Deeply personal, 2 Corinthians is a letter that resonates with many of today’s Christians. Written by Paul along with Timothy, the letter reveals the difficult, often painful realities in ministering to and unifying the body of believers in Corinth. Striving to repair the strained relationship he has with the Corinthians, Paul begins his letter reassuring the people of Corinth that they will not have another painful visit, explaining that his recent visit did not go as planned and that he sincerely wanted them to know that he had a deep love for them. The letter continues by describing the role of an Apostle in ministering the New Covenant; making practical arrangements for collecting gifts for the struggling believers in Jerusalem; and defending his Apostleship and integrity. In refuting and condemning false teachers, Paul encourages the faithful to stay committed to the truth which is often a challenge and in closing reaffirms his deep love for them. More than his other letters, this one shows us Paul at his most vulnerable. With his integrity in question, he defends his faith and Apostleship. Drawing from personal experiences, he shares the persecution he suffered in Jesus Christ’s name and the chronic “thorn in the flesh” that keeps him grounded and reliant on God. Recounting how God refused his heartfelt request to remove suffering from his life, Paul embraced suffering saying (2 Corinthians 12:9):
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Grounded in faith, Paul understood that God is sovereign and in control of every aspect of our life… including suffering. While difficult, he surrendered to God and to the pain that was preparing him for a greater purpose that would be revealed in His perfect timing. Until then Paul found comfort in knowing that when he was at his weakest, he could rely on God as the source of infinite strength. A beautiful lesson we all have an opportunity to learn.
While the New Testament leaves you with the impression that 2 Corinthians was Paul’s second letter, it was in fact the fourth letter he wrote to the community in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul references his first letter saying:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.
From there, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians… his second letter… which Paul asked Timothy to deliver to Corinth. In the meantime, Paul returned to his ministry in Ephesus, where he continued to be concerned about the church in Corinth. Weak and struggling with spiritual immaturity, the community was increasingly tense and divided due to the arrival of an opposing teacher. Presenting himself as an apostle, this opposing teacher questioned Paul’s authority and was misleading the community with false teachings. In an attempt to solve the turmoil, Paul traveled to Corinth. Unfortunately the visit was unsuccessful and only fueled the church’s growing resistance.
Upon returning to his work in Ephesus, Paul wrote a third and painful letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:3-4) saying:
I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
Following this painful letter, Paul departed for Macedonia. Once there, he received encouraging news from Titus regarding the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:13):
In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.
This news prompted Paul to write a fourth letter entitled “2 Corinthians”, which he composed near the end of AD 56, possibly in the city of Philippi.
This letter consists of five sections:
- Salutation and Thanksgiving (Chapter 1)
Paul introduces himself and Timothy as the authors of this letter; praises and thanks God for the comfort He provides to all; and describes changes to upcoming travel plans.
- Characteristics of an Apostle (Chapters 2 to 7)
Paul discusses forgiveness; the role of an Apostle in ministering the New Covenant; and the characteristics of an Apostle. More specifically, he explains that his ministry is not about him; rather it is about sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ alone. Further, that as Christians, they too would experience suffering as he did, but compared to eternity with Christ, the sufferings of this world would be temporary and serve a purpose.
- Collections for Jerusalem (Chapters 8 and 9)
Paul encourages the Corinthians to give an offering to the believers in Judea as they had promised, saying that if they gave generously. they would also “reap generously”
- Paul Defends His Authority (Chapters 10 to 13)
In response to those criticizing him and questioning his integrity and Apostleship, Paul defends his ministry and declares that those who preach a Gospel differing from that of Jesus are false, deceitful teachers who should not be trusted or accepted. In Chapter 12, Paul details the persecution he suffered in Jesus Christ’s name and the mysterious “thorn in the flesh that keeps him reliant on God.
- Concluding Exhortations and Benediction (Chapter 13:5)
Paul closes the letter by challenging Christians to test their faith, saying … if you want to know if you are a Christian, if you want to know if you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, then you must test yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5) “to see if you are in the faith”; examine yourself with Scripture.
Describe a time in your life when you were at your weakest, What strength did God provide you to get you through it?