Introduction to 2 Corinthians

By James Rochford and Josh Peltier

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Before we study this letter, it is important to understand the historical background of the interlude between 1 and 2 Corinthians.[1] 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 in the years between AD 50-52 (Acts 18).[2] 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). During this time, Paul wrote a lost letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9).

After Paul wrote his lost letter, the Corinthians responded with a letter of their own, asking Paul a number of questions (1 Cor. 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1). Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus likely brought this letter to Paul, and he 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 him about what was happening there (1 Cor. 1:11-12; 16:15-18). In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that he was going to come and visit (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 returned before Paul wrote his second letter (2 Cor. 1:1). Paul visited 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 wanted to visit them again on better terms. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to pave the way for a better meeting with them (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1-4, 10).

Titus visited Corinth during this time, and reported that false apostles had arisen. These men were accusing Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle, and they were teaching a false gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-20). Titus and Paul met up again in Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13), and Titus revealed that things had only gone from bad to worse in Corinth:

  • 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).
  • The Corinthians continued to fall into immorality and idol worship (2 Cor. 6:14ff).
  • 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 needs to defend his integrity once again (2 Cor. 4:2; 7:2; 12:16-18).
  • Worst of all, false teachers had infiltrated this church (2 Cor. 10-13). These men had likely added fuel to the Corinthians’ suspicious fire.

All of this sets the stage for the writing of 2 Corinthians. Paul picks up his quill pen and parchment to write something that will connect with the readers in Corinth, preparing them for his third visit.

What do we know about the false teachers or “super apostles” in Corinth?

They loved to brag about themselves and their credentials (2 Cor. 10:12; 11:22ff). They were most likely Jewish (2 Cor. 3:1-11; 11:22ff), and they may have claimed to have authority from the Jerusalem church itself. It wasn’t uncommon for false teachers to claim to have authority from the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:24; Gal. 2:12). Indeed, they showed up to Corinth with “letters of commendation” (2 Cor. 3:1) intended to usurp leadership authority from the true apostles (2 Cor. 10:15-16) or at least to place themselves on par with them (2 Cor. 11:12). It’s possible that they called themselves “super apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11 NLT), or perhaps this was Paul’s sarcastic term to describe them.

They accused Paul of being aggressive in writing, but not in person. To borrow a modern expression, Paul was “all bark and no bite.” Paul writes, “You think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away” (2 Cor. 10:1 NLT). Later, he writes, “Some say, ‘Paul’s letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless!’” (2 Cor. 10:10 NLT). This would’ve been an easy accusation to make against Paul, because he travelled frequently, and he had recently changed his travel plans. The false teachers likely leveraged this to make Paul look like a weakling.

They taught a false gospel (2 Cor. 11:4). Indeed, Paul considered them “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul compares their deceit with Satan himself (2 Cor. 11:3, 13-14). They were abusive leaders, taking advantage of the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:20-21).

They accused Paul of being deceitful (2 Cor. 6:8; 12:16). This would’ve placed the Corinthians in a bind: Paul is calling these men liars, but they are calling him a liar. Whom could they trust? Paul was preparing a trip to Corinth to confront these men personally (2 Cor. 13:2; cf. 2 Cor. 10:2, 6, 11; 12:20-21). Garland summarizes the situation well, “The guilty parties did not accept his discipline passively. His bold rebukes caused them to lose face and sparked deep resentment. They counterattacked by impugning his motives, methods, and person to undermine his authority in the church. The result: some members continue as avid supporters of Paul, some waver, and some comprise a determined element of resistance to his leadership.”[3]

How was Paul feeling when he wrote this letter?

The false teachers or “super apostles” had poisoned the minds of many in Corinth. They gave a suspicious and cynical narrative of Paul’s motives. Consequently, many of Paul’s friends had turned against him, or at the very least, they were thinking about it. Thus, we get a window into a particular low-point in Paul’s life.

Paul shares that he had felt “depression” (2 Cor. 7:6), “pressure” (2 Cor. 11:28), “anxiety” (2 Cor. 11:28, merimna), “stress” (2 Cor. 6:4, stenochōria),[4] “conflicts” (2 Cor. 7:5), “fears” (2 Cor. 7:5), “sleeplessness” (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27), and “no rest for his spirit” (2 Cor. 2:13). Of course, 2 Corinthians reveals how Paul worked through all of these emotions, but we shouldn’t deny that he felt this way in the first place. It is in this stressful and tense setting that we discover some of Paul’s most touching and moving words. He has two central reasons for writing this letter:

(1) Paul wrote this letter to rebuild his relationship and share his heart with these people. These converts in Corinth were his dear friends. He said he wrote his earlier letter for this purpose: “I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4 NLT). Paul wanted his relationships to be strengthened.

(2) Paul wrote this letter to avoid a caustic confrontation. Tensions were rising to a tipping point. Paul knew that he was going show up to Corinth, and he could very well be walking into a tense fight. Paul was willing to fight, but he didn’t want to. This is why Paul writes, “I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal severely with you when I do come” (2 Cor. 13:10 NLT). Instead, he wanted them to stop judging his motives and regain trust in their relationship.

Did it work?

We might wonder if 2 Corinthians turned the tide in Corinth away from the false teachers, rebuilding trust in the process. As far as we can tell, it did: “The letter seems to have met with success.”[5] Around AD 95, Clement of Rome wrote to the church of Corinth, citing Paul’s first letter (1 Clem. 47:1) and citing Paul as a godly man to them (1 Clem. 5:5-7). This implies that the Corinthians held both Paul and his letters in high regard.

Despite Paul’s worries about his forthcoming trip to Corinth (2 Cor. 12:21; 13:2), the Paul ended up staying in Corinth for three months (Acts 20:2-3) and wrote the letter to the Romans. Since Paul had the peace of mind to write Romans, we can infer that his final visit went well, and 2 Corinthians helped to pave the way for a peaceful visit. When Paul showed up to Corinth, he likely had to fight with the false teachers. But that didn’t seem to bother him. He was mostly worried about the church (2 Cor. 11:28). And these Corinthians must’ve welcomed him warmly after reading this letter.

DATING 2 Corinthians

Paul writes 2 Corinthians in the winter of AD 55[6] or possibly AD 56.[7]

Table of Contents

How to use this commentary well 5

Consulted Commentaries. 6

Choosing a translation for 2 Corinthians. 7

2 Corinthians 1 7

2 Corinthians 2. 20

2 Corinthians 3. 29

2 Corinthians 4. 39

2 Corinthians 5. 48

2 Corinthians 6. 59

2 Corinthians 7. 68

2 Corinthians 8. 74

2 Corinthians 9. 81

2 Corinthians 10. 85

2 Corinthians 11 93

2 Corinthians 12. 105

2 Corinthians 13. 112

How to use this commentary well

For personal use. We wrote this material to build up people in their knowledge of the Bible. As the reader, we hope you enjoy reading through the commentary to grow in your interpretation of the text, understand the historical backdrop, gain insight into the original languages, and reflect on our comments to challenge your thinking. As a result, we hope this will give you a deeper love for the word of God.

Teaching preparation. We read through several commentaries in order to study this book, and condensed their scholarship into an easy to read format. We hope that this will help those giving public Bible teachings to have a deep grasp of the book as they prepare to teach. As one person has said, “All good public speaking is based on good private thinking.”[8] We couldn’t agree more. Nothing can replace sound study before you get up to teach, and we hope this will help you in that goal. And before you complain about our work, don’t forget that the price is right: FREE!

Discussion questions. Each section or chapter is outfitted with numerous discussion questions or questions for reflection. We think these questions would work best in a small men’s or women’s group—or for personal reading. In general, these questions are designed to prompt participants to explore the text or to stimulate application.

Discussing Bible difficulties. We highlight Bible difficulties with hyperlinks to articles on those subjects. All of these questions could make for dynamic discussion in a small group setting. As a Bible teacher, you could raise the difficulty, allow the small group to wrestle with it, and then give your own perspective.

As a teacher, you might give some key cross references, insights from the Greek, or other relevant tools to help aid the study. This gives students the tools that they need to answer the difficulty. Then, you could ask, “How do these points help answer the difficulty?”

Reading Bible difficulties. Some Bible difficulties are highly complex. For the sake of time, it might simply be better to read the article and ask, “What do you think of this explanation? What are the most persuasive points? Do you have a better explanation than the one being offered?”

Think critically. We would encourage Bible teachers to not allow people to simply read this commentary without exercising discernment and testing the commentary with sound hermeneutics (i.e. interpretation). God gave the church “teachers… to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). We would do well to learn from them. Yet, we also need to read their books with critical thinking, and judge what we’re reading (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21). This, of course, applies to our written commentary as well as any others!

In my small men’s Bible study, I am frequently challenged, corrected, and sharpened in my ability to interpret the word of God. I frequently benefit from even the youngest Christians in the room. I write this with complete honesty—not pseudo-humility. We all have a role in challenging each other as we learn God’s word together. We would do well to learn from Bible teachers, and Bible teachers would do well to learn from their students!

At the same time, we shouldn’t disagree simply for the sake of being disagreeable. This leads to rabbit trails that can actually frustrate discussion. For this reason, we should follow the motto, “The best idea wins.” If people come to different conclusions on unimportant issues, it’s often best to simply acknowledge each other’s different perspectives and simply move on.

Consulted Commentaries

David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999).

Many regard Garland’s commentary as the best commentary on 2 Corinthians, and we agree! This commentary is simply fantastic. While Garland’s commentary is classified as a “pastoral commentary,” we found it to be more technical than the technical commentaries on 2 Corinthians. Indeed, it is quite long for a pastoral commentary (500+ pages). Garland is a good writer, he is very quotable, and he cites the ancient sources extensively. He has an excellent grasp of the historical context of Greco-Roman culture, and this gives the interpreter fresh insights into the battle Paul was facing with the false teachers in Corinth.

Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987).

This is a very solid commentary. Kruse is one of our favorite commentators in general.

Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).

We like Barnett as a commentator, and others give his commentary on 2 Corinthians high praise. However, Garland’s commentary was far better. Barnett focuses more so on grammar, syntax, and sentence diagramming. Personally, we don’t take a lot from this process of sentence diagramming, though others might. Barnett also lacked the historical research that makes Garlands commentary so strong.

Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976).

Harris is considered an expert on 2 Corinthians, and this is a good introductory commentary. Harris also wrote a 600-page technical commentary on 2 Corinthians as well.

Choosing a translation for 2 Corinthians

The NASB has a very wooden, word-for-word translation for 2 Corinthians. While we normally prefer to NASB, the translation of 2 Corinthians is often unclear and perplexing. 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

2 Corinthians 1:1-11 (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.”

Per usual, Paul points out that he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s choosing, not by his own initiative. 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 authors wrote this letter to the church in the city of Corinth, but also to the surrounding region of Achaia (e.g. Corinth, Cenchreae and Athens). This is in modern-day southern Greece.

Why did they mention Achaia instead of just Corinth? It’s quite possible that this was a jab at Corinthian pride. Paul could be subtly reminding them that they aren’t the center of the universe—let alone the greater region of Achaia. After all, the Corinthians were given to “arrogance and self-sufficiency and may think that the spiritual world revolves around them.”[9] Paul is telling them to grow a broader perspective beyond themselves. Furthermore, the greater region of Achaia was poor, while Corinth was largely wealthy. This sets up his argument for financial giving in chapters 8-9.

Paul’s theology of suffering

(1:3) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

“Blessed be” (eulogetos) doesn’t contain a verb. This is expressing what is already true of God.[10]

“The Father of mercies.” Paul opens his discussion about suffering by describing God’s abundant “mercies” (oiktirmōn). Jesus tells us to be merciful because “your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36; cf. Rom. 9:15), and 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.”[11]

Comfort is not an anesthetic. The comfort Paul is describing is not a “tranquilizing dose of grace that only dulls pains but a stiffening agent that fortifies one in heart, mind, and soul.”[12]

Comfort is not removal from painful circumstances. God doesn’t promise to protect us from all pain. But he does promise to comfort us in all our suffering. In the first-century world, people would only thank the gods for good circumstances. Cicero (1st c. BC Roman statesman) wrote that a man only thanked the gods “because he was rich, because he was honored, because he was safe and sound. They call Jupiter Best and Greatest because of these things: not because he makes us just, temperate and wise, but safe, secure, opulent, and well-supplied” (Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.36, 87).

Comfort is not a sappy, sentimental notion. Indeed, the English term “comfort” has “gone soft in modern English.”[13] The English word “comfort” comes from two Latin words that mean “with” (com) and “strength” (fortis).[14] (Think of the words “fortify” or “forte.”) The Greek term “comfort” (paraklēsis) literally means to “come alongside” or to “encourage.” It is an “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action” (BDAG, p.766). This same term is applied to the Holy Spirit, who is our “Comforter” (Jn. 14:26).

Divine comfort would be a foreign idea to the original audience. We take for granted the notion that God cares about us, but this idea was quite foreign to the Greco-Roman world. The finite deities of the Greek pantheon were as capricious as they were apathetic.[15] Pliny the Elder (1st c. Stoic) wrote, “that [a] supreme being, whatever it be, pays heed to human affairs is a ridiculous notion” (Pliny, Natural History 2.5.20).

(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.”

“[God] comforts us.” This truth carried Paul through the darkest days of his life. Now, he is sharing these life-altering spiritual realities with the Corinthians. As Paul makes clear, he had suffered deeply (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).

All our affliction… any affliction” (thlipsis). This is a key word in this letter. For Paul, it carries the concept of “pressure felt inwardly resulting from difficult outward circumstances usually associated with Christian ministry and witness in the face of hostility.”[16] Thus, it could refer to outward pain (2 Cor. 1:8; 4:8; Rom. 8:35) or inward heartache (2 Cor. 7:5; Phil. 1:17). 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.

“We will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction.” 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. Billy Graham wrote, “God doesn’t comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.”[17]

(1:5) “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”

“The sufferings of Christ are ours.” We suffer in the same way that Jesus suffered. If he suffered shamefully at the Cross, we should expect nothing better than the treatment he received.

Christ’s personal encouragement is directly correlated by the amount of suffering that we endure for him. The more we suffer, the more he strengthens. During times of suffering, we discover that we are able to withstand far more than we ever dared to imagine. We experience strength, encouragement, and courage that our world knows nothing about.

“Just as… so also.” When do we receive God’s comfort the most? Paul received it when he had “no rest” and was “afflicted on every side” with “conflicts without” and “fears within” (2 Cor. 7:5).

(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.”

“If we are afflicted… If we are comforted.” Regardless of the circumstances, Paul taught that his life was to result in “your comfort.” Whether it was “affliction” he experienced or “comfort,” Paul had an inexpressible focus on others—not himself. The reason God allowed suffering or encouragement was for Paul to bring comfort to the Corinthians. When we suffer, we don’t always know how God will use this for the good in the future (Rom. 8:28). However, we can always bank on the fact that God will use this suffering in our lives to “comfort” others.

(1:7) “Our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.”

Paul was not only willing to live a life of suffering, but he really believed that it was worth it to see the Corinthians suffering alongside him. If the comfort of Christ was true for Paul, then it was true for the Corinthians too. Surely this experience of sharing in suffering bonded Paul together with many of the Corinthians like soldiers fighting together in a war.

