Introduction to 2 Corinthians

By James Rochford and Josh Peltier

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Introduction

Before we study this letter, it is important to understand the historical background of the interlude between 1 and 2 Corinthians. In fact, we will look closely at the entire timeline regarding Paul’s ministry to the Corinthians, so that we can understand the issues Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians. (For an extend introduction on the historical background Corinth, see our earlier article “Introduction to 1 Corinthians.”).

BEFORE 1 Corinthians

Paul planted the church in Corinth from AD 50-52 (Acts 18).[1] After Paul left, Apollos served as a leader and teacher in Corinth (Acts 19:1; 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 4:6; 16:12).

After Paul leaves Corinth for Ephesus, Paul writes a lost letter during this time to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9).

After Paul writes his lost letter, the Corinthians write a letter of their own to Paul, asking him a number of questions (1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus likely bring this letter to Paul, and he likely sent them back with the letter of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:17-18).

DURING 1 Corinthians

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:8), after several people came from Corinth to inform Paul what was happening there (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 16:15-18).

In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that he is going to come and visit them (1 Cor. 4:18-19; 16:5).

At this time, the Corinthians were already starting to become cynical or suspicious of Paul’s leadership (1 Cor. 4:18-19; 9:3-4; 14:37-38).

BETWEEN 1 and 2 Corinthians

Paul sent Timothy to Corinth (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11), and Timothy comes back to Paul before he writes his second letter (2 Cor. 1:1).

Paul visits Corinth between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians. We know this because Paul writes that it was the “third time” he would be coming to them (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1), implying a middle visit not mentioned in Acts. This visit did not go well (2 Cor. 2:1-5), and Paul wants to visit them again on better terms. Paul writes 2 Corinthians to prepare the way for a better meeting with them (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1-4, 10).

Titus visits Corinth during this time, and he reports that false apostles had arisen in Corinth. These men were accusing Paul’s legitimacy, and they were teaching a false gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-20). Titus and Paul meet up again in Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13). Titus reveals that things have gone from bad to worse in Corinth:

(1) After Paul’s stern rebuke in 1 Corinthians and his sorrowful visit, the Corinthians began to question if Paul really cared about them, because he changed his travel plans (2 Cor. 1:12, 17).

(2) The Corinthians continued to fall into immorality and idol worship (2 Cor. 6:14ff).

(3) The Corinthians criticized Paul for not taking money (1 Cor. 9:1-23; 2 Cor. 11:7-11; 12:13-16). They also may have accused him of taking money after all, because Paul has to defend his integrity on this point (2 Cor. 4:2; 7:2; 12:16-18).

(4) Worst of all, false teachers had infiltrated this church (2 Cor. 10-13). These men had likely added fuel to the Corinthians’ suspicious fire.

Paul is worried about his third trip to Corinth, because of the false teaching and sin happening there (2 Cor. 12:21; 13:2). Paul finally visits the Corinthians for three months, and it is during this time that he writes the letter to the Romans (Acts 20:2-3). Since Paul has the peace of mind to write Romans, we can infer that his final visit went well, and 2 Corinthians helped pave the way for this final visit.

DATING 2 Corinthians

Paul writes 2 Corinthians in the winter of AD 55[2] or possibly AD 56.[3]

Choosing a translation for 2 Corinthians

The NASB has a very wooden, word-for-word translation for 2 Corinthians which is often confusing. The reader would do well to read a more fluid translation like the NIV or NLT for personal reading. We will cite from various translations throughout this study, depending on how accurately (or accessibly) they capture the text of Scripture.

2 Corinthians 1 (God’s comfort)

(1:1-2) “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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. 4:17; 16:10-11, 2 Cor. 1:19), so his association with Paul in this greeting is more than a mere formality. The Corinthians knew Timothy well.

The letter was written to the church in the city of Corinth, but also to the surrounding region of Achaia (e.g. modern-day southern Greece, Corinth, Cenchreae and Athens).

(1:3) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies…” Many OT passages speak about God’s abundant “mercies” toward humanity (Lam. 3:22; Neh. 9:19; Ps. 25:6; Num. 14:19; Ps. 5:7; 51:1; 69:13, 16; 106:7, 45; Isa. 63:7; Dan. 9:9). In the NT, Paul connects our dedication to Christ based on the “mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1). Kruse comments, “The apostle uses both the noun, ‘mercy’, and the verb, ‘to have mercy’, more than any other writer in the New Testament, and this reflects how important the mercy of God was to him.”[4]

This mercy and comfort comes from our Father—not our Boss.

“…God of all comfort…” This is not a sappy, sentimental comfort. The term “comfort” (paraklēsis) literally means to “come alongside” or “encourage.” It is an “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation” (BDAG). Wiersbe writes, “The verb is used eighteen times in this letter, and the noun eleven times.”[5] The English term “comfort” comes from “two Latin words meaning ‘with strength.’”[6] This same term is applied to the Holy Spirit, who is our “Comforter” (Jn. 14:26).

(1:4) “[God] comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

These are not hollow promises. In this letter, Paul himself will tell us how much he had suffered for Christ (2 Cor. 1:8-10; 4:7-12; 11:23-29). And yet, he just as forcefully tells us that God was there to comfort him (Acts 18:9-11; 2 Cor. 12:8-10).

The source of all comfort in the midst of all troubles is God Himself. This universal language covers any and every form of hardship or suffering.

What is the purpose of God’s comfort? God comforts us, so that we can comfort others. Billy Graham writes, “God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”[7] God works in us, so that he can work through us. God gave the comfort into Paul’s life, so that he could give it out through Paul to others.

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?

Even though Paul was in deep anguish and stress, it’s interesting that he opens by writing about the personal comfort he was receiving from God. Even though he was suffering deeply, he was still able to tell people that he was still thriving with God, because of God’s comfort.

(1:5) “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” We will certainly suffer more if we choose to follow Christ. However, we will also have more comfort than others—an access to comfort that our world knows nothing about.

(1:6) “But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer.” Paul stated this as a general truth in verse 4. Here, he applies this truth to the Corinthians specifically.

(1:7) “And our hope for you is firmly grounded…” Even though Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians was “on the rocks,” he could still make this affirmation. Paul was confident of their perseverance because he was confident in the comforting and encouraging ministry of Jesus.

“…knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” Paul had no regrets on the suffering he went through. In fact, Paul is calling on the Corinthians to suffer alongside him, so that they will be able to share in God’s comfort.

(1:8) “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia…” We are not sure what “affliction” Paul has in mind here.

(1) Illness? This doesn’t seem to fit, because the word for “affliction” (thlipsis) is “rarely used to describe illness.”[8]

(2) Satan? Paul brings up a “messenger of Satan” who was sent to “torment” him (2 Cor. 12:7). However, this doesn’t seem to be the context for this suffering.

(3) Persecutors? Paul is likely thinking of persecution of some kind. Some commentators connect this persecution with what Paul mentioned in Ephesus (1 cor. 15:30-32). Yet, Paul writes about this persecution as though he hadn’t told them already (“We do not want you to be unaware…”).

Some commentators line up this persecution (1 Cor. 15:30-32) with the mob riot in Ephesus (Acts 19). However, this doesn’t fit well, because Paul wasn’t taken captive by the mob (Acts 19:30), and no one was ultimately harmed (Acts 19:41). However, others argue[9] that this could’ve been a much more extended and fierce persecution in Ephesus, because Paul brings up the attacks of the Jewish people later (Acts 20:19; 21:27; 2 Cor. 11:26).

Beyond knowing the specific form of this persecution, we simply are not sure. Paul might have felt that it was better to keep the affliction out of print. If the persecutors read about themselves in this letter, it could have led to even more persecution for Paul, the Corinthians, or others.

“We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…” 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.

Paul writes that he “despaired.” Later, he will write 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?

(1:9) “Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves…” The “sentence of death” was not a judicial verdict from a legal authority. It was “within” them. This is probably the subjective sense that they were in a deadly situation.[10]

“…so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” As we grow with God, we gain more experience, training, knowledge, etc. But we never gain more adequacy. Even as we grow, we learn to trust less and less in ourselves, and more and more in God’s power (Jn. 15:5).

This passage is teaching that our nature is to trust in ourselves—not in God.

Suffering teaches us to depend on God in a unique way. We can’t make this happen (as we can when we choose to serve, read the Bible, or pray). Instead, we need to capitalize on these situations as they arise. When suffering enters our lives, do we ask ourselves, “How can I get away from this pain and suffering as soon as possible?” Or do we ask ourselves, “How can God use this to grow me or others?”

(1:10) “[God] delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.” Wiersbe comments, “Sometimes God delivers us from our trials, and at other times He delivers us in our trials.”[11]

Paul saw God come through for him in the past, and so he was confident of God coming through in the future. This letter was written during the time that Paul was going to Jerusalem. Paul knew that God would take him all the way to Rome, and he trusted in Jesus’ word to get him there (Acts 23:11).

(1:11) “You also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” Paul models humility, not only in his transparency, but also by requesting prayer (cf. Rom. 15:30-32; Eph. 6:18-19; Phil. 1:19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1; Phile. 22).

“Helping us…” is the word sunupourgeo which is a compound word that fuses three Greek terms: with, under, work.[12]

Why is God’s comfort the first thing Paul brings up?

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-assertion.

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.

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.

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?

(2 Cor. 1:12-2:11) Paul defends himself

Paul deals with two general accusations: (1) that he acted insincerely in his relations with the Corinthians, and (2) that his letters were duplicitous and evasive (writing one thing but meaning another).[13] Paul counters these points by pointing to his sincerity and authenticity of his lifestyle.

It’s awkward for Paul to do this. After all, he wants the focus to be on Christ and his word—not on himself. Yet, he knows that if these accusations stand against him, then they will have an impact on discrediting Jesus and his teachings. So, Paul defends himself in order to defend Christ.

(1:12) “We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom…” Paul immediately jumps into defending himself and his ministry, a theme in this letter. Again, 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!” This is in contrast to the false teachers in Corinth (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2).

See Sanders, Spiritual Clinic on “conscience.”

“…That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.” Paul had spent 18 months with the Corinthians, so this wasn’t an empty claim.

(1:13a) Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us. Paul is being straightforward, nothing in between the lines.[14] Paul’s critics must have been arguing that he was writing one thing, but meaning another. Or perhaps that he wrote one thing, but he behaved differently in person. Later, his critics say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10).

(1:13-14) Even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you. 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. 4:5).

Paul defends his travel plans

(1:15) Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice. Paul only visited them once, but he had actually planned to visit twice. We know this because Paul writes that it was the “third time” he would be coming to them (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1), implying a middle visit not mentioned in Acts.

(1:16) “First on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.” 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 (“painful visit”)

Ephesus (riot)

Troas (2:12, 13)

Macedonia (7:5)

Corinth

Judea

(1:17) “You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say ‘Yes’ when they really mean ‘No’?” 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!”[15] 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.

God the Father is faithful

(1:18) “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’” Paul defends himself. Remember, if he loses this argument, it could reflect poorly on God himself (v.19). He doesn’t want their cynicism to reflect poorly on Christ.

God the Son is faithful

(1:19-20) For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ he always does what he says. 20 For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for his glory.”

Regarding verse 19, George Guthrie writes, “Jesus. Christ is— has been and continues as—God’s yes to the question of whether human beings can be saved from the devastating power of sin.”[16]

If they trusted Paul with the gospel message, how much more should they trust him in these “relatively trivial affairs”?[17]

The Holy Spirit is faithful

(1:21) It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us. Paul was telling them that he didn’t want them to think that he (or God!) were being fickle.

“Enables” (bebaioō) was the term Paul used to describe how the Corinthians were “established” by God’s grace (1 Cor. 1:8). Now, the Corinthians were not willing to affirm this great truth for Paul.

“Commissioned” (chriō) is the Greek term for “anointed,” which is only used of Jesus in only four NT passages (Heb. 1:9; Lk. 4:18; Acts 4:27; 10:38). Paul is teaching that he and his friends were anointed by God—just as Jesus was previously anointed.

In the OT, being “anointed” was for priests, prophets, and kings. Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy (v.19), we can infer that this is now it’s for all believers.

(1:22) And he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. The Corinthians were accusing Paul of being fickle and backing out of his trip. Is God this way as well? Not at all! God promises his Holy Spirit, and he won’t ever leave us. Kruse asks, “Why does Paul make these assertions at this point in his letter? It is to show that the integrity of the apostolic band and the truthfulness of the gospel rests upon nothing less than the work of God.”[18]

Why did Paul change his plans? For their benefit!

