Interpretation of 2 Corinthians
Dr. Virtus E. Gideon was a student’s professor. His ability and knowledge were matched by his concern and love for students. His conduct in life and his gracious, Christlike spirit made him a role-model for all of us who were preparing to servants and ministers. He was always an aff1rmmg influence in my life because he made me feel that I had something to offer.
Dr. Gideon was my friend. His friendship and influence continue to challenge me to be my best. The words of the seer in the Rev. 14:13 emphasize the truth. that a life well-lived continues to bear fruit: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on . . .that they may rest from their labors and their works follow them.”All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise identified. ”Their works follow them” indicates a reward that awaits the faithful that I am sure Dr. Gideon enjoys. That statement however also implies that his “works” or influence “follow him” because in the life of those of us who knew him, his example continues to bear fruit. Longfellow expressed it best in his poem “Psalm of Life.”
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us;
Footprints on the sands of time.Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co 1902), 3.
The book of 2 Corinthians is regarded by some as the most neglected, unknown, or even ignored major writing of the New Testament. Because of this, an emphasis on its contents proves beneficial.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul bared his heart (2 Cor. 6:11b) and revealed his personal thoughts (6:11a) more than in any of his other writings. The issues with which he dealt required a sincere genuine revelation of his real self. “The occasion of the letter was a resurgence of antagonism to Paul’s apostolic authority, and its purpose was the vindication by Paul of that authority.”George R. Beasley-Murray, “2 Corinthians,”” Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 2.
”While the entire letter is a vindication of Paul’s integrity and authority, a plausible suggestion is that the insult which crowned the slanders of Paul’s opponents was an accusation by a Corinthian church member in the presence of the church that Paul was organizing the collection for his own benefit with the intention of putting it in his pocket (see 12:16ff).”Ibid., 3.
Such a vendetta against Paul’s integrity evoked the personal, emotional response that became an apologetic, and even a polemic, against the accusers and the false accusations.
I. Paul and the Corinthians (1:1-14)
Even though Paul began this letter with the typical opening of his other letters, here the greeting is atypical because in it he states the major theme of the entire book, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” The questioning of the authority and authenticity of Paul’s apostleship was what the unrest at Corinth was all about! He was not a bogus, man made, self-made apostle but rather a Godappointed apostle.
Timothy was included, indicating his presence with Paul in Macedonia at the time of writing. God’s church at Corinth with all God’s people, “saints,” in Achaia were the recipients of the message.
“Peace” was no mere “hello” for Paul but indicated all that was meant by salvation and because of that, God’s forgiving grace always preceded it in the formula of greeting.
In the doxology (1:3-4) God is praised as a God of comfort, giving mercy to the troubled and afflicted. Paul was probably reminding the Corinthians that there was help for the trouble that they were experiencing and, at the same time, he introduced the theme of his own sufferings as an apostle through which God had brought him. Having experienced comfort from God, Paul became a minister of that comfort to others. The trouble of which Paul spoke, “which came to us in Asia” (1:8), was probably the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41). The victory that God gave Paul was a deliverance from death that enabled him not only to live but to praise the Lord and reach out to the Corinthians and share that comfort.
He stated his testimony of godly conduct among them, that is, not to boast of his goodness but to praise God. The Corinthians and their salvation were Paul’s boast “in the day of Christ.”
II. Questioning Paul’s Trustworthiness and Intentions (2 Cor. 1:15-2:4)
Paul had indicated that he would return to Corinth and visit the church. When he had not returned, his critics used that as an occasion to accuse him of being fickle and unreliable. The statement of “Yes and No” (1:18) was an expression that indicated double-mindedness. Paul refuted the allegation and stated that his plans were not of the flesh but from the leadership of God. He pointed out that his message was the single “Yes” of the preaching of the gospel and the promises of God. Likewise, his intentions to come to them and his love for them constituted the eternal “Yes!” (1:20).
The reason that the visit was delayed or postponed was that Paul did not want ”to come again” to them “in sorrow” (2:1). He was writing to spare them the rebuke that he would have to bring (1:23). The instruction and encouragement of this letter was to help them correct the difficulty and error in order that when he came to them it would be a pleasant, edifying experience (12:20f.; 13:2-5, 10).
III. Forgiveness for the Offender (2:5-11)
Neither the offense nor the offender was identified by Paul. Some have held that the offender was the man referred to in 1 Cor. 5:1ff. However, the language of 2 Cor. 2:5 seems to imply that Paul himself was the person wronged (cf. 7:12). The offense possibly was an attack in public on the authenticity of Paul’s apostleship and an accusation that questioned his integrity, especially his honesty in money matters (cf. 12:17f.).
The emphasis of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians was not on the offense or even the offender. The important point for Paul was not that he himself had been wronged, for he stated that he had forgiven the person. Paul’s concern was that the church handle the matter and act properly, “that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2:9; cf. 7:12). The offense was a church matter, though directed against Paul, and needed to be handled by the church.
Once Paul realized that the majority in the church had acted, he was willing to forgive to the same extent that the church had forgiven and encourage that the offender be restored (2:10; 6:8). The spirit of restoration would prohibit Satan using the circumstances of the situation to cast negative reflection on the church (2:11). If the offender was not forgiven or was treated too harshly, the cause of Christ could be blamed. On the other hand, if the offender was not rebuked, the church would be guilty of compromise. The action of the church in forgiving the person was matched by Paul’s forgiving spirit (2:10).
