2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians Overview

Even though 2 Corinthians is very much related to 1 Corinthians, it feels very different.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes to the church in Corinth to take on a significant theological problem related to all kinds of destructive behaviors in the church.  (Read the Overview of 1 Corinthians for background on the Corinthian church).   Paul defends his ministry to some extent in the first letter, but the focus is on the various issues plaguing the church.  

This second letter feels more personal as Paul spends most of the letter explaining and defending his ministry.  Paul wants to make sure that the Corinthians understand the heart behind his ministry and behind the strong words he has previously written.  At some points, he seems encouraged by the response of the Corinthian church to his prior instruction (7:4-15), and he in turn encourages the church to give generously to Christians in need in Jerusalem (8-9).  In other places, however, Paul has strong words for false teachers in Corinth and for any willing recipients of their teaching. Particularly in the last four chapters (10-13), Paul assumes a more abrasive and even sarcastic tone, so much so that some believe it is a separate letter altogether. However, it’s quite possible that the seeming change in tone is due to further updates from Corinth, or perhaps Paul turns his thoughts to an antagonistic portion of the congregation. We should also keep in mind that earlier parts of the letter relay similar concerns of the Corinthians acceptance of false teachers who boast in their status or faithfulness to Moses and the Old Testament (e.g. 2:17-3:16; 6:11-18). A common thread of concern for the Corinthians’ well-being and foundation in Christ runs throughout the letter, so there is no need to divvy it up. 

The intensely personal nature of 2 Corinthians gives us a unique glimpse into Paul’s perspective on ministry, suffering, comfort, hope, forgiveness, and repentance in Christ. 

 

2 Corinthians 1:1-11

The comfort of a hot drink after being out in the cold for hours, a plunge in the pool on a summer day, or our favorite comfort food after a long day.  We all have our go-to’s for comfort.  It may be reclining in front of our new favorite show, reading a novel, watching a game, surfing the net, taking the dog for a walk, or heading for the refrigerator.  Grilled cheese and chicken soup are wonderful gifts from God, but no matter how delicious or pleasant-memory-inducing our favorite comfort food may be, our homemade therapies fall short when the dial of suffering is turned up all the way.  When Paul “despairs even of life,” feels the “sentence of death” close upon him, and likely has no homemade therapies available to him, he still finds great comfort in God himself — the Father of compassion and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3), who was raised from the dead.  The resurrection is the final word for Paul, his constant comfort, so that even the threat of imminent death cannot take away his hope (1:10). 

Paul seems to expect several “min-resurrections” or foretastes of resurrection even in this life, in answer to the prayers of God’s people and for the sake of the gospel going forward (1:10-11).  He has already seen God deliver him from the grip of death and believes that God will continue to do so.  If he dies, his hope is not crushed but realized (see chapter 5).  But for now, there are many benefits of suffering, especially suffering connected to gospel ministry.  First, we see implicitly that the way of suffering is often the only way for the gospel to penetrate hostile territory.  Second, when we receive comfort from God in the midst of intense suffering, our comfort from God comforts others in their suffering (1:4,6-7).  Finally, suffering deepens our own relationship with God when it causes us to rely on God and to realize that He is the only true source of life (1:9).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• What are your comfort foods or activities?  We’ll call these “secondary” comforts and we should receive them as gifts from God, provided they are not sinful.  Our trouble usually comes when these secondary comforts become primary comforts and we go to them instead of God.  What is your primary comfort right now?  

• It is usually convicting to read about the way that Paul and others laid their lives on the line for the sake of reaching people with the gospel.  We may not be called to lay our lives on the line, but there is almost always some kind of risk taken to advance the gospel.  Where is God calling you to take a risk? 