(1:23) Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. 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 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 (2 Cor. 2:1). Later, Paul implies that he would’ve brought disciplinary action when he came (2 Cor. 13:1-4, 10).

(1:24) “But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice…” This is a good balance of biblical discipline (v.23) without resorting to dictatorship.

“We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm. Paul appeals that they are on the same team. They are coworkers together—not enemies who cynically judge each other.

Forgiving a wayward brother

(2:1) So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit. We see that Paul’s decision to not visit them was to avoid mutual pain. Again, Paul visited them in between 1 and 2 Corinthians (see Introduction). This visit must have been tense, and Paul wanted to give some time to let the dust settle before returning again.

(2:2) For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. Some commentators believe that the “grieved” is a singular person—perhaps the man mentioned in verses 5-8.[19] Of course, Paul uses the singular “you” to describe the “grieved,” so this makes a certain amount of sense.

However, the first use of “you” is plural, and he is more likely thinking of the entire church. Paul takes joy in the Corinthians. His joy was connected with their joy, as members of the same Body. Yet Wiersbe writes, “But he also knew (as every loving parent knows) that there is a big difference between hurting someone and harming him. Sometimes those who love us must hurt us in order to keep us from harming ourselves.”[20]

(2:3-4) “That is why I wrote to you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you all know that my joy comes from your being joyful. 4 I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you.” 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. Paul doesn’t tell us when he wrote this letter, and it could just as easily refer to 1 Corinthians. Most commentators (Harris, Kruse, etc.) don’t link up the man of 1 Corinthians 5 with 2 Corinthians 2—though Harris admits that many older commentators did hold this view.[21]

The “great anguish” is parallel with the pain he suffered earlier (2 Cor. 1:8-9). Kruse comments, “It takes real love to confront a difficult situation rather than side-stepping it.”[22]

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.

(2:5) “I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me.” This fits perfectly with the man caught in adultery in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul would’ve been hurt to see the church suffering, but since he wasn’t present (1 Cor. 5:3), he wouldn’t have been hurt the way that they were.

(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) “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority” (NASB). Not everyone voted in favor of removing this man from fellowship. There must have been some detractors even after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 5.

Regarding the word “punishment” (epitimia), Kruse comments, “The word translated punishment (epitimia) is used only here in the New Testament, but in extra-biblical writings it is used of the imposition of either legal penalties or commercial sanctions. Its use here approximates to the former sense and suggests that the congregation had acted formally and judicially against the offender.”[23]

(2:7-8) “Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. 8 So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.” 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.

“Overcome” (katapinō) was used of “animals who ‘devour’ their prey, and of waves or waters which ‘swallow up’ objects and people. Paul is afraid that the offender, if not forgiven, may ‘drown’ in his sorrow.”[24]

(2:9) “I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions.” 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) When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit. 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. Paul led the way in forgiving this man, so that the Corinthians would do the same.

(2:11) “So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (NASB). “We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes” implies that Paul understands that Satan has schemes and what those are (see “Satan’s Tactics”). Satan comes up again in this letter (2 Cor. 11:3, 14-15).

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.

“Advantage” (pleonekteo) means “to take advantage of, exploit, outwit, defraud, cheat” (BDAG). In this context, it could refer to Satan taking this repentant man out of fellowship with other believers.[25]

(2:12-3:4) Serving in Jesus’ Triumph

(2:12) “Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord…” 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 (cf. 1 Cor. 16:9). Paul changed his plans—not out of self-interest—but actually for the sake of lost people in Troas (“a door was opened for me in the Lord”).

Paul later returns to Troas to teach for a week in Acts 20:7-12.

(2:13) “I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia.” Even though Paul had this growing ministry opportunity, he had no peace of mind, because his dear brother Titus was missing. Apparently Paul and Titus had planned to meet in Troas, but Titus never showed up.

Paul became restless in spirit (i.e. depressed? anxious? lonely?). Paul was already concerned with the state of the Corinthian church, and now, he became concerned with Titus’ safety. Titus was collecting large sums of money for the Jerusalem church during this time (2 Cor. 8:6), and this would have made him a lucrative target for bandits. This troubled Paul to the point of leaving Troas for Macedonia. Even when Paul arrived in Macedonia, he didn’t immediately find Titus there (2 Cor. 7:6).

In the midst of this discussion on how he was feeling about the Corinthians and Titus, Paul sharply changes subjects for six chapters to talk about Christian ministry in general. In fact, scholars refer to this entire section as the “great digression” (2 Cor. 2:14-7:4).[26] Paul returns to this subject in Titus later in the letter (2 Cor. 7:5-16). Here we see insights into how God wants to use believers to reach our dying world and build one another up in the process.

Led in triumph

Up until this point, we might think that Christian ministry is a real drag! Paul has gone on and on about the suffering and pain he has experienced as a servant of Christ (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 2:4). Paul rarely talks about his own personal agony like this, but he has been opening his heart to show what the dark side of Christian ministry looks like. This is the price of caring for people. We see tons of disappointment and setbacks, and this can wear us down if we’re not careful. This tension between suffering and joy is consistent with our experience in serving Christ. The sadness and the joy are both very real. Christian ministry brings serious pain, but we also wouldn’t have it any other way in retrospect.

  • Do you know what it’s like to have no rest for your spirit, like Paul?
  • 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?

Here in the “Great Digression,” Paul explains the positives of choosing to serve Christ. Even though Paul was suffering from real discouragement, here we watch as he gets his focus off of his pain and suffering, and puts it back onto Christ’s triumphant power.

(2:14) “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” 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.”[27] Jesus won this triumph at the Cross (Col. 2:13-15).

Regarding the “sweet aroma,” 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). Kruse aptly comments, “The smell of incense burnt to the gods in a Roman triumphal procession would have had different connotations for different people. For the victorious general and his soldiers, and for the welcoming crowds, the aroma would be associated with the joy of victory. But for the prisoners of war the aroma could only have been associated with the fate of slavery or death which awaited them.”[28]

Earlier in his correspondence, Paul uses this procession to refer to being the scum of the world and a spectacle to the world (1 Cor. 4:9, 13). Here he describes this picture from another angle: what is scum to the world is honorable before God.

Note the universal language (“always… every place”). When we know that God is with us, we can trust that he is working—even when we cannot see it. Sometimes, only months will go by and we will discover that God was working behind the scenes in ways that we were unaware.

(2:15-16) “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…” The aroma of the incense would smell like “life” to the victorious soldiers coming home from war. But this same incense would smell like “death” to the POW’s who were being dragged along with them.

How could the same smell (i.e. Christian truth) have such different reactions?

The issue is not with the object itself, but with the subject. Two people can see the object and have two radically different interpretations.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). Some could take this as the greatest message that they’ve ever heard (i.e. “Truth exists!” “Truth is knowable!” “God has provided away to know truth through Jesus!”), while other could consider this hateful and bigoted (i.e. “You are so arrogant for claiming to know the truth!”).

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). One person could realize the depth of their own depravity, and see that God wants to forgive them freely. Others could be offended by the thought that they are considered sinful, and they don’t measure up to God’s flawless standard.

“In those days you were living apart from Christ… You lived in this world without God and without hope” (Eph. 2:12 NLT). Some people feel offended that their lives are meaningless without God. Others hear about the message of Jesus and are grateful that objective meaning exists.

“…And who is adequate for these things?” In the midst of describing himself as God’s representative in the world, Paul blurts out this question. Paul later answers this question: only those who gain their adequacy from Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:5). In the immediate context, he asks his audience if the false teachers (“peddling the word of God,” v.17) are truly adequate because of their letters.

(2:17) “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God…” The term “peddling” (kapēleuō) was used of “petty traders, who would adulterate their wine with water or use false weights.”[29] Paul refused to “adulterate the word of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). This is in stark contrast to the false teachers who had infiltrated Corinth (2 Cor. 11:20). 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.”[30]

“…We speak in Christ in the sight of God.” NLT states, “We know that the God who sent us is watching us.” Paul knew that he would eventually stand before God (2 Cor. 5:10-11).

The Letter on our Hearts

(3:1) “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?” The Greek construction of these questions anticipates a negative response, “No.” Later Paul writes, “It is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:18).

Why is Paul so against “letters of commendation”? After all, Paul wrote some of these letters himself for his disciples.

The “some” written of here relates back to the “peddlers of the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).[31] The false teachers in Corinth were most likely challenging Paul’s apostolic credentials.[32] Paul’s testimony of seeing Jesus rested on his own word, and he spends time defending this point in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 9:3; 15:8-11). Paul was constantly being followed by anti-missionaries (e.g. Gal. 2:4, 12; Acts 15:24), and this could be the case here as well. These letters of recommendation can be seen in Paul’s travel from Jerusalem to Damascus (Acts 9:2; 22:5).

Apollos had a letter of recommendation when he came to Corinth (“…the brethren… wrote to the disciples to welcome [Apollos]…” Acts 18:27). Since the Corinthians had factions around their leaders (like Apollos!), these false teachers may have used this against Paul (i.e. “Why don’t you have letters of recommendation like Apollos?”).

(3:2-3) “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Paul doesn’t need a letter of recommendation. The proof of his leadership credentials comes from the Corinthians themselves: “If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:2).

This “letter” wasn’t given by the Pharisees in Jerusalem, but from Jesus Christ himself and the Holy Spirit (“…you are a letter of Christ…”). This “letter” was written in Paul’s own heart, and it gave him a boost in confidence to think about this. 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. Elsewhere, Paul told the Philippians, “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7).

They are a letter “of Christ” (NASB, NET) or “from Christ” (NIV, NLT) because the believers in Corinth are the “temple of the living God” (1 Cor. 6:16).

This “letter” is for private reflection (“written in our hearts”), as well as public observation (“known and read by all men”).

This “letter” wasn’t just for Paul. Note the use of plural pronouns (“We… our letter…”). God gives this “letter” to groups of people—not just individuals.

This is a partial fulfillment of the new covenant passages in the OT (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:33).

“Carved” (NLT) is evocative language. You need to let God “carve” this letter into your heart, believing that he’s with you. We shouldn’t look at God’s work with contempt or skepticism. The growth of the church is nothing less than a miraculous work of God, and it is sinful to discount it, look down on it, or marginalize its importance.

These false teachers are “Judaizers.”[33] Note how Paul associates their letters written with “ink” and the letters written in “stone” (i.e. the Law). Barnett writes, “This verse is explicitly apologetic. Paul can point to a letter of introduction (the Corinthian church) written by a third party (Christ), who is a supernaturally higher authority, in which, however, he (Paul) has played a critical role. At the same time it is implicitly polemical. The intruders’ higher authority is merely that of human signatories on nothing more than a piece of paper.”[34]

This passage doesn’t teach that the institution is great, but that God’s work in people’s lives is great.

(3:4) “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.”

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.”[35]

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 develop a resilient faith like we see here in Paul?

2 Corinthians 3:5-18

Paul compares the power and privileges of the new covenant against the old covenant in this section. We have good evidence that the false teachers in Corinth were teaching a hybrid form of “old covenant Christianity.” Here, Paul expounds on the incredible privileges that we have in the new covenant.

#1. The new covenant brings ADEQUACY from GOD

(3:5) Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” Paul answers the question that he raised earlier: “Who is adequate for these things” (2 Cor. 2:17). Since Jesus Christ himself wrote this “letter,” he could take no credit for it.

Knowing that God is with us and watching us brings confidence, but it doesn’t bring competence.

How exactly does God make us adequate?

This text refers to God’s part in ministry and spiritual growth (cf. Ps. 127:1; Phil. 3:3; 1 Cor. 3:7; Mk. 4:26-27). It would be an absolute nightmare to lead a ministry without God’s provision and power behind it. After all, we would be striving to do the impossible. We have only “five loves” and “two fish” to offer, but in the hands of God, he can use our limited offering to impact countless people (Jn. 6:9). But how exactly does he do this? Here is a non-exhaustive list of the ways in which God plays his part:

(1) Direction. Much of our service for Christ comes down to following God’s leading. God provides concrete direction through Scripture itself, and the Holy Spirit gives direction through subjective decisions as well. Our role is to seek God’s will in various situations (e.g. “Is someone ready for leadership?” “What application should I offer in my teaching?” “What sort of an approach should I take in this complicated conflict?”).

(2) Empowerment. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), but with the power of Christ, Paul could writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13). This is true for sharing our faith (Jn. 6:65; 12:32; 16:10), teaching (Acts 18:9-10; 1 Cor. 4:20; 1 Pet. 4:11; Heb. 4:12), spiritual growth (Phil. 2:13), leading a meeting of believers (Mt. 18:20), and battling Satan (Eph. 6:19). Leading meetings that are dead.

