Second Corinthians is the fourth letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, around 56A.D. Much of it is in defense of his apostleship; the remaining chapters repeat the themes of Spirit living and repentance he wrote in his first letter.
This is perhaps the most personal of Paul’s letters. In it, one can see his humanity. Because he is being accused of being a false apostle, he pleads his own case. But his writing is deeply personal. He shares with them about a time of deep depression, of fear. He lets them hear his anger and sarcasm. He opens his heart and shows his vulnerability and love.
Yet through it all, he retains humility. When he boasts, he boasts in the Lord. He continues to lay out a convincing case for the new covenant (Chapter 3), but his main subjects are his apostolic authority and the authority of Christ in a believer’s life.
As he uses the word “we,” for himself, I believe you and I are to understand he also refers to us, for these are overarching themes in all of his letters.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. (2:14-16)
The Imperatives (The Commands)
- Rely not on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead. (1:9)
- We behave in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom. (1:12)
- Turn to forgive and comfort anyone who has caused to pain; reaffirm your love for him so we would not be outwitted by Satan nor ignorant of his designs. (2:5-8,11)
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered 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. (3:3)
- For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. (3:9-10)
- We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word. What we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord (4:1-2,5)
- So we are always of good courage. We walk by faith, not by sight. We make it our aim to please Him. (5:6-7,9)
- We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (6:1)
- Excel in the grace of generosity. Each one give from his heart, not reluctantly or from compulsion. (8:7, 9:7)
- Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. (13:5)
- Rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (13:11)
Even though Paul defends himself in this letter, one of the first things he insists upon is forgiveness and restoration of the church member who has caused the trouble. He sees it as not so much causing him personal pain, but creating the church pain, and he wants the gaping wound to be healed (2:5-11)
Because he has been through many trials, he is able to encourage and comfort because God first comforted him. He now encourages them to pay it forward.
As we examine our lives in Christ, we will be reminded of the grace we have been freely given, the difference between the old and new covenants, and our call to love others as God loves us.
The Indicatives (Truths in Christ)
- God delivered us from peril once; we rely on Him to deliver us again. (1:10)
- We behave righteously by the grace of God. (1:12)
- God has put His seal on you and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (1:21-22)
- Our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (3:5-6)
- Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (3:17-18)
- But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (4:7)
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (4:16-18 NRSV)
- He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (5:5)
- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. All this from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.(5:17-19)
- 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. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way. (9:10-11)
- My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (12:9)
- Jesus Christ is in you. (13:5)
If Paul is correct, that our ministry is to reconcile the world to God, how to we do that without love? Without compassion? Without relationship?
As some claim the right to admonish as Paul did, or overturn tables as Jesus did, we must remember we are neither apostles nor the Christ. We are disciples; as such our calling has been made biblically clear. We can possess gifts, prestige, knowledge and money. But I refer back to 1 Corinthians, because Paul said it best:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)