 

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:11

We can clearly see that Paul feels the need to explain his ministry and decisions when we come to today’s passage.  Paul can say with a clear conscience that he has conducted himself in a holy and sincere way, not with pretense or pride (1:12).  Based on what we know of 1 Corinthians and from hints here, Paul’s (and the gospel’s) “competition” in Corinth comes in the form of fine-sounding, lofty arguments and philosophies.  But the gospel of grace, while multilayered and multifaceted, is not beyond the understanding of the simple (1:12-13).  Paul expresses the confidence that his gospel will cause the Corinthians to boast in him rather than look down on him (1:14).  

In the next section, Paul explains the decisions behind his travels.  On a practical level (1:15-17; 1:23-2:4), Paul did not return to Corinth on this journey because he was afraid that a visit might actually hinder the work of God in their lives.  It seems that he wanted to give the Corinthians more time to absorb and apply his prior instruction, so it was out of deep love and concern that he “spared” them a visit.  On an analogical level, Paul uses the occasion of his change in plans to poetically describe the certainty of God’s promises in Christ (1:17-20).  Arguing from the lesser to the greater, Paul compares the intentionality of his plans to the certainty of Christ’s fulfillment of God’s promises (1:20), which are put into effect and kept for us through the Spirit’s presence in our lives (1:21-22).  Even if our best plans come to naught, God’s promises stand firm! 

Finally, Paul encourages the church to forgive a brother previously disciplined by the church (2:5-11).  Discipline only occurs when a professing Christian will not even acknowledge sins and repent.  It is not for believers who are confessing sin and seeking to repent, or for unbelievers.  When an unrepentant Christian continues to receive communion and participate in the life of the church, he makes a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Therefore, church discipline consists of barring the unrepentant believer from communion and, in some cases, fellowship.  The goal must always be to provide a “wake-up” call, with the hope of restoring a person to fellowship with God and the church.  We see that goal fulfilled in this passage!  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Paul’s claim to “holiness and sincerity” is not claim of perfection, but it is still a striking claim.  Could you make such a claim among those you seek to reach with the gospel and build up in the gospel?  What does a “sincere” heart look like, and not look like?  Are there any ways in which sophisticated, fine-sounding philosophies might hinder your sincerity?  Could you echo Paul’s distress, love, and concern in 2:2-4?  Take time consider, confess, and to ask God to fill you with a sincere heart of love and concern.

• Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s presence in our lives, give us assurance of our salvation (1:21-22).  Where else are you looking for assurance in life?  Are you aware of the Spirit’s presence today?  Are you living in the certainty of God’s promises or in the uncertainty of other hopes?

 

2 Corinthians 2:12-3:3

The smell of death, the fragrance of life.  How can the same scent be the smell of death and the fragrance of life?  Just as an organ transplant may be life to one and death to another, so Jesus has given us a whole-self “transplant,” giving himself up on the cross and transplanting to us his life, both spiritually and (eventually) physically.  His “transplant” is life to those who recognize their need for him and receive him, but a pronouncement of death for those who seek to maintain their own life apart from him and reject him.  

Who is equal to the task of proclaiming such a message (2:16)?  It cannot be those who “peddle the word of God for profit” (2:17a), who rely on “letters of recommendation” declaring their competency by human standards,  and who seek “letters of recommendation” from their hearers (3:1), for “the smell of death” is not good for profits.  Instead, they speak a “gospel” that tickles people’s ears, one that tells of human potential apart from the way of the cross.  But those who speak “in Christ,” who understand that all of their speaking is “before God” (2:17b), and who rely on the “Spirit of the living the God” (3:3) are enabled to proclaim the fullness of Christ’s “transplant.”  Their life is found not in human praise but rather as captives in Christ’s “triumphal procession” (2:14).  Therefore, they do not need letters of recommendation from important people.  Instead, those who hear their message and are transformed by Jesus are a living letter, attesting to their work (3:2-3).  This “letter” is not only seen in the lives of the hearers, but also on the heart of the one who spoke the message, because the one who speaks sincerely loves the hearers (3:2).

