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2 Corinthians (day 1079-1091)

2 Corinthians 1 (day 1079) 14 December 2012

          Scholars are divided over whether 2 Corinthians represents one letter or is an amalgamation of several letters. These are questions that need not concern the casual reader but is an interesting debate for those who wish to dig deeper. The primary difference between 1 and 2 Corinthians is that 2 Corinthians is primarily concerned with what is going on inside the church, while 1 Corinthians was deeply concerned with the relationship the believers have with those outside the church.

          1-2: A standard salutation begins the letter. At the end of 1 Corinthians Paul had begged them to send Timothy on to him should he pass through Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:10-12). Now we find that he and Timothy have indeed been reunited.

3-7: The greeting continues with a word of gratitude for God’s involvement in the lives of the believers (compare Romans 1:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:4-9). Paul hints that he has been enduring much suffering since last they communicated, and he understands that they, too, have had some difficulties. He emphasizes God’s great heart of compassion and consolation to comfort them as well as him.

8-11: Indeed, it would seem that he and his companions have truly been put upon to the point of discouragement. It is impossible to match these verses with any specific occasion of persecution in Paul’s ministry – there were so many of them!

12-14: As to his relationship with them, his conscience is clear. He is convinced that all he has done on their behalf has been motivated by his determination to serve only God. He hopes that they can boast about each other when Jesus returns.

15-22: Paul had planned to make two visits to Corinth, but decided against it. He has apparently received some criticism for this, and defends himself, saying that he was not vacillating. His intentions were always positive towards coming to them, for it was God who brought them together.

23-24: What changed his mind about visiting them was the fear that his visit would not be a happy one.

 

2 Corinthians 2 (day 1080) 15 December 2012

          1-4: The reason he thinks a visit might be painful is because he realizes that his last letter was hurtful, although he insists that it was written out of his love for them.

5-11: Here is another tantalizing hint of inner conflict at Corinth about which we can only guess. Notice, though, how different is the tone of this letter from the first one. In 1 Corinthians Paul was ready to excommunicate opposition willy-nilly. Now, however, he urges them to “forgive and console” someone who not only opposed but insulted him! Even the great “Apostle to the Gentiles” must continue to grow in love and in Christlikeness.

12-13:Troas, a coastal town at the westernmost point of Asia Minor, is mostly remembered as the place where the young man Eutychus fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and toppled out of a second-story window (Acts 20:7-12). It is not clear why he mentions Troas and his visit to Macedonia at this point in the letter, but Paul remembers that his reason for leaving Troas, in spite of opportunities there (“a door was opened for me in the Lord”), was his disappointment that he could not find Titus.

14-17: The “triumphal procession” has two comparisons. First, to his Greek readers, it is an image of a parade for a general and his troops who have triumphed in battle. Second, from his Jewish heritage, it is an image of the glad procession to the temple to celebrate God’s acts on behalf of God’s people. Regardless of anything that happens, he says, Christians are to celebrate the triumph of Christ. For those who oppose Christ, Christians are likened to the smell of death, but for those who believe, they are the fragrance of life. Who can handle such a responsibility? He answers the question by contrasting his tent-making ministry with that of those who profit from their preaching.

 

2 Corinthians 3 (day 1081) 16 December 2012

1-3: We cannot escape the impression that Paul has a very high opinion of his missionary work. Unlike other evangelists, he says, he doesn’t need a letter of introduction to them. They themselves are his letter of introduction.

4-6: As usual, though, after his elevated opinion of his own work, Paul demurs by giving all credit to God for any success he has had and any abilities he has exhibited, and reiterates that the new covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (which is administered by God), not of the letter (the Law, which is administered by human beings).

7-11: In Exodus 34:29-35 we find the account of how Moses’ face shone after his encounter with God on Mt. Sinai where he was given the 10 commandments engraved on stone tablets. Paul refers to the Law as the “ministry of condemnation,” in keeping with his insistence that the Law has no power but the power to condemn. The gospel, on the other hand, is the “ministry of justification” (see Romans 5:16). The glory of the gospel is greater than the glory of the Law.

12-18: In the Exodus account Moses wore a veil because his shining face frightened the people. Paul uses that as a metaphor to illustrate how those Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Christ are unable to “see” the glory revealed in Christ and in his followers. Turning to Christ, he says, is like having the veil removed so that we clearly see the glory of Christ. He makes the extraordinary claim that the followers of Christ see the glory of Christ reflected whenever they look in a mirror! To prevent confusion over who is reflecting who, he makes it clear that we Christians are a reflection of Christ.

 

2 Corinthians 4 (day 1082) 17 December 2012

1-6: Continuing with the image of Moses’ face being veiled because it shone with the glory of God, Paul asserts that he and Timothy (see 1:1) have not tried to veil the gospel. If there is anything hidden in the way he has presented the gospel it rests in the unbelief of those who refuse it. Just as Moses’ face reflected God’s glory, the gospel reflects the glory of Christ who in turn reflects the glory of God.

7-12: The “treasure” refers to the reflection of Christ in the gospel. The bearers of the gospel – Paul and Timothy – are not perfect reflectors, and so the power that enters the lives of those who believe does not come from them but from God. Indeed, bearing the gospel is an act of dying to oneself so that the recipients may have the gift of life.

