Heavenly Citizens in Earthly Shoes: How Paul Defends His Ministry in 2 Corinthians Book I: Chapters 1-4 (Volume 13)
2 Corinthians Book I: Chapters 1-4: Volume 13 of Heavenly Citizens in Earthly Shoes, An Exposition 1
The second letter to the Corinthians is one of the most personal and passionate epistles in the New Testament. It reveals the apostle Paul's heart for the church in Corinth, which he had founded during his first missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18). It also exposes the challenges and conflicts that he faced from false teachers, who questioned his authority, integrity, and message. In this letter, Paul defends his apostolic ministry, explains his change of plans, urges reconciliation with the repentant sinner, encourages generous giving for the saints in Jerusalem, boasts in his weaknesses, warns against being unequally yoked with unbelievers, appeals for a complete restoration with the Corinthians, and tests their obedience to his commands.
2 Corinthians Book I: Chapters 1-4: Volume 13 of Heavenly Citizens in Earthly Shoes, An Exposition 1
In this article, we will focus on the first four chapters of this letter, which form the first part of a larger exposition series. We will explore how Paul presents God as the source of comfort, triumph, glory, and power in his ministry, despite his affliction, opposition, weakness, and suffering. We will also learn how we can apply the timeless truths and principles from this letter to our own lives as heavenly citizens in earthly shoes.
Chapter 1: God's comfort in affliction
The author and the recipients of the letter
The letter begins with a typical salutation, identifying the author as "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" (2 Cor. 1:1a). Paul asserts his divine calling and authority as an apostle, which was challenged by some in Corinth. He also mentions his co-worker, Timothy, who was with him in Macedonia when he wrote this letter (2 Cor. 1:1b; cf. Acts 20:1-6). Timothy had been sent by Paul earlier to Corinth to remind them of his ways and teachings (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10-11).
The recipients of the letter are "the church of God that is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia" (2 Cor. 1:1c). Achaia was the Roman province that included Corinth and the surrounding regions. The term "saints" means "holy ones", and refers to all who are set apart by God through faith in Christ. Paul addresses the believers in Corinth as members of God's family and God's temple, despite their many problems and divisions (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; 3:16-17).
Paul then greets them with his usual blessing of "grace and peace" from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:2). Grace is God's unmerited favor and kindness, which is the source of our salvation and sanctification. Peace is the result of grace, which brings us reconciliation and harmony with God and others. Paul wishes them to experience more of God's grace and peace in their lives.
The purpose and the occasion of the letter
After the salutation, Paul immediately launches into a thanksgiving section, which is common in his letters. However, unlike his other letters, he does not thank God for the Corinthians themselves or their faith, love, or gifts. Instead, he thanks God for His comfort in affliction (2 Cor. 1:3-11). This indicates that Paul was going through a severe trial when he wrote this letter, which he later describes as a "deadly peril" that made him despair of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
What was this affliction that Paul faced? Although he does not give us the details, we can infer from the context and clues that it was most likely a combination of external persecution and internal pressure. On one hand, Paul was constantly exposed to danger and hardship as he preached the gospel in hostile environments (cf. 2 Cor. 4:7-12; 6:4-10; 11:23-33). On the other hand, Paul was deeply concerned and burdened for the churches that he planted or cared for, especially the church in Corinth (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28-29; 12:14-21).
Paul had written a previous letter to the Corinthians, which we call 1 Corinthians, to address some of the issues and questions that they had raised or that he had heard about from others. He had also planned to visit them twice, once on his way to Macedonia and once on his way back from Macedonia (cf. 1 Cor. 16:5-7). However, he changed his plans after he learned that his first letter had caused them sorrow and that there was a serious conflict between him and a certain individual in Corinth, who had openly opposed and insulted him (cf. 2 Cor. 2:1-4; 7:8-12; 12:14-18). Instead of visiting them directly, he sent Titus to deliver a second letter, which we call the "severe letter" or the "letter of tears", to confront them with their sin and to test their loyalty to him (cf. 2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8-16; 12:18).
The main themes and the structure of the letter
In light of this background and situation, Paul wrote this letter, which we call 2 Corinthians, to express his joy and relief over the Corinthians' repentance, to defend his apostolic ministry against the false teachers, and to prepare them for his upcoming visit and collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. The letter is not a systematic or logical treatise, but a personal and emotional appeal, which reflects Paul's changing moods and circumstances as he wrote it.
The letter can be divided into five main sections, each with a different tone and focus:
Chapters 1-7: Paul explains the nature and purpose of his ministry, which is characterized by affliction and comfort, weakness and power, sincerity and integrity. He also expresses his joy and gratitude for the Corinthians' repentance and reconciliation with him.
Chapters 8-9: Paul encourages the Corinthians to excel in the grace of giving, by following the example of the Macedonian churches and the Lord Jesus Christ. He also assures them of his accountability and motives in handling the collection for the Jerusalem saints.
Chapters 10-13: Paul confronts the false teachers who boast in their outward appearance, credentials, and achievements. He also defends his authority and credibility as an apostle by boasting in his weaknesses, sufferings, and supernatural experiences.
