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Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Paul's SECOND letter to the Corinthians

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A. Paul's Visits to Corinth


The Acts of the Apostles records two of Paul's visits to Corinth:


•  On his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18)

•  a year and a half stay

•  some suggest Paul first arrived in Corinth in AD50 and left AD52, and then travelled back to Caesarea

•  On his third missionary journey (Acts 20:2,3)

•  he went down to Greece for three months and from his writing in this letter we must assume he went to Corinth a second time.

•  In 2 Cor 2:1 he says he doesn't want to make another painful visit to them. Now there was no hint of that in the first, very successful visit, so it infers a second visit in which he had to bring painful correction.

•  Paul also spoke of an anticipated third visit , (2 Cor 12:14, 13:1)

•  In this second letter he makes direct reference such a possible visit, also with indirect references (10:2, 12:20,21, 13:10).

It would appear, therefore, from 2 Corinthians that he made a second visit which had proved very painful, even though there is no named second visit in Acts.


B. Paul's Letters


We refer to 1 & 2 Corinthians but 1 Cor 5:9 seems to indicate a prior letter which they misunderstood and which would have been written after his initial visit in AD52, after which he composed what we now call 1 Corinthians.

It would seem, therefore, he followed this up with a second visit that felt very painful and after he left, he composed 2 Corinthians , which is very much first an apologetic for all he had said and then, second, a challenge to prepare for a third visit.


C. Why Read 2 Corinthians


Well to be honest it is not a very easy letter to read in that Paul seems to bend over backwards to appease his readers in the earlier chapters. Let's try and lay out again what happened:

•  he made a first visit to Corinth that lasted two years.

•  after he left they appear to have written to him asking about sexual conduct (1 Cor 7:1) and he had replied (1 Cor 5:9) – his first letter which no longer exists.

•  he seems to have followed this up with his second letter that we know of as 1 Corinthians after he received word that all was not going well in Corinth.

•  following this he seems to have made the second visit which did not go well.

•  after he left, he wrote his third letter that we know as 2 Corinthians .


Yes, it is a somewhat confusing history but it shows

•  the success of the missionary ventures (the first extended visit),

•  the problems the church faced and needed help with (their letter and his first letter),

•  the ongoing nature of such difficulties (needing him to write 1 Corinthians with much extended and corrective teaching),

•  the further ongoing nature of those difficulties which necessitated a second visit,

•  the volatile nature of humans who make up church that meant Paul was fairly heavy handed and was probably rebuffed, needing him to write 2 Corinthians with a heavy sense of conciliatory exposition while at the same time maintaining his authority as an apostle.


Further comment and interest may be generated by looking at the overall structure of the letter:


D. Contents:


Part 1: Explanatory

Ch. 1: Explanations and Apologies

•  he shares the life-threatening difficulties they went through in Macedonia

•  also why they had not managed to come to them again


Part 2: Defensive in respect of his MINISTRY

Ch. 2: Aspects of Ministry

•  he had written to them before, out of anguish of heart

•  he refers to the sinner who has now repented

•  the ministry of the gospel is like sharing a life-bringing scent

•  yet sometimes it is a hard ministry when it is rejected

Ch. 3: Qualifications & the nature of the new covenant

•  the Corinthians who are the fruit of their ministry are also proof of it

•  it is a wonderful ministry in that it brings the glory of the Lord to believers

•  the Law brought a fading glory but this glory of the Spirit is lasting

Ch. 4: Preaching & Apostolic Weakness

•  this ministry is delivered with integrity and brings light to believers

•  unbelievers are blinded by Satan who prevents them believing

•  the apostles were like clay pots that contained God's glory

•  although they frequently felt exhausted God renewed them

Ch. 5: Perspectives from Heaven

•  the strains on the human body from their ministry turns Paul's thoughts to the new heavenly body he will one day receive

•  once he thinks like that, he views others from that perspective

•  the pathway to that is the ministry of reconciliation, us to God

Ch. 6: Apostolic Hardships & calls to respond

•  realising that produces a call to realise that ‘today' is the time of God's favour

•  to maximise that call they seek to avoid any hindrances in themselves

•  he expresses the hardships they've gone through to do that

•  the end result is to be a pure, holy and distinct people

Ch. 7 : Bridge Building

•  as part of that avoiding hindrances, he seeks to build a bridge to their hearts

•  he shares the comfort they have received by hearing of their love for them

•  he realised his previous letter was hard, but it was worth it having brought forth repentance and change

•  and further shares how blessed they were by Titus's report on his return.


Part 3: Administrative

Ch. 8: About the Collection

•  approaching the plan for a collection to help Jerusalem, he tells of how the Macedonians gave

•  he hoped they would now give in the same way

•  they would shortly be sending Titus with two others to take the collection

Ch. 9: More about the Collection

•  Paul explains why the team is coming – to help out with last minute admin.

•  He spells out spiritual principles of giving – be generous and give from the heart – and that will bless the givers, the receivers and God and the church generally.


Part 4: Defensive & Challenging in respect of his AUTHORITY (in Preparation for a further visit)

Ch. 10: Appearances & Boasting

•  (In preparation for coming again v.2) His detractors will see he is the same face to face as he is in his letters, wielding God's authority

•  he will not go beyond what God has given them to do and what they have achieved in his defence against such people.


Ch.11: Folly & Boasting

•  Paul distinguish himself from the workers of the enemy

•  he does it by boasting of the way of life he has lived, serving without payment, coping with counterfeit ministries, and coping with perils of all sorts.

Ch.12: Power for ministry, grace for weakness

•  he obliquely refers to a vision he had and the suffering through a ‘thorn in the flesh' he has had to endure to combat his pride
•  he asks them to remember the Spirit's accreditation of him when he was with them, the signs wonders etc.
•  he talks of coming again and denies the false accusations that he had been a burden to them when he had come before
•  he asks them to think what he will feel when he comes again. Will it be pleasure at what he finds or will it be sorrow that they have not put their house in order?

Ch.13: Get ready for a third visit

•  He envisages a potential third visit whereby the truth about the church can be ascertained by him and he can deal with rebels

•  he expects them to check themselves out and put their house in order so he does not have to exercise Christ's authority when he comes.


Note: Some commentators refer to the difference in feeling between chapters 2 to 7 and 10 to 13, the latter feeling less apologetic and more challenging. It has to be speculation, as we are not told the reason, but it may be that this letter was written over weeks if not months and in such time, a) Paul could have had time to reflect and pray over the situation more fully, or b) with the comings and goings of others in the apostolic team, news may have come to him of changes in some at least back in Corinth and c) such news indicated a third visit would be advisable so he tunes the latter chapters accordingly.


Despite all of this, there is no clear record that he ever made that third journey and so the letter remains as a monument to the trials and tribulations of the life of an apostle and the corresponding upsets that can occur in church life. We should not forget in all this that the cause of Paul's anguish over this church is twofold:

•  the fact of things that were wrong in the church that ought to have been sorted out, and,

•  the bad attitudes of some members of the church who didn't like being corrected and who therefore stirred up false accusations against Paul.


We may think these things are alien to us, but the same truths remain and should be considered today: God calls His Church to be holy, and leaders to put right things that are wrong, countering with God's authority those who would act hostilely against such teaching and direction. It is a letter that needs reading more than once to fully appreciate the nature of these things.


Continue to Chapter 1