered or dipped into by thieves.

(8:20) Paul not only cared about handling the money with integrity, but also avoiding criticism of it being handled rightly.

(8:21) This is very close to Proverbs 3:4 in the Septuagint translation.

(8:22-23) Why did Paul send three men to handle the money? It was most likely for mutual accountability. It also may have been to have some “muscle” to protect the money from bandits and thieves on their journey.

(8:24) Paul is saying, “I believe in you guys. You can do this!” He is certainly urging them to give, but he’s urging them out of vision and love.

Application

If the grace of God has not penetrated our wallets, then it has not fully penetrated our hearts.

In order to become generous givers, we need to tap deeply into the grace of God. This is how God wants to motivate us.

Do we view money and possessions as stewards or as owners?

Discussion questions

We’ve heard it said that the last area of our lives to be converted to Christ is our wallet. Do you agree? Why might this be the case?

How do we cultivate a generous heart like the Macedonian believers?

What characteristics would make a charitable Christian organization trustworthy? What should we look for in an organization when we are considering giving financially?

2 Corinthians 9 (Giving based on grace)

(9:1) Why does Paul write this? He seems to be saying that they were already in agreement with giving. Paul is just making sure that they’ll have a financial gift ready when Titus and the boys come to town. It’s one thing to believe someone might give, but it’s another that they will give. They were eager to give, but not necessarily prepared.

(9:2-3) The Corinthians were “eager, ready, and enthusiastic” to give (v.2), but were not “ready” (v.3) in the sense that they had collected the money.[17] Paul wants to make sure that the collection has been made before Titus arrives.

It is peculiar how willing Christians are to give money theoretically, but something always seems to get in the way practically.

(9:4) Paul doesn’t want to bank on the Corinthians possibly giving money. He’s sending a party of three men across the ancient world. He wants to make sure they will be showing up to the collection already gathered and ready to go.

(9:5) Paul was sending Titus so that the Corinthians wouldn’t be rushed. He wants them to have time to pray and decide how much they want to give.

(9:6) This seems to be parallel to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:7, which also refers to financial giving. Harris writes, “The image of the harvest naturally suggests the freedom of the sower to plant as much seed as he chooses—whether ‘sparingly’ or ‘generously.’”[18]

(9:7) Our financial giving is not compulsory or made under coercion. Paul is encouraging each believer to pray about what figure God has placed on their heart.

By contrast, imagine asking the IRS, “How much should I give?” And they reply, “Give what you have decided in your heart to give.” This would be ridiculous! Yet this is what God says to us.

(9:8) As the Corinthians gave out, they could bank on the fact that God would give them more grace—thereby replenishing them. We aren’t giving away our resources, because God will fill them back up.

(9:9) Paul cites Psalm 112:9. In this psalm, the wealthy believer who fears the Lord (Ps. 112:1) gives his gifts to the poor (Ps. 112:3), and as a consequence gains eternal rewards (Ps. 112:9).

(9:10-11) God will bless our lives in all ways, when we give out. Health and wealth teachers have misinterpreted this verse to mean that God will make us rich, if we give to the Lord. God will provide for our needs (cf. Phil. 4:19), not our wants. He doesn’t bless us so that we can be rich, but so we can become even greater givers to others. Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 to support his argument; showing that the righteous man gives freely, helps the poor, and has eternal implications.

(9:12) Their “service” (leitourgia) of financial giving is a form of worship. This word was often used of Old Testament priestly temple worship. Paul seems to be saying that financial giving is a form of New Covenant worship.

Their service doesn’t just meet physical and spiritual needs, but it increases the morale of the church to see such generosity.

(9:13) Their radical giving will lead the Jerusalem Christians to give thanks to God. Imagine how powerful it would be to have Gentile Christians giving to Jewish Christians in a time of need. These two ethnic groups were typically hostile to one another.

(9:14) Their giving will result in greater unity in the church, and cause the Jewish believers to pray more for the Corinthians.

