MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
Here’s another in a series of summaries for New Testament books, which we plan to continue until Christmas. More information and content of the book will be provided each week on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/barbaran.gary We pray that the messages and articles will provide a helpful foundation for your Bible readings.
Last week was a study of 1 Corinthians which gives details about the first-century Church. Today we turn to another epistle which lends insight into personal experience – the trials and heart – of the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 2:4, Paul referred to a previous letter he wrote with “anguish of heart” and “sorrows”. In 7:8 he recognized that one of his letters had caused much sorrow in Corinth.
We know that Paul wrote more letters. However, some modern scholars conclude that this book is a collection of letters; and that the passages mentioned above are from a separate letter tacked on at the end in chapters 10-13. However, there are several evidences against this reasoning. As we studied last week, 1 Corinthians 1-6 dealt just as strongly with divisions, immorality, and legal actions of Christians against one another, so there wouldn’t necessarily be another letter. No early church leaders mention the letter being a compilation, and to date the only manuscripts found of 2 Corinthians have the same structure we read today in our Bibles.
So, lacking external evidence or historical support, we can dismiss the suppositions, and the book can be fitted together as a whole. As with 1 Corinthians, the outline of this letter follows a clear outline:
Chapters 1-7 are personal, and present justification for his ministry.
Chapters 8-9 again talk of the collection for needy Christians in Jerusalem; and in chapter 10-13 Paul asserts his authority.
The first seven chapters reveal the highs and lows of his ministry, his conflicting thoughts and feelings, and his mind and heart. Though he was a Spirit-filled Christian, Paul’s personality still shone through his human tendencies. He referred to his spiritual elation in the third heaven (chapter 12) but also added his struggles as he’d been humiliated and learned reliance on Christ. For example, “we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (1:8).
He carried a heavy concern for the Corinthians, and sent Titus back to check on them. He became so disturbed waiting for news that he left an effective ministry in Troas to try to find Titus. Chapters 3 through 6 declared how in the midst of all, God cares for His own. At the beginning of chapter 7, Paul returned to a chronological account as he related how Titus’ coming brought him comfort.
Background for this first section (especially verses 7:5-6) was that Paul had written 1 Corinthians around 55 CE from Ephesus, near the end of three years there. He sent Titus to Corinth to see how they’d responded to his letter, then in the meantime Paul was driven out of the city of Ephesus. He traveled to Troas, where his message was received warmly, but he felt so anxious about the situation in Corinth that he left that successful ministry. He went to Macedonia, either to intercept Titus, or perhaps to consult with Luke at Philippi. Finally, when he did locate Titus and received news that the majority of believers in Corinth were loyal, he wrote 2 Corinthians from somewhere in Macedonia in early 56.
In chapters 8-9, Paul returned to the subject of believers in Jerusalem who were suffering financial hardships. The Corinthians evidently had indicated an earlier willingness to give, and he wanted to remind them. Instruction for the church at Corinth is good for all of us: “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. … God loves a cheerful giver. … Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (9:6-7,15).
The final section, chapters 10-13, is the most forceful of Paul’s writings. Some at Corinth - most likely Judaizers - had continued to question Paul’s authority, deeming him a newcomer instead of a chosen one like Peter. They had gone so far as to mock his appearance and his preaching (10:10). Here Paul gave an emotional defense of his apostleship and authority to speak to Christians. He moved quickly from point to point, addressing insults and defending his service. One of the most revealing passages (11:23-28) was when he wrote of the dangers he’d faced, along with beatings, shipwreck, deprivation, and daily pressures endured during his ministry.
The “thorn in the flesh” (12:7) has been the source of much speculation, but the important thing is God gave grace for Paul to bear every personal trial. He followed in the footsteps of Jesus, and quoted meaningful words from the Lord, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’” (12:9). The last chapter describes the effect of Jesus’ sufferings on Paul and others. “He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you” (13:4). Amen!