2 Corinthians 1: The God of all comfort
Comfort is an important idea in 2 Corinthians, and Paul begins the epistle by pointing to the comfort that God provides. God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (1:4). God’s people who are comforted in their afflictions can then also provide comfort for other who experience afflictions. The depth of affliction to which Paul and his companions had suffered even meant that they despaired of life (v. 8), but this helped them understand their need to trust God (v. 9). This lays the groundwork for the Corinthians to comfort their brother who had repented of sin. Indeed, we need to appreciate the comfort that comes from God so that we can, in turn, provide comfort for others.
2 Corinthians 2: Love and Forgive
Paul had written to the Corinthians through many tears, and this is not hard to understand when we read 1 Corinthians. Paul only had their best interests at heart and he had to rebuke them. Now Paul writes about a man who had been in sin but repented (likely the man of 1 Corinthians 5). Perhaps they had now gone to the other extreme and were not being very forgiving. Paul tells them they need to forgive, comfort, and demonstrate love for the one who has repented: “so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (v. 7). This is an important lesson. While, on the one hand we need to rebuke one in sin, on the other hand we must be forgiving and loving so that one who repents will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Our goal, as always, is to bring people to the Lord, so we do not want to do anything that would get in the way of that. Being unforgiving and unloving is itself a stumbling block.
2 Corinthians 3: Letter on the Hearts
Paul was confident that the Corinthians could do what is right. Their influence was important, and they needed to remember that they themselves were as “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v. 3). This reflected the New Covenant. Rather than being under the “letter that kills,” we are under the Spirit who gives life. Though the Old Covenant had glory, the New far exceeds that glory. This is where the hope of the Christian lies. Moses had to cover his face when he descended from the mountain, but in Christ that veil is lifted, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Praise God for the freedom and glory in Christ!
2 Corinthians 4: The Light of the Gospel
Because of God’s mercy, Paul says, we do not lose heart. While the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” still shines. This is why Christ, not self, is to be proclaimed. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). Paul points out that even though they suffered in the flesh, it resulted in life for those who heard. There is good reason, then, not to lose heart. One can look to the eternal and know that there is something far greater coming.
2 Corinthians 5: Reconciled with God
Continuing the thought that we look at the unseen rather than the seen, for the unseen is eternal, Paul points out that the tents in which we live (our bodies) are temporary and will be replaced by a “house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Our desire is life. Our desire is to be with the Lord eternally, and one day this will be realized. In the meantime, we walk by faith not by sight, and we know that one day we will stand before our Lord. Therefore, we need to be about the business of persuading others. Christ died for all so that we might be reconciled to Him and that “those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” This changes our perspective in everything, including how we see other people. The gospel plea, then, is clear: be reconciled to God!
2 Corinthians 6: God’s Temple
The day of salvation has come. This is the era of Christ, and Paul did not want to put a stumbling block in anyone’s path. He and those with him had endured many struggles and hardships. Yet through all the suffering and sorrow, they could still rejoice. God was with them. The Corinthians needed some appreciation for what it took to get the gospel to them (as do we all). Their response would be manifested in how they lived. Coming out of paganism, they needed to be careful not to allow such influences back into their lives, for “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (v. 14). Instead, they needed to see that they were God’s temple, that the Spirit of God was in them, and that they needed to stay separate from the evil that the world offered. This remains true for God’s people today.
2 Corinthians 7: Holiness
Because of who we are as God’s temple, Paul says, “let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (v. 1). Paul had those brethren in his heart. He was afflicted for the sake of the gospel and had only their best interests in mind. His first letter caused some grief because he had to deal with very difficult matters. Yet this grief, a godly grief, causes repentance, “so that you suffered no loss through us” (v. 9). The nature of godly grief, which leads to repentance, is contrasted with worldly grief, which produces death. Godly sorrow brings comfort in the end. Titus was able to report to Paul that these brethren were obedient. Consequently, Paul says, “I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you.” Sometimes it takes great difficulty to reach the joyous results.
