Bible Book Number 47—2 Corinthians
Place Written: Macedonia
Writing Completed: c. 55 C.E.
1, 2. (a) What led to Paul’s writing his second letter to the Corinthians? (b) From where did Paul write, and about what was he concerned?
IT WAS now probably late summer or early fall of 55 C.E. There were still some matters in the Christian congregation at Corinth that were causing concern to the apostle Paul. Not many months had passed since the writing of his first letter to the Corinthians. Since then Titus had been dispatched to Corinth to assist in the collection being undertaken there for the holy ones in Judea and possibly also to observe the reaction of the Corinthians to the first letter. (2 Cor. 8:1-6; 2:13) How had they taken it? What comfort it brought Paul to know that it had moved them to sorrow and repentance! Titus had returned to Paul in Macedonia with this good report, and now the apostle’s heart was filled to overflowing with love for his beloved Corinthian fellow believers.—7:5-7; 6:11.
2 So Paul wrote again to the Corinthians. This heartwarming and forceful second letter was written from Macedonia and was delivered apparently by Titus. (9:2, 4; 8:16-18, 22-24) One of the matters of concern that moved Paul to write was the presence among the Corinthians of “superfine apostles,” whom he also described as “false apostles, deceitful workers.” (11:5, 13, 14) The spiritual welfare of the comparatively young congregation was in jeopardy, and Paul’s authority as an apostle was under attack. His second letter to Corinth thus filled a great need.
3, 4. (a) What visits did Paul himself make to Corinth? (b) How does Second Corinthians benefit us now?
3 It may be noted that Paul said: “This is the third time I am ready to come to you.” (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1) He had planned to visit them a second time when he wrote his first letter, but though he got ready, this “second occasion for joy” did not materialize. (1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:15) Actually, then, Paul had been there only once before, for 18 months in 50-52 C.E., when the Christian congregation was founded in Corinth. (Acts 18:1-18) However, Paul later realized the fulfillment of his wish to visit Corinth once more. While in Greece for three months, probably in 56 C.E., he spent at least part of the time in Corinth, and it was from there that he wrote his letter to the Romans.—Rom. 16:1, 23; 1 Cor. 1:14.
4 Second Corinthians has always been reckoned along with First Corinthians and the other Pauline epistles as an authentic part of the Bible canon. Again we are enabled to look inside the congregation at Corinth and derive benefit from Paul’s inspired words given to admonish them as well as us.
CONTENTS OF SECOND CORINTHIANS
5. (a) What does Paul write concerning comfort? (b) What has come about through Christ that is of further assurance?
5 Help from “the God of all comfort” (1:1–2:11). Paul includes Timothy in the opening salutation. “Blessed,” says Paul, is “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation,” that we, in turn, may be able to comfort others. Though Paul and his companions have been under extreme pressure and their lives were in danger, God has rescued them. The Corinthians can help, too, with prayers on their behalf. It is with confidence in his sincerity and in God’s undeserved kindness that he is writing to them. God’s promises have become “Yes” by means of Jesus, and He has anointed those who belong to Christ and given them “the token of what is to come, that is, the spirit” in their hearts.—1:3, 4, 20, 22.
6. What does Paul counsel should be done for the disfellowshipped wrongdoer who is now repentant?
6 It appears that the man who was the object of Paul’s comments in the fifth chapter of his first letter was ousted from the congregation. He has repented and is showing sorrow. Paul therefore tells the Corinthians to extend genuine forgiveness and to confirm their love for the penitent one.
7. How does Paul present himself and the Corinthians, and what does he affirm?
7 Qualified as ministers of the new covenant (2:12–6:10). Paul presents himself and the Corinthian Christians as being in a triumphal procession with Christ. (The Corinthians were familiar with the odor of sweet incense that was burned along the route of the processions of victorious armies in that day.) There is a strong contrast between the “odor” of the Christian to those who will gain life and the “odor” to those who are perishing. “We are not peddlers of the word of God,” affirms Paul.—2:16, 17.
8. (a) What credentials did Paul and his fellow workers have as ministers? (b) How is the ministry of the new covenant superior?
8 Paul and his fellow workers need no documents, written letters of recommendation, to or from the Corinthians. The Corinthian believers themselves are letters of recommendation, written “by us as ministers” and inscribed, not on tablets of stone, but “on fleshly tablets, on hearts,” declares Paul. God has adequately qualified the ministers of the new covenant. The written code was an administration of death, with fading glory, and it was temporary. The administration of the spirit, however, leads to life, is lasting, and is of abounding glory. When “Moses is read,” a veil rests upon the hearts of the sons of Israel, but when there is a turning to Jehovah, the veil is removed, and they are “transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”—3:3, 15, 18.