13-18: Even so, the cost is worth the reward of eternal life with Christ, and the suffering he and Timothy endure is merely a “slight momentary affliction.” That which “can be seen” is temporary; that which “cannot be seen” is eternal.

 

2 Corinthians 5 (day 1083) 18 December 2012

1-5: Verse 1 is often part of funeral litanies. The “earthly tent” is the physical body of the believer. The soul, the spiritual body, is the eternal “house not made with hands.” And yet, Paul sees this transformation not as a replacement for our current existence but rather an addition to it. We are “not to be unclothed, but further clothed.”

6-10: While we are in this earthly existence we are “away from the Lord” because what is yet to be cannot be seen except by faith. The goal of the Christian is to please God in this life and in the life to come, because that is the basis on which we will be judged.
11-15: It is the heart that counts, not the outward appearance. The Corinthians can “boast” of Paul and Timothy that their hearts are in the right place. Verse 13 is perhaps a reference to ecstatic utterances during which one might appear to be “beside oneself.” Verse 15, “he died for all,” is a foundational verse for John Wesley’s insistence that all can be saved – in other words, God does not predestine anyone to be lost.

16-21: The new life in Christ is not something we have to wait for, but rather something that faith in Christ immediately conveys. In Christ the world is reconciled to God, and the message of that reconciliation is entrusted to Paul and Timothy – and all who belong to Christ.

 

2 Corinthians 6 (day 1084) 19 December 2012

1-10: Paul uses Isaiah 49:8 as a springboard to an assurance of God’s saving grace. Now is the time, he says, to accept the grace of God, and he assures them God’s grace is not accepted in vain. He and Timothy have done everything in their power – both active (“purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,” etc.) and passive (“hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments,” etc.) – to remove every obstacle from anyone’s acceptance of Christ.

11-13: Yet, he senses some resistance on their part, and entreats them to return the affection he and Timothy have for them.

14-18: Paul cautions them about associating with unbelievers, for they are as separate as night and day. “Beliar” in verse 15 is the only occurrence of the name in the Bible. It is a Greek term that refers to the devil and means “worthless” or “wicked.” Believers have no more in common with unbelievers than Christ has with the devil, in other words. Believers are temples in which God resides (see 1 Corinthians 3:16), he says, and cobbles together several passages from the Old Testament (Leviticus 26:11-12, Ezekiel 37:27 among others) to illustrate the point.

 

2 Corinthians 7 (day 1085) 20 December 2012

1: Isn’t the prospect of God claiming us as his children enough to make us want to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit?” Paul obviously thinks it is.

2-4: Again Paul insists on his and Timothy’s purity of intent in all their dealings with the Corinthians, and claims great pride in them.

5-12: There is no real consensus among scholars as to whether the earlier letter mentioned in this passage became what we know as 1 Corinthians or another letter that has not survived. 1 Corinthians was a bit judgmental and Paul may well have regretted writing some of the things that are in it. In any case Titus was apparently dispatched to monitor the situation in Corinth and brought the news to Paul in Macedonia that the Corinthians, though dismayed by the letter, had eventually taken it to heart and had repented of some of charges Paul had made. Titus, of course, was an important student and companion of Paul’s, as was Timothy. Most commentators hold that he is not the Titius (or Titus) Justus of Corinth mentioned at Acts 18:7, but it seems to me that there are no irrefutable arguments against such a conclusion. We know in any case that Titus was a Gentile Christian and that he accompanied Paul to Jerusalem on one occasion (see Galatians 2:1, 3). Although Paul’s letter to Titus is preserved as part of our Bible, 2 Timothy 4:10 hints that there may have been a rift between Paul and Titus at one point.

13-16: Nevertheless, at the writing of this letter Paul and Titus are congenial companions.

 

2 Corinthians 8 (day 1086) 21 December 2012

1-7: Among other things, Titus had been engaged in fund raising in Corinth for the relief of the poor in Jerusalem. Paul urges them on by complimenting the response of the Macedonians who have given generously in spite of their own poverty. Paul knew that generosity begets generosity – that’s why matching gifts are successful as a fund raising technique.

8-15: This is an excellent passage on stewardship and generosity. The abundance of some can be used to overcome the poverty of others, and that generosity may very well be one day returned should their fortunes be reversed. Paul reminds them that Christ gave everything for their sake. In God’s economy there is always enough to go around. The quote in verse 15 is from the story of manna in Exodus 16:16-18.

16-24: Along with Titus Paul is sending two others who are unnamed. The purpose of sending the three was to protect Paul from being accused of commandeering some of the collection for himself. It’s always good in the church to have more than one or two people handle the money. There has been much speculation about the identity of the two, particularly the “brother who is famous among all the churches.” Most ancient scholars believed that to be a reference to Luke, but recent scholarship is more divided with the majority simply refusing to attempt to identify either of the two.

 

2 Corinthians 9 (day 1087) 22 December 2012

1-5: Just in case they’re not motivated enough, Paul adds a little additional motivation: He has bragged about them to the folks at Macedonia, and he may bring some of the Macedonians with him to Corinth to witness their generosity firsthand! So, he sends Titus and the others to make sure their offering is ready before Paul gets there.