(9:15) Paul concludes this section by encouraging them to focus—not on their gifts—but on God’s gifts.

How did the Corinthians respond to Paul’s appeal? With eagerness and action, Romans 15:26-27 tells us they were “pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”

Discussion questions

What are the differences between these two views? “I give so that God will bless me with health and wealth.”—VERSUS—“I give because God has given to me and will continue to supply my needs.”

What barriers might stop us from becoming a “cheerful giver”? How do we become a cheerful giver?

Application

In the Old Testament, believers tithed 10% of their income, and they were motivated by the Law. This seems like a lofty figure to many Christians today. Yet how much more should we give who are under and motivated by the grace of God!

We should give to the point where we feel it, then we will be giving God the opportunity to amaze us and build our faith through his provisions.

If we are struggling be a cheerful giver, we need to get into the grace of God and dwell on His indescribable gift.

2 Corinthians 10 (False apostles)

Paul identifies the views of certain unnamed people here and over the next few chapters (10:2, 7, 10-12; 11:4, 12-13, 15, 20-23; 13:2). The unnamed may have included the false apostles and a subversive chunk of the Corinthians. Paul does this in an effort to alert the entire church (cf. 12:19; 13:11-13) to the danger of becoming spiritually infected. It appears that this vocal minority persisted in thinking that worldly standards and motives governed all of Paul’s conduct and ministry (v.2). It seems Paul had been accused of being bold at a distance, but weak in person. He still did not want to be bold towards them though. Yet, he indicates his complete readiness to exercise his apostolic authority.

(10:1) Paul’s adversaries in Corinth accused him of being a timid weakling. They argued that he wrote the “severe letter,” but he won’t speak with such severity in person.

Imagine hearing this if you were Paul. There would be a tendency to overcompensate and become authoritarian. Instead, Paul writes that he isn’t timid, but he is gentle and meek. These words express a strength that is under control. Meekness and gentleness should not be confused with weakness or timidity. Meekness is the choice to restrain power for a purpose—like a horse giving a child a calm ride.

Later in the letter, Paul writes that he will come with “severity” if it’s needed (2 Cor. 13:10). Earlier, he promised that he would come with the “rod” of discipline (1 Cor. 4:21).

(10:2) Paul was willing to be bold, but he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to exert his strong personality or his apostolic authority. Paul didn’t want to lead like worldly leaders do. He would rather make an appeal to his people, rather than display his authority.

(10:3-4) Paul’s “weapons” were ones of persuasion—not coercion.

(10:5) Paul wanted to go to battle with the thought-forms of the false teachers in Corinth. If they wanted a “fight,” then he would bring them a fight through argumentation over the truth. And Paul was confident that he could win.

The language of “taking thoughts captive” is violent language. This shows our role in spiritual growth.

Spiritual warfare is not about angels and demons with bows and arrows, but it centers around ideas and truth claims (“arguments,” “speculations,” “knowledge,” “thoughts”). Truth and what people believe is the truth is what matters most in the spiritual realm. Paul says they are waging this war by taking every thought captive, not for the purpose of making them obedient to himself but to Christ. The purpose of this spiritual combat is to agree with Christ in mind and deed.

(10:6) We’re not sure what to make of this verse. It could be that Paul wants to see the church in Corinth on board before he tries to bring any sort of discipline. This type of punishment is not specified, but it directly deals with the false apostles and those rebellious to the gospel of Christ and Paul’s apostolic authority.

(10:7) Paul’s adversaries were trying to subvert his authority by questioning his apostleship. In a sense, if they could show that he was a false teacher, then they would’ve shown that he doesn’t even belong to Christ. Paul’s response was that they were judging by appearances, rather than Paul’s calling, character, and appointment by God.

(10:8) Paul could boast in the fact that God used him to plant this church (similar to 2 Cor. 3:1-5).

(10:9) Paul realizes that his letters may have come off strong, but this wasn’t his authorial intent.

(10:10) Again, Paul’s critics were arguing that he comes off strong in written form, but he is timid and lacks rhetorical skills in person.

