Relationships: The Integrity Factor
Explore the Bible Series
August 1, 2010
Background Passage: II Corinthians 1:1-2:17
Lesson Passage: II Corinthians 1:3-12; 2;14-17
Authorship: Scholars agree that the Apostle Paul wrote II Corinthians as part of a series of letters to a deeply troubled church in Greece. The book brilliantly outlines the profound sufferings of the apostle, and, in important ways, II Corinthians is the most personal of Paul’s writings.
Chronology of Paul’s Interaction with the Corinthians: I find helpful Raymond Brown’s analysis of Paul’s life. Though his careful study of the New Testament, Brown traces the contours of an intense six-year period of apostolic interaction with believers in Corinth, and I summarize here some of Brown’s conclusions.
1. (c. 51-52 A.D.) Paul arrived in Corinth and met Aquila and Priscilla, fellow believers and artisans who worked with Paul in a tent-making enterprise. Early efforts at evangelism began in the synagogue, but, after the arrival of Timothy and Silas (from Macedonia), Paul turned his attention to the Gentiles (See Acts 18:1-7).
2. (c. 52) Paul left Corinth, and other Christian preachers arrived in the city, especially a gifted orator named Apollos (See Acts 18:18).
3. Paul wrote a letter to Corinth (lost to contemporary readers) concerning the presence of immoral men who threatened the church (See I Corinthians 5:9).
4. (c. 56) Paul, evangelizing in Ephesus, received a report from members of the household of Chloe about divisions that troubled the church (See I Corinthians 1:11).
5. Shortly after Chloe’s report, Paul received a letter from Corinth, perhaps delivered by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (See I Corinthians 16:17-18).
6. (late 56 or early 57 A.D.) Paul wrote the letter we know as I Corinthians, from Ephesus.
7. After the Corinthians received Paul’s second letter (I Corinthians), Timothy returned to the city, a journey that resulted in a bad report to Paul. Brown proposes that presence of false teachers acted as a catalyst to the deteriorating circumstances (See II Corinthians 11:12-15).
8. The dire situation provoked Paul to undertake a hazardous and “painful visit” to Corinth (II Corinthians 2:1). Brown concludes that this mission failed, and a group of overbearing teachers confronted and discredited Paul (See II Corinthians 2:5-11, 7:12 and 10:1).
9. The “painful visit” convinced the apostle to write a third letter (no longer available to us), an epistle wrung from the broken heart of Paul (See II Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8-9).
10. (c. summer of 57) Paul left Ephesus and travelled to Macedonia where he heard that the church at Corinth had greeted Titus favorably (See II Corinthians 7:15).
11. (c. early autumn of 57) Paul wrote a fourth epistle to Corinth (II Corinthians). Titus delivered this letter as a part of the continued efforts to collect funds for the suffering Christians in Jerusalem (See II Corinthians 8:6, 16-24).
12. (c. winter 57-58) Paul returned to Corinth, again to facilitate benevolence work aimed at relief of the church in Jerusalem. Brown concludes that Paul never returned to the city.
Major Themes in II Corinthians
1. Much of the book centers on Paul’s expression of heartbreak in the ministry and defense of his labors for Christ. He emphasized his apostolic authority, suffering in his gospel labors, and his personal integrity. At first reading, this personal defense may seem self-serving; however, I think this feature of the book reveals the true humanity of this worthy servant of the Lord. Like any other person, he experienced heartache, disappointment, and personal injury when mistreated by others.
2. Several portions of the epistle focus on the importance of comfort in the presence of suffering for the sake of the gospel. This consolation comes from the grace of God, but the text affirms that God uses his people to comfort one another.
3. The epistle also emphasizes the importance of Christian benevolence. The church in Jerusalem experienced some grave adversity that issued in financial privation. Paul could not stand idly by while his brothers suffered hardship, and he urged the Corinthians to give sacrificially to alleviate the suffering in Jerusalem
I. Salutation (1:1-2): The opening words of this epistle follow the familiar Pauline pattern.
A. The origins of the letter (v. 1): Timothy accompanied Paul on many of the apostle’s journeys, and the younger man played an important role in the ongoing oversight of this church. As usual, Paul asserted his apostleship at the outset of the epistle, and, in this case, this was more than a mere formality.
