Second Corinthians can be outlined in a variety of ways. We have chosen here to present its material under four major headings: a salutation in ; an introduction in ; the main body in —; and a closing in The salutation states that the letter is from Paul and Timothy, and identifies the church in Corinth and the saints in the surrounding region of Achaia as the intended audience.
It includes a short blessing that serves as a greeting. The inclusion of an introduction is somewhat atypical of Paul. This particular introduction describes the intense suffering that Paul underwent for the sake of his ministry, as well as the comfort he received from God. While it primarily functions to make the Corinthians sympathetic toward Paul's arguments, it also offers great consolation to all believers who suffer for the sake of the gospel, even referring to the Lord himself as "the God of all comfort. The main body takes up the bulk of the letter, and includes five major subsections: a defense of Paul's conduct in —; a defense of Paul's ministry in —; instructions regarding the collection for Jerusalem in —; a continuing defense of Paul's ministry in —; and a discussion of Paul's upcoming visit in — In —, Paul defended his conduct in two matters.
First, he explained why he had not visited Corinth as he had previously planned, and second, he addressed a wrong that had been done to him by one of the Corinthians. Evidently, after Paul had made known his plans to visit Corinth, a conflict had arisen between him and some within the Corinthian church. As a result, Paul knew that if he were to visit them, he would have to be confrontational, perhaps even disciplinary.
So, as an act of forbearance on Paul's part, he changed his travel plans. A number of Christians in Corinth failed to realize that this was an act of mercy, and were quite offended by his withdrawal. Some even questioned his credibility. In what may have been a related matter, Paul also addressed the situation of a particular believer who had wronged him and who had subsequently been disciplined by the church.
Paul assured the church that he had forgiven the man, and that the discipline had been sufficient. And he instructed the church to reaffirm their love for the man and to restore him to their fellowship.
In —, Paul addressed a far more serious issue: certain individuals within the Corinthian church continued to doubt Paul's apostleship. As we have already seen, Paul had addressed this issue in 1 Corinthians. But from his words in 2 Corinthians, it is obvious that a number of Christians in Corinth had not repented of their error. So, Paul provided an extensive defense of the nature of his ministry, proclaiming that his call and his power both came from God, and making it clear that to reject his apostleship had grave consequences.
2 Corinthians 1
In fact, in 2 Corinthians he went so far as to suggest that those who doubted his apostleship were not even saved:. Those who have not been reconciled to God still bear the weight of their own sin — they have not been forgiven. And of course, Jesus himself taught that to reject his ambassador is to reject him as well. As the Lord told his ministers in Luke This subject was so important that Paul spent much of this letter addressing it in various ways. The last thing he wanted was for the Corinthians he loved so dearly to perish because they refused his gospel.
The third subsection consists of instructions regarding the collection for Jerusalem, and spans — The Christians in Jerusalem were in great need at this point in time because of a famine in Judea. In response to this crisis, the Corinthian church, along with many other churches, had committed to sending funds to aid them. But the Corinthians had failed to finish collecting their contribution.
So, Paul engaged in a lengthy discussion of the value of sacrifice for the sake of others. He appealed first to the exemplary giving of the Macedonian churches, who gave even more than they could afford to give, and were happy for the honor of serving in this manner. He also appealed to the example of Christ, who gave up his very life that the Corinthians might enjoy abundance.
2 Corinthians 1 NIV - Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the - Bible Gateway
Beyond this, he encouraged the Corinthians that God would bestow great blessings on them if they followed through with their prior intentions. In —, Paul returned to defending his apostleship. It would seem that the Corinthians Christians highly valued in their leaders those traits that were well respected in the world, and because Paul did not exhibit these traits, many in Corinth discounted his teaching and authority. For example, the Corinthians apparently valued trained speakers, and expected their leaders to draw a salary of sorts.
Because Paul did not practice professional rhetoric, and because he chose to support himself financially while in Corinth so as not to burden the church, he was considered inferior.
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In response to this attitude, Paul laid out his qualifications, both to assert the legitimacy of his ministry and to rebuke the Corinthians for holding to improper values. Among other things, he mentioned his tremendous sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, and his experience of viewing heaven itself. Moreover, he went on the offensive, attacking and discrediting the false apostles who spread their lies in Corinth, but who nevertheless carried earthly credentials that the Corinthians respected.
Of these men, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians By calling the false apostles servants of Satan, Paul made it clear that they were unbelievers and liars, and that those who listened to them did so at their own peril. Finally, in —, Paul turned to the matter of his upcoming visit. He was now planning to come to Corinth regardless of whether or not it would mean judgment upon the church. Sadly, he feared that he would find many professed believers who had been warned about their grievous sins but who had refused to repent. Paul instructed his readers to examine themselves to make sure that they were in the faith.