Consequently, these core biblical truths can have a profound effect on believers as they serve:

  • We become more observant to see who is spiritually hungry (i.e. where God is already moving), rather than trying to make something happen through our strength of will.
  • We become less prideful when we see success, because we realize that we couldn’t have done this without God’s direction and power.
  • We become less afraid of failure, and bounce back from failure quicker. After all, when we fail, we realize even deeper how much we need to depend on God for his power. Moreover, an external failure from our perspective, may actually be something God will use in the future.
  • We develop more endurance—constantly energized by God’s power. We don’t run into burnout when following Christ. Burnout implies that we were using self-effort, rather than God’s power.

Many believers would nod approval for all of these biblical truths, and yet, they must not really believe them.

(3:6) “[God] made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul blends the “letters of recommendation” with the “letters on stone,” which is the Law (i.e. the Ten Commandments). Paul only explicitly writes of the “new covenant” here and in 1 Corinthians 11:25. The author of Hebrews writes about it throughout his letter (specifically Hebrews 8-10).

How can the Law be a means of growth if Paul states that it “kills” the believer?

Some argue that Paul is referring to the misuse of the Law in trying to regain our justification before God through good works.[36] However, the context refers to sanctification—not justification. Paul refers to how the Law “kills” in the context of being a “servant of the new covenant.”

Others argue that the Corinthians had their lives changed, and they were evidence of the fact that the prophecies of the OT were coming to fruition in giving them “hearts of flesh,” rather than “of stone.” Consequently, Paul recognized that the old covenant had passed away.[37] There is some truth in this statement, but it doesn’t go far enough. The Corinthians were particularly lawless people (as is evidenced in 1 Corinthians). So to point to them as the evidence of transformed lives would be to place Paul in an awkward position. The focus isn’t on the Corinthians, but on the apostolic band.

This passage really speaks against the “third use of the law.” The Law brings “death” and “condemnation,” not spiritual growth.

#2. The new covenant brings SPIRITUAL LIFE—not DEATH

(3:7) “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory…” Paul’s ministry brought life—not death. The false teachers must have been teaching the necessity of the Law. As Paul argued to the Galatians, the Law cannot give:

  • Justification (Gal. 2:16).
  • Righteousness (Gal. 2:21).
  • The Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:2).
  • Inheritance (Gal. 3:18).
  • Spiritual life (Gal. 3:21).
  • Freedom (Gal. 4:8-10).

An X-ray can reveal that I have a broken bone, but it cannot heal a broken bone. Similarly, the Law shows us that we fall short, but it does nothing to help us grow into the likeness of Christ. Wiersbe comments, “Law can bring us to Christ (Gal. 3:24), but only grace can make us like Christ.”[38]

#3. The new covenant gives us DIRECT ACCESS to GOD

“…so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face…” The event that Paul refers to here is found in the book of Exodus:

(Ex. 34:29-35 NLT) When Moses came down Mount Sinai carrying the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, he wasn’t aware that his face had become radiant because he had spoken to the LORD. 30 So when Aaron and the people of Israel saw the radiance of Moses’ face, they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called out to them and asked Aaron and all the leaders of the community to come over, and he talked with them. 32 Then all the people of Israel approached him, and Moses gave them all the instructions the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses finished speaking with them, he covered his face with a veil. 34 But whenever he went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with the LORD, he would remove the veil until he came out again. Then he would give the people whatever instructions the LORD had given him, 35 and the people of Israel would see the radiant glow of his face. So he would put the veil over his face until he returned to speak with the LORD.

The fact that the people needed Moses to put on a veil showed their inadequacy in meeting with God personally. After all, they not only refused to come into God’s presence, but they couldn’t even handle coming into Moses’ presence after seeing God. The Jewish people trembled at Mount Sinai and urged Moses to speak to God, rather than connecting with Him themselves.

We often take for granted how special it is to come into God’s presence. But consider if you could go back in time 3,000 years to talk to the people who dedicated the Temple:

(2 Chron. 7:1-3) When Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. 2 The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’S house. 3 All the sons of Israel, seeing the fire come down and the glory of the LORD upon the house, bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave praise to the LORD, saying, “Truly He is good, truly His lovingkindness is everlasting!”

Even the priests in Israel were scared of the raw power and presence of God. The people “hit the deck” when they saw even God’s limited presence through the veil of the Temple. Now, just imagine telling these people that God’s Spirit live inside the believer, and we can come into his presence whenever we want! They would be absolutely shocked at this incredible privilege.

#4. The new covenant does not FADE AWAY

“…fading as it was…” The glory of God on Moses’ face would fade away. By contrast, the new covenant lasts “forever” (v.11).

#5. The new covenant gives us an INCREDIBLE HELPER

(3:8-9) “How will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.”

This is an a fortiori argument: “If this, how much more that?” If the Law produced a massive glory to the people, then how much more will the new covenant of grace?

(3:10-11) “For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.” 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 to the sun.

(3:12) “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech…” We don’t get confidence from ourselves, but from our hope.

(3:13) “[We] are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.” When the Israelites would see Moses’ face, they “were afraid to come near him” (Ex. 34:30). Wiersbe writes, “Unlike Moses, Paul had nothing to conceal.”[39]

(3:14-15) “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.” 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) “But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” He now relates this Jewish phenomenon to all people (“Whenever anyone turns to the Lord…” NIV).

(3:17) “Now the Lord is the Spirit…” 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).”[40]

“…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty…” The Holy Spirit comes to bring “liberty” or “freedom.” God can really change your life, but he chooses to do this through grace—not law.

(3:18) “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 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. This occurs when:

  • We look at Jesus (Heb. 12:2), and reflect his glory to others.
  • We come into God’s presence through the “veil” of Jesus’ finished work (Heb. 10:19-20).
  • We renew our minds (“being transformed”) through biblical teaching (Rom. 12:1-2).
  • We act on what we’re learning (Jas. 1:23).

Rather than superficial or short-lived change, this transformation (metamorphoō) change is from inside out.

Discussion questions

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

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 Self)

(4:1) “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.” Being given a ministry is an act of God’s mercy. Paul viewed this as a privilege, and this outweighed the trials he was going through. Paul comments on this in his letter to Timothy:

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; 14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. 15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:12-16; cf. 1 Cor. 15:9-10).

If serving Christ was something that we decided to do on a whim, then we could decide not to do it. But if God himself gives us this “ministry,” then that’s important. God has created specific good works for all of us to accomplish (2 Tim. 4:7; Eph. 2:10; Acts 13:25; 20:24).

The term “lose heart” (egkakeō) means “to lose one’s motivation in continuing a desirable pattern of conduct or activity, lose enthusiasm, be discouraged” (BDAG).

(4:2) “But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God…” 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 transparent about his theology:

“Adulterating” (doloō) means “to make false through deception or distortion, falsify, adulterate” (BDAG). Kruse writes, “Its use in the papyri in relation to the dilution of wine suggests that Paul had in mind the corruption of the word of God by mingling it with alien ideas.”[41]

“Craftiness” (panourgia) means “cunning, craftiness, trickery” (BDAG). Paul later uses this term to refer to Satan’s “craftiness” in deceiving Eve (2 Cor. 11:3).

False teachers would twist and turn biblical teaching. Wiersbe comments, “If people treated other books the way they treat the Bible, they would never learn anything.”[42]

“…but by the manifestation of truth…” The “manifestation of truth” is the clear revelation of the truth to all people—not being double-tongued.

“…commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” Paul knew that God would reveal his motives at the bema seat of Christ (1 Cor. 4:3-4). In other words, he lived with the constant reminder that God was watching.

(4:3) “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…” Paul returns to the concept of people not understanding the gospel—specifically “those who are perishing” (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15). Even though his gospel was unadulterated and clearly revealed (“manifestation of the truth”), there was a sense in which his gospel was “veiled.” The gospel message was only unclear to those who rejected it.

(4:4) “…in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The “god of this world” is Satan. John writes, “We know… that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jn. 5:19). 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, in order to remove the barriers that keep people from understanding the truth of Christ. Jesus taught, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Mt. 13:19).

Incidentally, we still have a responsibility to come to faith—even if we have been “blinded.” Remember, earlier Paul wrote, “Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16).

(4:5) “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” Paul’s critics keep making everything about Paul, so he needs to defend himself insofar as it would help defending his gospel. He is trying to get the discussion off of himself, and back onto Jesus. Wiersbe comments, “It would have been easy for Paul to build a ‘fan club’ for himself and take advantage of weak people who thrive on associating with great men.”[43] But rather than building himself up, Paul gets under people as their “bond-servant.” His transparency, lifestyle, and teaching all add to Paul’s credibility.

(4:6) “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 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). Jesus promised, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (Jn. 8:12). 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.

Breaking of the outer self

While Paul just finished discussing the greatness of God in the previous verses, now he speaks about the weakness of his followers.[44]

(4:7) “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” In the ancient world, “earthen vessels” were cheap products. Unlike expensive metal or glass vessels, Kruse writes, “Once broken, earthenware vessels had to be discarded. They were thus cheap and of little intrinsic value. Paul may have had in mind the small earthenware oil-lamps sold so cheaply in the market-places.”[45] We might compare “earthen vessels” to a Ziploc bag or a cardboard box. We are “dirt vessels” that contain an incredible gift.

Notice the conjunction “but” used here. This material about “earthen vessels” is in contrast to the incomparably expensive gift that God placed in us (“the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” v.6). The message of Christ is about the message—not the messengers. Hudson Taylor once said, “All God’s giants have been weak [people] who did great things for God because they [trusted] Him being with them.”[46]

Our suffering can lead to God showing himself through us. Wiersbe comments, “A pastor friend and I once heard a young man preach an eloquent sermon, but it lacked something. ‘There was something missing,’ I said to my friend; and he replied, ‘Yes, and it won’t be there until his heart is broken. After he has suffered awhile, he will have a message worth listening to.’”[47]

Comparing appearances

The first attribute is the appearance of the “earthen vessel,” but the second is the internal spiritual reality.

(4:8) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…” Paul’s suffering and affliction were very real. God’s provision was just as real, as was the inner renewing by God (Eph. 3:16). Paul writes about his suffering later in his letter (2 Cor. 6:1-10; 11:16-12:10; cf. Gal. 6:17). Wiersbe writes, “The test of a true ministry is not stars, but scars.”[48]

“…perplexed, but not despairing.” These two terms are similar in the Greek (aporeō and exaporeō). The term “perplexed” (aporeō) means “to be in a confused state of mind, be at a loss, be in doubt, be uncertain” (BDAG). The term “despairing” (exaporeō) means “to be at a loss psychologically, be in great difficulty, doubt, embarrassment” (BDAG).

Paul said that he did “despair… of life” earlier (2 Cor. 1:8). Now, he shares how God taught him the lesson to trust in him—not in self.

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

(4:9) “…persecuted, but not forsaken…” One of our deepest desires is to feel like we aren’t abandoned during persecution (Heb. 13:5-6). This is how we can “endure” when we’re persecuted (1 Cor. 4:12-13). See our earlier article, “Overcoming Persecution.”

“…struck down, but not destroyed…” We take beatings, but we are never beaten. We feel like we’re breaking, but we’re never broken. How did Paul take such a beating, but still have such powerful joy? These are all part of the “comforts” that Paul mentioned earlier (2 Cor. 1:3ff).

 (4:10-11) “Always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

We don’t want people to see us, but to see Jesus in us.

Paul said that he “manifested” the truth of Christ in his words (v.2), and here he “manifested” the truth of Christ in his life.

The “Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is inside of each and every believer (v.6), but this cannot be “manifested” until God chisels away at our outer self through suffering. Like seeing the light of a Jack-o-Lantern through the holes in the pumpkin, God shows the light of Jesus through the fractures of our outer self to others. This “life out of death” principle is seen throughout the NT (Jn. 12:23-26). In the Cross of Christ, we see the worst, horrific death of all time, but we also see the most incredible life that the universe has ever known.

Bible study, prayer, fellowship, serving, and giving of ourselves are all insufficient to break the “earthen vessel” to show “the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” that is inside of us (v.6).

Suffering for others

(4:12) “So death works in us, but life in you.” The suffering of believers is for the purpose of building others up. Our suffering isn’t for me, but for we.

(4:13) “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak.” 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 exact confidence, which he expands upon 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 convictions, and then he went out and started to share them with others. If we ourselves aren’t convinced, then we won’t be very convincing.