IV. Looking for Titus (2:12-13, cf. 7:12ff.; 12:18)
Titus was to bring information to Paul concerning the condition of the church at Corinth. When he went to Troas and did not find Titus, Paul was faced with a dilemma. In Troas “a door was opened” for Paul to preach the gospel. Yet he was concerned about the church at Corinth and needed to find Titus. He let the Corinthians know that his concern for them pulled him away from the evangelistic opportunity in Troas, and he went on to Macedonia to find Titus. Paul then interrupted his thoughts and burst into a doxology of praise (2:14-6:18) and did not return to the matter of needing the report from Titus until chapter 7 (cf. 7:5ff.).
V. Spreading the Aroma of the Knowledge of God (2:14-17)
The picture behind Paul’s doxology was that of a triumphal parade of an ancient king or general returning home after winning significant victories. The victor rode in his chariot leading captives in chains behind him. The parade route was lined with cheering spectators burning incense in celebration of the victory. The aroma of the incense filled the air, indicating death for the captives but signifying joy and life to those who were on the side of the victorious monarch.
The participle, “leading us in triumph” (thriambeuonti) is most likely causal, “causing us to triumph.” The word originally meant a “hymn to Baccus” but came to be translated “triumph” in Latin.Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Ml: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), 1259f. The term was utilized in the Roman world to describe the joy and mirth of celebration which they mistakenly attributed to Baccus, the god of wine. The victory processions of the ancient kings were described by the term.
Paul used the word here and in Col. 2:15 to picture the triumph that redemption in Christ gives. The “fragrance” of the believer’s celebration (incense) is the knowledge of God (preaching, witnessing the gospel) being diffused in every place. To some it is the aroma of life because they understand, accept, and believe. To others, who remain on the side opposite the victorious Christ, it becomes the aroma signifying death because they refuse to believe and accept the pardon. In this sense the diffusing of the knowledge of God “through us” (2 Cor. 2:14) becomes the “keys of the kingdom” (Matt. 16:19; cf. Matt. 18:18; John 20:23). The diffusing of the “fragrance of His knowledge” in every place becomes the focus of eternal life or eternal death.
Awesome is the responsibility of those who are entrusted the challenge of spreading “the fragrance of His knowledge” (preaching the gospel). “. . .Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). Complete sincerity and utter dependence on God, not “peddling the word” for selfish gain, must characterize the messengers who preach the gospel (2:17). Eternal destiny for those who needed the knowledge of God depended on the sincerity and integrity of those bearing the message of the gospel (cf. 4:1-3).
VI. The Old Covenant and the New Covenant Compared (3:1-11)
Some of Paul’s critics in Corinth were apparently Judaizers (cf. 11:22). The custom and policy of teachers carrying letters of recommendations from one place to another serving as credentials for credibility was quite common in Paul’s day (3:1; cf. also Acts 15:23ff.; 18:27; Rom. 16:lf; 2 John 10; 3John 5-7). The troublemakers at Corinth cast suspicion and doubt on Paul’s genuineness as an apostle because he did not follow this policy (cf. Gal. 1:10-17). Paul cited the obvious success of the experience of the Corinthian believers as the proof of the authenticity of his message and ministry (2 Cor. 3:2f.). He did not have to commend himself (3:1) but had trust and confidence that it was evident that God gave that sufficiency (3:4-6).
The old covenant was engraved on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai and had its own kind and time of glory. It, however, accomplished its providential purpose and was transient (Gal. 3:23-25), and its glory faded (2 Cor. 2:7, lla). The gospel of grace, Paul’s dispensation (ministry), remained and was more glorious (3:llb). The new covenant did not minister through the outward, mechanical writing on tablets of stone as at Sinai. It ministered through the Holy Spirit, was written in the hearts of the Corinthian believers, and changed their lives (3:3, 6-8; cf. Jer. 31:31ff.; Ezek. 36:26).
VII. The Permanent, Continuing Glory of the Gospel (2 Cor. 3:12-4:6)
The glorious hope of the gospel that continued or remained gave Paul an attitude of boldness in speech (3:12). He referred to Moses’ face shining (Exod. 34:29ff.) when he returned from Mt. Sinai, from the presence of the Lord. A veil was placed on Moses’ face to hide the glory of his face shining, because the children of Israel could not look steadily at the “end of what was passing away” (2 Cor. 3:13). The veil on Moses’ face was there to hide the shining of his face because it was “blinding” for the Israelites to look at it. Paul used the veil that hid the glory of the Lord in Moses’ face as an illustration of the spiritual condition of hardness and blindness of the Judaizers to the gospel (3:14f.). Paul proclaimed that belief in the gospel of Christ resulted in the veil being taken away and the full glory being seen in Jesus (3:16). There was bondage because of the blindness and hardness but the Spirit of the Lord freed from the slavery of unbelief, resulting in an openness and transformation into the image of Christ (3:18).