Paul’s personal example of suffering

(1:8) “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

What “affliction” is Paul referring to? This suffering in “Asia” refers to Asia Minor (or modern-day Turkey), where Ephesus was the capital city. Commentators have suggested several different speculations:

  • Illness? This doesn’t seem to fit, because the word for “affliction” (thlipsis) is “rarely used to describe illness.”[18]
  • Satan? Paul later 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.
  • Persecutors? We hold to this final view. 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…”). Perhaps an additional Ephesian persecution is in view (?).

Was this persecution the mob that attacked Paul’s friends in Acts 19? Barnett[19] lines up this persecution (1 Cor. 15:30-32) with the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19). However, we disagree. Paul wasn’t taken captive by the mob (Acts 19:30), and no one was ultimately harmed (Acts 19:41). Paul had faced far more dangerous and real harms than this (2 Cor. 11:23-28), and this event in Acts 19 can hardly qualify as tantamount with those others.

Kruse argues[20] that there 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). We simply aren’t 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. Not true! Just go ahead and reread this verse. In fact, this is precisely what God allowed Paul to experience. Instead of saying, “God will not give us more than we can handle,” it would be more accurate to say, “God will not give us more than He can handle.” Garland writes, “It was beyond his strength to endure but not beyond God’s grace to fortify him or God’s power to deliver him.”[21] Paul endured more suffering than he could handle on his own, yet not more than he could bear with God’s power. Those who have experienced God’s power during suffering will never forget it. They seem to be carried through times of trial. Looking back, they have no natural explanation for how they persevered.

(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 so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.”

“The sentence of death within ourselves.” The “sentence of death” was not a judicial verdict from a legal authority (contra John Calvin[22]). This sentence was “within” them. This is probably the “subjective experience”[23] that they were in a deadly situation.[24] Earlier, Paul used similar imagery of the apostles who were men “condemned to death” (1 Cor. 4:9).

“So that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” The human condition is biased and inclined to trust in ourselves, rather than 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 change the circumstances as quickly as possible to mitigate this suffering?” Or do we ask, “How can I agree with God through this experience? What is God trying to teach me through this experience?”

(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.”

Paul saw God come through for him in the past, and so he was confident of God coming through in the future. When we walk with God throughout the years, we can form an ongoing record of his faithfulness. Reflecting on God’s past interventions and God’s future promises leads to us to have present confidence. This leads to a lack of worry. After all, we will either be rescued from death (by his intervention), or God will rescue us through death (in the resurrection). Either way, we are safe when we are in God’s will.

(1:11 NLT) “And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.”

“Helping us” (sunupourgeo) is a compound word that fuses three Greek terms: “with” + “under” + “work.”[25] By praying for Paul, the Corinthians were doing the work underneath him, and consequently, building him up.

Paul was giving the credit to others for their prayers—not his own strength. In other words, if you asked Paul why he was such a powerful and influential leader for Christ, he would’ve pointed at the people who prayed for him (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).

Questions for Reflection

According to this passage, what is our role when we go through suffering? What is God’s role?

What do we learn about how to suffer well from this section?

When we suffer, we need to relate to God based on his “mercies” (v.3). People often make many assertions and even accusations against God when they suffer: “This isn’t fair!” or “Why do bad things happen to innocent people?” We have no intention of giving a full response to the problem of evil and suffering (and neither did Paul). However, the opening word “mercies” sheds considerable light on the subject.

What exactly do you think that you deserve from God? What can you demand of God? What do you have to negotiate with? The answer to all of these questions is, “Nothing.” We’re like a criminal who was caught red-handed, trying to negotiate a plea deal. Or a person negotiating with the owner of a beach by giving a grain of sand.

We can either have justice, or we can have mercy. We can have one or the other, but we cannot have both.

“I want mercy.” If we choose this option, then we can no longer stand on what we “deserve.” Mercy isn’t based on what we deserve.

“I want justice.” Ah, it’s justice that you want? As a moral violator of God and others, you deserve complete and exhaustive judgment. If you choose this option, you get a one-way ticket to hell. Any single moment that you aren’t being exhaustively judged for your moral violations, you are experiencing mercy—not justice. Indeed, when you appeal to justice, you lose everything!

Many people (most people?) can’t seem to grasp this simple, yet deep, concept. Yet, when I understand this concept:

  • I realize that every single day is a mercy of God.
  • I stop asking for what I deserve, because I realize that I’ve been living off mercy every second of every day for my entire life.
  • I stop demanding that God would fulfill my expectations, because demanding anything presupposes that I deserve something.
  • I stop comparing my circumstances to others, because I realize that neither of us deserves anything from God.
  • I stop negotiating with God, because I realize I have nothing to bargain with.
  • I stop being bitter and complaining, because I know that anything good in my life is a gift.
  • I start to get closer to God, because I begin to focus on the wealth of good things in my life, rather than the bad—which is utterly disproportionate.
  • I start to pray big prayers, because I realize that God is far more loving than I can imagine.

We (rightly) critique health and wealth teachers, recognizing that God is not our cosmic butler who will pamper us. At the same time, what does it imply when we place expectations on God to lead a relatively good life? We might actually be closer to the health and wealth teacher than to the biblical view.

God wants to personally comfort you (vv.3-7). Jesus shows up to the degree that we suffer (v.5). If you are in the middle of acute suffering, you can pray, “God, would you personally encourage me today?” The remarkable reality is that God will answer this prayer every time. He will give you the courage that you need to face the suffering ahead of you.

God wants you to personally comfort others (v.4, 6). When we suffer, we often ask ourselves, “How is God going to use this in my life?” Perhaps this is the wrong question. Or at the very least, it is far too narrow. Through his suffering, Paul had learned that God had worked in his life for the sake of others—not himself. Indeed, at this very moment, Paul was enduring deep anguish and stress. Yet, he was able to honestly tell people that he was still thriving with God, because of God’s comfort. This is one of the reasons that we withstand suffering: We care about others. If we flake out, it will have an effect on others around us.

God wants us to call other people into a life of suffering (v.7). These truths aren’t just subjectively true for me. They are objectively true for everyone. Consequently, when we call others into a life of following Christ, the experience brings us close together in our friendships as few other experiences can.

God wants us to exhaust our self-effort (v.8). God will wait until we give up. We can have our best impact when we feel like we’re at our worst. Do you feel like you’re ready to quit? You’re at the end? You keep trying, where you tried everything? This is the point where you can experience the power of God. And not a moment before. The place of defeat is the beginning of the victory. God is waiting for you to wear out and give up. As we grow with God, we gain more experience, training, and knowledge. 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).

What suffering have you experienced that you wouldn’t take away in hindsight?

Why is suffering such a uniquely powerful way for us to grow spiritually? Why is this able to draw us closer to God than almost any other avenue?

2 Corinthians 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).[26] Paul counters these points by reminding them of his sincere and authentic lifestyle.

Of course, it must’ve been 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. Garland writes, “[Paul] wants to instill their confidence in him again because if he does not, he will lose the congregation to false apostles.”[27] 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. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.”

Paul immediately jumps into defending himself and his ministry, which is a major theme in this letter. Again, this is not for the sake of “image management,” but because if they do not trust him, they will not trust his message, which is from God.

“Say with confidence” (kauchēsis) is the word normally translated as “boasting.” There was a lot of boasting going on in Corinth—especially by the false teachers. What does Paul “boast” about? He boasts that he has “depended on God’s grace” and the “God-given” qualities that were developed in his life. This is what it means to “boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31; Jer. 9:23-24).

“Clear conscience.” Paul doesn’t have anything on his conscience. This doesn’t make him innocent (1 Cor. 4:4), but it is a strong starting place. Later, he appeals for the Corinthians to use their conscience to see if Paul has done anything wrong (2 Cor. 4:2; 5:11).

Paul states that his motives in ministry have been rooted in “holiness and sincerity.” Some translations render “holiness” (haplotēs) as “simplicity.” This makes better sense of the context, because it would refer to Paul’s single-mindedness (as opposed to double-minded). Paul is describing his 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).

“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.”

The Corinthians misread Paul’s writing before (1 Cor. 5:9-11), but this was their fault—not Paul’s. The false teachers must have been arguing that he was writing one thing, but meaning another.[28] But Paul has “no hidden agenda.”[29] Or perhaps, that he wrote one thing, but he behaved differently in person. Paul’s critics said, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). But later, Paul tells the Corinthians that he was honest about what he both said and did (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

(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). Garland paraphrases, “Paul hopes that both he and they can boast in one another at the judgment, saying, Here is my church; here is our apostle.”[30]

Paul defends his travel plans

This might seem like a strange change in context: Paul moves from defending his integrity to defending his travel plans. However, the Corinthians were suspicious of Paul precisely because they thought that he lacked integrity because he didn’t show up when they expected him. The operative word here is “expected.” As we’ll see, Paul never promised to be in Corinth at a certain time, and the Corinthian expectations were at fault.

(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 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. The “double blessing” could refer to Paul visiting twice, or it could refer to how the Corinthians would have twice the opportunity to be a blessing to Paul (1 Cor. 16:3, 6-7).[31]

(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 he also needed to explain his actual itinerary: 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 with being unreliable and untrustworthy (“yes, yes and no, no at the same time”; cf. Mt. 5:37). 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!”[32] Paul’s critics weren’t simply charging him with fickleness, but also of changing his travel plans based on self-interest. The word “changed by plan” (NLT) or “vacillating” (NASB) literally means “lightly” (elaphria). This accusation had the effect of charging Paul with not having a stable or considerate character, or that he was an oath-breaker (Mt. 5:37; Jas. 5:12).[33]

What is Paul’s argument by appealing to God’s trustworthiness? (vv.18-22)

There are many levels to Paul’s argument. The Corinthians were suspicious of Paul, and as a result, Paul appealed to God’s trustworthy nature. To put it simply, if God is trustworthy and if God sent Paul, then the Corinthians should consider Paul as trustworthy. Moreover, if the Corinthians came to faith through Paul’s preaching, then their foundation is only as stable as his trustworthiness—a theme Paul will expound throughout the letter (see especially chapter 13).

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 is arguing that he needed to change his plans, but this doesn’t mean that he lied.[34] If Paul loses this argument, it could reflect poorly on God himself (v.19). He doesn’t want their cynicism to reflect poorly on Christ. This is why he appeals to the faithfulness of God, because he is ultimately defending God’s message.

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.”

If the Corinthians trusted Paul with the gospel message, how much more should they trust him in these “relatively trivial affairs”?[35] Regarding verse 19, 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.”[36]

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 brings his argument full circle: God can be trusted; God sent Paul to the Corinthians; therefore, Paul can be trusted.

“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 in return for Paul. That must’ve hurt.

“Commissioned” (chriō) is the Greek term for “anointed,” which is only used of Jesus and 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 were all anointed as well (v.19), we can infer that this is now for all believers. Belville writes, “By the action of anointing, then, Paul has in mind the Spirit’s empowering and equipping the church to carry forth Christ’s mission in the world.”[37]

(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.”

“Placing” or more accurately “sealed” (NASB, sphragizō) is a “mark of ownership, but also a guarantee of authenticity.”[38] We are permanently sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30).

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.”[39]

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, who didn’t hesitate to cause them pain (“that does not mean we want to dominate you,” v.24). The Corinthians were judging Paul’s motives. In reality, Paul didn’t come for their benefit. Paul’s purpose was to promote the Corinthians’ joy (1:24) and saving them from unnecessary sorrow (2 Cor. 2:1). Paul implies that he would’ve brought disciplinary action when he came (2 Cor. 13:1-4, 10).

“The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke.” Paul didn’t come to Corinth because he knew that this would make reconciliation more difficult. This is why he waited and wrote this letter instead. He wanted to prepare them before he arrived.

(1:24) “But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. 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.”

“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’s appeal is that they are on the same team. They are coworkers together—not enemies who cynically judge each other.

Questions for Reflection

Read 1:12-22. Much like listening to one side of a phone conversation, we only have Paul’s response to the Corinthians. Based on Paul’s response, what accusations do you think the Corinthians were hurling at Paul?

How does Paul respond to these accusations?

2 Corinthians 2

2 Corinthians 2:1-11 (Forgiving a wayward brother)

(2:1) “So I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit.”

Paul visited them in between 1 and 2 Corinthians (see Introduction), and this visit must have been tense (2:5-11; 7:9, 12; 10:10). Consequently, Paul wanted to give some time to let the dust settle before returning again. This is why he didn’t return for a double visit (“twice receive a blessing,” 2 Cor. 1:15).

(2:2-4) “For if I cause you grief, who will make me glad? Certainly not someone I have grieved. 3 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.”

This “sorrowful letter” could be a lost letter. However, 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.[40]

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

Paul’s “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.”[41] Paul didn’t write his “painful letter” to hurt them. The Corinthians misunderstood Paul’s intention. Paul wrote to them for their own good—to bring them to the point of repentance. Wiersbe writes, “[Paul] 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.”[42]

(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.”

Older commentators held that this was the man who was removed from fellowship for adultery in 1 Corinthians 5.[43] Recently, modern commentators have rejected this view, arguing that this is an unknown man who wronged Paul and the church. We reject this modern view in favor of the older theory. See (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. They might have spun this situation to the effect that this was really a personal problem between Paul and the man (i.e. “Paul had his feelings hurt, but we shouldn’t remove him from the church!”).[44] This could be why Paul is careful to note that the “majority” sided with his view.

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.”[45] We reject the notion that church discipline is equivalent with judicial punishment. Jesus already paid for our sins at the Cross. Any discipline we receive is for our good and for the good of others—not for the sake of justice. Instead, we understand this word to refer to “rebuke.”[46] The verbal form carries this meaning throughout the NT. In this case, it was the rebuke of the entire church, resulting in the man being removed.

(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 lax and permissive with the man from 1 Corinthians 5. Now, it seems that they had swung to the equal and opposite extreme, and now they were more rigid and legalistic with discipline. Paul, by contrast, is following the balanced perspective of Jesus: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3).

The Corinthians needed to learn to forgive. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.”[47]

They not only need to “forgive” the man, but also to “comfort” him. This harkens back to 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. When we are hurt, we experience God’s “comfort,” and this allows us to extend this sort of “comfort” to others.

“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.”[48]

(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). Paul took this man’s sin to Jesus 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 tactics that he uses repeatedly. This also implies that we can and should learn what these are (see “Satan’s Tactics”). In this case, Satan leverages unforgiveness and inflames bitterness in a community as a “beachhead.” He does this to establish ground from which to launch accusations into believers’ lives in hopes of dismantling the church (cf. Eph. 4:26-27). This is Satan’s tactic, and the solution is forgiveness.

“Advantage” (pleonekteo) means “to exploit, outwit, defraud, cheat” (BDAG). In this context, it could refer to Satan taking “advantage” of their bitterness, keeping a repentant man out of fellowship.[49]

Questions for Reflection

What do we learn about the nature of biblical discipline from this section? In what ways is discipline different than justice?

In what ways has the church in Corinth changed since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians?

Satan uses our lack of forgiveness as a “method” or “scheme” to ruin the church? What other tactics could Satan use that are similar to this one?

Do you see Satan using tactics in your church? Like Paul, what can you do to help people recognize Satan’s schemes and turn to God?