Chapter 13: Paul concludes the letter with a final warning and exhortation for the Corinthians to examine themselves, to repent of their sins, and to be ready for his third visit. He also prays for their restoration and peace.
In this article, we will only cover the first section of the letter (chapters 1-4), which deals with Paul's explanation of his ministry.
Chapter 1: God's comfort in affliction
Paul's greeting and thanksgiving (1:1-11)
As we have seen earlier, Paul begins his letter with a salutation (1:1-2) and a thanksgiving (1:3-11). In his thanksgiving, he praises God as "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (1:3), who comforts him in all his affliction (1:4a). The word "comfort" appears ten times in this section, and it means more than just consolation or sympathy. It also implies encouragement, strengthening, and help. It comes from the same root word as "Paraclete", which is a title for the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).
comfort, and as a means of ministering to others who are in similar situations. He says that "as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (1:5). He also says that his affliction and comfort are for the sake of the Corinthians' salvation and endurance. He says that "if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer" (1:6). Paul views his relationship with the Corinthians as a mutual bond of suffering and comfort, which leads to their ultimate good and God's glory.
Paul then expresses his confidence and hope in God, who delivers him from deadly peril (1:8-10). He does not specify what this peril was, but he says that it was so severe that he felt the sentence of death in himself (1:9a). He says that this happened "to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (1:9b). Paul recognizes that God allowed this affliction to teach him to trust in God's power and promise, rather than in his own strength or wisdom. He also testifies that God has delivered him from such a terrible death, and he will deliver him again (1:10a). He says that God is the one "on whom we have set our hope that he will deliver us again" (1:10b). Paul affirms his faith and hope in God, who is able to rescue him from any danger or difficulty.
Paul then appeals to the Corinthians to join him in praying for him and his co-workers (1:11). He says that "you also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many" (1:11). Paul acknowledges his dependence on the prayers of the saints, and he invites them to participate in his ministry through their intercession. He also anticipates that God will answer their prayers and grant them deliverance and blessing, which will result in thanksgiving and glory to God from many people.
Paul's change of plans and motives (1:12-24)
After thanking God for his comfort in affliction, Paul proceeds to explain his change of plans regarding his visit to Corinth (1:12-24). He anticipates that some of the Corinthians might misunderstand or misrepresent his decision as a sign of fickleness, insincerity, or selfishness. Therefore, he appeals to his clear conscience and godly sincerity as the basis of his conduct (1:12). He says that he has behaved with "simplicity and godly sincerity" toward them, not with "earthly wisdom" or "fleshly cunning". He contrasts his motives and methods with those of the false teachers, who used worldly wisdom and deceptive tactics to manipulate and exploit the Corinthians.
He also assures them that his previous letter was not intended to cause them pain or confusion, but to communicate his love and care for them (1:13-14). He says that he wrote to them "only what you can read and understand" (1:13a), not with hidden meanings or ulterior motives. He also says that he hopes that they will fully understand and appreciate him and his ministry "on the day of our Lord Jesus" (1:14b), when all things will be revealed and judged by Christ. He expresses his confidence and pride in them as his work and joy in the Lord.
He then explains why he changed his plans to visit them twice (1:15-22). He says that he wanted to visit them twice "in order to spare you" (1:23b), not to lord it over them or to take advantage of them. He implies that if he had visited them directly after writing his severe letter, he would have had to confront them harshly and discipline them severely. Instead, he wanted to give them time and space to repent and change their attitude toward him, so that when he came he could enjoy their fellowship and refreshment. He also wanted to bless them twice with his presence and gifts, as a sign of his generosity and affection.
firm actions toward the Corinthians.
He also appeals to God as his witness and guarantee of his sincerity and faithfulness (1:18-22). He says that "as surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No" (1:18). He denies the charge of being inconsistent or unreliable in his words and plans. He says that "the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you...was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes" (1:19). He affirms the certainty and consistency of his gospel message, which is based on the person and work of Christ, who is the fulfillment of all God's promises. He says that "it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (1:21-22). He asserts the security and assurance of his relationship with God and with the Corinthians, which is sealed by the Holy Spirit, who is the pledge and foretaste of God's eternal inheritance.
Chapter 2: God's triumph in ministry
Paul's decision and desire for reconciliation (2:1-11)
As we have seen earlier, Paul changed his plans to visit the Corinthians because he wanted to spare them from pain and sorrow. He also wanted to give them an opportunity to deal with a specific case of sin and offense that had occurred among them. In this section, he addresses this issue and urges them to forgive and restore the offender (2:5-11).
Paul does not name the offender or the offense, but from the context and clues we can infer that it was someone who had publicly opposed and insulted Paul during his second visit to Corinth (cf. 2:5-8; 7:12; 12:14-18). This person had caused grief not only to Paul, but also to the whole church, who had failed to defend Paul or discipline the offender (cf. 2:5; 7:12). Paul had rebuked them for their negligence and complacency in his severe letter, and had demanded them to take action against the offender (cf. 2:6-9; 7:12).