Paul described his ministry as having “renounced the hidden things of shame” (4:2) and as having openly and trustworthily preached the gospel. The veil that hid the glory of old did not hide the truth that Paul clearly set forth the gospel. The demand for credibility was felt because, if the gospel was not clearly and correctly preached, it was hidden (veiled) to the spiritually lost (4:3). The battle was against “the god of this age” who had blinded those who were perishing (cf. John 9:39-41). Instead of the gospel being handled deceitfully (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2), Paul was opening (unveiling) the truth that “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (4:4-6; cf. John 3:19-21). Paul made it plain that he was preaching Christ, not himself (2 Cor. 4:5). It was in the face of Jesus, unveiled or “revealed” through Paul’s preaching of the gospel, that the light “has shone in our hearts,” manifesting the glory of God (4:6).
VIII. The Work of the Ministry (4:7-6:13)
Paul admitted that the ministry of the gospel in his life was a treasure in a weak, earthen vessel. He gave complete credit to God for the good that was done (4:7). Being weak, he revealed that the persecutions and hardships were discouraging. The awareness that it was Christ who was being glorified and that the Corinthians were being saved and served gave him the victory and courage to continue serving (4:7-12, 14, 16). The comparison of the hardship which was temporary (“light affliction, which is but for a moment,” 4:17) with the eternal glory or reward gave Paul the assurance that the price that he was paying was worth it in terms of spiritual help and heavenly reward (4:18).
Paul had his faith in the heavenly, eternal, spiritual dimensions to give success and triumph for his service to the Lord in face of criticism, ridicule, and persecution (4:18; 5:lff.). He realized the transient nature of the earthly life but had an assurance that when (if) the body, “our earthly house, this tent,” is taken down in death, there is the permanent “building from God…eternal in the heavens” (5:1). Facing the dangers of persecution and the ridicule of the antagonists, Paul was reassured that it was worth it to be faithful in the ministry of the word because he knew that there would be eternal victory in the resurrection when ”mortality may be swallowed up by life” (5:4; cf. also 1 Cor. 15:57). Confidence in ultimate victory (2 Cor. 5:6, 8) is sealed by the “guarantee” of the Spirit (5:5). The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is the down payment, guarantee, or “first installment” assuring that the full payment will follow. (cf. also 1:22; Eph. 1:14). Paul had security in boldly proclaiming the gospel, knowing that even if this earthly life was terminated, he had a greater reward in heaven (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:12).
Recognizing that every person must give an account in the judgment, the aim or goal of the minister should be to please the Lord, whether in this life or when called to his heavenly home (2 Cor. 5:9). Knowing the certainty of judgment and the hope of the gospel, Paul emphasized his intentions and convictions to be faithful in the ministry of the word and to “persuade men” to believe in Christ (5:9-11). In light of the insinuations of his critics in Corinth, Paul declared that he was “well known to God” and, he hoped, to the Corinthians (5:11).
Paul stated that he was not commending himself (5:12a) but, instead, was giving the Corinthians reason to be proud of him and a basis to answer the critics who were proud of them selves, “those who glory in appearance and not in heart” (5:12b). The charge had been leveled against Paul that he had been unspiritual because of his restrained manner of instruction, devoid of spiritual ecstasy. He defended his position by contrasting being “beside ourselves,” denoting spiritual ecstasy, as being “for God,” with being of ”sound mind,” restrained in worship, as being “for you” (5:13). Paul indicated that the high spiritual experience was in his private relationship to God and that the restrained, responsible teaching was for the benefit of the Corinthians to guide them to a wholesome, balanced expression of discipleship. What was best for the Corinthians and that which would glorify God characterized Paul’s ministry from beginning to end.
The controlling, overriding principle that governed Paul’s life and ministry was the love of Christ, “The love of Christ constrains (controls) us . . .” (5:14). Christ died for all and those who follow him must be willing to forget commending themselves, “die” for him, cease living for themselves, and live for him who died for them (5:15).
The spiritual experience of knowing Christ changed lives and the change that came spiritually was how born again people were known, not “according to the flesh” or how they once were (5:16). Before the Damascus road experience, Paul had mistakenly viewed Christ as a mere man, “after the flesh.” How wrong he was! He realized that Jesus was more than a man and, from that point forward, he changed his evaluation from the human estimate to the reverence of the eternal Son of God. In the same way, Paul ceased to think of other people according to worldly standards but in terms of their worth in Christ. The conversion experience, brought about by faith in Christ, changed the people and they were “new creations.” The old life was transformed into the new. Paul saw the new person in Christ (5:17).
The change from the old to the new creation was from God through the act of reconciliation. God took the initiative and provided the reconciliation or change through Jesus Christ (5:18; cf. Col. 1:20f.; Rom. 5:lOf.). The word for reconciliation (katallaxantos) carries the idea of a peace treaty being signed. The basic meaning indicates that a change had been made between God and man. The enmity and spiritual estrangement caused by sin had been taken away through the sacrificial death of Jesus. God’s grace had made possible the forgiveness of man’s sin and through faith in Christ man found peace with the Father.