Today’s passage is the beginning of what we might call “the great tangent” in 2 Corinthians (2:12-7:4).  In chapter 7, Paul will come back around to Titus (2:13) and to his concern about grieving the Corinthians (2:1-11).  Now, however, he elaborates on what it means for him to “preach the gospel of Christ” (2:12).  In this “great tangent,” Paul gives us a number of helpful perspectives and metaphors for gospel ministry.   

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Am I looking to profit off of the gospel in any way, or is Jesus my profit?  Am I willing to suffer loss for the sake of the gospel, knowing that my profit in Christ far outweighs any earthly loss?   Commenting on 2:14, Professor Knox Chamblain states, “The role of those led in triumph was to reveal the glory of the one who had conquered them.   Paul uses the metaphor the triumphal procession to demonstrate that he himself is being led by God to death in Christ in order that he might display or reveal the majesty, power, and glory of his conqueror.”

• Is there a living letter written on my heart revealing a sincere love for those around me?

 

2 Corinthians 3:4-18

Yesterday’s passage ended with the words:  “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”  The transformed hearts of the Corinthians are Paul’s living “letter of recommendation.”  He needs no other letter of recommendation from seemingly informed folk, even though the confused Corinthians are impressed by such letters.

Given Paul’s emphasis on the contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant in today’s passage, it seems likely that such letters of recommendation came from Jewish leaders in the church, who were still trusting in their adherence to Old Testament practices.  Paul does not disparage the old covenant, which God made with Israel through Moses and others.  The old covenant came with glory, after all!  When Moses received the (second set of) stone tablets containing the law of God, his face shone with the glory of God.  The Israelites were afraid and Moses ended up putting a veil over his face in their presence (Exodus 34:29-35).  Paul speaks of this glory at least four times in verses 7-11.  

Yet Paul sees that the old covenant, glorious though it was, pales in comparison to the glory of the new covenant!  God’s law, engraved on tablets of stone, reveals the glory of God’s holiness, but we are condemned to death by this perfect law (3:7-9).  In Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, we see God’s holy law embodied in one like us rather than written on stone.  Through his righteous life and death for our unrighteousness, we are made righteous through union with him (3:9).  

Through Christ, the Holy Spirit enables us to see not only the glory of the new covenant but also the lesser glory of the old covenant.  In Christ, the glory of the old covenant leads us to humility and to our need for a Savior.  Apart from Christ and his Spirit, a “veil” remains so that the old covenant becomes a futile means to self-righteousness rather than a sign pointing to the greater glory of Christ.   But when we give up our self-righteousness and turn to Christ, only then may we begin to embody the glory of God’s holiness (3:12-17).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Is the glory of God’s perfect law regularly leading you to humility, confession, forgiveness and freedom in Christ?  

• While the new covenant calls us to abandon our attempts at self-righteous obedience, the irony of the new covenant is that Jesus enables us to begin to live out God’s laws through the power of the Spirit, that we might reflect God’s glory more and more (3:17-18).  As a means of self-salvation, God’s law brings death, but in reliance on the Spirit, God’s law brings fullness of life.  Where you seeing Jesus give you fullness of life and where do you need him to help you repent?  

 

2 Corinthians 4

Paul continues in the same themes but the metaphor changes.  We still see the emphasis on preaching a straightforward gospel (cf. 4:1-2,5 & 2:17-3:1).  We also receive deeper insight into the image of the veil, preventing those without Christ from seeing the glory of God in Christ, who is the image of God (cf. 3:14-16 & 4:3-6).  But now the humbling and encouraging image of a clay jar is introduced.

Jars of clay held all kinds of things in the ancient near east, including coins, scrolls, and lamps.  Paul may have specifically envisioned valuable coins, which would fit the “treasure” in 4:7; a lamp, which would fit the “light” in 4:6; or a scroll, which could hold the Word of God.  We do not know, but we do know that jars of clay were ordinary, common vessels, quite breakable and yet surprisingly durable.  In the same way, we are to see ourselves as ordinary, common vessels of God’s truth and light, always subject to death and yet strong in the Lord.  According to 4:10-12, it’s when we enter into the suffering and death of Jesus, dying to our attempts at invincibility for the sake of others, that the life and strength of Christ is made known through us!  

