Today we begin Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church. This letter was written about a year after the first. It appears that some in the church were challenging Paul’ authority, perhaps arguing against some of what he wrote in his first letter. Paul here defends his authority, expands on some of what he said in the first letter, and addresses a few other issues.
This letter is from Paul and Timothy (1:1). Paul then jumps right in speaking of suffering and affliction. God is our comforter in such times, working through one another (vv. 3-4). Whether we are afflicted or comforted, we can comfort each other through it (vv. 5-7). Paul then speaks of the specific sufferings he has endured. He speaks of the afflictions he and Timothy experienced in Asia (v. 8 – see Acts 19). Those events have taught them to more fully rely on God (v. 9). He has delivered them, and Paul believes He will continue to do so (v. 10).
Paul then explains why he has not yet come to them. He sincerely planned to, but worldly circumstances got in the way. He wanted to come to them (v.15), then go to Macedonia and return to them before going back to Judea (v. 16). We know from Acts 19-20 that Paul wound up in Macedonia first, then went to Greece, then back to Macedonia. This letter is likely written in the timespan described in Acts 20:1-2a, since Paul speaks of the trials of Asia as past, but his visit to Corinth as still future. Paul tells them here that his change of plans were changed because of his calling (vv. 17-22), and it is for the better that he didn’t come to them when he wanted to because he would have to come and be harsh with them for their correction (vv. 23-24). He didn’t want to have that kind of visit (2:1-2). He had hoped his first letter would avert the need for that kind of visit (vv. 3-4). It apparently had not.
Speaking of his first letter, Paul now corrects the Corinthians on a misunderstanding of his instructions in 1 Corinthians 5. If the sexually immoral man repents, he should be forgiven and welcomed back into the fellowship (vv. 5-8). He is glad they heeded his instructions (v. 9), but if they do not forgive, then Satan has won that battle (v. 11). Paul then explains further why he has been delayed in his coming. He went to Macedonia to find Titus (vv. 12-13). Titus was a Greek, and perhaps known to the congregation in Corinth. So Paul went to Macedonia (from where he is likely writing) to wait for Titus.
Paul then speaks of the Gospel. It is the work of Christ (v. 14) being worked through him (v. 17). And the Gospel genuinely preached in the power of God is to some power for life, and for others who do not accept the Word, it is a means of judgment (vv. 15-16). And Paul preaches the Word genuinely. He did so to them. So Paul asks rhetorically if his ministry to them is enough for them to accept his Apostolic authority, or do they need someone else to vouch for him (3:1-3). Their salvation is proof that God is working through Paul (vv. 4-6).
And this salvation is through the power of the Gospel, which saves, and not the Law, which cannot save (v. 6). And if the Law – which cannot save – showed forth the glory of God so evidently (v. 7), does not the power of the Gospel by the work of God the Holy Spirit show forth that glory so much more clearly (vv. 8-9)? In fact, by comparison, the glory shown through the Law was not glory at all (v. 10), because the Law has been brought to an end in Christ, but the glory of the Gospel will last forever (v. 11).
Therefore, we should be bold showing forth the glory (declaring the Gospel) of God (v. 12). The glory of the Law, reflected in Moses, was not a bold glory, but one that the people wanted to be hidden (v. 13). And God has kept His glory hidden from them because they still seek it in the Law, rather than Christ (vv. 14-15). Only faith in Christ reveals the glory in all its fullness (v. 16), which is through His presence by His Spirit (v. 17). The freedom here is freedom from seeking God through the Law. We who have the glory of the Gospel – and reflect it boldly (the “beholding” here is a different word and means “mirroring”) – are transformed into the image of Christ more and more (v. 18). This is the work of the Spirit in us. Note that our growing into Christ’s image grows along with our boldness for the Gospel.
Therefore we should be encouraged (4:1), and we should speak God’s truth and nothing but God’s truth (v. 2). This is how we are bold for the Gospel. This is how the saving glory of God is revealed. And if anyone does not see the glory, it is because they are among the reprobate (v. 3) who are deceived by Satan (v. 4). What we (the church) proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ Who has been revealed to us (vv. 5-6). That God has given us this knowledge (by His Spirit) in all our fallenness and weakness is proof of God’s saving power (v. 7). That God preserves us in all our fallenness and weakness is further proof of God’s saving power, and is us sharing in the sufferings of Christ Who took on this weakness to save us so that we may reveal Him to the world (vv. 8-11).
Through this pure Gospel Word and Christlike suffering, God saved the Corinthians through Paul (v. 12). Paul then quotes Psalm 116:10, which is talking about suffering. Through faith in God and belief in His Word, Paul (and we) continue to speak the truth of God through our suffering (v. 13) knowing that God will redeem even our weak and fallen bodies at the resurrection (vv. 14-18 – see 1 Cor 15:54-58). We are to endure suffering to show forth Christ, even as we proclaim His truth to show forth Christ. This is walking by faith, not by sight (v. 18). We will see Paul expand on this thought tomorrow.