The reconciliation, or making peace between man and God, was the basis of Paul’s ministry. God had commissioned not only the apostle Paul to this ministry but also the church at Corinth. The ministry of reconciliation and the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18f.) were the responsibility of the apostle and the church at Corinth. The task was seemingly defined in terms of not only the church but also of each individual member. Paul challenged them to realize with him that ”we are ambassadors for Christ” (5:20). As an ambassador or representative of Christ, Paul and the Corinthians had the ministry to tell people the same thing that Jesus would tell them if he were present: “Be reconciled to God” (5:20). The change or peace that resulted from the sacrifice of Christ was described as a divine, spiritual transaction. God made Christ to be sin for us, though he was innocent, in order that we might be given the credit for his righteousness (5:21).
Paul’s strong encouragement to the Corinthians was that they realize that they were participating with the Lord as fellow-workers (6:1). Because they had received God’s grace, they should not treat it emptily but should give their best in furthering the ministry. The urgency of the day of acceptance, the day of salvation, and the challenge to seize the opportunity to be committed to that ministry was emphasized as being now (6:2)!
The overwhelming importance of the apostolic ministry was the theme of Paul’s message to the Corinthians. He was concerned that nothing become an offense that would hinder the acceptance and success of the gospel (6:3; cf. 1 Cor. 9:27). On the contrary, there was need to be approved in all things as the ministers of God (2 Cor. 6:4). The stamp of Paul’s approval was evident in faithfulness under the pressure of persecution (6:4b-5), by purity of motive and conduct (6:6), and by loyalty to the truth in service to the Lord (6:7). The armor on the right was the offensive weapon of attack and the armor on the left was the defensive shield of protection. The gospel was proclaimed in offensive attack and the apostle and his message must be protected and defended when maliciously attacked.
The approval was manifested in the comparison of five couplets of opposites. The minister of the gospel was vulnerable to the vacillating opinions of this world. Popular on the one hand, he was despised on the other (6:8a). Spoken well of at one moment, he was ridiculed the next (6:8b). Accused of deception (Paul was accused of being a deceiver, an imposter, and a false apostle), he was vindicated by the truth (6:8c). The world, even some of the Corinthians, ignored Paul’s leadership and treated him as being “unknown,” but he was well known by God and the faithful followers of Christ (6:9a). The apostle frequently spoke of himself as being dead to self in Christ but alive in the Spirit in discipleship and service (6:9b; cf. Gal. 2:20). Being poor, forsaking worldly gain, was the price to be paid for faithful service. There were those who accused Paul of serving with a utilitarian motive to get selfish gain. He identified himself as being poor in worldly esteem and possessions but making many spiritually rich through his ministry in the gospel (2 Cor. 6:10). This testimony of self-giving commitment was Paul’s credential for passing the test and requirement for being approved as a servant and an apostle.
Paul had brought the justification and defense of his ministry to an end. He reminded the Corinthians that he had bared his soul, poured out his heart, and been completely honest with them. He had a big heart for them in love. He called on them to reciprocate and open their hearts in honesty, love, and acceptance in response to what he was doing for them. The feeling between them was not limited by Paul’s lack of love for them but by the restriction of their affections for him (6:11-13).
IX. The Warning Against Compromise (6:14-7:1)
The call for the Corinthians to separate them selves from compromising relationships with unbelievers (6:14-7:1) broke the mood or thought that pervaded in the preceding para graph. From the opening of their hearts to him, Paul turned to a warning against identification with those who did not submit to God’s rule. “Unequally yoked with unbelievers” had a broader, more general application than the marriage relationship. In Deut. 22:l0f., the application forbade mixing different kinds of seeds for planting a vineyard and using different materials in clothes. The emphasis was on hitching two incompatible animals together. Later the concept was applied to Jews marrying foreigners and to a teacher associating with those who held heretical views. Throughout this passage Paul was calling on the Corinthians to separate themselves from unbelievers and not include them in personal relationships nor allow them in the fellowship of the church (2 Cor. 6:17f.). Because the promises of God offered such great reward, it was worthwhile to forsake every evil association and be a testimony of the holiness of godly life (7:1).
X. Paul’s Desire for Affirmation (7:2-4)
Paul returned to the discussion of the relationship that he had with the Corinthians that was interrupted after 6:13. There he had challenged them to “enlarge” their attitude of understanding toward him, and now he asked them to receive him and Timothy, that is, “open your hearts to us” (7:2a). He made it clear that if there was any dissension, it was on their part, and that he had wronged or corrupted no one. When he stated that “we have defrauded no one,” he could have been refuting the accusation of being a parasite on churches and being dishonest in money matters. It was his purpose not to condemn them but rather to assure them that they were in his heart in a life-or-death kind of commitment. He was so bold in confidence that he boasted concerning the pride that he had in them. This attitude of assurance gave Paul encouragement and joy even in all the turmoil that he had been experiencing.
XI. Titus Brought Reason for Rejoicing (7:5-15)
Finding Titus and receiving his report from Corinth was a matter of concern of which Paul had spoken earlier (2:12f.). Leaving the opportunity to preach at Troas, Paul had gone to Macedonia anxiously hoping to find Titus. Now he gave account of arriving in Macedonia and experiencing no rest because of not finding Titus. There were troubles everywhere. Inwardly he felt the agony of fear concerning the people at Corinth. Outwardly the conflicts of persecution and opposition raged on (7:5).
