2 Corinthians 4

Chapter four returns to the theme of Paul’s personal struggles in carrying out his ministry, especially toward the Corinthians. Although there was a great deal to discourage them, including satanic opposition, Paul’s cure to keep himself from depression was to do the one thing he was called to do: continue preaching the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-6). This worked against his discouragement as he was always reminded that “we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ . . . For God . . . is the one who shined in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul’s proper focus helped him frame his attitude in situations that could throw him off track.

A second key perspective that Paul held was the temporal nature of this world, especially his physical body. A look through Acts and Paul’s other letters show that he suffered great physical abuse throughout his ministry, at the hands of both Jews and Gentiles (see 2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 11:23-27). Too often believers approach this world as if it should be like heaven. Paul knew that his body was fragile, like a “clay jar” (2 Corinthians 4:7). However, he had an “extraordinary power” from God so that no matter how he was in “trouble . . . perplexed . . . persecuted . . . knocked down,” he refused to be “crushed . . . driven to despair . . . abandoned . . . destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). No matter how often he was “handed over to death,” it was always “for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:11), and he would certainly be resurrected into Jesus’ presence one day (2 Corinthians 4:14). “Therefore, we do not despair,” because, no matter what happens to the body, it cannot destroy our spirits, which God continues to renew. Paul’s eternal perspective allowed him to press on through temporary pain (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). What a wonderful encouragement this should be to every believer who suffers from terrible life situations or depression!

2 Corinthians 3

Chapter three continues Paul’s defense of his apostolic ministry and authority in Corinth. It seems that one of the attacks his accusers used was that he had no credentials. Officially, that was true. However, Paul took the firm stance that, since he was commissioned by Jesus himself (Acts 9:15-16; Galatians 2:6-10), he did not “need letters of recommendation” either to or from the churches he started (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). On the contrary, the churches themselves and the stories of life change through Christ were all the credentials he needed to prove the authority and authenticity of his message. What could be better proof than the Corinthians themselves?

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Additionally, Paul needed nothing for his own benefit either, because God had both called him to that ministry and made him adequate to accomplish it (2 Corinthians 3:4-6).

For the rest of the chapter, Paul used the example of Moses receiving the stones tablets with the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the difference between the old spiritual life under the Law and the new spiritual life under the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:7-18). Exodus 34:29-35 records that Moses’ face glowed after having seen God, but he wore a veil in the presence of the people when not relaying God’s message to them. Paul noted that this veil unintentionally became a barrier between them and God, much like the unbiblical clergy-laity divide in the Church. Rather than seeing it as a visible reminder that they could not approach God’s holiness, the people used it to elevate and exalt Moses.

On a spiritual level, the Jewish people still have a veil which they misunderstand, but it is the Law itself, the one that God gave through Moses. Paul was clear in Galatians 3:19-25 that the Law was a temporary guardian over Israel until Jesus came and that it did not have the power to give spiritual life, only point to death. Thus, in a sense, the Law actually kills those who trust in it for salvation (2 Corinthians 3:6), even though the Law itself was holy (Romans 7:7, 12). By clinging to the Law instead of turning to Christ, the Jewish people continue to “veil” their own eyes to the truth of God’s plan for them (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). Only the Spirit of God can produce the freedom they are looking for (2 Corinthians 3:17).

2 Corinthians 1

Introduction
Second Corinthians is arguably the most personal of Paul’s nine letters to local churches (not including those to Timothy, Titus, or Philemon). Over thirteen chapters he shared his physical and emotional distress, he encouraged a volatile group of believers as he defended his apostolic authority over them. The first section (chapters 1-5) contains the major key to the letter’s theme (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and reveals the apostle as weak and sickly, battling heartache and depression. In this letter, Paul truly wrote out of his pain. (See the introduction to 1 Corinthians for more information regarding this church.)

Paul’s exact location at the time of this writing is uncertain, but his account of waiting for Titus at Troas then going to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:5-7) seems to place him in Macedonia (near Philippi, Thessalonica, or Berea) in Acts 20, so he probably wrote this letter around A.D. 55-56. Since he was in Ephesus headed for Macedonia when he wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:8), it is probable he was still traveling on that itinerary.

 

Chapter one breaks slightly from the traditional letter format of ancient times. Following the writer’s name and intended recipients, we find Paul’s standard blessing of “grace and peace” (2 Corinthians 1:2). Often there would be a short prayer of thanksgiving for the readers as well (see Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; et al.), but Paul chose to focus his attention immediately upon God, the Great Comforter. Paul was quick to declare a major reason that they were comforted “in all our troubles” was “so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The cliché, “Blessed to be a blessing,” is more appropriately stated, “Comforted to extend comfort.” This is not only a major theme of this letter, but it is also a timeless principle that believers would do well to remember and faithfully live out today. Whenever we gain comfort in a time of testing or trial, God wants us to hold onto that so we can share that with others.

The reason for Paul’s introductory remarks is obvious very quickly: he and Timothy were sick and discouraged (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Consider his description of their current state: “affliction . . . burdened excessively, beyond our strength . . . despaired even of living . . . sentence of death . . . so great a risk of death.” Whatever the situations they faced that combined to bring them to that point, Paul’s only hope was that the believers would join with him in prayer and that God would deliver them from death again.

Paul revealed the second purpose of his letter in 2 Corinthians 1:12-22. He had intended to visit Corinth again, so he could provide them with a spiritual blessing and experience mutual comfort and growth (2 Corinthians 1:15; see Romans 1:11-12). While he was with them, he expected that they would help him get to Macedonia and back to Judea. Although he deliberately chose to not ask for ongoing financial support, Paul knew he had that right and was not hesitant to seek monetary help when he thought it necessary (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-12). However, as he would explain shortly, he had to change those plans. Unfortunately, it appears that someone in the church had used Paul’s delay to malign the apostle and make it seem that he was two-faced, promising one thing yet doing something else. Paul questioned his accusers and those who listened to them: “Is this my normal method that you have to come expect? Is this the gospel I preached to you, how I presented Christ? Have my co-workers, Silas or Timothy, ever given you that impression?” His answer was, “Of course not. God speaks only truth, and we glorify him by doing the same.” Paul claimed that the truth of his promises (and plans) was based on God’s strength, our unity in Christ, and the Spirit’s indwelling and sealing (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

What a great reminder for us that speaking the truth is the very work of the Trinity in our lives.