Paul quotes a greek translation (known as the Septuagint) of Psalm 116:10 in verse 4:13.  It is a fitting quotation, as the Psalmist is under tremendous stress and yet speaks in faith of God’s deliverance.  The Psalmist also speaks of being the Lord’s servant.  With Paul, we have the privilege of knowing and bearing witness to the fullness of God’s deliverance in Christ, who defeated death itself (4:14).  Even if this clay jar should crumble, and it will, we will be put back together in glory (4:16-18).

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• In what ways are you tempted to see yourself as more (or less?) than an ordinary, common “clay jar” carrying the treasure of Christ?  How are you trying to protect your life and maintain a sense of invincibility, rather than entering into the death of Jesus for the sake of others?  

• How does our hope largely determine what we speak of (4:13)?  Take time to reflect on the reality that we will together be raised with Christ in unimaginable glory, and how this reality informs our lives today.

 

2 Corinithians 5:1-10

No matter how many “mini-resurrections” the Lord may grant this side of heaven (1:9-10) or how strong this “jar of clay” may be in God’s grace (4:8-10), the reality that “outwardly we are wasting away” cannot be denied (4:16).  But for Paul, the destruction of our “earthly tent” is the realization, not the end, of our hope in Christ!  

Much has been said about Paul’s words in this passage.  How much, if anything, is Paul saying about an “intermediate state” between death and Jesus’ return?  And how much is he saying about the “future state” of our bodies after Jesus’ return?  In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of those who have died being “clothed” with an imperishable, glorious body at Christ’s return (1 Cor. 15:51-53; see also 1 Thess. 4:16-17, Philippians 3:20-21).  In today’s passage, he uses very similar language to stir up the believers’ hope in this heavenly, immortal body (5:1-4).  The confusing part is that Paul also speaks of the hope of being “away from the body,” that He might experience the Lord more fully (5:6,8; see also Philippians 1:19-24).  This seems to be Paul’s more immediate hope, given that his ultimate hope of a glorified body is firmly established in this passage and others, and given that he clearly implies an immediate and more intimate experience of Christ upon his death.  

Our hope for the future always impacts our present.  In light of the reality that we have been saved in Christ and are therefore preparing to be “at home with the Lord,” we “make it our goal to please him.”  How can we please God in these “earthly tents” subject to death?  Through the Spirit of God, who lives in us and begins to bring us to life even as our bodies die (5:5)!

But what about verse 10?  In the midst of speaking about faith and hope in Christ, why this talk of judgment?  Is Paul seeking to induce a little fear to balance out the hope?  We need to remember that we are still in “the great tangent” of 2 Corinthians (2:12-7:1), where Paul is vigorously defending his ministry.  While Paul fears, or reveres, the Lord, he is not afraid of the coming judgment or trying to make sincere believers quake in their boots.  (How could he so look forward to being with the Lord if this were so?)  Rather, he is humbly confident that the coming judgment will prove the sincerity of his ministry and the false motives of the enemies of the gospel.  As he says in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait til the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time each will receive his praise from God.”  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Do you share Paul’s desire to be with the Lord?  What might be the correlation between our desire to be with the Lord, our desire to please him now, and our desire to make him known to others?  What gets in the way of a burning desire to be with the Lord?

 

2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2

Is Paul out of his mind (5:13)?  Apparently, some of the Corinthians think so.  It’s not the only time that Paul is accused of losing his mind.  A Roman governor named Festus accuses Paul of insanity for his belief in the cross and resurrection as the central events in the human story (Acts 26:23-26).  And it seems that Paul’s insistence on the absolute centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection leads the Corinthians to doubt him as well, for this message dominates today’s passage. See 5:14-15 for a perfectly succinct summary!