9. How does Paul describe the treasure of the ministry?
9 Then Paul continues: ‘We have this ministry due to the mercy that was shown to us. We have renounced underhanded things and have not adulterated God’s word, but we have recommended ourselves by making the truth manifest. If the message of good news is veiled, it is because the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers. Our hearts, however, are illuminated with the glorious knowledge of God by the face of Christ. How great this treasure that we have! It is in earthen vessels so that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s. Under persecution and stress, yes, in the face of death itself, we exercise faith and do not give up, for the momentary tribulation works out for us a glory that is of more and more surpassing weight and is everlasting. So we keep our eyes on the things unseen.’—4:1-18.
10. (a) What does Paul say of those in union with Christ? (b) How does Paul recommend himself as a minister of God?
10 ‘We know,’ writes Paul, ‘that our earthly house will give way to an everlasting one in the heavens. In the meantime we press on in faith and are of good courage. Though absent from Christ, we seek to be acceptable to him.’ (5:1, 7-9) Those in union with Christ are “a new creation” and have a ministry of reconciliation. They are “ambassadors substituting for Christ.” (5:17, 20) In every way Paul recommends himself as a minister of God. How? ‘By the endurance of much in the way of tribulations, beatings, labors, sleepless nights; by purity, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by holy spirit, by love free from hypocrisy, by truthful speech, by God’s power, as poor but making many rich, as having nothing and yet possessing all things.’—6:4-10.
11. What counsel and warning does Paul give?
11 “Perfecting holiness in God’s fear” (6:11–7:16). Paul tells the Corinthians: ‘Our heart has widened out to receive you.’ They too should widen out their tender affections. But now comes a warning! “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” (6:11, 14) What fellowship does light have with darkness, or Christ with Belial? As a temple of a living God, they must separate themselves and quit touching the unclean thing. Says Paul: “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”—7:1.
12. Why did Paul rejoice at the report from Corinth?
12 Paul states further: “I am filled with comfort, I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (7:4) Why? Not only because of the presence of Titus but also because of the good report from Corinth, that of their longing, their mourning, and their zeal for Paul. He realizes that his first letter caused temporary sadness, but he rejoices that the Corinthians were saddened for repentance to salvation. He commends them for cooperating with Titus.
13. (a) What examples of generosity does Paul cite? (b) What principles does Paul discuss in connection with giving?
13 Generosity will be rewarded (8:1–9:15). In connection with contributions for the needy “holy ones,” Paul cites the example of the Macedonians, whose generosity despite deep poverty was really beyond their ability; and he now hopes to see the same kind of giving on the part of the Corinthians as a demonstration of the genuineness of their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, who became poor that they might be rich. This giving according to what they have will result in an equalizing, so that the one with much will not have too much, and the one with little, not too little. Titus and others are being sent to them in connection with this kind gift. Paul has been boasting about the generosity and readiness of the Corinthians, and he does not want them put to shame by any failure to complete the bountiful gift. Yes, “he that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Let it be from the heart, for “God loves a cheerful giver.” He is also able to make his undeserved kindness abound toward them and to enrich them for every sort of generosity. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable free gift.”—9:1, 6, 7, 15.
14. What points does Paul make in support of his apostleship?
14 Paul argues his apostleship (10:1–13:14). Paul acknowledges that he is lowly in appearance. But Christians do not war according to the flesh; their weapons are spiritual, “powerful by God” for overturning reasonings contrary to the knowledge of God. (10:4) Some, seeing things just at their face value, say that the apostle’s letters are weighty but his speech contemptible. Let them know that Paul’s actions will be just the same as his word by letter. The Corinthians should realize that Paul is not boasting about accomplishments in someone else’s territory. He has personally carried the good news to them. Furthermore, if there is to be any boasting, let it be in Jehovah.
15. (a) With what illustrations does Paul speak out against the false apostles? (b) What is Paul’s own record?
15 Paul feels his responsibility to present the Corinthian congregation to the Christ as a chaste virgin. Just as Eve was seduced by the Serpent’s cunning, so there is danger that their minds may be corrupted. With force, therefore, Paul speaks out against the “superfine apostles” of the Corinthian congregation. (11:5) They are false apostles. Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light, so it is no wonder that his ministers do the same. But as to being ministers of Christ, how do they compare with Paul’s record? He has endured much: imprisonment, beatings, shipwreck three times, many dangers, going often without sleep or food. Yet through it all he never lost sight of the needs of the congregations and always felt incensed when someone was stumbled.