(4:14) “Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you.” Paul’s comfort and motivation are not rooted in this life, but in the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection. He looks forward to the day when he will be with the Corinthians in the “presence” of God (NIV, NLT).

(4:15) “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.” Paul’s critics accused him of being self-serving. Instead, Paul counters that he suffers for (1) the Corinthians and for (2) the glory of God.

Paul returns to why he doesn’t lose heart

(4:16) “Therefore we do not lose heart…” Paul now comes full circle, connecting back to verse 1 (“we do not lose heart”). Despair and discouragement in ministry are definitely at the forefront of Paul’s mind. Paul “doesn’t lose heart” because he is reflecting on the ministry he’s been given (v.1), the support that God gives him (vv.6-9), the impact it has on others (vv.10-12, 15), and the security of knowing that he’ll be raised with Christ (v.14).

“…but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” When we suffer based on God’s power, God grows the light that he put in our hearts (v.6; cf. Eph. 3:16).

(4:17) “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…” Paul’s suffering for the cause of Christ is viewed as “momentary, light affliction,” 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 because it pales in comparison with the “eternal weight of glory.” A lot of suffering is increased or decreased based on our perspective.

These afflictions are not only outweighed, but according to Paul are the means of “producing” this glory (cf. Rom. 8:17). The more we suffer, the more we share.

Our role

(4:18) “…while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Paul had his mind focusing on the “things above” (Col. 3:1-3). “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).

“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.” Paul uses this term for looking at false teachers (Rom. 16:17).

The promises of God are like life preservers.

Choosing to look at God’s promises, rather our circumstances.

Discussion questions

What would it look like for a believer to minimize the eternal perspective when going through suffering? What sort of things might you hear or notice?

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

Why is a ‘life out of death’ process necessary for spiritual growth? What might suffering bring growth in ways that Bible study, prayer, and fellowship do not?

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 5.1 (The Afterlife)

It’s important to see that this passage connects with 4:16-18. The opening word “for” (gar) connects this passage to the “momentary, light affliction” of 4:16-18. In this chapter, Paul elaborates on the truth of eternal life. The “earthly tent” corresponds with “the things which are seen” (4:18), and the “building from God” corresponds to “the things which are not seen” (4:18). This further makes sense of Paul’s statement, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

(5:1) “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down…” Paul thought 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.

“…we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” This “building” and “house” refer to our resurrected bodies.[49] Paul had already mentioned our resurrected state earlier (2 Cor. 4:14), and later, he refers to our mortal bodies being “clothed” and “swallowed up,” presumably by new bodies (v.4). Later, he refers to being “absent from the body and… at home with the Lord” (v.8).

In his book Heaven (2004), Randy Alcorn understands this “house” to be “intermediate bodies” before we get our full resurrection bodies.[50] While we think that Alcorn’s book is commendably the best book on heaven in print, we disagree with his reasoning here. After all, Paul also writes that this body is eternal in the heavens.” Our bodies in the present heaven cannot be “intermediate” and also “eternal.”

Note how Paul contrasts our earthly “tent” with our heavenly “building” or “house.” Paul uses the term “house” in the following verse to describe our current, physical bodies (v.2), but this contrast still seems deliberate.

(5:2) “For indeed in this house we groan…” Paul most 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). He longed to be free of these physical ailments.

“…longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.” As we have argued, the “dwelling from heaven” is our future, resurrected body. Paul is “groaning” and “longing” for this resurrected body—not a disembodied state.

(5:3) “inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.” To be “naked” would be without our physical, resurrected body. In his previous letter, Paul states that the “perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53).

In the interim period between our physical death and our physical resurrection, we will likely exist in a disembodied (non-physical) state.[51] This temporary existence is still better than living in a fallen world. Later, Paul writes that he would “prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), and that the Present Heaven is “gain” and “better by far” (Phil. 1:21, 23 NIV). However, Paul still recognizes that this temporary state is still not our ultimate destiny. Perhaps, Paul’s Gnostic opponents were harping on the fact that we will live in a disembodied state (as neo-Platonic dualism taught), and they were using this against his teaching on the physical resurrection. Paul is affirming a temporary disembodied state, but he wants his opponents to know that this is not God’s ultimate ideal for us.

The Nestle-Aland (27th edition) reads, “But even if we are unclothed, we will not be found naked.”[52] Under this reading, what “Paul longs for is to be overclothed with his heavenly body at the parousia. But if he should die before Christ returns, the dissolution of his body does not mean that he is left naked. That is the state of the non-Christian. Christians, by contrast, have been undergoing the progressive renewal of their inner person, which provides them with an appropriate covering at death. So even if Paul is in a state of undress (that is, lacking a physical body), he will nonetheless not be found naked (that is, in a state of shame), because his sufferings have been achieving for him ‘an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (4:17)… To be found naked, then, would be to experience God’s judgment and not the freedom from bodily existence that many Greeks (and perhaps some Corinthians) expected.”[53]

(5:4) “For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened…” Paul returns to the idea of “groaning” in our current physical bodies, as they waste away. Paul used the term “burdened” (bareo) earlier in 2 Corinthians 1:8 (“we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life”). The noun form was used for the “weight of glory” that he would receive (2 Cor. 4:17). In other words, the weight of our burdens will become the weight of our glory. All groaning and being “burdened” will give way to satisfaction and laughter (Luke 6:21).

“…because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed…” This is analogous to be found “naked” (v.3). Again, Paul wants to be free from the pain and suffering in his physical body, but he doesn’t want to be understood as saying that the body is evil. Kruse writes, “It may be that in emphasizing the future embodied state he is countering any Gnostic ideas of salvation (the release of the soul from the prison of the body) which may have been of some influence in Corinth.”[54] Belleville concurs, “Like his opponents, Paul is burdened with a longing, but not a longing to be rid of the body and all that ails it (as these intruders would have it). His desire is rather to have his present existence with all its mortal ills swallowed up by life.”[55]

“…so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.” This echoes Paul’s thoughts in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55. Elsewhere, Paul writes, “[Jesus Christ] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21).

How can we know that this will happen?

Paul gives two reasons: (1) God created us for this, and (2) God has promised this because of his Holy Spirit.

(5:5) “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” Regarding the “pledge” of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 1:13-14), 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, down payment, 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.’”[56]

(5:6-8) “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” 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 or in the presence of 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 “unseen” promises of God over the “seen” visible circumstances he is surrounded by (2 Cor. 4:18). Paul is promoting living in light of ultimate rather than immediate realities. This parenthesis teaches us that we access this truth through faith.

(5:9) “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” Paul was an ambitious man. But unlike most ambitious people, Paul’s “ambition” was to please God. Notice the connecting word in verse 10 (“for”). The “pleasing” Paul has in mind refers to the bema seat judgment.

(5:10) “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Paul himself had sat before the bema seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12, 16-17). Now, he uses this as an illustration for what will happen for all believers. This will not be a judgment of condemnation, but rather evaluation.[57]

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

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?”

RHETORICAL QUESTION: 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 5.2 (Sharing our faith)

What are some of the keys to winsome evangelism? Paul tells us in this passage:

#1. Persuasion

(5:11) “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord…” 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).”[58] Paul had already written that we have “courage” (tharreō), which means “to have certainty in a matter, be confident, be courageous” (BDAG). Paul was confident that he would be with God in eternity. Therefore, whatever the “fear” of the Lord is, it cannot be understood as threatening eternal security. The “reverential awe” relates back to the judgment of the bema seat (v.10).

“…we persuade men…” The term “persuade” (peithō) means “to convince… persuade… appeal to” (BDAG). Evangelism is persuasive, but never coercive. The old adage states, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

“…but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.” Paul was living with the constant reminder that God was watching—in view of the bema seat. As Paul Barnett writes, “Every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day.”[59]

(5:12) “We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.” Paul’s critics prided themselves on their letters of commendation (3:1), knowing about Jesus in his earthly ministry (5:17), their Jewish pedigree (11:22), and their supposed supernatural visions (12:1-7). Thus they focused on their “appearance” before people.

Paul, however, was content to take his integrity from what was in his “heart” before God. Paul hoped that they would trust him (“be proud of us”) so that they could have a rebuttal to the false teachers in Corinth. The false apostles emphasized human recognition and outward credentials, rather than what God cares about: the “heart.”

#2. God’s passion

(5:13) “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.” 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”). After all, who would show such disregard for himself—unless he was “insane”? (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 of people who had just recently stoned him? (Acts 14:19-20) To have such disregard for himself Paul had to be either insane, or utterly devoted to God. Of course, the Corinthians were also well acquainted with the sane and rational side of Paul (Acts 18:11).

Similarly, Jesus’ opponents accused him of being insane because of his zeal (Mk. 3:21) and his offensive teachings (Jn. 10:20). Paul received the same charge against him (Acts 26:22-24), though he strictly denied that he was insane (Acts 26:25).

#3. God’s love

(5:14) “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.” Paul’s motivation for serving was found in knowing that Jesus was his ultimate Judge (v.11) and his Savior (“the love of Christ controls us”). Christ’s sacrificial love is what motivated his sacrificial lifestyle (cf. Phil. 2:5-11, 1 Jn. 3:16).

“Controls” (synechō) means “to hold together as a unit, hold together, sustain… to close by holding together, stop, shut… to press in and around so as to leave little room for movement, press hard, crowd” (BDAG). Kruse describes this term in this way: “It is the pressure applied not so much to control as to cause action. It is motivational rather than directional force.”[60]

“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! Instead, “they who live” refers to those who choose to accept Christ’s offer of forgiveness.

Harris rightly understands this as salvation being universal in its offer, but particular in its acceptance.[61] Verses 18-21 make it clear the people need to surrender to the love of God in order to be reconciled to him.

Paul was motivated by the “fear of the Lord” (v.11) and the “love of the Lord” (v.14). Fear was Paul’s attitude toward God, and love was God’s attitude toward him.

(5:15) “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” The goal of the atonement was to motivate people to live for God—not for self. Paul models this in his own life, when he writes that the “love of Christ controls us” (v.14).

#4. God’s eyes

(5:16) “Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.” Paul had been terribly wrong about the reality of who Jesus was, because he recognized him “according to the flesh.” That is, Paul viewed Jesus by his worldly credentials:

  • Jesus was poor. Jesus said, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Mt. 8:20).
  • Jesus came from a broken home. The religious leaders told Jesus, “We were not born of fornication” (Jn. 8:41).
  • Jesus came from a poor neighborhood. Nathanael asked Philip, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46)
  • Jesus didn’t go to the right schools (or really, any rabbinical schools!). The Jewish people said, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” (Jn. 7:15)
  • Jesus didn’t fulfill the expectations for the Messiah. John records, “Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone” (Jn. 6:15).
  • Jesus didn’t have political connections. He died all alone after being utterly deserted at his trial.
  • Jesus wasn’t physically attractive. Regarding Jesus, Isaiah wrote, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2).

Consequently, Paul thought that Jesus was a messianic pretender. He recognized Jesus “according to the flesh.” Because Paul had been so wrong about who Jesus was, this led him to change how he viewed all people (“from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh”). In other words, Paul didn’t want to make such a massive mistake ever again, judging people according to “outward appearances.” As Jesus said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24). Kruse writes, “In his pre-conversion days he judged Christ using human criteria and came to the wrong conclusion, but after God had been pleased to reveal his Son to him, he had to say we regard him thus no longer, i.e. no longer from a mistaken human point of view.”[62]

Critical commentators argue that this passage states that Paul had no interest in the historical Jesus (i.e. “according to the flesh” = “the historical Jesus”). But this is terribly misguided. Kruse writes, “Paul is talking about a way of knowing (‘according to the flesh’), not about a particular phase of Christ’s existence (Christ after the flesh = the historical Jesus).”[63] In other words, this phrase (“according to the flesh”) refers to knowing Christ—not the being of Christ.

(5:17) “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” From this, Paul realizes that he cannot look at his fellow believers in their old state. Just as we should look at ourselves in our new identity (“a new creation”), we should also look at others in their identity too.

#5. Responsibility

(5:18) “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” God uses former enemies to reach His enemies in love. Kruse writes, “The reconciling process is in another sense still incomplete. The preaching of reconciliation has to be carried out and people must hear the call to be reconciled to God. Unless they respond to that call they cannot actually experience the reconciliation.”[64]

(5:19) “Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” Jesus judicially paid the penalty for human sin. If he didn’t do this, then reconciliation would be impossible.

“…and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” While the price has been paid objectively, we still need to receive this subjectively. God has entrusted this incredible mission to the church.