The love of Christ compels Paul to unreservedly persuade others to find life in Christ.  Four times in a row, Paul will rehearse the love of Christ and show that this leads to a life of sharing the love of Christ with others.  Gospel ministry must flow from our own experience of Jesus’ love:

Gospel - Union with Christ in his death & resurrection (5:14-15)
Gospel Ministry - So we regard no one from a worldly point of view (5:16)

Gospel - New creation, reconciliation w/ God through union with Christ (5:17-5:18a)
Gospel Ministry - So God gives us the ministry of reconciliation (5:18b)

Gospel - Reconciliation through forgiveness of sins (5:19)
Gospel Ministry - So God has committed to us the message of reconciliation (5:19b-20)

Gospel - Through union w/ Christ, our guilt is removed and we are righteous in him (5:21)
Gospel Ministry - So we embody/proclaim the righteousness of God to the world (5:21b-6:2)

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Would anyone accuse you of being out of your mind for your insistence on the cross and resurrection as the central events in the story of the world?  

• Take time to meditate on 5:14-15.  In what sense have you “died” in Christ (5:14)?  What does it look like in your life right now to no longer live for yourself but for Christ?  

• Are you compelled by the love of Christ to persuade and implore others to be reconciled to God ?  How might you grow in compulsion?  

• What does it look like to no longer regard anyone from a worldly point of view?

 

2 Corinthians 6:3-7:4

Paul’s pen flows freely as he pours out his heart to the Corinthians, a heart full of life experience through which Paul has come to know the grace and power of God in the depths of his soul.  It is “in the Holy Spirit” and “in the power of God” (6:6,7) that Paul and company are able to remain faithful amidst trials and persecution (6:4b-5), in godly character (6:6-7), and in spite of false accusations (6:8a).  Perhaps more beautifully than any other place in Scripture, Paul poetically describes the paradox of life in Christ between his resurrection and our own resurrection (6:8b-10).  We are not called to insulate ourselves from the brokenness of the world.  Instead, we are called to enter into the suffering and brokenness and poverty of the world, as Jesus did, with the full assurance and joy that Jesus is alive in us now and that we will be raised with him.  

The following verses (6:11-12; 7:2-4) show that Paul is not providing a resume, but he is seeking to convince the Corinthians of his sincerity and faithfulness to his calling.  He wants to win their hearts over to the true gospel.  For this reason, Paul calls the Corinthians not to be spiritually “yoked together” with those who do not preach the pure gospel of Christ (6:14-7:1).  While this passage has been used to forbid marriage and business partnership with unbelievers, which may be legitimate secondary applications of the passage (especially in the case of marriage, since it includes spiritual union), the context dictates a primary application to relationships within the church.  Paul has been defending his Christ-centered gospel against false teaching for several chapters.  Paul’s Christ-centered gospel, the gospel of “light” (compare 6:14c to 4:6), has no fellowship with a false gospel that brings death (3:7,9).  This does not entail that believers should cut off friendships with unbelievers or consider themselves above unbelievers, but we are not to put up with teaching in the church that distorts the message of God’s grace in Christ.  Ironically, Paul uses “old covenant” passages to call the Corinthians to cleanse the church of false teachers, including at least some who are preaching reliance on the old covenant (6:16-18).  Of course, the light of Christ enables Paul to understand that the old covenant, too, points to Christ and is fulfilled by Christ.  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Paul’s words are convicting.  It’s quite clear that he is finding life in Christ in the midst of severe trials.  How are you experiencing suffering, persecution, poverty, or other forms of the world’s brokenness, especially for the sake of the gospel?  How have you seen God give you hope, perseverance, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, joy and contentment  — in short, His life — in the midst of this brokenness?  Where is brokenness leading you to despair, apathy, bitterness or escape, instead of Christ?  Take time to invite Jesus to reveal his life in those places of brokenness. 