(10:11) Instead of defending his timidity or speaking skills, Paul argues that he is consistent in writing and in person. He argues that he is gentle (v.1), but not timid.

(10:12) The false teachers were creating their own arbitrary standards of true spirituality, and then fulfilling their own standard. They were comparing themselves with themselves.

(10:13-14) The false teachers may have been trying to take credit for this church—even though Paul was the one who planted it. Paul says that he can rightly boast in God’s work, because God is the ultimate cause.

(10:15-16) Paul points out that he wasn’t boasting or taking credit for someone else’s work. This doesn’t exclude working with others in ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 3:6-9).

(10:17) This is similar to 1 Corinthians 1:31, which also cites Jeremiah 9:24. Harris writes, “For the Christian, only boasting ‘in the Lord’ is legitimate—that is, boasting of what Jesus Christ has done for him (Gal 6:14) or through him (Rom 15:18; cf. Acts 14:27), or can do through him.”[19]

(10:18)

Discussion questions

What are differences between meekness in leadership versus weakness in leadership?

What might be differences in viewing conflict as only between human opponents versus conflict as part of spiritual war?

Why is spiritual discipline and authority repulsive? Why is it attractive?

Application

We should exercise meekness in our influence for Christ. We need to learn restraint, patience, and the ability to apply grace to people’s unbelief and wrongdoings. Coupling this attitude with persuasion and appeals would be a sign of meekness, as opposed to weakness or being authoritarian.

We need to develop a healthy distrust of the thoughts running through our heads and cultivate the discipline of holding them up against the word of God

Obedience to Christ means submitting to the spiritual leaders God puts in our lives (only when the issue falls under the realm of spiritual authority and the leaders are in line with God’s word).

2 Corinthians 11 (Paul compares himself to the false apostles)

This chapter is pretty much a detailed and expanded version of Jesus’ teaching in Mt. 7:15-18. Jesus says that there will be false prophets (“false apostles” 11:13) who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (“disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” 11:15). Jesus explains that the way to discern if they are a false prophet or not is by their fruit, or their deeds. Paul appeals to the same argument. He’s essentially saying in this chapter, “Look at their lives and how they work for money! Look at my life and how much I suffer for your sakes, for the sake of the gospel, and all this free of charge!” Paul is arguing, “They have bad fruit, they are bad trees. I have good fruit, I am a good tree.” Paul is appealing to this because depending on who the Corinthians trust is what message they will believe. Paul knows his opponents’ message brings death, but his brings life.

(11:1) Paul had already firmly marked self-praise as worthless and unacceptable (3:1, 5:12, 10:12), but he realizes the present situation demands it if the Corinthian believers’ faith is to be preserved. His opponents were into self-praise (5:12, 10:7, 12-13), and the Corinthians were into it! Consequently his hand was forced (12:11) in order to grab their attention. He reluctantly decides to use his opponents’ methods. However, unlike the ‘false apostles’, his motives is not personal gain but the Corinthians’ welfare (v.2). He is boasting “in the Lord” (10:17). Paul ironically requests the Corinthians’ indulgence, knowing they had already been humoring a little of his foolishness (6:3-10, 10:13-17).

(11:2) Paul appeals to the metaphor of the bride (the Church) and the groom (Christ). In the metaphor, Paul sees himself as “the father of the bride.” There is such a thing as a “godly jealousy.” Following the metaphor, this is when you see your child being lured away by a man with candy at the park. You are “jealous” for the child’s sake—not your own.

(11:3) Paul was concerned that this church would be intellectually deceived by these false teachers (“your minds may… be led astray”). He compares this to Eve turning from God in the Garden by Satan. Eve lost the battle of belief, and so she lost the battle with the fruit.

(11:4) The content about Jesus is important. While false teachers may use Jesus’ name, they are talking about a different Jesus (“another Jesus”). The same is true with the gospel message: Just because someone uses the word “gospel,” doesn’t mean anything. It could be “another gospel” than the biblical gospel.