2 Corinthians 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.”

Why does Paul change subjects back to the account of leaving Troas for Macedonia? This anecdote seems to reinforce “his point that his failure to visit them as planned was not because he did not care for them but because he was overwhelmed with sorrow regarding them.”[50] His change of plans wasn’t capricious or trivial. He was filled with deep pain during this time.

Troas was a city in the northwest corner of Asia Minor, and God opened a great opportunity in Troas for Paul to spread Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness (cf. 1 Cor. 16:9). Again, Paul explains that he needed to change his place for the sake of lost people in Troas (“a door was opened for me in the Lord”), not out of self-interest or a capricious impulse. Incidentally, this explains why Paul later goes to Troas to teach for a week in Acts 20:7-12. Paul had likely led many to faith there (cf. Acts 16:8-11).

(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 a growing ministry opportunity (Acts 20:6-12), he had no peace of mind. Garland writes, “Again we can see Satan’s designs at work! The conflict with Corinth agitated Paul so much that it sabotaged a mission opportunity. His grief undermined his effectiveness and led him to exit doors that God may have wanted him to enter.”[51]

Apparently, Paul and Titus had planned to meet in Troas, but Titus never showed up. It wasn’t like he could check his email or text messages or GPS. His dear brother Titus was missing.

Paul became restless in spirit (i.e. depressed? anxious? lonely?). He had already been concerned with the state of the Corinthian church, and now, he became concerned with his close friend Titus. After all, 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 target for bandits (2 Cor. 11:26). 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).

Full stop.

Paul was in the midst of describing his distressed feelings about the Corinthians and Titus. Then, Paul sharply changes subjects for five full chapters to talk about Christian ministry. Scholars refer to this entire section as the “Great Digression” (2 Cor. 2:14-7:4).[52] Paul returns to how he was feeling about Titus later in the letter (2 Cor. 7:5-16). For now, 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 the 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: Many disappointments, many setbacks, and much heartache. Do you know what this is like?

  • 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?
  • Do you ever wonder if what you’re doing is really making a difference?
  • Have you 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.”

Paul uses the language of Greco-Roman culture to describe the “triumph” that we have “in Christ.” The words “leads us in triumph” (thriambeuomai) is a borrowed Latin word that describes “the elaborate celebration of victory for the conquering Roman general parading through the streets of Rome.”[53] 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.”[54] Ancient authors describe these processions in detail:

Plutarch (AD 46-119, Greek historian): “On the third day, as soon as it was morning, trumpeters led the way, sounding out no marching or processional strain, but such as the Romans use to rouse themselves to battle. After these there were led along a hundred and twenty stall-fed oxen with gilded horns, bedecked with fillets and garlands. Those who led these victims to the sacrifice were young men wearing aprons with handsome borders, and boys attended them carrying gold and silver vessels of libation. [The captured king Perseus was followed by his children] and with them a throng of foster-parents, teachers, and tutors, all in tears, stretching out their own hands to the spectators and teaching the children to beg and supplicate.… Behind the children and their train of attendants walked Perseus himself, clad in a dark robe and wearing the high boots of his country, but the magnitude of his evils made him resemble one who is utterly dumbfounded and bewildered. He, too, was followed by a company of friends and intimates, whose faces were heavy with grief. [Meanwhile, Aemilius was] mounted on a chariot of magnificent adornment wearing ‘marks of power.’ [He wore] a purple robe interwoven in gold, and held in his right hand a spray of laurel. He was followed by his army singing hymns in praise of the achievements of Aemilius.”[55]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (60-7 BC, Greek historian): “He accordingly drove into the city with the spoils, the prisoners, and the army that had fought under him, he himself riding in a chariot drawn by horses with golden bridles and being arrayed in the royal robes, as is the custom of the greater triumphs” (8.67.9-10).

Josephus (AD 30-100): He describes Titus’ entry into Jerusalem after his victory, where Titus had selected “the tallest and most handsome of the youth” to march through the Arch of Titus (Jewish Wars 6.9.2). During the procession, Titus had one of the rebels (Simon, son of Gioras) publicly executed (Jewish Wars 6.9.2). This was so popular that “not a soul among that countless host in the city was left at home” (Jewish Wars 7.5-3-6).

This imagery is indeed graphic. However, it shows the complete and utter victory of the king over the conquered. In a similar way, Jesus won his triumph at the Cross over Satan, sin, and death (Col. 2:13-15). We are part of King Jesus’ procession, who “always leads us in triumph.”[56] (We reject Barnett’s view[57] that the metaphor refers to believers as Jesus’ “prisoners of war,” which helps to legitimate Paul’s ministry.)

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.”[58] (We reject Barnett’s view[59] that the metaphor switches to the Levitical sacrifices.)

Earlier in his correspondence, Paul used this procession to refer to how the apostles are viewed as 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.

Paul uses 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 the entire time we were doubting. All of the worry and fret amounted to nothing. During these times of inactivity, we need to cling this promise, knowing that God is “always” leading us in his triumph, even when we can’t see it. We need to learn to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

(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. And who is adequate for these things?”

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 a way to know answers to the ultimate questions of life through Jesus!”). Meanwhile, another person 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 brokenness, and see that God wants to forgive them freely. Others, however, 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, while others hear about the message of Jesus and are grateful that objective meaning exists.

Regarding this phenomenon, Barnett writes, “People encounter (the aroma of) Christ crucified and risen in the one who preaches Christ crucified and risen, and that eternal destinies are determined by that encounter.”[60] This is what causes Paul to ask, “Who is adequate?” Only God can make us adequate (2 Cor. 3:5-6).

“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, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”

The term “peddling” (kapēleuō) was used of “petty traders, who would adulterate their wine with water or use false weights.”[61] Others hold that the term simply refers to being in the “business of preaching,”[62] without really caring about the content. One ancient sophist explained this approach to public speaking, “The only way [rhetoricians/sophists] will get what they are after is by winning over their audience. It is the same with a tutor of rhetoric. Like a fisherman he has to bait his hook with what he knows the little fishes will rise for; otherwise he’s left on the rocks without a hope of their biting.”[63]

Paul refuses such approaches. He wouldn’t “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.”[64]

“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), and this was what motivated his integrity.

2 Corinthians 3

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). The men who were needing letters of commendation are likely the same as those who were “peddling the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).

What does Paul mean by “commendation”? This term (synistanein) didn’t refer to boasting. Rather, it referred to having a “friendship and recommendation in the ancient world.”[65]

Why is Paul so against “letters of commendation”? After all, Paul wrote some of these letters himself for his disciples. Several examples can be cited:

Paul wrote a letter of commendation for the men who carried the money from Corinth: This was because they were carrying a large sum of money to Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:16-24). So, Paul sent them with “letters” to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3).

Paul wrote a letter of commendation for Phoebe: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:1-2).

Paul wrote a letter of commendation for Timothy: “Now if Timothy comes, see that he is with you without cause to be afraid, for he is doing the Lord’s work, as I also am” (1 Cor. 16:10; cf. Phil. 2:19-23).

Paul wrote a letter of commendation for Tychicus: “Tychicus, our beloved brother and faithful servant and fellow bond-servant in the Lord, will bring you information. 8 For I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (Col. 4:7-8).

Other believers wrote a letter of commendation for Apollos: “When [Apollos] wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace” (Acts 18:27).

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).

The “some” written of here relates back to the “peddlers of the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:17).[66] The false teachers in Corinth were most likely challenging Paul’s apostolic credentials.[67] Since the Corinthians had factions around their leaders (especially Apollos), these false teachers may have used this against Paul (i.e. “Why don’t you have letters of recommendation like Apollos?”). Garland paraphrases Paul’s tone: “Has our relationship sunk to such a low that I must now call upon outside parties to vouch for me?”[68]

 (3:2-4) “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. 4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.”

The proof of Paul’s leadership credentials comes from the Corinthians themselves: “You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1 Cor. 9:2).

People are the proof of leadership—not letters. Paul doesn’t need a letter “from” the Corinthians (2 Cor. 3:1). Rather, 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 passage doesn’t teach that the institution of the church is great, but that God’s work in people’s lives is great.

God personally gave this “letter” to Paul, placing it on his heart. This “letter” wasn’t given by the Pharisees in Jerusalem, but from God himself (“You are a letter of Christ… written… with the Spirit of the living God”). Paul carried those he led in his heart (Phil. 1:7).

This led to great “confidence” in God’s presence. When Paul looked out at the faces of the people in Corinth, this didn’t lead him to be filled with arrogance or boasting at what a great church planter that he was. Instead, this filled his heart with “confidence… toward God (v.4). He knew that none of these people would be there if it wasn’t for God’s power, leading Paul in His triumph (2:16). Barnett writes, “The activity of the Spirit in the lives of the Corinthians and others was the basis of his confidence, through Christ, that he was a true minister of God, and that, heaven forbid, he was in any sense a false minister of God.”[69] This was in contrast to the false teachers who wanted their confidence to come from letters from men.

The assurance of Paul’s leadership was subjective to Paul. It was written “in our hearts.” God assured Paul that he was always leading in triumph (2:16) by reminding him 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).

The assurance of Paul’s leadership was also objective for anyone to observe. The Corinthians and anyone else could observe this letter, because it could be “known and read by all men.”

We can all have this sort of assurance from God. Paul uses plural pronouns (Weour letter…”). God gives this “letter” to groups of people—not just individuals. The use of the word “carved” (NLT) is evocative language. You need to let God “carve” this letter into your heart, believing that he’s with you. We should never 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.

Paul is using his “letter” against the false teachers in Corinth. These false teachers were most likely “Judaizers.”[70] Paul associates their letters written with “ink” and the letters written in “stone” (i.e. the Law). Thus, 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.”[71]

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 1-4. What can we learn about this “letter” that Paul describes? Offer ten observations from the text.

Lyle Schaller was 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.”[72]

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 from Paul’s example?

2 Corinthians 3:5-18

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

#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. This must’ve been especially hard for Paul to learn as a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5-6). Paul learned not to put “any trust in his own heritage, devotion, or natural powers and now knows that the only resource from which he can draw is the infinite reservoir of grace provided by God’s empowering Spirit.”[73]

“Adequate in ourselves to consider.” Paul didn’t even think he was adequate enough to think about his adequacy coming from himself![74]

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 this person being recognized for leadership?” “What application should I offer in my teaching tonight?” “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 write, “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).

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 faster. After all, when we fail, we realize just how much we need to depend on God for his power. Moreover, 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). A law-focused approach to serving God “kills” our service. The way of the “new covenant” is empowered by the Holy Spirit, whose movement and operation is the premier distinction of the new covenant.

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.[75] Not true. First, the two other uses of the term “letter” refer to the law itself (Rom. 2:29; 7:6), not the use of the law. Second, the context refers to sanctification—not justification. Paul refers to how the Law “kills” in the context of being a “servants of a 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.[76] 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

(3:7-8) “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?”

“If the ministry of death.” 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.”[77]

“Letters engraved on stones, came with glory.” Paul wasn’t an antinomian. Later, he affirms that the Law still “has glory” (cf. v.9). Paul affirmed the “glory” of the old covenant Law (i.e. the Ten Commandments). His argument is based on the greater revelation in the new covenant.

#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. Indeed, initially, Moses “hid his face” from God at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6). 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 will never 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.”

The biggest change between the old covenant and new covenant is the work and operation of the “Spirit” (see “Who is the Holy Spirit?”). 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?

The people couldn’t stand to look at the glory of Moses’ face, because they couldn’t come into the presence of a holy God. Similarly, the law prevents us from coming into God’s presence, because it reveals our inadequacy. The “glory” of the law led people to shrink back in horror, but the “glory” of grace leads us to draw near in wonder.

(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 glorious will the work of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant be, which does not fade? We might compare this to the moon being lit up at night: Once the sun comes, the moon fades into the background by comparison.

(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” in God. This boldness “in our speech” could refer to “not mincing words.”[78] This would refute the accusation that Paul was being duplicitous in his writings—namely, that he wrote one thing but meant another (2 Cor. 1:15-24).

(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). Similar to the fence around the base of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:12), the veil allowed God’s glory to be simultaneously with the people but also guarded from the people.[79] It kept them safe, while also showing that they were distant from God.

(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 the concept of the “veil” by relating it to the unbelieving Jewish people of his day. They were still behind the “veil” that was keeping them from God, and they were unable to see God’s glory through Jesus.

At one point in his life, Paul himself had listened to the Hebrew Scriptures being read in the synagogues—being blind to the truth of Christ. Moreover, he had shared about Christ to many Jewish people in the synagogues, but they remained hardened to Christ. Paul must’ve marveled at this phenomenon: God’s own people read the Scriptures, but reject the message of Christ (see Romans 11 for more on this subject).

(3:16) “But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

When Moses would enter into God’s presence, “[Moses] would take off the veil until he came out” (Ex. 34:34). This is descriptive of coming to Christ, because we come directly into God’s presence. But this is not just for Moses. Paul now relates this Jewish phenomenon to all people (“Whenever anyone turns to the Lord…” NIV, cf. 1 Thess. 1:9).

(3:17) “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

“Now the Lord is the Spirit.” The plain sense reading associates the Holy Spirit with Yahweh. However, the difficulty with this view is that being converted to the Holy Spirit is “alien to the thought of the NT.”[80] Hence, Barnett holds that Jesus is the Lord of the new covenant, which includes the giving of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). However, the plain sense of the text implies that the Holy Spirit is the Lord being described here. We should not let our systematic theology to overturn the exegesis of a specific passage such as this. We agree with Garland[81] that Paul is associating the Holy Spirit with Yahweh. Furthermore, in the original context, Moses was coming into the presence of Yahweh God.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Holy Spirit comes to bring “liberty” or “freedom.” That is, freedom from the law. God can change your life, but he chooses to do this through grace—not law. Because of these implications for spiritual growth, commentators often hold that this refers to justification—not sanctification.[82]

(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.”

Does this refer to “beholding” (NASB) or “reflecting” (NLT, NET, NIV)? While this could go either way, the context points to “beholding,” rather than “reflecting.” In the story of Exodus 34, Moses not only beholds God’s glory with an unveiled face, but he also reflects this to others through a veiled face. However, the context is “turning to the Lord” and the “veil is taken away” (v.16). Furthermore, compare this passage with what we read in 2 Corinthians 4:

2 Corinthians 3:18

2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 6

“But we all, with unveiled face.”

“Our gospel is veiled to those who are perishing.”
“Beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord.”

“So that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

“The same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

“the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

“To give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v.6).

At the same time, the imagery from Moses in Exodus 34 describes us “reflecting” God’s glory to others. So, it seems like it would be a foreign concept that we would receive from God without reflecting it out to others. As we “behold” Christ, we are transformed to “reflect” Christ. Like Moses, we aren’t making ourselves glow, or even know that we’re glowing. But we can trust that God is changing us to become more like himself.

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 by “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.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 5-18. What do we learn about the benefits of the new covenant in this section?

What could we see in a person’s life if their confidence in ministry was rooted in their own competence, rather than God’s power?

2 Corinthians 4

2 Corinthians 4:1-18 (Breaking of the Outer Self)

The people in Corinth must’ve wondered how Paul could be so savagely persecuted, and still be directly in the center of God’s will. Just like the Maltese people who saw a snake bite Paul (Acts 28:5-6), they may have thought that Paul was being cursed by God. Paul explains the true reality of suffering in this section.