#6. God’s heart

(5:20) “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” This is the key to evangelism: We need to have God’s heart for lost people. Rather than viewing them according to the flesh (v.16), we need to view them as people for whom Christ died. We should pray for God’s eyes to see people the way God sees them, and God’s heart to love them the way God loves them.

(5:21) “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 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.

2 Corinthians 6 (Suffering for Christ)

Paul’s appeal

(6:1) “And working together with Him…” Paul claims to be a “fellow worker” with the God of the universe. What an audacious claim! (cf. 5:20; 1 Cor. 3:9).

“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” The term “vain” (kenos) can also be rendered as “empty” (BDAG). 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 would have been received “in vain.”

Sometimes, our work feels like it is in vain. For instance, Isaiah’s Suffering Servant said, “My work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward” (Isa. 49:4 NLT). If we are serving God under grace and through his power, we can trust that our labor “is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

(6:2) “For He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’” 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 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.

Have you been putting off the decision to meet Christ? If you hear his voice, come to meet him right now before it is too late.

Have you been putting off serving Christ? Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4 NLT).

Defense of his ministry

(6:3) “Giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited. Paul wanted to have integrity so that the message of Christ would not be discredited.

(6:4) “But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses.” Not only does our lifestyle authenticate the message, but it also authenticates the person as a “servant of God.” Specifically, suffering for the cause of Christ shows our authenticity.

This relates back to 2 Corinthians 3:1 (“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?”). Paul was placed in the awkward situation of needing to defend himself in order to defend his message. Paul doesn’t “commend” himself by pointing to his gifts, his talents, his academic record, or his prestigious religious record (see Phil. 3:3-8). Instead, he commends himself by pointing to his hard work and his suffering for Christ.

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

(6:5) “In beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults…” These sufferings are all related to persecution.

“Tumults” refers to “‘civil disorders’ or ‘riots’ (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:19; 16:19; 19:29).”[65]

“…in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger.” These are sufferings related to “going without.”

“Sleeplessness” (agrupnia) could refer being “unable to go to sleep” (BDAG). This could imply stress or the worry of the church (2 Cor. 11:29). Or it could refer to Paul’s travelling at night.

(6:6) “In purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love.”

“Purity” can refer to both moral living, as well as having a “singleness of purpose.”[66] Paul uses this term again in 2 Corinthians 11:3 (“your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”).

“Knowledge” is included among a list of moral virtues. This shows that reading and learning are all a part of spiritual growth—just as much as these other virtues.

“Patience” (makrothymia) can be defined as the “state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome, patience, steadfastness, endurance” (BDAG). It can refer to the preparation of battle. Brown writes, “Being strictly military terms, the various words are readily used as metaphors in connection with the battles of life.”[67] This is the ability to wait on God before the battle and not hit the panic button. This refers to waiting on God “in season or out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2).

“Kindness” (crestotes) refers to “uprightness in one’s relations with others, uprightness” or “the quality of being helpful or beneficial, goodness, kindness, generosity” (BDAG). Brown defines this as “a friendly nature.”[68] Jesus was strong and fierce, but when kids saw him, they wanted to crawl all over him like a jungle gym.

“…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 the word of truth…” This could refer preaching the truth (NASB, NLT), or to speaking truthfully (ESV, NIV, NET). We favor the former interpretation, because the Bible is our “power” and our “weapon” in ministry. Moreover, this verse is all about what God has given to us to accomplish his will, rather than what we should be doing for God.

“…in the power of God…” God gives us power to accomplish his will. His power is released through the word (Heb. 4:12), the gospel (Rom. 1:16), and the Holy Spirit.

“…by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.” Paul further expounds on these weapons in his other writings (Eph. 6:10-18; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Rom. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:8).

(6:8) “By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true.” Paul’s enemies frequently slandered him (Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:13). Kruse writes, “Those who judge from a human point of view (outsiders, or perhaps his critics in Corinth) hold him in dishonour and ill repute, but those who no longer view things from a human point of view hold him in honour and good repute.”[69]

(6:9) “As unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death.” Regarding these paradoxes, Harris writes, “These paradoxes in verse 9-10 below show the different views of Paul’s life: one from his critics, and the other from God.”[70]

“As unknown yet well-known…” God was watching Paul’s work and faithfulness—even if his critics discounted it.

“…as dying yet behold, we live…” Paul already expounded on this “life out of death” principle.

“…as punished yet not put to death.” Paul experienced suffering, but God spared him from death, until Paul was finished with the ministry that was given to him (2 Tim. 4:7).

(6:10) “As 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.

“…as 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.”

“…having nothing yet possessing all things.” Paul refused to accept money from the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:7-9), and he refused to accept money for selfish gain—unlike the false teachers (2 Cor. 2:17). Paul had learned the secret to living without (Phil. 4:11-13).

Application

In order to live the life of a servant of God we need to depend on Him for “great endurance.”

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?

Paul appeals again

As you read this section, ask yourself: What does Paul do that shows that he loves them? What approach does he take?

(6:11) “Our mouth has spoken freely to you…” This expression about speaking freely was a Greek idiom denoting candour, or straightforward speech.”[71]

“…O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.” Even though Paul had been hurt by the Corinthians and attacked by the false teachers, he still refused to harden or close his heart. Instead, he left his heart “wide open.”

(6:12) “You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections.” The Corinthians had allowed the false accusations and conflict to ruin their relationship with Paul.

(6:13) “Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.” Paul wrote about his suffering above in order to show his heart for the Corinthians. He wanted a two-way street in their intimacy, trust, and affection for one another.

Unequally yoked

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

(6:14) “Do not be bound together with unbelievers…” It’s possible that Paul is taking a digression here. On the other hand, in context, Paul has been calling for the Corinthians to renew their relationship with him, and this could account for this statement. After all, if a wife was asking for a good relationship with her husband, part of this would involve her to tell him to leave his mistress!

In what sense should believers not be bound with unbelievers?

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). But which sort of relationships does he have in mind? Two views are popular among commentators:

(1) Marriage with non-Christians? Murray Harris holds this view.[72] While Paul didn’t teach that believers should divorce non-Christians after they are already married (1 Cor. 7:12-16), they shouldn’t volitionally decide to marry a non-Christian in the first place. In his first letter, Paul told the Corinthians to only marry believers: “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39). Furthermore, Paul uses the term “unbeliever” (apistos) sixteen times in his letters, and thirteen of those usages occur in 1 Corinthians. The majority of these usages occur in 1 Corinthians 7. There, Paul repeatedly uses the term “unbeliever” to describe Christians who were marrying unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:12-15).

The only occurrence of the term “unbeliever” (or “unbelieving”) in this letter is in reference to those whose minds are blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).

(2) Pagan worship and occult practices? Colin Kruse[73] and Paul Barnett[74] hold this view. There are a number of reasons for adopting this view:

First, Paul mentioned idolatry in his first letter (1 Cor. 10:14-21). There he used the same word “fellowship” (koinonia) to describe associating with occult practice (1 Cor. 10:16, 18, 20), which is similar to what Paul says here: “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (v.14)

Second, Paul refers to “idols” and the “temple of the living God” (v.16). This is the final (and climactic) rhetorical question “and thus the most important.”[75]

Third, Paul later writes, “Come out from their midst and be separate… Do not touch what is unclean” (v.17). This doesn’t make sense in regards to non-believing people, but it would make sense with regard to non-believing practices. Earlier, Paul explicitly taught to spend time with unbelieving people (1 Cor. 5:9-10; 10:27; 14:22-24).

Conclusion

Paul is drawing a broad principle that can apply in a variety of ways. We would be shortsighted and mistaken to see a single application from this passage. Instead, Paul uses five rhetorical questions to serve as criteria for partnering with unbelievers. Marriage, occult practices, and a variety of other partnerships would all fall under this imperative from Paul.

Paul admonished the Corinthians for having legal disputes in front of unbelievers (1 Cor. 6:1-6), for participating in idol worship with unbelievers (1 Cor. 10:14-21), for having sex with prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:12-20), and for having fellowship with a “so-called brother” (1 Cor. 5:1-13). From this, we see that Paul is thinking broadly about our partnerships with unbelievers. We agree with scholar Linda Belleville who writes,

Marriage between a believer and unbeliever would certainly be a legitimate application of the command. But… it may not even be the primary application, since the focus throughout is on the church, not the individual believer…. This would suggest that unequal associations between Christians and non-Christians are what Paul specifically has in mind… Paul is clearly thinking of associations that involve a partnership rather than a casual or occasional working relationship.”[76]

Being “bound together” or “unequally yoked” harkens back to Deuteronomy 22:10, where we read, “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” Kruse writes, “The verb heterozygeō is found only here in the New Testament, but is used in the LXX at Leviticus 19:19 as part of a prohibition on yoking different types of animals together. It is used by Philo and Josephus in the same way.”[77]

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. Paul likens this to believers being united in some way with unbelievers. We can think of several practical examples of this principle:

  • Participation with false teachers. This is the immediate application from Paul, because he is calling on the Corinthians to make a break from the false teachers.
  • Marital relationships. This would also be a form of being “bound” to an unbeliever. In fact, we become “one flesh” through marriage.
  • Business partnerships. If we become financially invested in a business partnership, this would result in being “bound” together. What happens if the Christian businessman has different fundamental values than the non-Christian businessman?
These FIVE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS serve as criteria for “partnering” with non-believers (vv.14-16)

#1. “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? The term “partnership” (metochē) only occurs here in the NT.

#2. “What fellowship has light with darkness?” The term “fellowship” (koinonia) refers to “sharing.” This question shows that we can’t share our fundamental values with non-believers. Think of how difficult it would be to be in a partnership with a person with whom you fundamentally disagree on the big questions of life.

#3. “What harmony has Christ with Belial?” The term “harmony” (sumphōnēsis) means “a state of shared interests, agreement” (BDAG).

“Belial” is a word used in the Dead Sea Scroll literature to refer to Satan (e.g. The War Rule 1:1, 5, 13, 15; 4:2; 11:8) and in the intertestamental literature (e.g. Testament of Levi 3:3).[78] If unbelievers are truly being blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4), then how can we partner with them?

#4. “What has a believer in common with an unbeliever?” The term “common” (meris) means “a portion of a whole that has been divided, part” or a “share or portion” (BDAG).

#5. “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” The term “agreement” (sugkatathesis) can mean “agreement” or “union” (BDAG).

Remember your identity

(6:16) “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” Paul cites Leviticus 26:11-12 (cf. Ex. 6:7). Kruse writes, “There is no exact counterpart in the LXX or the Hebrew Bible. Paul’s ‘quotation’ appears to be a free one, and possibly draws upon both Leviticus 26:11-12 and Ezekiel 37:26-27. However, the promises contained here are repeated again and again in the Old Testament (cf. Exod. 25:8; 29:45; Jer. 31:1) and are taken up in Revelation to express the final bliss of the redeemed.”[79]

Put an end to the compromise

(6:17) “‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.” Paul cites Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 20:34, 41. In context, Isaiah was calling Jewish believers to separate from Babylon after the Exile and come home to Jerusalem.

(6:18) “‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Finally, Paul cites 2 Samuel 7:14, which is the Davidic Covenant. However, Paul broadens the promise to include the spiritual sons and daughters of the ultimate David: Jesus.

Discussion questions

If someone said this, how would you respond: “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) “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 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 “cleanse ourselves” (katharisōmen), which 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.

“Defilement of flesh and spirit” could refer to sexual sin (1 Cor. 6:15-18) or idolatry (10:19-21).

The “fear of God” refers to a “reverential awe.”[80]

(7:2) “Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one…” Some of Paul’s critics must have been accusing him of these things.

“…we corrupted no one…” In 1 Corinthians 3:17, Paul uses the term “corrupted” (phtheirei) to refer to people who “destroy” the church.

“…we took advantage of no one.” This is one of four places where Paul uses this language of “taking advantage.” One refers to Satan “taking advantage” of believers (2 Cor. 2:11), and two refer to false teachers “taking advantage” of people through financial gain (2 Cor. 12:17-18).

(7:3) “I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.” In Paul’s understanding, we gain “life” through suffering or “death” (2 Cor. 4:11).

(7:4) “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” Even though Paul was going through a malicious character assassination,” he was still experiencing the joy of the Lord.

The Great Digression ends

(7:5) “For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within.” Paul has already written about this anguish (cf. 2 Cor. 2:12-13). It sounds like 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) “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” God sometimes comforts us through other believers (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3ff).

(7:7) “And not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.” This church had a major turnaround. What caused such a dramatic change?