Paul emphasizes the what (the true Jesus, Spirit, and gospel), rather than the how (the eloquence of speech and delivery). Paul’s focus here is on the matter—not the manner—of the message.

(11:5) Paul had the right hand of fellowship with the true apostles (Gal. 2:9), and he considered his role as equal alongside theirs (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5-10). Paul viewed himself as a harder worker, but a greater sinner than the other true apostles.

The “super-apostles” are not the Twelve. Instead, they are the false teachers who are claiming to be apostles. It is to these false teachers that Paul says he is not at all inferior.

(11:6) Paul is willing to grant the fact that he is inferior in his rhetorical skill and speech. But he is not willing to deny that he has the truth (“knowledge”), while they don’t. He’s implicitly asking, “Would you rather have a good speaker who teaches error, or a mediocre speaker who teaches the truth?”

(11:7-8) The sophists in Corinth would bilk their clientele of their money, so that they could teach their “profound wisdom.” Harris writes, “The itinerant philosophers or teachers of the Hellenistic age commonly gained their financial support by charging a fee for their instruction, though the less scrupulous charlatans would rely on begging. Traveling teachers who were concerned about their reputation would often work at a trade. Under the influence of the example set by Jesus in the missions of the Twelve and the Seventy (Luke 9:3, 4; 10:4, 7), early Christianity came to recognize another legitimate method of support in addition to manual labor. An itinerant missionary might receive hospitality and even gifts from the community to which he was ministering (1 Cor 9:6, 11, 14; 3 John 5–8 and cf. Didache 11:4–6). In Christian usage the verb προπέμπω (propempō, ‘send forth,’ ‘escort’) often had the technical sense of supplying a visitor with food, money, or companions for travel and so ‘helping him on his way’ (see Acts 15:3; Rom 15:24; 1 Cor 16:6, 11; 2 Cor 1:16; Titus 3:13; 3 John 6).”[20]

But Paul points out that he worked with his hands and taught on the side in order to teach them (Acts 18:3). He also took money from the Macedonians, rather than the Corinthians, so that they could not accuse him of self-seeking. After hearing this, the “super apostles” were probably cowering in their seats.

(11:9) Paul probably mentions this exact support in Philippians 4:15 and 1 Thessalonians 3:6.

(11:10) The boasting mentioned here refers to the refusal to take money from the Corinthians.

(11:11) Perhaps Paul felt that refusing the money could have the effect of seeming unloving.

(11:12) Paul refused the money to keep his character free from accusation. Ironically, Paul’s adversaries continued to accuse him nevertheless.

(11:13) Paul already made mention of being aware of “Satan’s schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). Here he expounds on these principles.

Paul comes right out and says that these men are “false apostles.” Remember, they preach “another Jesus” and “another gospel” (v.4).

(11:14) It isn’t surprising that these men masquerade as apostles. Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light.

(11:15) Paul is imploring the Corinthians to listen closely to their teaching. While they look and sound righteous, the content of their teaching is false.

(11:16) You can hear Paul’s resistance to do any boasting. But he feels that he must in order to take down these false teachers.

(11:17-18) Paul realizes that this entire enterprise is foolish and un-Christian. But he engages in it to beat the critics at their own game. This is not compromising Paul’s convictions, however, because his boasting is boasting in the Lord (2 Cor. 10:17, 11:30).

(1:19) Paul is reticent to boast, but he points out that the Corinthians allowed these boasters. Therefore, they should allow his boasting.

(11:20) This is a real indictment on the Corinthians. Many of them were suspicious of Paul, but they were allowing carnal, non-Christian leaders push their agenda in the church.

(11:21) Paul calls himself “too weak” to be a carnal, unrighteous leader. This is real sarcasm and irony.[21]

Paul argues that if he were to boast, then he would still have these guys beat.

Paul beats them on their own terms

Up until this point, Paul argued that he wasn’t “inferior” to them (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). Here he argues that his heritage, pedigree, hard work, and spiritual experiences far outclass these false teachers.

