Our daily Bible readings bring us to Paul’s second Epistle to the believers in Corinth. There is perhaps no other writing in which we gain such insight into the life and character of Paul himself.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed: perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” Paul expresses his confidence in God and his willingness to endure all things for the sake of his brethren and for the Glory of God, looking to that unseen “real” world to come—“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:17,18).

We live in an environment which presses in upon us everywhere: it demands our attention and commitment: it would take our life! Yet it will soon pass into obscure history. It is a passing, unreal world, however permanent and enduring it may seem. We need to mentally remove ourselves from this daily passing parade of life, and through the power of the Word be transported to the reality of the unseen, but real and everlasting world that Yahweh has promised to those who commit their way to Him. Paul’s firm but loving admonition and comfort in this second Epistle to the Corinthians and his wonderful example of dedication and zeal, can help us in this endeavour during this portion of our readings.

Between the Two Epistles

Following the writing of the first letter to Corinth, Paul anxiously awaited their response to his words. His original intention had been to finalise his activities in Ephesus by Pentecost, and then visit Corinth by way of Macedonia (1 Cor 6:5–8). Ecclesial circumstances, however, forced him to change his plans. He was much exercised in mind concerning the collection for the poor brethren and sisters of Judea, his intention being to make a tour of Macedonia, then move south to Corinth, after which he would return to Jerusalem with the funds collected (Acts 19:21). We know from Acts 20:1–3 that “he departed to go into Macedonia, and when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, and there abode three months.” 2 Corinthians 2:12 reveals the detail that before crossing into Macedonia, he first visited Troas, hoping there to meet with Titus returning from Corinth.

Waiting For Titus

Paul eventually left Ephesus, probably with Tychicus and Trophimus (they are mentioned as being with him later in his travels—Acts 20:4), and made his way firstly to Troas where he waited with much anguish of spirit, for the return of Titus (2 Cor 2:12,13). When Titus did not come, Paul sank into great depression and sickness, weighed down with the “care of all the ecclesias” and longing for word from Corinth, so that he despaired even of life itself. So serious was his state of health that news of it reached many brethren and sisters and their prayers ascended to the Father for his speedy recovery (2 Cor 1:8–11).

Despite his illness, he was by no means idle, and the Word prospered greatly in Troas—“a door was opened unto me of the Lord”—and before he left, an ecclesia had been established there. The necessity of meeting Titus and his anxiety to hear word of the Corinthian ecclesia, urged him forward, and accordingly, he sailed for Macedonia, probably landing at Neapolis (the port of Philippi) and proceeded immediately to Philippi. (We do not have a record of his movements at this point, but this is generally agreed to seem most likely.) Whilst he was no doubt warmly received by his beloved brethren and sisters at Philippi, he still found no lasting comfort—“when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor 7:6). And this had continued until at last “God, who comforts them that are cast down, comforted me by the coming of Titus”.

The tidings brought by the long-awaited Titus were, initially, better than Paul could ever have thought possible. He reported that the brethren and sisters at Corinth had been greatly moved by Paul’s letter and not only so, but they had been moved to action in keeping with the advice given by the Apostle. There were three outstanding features manifested by the Ecclesia which gave Paul particular comfort:

  • they regretted their past conduct and were moved to open confession and remorse because of it
  • they maintained an attitude of fervent love toward him, which his care of them had increased rather than diminished
  • they longed to see him personally, despite the indictment of his forthright letter.

Their repentance was not a matter of mere words, but of action. Instantly recognising the gravity of the situation and the base immorality of the brother referred to in Paul’s first epistle (1 Cor 5:1–13), they saw how negligent and careless they had been in permitting his continuing fellowship. They had called a general meeting of the whole ecclesia, and on the vote of the majority, had excluded the erring brother from fellowship (2 Cor 2:6).

This decisive action had produced a very desirable effect upon the brother concerned, so that he had sincerely acknowledged the evil of his ways and manifested a genuine repentance, desiring reconciliation with the ecclesia. In addition to this, the ecclesia had readily agreed to contribute towards the collection for the Jerusalem poor fund.