Relief and comfort came with the arrival of Titus bearing good news from his visit with the Corinthians (7:6). The letter that Paul had written caused the people there to face the problem (7:8; cf. 2:4f.). He expressed regret that the message of his letter was so harsh that it had created sorrow. Yet he rejoiced because out of the grief had come repentance that motivated them to “clear” themselves. They had exhibited a concern for Paul and a desire to confront the situation of the offender. Neither the one offended, which apparently was Paul, nor the offender, an unnamed person in the church at Corinth, was important. The church had faced up to the responsibility of handling the difficult situation, and that was the purpose of the harsh message in the letter and the important thing to Paul (7:12).
In handling the problem and confronting the person who had “offended” or accused Paul (2:4ff.), the Corinthians had both affirmed their support of the apostle and assumed their responsibility of correcting the difficulty. Paul was comforted and encouraged by that report and also by the way they received and encouraged Titus. Fearing that the problem would be made worse by another personal visit by himself (cf. 1:23; 2:1), Paul had sent Titus. Paul had “boasted” to Titus of the Corinthians. The younger servant had gone there with “fear and trembling.” They had made Paul glad because they not only received Titus and lived up to the positive report about them (7:14b), but also encouraged Titus by their reverent care. Paul was relieved and expressed a positive confidence in the Corinthians (7:16).
XII. Growing in the Grace of Giving (8:1-9:15)
Some feel that these two chapters make up a different letter. There is really no justification to separate these chapters from the rest of the book. There is indeed a shift in subject matter, but that is not unusual for Paul. The emphasis is on the collection or offering for the poor in Jerusalem and Judea (9:1; cf. Rom. 15:25-28; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; Acts 24:17).
The Corinthians and all Achaia had purposed the previous year to participate in the collection (2 Cor. 8:10; 9:2). Paul was writing to encourage them to follow through and make their intentions a reality (8:11). He was also sending Titus and some messengers (apostles, cf. 8:23) to lead the Corinthians to gather the offering and be prepared lest the church be embarrassed in the presence of the Macedonians (9:4).
The “brother” (8:18) and “our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things” (8:22) accompanying Titus were not named. Suggestions have included Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Mark, and Erastus. There is no way of knowing for sure. These had been chosen by the churches for this ministry. They were chosen not only to lead in the preparation but also to accompany Paul to Jerusalem with the offering that all might know that their gift reached the intended destination (8:19ff.). Paul encouraged the people to follow their leadership (8:24) and commended Titus to the Corinthians (8:6, 16-20, 23).
The reason for the poverty in Jerusalem is not known. Famine caused by drought has been suggested as a possibility. Agabus, the prophet, had predicted a great famine (Acts 11:28). Another suggestion is related to the practice that the church “had all things common” because they sold their possessions and laid the revenue “at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32, 34-35, 37). They treated these gifts as income rather than capital. They distributed the gifts as need arose but when the gifts were gone, there was no source of revenue to replenish the supply. Distribution without production led to want. Persecution could possibly account for the destitute condition of the Christians in the area. It would seem, however, that famine caused by drought would be the most obvious explanation.
Paul challenged the Corinthians to ”abound” in the grace of giving because they excelled in “everything” (2 Cor. 8:7). He is possibly combining a compliment with an inference that they had claimed to be efficient in all things, especially knowledge (cf. 1 Cor. 8:1-4). Now it was time to demonstrate their progress and claims by giving a generous gift (2 Cor. 8:11, 24).
Two incentives were set forth as examples of giving. The Macedonians in the severe test of affliction and extreme poverty had overflowed in a wealth of liberality, giving sacrificially “beyond their ability” (8:3) in a spirit of joy. The depth of their consecration was reflected in that they first gave themselves, considering that it was a privilege and an honor to give (8:1-5). The example of the Lord Jesus Christ was also a model for sacrificial giving. He laid aside the riches of glory and became poor, that by his poverty and sacrifice all might become rich. Paul challenged the Corinthians to give, holding before them the example of the Macedonians and the great gift of grace by the Savior.
Their gift should issue from a spiritual experience of worshipful gratitude. Necessity or a grudging, disgruntled attitude would not motivate generous giving. A positive, cheerful spirit was advised. Giving little would shortchange blessing just as a farmer sowing few seed would lessen the harvest. Giving in abundance in a generous way would multiply the blessings.
Participation in the collection was based on the balance of equality in sharing (8:14). No one was expected to give that which he did not have (8:12). The purpose was not that the Corinthians be burdened and others have plenty. The Judean Christians were in need and the Corinthians could help because they were blessed by God. The time might come when the situation would be reversed and the people in Jerusalem could help the Corinthians (8:14).
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give generously because of the results. They would enjoy God’s blessings because they gave (9:8-11). Their participation would generate thanksgiving to God (9:11f.). Their obedience in this matter would glorify God (9:13). The fellowship be tween them and the Judean Christians would be strengthened (9:14). All giving was an expression of praise for what God had already done. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (9:15).
XIII. A Warning to the Rebellious (10:1-6)
The tone and the subject of the book shifts again. There is an attitude of vigorous defense of Paul’s apostolic authority and personal integrity. Some interpreters feel that this was a separate letter and was written before chapters 1-9. A time lapse between the writing of chapter 9 and chapters 10-13 might account for the shift in atmosphere.