2 Corinthians 8: First Giving Selves
Paul tells the Corinthians about the tremendous response of Macedonian churches to the needs of saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-3). The brethren in Macedonia were so generous because they first gave themselves to the Lord. This should serve as encouragement to the brethren in Corinth to “excel in this act of grace also” (v. 7). By their responding generously, they show that the love they have is genuine. Paul knew these brethren had an abundance that could help in the needs of their Jewish brethren so far away. The lessons here are important for Christians of all times. We are first to give ourselves to the Lord, and when we do, we can learn to be generous toward others who have needs.
2 Corinthians 9: Generosity
Paul continues to encourage the Corinthians in their generosity in helping needy saints in Jerusalem. Other messengers like Titus would be coming through and they needed to have things ready to be picked up so the funds could be delivered in good time. All of this needed to be put into perspective. This was not some kind of tax to be paid. Rather it was a willing gift on their part. Such is the case with all of our giving under Christ. We are “paying” to be part of God’s people. Rather, we willingly supply the needs of God’s people, understanding the principle that we are to be generous in what we do. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:7-8).
2 Corinthians 10: Whom the Lord Commends
Unfortunately, Paul had his detractors. There were some who were influencing the Corinthians not to listen to Paul, challenging his authority as an apostle. They tried to lessen Paul’s influence by arguing that Paul was weighty in his letters but in appearance was weak. Paul counters by showing that the real weapons of the Christian’s warfare are not carnal (driven by fleshly appeals or worldly wisdom as these detractors were using), but rather are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds and lofty opinions that stand against Christ. Every thought needs to be in obedience to the Lord. What Paul said in his letters he would say in person. However, Paul’s concern was not to be measured by human judgments, but rather by what God wants. His concern was to teach the truth of the gospel. “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (vv. 17-18). This gives us an important lesson on making sure that God is the standard and not man.
2 Corinthians 11: Pure Devotion
Continuing to defend his apostleship in the Lord, which he hated having to do, he shows how his true desire to keep the brethren firm in the truth. He feared that they were being deceived and led astray “from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3). They were becoming double-minded and listening to proclamations about Jesus that were false (v. 4). There were enough enemies from the world, but now he was having to deal with “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (v. 13). These were following the path of Satan, who would disguise himself as an angel of light to lead others astray. Yet they also knew Paul’s character and how much he gave up for them and suffered in order to preach the gospel. Paul enumerates some of the issues he had to deal with. Even so, he thought it all worthwhile for the sake of spreading the truth. This makes us ask ourselves: how much would we be willing to endure in order to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2 Corinthians 12: Sufficient Grace
Paul could boast about his credentials if he so wished. He could go on about visions and suffering. He even suffered what he called a “thorn given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” (v. 7). He had pleaded with the Lord to have it removed, but was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). Paul was willing to endure whatever the Lord, in His wisdom, desired in order to bring about the greatest results. His example is a great one: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Sometimes we think things have to be just right if we are going to accomplish anything worthwhile. Paul reminds us that even when the thorns are present, we can glorify God. Paul showed by example that his concern for others was greater than for himself. This, indeed, is the Lord’s example, too.
2 Corinthians 13: Examine Selves
Paul gives his final greetings and tells the Corinthian brethren that he was planning to come to them a third time. If there were those who still wanted to challenge him, he was ready to meet them with confidence in the Lord. As for the brethren, Paul exhorts them, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (v. 5). Paul wanted them to do what is right. “Your restoration is what we pray for” (v. 9). He had to be a bit hard on them at times because he needed them to listen. If they listened, he would not have to be hard on them in person; instead he could focus on building them up. The church at Corinth teaches us many lessons about a group that is struggling to keep themselves together in the Lord. Paul never gave up hope and was willing to suffer personally to see to it that they were doing what was right. These are lessons of encouragement, sacrifice, and love.