Later, Paul will state that we shouldn’t judge by these outward appearances (2 Cor. 5:16). By way of illustrating this concept, Garland notes that Paul’s experience is the opposite of the premise in Oscar Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray. On the outside, Dorian Gray looked handsome, but the portrait of his soul was grotesque. By contrast, Paul’s appearance on the outside looked marred and mangled, but his inner man was being renewed day by day to become more like Christ (2 Cor. 4:16).

(4:1) “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart.”

When God give you a ministry, this is an act of mercy. Paul viewed serving God as a costly privilege, far outweighing the trials he was going through. Paul shares similar thoughts 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). The context may even favor the translation of “timidity” or “losing courage.”[83] If you’re struggling with discouragement, it’s important to return again and again to this foundational truth: Our ministry is a priceless gift from God. This is what gives us “great boldness” (2 Cor. 3:12), which are the words that began this entire section from Paul.

(4:2) “But we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”

“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, even though this was an accusation from his critics (cf. 2 Cor. 7:2; 12:16). Instead, he argues that he was transparent about his beliefs.

“Adulterating” (doloō) means “to make false through deception or distortion, falsify, adulterate” (BDAG). This might not refer to outright denial of God’s truth. It could refer to twisting or mutating the truth. 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.”[84] These false teachers were twisting the ideas of Scripture, adding legalism to them. This could refer to selective reading, selective emphasis, or outright twisting the text to say something that it doesn’t. Wiersbe comments, “If people treated other books the way they treat the Bible, they would never learn anything.”[85]

“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).

The “manifestation of truth” refers to 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 (being a “manifestation of the truth”), there was a sense in which his gospel was “veiled.” How could the gospel be “manifested” and “veiled” at the same time? Paul explains…

(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 “world system” (kosmos). 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.” Earlier Paul wrote, “Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor. 3:16). The gospel is only veiled when we persist in rejecting it.

(4:5) “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.”

“Do not preach ourselves… bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” This is an excellent summary of what it means to serve Christ: (1) Keep the focus on him—not yourself, and (2) think of yourself as a servant—not the master. Paul’s words “stand as a rebuke to any minister of the gospel, then or since, who aspires to worldly greatness or recognition.” Failure in this area is a failure “at the most fundamental point of ministry that has any claim to be apostolic.”[86]

It must’ve been normal for the Corinthians to hear sophists “preach themselves” in teachings. Most likely, these orators subtly made the focus of the teaching about their gifts and talents. This was the opening issue that Paul raised in his first letter: “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). Seeing ministry through this lens, Paul’s critics were making everything about Paul, so he needed to defend himself. Paul, by contrast, 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.”[87] But rather than building himself up by “preaching himself,” 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). This stands in contrast to Satan “blinding the minds of the unbelieving” (v.4). Here, we see that God “illuminates the inner lives of those previously blinded by Satan.”[88] 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). In the account of physical creation, light shined out of darkness. In the same way, spiritual light shines out of those who are new creations in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17).

Breaking of the outer self

Paul just finished discussing the greatness of God in the previous verses. Now, he speaks about the weakness of his followers.[89] Specifically, he explains how God will reveal the light placed inside of his new creations (v.6). By appealing to the imagery of an “earthen vessel” or “clay jar,” Paul will state that we need to break the jar in order see the light within.

(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. 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.”[90] We might compare “earthen vessels” to a Ziploc bag or a cardboard box. We are “dirt vessels” that contain an incredible gift. We need to be weak “so that” God’s power will be released (cf. 2 Cor. 3:5-6; 12:9).

Paul uses the conjunction “but” here. This material about “earthen vessels” is in contrast to the incomparably expensive gift that God placed inside of 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.”[91]

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.’”[92]

Comparing appearances

The first attribute is the appearance of the “earthen vessel,” but the second is the internal spiritual reality. This discourse shows the differences between himself and the Stoic philosophers and sophists of his day:[93]

Stoicism

Christianity

Difficulties show what kind of men we are (Epictetus, Dissertations 1.24.1).

Difficulties show what kind of God we serve.
Suffering is overcome by reason and courage (Epictetus, Dissertations IV.7.6-15).

Suffering is overcome by a personal being living inside of us: the Holy Spirit.

Suffering is downplayed as a matter of indifference.

Suffering is downplayed compared to eternity (vv.17-18).

(4:8) “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing.”

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” Paul’s suffering and affliction were very real (see 2 Cor. 7:5). Yet, he was not “crushed” (stenochōria), which refers to being “being confined or pressed.”[94] This is because God’s provision was just as real as his suffering, and God was renewing his inner self (2 Cor. 4:16; cf. Eph. 3:16), rather than crushing it. 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.”[95]

“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 wrote that he did “despair… of life” earlier (2 Cor. 1:8). Now, however, he shares how God taught him the lesson to trust in him through these times of despair.

“Perplexed.” We are confused during suffering, but as Christians, we have no need of despair. Despair occurs when we have no ultimate answers for our suffering, no ultimate hope in God’s victory over suffering, and no ultimate comfort in our suffering.

(4:9) “Persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

“Persecuted, but not forsaken.” One of our deepest desires is to feel like we aren’t abandoned during persecution—that someone is standing with us (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.”

This passage has much overlap with Paul’s earlier words about our triumph in Christ: “God… always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14). Here we learn that the “triumph” doesn’t come through the wearing of a crown, but through the bearing of the cross.

Always carrying.” Suffering is the rule—not the exception.

“Carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” This must refer to suffering in the same way that Jesus suffered. Earlier, Paul wrote, “The sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance” (2 Cor. 1:5).

“Manifested in our body.” Paul must’ve looked mangled from all of his suffering. Garland comments, “Paul has been exposed to so much suffering that he looks like death. Some Corinthians doubted that the reign of Christ could ever triumph through such a weak and perishable apostle whose life always seemed to be at risk.”[96] However, Paul states that as followers of Christ, 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.

“Delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” The term “delivered” (paradidomai) is also used of Jesus being delivered over to death (1 Cor. 11:23; Rom. 4:25; 8:32; Gal. 2:20). If God brought life out of death through the greatest act of evil in the world (i.e. the death of Jesus), then we can trust that he will do the same in our lives as well.

The “Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is inside each and every believer (v.6), but this cannot be “manifested” until God chisels away at our outer self through suffering or what we call “breaking.” Like seeing the light of a Jack-o-Lantern through the holes in the pumpkin, God shows the light of Jesus through our scars and 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 witnessed.

Suffering grows us in ways that others means and methods simply cannot touch. Bible study, prayer, fellowship, serving, and giving of ourselves in love 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. Earlier Paul wrote, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort” (2 Cor. 1:6). When enduring suffering, many Christians want to discover how God will use it in their lives. But do we also ask how God will use this is someone else’s life?

(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 then, he affirmed his confidence that God would deliver him “from death” (116:8). Paul had the same confidence as the psalmist, 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.

“I believed, therefore I spoke.” 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 convinced about the truth of Christ, 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). This was what motivated him to “speak” about Christ to the Corinthians in the first place (v.13). He was looking forward to the day when he could be “presented” together with them at the end of history.

(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 (1) for the Corinthians and (2) for the glory of God.

Paul returns to why he doesn’t lose heart

(4:16) “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”

“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, but he has openly worked through them in this chapter for our benefit (and perhaps for his own). 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.”

Earlier, Paul referred to his suffering as being “burdened excessively, beyond [his] strength, so that [he] despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Now, he refers to it as “momentary, light affliction.” What changed? Here, Paul is evaluating and assessing this suffering from the perspective of eternity. Elsewhere, he writes, “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). Paul is able to call his intense suffering for Christ “momentary, light affliction” not through denial of his harsh circumstances, but because it pales in comparison with the “eternal weight of glory.” A lot of suffering is increased or decreased based on our perspective. Paul had his mind focusing on the “things above” (Col. 3:1-3), so this was all a matter of perspective.

These afflictions are not only outweighed, but according to Paul, these 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.”

 “Look” (skopeō) means “to pay careful attention” or to “look (out) for” or to “notice” (p.931). In other words, this verb is not a passing or passive observation, but is 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 threat of the 250lbs linebacker is very real, he needs to keep his eyes focused “downfield.” These promises of God are like life preservers. It’s our choice whether we will make these promises the foundation of our lives, or whether we will be perpetually whiplashed by our circumstances.

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 5. What does Paul mean when he writes, “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus”? What would it look like for someone to preach himself, rather than Christ?

What do you think of this statement from Cranfield? He writes, “How often is that which is hailed as a successful ministry little more than success in winning a personal following!”[97] How can we discern the difference between the two? What could be misleading factors?

Read verses 1-18. What are some key truths that helped Paul during a time of intense suffering? List these out.

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?

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?

2 Corinthians 5

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (The Afterlife)

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, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

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.

“Earthly tent.” 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 that would soon 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.[98] 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.[99] 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.” When Paul writes about our resurrected bodies being “in the heavens,” this seems consistent with his other statements about our resurrected bodies being “heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:40, 48). He writes, “We will also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49). We get these resurrected bodies “from heaven” (v.2).

(5:2) “For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.”

“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 must have left him with residual pain (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Just imagine how much your body would ache after being beaten, whipped, and stoned. Even with modern medicine, aching pain would follow you for life. In Paul’s day, he must’ve been in constant pain. It’s no wonder why he would “groan” in his mortal body (cf. Rom. 8:23). To be clear, this “groan” is not a griping dread, but rather a longing and anticipation for the future.[100]

“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. The imagery of being “clothed over”[101] describes putting a heavy coat over our current clothing. To use a modern illustration, it would be like Iron Man putting on his (nearly) indestructible and powerful suit.

(5:3) “Inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.”

To be “naked” would be to not have a 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).

What sort of body will we have during the interim? To be honest, we don’t have a clue! Following Paul’s argument, however, we will likely exist in a disembodied (non-physical) state.[102] After all, we do not receive our resurrected bodies until the return of Jesus (contra Garland[103]). However, 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 a great “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 their 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.

(5:4) “For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.”

“For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened.” 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 burden 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 being found “naked” (v.3). Again, Paul wants to be free from the pain and suffering in his physical body, but he doesn’t want his readers to think the physical 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.”[104] 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.”[105]

“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.”

“Pledge” (arrhabōn) had two basic meanings: “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.’”[106]

(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, growing his confidence and courage (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.”

Paul writes, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Is Paul advocating blind faith? No. Paul is not advocating being simple-minded or ignorant. Nothing in the context supports this reading. Rather, the context shows that Paul is arguing for a deep trust in the “unseen” promises of God over the “seen” visible circumstances (2 Cor. 4:18; Rom. 8:24-25). In context, the “sight” refers to our physical bodies and the “faith” refers to our resurrection bodies (“while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord”). It also refers to viewing people “in Christ,” rather than by outward appearances (2 Cor. 5:16). Paul is promoting living in light of ultimate rather than immediate realities. This parenthesis teaches us that we access these great truths 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. Paul uses the connecting word “for” in verse 10. Therefore, the “pleasing” Paul has in mind refers to the bema seat judgment (“the judgment seat of Christ”).

(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 stood before the governor Gallio who sat on a bema seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12, 16-17). Now, he uses this as an illustration for what will happen for all believers. Garland writes, “It is this divine judgment seat (bēma), not Pilate’s (Matt 27:19; John 19:13), not Gallio’s (Acts 18:12, 16-17), not the court of public of opinion, that ultimately counts. No one, including Christians, can escape it. We cannot melt into the crowd. We will be held accountable for our individual actions and commitments. The chances that anyone might fool the God who knows even our subconscious thoughts are nil.”[107] Of course, this will not be a judgment of condemnation, but rather evaluation.[108]

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

Questions for Reflection

Read verse 1. Why does Paul compare our earthly life to a tent? What does this metaphor tell us about Paul’s view of our lives here on Earth?

Read verses 1-10. What do we learn about our resurrected bodies from this section?

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?”

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (Sharing our faith)

Paul just finished describing his great hope of eternal life in the resurrection. Next, it would only make sense to discuss sharing about this with others that don’t have this hope. This is precisely what Paul does. But how can we share about Christ in a winsome way? Paul tells us in this passage:

#1. Persuasion

(5:11) “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”

“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord.” Paul is not afraid of God in the sense of being worried about punishment. Instead, the “fear of the Lord” refers to the “reverential awe Paul had for Christ.”[109] The expression doesn’t refer to an “unhealthy dread of God’s judgment because he knows the love of Christ.”[110] Paul had already written that we have “courage” (tharreō), which means “to have certainty in a matter, be confident, be courageous” (BDAG). He 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. Paul’s “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). This refers to evangelism (Acts 17:4; 18:4; 19:8, 26; 26:28; 28:23),[111] which 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 Barnett writes, “Every day in the life of the apostolic minister is judgment day.”[112]

(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 were “commending” themselves in various ways: their letters of commendation (3:1), their knowledge of Jesus in his earthly ministry (5:17), their Jewish heritage (11:22), and their supposed supernatural visions (12:1-7). Thus, they focused on their “appearance” before people. Yet, God says, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Paul, however, was content to take his integrity from his ministry of evangelism[113] and 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.”

“Beside ourselves” (existēmi) literally means to “stand” (histēmi) while being “from” (ek) that position. It can be translated as “astonishment” (Acts 8:9), but it can be understood as “losing one’s mind” or “being out of one’s senses” (BDAG, p.350). For instance, Jesus’ unbelieving family said of him, “He has lost His senses” (Mk. 3:21). This is the usage being used here—especially because it is contrasted with having a “sound mind” (sōphroneō). Other translations correctly render this as “out of our mind” (NIV, NET) or “crazy” (NLT).

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) This left Paul’s readers with a dilemma: Either Paul was insane, or he was utterly devoted to God. Of course, the Corinthians were also well acquainted with the sane and rational side of Paul (Acts 18:11). So, the answer to this dilemma is obvious: Paul was not insane, but utterly devoted to God. Indeed, even though Paul received the charge of being insane (Acts 26:22-24) he strictly denied this (Acts 26:25). Indeed, Paul was in good company in receiving this accusation (Mk. 3:21; Jn. 10:20).

#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 God 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).

Did Paul not have free will? The term “controls” (synechō) is only used elsewhere in Philippians 1:23. It 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, p.970). 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.”[114] Furthermore, Paul was controlled, because he was convinced. The term “having concluded this” (krinantas) shows us that he himself was persuaded by the reality of God’s love for himself and for others. 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.

Does this passage teach universalism? No. “All died” does not mean that all receive forgiveness. Whatever Paul means, he is not speaking literally, because the very next verse mentions these same people continuing to live (“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.[115] We deserve death, and Jesus paid for that death. Therefore, we “all died.”[116] Verses 18-21 make it clear that the people need to surrender to the love of God in order to be reconciled to him. Thus, Garland writes, “Only believers profit from Christ’s death.”[117]

(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 supernatural identity of Jesus. This was because Paul only recognized Jesus “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 (Acts 22:3-4; 26:9-11). 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 their “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 [Paul] 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.”[118]

Critical commentators[119] argue that this passage states that Paul had no interest in the historical Jesus (i.e. “according to the flesh” = “the historical Jesus”). Now, these commentators argue, Jesus has become the “cosmic Christ,” and we can “know Him in this way [i.e. historically] no longer.” But this is terribly misguided.