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

(7:8) “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while.” According to Solomon, the fool cannot take a rebuke:

(Prov. 9:8-9) Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. 9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

(Prov. 10:17) He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

(Prov. 12:1) Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

(Prov. 12:15) The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

(Prov. 13:1) A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.

(Prov. 13:10) Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

(Prov. 13:13) He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded.

(Prov. 13:18) He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored.

(Prov. 13:24) He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

(Prov. 15:5) A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.

(Prov. 15:10) Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path; he who hates correction will die.

(Prov. 15:12) A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise.

(Prov. 15:31-32) He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. 32 He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.

(Prov. 17:10) A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.

(Prov. 19:18) Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.

(Prov. 19:20) Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.

(Prov. 19:25) Flog a mocker, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke a discerning man, and he will gain knowledge.

(Prov. 19:27) Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

(Prov. 22:19) Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.

(Prov. 23:13-14) Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. 14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

(Prov. 25:12) Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

(Prov. 25:15) Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

(Prov. 27:5-6) Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

(Prov. 28:23) He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.

(Eccl. 4:13) Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.

(Eccl. 7:5) It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.

Fools dish out criticism to others, but cannot take constructive criticism themselves. The Bible extols those who speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). In our culture, it seems that the worst thing you could ever do is make someone feel bad. Sometimes, the truth hurts, but it can result in life-giving transformation if accompanied by repentance (v.9).

We don’t want to go over the top in speaking or acting sternly. Kruse writes, “It is worth noting that Paul acted to head off the possibility of mere worldly grief in the case of the ‘offender’, when in 2:7 he urged his readers to reaffirm their love to him so that he might not be overcome with grief and so be lost to the church.”[81]

(7:9) “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.” Paul spoke the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and apparently, this brought pain to the Corinthians. But because they turned to God in repentance, it produced a total change of life. See our earlier article, “Repentance.”

(7:10) “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Not all sorrow leads to a changed life. Some sorrow can lead to “death” in the life of the believer. Sometimes, this can even include physical death (e.g. Judas; Mt. 27:3-5).

(7:11) “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.” Whatever their sin was (e.g. Agreeing with the false teachers? Being overly critical of Paul?), Paul says that they had a radical change of heart. The Corinthians showed their repentance not just through words, but through their works.

(7:12) “So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” Paul wrote his words so that they could get their minds cleared up on the matter.

(7:13) “For this reason we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.” The Corinthians turned from being antagonistic to being a source of refreshment to Titus.

(7:14) “For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth.” Paul engaged in “good gossip” to Titus about the Corinthians. Since Paul was a straight-shooter in his admonishment (“spoke all things to you in truth”), this also validated his encouragement.

(7:15) “His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.” There is something deeply ironic about the Corinthians 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) “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.” 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? How do these look different? What ways might these look similar?

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. How interesting that Paul would bring up money—even in such a tense situation.

The example of the Macedonians’ generosity

(8:1-2) “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2 that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.” Instead of going right for the issue of financial giving, Paul starts with the example of other generous believers in Macedonia, which included Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 16-17).

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.”[82] This example would fit with the maxim, “The poor give more.” This radical spirit was energized by God’s grace (cf. 9:14). As Jesus said, “Freely you received, freely give” (Mt. 10:8).

(8:3) “For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord…” 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. As believers, we should live below our means, so that we can give beyond our means.

(8:4) “…begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints…” These believers were eager to give. They considered this a privilege. They wanted to be in on what God was doing.

“Favor” (charis) is the word used for “grace” throughout the NT.

“Participation” (koinōnia) is the word used for “fellowship.”

“Support” (diakonia) is the word normally used for “serving” or “ministry.”

(8:5) “And this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” The believers gave beyond expectations. This is giving under grace, rather than law. Under grace, we don’t do the bare minimum; we give as we 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) “So we urged Titus that as he had previously made a beginning, so he would also complete in you this gracious work as well.” The Corinthians were not under financial strain or persecution. Will they give generously?

(8:7) “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.” Paul compares financial giving to the other imperative aspects of ministry.

(8:8) “I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.” 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) “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” 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) “I give my opinion in this matter, for this is to your advantage, who were the first to begin a year ago not only to do this, but also to desire to do it.” 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) “But now finish doing it also, so that just as there was the readiness to desire it, so there may be also the completion of it by your ability.” The Macedonians gave more than they were able (v.3). Paul is just making a call for the Corinthians to give within their means.

We might have a large “desire,” but what does this do for others if we don’t actually give? Action is the important part. This is the only actual imperative in these two chapters of Scripture. Kruse writes, “While both v. 7 (hina plus subjunctive) and v. 24 (imperatival use of participle) have imperatival force, the only actual imperative verb in Paul’s entire treatment of the collection in chs. 8–9 is found in v. 11. The NIV brings out its imperatival sense well: ‘Now finish (epitelesate) the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it’.”[83]

(8:12) “For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” 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) “For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality— 14 at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality” “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) “As it is written, ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack.’”

(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)

 

Accountability in the collection

Paul mentions three men, but he mentions only one by name: Titus.

(8:16-17) “But thanks be to God who puts the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he has gone to you of his own accord.” 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) “We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; 19 and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness.” 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) “Taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift.” Paul not only cared about handling the money with integrity, but also avoiding criticism of it being handled rightly. Kruse writes, “There were opponents of Paul and his gospel who were only too ready to call in question the apostle’s motives in financial matters, so that Paul had frequently to defend his integrity (cf. e.g. 2:17; 11:7–11; 12:14–18; 1 Thess. 2:3–12; 2 Thess. 3:6–9).”[84]

(8:21) “For we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.” This is very close to Proverbs 3:4 in the Septuagint translation.

(8:22-23) “We have sent with them our brother, whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.” 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) “Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.” 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) “For it is superfluous for me to write to you about this ministry to the saints.” 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) “For I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the Macedonians, namely, that Achaia has been prepared since last year, and your zeal has stirred up most of them. 3 But I have sent the brethren, in order that our boasting about you may not be made empty in this case, so that, as I was saying, you may be prepared.” 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.[85] 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) “Otherwise if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to speak of you—will be put to shame by this confidence.” 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) “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.” 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) “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 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.’”[86]

(9:7) “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 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) “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.” 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) “As it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.’” 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) “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.” 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) “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.” 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) “Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all.” 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) “…while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you.” Their giving will result in greater unity in the church, and cause the Jewish believers to pray more for the Corinthians.

(9:15) “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 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 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 with being 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. Here are the relevant passages that speak about the false teachers—their accusations against Paul and their sin in the church:

(2 Cor. 10:2) I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.

(2 Cor. 10:10-12) For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present. 12 For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

(2 Cor. 11:4) If one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.

(2 Cor. 11:12-13) But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.

(2 Cor. 11:15) [Satan disguises himself as an angel of light…] Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

(2 Cor. 11:20-21) For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face. 21 To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself.

(2 Cor. 13:2) I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone.

Paul spoke about these false teachers to alert the entire church (cf. 12:19; 13:11-13). It appears that this vocal contingent of false teachers kept accusing Paul of worldly standards and motives (v.2). It also seems Paul had been accused of being bold at a distance, but weak in person. Yet Paul still did not want to be bold towards them.

(10:1) “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!” 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) “I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.” 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 a display of authority.

(10:3) “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” Paul was in the flesh, but he didn’t operate according to the flesh.[87] While he was still an embodied human, he wasn’t controlled by a sinful nature.

(10:4) “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh…” Paul’s “weapons” were principally ones of being persuasive—not being coercive or authoritarian.

“…but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” As a leader, Paul viewed his mission as offensive—not defensive. Satan still holds power over the world (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19), but our job is to invade Satan’s strongholds (Mt. 16:18).

The expression “destruction of fortresses” was used for literal fortress (Prov. 21:22 LXX), but it was also used by Philo of Alexandria “figuratively of a stronghold prepared by persuasive words against the honour of God (Confusion of Tongues, 129).”[88] Cynic and Stoic philosophers (like Seneca) used this imagery “to describe the fortification of the soul by reasonable arguments to render it impregnable under the attack of adverse fortune.”[89]

(10:5) “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Paul wanted to go to battle with the false belief systems of these contrary teachers in Corinth. If they wanted a fight, then he would bring them one through argumentation over the truth. And Paul was confident that he could win.

The language of “taking thoughts captive” is aggressive language. This shows our role in spiritual growth. Notice that Paul is taking thoughts captive—not people. We do not attack people, but the strongholds that imprison people.

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 is what matters most in the spiritual realm. The purpose of this spiritual combat is to agree with Christ in minds, and consequently, in our lives.

“Every lofty thing” (pan hypsōma epairomenon) refers to “the world of ancient warfare and denotes a tower or raised rampart.”[90]

(10:6) “And we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.” 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 against the false teachers. This type of discipline is not specified, but it deals directly with the false apostles and those rebellious to the truth (2 Cor. 11:4, 13-15).

Paul responds to criticism

(10:7) “You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.” 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.

“You are looking” (blepete) should be translated as an imperative,[91] because it is almost always translated this way in Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 8:9; 10:12, 18; 16:10; Gal. 5:15; Eph. 5:15; Phil. 3:2; Col. 2:8). NLT renders this correctly: “Look at the obvious facts.” Kruse translates this as, “Look at what is patently obvious!”

(10:8) “For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame.” Paul could boast in the fact that God used him to plant this church (similar to 2 Cor. 3:1-5). Later, Paul writes, “The authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Cor. 13:10).

(10:9) “For I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.” Paul realizes that his letters may have come off strong, but this wasn’t his authorial intent.

(10:10) “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong…’” Again, Paul’s critics were arguing that he comes off strong in written form, but he is timid and lacks rhetorical skills in person.

“…but his personal presence is unimpressive…” Paul took numerous beatings and severe torture. He also had physical ailments (2 Cor. 12:7-9; Gal. 4:15). This makes sense of the early church history that Paul was “a man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked” (Acts of Paul, 3).

“…and his speech contemptible.” Paul spoke Greek as a second language, and he likely lacked the rhetorical polish of the Greek sophists.

(10:11) “Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.” Instead of defending his appearance 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) “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.” The false teachers were creating their own arbitrary standards of true spirituality, and then fulfilling their own standard. They were comparing themselves with themselves. Kruse notes, “A popular method used by teachers to attract pupils in Paul’s day was to compare themselves with other teachers (cf. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, 2190).”[92]

Instead of comparing himself with the false teachers’ gifts, Paul compared himself by his suffering for Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-29).

(10:13-14) “But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ.” 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 (v.17)

“Sphere” (kanōn) was “a means to determine the quality of something, rule, standard” (BDAG). It is the root word for the term “canonicity.”

(10:15-16) “Not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, 16 so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.” 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), but he wanted to be entrepreneurial in his ministry (Rom. 15:20, 24).

(10:17) “But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord.” It would have been easy for Paul to boast in his ministry accomplishments, but he rounds off this section by reminding his readers to boast in Christ. 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.”[93] This is similar to Jesus’ teaching for his disciples on Earth (Lk. 10:17-20).

(2 Cor. 10:17) Why does Paul quote Jeremiah 9:23-24? (cf. 1 Cor. 1:31)?

(10:18) “For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.” This brings back the theme Paul address in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3. Letters of commendation are irrelevant compared to God’s approval.

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 viewing conflict as part of a spiritual war?

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 light of God’s word. Moreover, this passage would support the practice of apologetics—not just doctrinal heresy—because Paul refers to “every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (v.5).

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 (Discerning False Teachers)

This chapter is an expanded version of Jesus’ teaching in Mathew 7:15-18. Jesus says that there will be false prophets (“false apostles,” 2 Cor. 11:13) who are wolves in sheep’s clothing (“disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” 2 Cor. 11:15). Jesus explains that the way to discern false prophets is by (1) their words and (2) their works.

Paul appeals to the same argument. In this chapter, Paul essentially says, “Look at their lives and how they steal your money! Look at my life and how much I suffer for your sakes, for the sake of the gospel, and all of this free of charge!” Paul is arguing, “They have bad fruit, because they are bad trees. I have good fruit, because I am a good tree.” Paul knows his opponents’ message brings death, but his brings life.

Paul’s thesis: “I deeply care for your spiritual health”

(11:1) “I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me.” Paul had already firmly marked self-praise as worthless and unacceptable (2 Cor. 3:1, 5:12, 10:12, 18), but he realizes the present situation demands it if their faith was to be preserved. His opponents promoted self-praise (5:12, 10:7, 12-13), and so did the Corinthians! Kruse writes, “Paul is forced to set forth his credentials, and that, not as he would have chosen, but in accordance with the criteria favoured by his opponents and apparently now accepted by his converts.”[94]

However, unlike the “false apostles,” Paul’s motive was 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). Consequently, this chapter drips with sarcasm and irony.