(11:22) These false teachers were clearly ethnically Jewish. Paul has them beat on this: He was thoroughly Jewish in his ancestry and heritage.

(11:23) You can tell that Paul really feels uncomfortable boasting like this, but he feels he needs to in order to battle these false teachers.

This passage can be harmonized with 11:13 by pointing out that verse 13 is Paul’s estimate of them, while verse 23 is their estimate of themselves. This could be understood as, “Do they claim to be servants of Christ?”

(11:24) Paul’s whippings are not recorded in Acts.

(11:25) Acts mentions only one beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23).

Acts records Paul being stoned at Lystra (Acts 14:19).

Acts records a devastating shipwreck (Acts 27:13-44), but this was after 2 Corinthians was written. So Acts leaves out three previous shipwrecks of Paul.

Regarding these differences, Harris writes, “Paul’s life was even more colorful than Acts would lead the reader to believe!”[22]

(11:26) Paul was constantly moving. This would be stressful.

Regarding the rivers and bandits, Harris writes, “[Paul] would be thinking especially of crossing the Taurus range between Perga in Pamphylia and Antioch in Phrygia near Pisidia (Acts 13:14; 14:24), a journey made hazardous by the mountain torrents and the predatory Pisidian highlanders.”[23]

The Jewish people plotted against Paul numerous times in Acts (Acts 9:23, 29; 14:19; 18:12).

Acts records two explicit cases of danger from Gentiles (Acts 16:16-40; 19:23-41).

(11:27) Regarding Paul going without sleep, Harris writes that this “could refer to insomnia because of physical discomfort or illness, but more probably the phrase alludes to voluntary sleeplessness from pressure of work.”[24]

(11:28) The word “pressure” (merimna) is the term for anxiety. Paul includes this at the end of his list of physical torture.

(11:29) Paul inwardly burned when he saw people fall into sin. This probably refers to the pain of caring for how people can lose their faith. This probably relates to the anxiety mentioned in verse 28.

(11:30) Paul really doesn’t like boasting about his strengths. He’s rather boast about his weaknesses, because this makes God look even better. Paul took the standards of the Corinthians and false apostles and flipped them on their head. He boasts not in his power, but in his weaknesses and sufferings. This could hardly have been what they expected. Paul’s boast is that his life was like that of Christ.

(11:31) Paul brings God into the proverbial courtroom to testify to the truthfulness of this incredible list of “weakness” and suffering.

(11:32) Why does Paul references this event of being persecuted at Damascus? Harris speculates, “Perhaps Paul mentions the episode because it had shattered the residual pride of Saul the Pharisee (cf. Acts 9:1, 2) and had become the supreme example of the humiliation and weakness he was boasting about (v. 30). Or he may be referring to it because his detractors had used it to ridicule him and prove his cowardice (cf. 10:1, 10). Or again, he may be speaking of it because it was probably the first attempt on his life and such a significant reversal of roles (Acts 9:1, 2!) that it had been indelibly impressed on his memory.”[25]

(11:33) This is mentioned in Acts 9:25.

Discussion questions

What is the difference between godly jealousy and human jealousy?

What might be some good ways to discern if a person is from God or not? What might be some bad ways to discern this?

How can we distinguish unselfish boasting (like Paul’s) from selfish boasting (like the ‘false apostles’)?

Application

A person’s ability (or lack of) to share in the sufferings of Christ reveals the sincerity of their faith.

We should be willing to remove anything that might hinder the further spread of the gospel. As influencers for Christ we need to be above reproach, and remove points of suspicion.

Our deeds reveal our hearts. Our lifestyle “tattle-tales” what is happening inside of our hearts.

2 Corinthians 12 (Thorn in the flesh)

(12:1) Paul laments the need to go on “boasting,” but he must for the sake of these Corinthians. The false teachers must have been claiming superior visions and spiritual experiences. Paul has them outclassed in this area as well.