For one, Paul continued to cite the historical Jesus’ words as relevant (1 Cor. 7:12; 11:23-25).

Second, the expression “according to the flesh” (kata sarka) always follows the noun, and should be understood as an adverb (i.e. the way we know him).[120] 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).”[121] In other words, this phrase (“according to the flesh”) refers to knowing Christ—not the being of Christ.

Third, and finally, Paul writes that he knows “no one” according to the flesh. Consistency requires that Paul “to mean that he never met anyone in the flesh, which makes nonsense.”[122]

(5:17) “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Paul discovered 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.

Paul is the only NT author to use the term “reconciliation” (katallagē). When the term is in the active voice, God is always the subject; when it’s in the passive voice, humans are the subject.[123] In other words, God is always the initiator of reconciling us to him—not vice versa.

Now, 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.”[124]

(5:19) “Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

“God was in Christ.” This doesn’t mean that the first-person of the Trinity (i.e. God the Father) was inside the second-person of the Trinity (i.e. God the Son). The NIV has this right when it translates “in Christ” as having “instrumental force.”[125] Hence, it translates, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (NIV). The way God was bringing about reconciliation was “in Christ,” not that he himself was inside of Christ’s body.

“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.

“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.

In its immediate context, Paul is urging the Corinthians to be reconciled to God and to reject the false teaching in their church.[126] In other words, because God has reconciled the world, and continues to do so, the Corinthians should return to God. This need not imply that they are unbelievers. Rather, Paul is urging them to line up their condition with their position. This immediate context obviously has application for the unbeliever as well, who needs to be reconciled in the first place.

(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.”

“He made Him… to be sin.” Jesus became our vicarious sacrificing, taking on himself our sins. Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13). Garland writes, “The one who lived a sinless life died a sinner’s death.”[127]

“To be sin on our behalf” (hyper). Jesus’ death was substitutionary. Garland writes, “There is widespread evidence for the use of the preposition hyper in a substitutionary sense to mean ‘instead of another’ or ‘in the place of another.’”[128] Moreover, Paul isn’t teaching that Jesus was our representative in this passage. Jesus was sinless, and humanity is sinful. Paul uses a contrast—not a comparison. Jesus isn’t our representative, but our replacement.

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.

Questions for Reflection

Read verses 11-21. From this section, what motivators does Paul describe to share his faith?

Some people feel intimidated by the fact that God has “committed to us the word of reconciliation” (v.19). What are other reactions to this truth that we might feel?

2 Corinthians 6

2 Corinthians 6:1-18 (Suffering for Christ)

Paul’s appeal

(6:1) “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

“Working together with Him.” This continues the thought of the previous chapter of being an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Paul states that he is a “fellow worker” with the God of the universe—quite an incredible claim! (cf. 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.” This is what it’s like to receive God’s grace without putting it into practice in our lives.

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). Yet, 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 alongside the Jewish people after the Exile. Paul quotes this passage to emphasize the importance and urgency of spreading the grace of God, because now is the day of salvation” according to Paul.

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

Have you been putting off serving Christ or sharing Christ with others? 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). We have one life to make it count for eternity, and then, our opportunity is over. Forever.

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 personal integrity so that the message of Christ would not be tarnished. Paul is more concerned about seeing the “ministry” become “discredited,” than he is seeing his own reputation being discredited.

“I overcame suffering.”

(6:4-5) “But in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger.”

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. Suffering for the cause of Christ shows our authenticity. These “afflictions, hardships, distresses” are general states of suffering. The Corinthians should have “commended” Paul for his role as a servant-leader (2 Cor. 12:11), but they were confused by the false teachers.

The key to overcoming these things was “endurance.” Sometimes, serving Christ hurts badly. There is no avoiding it. Instead, we need to stand our ground, and not quit.

“In beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults.” These sufferings are all related to persecution.

“Tumults” refer to “‘civil disorders’ or ‘riots’ (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:19; 16:19; 19:29).”[129]

“In labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger.” These are sufferings related to “going without.” The term “sleepless” (agrupnia) could refer being “unable to go to sleep” (BDAG). This could imply stress or worry for the church (2 Cor. 11:29). Or it could refer to travelling at night. The former seems more likely in context.

“I simultaneously grew in love.”

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

“Purity” (hagnotēs) can refer to both moral living, as well as to having a “singleness of purpose.”[130] 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” (gnōsis) 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.”[131] 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” (chrēstotēs) 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.”[132] Jesus had this quality: He 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.” This doesn’t refer to having a spirit of holiness, but rather, 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, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.”

“In the word of truth.” This could refer to 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.

Why does Paul give these lists of his endurance and character qualities? Paul is contrasting himself with the false teachers in Corinth. We agree with Garland who writes, “Paul assumes that the gospel is discredited by those ministers who are lustful, impure, ignorant, overbearing, indignant, rude, unkind, and hypocritical in their love, cultivating those whom they think can benefit them in some way. Such ministers have neither the Holy Spirit nor the power of God.”[133]

“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). This is not our righteousness. Rather, interpreting the subjective genitive, these are “weapons provided by righteousness.”[134] The context refers to “the power of God,” not our own power or ability. These weapons, likewise, are “not of the flesh, but divinely powerful” (2 Cor. 10:4).

(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.”[135]

(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.”[136]

“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 in chapter 4.

“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, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.”

“As sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” This shows that rejoicing is not an emotion, but an action. Otherwise, how could you feel sorrowful and joyful at the same time? The key to times of sorrow is to give thanks and rejoice. Then, the feelings follow. The NLT renders this well, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.”

“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). Earlier, Paul stated, “All things belong to you” (1 Cor. 3:22).

Questions for Reflection

What do we learn about serving God from this section?

  • In order to live the life of a servant of God we need to depend on Him for “great endurance.”
  • Our attitude isn’t determined based on circumstances.
Paul appeals again

(6:11) “Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.”

“Our mouth has spoken freely to you.” This expression about speaking freely was a Greek idiom denoting candour, or straightforward speech.”[137] Paul is saying that he wasn’t holding anything back.

“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. He is asking for them to reciprocate in their love 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; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

“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 telling 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; 14:22-24). 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.[138] While Paul didn’t teach that believers should divorce non-Christians after they are already married (1 Cor. 7:12-16), they shouldn’t 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[139] and Paul Barnett[140] 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.”[141]

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

Which view is correct? We agree with Garland that “the image cannot be limited to marriage” and it “must include broader associations.”[142] Put simply, we hold that Paul is offering a broad principle that can be applied in a variety of ways. In other words, we would be mistaken to see only 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 that would all fall under this principle 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.”[143]

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.” A “yoke” is the piece of wood that held two animals together as they helped plow a field. Yoking an ox with a donkey 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. 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.”[144]

To expound on the application of this principle, we can think of several practical examples:

  • 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. This is very much being “bound” (1 Cor. 7:27, 39).
  • 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 intertestamental literature to refer to Satan (e.g. The War Rule 1:1, 5, 13, 15; 4:2; 11:8; Testament of Levi 3:3; Testament of Reuben 4:11; Jubilees 1:20).[145] It is also found throughout the literature in Qumran in the DSS (1QM 13:1-4; cf., e.g., 1QS 1:18, 24; 2:19).[146] 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.”[147]

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 Christ.

Questions for Reflection

How does Paul communicate his love for these people in this section? What approach does he take?

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

2 Corinthians 7:1-4 (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.”

Because God has provided in these ways through his Spirit (6:16) and our new identity as children of God (6:18), 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 to idolatry (10:19-21). Contrary to the Gnostic dualism in Corinth, Paul states that both the material body and immaterial soul could be polluted by sin.

“Perfecting holiness” (epitelein) means to “bring to completion” or to “bring to its intended goal.”[148] This “does not imply a process of perfection in moral holiness,” but is “developmental or processive in character.”[149] We were already made holy in our position (1 Cor. 6:11), and from this, we can grow in holiness in our condition.

The “fear of God” refers to a “reverential awe.”[150]

(7:2) “Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one.”

“Make room for us in your hearts.” Paul asks them to reciprocate the love that he has for them (2 Cor. 6:11).

“We wronged no one.” Some of Paul’s critics must have been accusing him of wronging the people. In fact, Paul was the one who was “wronged” (see 2 Cor. 7:12).

“We corrupted no one.” In 1 Corinthians 3:17, Paul uses the term “corrupted” (phtheirei) to refer to people who “destroy” the church. Paul didn’t corrupt the church, but the false teachers did.

“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 instances 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.”

Paul needs to correct and rebuke these people, but he doesn’t want this to be a crippling rebuke. To explain this, he states that his health and happiness is tied up with theirs. He would no more intentionally harm them than he would himself.[151] This relates to how “death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12).

“To die together and to live together.” Barnett holds that this could refer to literal death from persecution or spiritual “death to oneself.”[152] However, the evidence is not strong that the Corinthians were being persecuted. Indeed, just the opposite is the case: They were guilty of blending into the culture too much (1 Cor. 1:18-25; 8:10; 10:27; 14:24-25[153]).

(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.

Questions for Reflection

Paul ends the “great digression” (2:14-7:4) by stating that he is “overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” How does this compare to how he was feeling before the “great digression”? (read 1:1-2:13.)

2 Corinthians 7:5-16 (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 with regard to Titus’ safety while he was (most likely) in Philippi.[154] This is the cost of caring for others: Our hearts are intertwined with those of others. When we invest our lives in others, it can lead to deep worry when they are in danger.

(7:6) “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

“Comforts the depressed.” Paul is open and honest about his feelings—even talking about his depression to a wide audience.

How did God bring comfort for Paul’s depression? The psalmist writes, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). He often does this through other believers—in this case, Titus. God uses us to comfort others (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? Paul explains that his earlier letter (1 Corinthians) played a major role.

(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 receive it. 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 a 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.”[155]

(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.”

“You were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss.” Paul’s words fly in the face of our therapeutic culture. The notion of feeling bad or “sorrowful” seems unjustifiable—even if God approves of this in his good and perfect will (Rom. 12:2). In the end, the Corinthians felt “sorrowful” for a greater purpose—that they would avoid suffering loss. Emotional distress can be a deterrent from an even worse outcome (“suffering loss”).

(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 (cf. Rev. 18:12-13; Mt. 27:3-5; Heb. 12:17). Some sorrow can lead to “death” in the life of the believer. In extreme cases, it can even include physical death (e.g. Judas; Mt. 27:3-5).

“Without regret” (ametamelēton) is the reversal of the “regret” (metamelomai) mentioned earlier in verse 8.

(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. sympathizing with false teachers or 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 would have had the effect of validating and empowering his encouraging words. Titus will later return to pick up their financial gift (2 Cor. 8:16-24).

(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.”

“[Titus] remembers the obedience of you all.” Titus was able to witness the change in this church firsthand.

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 make things right.

(7:16) “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.”

This meeting with Titus boosted Paul’s confidence in this group.

Questions for Reflection

How did God treat Paul’s depression? (v.6)

What do you think the false teachers were saying about Paul from reading this section?

What do we learn about authentic repentance from this section?

2 Corinthians 8

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 (Grace-based giving)

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). The Corinthians had made a “previously promised bountiful gift” (2 Cor. 9:5), and Paul still planned to collect this. But before Paul could write about money, he felt the need 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 not hesitate to 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.”

“The grace of God which has been given in the churches.” If it wasn’t for God’s grace toward the churches in Macedonia (specifically Thessalonica), then they never would’ve been gracious toward others with their money.

“The churches of Macedonia.” 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.”[156] 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).

“Deep poverty.” The Corinthians were wealthy and were filled with financial “abundance” (v.14). The other churches in the broader region were poor by comparison (see introduction to 1 Corinthians). By contrast, the Thessalonians, Philippians, and Bereans were poor. This could’ve been due to vocational and economic persecution.[157] Yet, they still wanted to give liberally.

(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.

“They gave of their own accord.” They didn’t feel obligated or required to do this. This was a personal choice.

(8:4) “Begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints.”

“Much urging.” These believers were eager to give. They must’ve considered this a privilege to be a part of what God was doing.

“Favor” (charis) is the word used for “grace” throughout the NT. This is also translated as “privilege” (NIV).

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

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

“In support of the saints.” Paul doesn’t tell us who this gift is for in this letter. Elsewhere, he writes that this is “a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26).

(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.”

“Not as we had expected.” 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.

“They first gave themselves to the Lord.” God wants us to commit our lives to following Him before we commit our finances. This shows how God places relationship as top priority. When we give God leadership of our lives, this includes the financial arena as well. The “surprising generosity” of the Macedonians was “a direct result of their dedication of themselves to the Lord.”[158] Garland comments, “Generosity stems from devotion to Christ. Have the Corinthians surrendered themselves first to the Lord? Paul implies that devotion to Christ will also issue in support for Christ’s apostle.”[159]

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.”

Titus had started this campaign a year earlier (v.10), and now he is going to return to collect the money that was pledged by the Corinthians. Unlike the Macedonians, 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 these other imperative aspects of ministry. How far would you make it in your spiritual growth if you lacked “faith”? What about “knowledge”? Not very far! The same is true with regard to financial giving. We can’t expect to be entrusted with much if we can’t trust God with our money. As Jesus said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Lk. 16:10).

(8:8) “I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also.”

“Not speaking this as a command.” 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 to use persuasion instead. The Bible affirms personal ownership of our money, but it just as firmly teaches the principle of generosity. Paul takes a similar approach with Philemon (see Phile. 8, 14). Paul uses neither a laissez-faire approach nor an overbearing approach. Garland explain, “This does not mean that he sits by passively in wishful anticipation that they will choose the right thing. He is their spiritual director, and he spends two chapters outlining the reasons why they should participate.” At the same, he continues, “On the other hand, we should not ignore today that the discipline of giving, even for the wrong reasons, may eventually lead to a person giving for the right reasons.”[160] Leaders should focus on their own grace-based approach, rather than making sure the motives of everyone else’s hearts are 100% pure. Otherwise, we would need to discourage everyone from giving.

“Proving… the sincerity of your love also.” Financial giving is a way to demonstrate the reality of our spiritual dedication and love for God. Later, Paul writes, “Show them the proof of your love” (v.24). Paul isn’t using this as a threat, but instead has a “confident expectation of a good result.”[161]

(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.”

Does this verse mean that Jesus was financially poor? We think that Jesus was relatively poor. However, this verse doesn’t support such a notion. For the metaphor to work, Paul would be saying that Jesus was becoming financially poor” so that the Corinthians could become financially rich.” This isn’t Paul’s point. Rather, Jesus gave up the utility of his divine attributes in order to enter into the plight of humanity, bearing our sins. This is the basis for generosity on our behalf.

Paul uses a deep theological doctrine like the incarnation and substitutionary death of Jesus to urge them to give generously. Truly, to become Christ-like is to become a giver (Phil. 2:5-11; Jn. 17:5). Moreover, given this reality, if giving is based on understanding the love of Christ, then how much should we give? What are we not understanding about Christ’s love if we refuse to give? Garland writes, “The self-emptying of Christ for Christians should lead them to empty their pocketbooks for others.”[162]

(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.”

“The first to begin a year ago.” 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).

The Corinthians weren’t simply giving, but they had an inward “desire” to give. A desire without giving is useless, but giving without desire is religious obligation. Paul wanted both the desire and the action—not one or the other.