Apparently, the majority of the church had heeded Paul's instruction and had punished the offender (2:6a). However, they had not gone further to forgive and comfort him, but had left him in a state of excessive sorrow and shame (2:7a). Paul was concerned that this might drive him to despair or cause him to be overwhelmed by Satan's schemes (2:7b; 11a). Therefore, he appeals to them to reaffirm their love for him and to restore him to their fellowship (2:8-9). He says that he has already forgiven him "in the presence of Christ" (2:10), and he asks them to do the same for his sake (2:10b). He says that his purpose in writing was "to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything" (2:9b). He wants them to prove their loyalty and obedience to him as their apostle by following his example of forgiveness.
Paul's decision and desire for reconciliation shows his wisdom and grace in dealing with a difficult situation. He does not ignore or tolerate sin, but he confronts it with truth and justice. He does not hold a grudge or seek revenge, but he forgives it with love and mercy. He does not abandon or reject the sinner, but he restores him with gentleness and compassion. He follows the principles that Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-20 about how to deal with sin in the church.
Paul's confidence and gratitude for God's work (2:12-17)
After addressing the issue of reconciliation with the offender, Paul resumes his narrative of his travel plans and movements. He says that after he wrote his severe letter from Ephesus, he went to Troas to preach the gospel (2:12a). Troas was a port city on the northwest coast of Asia Minor, where Paul had seen a vision of a man from Macedonia inviting him to come over and help them during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10).
the Lord" (2:12b). This means that he had a great opportunity and success in spreading the gospel and making disciples in that city. However, he says that he had "no rest for my spirit" (2:13a), because he did not find Titus there, who was supposed to bring him news from Corinth. He was so anxious and troubled about the situation in Corinth that he could not fully enjoy or utilize the open door in Troas. Therefore, he decided to leave Troas and go to Macedonia to look for Titus (2:13b).
Paul says that he did this "thanks be to God" (2:14a). He does not complain or regret his decision, but he expresses his gratitude and praise to God, who always leads him "in triumph in Christ" (2:14b). He uses the imagery of a Roman triumphal procession, which was a public celebration for a victorious general and his army. The procession would include the display of the spoils of war and the captives of the enemy, who would be either executed or enslaved. The general would also spread the fragrance of incense and perfume along the way, which would be a pleasing aroma for the victors, but a dreadful smell for the vanquished.
Paul applies this imagery to his ministry, which is a participation in Christ's triumph over sin, death, and Satan. He says that God leads him and his co-workers as captives of Christ, who have been conquered by his grace and love. He also says that God manifests through them "the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere" (2:14c). He means that they spread the gospel message of Christ to everyone they meet, which has different effects on different people. He says that they are "a fragrance from death to death" to those who are perishing, but "a fragrance from life to life" to those who are being saved (2:16a). He implies that the gospel is either a stumbling block or a stepping stone, depending on how people respond to it. It either hardens them to their condemnation or softens them to their salvation.
Paul then asks rhetorically, "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2:16b). He acknowledges the solemnity and responsibility of his ministry, which involves eternal destinies and divine realities. He also contrasts himself and his co-workers with the false teachers, who are "peddlers of God's word" (2:17a). The word "peddlers" means "corrupters" or "adulterators", and it refers to those who dilute or distort God's word for their own profit or popularity. Paul says that he and his co-workers are not like them, but they are "men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God" (2:17b). He asserts their integrity and accountability in their ministry, which is done according to God's will and before God's eyes.
Chapter 3: God's glory in the new covenant
Paul's defense and commendation of his ministry (3:1-6)
criticized the false teachers for boasting in their letters (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 3:21-23; 4:18-19).
Instead of human letters, Paul says that the Corinthians themselves are his letter of recommendation, which is written by the Spirit of God on his heart and on their hearts (3:2-3). He uses the metaphor of a letter to describe his relationship with the Corinthians, which is based on his ministry among them. He says that they are "a letter from Christ delivered by us" (3:3a). He means that they are the result and evidence of Christ's work through his preaching of the gospel. He also says that this letter is "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (3:3b). He contrasts the new covenant ministry of the Spirit with the old covenant ministry of the law, which he will elaborate further in the next section.
Paul then expresses his confidence and competence for such a ministry, which comes from God and not from himself (3:4-6). He says that "such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God" (3:4). He means that he trusts in God's power and promise to work through him and his co-workers, despite their weakness and unworthiness. He also says that "not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God" (3:5). He means that he does not rely on his own strength or wisdom to carry out his ministry, but on God's grace and provision. He also says that God "has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit" (3:6a). He means that God has qualified and enabled him and his co-workers to serve under the new covenant, which is based on the Spirit and not on the law. He explains why this is so by saying that "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (3:6b). He means that the law brings death and condemnation to those who cannot keep it, but the Spirit brings life and righteousness to those who believe in Christ.
Paul's contrast and comparison of the two covenants (3:7-18)
In this section, Paul compares and contrasts the two covenants, the