(12:2-3) This “man” must be Paul himself. In the middle of his defense, why would he appeal to someone else’s experience? This would make no sense in context. Moreover, Paul knows the exact time of this event (“fourteen years ago”), and his comments about “in or out of the body” point to personal experience. Furthermore, the later context relates to Paul’s thorn in the flesh: If Paul was referring to another person, then what is the connection with Paul getting a thorn in the flesh?

14 years earlier would be in the early 40’s AD.

Paul wasn’t sure if this was a physical transportation to heaven (like Jesus in Acts 1), or if it was an out of body experience.

(2 Cor. 12:2) What is the third heaven?

(12:4) Since he was unable to tell about this, it could be a subtle of way of showing that he was being humble with this event. He wasn’t going to boast about this unique spiritual experience. In fact, this is the only place in all of Scripture that Paul mentions this incredible event.

(12:5) Harris writes, “Although Paul recognized the honor involved in being the recipient of a vision (‘I will boast about a man like that,’ v. 5a), he wanted to dispel any idea that it added to his personal status or importance.”[26]

(12:6) Paul didn’t take his identity from his spiritual experiences. He viewed his character and his ministry as far more important.

(12:7) Harris understands that God was the one who gave Paul this thorn.[27] Such an interpretation is possible, but since the agent is not mentioned, it seems better to think that Satan was the one who gave Paul this thorn. After all, the text says that it was a “messenger of Satan,” not a “messenger of God.” God permits evil and suffering, and he uses evil and suffering for a redemptive purpose. But he doesn’t cause evil and suffering.

(2 Cor. 12:7) What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?

(12:8) This language of praying “three times” reminds us of Jesus’ prayer for the “cup to pass” from him (Mk. 14:32ff).

Harris contends that Paul was praying directly to Jesus here. He writes, “In Paul ho kyrios refers to Jesus and kyrios to Yahweh (Jehovah). His prayer, then, was addressed to Jesus.”[28]

(12:9) Sometimes Jesus says “No” to our prayer for healing. In this case, he sovereignly chose to let Paul “walk with a limp” so that God’s power could be magnified. Because of this truth, Paul learned to boast in his weaknesses to show off the incredible power of God in his life.

(12:10) Paul projected this lesson onto all of his suffering. He learned that all of his suffering was magnifying the grace and power of God.

Discussion questions

How might God use a “thorn in the flesh” to reveal Himself to that person and others?

“When I am weak, then I am strong”—Is this a mystical paradox that can’t be understood? What might this look like in a believer’s life?

What would a poor response to hardship or “thorn in the flesh” look like?

How might we learn to develop Paul’s perspective of hardship?

Application

Acknowledging our weakness is a prerequisite for God’s power to work its way into and through our lives.

We should learn to react to hardship by looking for what God could be doing through it and asking, “How can Your power be made perfect through this present weakness?”

Will we learn to be content with and boast in our weaknesses or “thorn in the flesh” even if God chooses to never remove it? Will we trust that God’s grace is sufficient for us? This perspective is often developed gradually over time through persistent prayer with God.

(12:11) Paul felt coerced into his “boasting” episode. His conclusion is that he is not inferior to the “super-apostles,” and yet he concludes that he is nothing.

(12:12) Paul doesn’t claim that he performed these miracles, but implicitly states that God did this miracles. This shows that God was at work in his ministry, which is a clear sign that God was supporting Paul.

(2 Cor. 12:12) Does this passage teach that the charismatic gifts were only for the apostles?

(12:13) The only thing that Paul didn’t do in Corinth was accepting their money! Paul sarcastically apologizes for this “wrong.”

(12:14) Paul wants to come back a third time, and he still will not take their money for his needs.

Paul’s words about parents saving up for their children is significant (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). Paul assumes this statement is a truism without feeling the need to defend it.

(12:15) He pleads with them to reaffirm their personal love for him. Paul’s leadership was characterized by deep, personal love.

(12:16-18) The accusation against Paul was that he sent his men to do what he himself did not.