16. (a) Of what might Paul boast, but why would he rather speak of his weaknesses? (b) How has Paul produced proofs of his apostleship?
16 So if anyone has reason to boast, it is Paul. Could the other so-called apostles at Corinth tell about being caught away into paradise, to hear unutterable things? Yet Paul speaks about his weaknesses. That he might not feel overly exalted, he was given “a thorn in the flesh.” Paul entreated that it be removed but was told: “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you.” Paul would rather boast in his weaknesses, that “the power of the Christ” may remain over him like a tent. (12:7, 9) No, Paul has not proved inferior to the “superfine apostles,” and the Corinthians have seen the proofs of apostleship that he produced among them “by all endurance, and by signs and portents and powerful works.” He is not seeking their possessions, just as Titus and his other fellow workers whom he sent did not take advantage of them.—12:11, 12.
17. What final admonition does Paul give the Corinthians?
17 All things are for their upbuilding. However, Paul expresses fear that when he arrives in Corinth, he will find some who have not repented of works of the flesh. He warns the sinners in advance that he will take appropriate action and spare none, and he advises all in the congregation to keep testing whether they are in the faith in union with Jesus Christ. Paul and Timothy will pray to God for them. He bids them rejoice and be restored to unity, in order that the God of love and peace will be with them, and concludes by sending greetings from the holy ones and his own best wishes for their spiritual blessing.
18. What right view should Christians take of the ministry?
18 How stimulating and encouraging is Paul’s appreciation for the Christian ministry as expressed in Second Corinthians! Let us view it as he did. The Christian minister who has been adequately qualified by God is no peddler of the Word but serves out of sincerity. What recommends him is, not some written document, but the fruitage he bears in the ministry. However, while the ministry is indeed glorious, this is no cause for his becoming puffed up. God’s servants as imperfect humans have this treasure of service in frail earthen vessels, that the power may plainly be seen to be God’s. So this calls for humility in accepting the glorious privilege of being God’s ministers, and what an undeserved kindness from God it is to serve as “ambassadors substituting for Christ”! How appropriate, then, was Paul’s exhortation “not to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss its purpose”!—2:14-17; 3:1-5; 4:7; 5:18-20; 6:1.
19. In what various ways did Paul provide an outstanding model for Christian ministers today, especially for overseers?
19 Paul certainly provided a splendid example for Christian ministers to copy. For one thing, he valued and studied the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, repeatedly quoting from, alluding to, and applying them. (2 Cor. 6:2, 16-18; 7:1; 8:15; 9:9; 13:1; Isa. 49:8; Lev. 26:12; Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 20:41; 2 Sam. 7:14; Hos. 1:10) Moreover, as an overseer, he displayed deep concern for the flock, saying: “For my part I will most gladly spend and be completely spent for your souls.” He gave himself entirely in behalf of the brothers, as the record clearly shows. (2 Cor. 12:15; 6:3-10) He was untiring in his labors as he taught, exhorted, and set things straight in the Corinthian congregation. He warned plainly against fellowship with darkness, telling the Corinthians: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” Because of his loving concern for them, he did not want to see their minds become corrupted, “as the serpent seduced Eve by its cunning,” and so he heartily admonished them: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” He stirred them to Christian generosity, showing them that “God loves a cheerful giver,” and he himself expressed the most appreciative thanks to God for His indescribable free gift. Truly his brothers at Corinth were inscribed in love on the fleshly tablet of Paul’s heart, and his unstinted service in their interests was everything that should mark a zealous, wide-awake overseer. What an outstanding model for us today!—6:14; 11:3; 13:5; 9:7, 15; 3:2.
20. (a) How does Paul set our minds in the right direction? (b) To what glorious hope does Second Corinthians point?
20 The apostle Paul sets our minds in the right direction in pointing to “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort” as the real source of strength in time of trial. He it is that “comforts us in all our tribulation” in order that we may endure for salvation into his new world. Paul points also to the glorious hope of “a building from God, a house not made with hands, everlasting in the heavens,” and says: “Consequently if anyone is in union with Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away, look! new things have come into existence.” Second Corinthians does indeed contain wonderful words of assurance for those who, like Paul, will inherit the heavenly Kingdom.—1:3, 4; 5:1, 17.