However, whilst Paul was greatly comforted and rejoiced at the news which Titus conveyed, there was another side to the story which was no cause for joy. There were other problems in Corinth—problems which affected Paul personally as they struck at the very grounds of his Apostleship and maligned his character. There was a vocal minority whose opposition seems rather to have been embittered by the submission which the great body of the ecclesia had yielded to the Apostle. This minority were Judaizers, who were supported in their opposition by a group of like-minded brethren who had come from Judea with letters of recommendation, and arrogantly claimed apostolic authority for themselves. This Judaizing group proclaimed in loud and contemptuous tones their accusations against Paul.

His change of travel plans was evidence of insincerity and unreliability or of cowardice, as being afraid to meet his opponents (1:16–18, 23)

  • They claimed that he corrupted the Word (2:17)
  • They inferred that he did not have the support of those in authority because he lacked letters of commendation from ecclesias (3:1–4)
  • They accused him of dishonesty (4:2; 7:2; 8:20–21)
  • They ridiculed his personal appearance and simplicity of speech: “his letters are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible” (10:9,10; 11:16)
  • They cast doubts upon his Apostolic authority and demanded proof of his credentials (10:8; 11:5; 13:3)
  • They found fault because he would not accept financial assistance from the ecclesia (11:7)
  • They questioned his motives and honesty in taking up a collection for the poor (12:17)
  • They challenged his doctrine concerning the Law (11:21–22)
  • They even spread rumours concerning his mental stability and commonsense (11:16–19).

Under ordinary circumstances Paul would have preferred to ignore such ‘character assassination’, but to do so would have been disastrous to the cause and to the ecclesia. It became a duty and a distasteful necessity to defend himself because such lying charges were liable to hinder his work of service, not only in Corinth, but everywhere; and his work was a Divine commission. Hence, though nothing was more repugnant to his sensitive humility than any semblance of egotism or boasting, the word “boasting” occurs twenty-nine times in this epistle, as Paul answers their accusations and vindicates his Apostolic authority.

This second Epistle, then, was written in a time of great physical and emotional suffering, probably from Philippi to the Ecclesia at Corinth and to “all the saints throughout the whole Province of Achaia”. The tone of the Epistle reveals the full scope of Paul’s emotions at this time—his warmth and love for the loving majority: his intense and fiery denunciation of his Judaizing adversaries. He wrote to comfort the distressed brethren of Corinth; to advise them to restore the previously erring but now repentant brother; to answer the charges of his enemies; to call upon the brethren to make good their promised contribution to the fund for the poor in Jerusalem, and to make arrangements for his own proposed visit to the city of Corinth.

The letter expresses warm and mutual comfort to those who had heeded his previous letter. Thus he wrote of

  • The source of comfort 1:3; 7:6
  • The purpose of comfort 1:4
  • The compensations of comfort 1:5–6
  • The duty of comfort 2:7
  • Comfort in tribulation 7:4
  • The comforting Hand of God 7:6
  • Mutual comfort among brethren 7:6,13
  • The need to seek Divine comfort 13:11

Analysis

Introduction

The voice of experience                           1:1–11

Explanation

Paul the minister                                      1:12–5:21

Concerning his motives                          1:12–2:11

Concerning his ministry                         2:12–5:21

Exhortation

Paul the father                                          6:1–9:15

Concerning things spiritual                   6:1–7:16

Concerning things material                   8:1–9:15

Vindication

Paul the Apostle                                     10:1–12:18

The Critics and their pretensions       10:1–11:15

The Apostle and his credentials         11:16–12:18

Conclusion

Future intentions                                    12:19–13:14

Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of this whole second epistle is the moving insight into the personality of the Apostle himself: his selfless service in the face of stress, illness and worry; his love of brethren though they sought to destroy him—“I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” It would be considered sheer folly in our day to demonstrate such an attitude, to spend and be spent for others, yet this is what we are called upon to do. For such, there awaits that “crown of life” of which Paul himself was assured at the appearing of our Lord and the day of Glory.