The accusation and insinuation was made that Paul was bold in letters but a coward in presence (10:lf., l0f.). He begged the Corinthians that he might not have to be bold (severe) in presence when he would come to them (10:2). He let them know that he had confidence to confront and correct some who were out of line. They had accused him of walking according to the flesh. Although he walked in the flesh, his fight and authority were not according to the flesh. The weapons were not carnal but mighty in God and completely effective in defeating and punishing the disobedient.
XIV. The Basis of Boasting (10:7-12:10)
Boasting and building themselves up by calling attention to their “credentials” and letters of recommendation were the practices of the false apostles in Corinth. They were attempting to discredit Paul with their boasting. Paul implied that their boasting was based on the superficial cosmetics of appearance (10:7; 11:18). His boasting was based on his relationship to the Lord (10:7) and his own sufferings (11:23-28). His boasting was “in the Lord” and his approval came through commendation from the Lord (10:17f.).
The false apostles claimed to belong to Christ in an exclusive way, indicating that Paul did not have their unique relationship to the Lord. Apparently there was a faction of ”snobbish saints” in the Corinthian church that claimed a special, inside-track relationship to Christ (10:7; 11:23; cf. 1 Cor. 1:12). Paul’s authority came from the Lord, not from some empty claim to belong to Christ in a special way. God-given authority was for building the people not destroying them (2 Cor. 10:8).
Criticism of Paul by the false apostles included the implication that his speaking ability lacked eloquence and that his physical appearance was weak and unattractive (10:10; 11:6). Warning was given that his strength in word, in letters, would be matched in deed, in presence, when he came back (10:11). Comparison was not made with those who were boasting, commending themselves, and comparing themselves with one another (10:12). Paul’s boasting was within responsible parameters which God had appointed and was in keeping with the work that he had done, not glorying in the work of some one else (10:15f.). The false apostles had apparently usurped the role of having begun the work at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15). His hope was that the church at Corinth would support in the mission of extending the gospel beyond their region and not in boasting in what someone else (Paul) had sacrificed to accomplish (2 Cor. 10:14-16).
Paul referred to the boasting as folly (11:1). He asked that the Corinthians bear with him in his boasting because of his concern and love for them (11:2, 11). There was need for him to call attention to what he had done (“boast”) in order to establish confidence in his authority and sincerity. The false apostles were boasting, promoting themselves, and threatening to deceive the people (11:13-15). The message that the false teachers propagated might deceive the Corinthians and lead them astray (11:2-4; cf. Gal. 1:6-10). Paul was jealous of their loyalty with a godly jealousy that they might remain faithful to the true gospel. His boasting was to keep their confidence in him that they might not be led astray.
Those opposing Paul had called him an inferior apostle or leader. One of their criticisms had apparently been to cast reflection on him because he worked in secular work to support himself (2 Cor. 11:7). Among the Greek philosophers, there was the concept that a worthy teacher was above secular, manual labor. Paul contended that he was right in working, that he be a burden in nothing, and be indebted to no one (11:9-10, 12). His policy in working to support himself in no way implied that he was not qualified as an apostle (11:6). He was pleased that he had not been burdensome and that the churches in Macedonia supplied support, rather than the Corinthians having to provide it (11:9). His willingness to sacrifice in providing for himself set him apart from his critics who wanted “to be regarded just as we are” because they were unwilling to humble themselves and work (11:12).
Paul again asked the church’s indulgence as he boasted (11:16). Many boasted according to the flesh and the people put up with it even to the point of being abused by the boasters (11:18-20). There seemed to be a note of sarcasm as Paul identified with weakness only in that he was too weak to mistreat the people and take advantage of them (11:21).
The false apostles were setting themselves up as ministers, attempting to justify their claims by their boastings, commendation of themselves, and letters of recommendation. Paul compared their so-called credentials to his. He was a Hebrew, Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, and a minister of Christ just as they claimed to be (ll:22f.). In addition to all that they claimed, he gave a detailed list of the perils and persecutions that he had endured in order to be faithful in mission and ministry (11:23-27; cf. Gal. 6:17). He also called attention to his daily love, concern, and care for the welfare of all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). His compassion caused him to identify with the weak and to become indignant when churches and church members were deceived and led astray (11:29).
In something of a conclusion concerning boasting, Paul pointed out that he would boast or glory in the things which concerned his weakness or infirmity (11:30). He called attention to his accountability to God in Christ for all that he claimed. He cited the experience of danger and deliverance in Damascus as another verification of his right to expect the people to have confidence in him (11:31-33).
Paul continued the distasteful exercise of boasting with reluctance: “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast” (12:1). The marginal reading is clearer: “It is necessary, though not profitable, to boast.” The critics and boasters were possibly the “hyperspiritual,” gnosticminded ones who flaunted their report of heavenly, spiritual visions as evidence of their revelations from the supernatural and as credibility for their authority. Paul’s description of his humiliations and sufferings (ll:23ff.) would appear to indicate, to some, the opposite of a special, inside-track relationship to God. Paul, however, felt that he must match each boast by his critics with an explanation on his part that would correct their false implication and justify his own experience. “But whatever any one dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast of that” (11:21, RSV).