(11:2) “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy…” There is such a thing as a “godly jealousy.” Following the metaphor, this is similar to seeing your child being lured away by a man with candy at the park. You are “jealous” for the child’s sake—not your own. Godly jealousy has to be for the sake of the other person—not for the sake of self.

“…for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” 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.” Picture a father who is seeing his daughter getting engaged to the head of a drug cartel. He would feel compelled to speak up about this for the sake of his little girl. He would try to talk her out of making such a bad decision and even call off the wedding if it came to that. Likewise, Paul is seeing these false teachers trying to lead these believers astray, and he therefore can’t help from speaking out against this “marriage.”

Betrothal was the worst of both worlds: the couple didn’t have sex, but they were also entirely committed! Kruse writes, “Usually a year elapsed between the two, but during that period the girl was regarded legally as the man’s wife, while socially she remained a virgin. The betrothal contract was binding, and could be broken only by death or a formal written divorce. Unfaithfulness or violation of a betrothed girl was regarded as adultery and punishable as such.”[95]

(11:3) “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Paul was concerned that this church would be intellectually deceived by these false teachers (“your minds may… be led astray”). Earlier, Paul wrote that Satan himself wants to target the “minds” (noēmata) of people (2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4), and this is why we need to “take every thought [noēmata] captive” (2 Cor. 10:5). Thus Kruse writes, “It is important to stress that Christians’ minds are prime targets for the assaults of the serpent.”[96]

Paul states that Satan’s methods haven’t really changed since the dawn of human history. Satan attacked Eve’s mind in the Garden, influencing her to turn from God. Eve lost the battle of belief, and so she lost the battle with the fruit.

Paul’s thesis in this section is true spirituality versus false spirituality. But how do we discern the difference between the two?

#1. Listen to their WORDS

Gary Delashmutt compares the world of spirituality to telemarketers. What would you call a person who assumed that every phone call from a telemarketer was good? You’d call them a fool! Similarly, just because someone is talking about spirituality does not make them necessarily good.

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to flood the market with spiritual counterfeits (Mt. 24:4-5, 24-25). After seeing one counterfeit after another, we become cynical when we are confronted with the real thing.

(11:4) “For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.” The propositional and experiential content about spirituality 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, the true Spirit, and the true 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.

“…You bear this beautifully.” This is the same language as verse 1 (“you are bearing with me”). Paul had asked them to “bear” with him, because he knows that they are already “bearing” with false teaching! Throughout this chapter, Paul is speaking “foolishly” (v.1). That is, he is engaging in heavy irony. Here he is saying that the Corinthians were really good… at accepting false gospels and accepting false teaching! Later Paul notes that this message comes from false teachers (vv.13-15).

(11:5) “For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.” 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 (1 Cor. 15:9).

The “super-apostles” (NIV, NET, NLT) or “eminent apostles” (NASB) are not to be identified with the Twelve (cf. 2 Cor. 12:11). They are later called “false apostles” (pseudapostolos, v.13). It is to these false teachers that Paul says he is not at all inferior. The term “eminent” or “super” (hyperlian) means “exceedingly beyond measure” (BDAG). This is a compound word which means “over and beyond” (huper) and “exceedingly and extremely” (lian). We wonder if these false teachers called themselves “super apostles.”

(11:6a) “But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge…” Paul is willing to grant the fact that he is inferior in his rhetorical skill and speech (cf. 2 Cor. 10:10). But he is not willing to deny that he has the truth (“knowledge”). He’s implicitly asking, “Would you rather have a good speaker who teaches error, or a mediocre speaker who teaches the truth?”

“Unskilled” (idiōtēs) means “a person who is relatively unskilled or inexperienced in some activity or field of knowledge, layperson, amateur” (BDAG).

In the Greco-Roman world, travelling sophists would impress people with their oratory skill. They had mastered the skills of rhetoric and public speaking. People would travel to come listen to them. Delashmutt makes the comparison between entertainment and content. The sophists provided entertainment, but not true content. They focused on the medium, rather than the message. The Bible urges us to focus on the content of messengers and their message, and compare it with Scripture (1 Jn. 4:1-3; Deut. 13:1-3; Gal. 1:8; Rev. 2:2).

(11:6b) “…in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things.” Paul had spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11), and this was ample time for the Corinthians to see his integrity. Later Paul writes that the false teachers’ “end will be according to their deeds” (v.15ff).

#2. Look at their WALLETS

(11:7) “Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge?” Paul “apologizes” for not charging them for his teaching. Of course, this statement is dripping with sarcasm (cf. 2 Cor. 12:13). The ancient sophists would charge exorbitant prices for their teaching.[97] The higher the charge, the better the speaker. Kruse writes, “The Corinthians probably felt affronted because Paul refused to accept assistance from them, especially when by so doing he was forced to undertake menial work to support himself, work which they regarded as degrading for an apostle.”[98] Consequently, Paul was being accused of not being a good speaker, because he didn’t charge them money.

Today, universities and businesses follow the same principles. They pay big bucks for people of importance in their estimation. One source notes the prices that conferences will pay for just one speech from famous people:

  • Donald Trump ($1.5 million)
  • Ronald Reagan ($1 million)
  • Tony Blair ($600,000)
  • Bill Clinton ($150,000-$450,000)
  • Lance Armstrong ($100,000)
  • The apostle Paul ($0)

Paul worked with his hands as a tent-maker in order to teach them (Acts 18:3). He worked double duty (tent making during the day and teaching after work) in order to serve them. This is the “humbling” he is no doubt referring to.

(11:8) “I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you.” It is a biblical imperative to support full-time vocational leaders and teachers who serve us in the local church (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17). Paul wasn’t against this. But he refused this right to accept money in Corinth, because they had been taught that they should pay exorbitant prices to hear erudite sophists and their rhetoric. Because Paul didn’t want to lose credibility, he allowed other churches to support him, rather than taking money from the Corinthians (“I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you”).

(11:9) “And when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.” Paul probably mentions this exact support in Philippians 4:15 and 1 Thessalonians 3:6.

(11:10) “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia.” The boasting mentioned here refers to the refusal to take money from the Corinthians. Corinth was “the major city and administrative centre” of Achaia.[99]

(11:11) “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” Perhaps Paul felt that refusing the money could have the effect of appearing unloving. He absolutely denies this.

(11:12) “But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting.” Paul refused the money to keep his character free from accusation. The false teachers didn’t just take money, but they “took advantage” of the Corinthians (v.20), presumably by taking an unethical amount.

(11:13) “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” 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,” “another spirit,” and “another gospel” (v.4).

(11:14) “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” It isn’t surprising that these men masquerade as apostles. Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light. Extra-biblical, pseudepigraphical Jewish literature stated that Satan appeared to Eve as an angel of light (Life of Adam and Eve 9:1–11:3; Apocalypse of Moses 17:1).[100]

(11:15) “Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” Paul is imploring the Corinthians to listen closely to their teaching. While they look and sound righteous, the content of their teaching is false.

#3. Look at their WORKS

(11:16) “Again I say, let no one think me foolish; but if you do, receive me even as foolish, so that I also may boast a little.” You can hear Paul’s resistance to do any boasting. But he feels that he must in order to take down these false teachers. This is a repetition in what he said in verse 1 (“bear with me in a little foolishness”). Throughout this section, Paul keeps repeating how “foolish” or “insane” it is to boast like this (2 Cor. 11:21, 23, 30; 12:1, 11).

(11:17-18) “What I am saying, I am not saying as the Lord would, but as in foolishness, in this confidence of boasting. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I will boast also.” The RSV makes these verses a parenthesis. Paul realizes that this entire enterprise is foolish and un-Christian. But he engages in it to beat the critics at their own game (“since many boast…”). This is not compromising Paul’s convictions, however, because his boasting is “in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17) and in his “weaknesses” (2 Cor. 11:30).

(11:19) “For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly.” Paul is reticent to boast, but he points out that the Corinthians allowed these boasters. Therefore, they should allow his boasting. His statement drips with sarcasm, because the Corinthians viewed themselves as “wise” (1 Cor. 3:18-20; 4:10; 6:5; 8:1-7; 13:2).

(11:20) “For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.” This is a real indictment on the Corinthians. Many of them were suspicious of Paul, but they were allowing carnal, non-Christian leaders to push their agenda in the church. These false teachers were guilty of spiritual abuse, and Paul expects the Corinthians to not tolerate this.

Paul’s credentials

(11:21) “To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself.” Paul calls himself “too weak” to be a carnal, unrighteous leader. Again, this is real sarcasm and irony.[101]

Paul argues that if he were to boast, then he would still have these guys beat. 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) “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” These false teachers were clearly ethnically Jewish. Paul has them beat on this: He was thoroughly Jewish in his ancestry and heritage.

(11:23) “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.” 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 estimation of them, while verse 23 is their estimate of themselves. This could be understood as, “Do they claim to be servants of Christ?”

While only one imprisonment is mentioned before this time in the book of Acts (Acts 16:19-40), this implies that Acts is silent on many of Paul’s endeavors—only giving the highlights.

(11:24) “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” The OT law kept corporal punishment to 40 lashes (Deut. 25:1-3). The Jews only used 39 lashes in case they miscounted by accident.[102] Paul’s whippings are not recorded in Acts. However, Paul used to torture Christians in this way (Acts 22:20; 26:11). This implicitly shows that Paul didn’t remove himself from the Jewish people; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been caught and (falsely) prosecuted by them.[103]

It’s no wonder that Paul could write to the Galatians, “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).

(11:25) “Three times I was beaten with rods…” Acts only mentions one beating with rods (Acts 16:22-23).

“…once I was stoned…” Acts records Paul being stoned at Lystra (Acts 14:19).

“…three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” 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. However, Acts does record nine sea voyages prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians, so this is certainly plausible.[104]

Regarding these differences, Harris writes, “Paul’s life was even more colorful than Acts would lead the reader to believe!”[105]

(11:26) “I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren.” 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.”[106] Some Jewish religious leaders 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) “I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 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.”[107] It could have been related to preaching all night long (Acts 20:7-12, 31), or it could refer to working “day and night” at his trade (2 Thess. 3:8).

(11:28) “Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” The word “pressure” (merimna) is the term for anxiety. Paul includes this at the end of his list of physical torture! This was an anxiety for others—not for himself (cf. Lk. 13:34).

(11:29) “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?” 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, and likely relates to the anxiety mentioned in verse 28.

(11:30) “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.” Paul really doesn’t like boasting about his strengths. He’d 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) “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.” Paul brings God into the proverbial courtroom to testify to the truthfulness of this incredible list of “weaknesses” and suffering.

(11:32-33) “In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 33 and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.” This event is mentioned in Acts 9:25. Kruse writes, “King Aretas IV (9 BC–AD 39) was ruler of the Nabataeans, an Arabian nation whose kingdom had once included the city of Damascus.”[108]

Why does Paul reference 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.”[109]

Discussion questions

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

Sharing in the sufferings of Christ reveals the sincerity of our 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. If Paul hadn’t lived such a sacrificial life, he wouldn’t have had such a string of powerful examples of his sincerity.

2 Corinthians 12 (Thorn in the flesh)

(12:1) “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” 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) “I know a man in Christ…” Who is Paul referring to here? Paul is no doubt referring to himself in the third person here (compare verses 1, 5, 7). In this culture, if you were explaining a story that consisted of great glory or great shame, you would tell the story in the third person.[110] Paul was just utilizing a common literary device in his day, which was a form of modesty.

“…who fourteen years ago…” If Paul wrote this letter in AD 55 or 56, then this event must have occurred around AD 41 or 42. This event must have happened sometime between Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:30) and his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1ff). During this time, Paul was given a foretaste of what heaven will be like. It’s no wonder why Paul had such zeal for spreading the gospel and influencing others for Christ: he himself had seen what heaven is like! This must have motivated his missionary journeys, and this must be why he tells all Christians to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

“…whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” 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. By leaving open both possibilities, Paul was implicitly disagreeing with the Gnostic belief that embodied people could go into God’s presence in heaven.[111]

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

(12:3) “And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows.” 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 “revelations” (v.7) and his thorn in the flesh: If Paul was referring to another person, then what is the connection with Paul getting a thorn in the flesh?

(12:4) “[I] was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” 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.