B. The recipients of the letter (v. 2): Of course Paul identified the church at Corinth as his primary audience, but he also included a reference to believers in the province of Achaia. Apparently other Christian knew of the problems in Corinth, and, perhaps, the difficulties had spilled over into the surrounding region.
II. Paul’s Blessing of the Church (1:3-11): With the exception of the Epistle to the Galatians, Paul always included a blessing at the beginning of his letters. Normally, he praised God for some specific blessing, commended the recipients, celebrated his relationship with his readers, and introduced major themes addressed in the epistle.
A. The relation between affliction and consolation (vv. 3-7): God, in Pauline theology, mercifully comforts his people in the midst of affliction (this word translates the Greek term thlipsis, a general word for a broad range of hardships). This mercy, however, can only occur in the presence of adversity. In this case, Paul reminded his readers that affliction is purposive, intended to equip the saints to comfort others.
B. Here, Paul reminded his readers that he had suffered greatly, even to the point of despairing of life itself. Nevertheless, God’s grace, working in concert with the prayers of the Corinthians, delivered Paul from the threat on his life (this persecution apparently occurred in Ephesus). Notice the camaraderie the prayerful Corinthians shared with the mercies of God.
III. Paul’s Conciliatory Address to the Corinthians (1:12-2:13): Even a cursory reading of I Corinthians and the Acts of the Apostles reveal the deep rift that developed between Paul and certain factions within the Corinthian church. He had written sharply to his friends, and, no doubt, relations were strained; so, at the very outset of this letter, Paul extended an olive branch of love and reconciliation.
A. Paul’s boast (1:12-14): Even in this conciliatory section, Paul defended his apostleship and missionary labors. He had a clear conscience concerning his conduct, sincerity, and preaching. Furthermore, he expressed hope that the Corinthians would finally understand the nature of his work among them. This paragraph gives invaluable insight into the humanity of the apostle. He was not a robotic preacher, immune to the normal feelings and disappointments of other men. The Corinthians had broken his heart by questioning his integrity and message, and he wanted his friends simply to understand the nature of his ministry.
B. Paul’s explanation of his travel itinerary (1:15-24): I Corinthians 16:5-7 promised that Paul would visit Corinth during a journey to Macedonia; however, it seems that this visit did not materialize. Perhaps some had accused Paul of flattering the Corinthians by falsely promising a visit, thus, according to their allegation, dealing with them in an ambiguous, unworthy manner. He addressed this accusation with this “Yes/No” section, affirming his sincerity in hoping to call upon the church. At the conclusion of this paragraph Paul called God as witness to the integrity and sincerity of the apostle.
IV. The “Sorrowful Visit” and the “Tearful Letter” (2:1-13)
A. The “sorrowful visit” (vv. 1-2): One reason Paul did not make a return visit to Corinth related to a previous sorrowful sojourn in the city. Some commentators believe these verses refer to a painful visit Paul paid to Corinth, a visit that miserably failed to bring resolution to the troubles in the church and further alienated Paul from the Corinthian believers. Still stinging from this unfortunate circumstance, Paul apparently did not want to return to the region. The church problems had wounded Paul deeply, and he determined he would not again come to them in sorrow. Even men like Paul have limits to the heartbreak they will endure, and Paul determined to wait until there were better prospects for a pleasant visit.
B. The “tearful letter” (vv. 3-13): Some scholars think this refers to a lost letter in which Paul dealt harshly with the Corinthians. Others believe this paragraph refers to I Corinthians and specifically addressed the case of the incestuous man of I Corinthians 5:1-13. The second option seems most reasonable to me. Paul encouraged his friends not to treat the offending man too harshly; rather, they should forgive and restore him, lest sorrow consume him. Apparently, the offending man had repented of his sin, but some expressed reluctance to restore him. This scandalous situation wounded Paul, and the absence of Titus had multiplied the apostle’s sorrow (See vv. 13-14).
V. Thanksgiving to God (2:14-17): This opening section of II Corinthians concludes with Paul’s thanksgiving for the life-sustaining mercies of God. Despite the hardships, Paul remained convinced of the grace of God, grace that leads, according to Paul, believers to triumph. The text summons the imagery of the Mosaic sacrificial system. The “aroma” of the saints’ sacrifices are pleasing to the Lord, and he gives sufficient mercies to uphold his people. Paul acknowledged that some peddled the gospel for their own advancement and enrichment, but he endured unimaginable hardship because of his sincerity and integrity.