He included an experience of spiritual ecstasy told in the third person (12:lff.). There is little credible doubt that the experience of the “man in Christ” (12:2) was autobiographical. Paul included the account of this vision in indirect terms to give evidence of such a relationship to the Lord, yet not taking credit for it or claiming that any such revelation held any reliable indication of authenticity of authority. The mention of the third heaven was a reference to the Jewish world-view of a three-tiered universe, the third one being the highest, where Jehovah resided. He lost all contact with or awareness of the physical body and did not know where he was in reference to it.
The location and meaning of paradise has been a matter of question. In Luke 23:43, Jesus promised the thief on the cross that “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” John reported the promise of the risen Lord to those of the church at Ephesus who overcame that they would “eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). In Rev. 22:1-2, the tree of life is located where “the throne of God and of the Lamb” are. Paradise, therefore, is where God and the Lamb are, that is, heaven.
The sacred words that were heard, “not lawful for a man to utter,” intensified the holiness of the experience and the reverence with which it was received. Hearing or seeing such high and holy things that were not to be voiced lightly was not uncommon among those who gave witness to such ecstatic visions. Isaiah’s experience included a touching of his mouth and lips with purifying fire (Isa. 6:6). The primary emphasis of the prophet was cleansing because he was a man of unclean lips and his iniquity was taken away and his sin was purged (Isa. 6:5-7). The implication there was that what he saw was too high and holy for the expression of common human lips. The seer of the Revelation was instructed to seal off some of the utterances revealed to him and not record them (Rev. 10:2-4). What the apostle Paul saw and heard was to edify and encourage him, not to propagate or boast about in self-defense or self-glorying. He would not play the fool lest someone think more highly of him than he was in reality. He chose to glory only in his infirmities which the accusers were belittling (2 Cor. 12:5-6, 10).
Temptation to feel exalted came with the spiritual experience of ecstasy. To assure that Paul would not be filled with sinful pride, a thorn or stake in the flesh was given to him, which he described as a ”messenger of Satan to buffet” lest he “be exalted above measure” (12:7). What the thorn was has been a matter of discussion and conjecture although the text does not name it. The word skolops can mean “thorn” or “stake.”
Taken to mean “thorn in the flesh,” the emphasis would seem to be some malady or affliction. The most likely would be poor eyesight (cf. Gal. 4:13ff.; 6:11) resulting from an extreme case of malaria. Paul would have been hindered in movement and would possibly have needed someone to accompany him and lead him around to enable him to find his way. Satan would certainly have been pleased not only with people discrediting the great messenger of the gospel because of this, but also with his growing inability to do tasks in the ministry of the gospel. The interpretations are many and one should consult the responsible commentaries for other possible meanings.
If skolops is interpreted to mean ”stake” it could refer to “cross.” In this case the “thorn” might have been a spiritual burden. It could describe recurring “flashbacks” of the apostle’s former hatred of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16) and his relentless fight against him and the church. Satan could certainly use that to cause anguish and pain that would humble Paul and keep him from being “exalted above measure.”
Whatever the agony of the thorn, Paul “pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart” from him. The Lord indicated that the purpose in Paul’s life would be positive in keeping the apostle humble, enabling divine strength to be manifested through him. The power of the Lord could work more completely when the human vessel was humble and utterly dependent upon divine strength (12:8f.).
Contrary to the approach of his accusers who flaunted their human “credentials,” Paul chose to emphasize his infirmities, reproaches, needs, and distresses for Christ’s sake because these humbled him and made him aware of his need to rely on Christ and then he was made strong (12:9b-10). The word translated “infirmity” (astbeneia), that the apostle identified with the “thorn,” commonly described stumbling or faltering of step caused by physical weakness, brought on by disease (cf. Luke 5:15; 8:2; 13:11; Acts 28:9). It could well describe someone stumbling over obstacles because of poor eye sight.
XV. Commendable Conduct (2 Cor. 12:11-21)
Again, Paul confesses the folly of boasting (12:11). He points out that the Corinthians made him do it. They should have been commending him and justifying his character and conduct in the face of the onslaught of slander by the “superlative apostles.” Since the Corinthians did not, it was left to him to plead his case and give the evidence that would counter the accusations against him and correct the false claims of his opponents.
He contended that he was not inferior to the highest apostles, though he was nothing, and the church was not inferior to other churches even if he did not expect them to pay him as some ministers and churches did. When he exclaimed, “Please forgive me for this!” he reverted to sarcasm. He emphasized that he was interested in them and their loyalty and welfare. Just as he had not been a financial burden to them before, he would not be in the third visit that he was planning. As their “parent” in the Lord he was interested in providing for them rather than becoming burdensome to them. Expressing a genuine sacrificial spirit, he let them know that he would spend his money for their welfare and he would gladly give himself and “be spent” for their good. The more he showed or proved his love for them, the less they reciprocated in demonstrating loyalty and support for him.