• Are you “yoked together” spiritually with anyone who is not preaching the pure gospel of Christ, but is instead leading you to trust in yourself, your religious works, or anything but Christ?  

 

2 Corinthians 7:5-16

Today, Paul picks up the specific train of thought that he left way back in 2:13.  The “great tangent,” through which Paul defends the ministry of the gospel of Christ (2:14-7:4), has come back full circle.  (Okay, technically, for you math geeks, maybe it’s better to think of the letter as the “line” of thought and 2:14-7:4 as a circle off of the “tangent”!)  Titus, a fellow missionary, has finally come to Macedonia and provided encouragement to Paul through his report about the Corinthians (compare 2:13 to 7:5).  Paul’s words continue in the same spirit of defending and explaining his ministry, but now his thoughts are specifically tied to this recent report from Titus and to their reception of Paul’s previous rebuke (compare 2:1-11 to 7:8-13).  

Paul’s rebuke did sting the Corinthians, “but only for a little while” (7:8).  In the end, Paul’s willingness to speak strong words of truth to the Corinthians resulted in “godly sorrow.”  This distinction between “godly sorrow” and “worldly sorrow” has proven helpful to countless Christians (7:9-12).  Most theologians have understood worldly sorrow to be a sorrow that focuses on one’s broken circumstances rather than one’s broken spiritual condition.  If I complain that I am having trouble getting out of the bed in the morning, bending down, and running due to pain in my back, but insist that my back is healthy, my underlying condition will continue.  It’s easier to pop a few pain killers than it is to go to physical therapy for weeks or months.  How often are we eager to fix our circumstances rather than exposing our hearts to the work of God, which leads to repentance?  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Paul provides some helpful clues by which we may detect “godly sorrow” — earnestness or sincere conviction as opposed to indifference; eagerness to “clear yourselves” or to make things right with others; indignation, or righteous anger, and alarm over sin; longing to see change and reparation; and readiness to see justice done.  These are not the only clues, nor do they necessarily apply to every sort of sin, given that Paul is speaking into a specific situation, but they are helpful nonetheless.  Where do you see worldly and/or godly sorrow in your life?  Do the hard work, with the Spirit’s help, of taking your worldly sorrow to the Lord and turning it to godly sorrow and repentance.

 

2 Corinthians 8-9

Paul now turns his attention to a gift for poor members of the church in Jerusalem/Judea (see also 1 Corinthians 16:3; Romans 15:25-28; Galatians 2:10), a gift that he collected over several years and one that he painstakingly protected from fraudulent activity (e.g. 8:18-21).  He commends the church in Corinth for their prior generosity (8:10) and now urges them to continue in generosity by following through on their pledge (9:5).

Through this specific appeal, we are blessed to receive a number of timeless examples, words of wisdom, and encouragement toward generosity:

8:2-4 - In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.

8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

8:12 - For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

9:6-8 - Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

 • Can I imagine “urgently pleading” for the opportunity to give sacrificially (8:2-4)?  What would need to happen in my heart to get to this point?

• How do we embody the generosity of Jesus when we give sacrificially (8:9)?

• Am I trusting in God’s abundance in my giving (9:6-8)?  

 

2 Corinthians 10-11

Today, we see a turn in the letter (see 2 Corinthians Overview).  Paul assumes a more abrasive, combative tone as he takes the false teachers in Corinth, along with their willing recipients, head on.  The same themes have been present throughout the letter, but the approach feels less theological and more personal.  