(12:19) Paul reveals that his defense was not for himself, but for them. Harris writes, “His aim… was not personal vindication but their edification.”[29]

(12:20-21) Paul is afraid that the Corinthians will still persist in sin, and that they will reject his authority, as well as his leadership.

2 Corinthians 13 (Conclusion)

(13:1) Is Paul quoting from the OT (Deut. 19:15) or from Jesus when he refers to the “two or three witnesses”? (cf. Mt. 18:16) Or is it both?

(13:2) Paul is coming to bring church discipline. Paul had warned them of discipline during his second visit to Corinth, which had been had been a sorrowful and humbling experience (2:1, 12:21). Paul warns them again about the consequences of sin and promises discipline for the unrepentant.

(13:3) If Christ is so powerful, then why is Paul so weak? (cf. 2 Cor. 10:1) Paul flips this around and writes that he will show his display of spiritual power.

(13:4) Christ shows incomprehensible weakness by allowing himself to be crucified. But Jesus is also incomprehensibly powerful. His weakness is a choice. The same is true of Paul, and really of all believers (Phil. 4:13).

(13:5) This word for “examine” (dokimazō) is a play on words with verse 3 (“since you are seeking proofdokimē). Paul is effectively saying, “You keep trying to test me, but you should really be testing yourselves.” Only if they doubted their own salvation should they doubt Paul’s claim to be a true “apostle of Christ Jesus.” Put another way, if they did not fail the test then neither did he.

If believers have the Holy Spirit, then they are true Christians (Rom. 8:9).

(13:6) If Paul was their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15), then if they were true believers, then so was he.

(13:7) Again, Paul knew that his reputation would have a necessary influence on the Corinthians’ faith.

(13:8) The “truth” here probably refers to the truth of the gospel (11:4).

(13:9) Paul closes this dramatic conflict with affirming his prayer for these people.

(13:10) Paul doesn’t want to see church discipline tear apart the church.

Was Paul’s letter successful?

Though there is no direct evidence, we think so. For one, he wrote the book of Romans during his visit to Corinth (Acts 20:2-3). From there, he planned to move on to Rome (Rom. 15:24-28), which seems unlikely if this church was in shambles. And finally, the preservation of this letter hardly fits with the notion that the letter failed (i.e. why preserve a letter that failed in its mission?). After all, Paul’s earlier letter (before 1 Corinthians) was not preserved, but this one was.

Conclusion

(13:11) Paul leaves them with the encouragement to live healthy “body life.”

(13:12)

(2 Cor. 13:12) Should we greet each other with a holy kiss?

(13:13) While Paul was having conflict with these believers, he bore no resentment or alienation from them. He includes that the other believers were greeting them as well.

(13:14) This is a good passage for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Discussion questions

What’s the difference between healthy introspection and morbid introspection?

What is the difference between discipline and punishment?

What might we see in a person who cares about approval over others’ well-being? How would this compare with a believer who cares about others’ more than their own approval?

How do we develop a perspective like Paul’s, where we care more about people’s well-being than our own approval?

Application

It is loving, as ambassadors for Christ, to refute false teaching, false accusations, and anything that misleads people from the truth of Christ.

Introspection can be healthy, but can also be destructive. We should learn our tendencies and the differences between the two. Most of us probably focus inward too much and need to learn how to forget ourselves and focus on others.

[1] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 323). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 323). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 324). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[4] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 325). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[5] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 328). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[6] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, pp. 331–332). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[7] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 332). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[8] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 338). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[9] Lyle E. Schaller, “Evaluating the Potential for Growth” The Christian Ministry 10 (1979).

[10] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 348). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[11] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 350). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[12] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 352). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[13] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 357). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[14] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 358). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[15] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 359). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[16] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 366). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[17] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 374). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[18] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 376). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[19] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 384). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[20] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 388). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[21] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 390). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[22] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 391). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[23] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 391). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[24] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 392). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[25] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 393). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[26] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 395). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[27] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 396). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[28] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 396). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[29] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 401). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.