The expression “not permitted to speak” (arrēta) is the only usage in the NT—though it is used frequently outside of the Bible. It was commonplace for people associated with “the mystery religions and describes things too sacred to be divulged.”[112] Though Kruse adds that “Paul’s account of his rapture differs markedly from other such accounts from the ancient world both in its brevity and the absence of any descriptions of what he saw. Paul refers only to what he heard.”[113]

(12:5) “On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses.” 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.”[114] Kruse notes, “It is therefore all the more remarkable that he did not make maximum capital out of it. But instead, having disclosed the bare fact, he quickly directs attention away from it and to his weakness as the only safe ground for boasting.”[115]

(12:6) “For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.” Paul didn’t take his identity from his spiritual experiences. He viewed his character and his ministry as far more important.

(12:7) “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” Harris understands that God was the one who gave Paul this thorn.[116] 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.

The term “messenger” (aggelos) is also translated as “angel” in the NT. If this is what Paul had in mind, then this could be some sort of demonic influence.

Why did God allow this to occur? Moreover, why did God allow Paul to be “hindered” by Satan from visiting the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:18)? In the first instance, God used the thorn to create humility in Paul. If Paul could gain humility from this thorn, then this would be worth the experience. In the second instance, God used Satan’s hindering to bring the gospel to Berea, Athens, and Corinth. Even when Satan attacks believers, God can use it for the good to those who trust and love him (Rom. 8:28).

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

(12:8) “Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” 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.”[117]

(12:9) “And He has said to me…” Paul uses the perfect tense here, which implies that Jesus’ words an ongoing application for him.[118]

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” Again, the word “sufficient” is in the present tense, implying ongoing sufficiency.[119] God didn’t take away the thorn, but he continued to give him ongoing grace.

“…Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 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.

Incidentally, Paul’s opponents tried to disqualify him for his weaknesses (2 Cor. 10:10). Here, Paul boasts in these very weaknesses, because they showed God’s ongoing grace and power.

(12:10) “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 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?

Paul writes, “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 a “thorn in the flesh” look like?

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

Application

Many believers would want to go to the third heaven, but they are not willing to carry the price of the ticket: a thorn in the flesh.

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.

Paul returns to the false teachers after his time of “boasting”

(12:11) “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody.” Paul felt coerced into his “boasting” episode. If the Corinthians had defended Paul’s integrity, then Paul would have had no need to boast.

His conclusion is that he is not inferior to the “eminent apostles.” As we stated above, the “super-apostles” (NIV, NET, NLT) or “eminent apostles” (NASB) are not to be identified with the Twelve. They are elsewhere called “false apostles” (pseudapostolos, 2 Cor. 11:13). It is to these false teachers that Paul says he is not at all inferior. The term “eminent” or “super” (hyperlian) means “exceedingly beyond measure” (BDAG). This is a compound word which means “over and beyond” (huper) and “exceedingly and extremely” (lian). We wonder if these false teachers called themselves “super apostles.”

By contrast, Paul concludes that he is “nothing.” This is true humility, realizing that God is all, and he is just a vessel or “instrument” in God’s hands (Rom. 6:13).

(12:12) “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Paul doesn’t claim that he performed these miracles, but implicitly states that God did these miracles. This shows that God was at work in his ministry, which is a clear sign that God was supporting Paul.

Acts doesn’t record these miracles in Corinth, but Paul alludes to them in his letter to the Romans (Rom. 15:17-19).

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

(12:13) “For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!” The only thing Paul didn’t do in Corinth was… accept their money! Paul sarcastically apologizes for this “wrong.” Meanwhile, the false teachers had fleeced this church left and right (2 Cor. 11:20).

(12:14) “Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you…” Paul wants to come back a third time. This implies that there was a second visit that wasn’t mentioned in Acts.

Paul still will not take their money. He doesn’t want their money; he just wants to see them. He doesn’t want their finances; he wants their friendship.

“…for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” 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) “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” Paul pleads with them to reaffirm their personal love for him. Paul’s leadership was characterized by deep, personal love.

(12:16-18) “But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit. 17 Certainly I have not taken advantage of you through any of those whom I have sent to you, have I? 18 I urged Titus to go, and I sent the brother with him. Titus did not take any advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk in the same steps?” The accusation against Paul was that he sent his men to do what he himself did not.

(12:19) “All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” Paul reveals that his defense was not for himself, but for them. Harris writes, “His aim… was not personal vindication but their edification.”[120] Paul knew that he ultimately stood before God—not people (1 Cor. 4:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:10).

(12:20-21) “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.” Paul is afraid that some of the Corinthians will still persist in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 1:11; 3:3). He is worried that they will reject his authority, as well as his leadership. These members who “have sinned in the past and not repented” could still be a faction in Corinth, and Paul is afraid that they will still be fighting against him.

2 Corinthians 13 (Conclusion: A call to oppose the false teachers)

(13:1) “This is the third time I am coming to you. Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 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? Or perhaps he’s referring to himself and God as the “witnesses” (2 Cor. 1:12, 23; cf. Jn. 8:12-20).

(13:2) “I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone.” 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 Cor. 2:1). Paul warns them again about the consequences of sin and promises discipline for the unrepentant (2 Cor. 12:21).

(13:3) “Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” 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. Paul could be circling back to the objection that they had (2 Cor. 10:10). The “non-weakness” of Jesus may look back to Jesus’ active discipline of those believers abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30-31).

(13:4) “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.” The Corinthians probably wondered how Jesus (so strong) could speak through Paul (so weak), and Paul is dispelling that accusation. Paul shows that Christ demonstrated incomprehensible weakness by allowing himself to be crucified—even though he is incomprehensibly powerful. His weakness was an active choice. The same is true of Paul, and really of all believers (Phil. 4:13).

(13:5) “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith…” Some commentators argue that Paul isn’t referring to examining their justification.[121] Rather the expression “in the faith” (en te pistei) is only used four times by Paul, and it is argued that it only refers to our condition—not our position (cf. 1 Cor. 16:13; Col. 2:7; Titus 1:13). However, Paul’s mention of having the Holy Spirit (or “Jesus is in you”) clearly refers to their position (1 Cor. 6:19; Rom. 8:9-10). Perhaps both their condition and their position are in view.

Paul is assuming that they are truly Christians.[122] He calls them the “church of God” (2 Cor. 1:1), and he has “confidence” in them (2 Cor. 7:4, 16). Moreover, he uses the first-class conditional phrase,[123] which can be rendered, “If, and I’m assuming for the sake of argument that you are, in the faith…” At the same time, a lot was a stake with these false teachers prowling around in Corinth, and Paul wants them to be grounded in their faith.

“…examine yourselves!” This word for “examine” (dokimazō) is a play on words with verse 3 (“since you are seeking proof,” dokimē). 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. Put another way, if they did not fail the test then neither did he. Kruse writes, “Paul is emphasizing that it is themselves that the Corinthians should be examining rather than him.”[124] He continues, “By testing themselves and reaching the conclusion that they do hold to the faith and that therefore Christ is in them, the Corinthians will at the same time be acknowledging that Paul and his colleagues have not failed.”[125] In other words, by testing themselves, then they will be able to test the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic band versus the claims of the false teachers.

“Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” This question is rhetorical, and it demands a positive reply in the Greek.[126] Of course, Paul leaves open the (rhetorical?) possibility that they could “fail the test.”

(13:6) “But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.” Paul was their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15). If they were true believers, then so was he. Barnett writes, “To affirm the one demands the other. Their verdict on themselves is their verdict on him. If they are not ‘disproved’ (adokimoi), it can only mean that he is ‘approved’ (dokimos), that is, by God, as he proceeds to say in the verses following.”[127]

(13:7) “Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved.” Again, Paul knew that his reputation would have a necessary influence on the Corinthians’ faith. But he wants them to walk with God even more than being self-vindicated.

(13:8) “For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.” The “truth” here probably refers to the truth of the gospel (11:4).[128] Or it could also refer to the fact that Paul couldn’t admit to being guilty of false accusations.

(13:9) “For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.” Paul closes this dramatic conflict with affirming his prayer for these people. The term “complete” (katartisan) refers to “the notion of restoring, mending, and equipping. Paul, rather than displaying apostolic power, desires to produce reconciliation among the Corinthians between themselves and God.”[129] Paul uses this same word in verse 11.

(13:10) “For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.” Paul doesn’t want to see church discipline tear apart the church (cf. 2 Cor. 10:8; 12:19).

Conclusion

(13:11) “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” Paul leaves them with the encouragement to live healthy “body life.”

(13:12) “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

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

(13:13) “All the saints greet you.” 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) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” This is a good passage for the doctrine of the Trinity. Paul commends them to both the persons of the Trinity, but also the attributes (e.g. grace, love, fellowship). Moreover, even though he had conflict with some people in Corinth, he wants the grace of Jesus to be with them “all.”

Was Paul’s letter successful?

Paul’s labors with the Corinthians were successful. 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.

Discussion questions

Based on verse 5: What’s the difference between healthy introspection and morbid introspection?

Based on verse 5: What are subjective signs that we have a relationship with Christ?

Based on verse 5: How would you counsel a person who repeatedly was questioning whether or not they had a relationship with Christ?

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

Application

As ambassadors for Christ, it is loving 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 know our tendencies in this area. Most of us probably focus inwardly too much and need to learn how to forget about ourselves and focus on others.

[1] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 5). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 14). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] Harris, M. J. (1976). 2 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 307). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[4] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 60). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 628). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 629). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Billy Graham, Death and the Life After (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 2001), 68.

[8] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 69). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[9] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 70). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 66). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[11] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 630). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[12] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 630). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] George Guthrie, 2 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015), 2 Corinthians 1:19.

[17] 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.

[18] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, pp. 78–79). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[19] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 80). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[20] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 634). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[21] 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.

[22] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 81). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[23] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 82). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[24] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 82). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[25] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[26] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[27] 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.

[28] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 87). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[29] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 88). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[30] 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.

[31] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 161). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[32] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 163). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[33] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 161). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[34] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 165–166). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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

[36] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[37] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 177). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[38] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 640). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[39] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 639). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[40] 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.

[41] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, pp. 102–103). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[42] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 642). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[43] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 642). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[44] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 106). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[45] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 106). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[46] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 642). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[47] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 643). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[48] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 643). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[49] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 258). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[50] Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2004), 58.

[51] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 262–263). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[52] Cited in Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 134.

[53] Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 135.

[54] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 114). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[55] Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8, 2 Co 5:1). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 136.

[56] 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.

[57] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 276). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[58] 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.

[59] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 281). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[60] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 120). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[61] 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.

[62] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 123). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[63] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 123). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[64] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 125). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[65] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 130). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[66] 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.

[67] Brown, C. Vol. 2: New international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 764.

[68] Brown, C. Vol. 2: New international dictionary of New Testament theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1986. 105.

[69] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 131). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[70] 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.

[71] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 133). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[72] 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.

[73] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 134). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[74] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 345). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[75] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 346). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[76] Belleville, L. L. (1996). 2 Corinthians (Vol. 8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 178.

[77] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 134). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[78] Cited in Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 134). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[79] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 136). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[80] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 137). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[81] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 143). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[82] 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.

[83] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 152). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[84] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 156). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[85] 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.

[86] 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.

[87] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[88] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[89] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 169). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[90] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 170). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[91] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 171). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[92] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 174). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[93] 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.

[94] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 177). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[95] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[96] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, pp. 178–179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[97] 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.

[98] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 181). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[99] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 182). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[100] Cited in Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 184). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[101] 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.

[102] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 190). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[103] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 189). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[104] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 190). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[105] 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.

[106] 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.

[107] 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.

[108] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 192). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[109] 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.

[110] Kaiser, Walter C., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred Brauch. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996. 2 Corinthians 12:2 “The Third Heaven.”

[111] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[112] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 197). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[113] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 197). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[114] 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.

[115] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 196). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[116] 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.

[117] 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.

[118] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 200). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[119] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 200). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[120] 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.

[121] Hunt, D. L. (2010). The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 819). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.

[122] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 607–608). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[123] We recognize first-class conditional clauses by the helping word “if” (Greek ei) followed by a main verb in the indicative mood (in any tense). The NASB usually translates these conditions with the English rendering “If indeed…”

[124] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[125] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 212). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[126] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 608). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[127] Barnett, P. (1997). The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (pp. 608–609). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[128] Kruse, C. G. (1987). 2 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 8, p. 213). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[129] Hunt, D. L. (2010). The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. In R. N. Wilkin (Ed.), The Grace New Testament Commentary (p. 820). Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society.