Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians

There is some debate over how many letters Paul wrote to the Corinthians, with some considering that this second letter as we have it is, in fact, a composite of three, a fraction of the first plus the third and fourth. As one would expect, many scholars will insist that Second Corinthians is complete in its own right. This summary will treat this letter as one since it ‘forms a coherent whole… Tradition has been unanimous in affirming its unity (the early church fathers, for example, knew the letter only in its present form)… none of the Greek manuscripts break up the book’ (Quoted from the New International Version introduction to 2 Corinthians). First Corinthians dealt with problems in the church in Corinth. After this letter was written, misunderstandings arose between Paul and the Corinthian church, which caused great distress to Paul, leading him to make what he described as a painful visit to Corinth. After this painful visit, he wrote a letter ‘with many tears’, then sent Titus to them to try to appease the situation there. When Titus returned with good news from Corinth, the relieved Paul wrote this second Epistle.

Paul excuses his not coming to them

[2Cor 1] Following his initial greeting, Paul offers thanksgiving to God for bringing him and his companions through all their tribulations, particularly mentioning their troubles in Asia and the prayerful support of the Corinthian church. He appeals to their recognition of his integrity and that of his fellow labourers, mentions his intent to visit them and excuses his not doing so.

Preparing the way for his next visit

[2Cor 2] Paul’s earlier letter was written with much anguish and in tears. He now exhorts them to forgive the repentant sinner and confirm their love for him. Paul then gives thanks to God, reflecting on his recent ministry centred on Macedonia.

The ministry of the New Testament

[2Cor 3] Paul explains how he doesn’t need letters of confirmation of his ministry as an apostle, since the converts at Corinth were more than sufficient commendation. He then draws a comparison between the ministry of the law (the Old Testament), the truth of which remains veiled to the Jews, and that of the Spirit (the New Testament) and its superiority in that it is able to lead Christians to salvation.

Afflictions in ministry

[2Cor 4] Paul explains the integrity of their ministry and that any failure is because unbelievers were being blinded by the god of this world (Satan). His preaching is of Christ and he, being merely an earthen vessel, gives glory to God. Troubles and afflictions are suffered but do not deter, since their faith in Him who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise them. Consequently, their afflictions are considered light when compared to the prospect of eternal blessings.

Paul’s ministry of reconciliation

[2Cor 5] Paul expresses his desire to be with the Lord, but there is also the need to be about his ministry, a need driven by the Spirit and the knowledge he will be judged, for all will appear before the judgement seat of God. It is for the love of Christ that he labours to persuade all to be prepared for that day, by becoming new creatures in Christ, who died that we might be reconciled to God. This, Paul says, is his ministry, that of reconciliation.

Paul appeals to the Corinthians

[2Cor 6] Expressing the many trials he has suffered to bring his message to them, Paul appeals to them not to have received the gospel in vain. They are not to fellowship with unbelievers, for their ways have nothing in common with Christ’s ways. His appeal is that of a spiritual father to his children.

Paul’s joy with the Corinthians

[2Cor 7] Paul reflects on the concern he had for them whilst in Macedonia, and how the news that Titus brought of their reformation turned that concern to great joy. Their reformation had been brought about because of his earlier letter, and he is able to rejoice that his boasting to Titus concerning them, and his confidence in them, is now validated.

The collection for the Christians at Jerusalem

[2Cor 8-9] Paul praises the Macedonian churches for their generosity in giving, and encourages the church at Corinth to emulate them. Nevertheless, he advises them that their giving should be with a willing heart and not such that it would prove a burden to them. Paul commends the integrity of Titus and  others who are being sent to them for the purpose of collecting the church’s offerings. However, Paul recognises his writing to them concerning giving is hardly necessary, but he desires that their collection should be made before he arrives so as not to appear to be by coercion, should some Macedonians come with him. They are reminded that being generous in their giving results in generosity from God, particularly when giving is from the heart and not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver and His grace will abound towards them.

Paul’s defence of his apostolic authority and the area of his mission

[2Cor 10] There are those who oppose Paul (vs 2, 10, 12), so here he seeks to vindicate himself. He asserts his spiritual authority in preaching and in his punishment  of offenders, emphasising his relationship with Christ and authority through Him. He refuses to behave like the false teachers amongst them who judge themselves by comparison with one another, but measures himself according to his own rules that focus on glorifying God.

Paul forced into foolish boasting

[2Cor 11-12] Paul apologises for what he is about to write, for he has a great love for them and is fearful they may be drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel by false teachers. He then boasts of his own ministry, comparing himself to other apostles, and emphasises how he was supported by the church in Macedonia whilst bringing the gospel to them at Corinth. Paul mentions the deceitful nature of false teachers, then boasts of all his troubles and afflictions in support of himself as a true apostle. Paul relates his own glorious conversion and how he suffers an infliction, his ‘thorn in the flesh’, which in answer to pleas in prayer was told by Christ, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ In this he even takes pleasure in his sufferings, as they bring glory to God and vindicate his position as an apostle. He now tells of his intention to visit them again, expresses his love for them, and tells them of his apprehension that he might still find unrepentant sinners in their midst .

Final warnings

[2Cor 13] Reminding them that his next visit will be his third, Paul warns them he will not be weak in dealing with sinners, and pleads with them to examine themselves so that they might be true to their faith. He concludes with a final exhortation of Christian love and his prayer of grace.
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