Listen to his words in Paul knew that many who professed faith did not actually trust in Christ for the salvation. So he earnestly preached the gospel of repentance, faith and salvation to the Corinthian church in the hopes that his opponents would become genuine followers of Jesus Christ. Having looked briefly at the background and content of Paul's canonical letters to the Corinthians, we should turn our attention to our third concern: Paul's theological outlooks as reflected in 1 and 2 Corinthians.
So far in this lesson, we have reviewed several specific problems that Paul tackled in 1 and 2 Corinthians.
And we have suggested that the Corinthians' poor understanding of eschatology significantly influenced all these problems. So, as we have done in our previous lessons on the heart of Paul's theology, we will now turn our attention to the ways in which Paul used his doctrine of the last days or his eschatology to correct his audience. As we have noted throughout these lessons, Paul's eschatology was rooted in common Jewish outlooks on God's design for history.
During the first century, the dominant Jewish understanding was that the Old Testament divided history into two ages: "this age" and "the age to come. The event that marked the transition between the ages was the coming of the "Messiah" or "Christ. Of course, followers of Christ, such as Paul and the other apostles, recognized that history had not unfolded in precisely the manner Jewish theology had expected.
Beyond all doubt, Jesus was the Messiah, and he inaugurated the age to come.
The Epistles to the Corinthians
But he did not completely fulfill all the promised blessings. In short, we live in a time when the coming age of eternal salvation is "already" here in some ways, but "not yet" here in others. Ours is a time when the present age and the age to come exist simultaneously. During this overlap of the ages, although we enjoy many blessings of the age to come, we also must recognize the strife and hardship that continue to exist in the age of sin and death.
Paul knew that this pattern of eschatology created difficulties for the early church because it left them guessing at how much of the age to come was already present. In previous lessons, we have seen that some believers took rather extreme positions on this matter. For example, the Thessalonians developed what we called "overheated eschatology," believing that in the immediate future, Jesus would do away with the present age and consummate the age to come in all its fullness.
As a result, they considered life in this age to be largely unimportant. The Galatians, in turn, acted as if the age to come had not arrived in any significant way. We labeled their error "under-realized eschatology. As we look closely at the problems in Corinth and at Paul's responses to them, we will see that the Corinthians also had greatly misevaluated the plan of the ages. In their minds, the present age of sin and death had largely ceased to exist, leaving them free to enjoy the full bounty of the age to come.
Their error was one of "over-realized eschatology.
Although Paul addressed the Corinthians' problems in numerous ways, we will focus on three elements of his eschatology that regularly surfaced in these letters: faith, especially with regard to the preeminence of Christ; hope in the future rather than in the present world; and love as a critical element of Christian living. Let's look first at the ways Paul emphasized the preeminence of Christ to cure the imbalances in the Corinthian's faith.
In this lesson we have seen that the Corinthians' pride and arrogance caused many problems in the church. In large part, this arrogance developed because the Corinthians had lost sight of the exaltation of Christ as Lord over all and Savior of all. With regard to Christ's Lordship they de-emphasized his role in consummating and ruling his kingdom.
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As odd as it may sound, some Corinthian Christians acted as if Christ had brought in the kingdom of God in nearly all its fullness, so that they were already enjoying many if not most of the eternal blessings that God has in mind for believers. They also acted as if Jesus had appointed them as rulers over his newly established earthly kingdom. This appears to have been the opinion especially of those Corinthians who wielded authority in the church. They imagined that Christ had given them this power because they were wiser and more spiritual than the others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
And they looked down on others who, in their eyes, had not merited such great rewards. Listen to the way Paul rebuked them for this kind of thinking in 1 Corinthians In this passage Paul mocked the arrogant thinking of these Corinthians. They thought they had merited status and honor, but in fact it was Christ who had given them these things. They knew that Christ's loyal followers would reign on the restored earth with him one day, but they foolishly thought that their reign had begun even though Christ had not yet returned as king.
And they claimed for themselves wisdom and strength and glory that rightly belonged to Christ alone. In certain respects, these errors are understandable. The Corinthians rightly assessed that believers will reign on the new earth after Christ has restored it. And they properly understood that believers receive eternal rewards based on their actions in this life.
Since they believed that the final state of the kingdom was basically at hand, it was natural for them to think that they had already been glorified and had received their rewards. Moreover, since Christ was nowhere to be seen in this supposedly restored kingdom, it would have been easy for them to downplay his ongoing role as ruler.