The allegation was made that, while Paul took nothing publicly from the church, he received plenty through his representatives that he kept sending with his letters to Corinth (cf. 12:16-17). He set this straight by pointing out that Titus and “the brother” did not take advantage of the church, and they conducted themselves in the same spirit and manner that Paul had in all the money matters (12:18). He owed no apology, justification, or defense to the Corinthians. He was setting the record straight because of his responsibility in Christ and to make sure they understood the truth that they might be built up and not be hindered by false implications (12:19).
Paul was fearful that the people had not corrected the problems of attitude and conduct. He was afraid that when he came he would have to deal with them in a way that was not pleasing to them. He did not want to be humbled by God among them because he would have to act harshly in dealing with the rebellious and mourn in disappointment for those who were in error (12:20-21; cf. 13:2).
XVI. Encouragement to Improve (13:1-10)
Paul resumed his emphasis of 12:14 concerning his third visit to Corinth. He warned that if the rebellion and insinuation continued there would be a thorough investigation. No one would be dealt with on the basis of suspicion, but, according to Old Testament law, witnesses would be called (Deut. 19:15). Apostolic authority would not only be in evidence but would be exercised (2 Cor. 13:2f.). He renewed the warning that was given on his second visit and asserted that judgment and punishment would not be spared when he came the third time.
Some had interpreted Paul’s patience as weakness and lack of courage to act. He cited Jesus’ obedience in going to the cross, his “being crucified in weakness,” which made possible his living by the power of God. Paul’s patient love for the Corinthians was like the “weakness” of Christ, but the power of God was in the apostle and would be manifested through his authority if necessary (13:4). The false apostles led the people to question whether Paul’s authority came from Christ. They compared his authority unfavorably with the “super apostles.” However, the Corinthians would have proof that Christ was speaking in him, and for some it would be an unwelcome demonstration (13:3).
They were doubting Paul’s relationship to Christ and calling for proof that Christ was speaking in him. He challenged them to conduct a spiritual inventory and examine their relationship to Christ. They should prove themselves and determine the reality and genuineness of their faith or realize that they were disqualified (13:5). He emphasized that they should, by now, have all the evidence needed to be assured that he was not disqualified (13:6).
He encouraged them to refrain from evil, not just to make him look good, but that they should be right and honorable, even if he appeared to be discredited in that he would not have to manifest the authority God had given him (13:7). What he was doing was not contrary to the truth but in behalf of the truth and what was right (13:8).
He rejoiced when the Corinthians were strong and right and when they proved in their conduct and attitude that he had no case against them. His prayer for them was that they “mend their ways.” The word katartisin is used again in 13:11 and carries the idea of self-correction or self-improvement. The idea is the same as mending a net (Mark 1:19) or setting a broken bone to enable it to mend or grow properly. It is used in Gal. 6:1 in the sense of restoring to the fellowship of the forgiven a person guilty of mistake and error. Paul was informing the Corinthians that he would be glad if they corrected the difficulty and spared him the necessity of showing his power and authority (2 Cor. 13:9). He was writing these admonitions, rebukes, and challenges while absent, lest being there in presence he would be forced to use his authority in a severe manner. The authority and leadership that God had given him was to establish and build up churches, not to take joy in having to show power in correcting or tearing down (13:10).
XVII. A Parting Blessing (13:11-14)
The apostle closed the letter with a constructive word, not with a threat, warning, or criticism. He encouraged his readers to “mend” their broken relationships of discord and disorder. He instructed them to comfort one another by working together and helping each other. His admonition that they “be of one mind” was certainly applicable to a fellowship of people whose relationships had been disrupted and torn by dissension. The directive that they “live in peace” was appropriate for a group of people who had been victims of unrest and confusion. The practice of peace toward “each other” would enable them to experience the presence of the God of love and peace.
Another gesture of fellowship and reconciliation was “greeting one another with a holy kiss.” Paul’s encouragement to the Corinthians to this practice was more than a mere formality. Men kissed men and women kissed women as an act of fellowship and Christian love, giving evidence that all remembrance of wrong or ill-will had been banished. The greeting from other Christians (13:3) was something of a custom, but, in this case, it is meaningful in the sense of acceptance and affirmation.
The benediction (13:14) was expanded beyond the norm for Paul’s letters. The blessing that was pronounced was significantly pertinent to the church at Corinth. All three persons of the trinity were included. The order was unusual but meaningful. The grace of the Lord Jesus was emphasized first. For a church that had been torn by selfishness and strife, an emphasis on the forgiving qualities of grace was needed. The Christian experience always begins with the pardoning that comes through grace. The love of God (the Father) was called to attention next. Those who would want to make this first should remember that it is through the grace of the Lord Jesus that the love of God is known and experienced. The communion or fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit was emphasized. It is only through the grace of the Lord Jesus that the fellowship with the Holy Spirit can be experienced.
Paul concluded this writing to a church which had been threatened by false information, torn by internal strife, and at odds with him, by pronouncing a blessing. They needed to remember the grace of the Lord Jesus. They needed a fresh look at the Father’s love, and a challenge to walk in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
|↑1||All Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise identified.|
|↑2||Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co 1902), 3.|
|↑3||George R. Beasley-Murray, “2 Corinthians,”” Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 2.|
|↑5||Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Ml: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965), 1259f.|
Southwestern Journal of Theology
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