Series: 2 Corinthians
Greetings, brothers and sisters in Christ! Today we begin what will probably be a long journey in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. It is no secret that
most Christians are far more familiar with First Corinthians than with this second letter to the same body of believers. In academic circles, this is considered to be the most difficult of Paul’s letters, and there are reasons for such an opinion. However, do not allow the attitudes of scholars to scare you off from this book. It is a warm personal letter written to people that the apostle dearly loves. And as we read it and study it together, we will hear Paul speak with all the fire that comes from love for the Lord Jesus Christ and love for Christ’s people.
As we take our first steps into Second Corinthians, we must remember that the New Testament letters are just that—letters. They are not concise, finely tuned academic documents prepared for the very learned. They are personal conversations about matters of God’s truth, and like spoken conversations may wander somewhat. For example, think of the conversations we have in our small groups. As I have already said, Second Corinthians is a deeply personal letter and so it has more of this free-form flow of content, than of other letters like Romans or even First Corinthians. This letter begins as a letter typically would at that time, following the formula the writer to the recipients and greetings. But Paul enriches this format with Christian truth. The written is not ordinary, but called by God. The recipients are not ordinary, but set apart as God’s chosen people. The greetings are not ordinary, but present all that we need for life and godliness (cf. Garland).
Usually, at the start of the study of a Biblical writing, the teacher covers the background to the writing. So then, the human writer is the apostle Paul. This is not seriously disputed. We will say more about the recipients of the letter shortly. It was written from Macedonia about 54/55, after two visits to Corinth and three previous letters (only 1 Corinthians is part of the Holy Scriptures). Paul writes for at least five purposes.
a. To defend himself from the charge of unreliability made by some opponents.
b. To encourage the Corinthians to restore someone who had been disciplined.
c. To clarify the nature of his apostolic ministry.
d. To encourage the Corinthians to complete their collection for the suffering believers in Jerusalem.
e. To teach them the true nature of the Christian way of life.
I. The senders of the letter
Clearly Paul is the writer, but he joins his coworker with him, as he does in other letters (Ph, Col, 1 Th, 2 Th, and Phm; Sosthenes in 1 Cor). He wants his friends in Corinth that he is not a lone wolf, but others stand with him in this message.
1. He is an apostle of Christ Jesus. The word “apostle” means “sent one”, and when it is used of one of Christ’s apostles, it means sent as his commissioned representative. From the time of his salvation, Paul had this sending from Christ (Ac 9:15-16). Every apostle of Christ had to see the risen Christ (Ac 1), had to be appointed by him, and had to have his calling authenticated by miraculous signs (2 Cor 12:12; cf. Heb 2:3-4). So for Paul, his life’s significance was inseparably connected to Christ and his mission. As an apostle, Paul had authority in the church, and we must agree with the apostle’s teachings that they received from the Spirit of God.
2. He is an apostle by the will of God. It was not some occupation that he chose. It was God’s choice (cf. Gal 1:15-16). God wanted him to do this.
Point: In our anti-authority age, it is too easy for us to dismiss Paul’s claim or to simply ignore it. But the Holy Spirit is very serious as he leads Paul to write these words. Paul writes with Christ’s authority; therefore, we must listen, believe, and obey.
B. Timothy – We first encounter him in Acts 16, where he joined Paul’s ministry team.
1. There are rather divergent views about the reason for listing Timothy as a sender. Some suppose it was to rehabilitate Timothy in their opinions. But this reads a lot into the story of Timothy’s relationship with the Corinthians. Plus, if this is a reason, Paul doesn’t really follow up in the remainder of the letter. Others think it was simply because of their familiarity with Timothy and his interest in them.
2. More significant is the way that Paul identifies Timothy—“our brother”. Paul recognizes the grace given to his friend (that he is a member of God’s family), as he likes to refer to all believers as “brothers”. Since Christ has redeemed us and the Father has adopted us, we share in sonship in Christ. Therefore, we need to encourage a family atmosphere in Christian gatherings. However, there is no idea of Timothy as “an apostle”, and apostleship is a hot issue in this letter. Though Paul highly esteemed Timothy, he did not call him an apostle, though he was part of Paul’s missional team. I wish that some of our friends in the emerging church would learn from Paul’s example. They are too loose in the way they speak of apostleship.
II. The recipients of the letter
A. The church at Corinth
1. The meaning of “church” (which has always been a poor translation from the Greek).
a. It does not mean many things that the word has acquired over two thousand years of church history.
b. It does mean “assembly”. God has brought his people together as a new people to declare his praises and to make more followers of Christ.
2. The significance of this term is that we must see the church as Christ’s assembly or community that has the Holy Spirit. The church is a whole in union with Christ (cf. Eph 2:11-22), and it is manifested in various local assemblies or congregations of people who are in Christ.
B. The saints in the province of Achaia
1. The meaning of “saints” is “set apart ones”. It is a term declaring our position. God has set us apart to him that we might be his people and live for his glory. This speaks of our identity.
2. It seems that though the apostle was primarily addressing matters in the assembly at Corinth, he realized that it had a wider significance.
Apply: We share in this identity as Christ’s assembly and as those set apart for God. We must look at ourselves as in Christ together for God’s purposes in Christ. We share in a great blessing and mission. Look around at each other now. The people who believe in Christ that you share faith with are very significant. You and I must regard our calling and each other very highly. It is a privilege and a deep responsibility to be members with one another in Christ’s body.
III. The prayer for the recipients of the letter
A. The prayer is directed to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is to be honored as the source of all blessing, and the Son as the means through which all blessing comes. This phrase sets forth the deity of Christ.
1. He is addressed on the same level as God the Father. This could not be done, if he was not coequal with God in being and worth.
2. He is addressed as “Lord”, which was the usual word in the Greek Old Testament for translating the Hebrew “I AM”. The way that this word is used many times in the NTS makes clear that Christ (cf. Mk 1:3; Jn 20:28; etc.)
B. The prayer asks for two great blessings: grace and peace.
1. Grace refers to “God’s unsought and unmerited favor in Christ which is sufficient for every need…” (Harris). In this letter Paul will show us various facets of the “diamond” of grace and what God goes for us in his grace in Christ.
2. Peace is the fullness of blessings that is ours because of our justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Rm 5:1). Paul wants his readers to enjoy the practical benefits of that peace in a world that is crazy.
1. Believer in Jesus, rejoice in all that God the Father gives you in Christ! Treasure each shared blessing. Talk of them with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Live as richly blessed people.
2. If you are not yet in a personal, saving, believing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, you may be saved by him today. Turn from you empty way of life that leads to eternal destruction, and trust in the Lord who is able to rescue you and to make deep and lasting change in you. Today may be the first day of eternal life and joy for you!