(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.”

“By your ability.” The Macedonians gave more than they were able (v.3). Paul is merely 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 necessary as well.

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’.”[163]

(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 even the very little that she was able to give (cf. Mk. 12:41-44).

“Acceptable according to what a person has.” Earlier, Paul told them that each person should give “as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2). This replaces the OT tithe as the standard for giving. However, as wealthy Westerners, this should be a challenge for us—not a relief!

(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.”

“By way of equality” (ex isotētos). This expression doesn’t refer to the goal, but the foundation for their giving. Even if the goal is never reached, we still give based on principles.

“Their need” refers to the believers in Jerusalem who had undergone intense poverty. This was likely due to famine and the rising persecution they were facing from the Jewish community in Jerusalem. Paul is giving us a principle of giving: We need to forsake our own greed to meet abundant need. We shouldn’t give so much that we fall into poverty. (After all, what would be the point of that? Then, others would need to give to us.) The point is that we should give up our surplus to bring others 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?

The people in the Exodus Generation weren’t satisfied with having their needs met. They had a constant desire for luxury—even if it resulted in slavery and death! (see Num. 11:5-6) The same is true of materialistic Christians. We should be grateful and content with our wages, but we still hunger and thirst for more.

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)

 

2 Corinthians 8:16-24 (How to avoid financial scandals in the church)

(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. Paul didn’t boss Titus around. Instead, he made an “appeal” for Titus to go, and Titus went “of his own accord.”

(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.”

“The brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches.” Who is this man? Paul doesn’t tell us. Many reasons have been given for his anonymity, but we’re simply not sure why Paul doesn’t tell us. All we know that that many different churches tell us that he was well-known and well respected.

Paul wanted to be “above the board” in his handling of this large sum of money. He not only has Titus but another man who had “fame… through 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 mentions a total of three men who carried this money: Titus, the unnamed brother who had a widespread reputation (vv.18-19), and another man (v.22). Why were so many men carrying this gift? Paul not only cared about generous giving, but also handling the money with integrity and avoiding suspicion. Therefore, Paul wanted several people to be accountable with the money, and these men needed to be men of proven character. 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).”[164]

We’re unsure as to whether Paul joined this crew of men to collect the money. As far as we can tell, it looks as though he didn’t personally pick up the money, but sent the other three (though see Acts 20:2-3). Barnett writes, “[Paul’s] decision that local church delegates must accompany the fund was his way of distancing himself from direct contact with the money and so protecting his own reputation.”[165]

Additionally, Paul likely wanted several men to carry the money because it would’ve been wise to have extra “muscle” to protect the money from bandits and thieves on their journey.

(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 (LXX). This seems to be a principle that could apply in other areas as well. We not only want to do what is right, but we want others to know that we’re acting with integrity.

(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.”

“Our brother.” This is the final man mentioned by Paul. Once again, this man was chosen because of his integrity (“tested and found diligent in many things”).

(8:24) “Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.”

In a sense, 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.

Questions for Reflection

What principles do we learn about motivating someone to become a financial giver from this passage?

What principles do we learn about how the church should handle its money with integrity from this passage?

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

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.”

Paul seems to be saying that they were already in agreement with giving, and this was why it was “superfluous” for them to write to the Corinthians. However, Paul is 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, NLT), but Paul wanted to make sure they “really are ready” (v.3, NLT) in the sense that they had collected the money.[166] Paul wants to make sure that the money is ready and waiting upon Titus’ arrival.

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 men across the ancient world. It would truly be an embarrassment to finance such a major trip, only for these men to get there and no one had the gift collected. Moreover, the poor Macedonians had already given their money (2 Cor. 8:2, 5), so it would be embarrassing if the wealthy Corinthians did not have money put together. Paul states that he himself would be “put to shame” if they didn’t have money prepared. Therefore, Paul is “tying his honor to the Corinthians” which “forges another link that joins them together.”[167]

(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.

“Previously promised bountiful gift… not affected by covetousness.” Apparently, financial pledging like this was common in the Greco-Roman world. In fact, the “names of pledge dodgers were published in the Athenian Agora.”[168] Hence, Paul is asking, “Do you want to be known as pledge-dodgers?”[169]

(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.’”[170]

(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.”

Financial giving is not compulsory or made under coercion. Each individual person needs to speak to God about this—not just keep up with the giving of others (cf. 1 Cor. 16:3; Acts 4:36-5:11). Paul is encouraging each believer to pray about what figure God has placed on their heart. To help understand how remarkable this is, just imagine asking the IRS, “How much should I give?” And they reply, “Just give what you have decided in your heart.” This would be ridiculous, and 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. When we give away our resources, God will quite often fill them back up. This isn’t to make us wealthy. Rather, he most likely does this so we can give more (“…for every good deed”). Garland writes, “We may not have all the money that we want, but we will have all the money we need to be abundant in our giving to others.”[171]

“All sufficiency in everything.” Cynics and Stoics used the word “sufficiency” (autarkeia) to describe a man’s self-discipline to take care of himself.[172] Paul, however, uses the term to describe how God will be the one to take care of our needs—not ourselves (cf. Phil. 4:11-13).

(9:9-11) “As it is written, ‘He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.’ 10 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.”

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 necessarily our wants. He doesn’t bless us so that we can be rich, but so we can become even greater givers to others. God will bless our lives in all ways, when we give more and so that we can give out more.

Paul quotes Psalm 112:9 to support his argument (v.9). In this psalm, the wealthy believer who fears the Lord (Ps. 112:1) gives his gifts to the poor (Ps. 112:3). As a result, he gains eternal rewards (Ps. 112:9). The careful reader will note that God is the one who provides the “seed” for the generous sower in the first place. Even when we give, this is only because God has given to us first.

(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. Moreover, the Corinthians were particularly carnal Christians (1 Cor. 3:3), and it would be downright shocking for the Jerusalem Christians to receive a gift like this from them.

(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 gift. This gift, of course, refers to “Jesus himself, who, though rich, impoverished himself to make the poor rich (see on 8:9).” He is “the divine gift which inspires all gifts.”[173]

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

How did the Corinthians respond to Paul’s appeal? This went over quite well. A year or two later (AD 56-57), Paul wrote that they were “pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26-27).

Questions for Reflection

In both chapters 8-9, Paul never uses the word “money.” What words does he use to describe financial giving instead? (Garland gives this list of terms below.[174])

  • “grace,” “privilege” (charis, 8:4, 6, 7, 19)
  • “partnership,” “sharing” (koinōnia, 8:4)
  • “service,” “ministry” (diakonia, 8:4; 9:1, 12, 13)
  • “earnestness” (spoudē, 8:8)
  • “love” (agapē, 8:7, 8, 24)
  • “willingness” (prothymia, 8:11, 12, 19; 9:2)
  • “generosity” (haplotēs, 8:2; 9:11, 13)
  • “abundance” (perisseuma, 8:14)
  • “liberal gift” (hadrotēs, 8:20)
  • “undertaking” (hypostasis, 9:4)
  • “blessing” “generous gift” (eulogia, 9:5)
  • “good work” (ergon agathon, 9:8)
  • “the yield of your righteousness” (ta gennēmata tēs dikaiosynēs hymōn, 9:10)
  • “service” (leitourgia, 9:12).

Is there any significance to the fact that he never uses the word money?

Paul never collected money from the Corinthians for himself and his own ministry. He was collecting it for the Jerusalem church. How does this fact change the way you read Paul’s appeal?

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

Of course, discussing the subject of money can be touchy in our culture. According to a 2014 survey, Americans would prefer to talk about politics, religion, or even death, rather the topic of personal finance.[175] This same study found that Americans were more worried about their financial health (49%) than they were about their physical health (42%) or their pursuit of personal relationships (21%). Why do you think Americans are so sensitive about the subject of personal finance? How might this cultural trend impact our generosity as Christians?

Watch this video of people checking out the “new” iPhone 7 on the Jimmy Kimmel Show (found here). What’s your reaction to this comical social experiment? Could there be any truth to this experiment when it comes to our spending habits?

How would you respond to someone who said this? “I’ll start giving when I am more financially stable.”

2 Corinthians 10

2 Corinthians 10 (False apostles)

From here to the end of the letter, Paul identifies the views of false teachers. Here are the relevant passages that speak about the false teachers, their accusations against Paul, and their sin in the church (for more on this subject, see the “Introduction” above).

(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). Paul had been accused of being bold at a distance, but weak in person. Here is how he navigates this situation.

(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 timid and weak: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). They argued that he wrote the “severe letter,” but he won’t speak with such severity in person. Garland explains, “To use an image from a popular film, some in Corinth had been inclined to regard Paul as if he were like the Wizard of Oz when he was finally exposed as a fraud. The wizard frightened people when he hid behind his curtain pulling levers and projecting a menacing image on a large screen with noisy sound effects. But he turned out to be bumbling and timorous when met face-to-face without his elaborate props to shield him. To their mind, Paul cuts a sorry figure when he is present with them and only dares to browbeat them in letters when he is safely out of reach (10:1, 10).”[176]

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 (praytēs, cf. Mt. 11:29). These words express a strength that is under control. Meekness is not weakness. It is the conscious choice to restrain power for a purpose—like a 900-pound horse giving a child a calm ride. Paul was willing to come with “severity” (2 Cor. 13:10) or with the “rod” of discipline (1 Cor. 4:21).

“Meek when face to face” (tapeinos) is the word “humble.” Paul’s enemies thought that calling Paul “meek” or “humble” was an insult. Later, Paul asks the Corinthians if they wished he was harsher (2 Cor. 11:20-21).

(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.”

“I ask” (deomai) means “to ask for something pleadingly” (BDAG, p.218). So much for the idea that Paul wasn’t bold! He is literally “begging”[177] them that he wouldn’t need to be bold.

Paul was willing to be bold, but he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to exert his strong personality or leverage his apostolic authority if he doesn’t need to. Paul didn’t want to lead like worldly leaders do. He states that he uses arguments to influence others—not his 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.[178] While he was still an embodied human, he wasn’t controlled by his sinful nature.

(10:4) “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.”

“Divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” Paul’s “weapons” were principally ones of persuasion—not coercion. He 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 fortresses (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).”[179] 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.”[180]

(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 lists the three major components of fighting in siege warfare: (1) destroying the fortress, (2) taking captives, and (3) punishing the resistance.[181] 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. Of course, Paul is taking thoughts captive—not people. We do not attack people, but the strongholds that imprison them. Our job is to “proclaim release to the captives” (Lk. 4:18).

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.”[182]

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).

“We are taking every thought captive.” The word “thought” (noēma) is also rendered as “mind” or “design.” Paul uses this same word to describe Satan’s “schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11), how Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4), or how the “minds” of the Corinthians have been “led astray,” much like how the Serpent deceived Eve (2 Cor. 11:3). Hence, Garland writes, “Satan holds their minds hostage, and Paul is prepared to fight a pitched battle to liberate them.”[183]

(10:6) “And we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”

The application of verses 3-5 is wide-reaching,[184] because Paul refers to “every lofty thing” and taking “everything thought captive” (v.5). However, the immediate application refers to this local situation in Corinth. Paul wants to see the church in Corinth agree with God 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). Later, Paul states that many in Corinth had continued in sexual immorality and idolatry, and he was going to bring church discipline for this (2 Cor. 12:21; 13:2). Of course, Paul’s ideal is to “work with you” (2 Cor. 1:24).

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 commission by God.

“You are looking” (blepete) should be translated as an imperative,[185] 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!” This is in contrast to only looking at the “outwardly” and judging Paul “according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 5:16; cf. 2 Cor. 10:1, 10).

(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.”

The false teachers accused Paul of being timid in person, but Paul claimed that this was false (v.2). Now, he refutes the other lie—that his letters were “terrifying” or authoritarian. Paul realizes that his letters may have come off as aggressive, but this wasn’t his authorial intent.

(10:10) “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.’”

“For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong.’” Paul’s critics were arguing that he comes off strong in written form, but he was timid and lacks rhetorical skills in person. At the very least, we shouldn’t miss that Paul was an impressive writer. Indeed, even his critics admit this.

“His personal presence is unimpressive.” Greco-Roman culture placed a high premium on the looks of a speaker. The Greek writer Epictetus writes, “A man needs also a certain kind of body, since if a consumptive comes forward, thin and pale, his testimony no longer carries the same weight” (Epictetus, Dissertations 3.22.86). 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).

Garland argues, however, that this description is not only apocryphal, but it could actually be complimentary of Paul’s appearance.[186] He cites other examples that use similar language to refer to handsome generals and even emperors. He concludes, “In my opinion, we have no reliable witness to Paul’s physical appearance and should avoid speculations about it.”[187]

“His speech contemptible.” From a mind as brilliant as Paul’s, this is hard to believe. However, Greek was Paul’s 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 his character—both in writing (“in word”) and in person (“in deed”). He argues that he is gentle (v.1), but not weak.

(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 self-fulfilling their own standard, consequently “commending” themselves (cf. 2 Cor. 3:1). Paul wanted nothing to do with this.

They were comparing themselves with themselves. This was a “popular method used by teachers to attract pupils in Paul’s day was to compare themselves with other teachers (cf. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, 2190).”[188] Garland writes, “Boasting about one’s status and achievements and comparing oneself favorably against others were routine tactics for those who aimed at gaining a following for themselves.” In fact, in the ancient world, a “person’s race, upbringing, education, status, physique, pursuits, and positions held were all fair game in sizing up their relative merits and standing.”[189]

Instead of comparing himself with the false teachers’ gifts, Paul compared himself by his suffering for Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23-29). He refused to compare himself with them in a boastful, competitive way.

Paul might even be speaking with sarcasm here. In a sense, he is saying, “I wouldn’t dare compare myself with such impressive people!” This explains quite a bit later in the letter as to why Paul calls himself a “fool” and “out of his mind” for boasting (2 Cor. 11:21ff).

(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. God had assigned this field to Paul, and the false teachers were “trespassing”[190] into his field because they were trying to usurp something that God hadn’t given to them. These false teachers were boasting “in other men’s labors” (v.15). They needed to learn “not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another” (v.16). 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.” Paul isn’t being territorial with this church in Corinth. Rather, he is rejecting the views of the false teachers that Paul has no authority in this church. Paul counters that he received this sphere of authority and influence from God himself.

(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. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes that he aims to make it all the way to Spain (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.”[191] 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. Paul possessed God’s approval, and all these false teachers possessed were flimsy pieces of papyrus (i.e. letters of commendation).

Questions for Reflection

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?

2 Corinthians 11

2 Corinthians 11:1-33 (Discerning False Teachers)

This chapter seems to expand upon 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… Then, look at my life and how much I suffer for your sake and for the sake of the gospel… And I do 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.” Furthermore, Paul knows his opponents’ message brings death, but his gospel 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.”

Is Paul going to boast about his credentials after all? Yes and no. Paul already stated that self-praise was worthless (2 Cor. 3:1, 5:12, 10:12, 18). Yet, he realizes the present situation demands that he defend himself if their faith and the gospel message was going to be protected. If Paul went down, then in many people’s minds, his message would go down with him. Of course, Paul’s opponents promoted self-praise (2 Cor. 5:12, 10:7, 12-13), and so did the Corinthians. Paul cannot help but call this “foolishness,” but he needs to engage in defending himself and his credentials nonetheless. One key difference with Paul is that he was doing this for the sake of others—not for the sake of inflating his own ego. 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.”[192] To repeat, unlike the “false apostles,” Paul’s motive was not personal gain but the Corinthians’ welfare (v.2). He is boasting “in the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:17). Paul ironically requests that the Corinthians would allow this, 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.