Paul alludes to at least four overlapping reasons for which some of the Corinthians look down on his ministry.  First, they claim that he is not an authoritative personality (10:1-11).  Paul lays this claim to rest, though he agrees that he does not verge on abuse or exploitation, as the false teachers do (11:20-21).  Second, Paul does not have the worldly pedigree or rhetorical training  of the false teachers (10:12;11:5-6).  Nevertheless, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they received the gospel of Christ from him (10:13-14), just as he reminded them in 3:1-3.  Third, Paul refused to accept patronage from the Corinthians, as the false teachers did.  Instead, Paul received support from other churches so that he could preach free of charge in Corinth (11:7-9).  He does not want to be associated with the false teachers, who surely felt important by receiving patronage (11:12).  Fourth, Paul was apparently accused of a lack of faithfulness to his Jewish heritage(11:22), as we already saw in 3:7-18.  

When we read Paul’s strong words about the false teachers in 11:13-15, we understand more fully why Paul calls the Corinthians to disassociate from them in 6:14-7:1.  Don’t miss the fact that the same contrasts of light and darkness, Christ and Satan (aka Belial), are used in both passages.  Notice how often we see the same themes emerge throughout the letter, even though the tone has changed.  

Finally, and most importantly, take note of the heart behind Paul’s strong words.  “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand” (10:15b).  “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.  But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (11:2-3).  “Besides everything else, I face daily my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (11:28-29).  Can we sincerely echo Paul’s words as we think about people in our own community and mission field?

In the end, Paul’s argument goes like this:  “Why would I continually risk my life if I were not a sincere servant of Christ?” (11:23-33; compare to 4:8-12 & 6:4-10).  He “boasts” in detail about his trials in order to provide incontrovertible evidence that he is a “servant of Christ.”  Truly he “carried around in his body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be revealed in his body” (4:10).  

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• There are times when standing for the truth of the gospel requires us to be strong.  Have there been times in your walk with Christ when you had to firmly resist distortions of the gospel, or times that you’ve been passive when firm resistance was needed?  On the other hand, do you have a personality that tends to be too quick to assume a combative tone?  

• Take time to allow Paul’s words in 10:15, 11:2-3, and 11:28-29 to sink in.  What stands in the way of this kind of concern and compassion for others?  Ask Jesus to give you more of his heart.
 

 

2 Corinthians 12-13

As the letter comes to an end, Paul continues in the same train of thought as chapters 10-11, expanding on the issues of patronage versus preaching for free (12:14-18), authority and status (12:11-13; 13:1-4).  At the same time, Paul continues to reveal the heart behind his strong words (12:19-21; 13:5-10).  As he summarizes in 13:19, his many words in defense of his ministry were not ultimately for his own defense, but for the sake of Christ’s work among them (see also 13:7,9).  

We also find a new element present in the concluding chapters.  Paul speaks of a “thorn in my flesh,” which the Lord allowed to remain for the sake of keeping Paul humble (12:7-10).  Clearly, whatever this physical, relational, emotional or spiritual “thorn” may have been, Paul did not like it.  Three times he pleaded for the Lord to take it away.   

Who enjoys having a thorn in the flesh?  No one!  Thorns in our lives often feel like a hindrance, distraction, or discouragement from serving the Lord.  Whether it’s an illness or injury, a difficult relationship, or painful loss, “thorns” seem to slow us down, cause us to lose sleep, and suck the life out of us.  Yet in spite of his intense dislike of his thorn, Paul sees how it keeps his reliance and joy in Christ, even to the point of joy and thanksgiving.   Paul’s experience reminds us that in our broken state, we are prone to trust in our own strength when all is well.  Our strength becomes our idol.  But when we know we are weak, Christ’s strength is made known in us!

Questions for Reflection and Prayer

• Is there a “thorn” (or thorns) in your life that continually reminds you of your weakness and brokenness?  How are you responding to the thorn now?  Responding in joy and thanksgiving in Christ does not mean ignoring the thorn or acting like it’s not painful or sorrowful.  Rather, depth of joy and thanksgiving in Christ only comes on the other side of realizing that the fullness of his power is seen in our weakness.  

• If you cannot point to a “thorn” in your life and perhaps feel strong right now, are you nevertheless remembering your weakness and brokenness apart from the grace and power of Christ?