6-9: Moreover, he reminds them, generosity and abundance go hand in hand. I have to wonder if Paul is recalling what his friend Luke records as a saying of Jesus, that the “the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38). Paul backs up his assertion with the bold claim that “God loves a cheerful giver.” God provides so that we can give to others, so that through us God provides for them, too. The quote in verse 9 may be from Psalm 112:9.

10-15: Paul’s theology of generosity is based on a simple fact of nature: God provides the seed. We may keep it for ourselves (eat it) or give it away (sow it in the field). The portion we give away is returned to us many times over in the harvest that follows. It is indeed an indescribable gift. Thanks be to God!

 

2 Corinthians 10 (day 1088) 23 December 2012

1-6: Paul is self-effacing here (uncharacteristically!). The harsh letter to which he referred earlier is completely out of character with his meek demeanor when he is face to face with them. He hints that if their offering does not reflect the generosity he thinks they should display he can come down hard on them, especially on those who are found to be wanting in the “obedience” of the church – that is, on those who don’t give generously. I wonder how successful Paul would be as church fund raiser today.

7-11: He wants to be sure that they understand that he can be as demanding in person as he is in his letters.

12-18: He will not bother to compare himself with those who commend themselves, declaring that such jockeying for position shows a lack of good sense. He, however, has authority that none of them have in that he is the one who first brought the gospel to them. Furthermore he intends to use his credentials with them as a springboard to other mission fields beyond. Paul was always looking ahead to the next frontier.

 

2 Corinthians 11 (day 1089) 24 December 2012

1-6: Paul is hearkening back to a charge he made earlier (see 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:4-5) about the Corinthians’ gullibility – their willingness to buy into the teachings of whoever happens to come along. Some of them, he charged, claimed allegiance to Apollos and some to Cephas, whom he casts here as “super apostles.” He defends his own status among them by insisting that, although he may not be as eloquent as some he is certainly knowledgeable about the scriptures.

7-11: Still, his sense of inferiority to those who actually walked with Jesus causes him to seek other ways by which to justify himself. One of his favorite means is to suffer more than the others and to deny himself more than they. So, he has not received any support at all from the Corinthians, but has accepted support from the Macedonians so that the Corinthians would have the benefit of his knowledge without cost.

12-15: But there are also those who have corrupted the gospel message to their own ends. One thing they will not do, however, is work for free, and that Paul has done on the Corinthians’ behalf and will continue to do.

16-21: His opposition, however, is not insignificant. That is evident from the amount of space Paul dedicates to them. He and his companions, he says, were too weak to appear before the Corinthians as anything special, but chose to be weak that the gospel might be elevated even more. Still, if they are impressed by boasting, Paul can boast, by golly.

22-29: He is just as Jewish, just as Israelite, and just as much a child of Abraham as they. Furthermore, he is an even better ambassador for Christ because he has suffered more than any of them, and gives a lengthy catalogue of all the ills he has endured.

30-33: His boasting, he says, is about things that prove that he is weak. The story of his escape from Damascus is at Acts 9:23-25; it is not clear why he mentions that particular episode here unless it is to illustrate his helplessness in having to be lowered over the wall by others.

 

2 Corinthians 12 (day 1090) 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

1-10: Paul hints that he has had an experience of being given a glimpse of heaven – scholars generally agree that the “man” he claims to know is a reference to himself. His humility allows him to tell the story, but not to go so far as to make it clear that he himself is the one who was “caught up to the third heaven.” Then, as if to balance that lofty experience, he speaks of a “thorn in the flesh” which God refuses to free him of. You have to admit it is a clever approach, to boast by emphasizing the negative things!

11-13: Still, his primary reason for asserting his position as an apostle is simply that he has not burdened them in any way. The other apostles by contrast accepted wages of one kind or another from the congregation in Corinth.

14-18: Preparing to visit them for the third time, he entreats them to consider his past dealings with them and the conduct of Titus and others he has sent to them.

19-21: Paul outlines his fear and anxiety about what he might find when he arrives in Corinth. He fears he will discover among them a whole host of problems – quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, disorder, impurity, sexual immorality and licentiousness – the very things which he has counseled them against throughout his letters to them.

 

2 Corinthians 13 (day 1091) 26 December 2012

1-4: Previously Paul had chastised them for putting up with sexual immorality in their community and for their bent toward litigation (see 1 Corinthians 5 and 6). He will not drop those charges, he says, but for their own good he will “not be weak in dealing” with these sins. We do not know what authority Paul had in any of the churches other than the authority they grant him by dint of his knowledge of scripture and his relationship with Christ. He is depending on his reputation to be all he needs to whip them into shape, so to speak.

5-10: He urges them to engage continually in self examination; he does not wish to use the authority God has given him except for the purpose of building them up.

11-13: The letter ends rather abruptly with an exhortation that they should live in peace with one another and “greet one another with a holy kiss,” a practice in the early church which we have regrettably abandoned. The benediction in verse 13 is one still used in church services around the world today.

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