“Foolishness.” Paul uses variations of this term throughout this section (2 Cor. 11:1, 16, 17, 19, 21; 12:6, 11). Paul would never call this practice “foolishness,” which is something the false teachers would never say about boasting.

(11:2) “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.”

“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! (Incidentally, this is the opposite of cohabitation relationships today.) Betrothal could only be ended by a writ of divorce (t. Ketubot 8:1.), and if a woman cheated on her husband, this was tantamount to “adultery” (m. Sota 3:3;). The young woman, consequently, would live with her father, leading up to the marriage (Deut. 22:13-21). The father would watch over the daughter to make sure that she was faithful to her husband before the wedding.[193] Similarly, Paul is casting himself in this role in this metaphor, watching over the church until he can hand her over to Christ.

“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. In such a situation, you are “jealous” for the sake of the child—not for your own sake. Godly jealousy has to be for the sake of the other person—not for the sake of self. In this metaphor, Paul was the father watching over his daughter during the betrothal period. He wasn’t trying to get anything from the daughter, but to give something to her in a happy and successful marriage. Hence, “godly jealously” isn’t for the purpose of taking, but giving.

This passage also ascribes deity to Jesus. In the OT, Yahweh is the “husband” of his people (Isa. 54:5-6; 62:5; Jer. 3:1; Ezek. 16:23-33; Hos. 2:19-20); here, Jesus is the “husband” of the Church.

(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.”

“As the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness.” 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. Similarly, the battle is won or lost in our minds.

Paul is citing this passage assertorically (i.e. asserting that Satan historically deceived Eve in the Garden). Garland writes, “Satan is mentioned here and also in 11:14 and 12:7. He is identified as the god of this age in 4:4, Beliar in 6:15, and the serpent in 11:3.”[194] Barnett writes, “There is a connection between ‘Satan fashioning himself into an angel12 of light’ and ‘Eve… deceived by the serpent’s cunning’ earlier in the chapter (v. 3). Common to both references is (1) the activity of deception, and (2) the object of deception, the church. Verses 3 and 14 are to be read together. The serpent’s (Satan’s) deception of Eve (the church [of Corinth]) is achieved by these men who ‘preach another Jesus’ (‘fashioning themselves’ into something they are not, namely, ‘apostles of Christ’), so as to lead the people astray from their loyalty to Christ (v. 4).”[195]

“Your minds will be led astray.” 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.”[196]

Satan deceives people through false teachers—specifically through the means preaching and teaching (cf. Rom. 16:18-20). Barnett writes, “How was that ‘cunning’ brought to bear on Eve? It was by his words that the serpent deceived her in the Genesis account, a point Paul probably implies in that it is by what the interlopers preach that the Corinthians are led astray (v. 4).”[197] This might be why Paul didn’t mind being “unskilled” as a speaker (v.6). His content was more important than his charisma.

If Satanic sophists are truly prowling around Corinth, how do we identify them? Paul is calling the false teachers liars, but they are calling him a liar as well. How can we discern the difference between a false teacher and a follower of Christ? Paul gives three essential criteria:

#1. Listen to their WORDS

The world of spirituality is similar to advertisements on the Internet. If a friend assumed that every advertisement was good, you’d call them a fool! Such are outright scams, while others are trying to sell something that’s useless or overpriced. In the same way, just because someone is “advertising” a certain form of spirituality, this doesn’t make it real, nor does it make it good. One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to “flood the market,” so to speak, 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 content of our spirituality is important. False teachers may use Jesus’ name (and quite often they do!), they are talking about a different Jesus (another Jesus”). The same is true with the gospel message: Just because someone uses the word “gospel,” this 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 content—not the charisma—of the message.

“You bear this beautifully.” This is the same language as verse 1 (“you are bearing with me”). In a clever turn of phrase, Paul 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). But 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) is a compound word which means “over and beyond” (huper) and “exceedingly and extremely” (lian). It can be rendered as “exceedingly beyond measure” (BDAG). We wonder if these false teachers called themselves “super apostles.” Garland writes, “These rivals show themselves to be false apostles when they seek to glorify themselves instead of Christ.”[198]

(11:6a) “But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge.”

Was Paul a poor speaker? In short, no. Paul grew up in Tarsus, and he would’ve been well-trained in Greek. Strabo wrote, “The people of Tarsus have devoted themselves so eagerly, not only to philosophy, but also to the whole round of education in general, that they have surpassed Athens, Alexandria or any other place that can be named where there have been schools and lectures of philosophers” (Geography 14.5.12-13).[199] So, Paul was no slouch when it came to Greek. However, he would’ve been inferior with regard to the sophistry of these false teachers (cf. 2 Cor. 10:10). Barnett writes, “It does not necessarily follow that Paul was an ill-equipped or ineffective preacher. Few places he visited did not appear to lack a messianic assembly as a result of his ministry. His verbal skills must have been, at the very least, adequate, and, quite possibly, considerable, even though he lacked the high professionalism of the trained rhetorician.”[200]

The term “unskilled” (idiōtēs) means “a person who is relatively unskilled or inexperienced in some activity or field of knowledge, layperson, amateur” (BDAG). Paul is saying that he lacked the “the polish of a skilled rhetorician.”[201] The rhetorical flourishes of the false teachers “robs the cross of its power by making their brilliant eloquence the center of attention rather than what God has done in Christ.”[202]

Yet, Paul refuses to deny that he lacks substance and truth (“knowledge”). He’s implicitly asking, “Would you rather have a good speaker who teaches error, or a mediocre speaker who teaches the truth?” 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 and pay to come listen to them. While the sophists provided good entertainment, they were starving for true content. They focused on the medium, rather than the message. The biblical view is the opposite: Focus on the content of messengers and their message, and compare it with what has already been revealed in the 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?”

“Did I commit a sin in humbling myself…?” 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.[203] 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.”[204]

Moreover, tradesmen (like tentmakers) were viewed as low-class. The Corinthians must’ve felt embarrassed that their prized speaker and leader was a working-class man. Cicero (1st c. BC) wrote, “Also vulgar and unsuitable for gentlemen are the occupations of all hired workmen whom we pay for their labor… All craftsmen, too are engaged in vulgar occupations” (Cicero, An Essay about Duties 1.42; 2.225). Likewise, Lucian (2nd c. AD) writes that a laborer received “meagre and illiberal returns, humble-witted, an insignificant figure in public, neither sought by your friends nor feared by your enemies nor envied by your fellow citizens—nothing but just a labourer, one of the swarming rabble, ever cringing to the man above… a man who has naught but his hands, a man who lives by his hands” (Lucian, The Dream 9.). Given this cultural classism, just imagine how embarrassed the Corinthians would’ve felt with this social stigma when they introduced Paul: “Here is our esteemed apostle… He’s a… tentmaker.” Consequently, it would look like Paul wasn’t a very good speaker; otherwise, he wouldn’t need a day job. Moreover, this would’ve reflected poorly on the Corinthians if they were willing to follow such a man.

Today, universities and businesses follow the same principles. They pay big bucks for people of importance in their estimation. Paul, however, 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 in Corinth (1 Cor. 9:4-18), because they had been taught that they should pay exorbitant prices to hear erudite speakers. Paul didn’t want to be confused with this crowd and lose credibility. Therefore, 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 mentions this financial support in Philippians 4:15 and 1 Thessalonians 3:6. The Macedonians were poor (2 Cor. 8:2, 5), yet they were powerful givers. Paul already mentioned that the Macedonians had given a large sum of money to the church in Jerusalem despite their poverty (2 Cor. 8-9). Now, he mentions that the Macedonians were the ones paying Paul’s salary while he was in Corinth. To paraphrase, Paul is saying, “You Corinthians are wealthy, but I didn’t take your money. Instead, the working-class and poor Christians in Macedonia paid my salary.” This would’ve landed hard on pride of the Corinthians.

(11:10-11) “As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!”

The boasting mentioned here refers to the refusal to take money from the Corinthians. Corinth was “the major city and administrative centre” of Achaia.[205] In this culture, if you received money from someone, you owed them gifts, praise, and gratitude (Seneca, On Benefits 3.5.2). In other words, gifts were given with strings attached. Paul didn’t want to be trapped by this social convention, and he preferred to be poor but free to teach and lead how he wanted.

Refusing money could have the effect of appearing prideful on his behalf. But Paul 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 picking their pockets.

(11:13) “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”

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

Just as we learn in Galatians, we shouldn’t trust a message—even if an angel was the messenger (Gal. 1:8). This is because evil spirits can manifest as coming from God. Similarly, Paul argues, Satan himself can masquerade as a beautiful angel. Extra-biblical, pseudepigraphical Jewish literature stated that Satan appeared to Eve as an angel of light: “Satan appeared in the form of an angel and sang hymns like the angels. And I bent over the wall and saw him, like an angel” (Apocalypse of Moses 17:1-2; Life of Adam and Eve 9:1-11:3). Paul isn’t citing this literature. Rather, this concept of Satan was affirmed broadly in Jewish thinking.

We might think that it’s odd for Satan to appear as a beautiful angel. But why? This fits with his narcissism and desire to be worshipped. It would be truly surprising if Satan took the form of a sacrificial servant, giving his life for others.

(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. Paul begins to shift in this verse to looking at their “deeds.” That is, we can discern false teachers through their words (vv.1-15), as well as their works (vv.16ff).

#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 engage in boasting. But he feels that he must in order to take down these false teachers (see comments on verse 1 above). 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). He is adopting “his rivals’ ways to show how ultimately foolish they are.”[206] He is also adopting the views of the Corinthians themselves (1 Cor. 4:10).

(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. The Corinthians were “tolerant” of being spiritually abused by these false teachers, but they were intolerant of the true spirituality that Paul taught.

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.[207] Yet he 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 these false teachers (2 Cor. 11:5; 12:11). Here he argues that his heritage, pedigree, hard work, and spiritual experiences far outclass these men.

(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.”

“Are they servants of Christ?” 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?”

“I speak as if insane” (paraphronōn) literally means to be “beside oneself” or to be “irrational” (BDAG, 772). Again, you can tell that Paul really feels uncomfortable boasting like this, but he feels he needs to in order to battle these false teachers.

“Far more imprisonments.” 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 accidentally miscounted.[208] Josephus referred to this as an especially “ignominious” punishment for a free man (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.21 §238). Paul’s whippings are not recorded in Acts. However, Paul used to torture Christians in this way (Acts 22:20; 26:11), so it seems plausible that he would receive a similar punishment. 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.[209] It’s no wonder that Paul could write to the Galatians, “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). His body must’ve been mangled.

(11:25) “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.”

“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 one 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.[210] Moreover, Paul surely didn’t sail “first-class on the queens of the Roman merchant marine and may have taken more than one journey on a coastal tub that was less than seaworthy.”[211] Regarding these additional shipwrecks, Harris writes, “Paul’s life was even more colorful than Acts would lead the reader to believe!”[212]

(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.”

“Frequent journeys.” Paul was constantly moving. We might overlook this as a form of suffering, but constant travel and moving would’ve been stressful. This is especially true in a day before paved highways, police, and GPS (or even quality maps!).

“In dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers.” 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.”[213]

“Dangers from my countrymen.” Some Jewish religious leaders plotted against Paul numerous times in Acts (Acts 9:23, 29; 14:19; 18:12).

“Dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city.” 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.”

“Many sleepless nights.” 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.”[214] 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 (1 Thess. 2:9; 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 same term translated as “anxiety.” Paul includes this at the end of his list of physical torture, which shows that Paul not only struggled with bouts of depression (2 Cor. 7:6) but also anxiety. Of course, this was an anxiety for the sake of others—not for himself (cf. Lk. 13:34). Paul experienced anxiety related to his ministry on various occasions: He worried for Titus (2 Cor. 2:12-13), the Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:20-21), the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 3:1, 5, 8), and the Galatians (Gal. 4:19-20). Barnett comments, “The location of this verse at the end of the list of privations suggests that his concern for the churches was the source of his deepest suffering. The questions of the next verse, ‘Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I do not burn?’ clinch the point… The churches of God were and remain a source of joy, but also of anxiety, to those who are their pastors.”[215]

(11:29) “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”

The “weak” could refer to the theologically weak (1 Cor. 8-10). On the other hand, in the immediate context, Paul is comparing “weakness” with “strength.” Paul uses the word (skandalizō) to describe being “led into sin” or “stumbled” (1 Cor. 1:23; Rom. 16:17). We agree with Barnett[216] that Paul is referring to believers who are being taken advantage of—not the theologically weak believers of 1 Corinthians 8 or Romans 14.

Paul “inwardly burned” (NIV, pyroō) when he saw people fall into sin. This probably refers to the pain of caring. When we see people lose their faith, this hurts deeply. It’s no wonder he used the word “anxiety” (merimna) in verse 28.

(11:30) “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”

Paul really didn’t like boasting about his strengths. He preferred to 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.

(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 recorded 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.”[217]

Why does Paul specifically 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.”[218]

On the other hand, Paul could be citing this as an archetype of what his future ministry would look like. Garland writes, “Hiding in a basket is not something that someone with power would do, and the incident occurs at the very beginning of his ministry. It serves as a paradigm, as it were, for what was to come.”[219] Indeed, he speculates, “One might wonder if Paul did not intend to evoke laughter at this picture.”[220]

Questions for Reflection

Paul was under attack from the false teachers. By reading this chapter, what sorts of accusations do you think Paul was receiving?

What approach does Paul take to refute their accusations?

What are good ways to discern if a person is a good Christian leader? What are some misleading ways that could confuse our discernment?

As you read this chapter, what are some of the key differences between Paul’s boasting and regular boasting?

2 Corinthians 12

2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (The 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 fourteen years ago—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.”

“I know a man in Christ.” Who is Paul referring to here? Paul is no doubt referring to himself in the third person (compare verses 1, 5, 7). This “man” refers 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?

Why does Paul refer to himself in the third person? 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.[221] Paul was just utilizing a common literary device in his day, which was a form of modesty.

“Fourteen years ago.” If Paul wrote this letter in AD 55 or 56, then this event must have occurred around AD 41 or 42. Barnett[222] locates this event in Syria/Cilicia (Gal. 1:18, 21; 2:1; Acts 9:29-30; 11:25). This would’ve 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! (Unfortunately, he didn’t even get a book deal out of the journey!) 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.[223]

(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.”

Paul wasn’t sure if this was a bodily rapture into heaven (“caught up,” harpazō, v.4), or if this was a vision or some sort of out of body experience.

(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 the expression “describes things too sacred to be divulged.”[224] 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.”[225]

(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.”

Paul refused to boast about this vision. This experience was so personal to him that he chose to keep the content confidential (v.4), and he wanted to write about this in the third person. Moreover, he chose to spill a lot of ink about his weaknesses instead. 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.”[226] 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.”[227]

(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. They could see this with their own eyes (sees in me or hears from me.”).

(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!”

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.

Did God give Paul this thorn? Barnett[228] and Harris[229] understands that God was the one who gave Paul this thorn. 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 the 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, this could refer to some sort of demonic influence.

Why did God allow this to occur? God used the thorn to create humility in Paul. If Paul could gain humility from this thorn, then this would be worth the experience. Even when Satan attacks believers, God can use it for the good, as long as we continue to 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.”

“Implored the Lord.” 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.”[230]

“Three times.” This language of praying “three times” reminds us of Jesus’ prayer for the “cup to pass” from him (Mk. 14:32ff). 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? As we see in Paul’s life, this perspective takes time to develop and acquire. We gain this through persistent prayer.

(12:9) “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

“He has said to me.” Paul uses the perfect tense here, which implies that Jesus’ words had an ongoing application for him.[231]

“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” The word “sufficient” is in the present tense, implying ongoing sufficiency.[232] God didn’t take away the thorn, but he continued to give him ongoing grace. Acknowledging our weakness is a prerequisite for God’s power to work its way through our lives.

“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 his power could be magnified in Paul’s life. Because of this, Paul learned to boast in his weaknesses to show off the power of God, rather than his own innate strengths. Indeed, we have been seeing this throughout Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians: He repeatedly focuses on his weakness, rather than his strengths.

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. 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?”

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul isn’t saying that being weak is somehow being powerful. That is contradictory nonsense—on par with meditating about the sound of one hand clapping. Instead, Paul is saying that weakness is the necessary condition required for Jesus’ omnipotent power to work in our lives. When we are in a conscious state of weakness, Jesus can work his power into our lives. Paul discovered that he was the “most powerful when he is least reliant on his own resources.”[233]

Questions for Reflection

Paul never revealed “thorn in the flesh” actually was. Why do you think God chose to keep this vague, rather than telling us specifically what plagued Paul? (e.g. eye disease, sickness, persecution, etc.)

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 does he mean by this?

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

2 Corinthians 12:11-19 (Paul prepares them for his visit)

(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 forced 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.” 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). 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. 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 we are just a vessel or “instrument” apart from God’s empowering and guiding 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! Garland comments, “They are disadvantaged compared with other churches only in Paul’s refusal to take advantage of them.”[234] Paul sarcastically apologizes for this “wrong.” Meanwhile, the false teachers had fleeced this church up and down (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; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”

“Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you.” Paul wants to come back a third time. This implies that there was a second visit that wasn’t mentioned in Acts.

“I do not seek what is yours, but you.” Paul still refuses to 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 are significant to parents today (cf. 1 Tim. 5:8). We don’t want or need to leave a fortune behind, but neither do we want to leave nothing for our kids (Prov. 30:8). 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 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?”

This “conspiracy theory”[235] against Paul must have been that he sent his men to do what he himself did not—namely, take their money and deceive them.

(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.”[236] 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 leadership and apostolic authority. 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. His reaction is not self-righteousness, but deep sadness and “mourning” (cf. Phil. 3:18).

2 Corinthians 13

2 Corinthians 13:1-14 (The Faith versus 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.”

“Third time I am coming to you.” Paul had visited Corinth between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians. This is why he refers to his future visit being the “third” visit. Since Paul’s earlier visit didn’t go well (2 Cor. 2:1-5), so Paul is hoping that this visit will be on better terms. Indeed, he is writing this letter to set the foundation for healthy conflict.

From where is Paul quoting when he refers to “two or three witnesses”? He could be quoting the OT (Deut. 19:15). He could be quoting Jesus when he refers to the “two or three witnesses”? (cf. Mt. 18:16) He could also be referring to himself and God as the “witnesses” (2 Cor. 1:12, 23; cf. Jn. 8:12-20). We’re not sure. The point is that Paul is inviting multiple people to get involved and figure out the underlying problems in Corinth. He is going to bring all of this conflict out into the public arena.

(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. This threat didn’t come out of the blue: He warned them of this sort of confrontation during his second visit to Corinth, which had been a sorrowful and humbling experience (2 Cor. 2:1). Paul warns them again about the consequences of sin and warns about discipline for the unrepentant (2 Cor. 12:21).

“And to all the rest as well.” In Christian community, we cannot excuse ourselves as righteous if others are going astray into sin or unbelief. There are no “innocent bystanders”[237] in this sense. If we see others in sin and unbelief, it is our role to “encourage” them out of this (Heb. 3:13) and to “restore” them to a healthy walk with God (Gal. 6:1).

(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.”

This accusation must have surfaced: 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 their earlier accusation (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 (being so strong) could speak through Paul (being so weak), Paul is dispelling that accusation by showing that Christ demonstrated incomprehensible weakness by allowing himself to be crucified. 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; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” Some commentators argue that Paul isn’t referring to examining their justification.[238] 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, we reject this view because 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).

Why does Paul bring up their salvation at this point in the letter? Paul is arguing in this way, “If you are believers in Christ, how did that happen? I led you to Christ! Remember? But if I am not a Christian, then you are not Christians either.” In a sense, Paul is arguing that “an effect cannot be greater than its cause.” The Corinthians “should be examining themselves, not cross examining him.”[239]

At the same time, this is not a fear-threat imperative.[240] Earlier, Paul calls them the “church of God” (2 Cor. 1:1), and he has “confidence” in them (2 Cor. 7:4, 16). In fact, he opened both letters by affirming their salvation: “[Jesus] will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8) and “Our hope for you is firmly grounded” (2 Cor. 1:7). Moreover, he uses the first-class conditional phrase,[241] which can be rendered, “If, and I’m assuming for the sake of argument that you are, in the faith…” At the same time, Paul wants to make sure that the readers were true believers. A lot was a stake with these false teachers prowling around in Corinth, and Paul wants them to be certain of their salvation.

We might compare this to taking a vacation overseas. Your spouse might ask, “Did you remember to pack your toothbrush? Your socks? Your underwear? Do you want to double check?” If we remember packing these items, there would be no need to double check. After all, we could buy these personal items for a few bucks. However, the situation would change if our spouse asked, “Did you pack your passport? Do you want to double check?” In this case, it would be worthwhile to double check. If you forgot your passport, your vacation would be ruined! Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should check 5, 10, or 100 times. That would be obsessive and compulsive behavior. Once or twice is enough.

The same is true with regard to receiving Christ and coming to faith. We don’t need to pray for God’s acceptance and forgiveness every night in an obsessive way—just to make sure that “the prayer worked.” Jesus promised, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (Jn. 6:37). However, if we aren’t 100% sure that we’ve prayed to receive Christ, it would be worth double checking. After all, there’s nothing to lose, and everything to gain!

“Examine yourselves!” The 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 really, you should 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, “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.”[242] In other words, by testing themselves, they will be able to test the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic authority 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.[243] 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 Paul. 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.”[244]

(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.”

Paul knew his reputation would have a necessary influence on the Corinthians’ faith. But he cares more about them walking with God than he does 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 (13:4).[245] Or it could also refer to the fact that Paul couldn’t honestly admit to being guilty of false accusations when he was innocent.

(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” (katartizō) 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.”[246] 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). Paul does have apostolic “authority,” but he wants to use this to build up the church, rather than exercise discipline. The same is true of any godly leader. They would prefer to use their authority to build up the church.

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.”

Earlier he prayed for them to be “made complete” (v.9), and now he exhorts them to be “made complete.” They need to participate in their sanctification and repentance. This shows the delicate balance between God’s role and our role.

Paul leaves them with the encouragement to live healthy “body life.” If they do this, then God will be active in their midst (“the God of love and peace will be with you”). This is similar to the early church practicing the basics of body life (Acts 2:42-47). When they did this, God “added to their number day by day” (Acts 2:47).

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

Athenagoras stated that if the “holy kiss” had any other ulterior motives, then the person would be excluded from eternal life (!!).[247] This would surely scare away any creepy guys from trying to kiss the women in the fellowship!

(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 their attributes (e.g. grace, love, fellowship).

Finally, even though Paul 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.

Questions for Reflection

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? What are subjective signs that we never really came to authentic faith in Christ?

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

Based on verse 7. How do we develop a perspective like Paul’s, where we care more about people’s well-being than our own reputation? What are some small steps that we can take to grow in this area.

[1] Those who posit a lost letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians have a different timeline, because they understand Paul’s “harsh letter” to refer to this unknown letter. We hold that 1 Corinthians is the “harsh letter.” This will affect the timeline to some extent.

[2] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 5.

[3] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 26.

[4] This term is translated “distresses” by the NASB. It means “a set of stressful circumstances, distress, difficulty, anguish, trouble.” William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 943.

[5] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 556.

[6] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 14.

Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, vol. 8, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 2 Co 1:1.

[7] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 307.

Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 54.

[8] Scott Berkun, Confessions of a Public Speaker (Cambridge: O’Reilly Media, 2009), 57.

[9] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 50.

[10] See footnote. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 68.

[11] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 60.

[12] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 60.

[13] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 60.

[14] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 629.

[15] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 61.

[16] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 72.

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

[18] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 69.

[19] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 84.

[20] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 70.

[21] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 78.

[22] John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, CNTC, trans. T. A. Small, ed. D. W. Torrence and T. F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 12.

[23] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 79.

[24] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 66.

[25] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 630.

[26] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 323.

[27] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 87.

[28] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 323.

[29] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 92.

[30] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 93.

[31] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 97.

[32] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 324.

[33] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 100.

[34] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 105.

[35] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 325.

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

[37] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, vol. 8, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 2 Co 1:15-22.

[38] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 112.

[39] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 78-79.

[40] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 328.

[41] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 81.

[42] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 634.

[43] Barnett writes, “Although many commentators have identified him as the ‘incestuous man’ of 1 Cor 5:1-5, 13, there is no compelling reason to do so.” See footnote. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 124.

[44] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 126.

[45] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 82.

[46] G. T. D. Angel, “epitimao,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 572.

[47] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1958) 27.

[48] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 82.

[49] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 84.

[50] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 132.

[51] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 134.

[52] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 85.

[53] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 140.

[54] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 331-332.

[55] Plutarch, Lives (Aemilius Paulus) 6.441-47.

[56] This is contra Garland who holds that we are part of the prisoners being led by Jesus the king—being slaves of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9-13). To be frank, we find this interpretation of Paul’s metaphor so backwards that we will not interact with it here. David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 146.

[57] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 150.

[58] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 87.

[59] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 151.

[60] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 155.

[61] See Isaiah 1:22 LXX. Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 88.

[62] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 152.

[63] Petronius, Satyricon 3.

[64] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 332.

[65] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 154.

[66] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 161.

[67] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 163.

[68] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 157.

[69] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 171.

[70] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 161.

[71] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 165-166.

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

[73] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 162.

[74] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 173.

[75] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 93.

[76] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 177.

[77] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 640.

[78] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 181.

[79] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 189.

[80] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 200.

[81] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 196.

[82] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 202-203.

[83] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 204.

[84] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 102-103.

[85] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 642.

[86] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 226.

[87] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 642.

[88] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 225.

[89] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 106.

[90] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 106.

[91] Cited in Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 642.

[92] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 643.

[93] This is a summary of Garland’s work. See David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 225-227.

[94] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 228.

[95] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 643.

[96] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 57.

[97] C. E. B. Cranfield, “Minister and Congregation in the Light of II Corinthians 4:5-7,” Int 19 (1965) 164.

[98] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 258.

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

[100] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 258.

[101] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 261.

[102] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 262-263.

[103] Surely Garland affirms this basic theological fact. However, he repeatedly states that Christians receive their resurrected bodies immediately after death, and the “believer will never be found in a bodiless state.” He denies that this is referring to an “interim period or an interim state,” but this seems quite odd because Paul is surely referencing the time between our death and the general resurrection of the dead. What words would one use to describe this period? See David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 260.

[104] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 114.

[105] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, vol. 8, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 136.

[106] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 348.

[107] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 265-266.

[108] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 276.

[109] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 350.

[110] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 270.

[111] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 280.

[112] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 281.

[113] This, after all, is the context of this statement: “We persuade men” (v.11). Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 282.

[114] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 120.

[115] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 352.

[116] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 279.

[117] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 279.

[118] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 123.

[119] Rudolph Bultmann, Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (New York: Word, 1956) 197.

[120] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 283.

[121] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 123.

[122] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 283.

[123] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 289.

[124] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 125.

[125] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 293.

[126] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 311.

[127] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 301.

[128] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 301.

[129] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 130.

[130] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 357.

[131] Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 764.

[132] Colin Brown, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 105.

[133] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 310.

[134] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 310.

[135] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 131.

[136] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 358.

[137] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 133.

[138] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 359.

[139] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 134.

[140] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 345.

[141] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 346.

[142] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 331.

[143] Linda L. Belleville, 2 Corinthians, vol. 8, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 178.

[144] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 134.

[145] Cited in Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 134.

[146] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 348.

[147] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 136.

[148] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 342.

[149] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 357.

[150] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 137.

[151] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 344.

[152] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 362.

[153] The purpose of this citation is to show that unbelievers were visiting their meetings without fear of persecution.

[154] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 368.

[155] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 143.

[156] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 366.

[157] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 393.

[158] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 399.

[159] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 370.

[160] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 375.

[161] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 406.

[162] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 378.

[163] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 152.

[164] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 156.

[165] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 423.

[166] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 374.

[167] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 402.

[168] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 403.

[169] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 403.

[170] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 376.

[171] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 408.

[172] Horace, Satires (2.7.83-87). David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 408.

[173] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 449.

[174] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 369-370.

[175] “Conversations About Personal Finance More Difficult Than Religion And Politics, According To New Wells Fargo Survey.” Wells Fargo, February 20, 2014.

[176] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 432.

[177] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 460.

[178] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 169.

[179] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 169.

[180] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 169.

[181] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 435.

[182] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 170.

[183] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 437.

[184] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 466.

[185] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 171.

[186] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 448.

[187] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 448-449.

[188] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 174.

[189] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 452.

[190] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 486.

[191] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 384.

[192] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 177.

[193] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 499.

[194] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 131.

[195] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 525–526.

[196] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 178-179.

[197] Emphasis his. Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 501.

[198] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 469.

[199] Cited in Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).

[200] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 510.

[201] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 469.

[202] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 473.

[203] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 388.

[204] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 181.

[205] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 182.

[206] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 487.

[207] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 390.

[208] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 190.

[209] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 189.

[210] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 190.

[211] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 499.

[212] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 391.

[213] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 391.

[214] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 392.

[215] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 548.

[216] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 550.

[217] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 192.

[218] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 393.

[219] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 505.

[220] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 506.

[221] Manfred Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 626.

[222] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 561.

[223] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 196.

[224] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 197.

[225] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 197.

[226] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 395.

[227] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 196.

[228] To be clear, Barnett holds that God is the “ultimate source” and Satan was the “immediate cause.” He writes, “Paradoxically, God is the invisible source of this suffering in the life of Paul, his child and minister.” Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 570.

[229] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 396.

[230] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 396.

[231] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 200.

[232] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 200.

[233] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 525.

[234] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 530.

[235] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 533.

[236] Murray J. Harris, “2 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), 401.

[237] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 542.

[238] Dwight L. Hunt, “The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 819.

[239] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 545.

[240] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 607-608.

[241] 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…”

[242] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 212.

[243] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 608.

[244] Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 608-609.

[245] Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 213.

[246] Dwight L. Hunt, “The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary, ed. Robert N. Wilkin (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 820.

[247] Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis 32. Cited in David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 555.