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II Corinthians 1-4    Listen Podcast

An introduction to II Corinthians: New letter, same problems
A few months have passed since Paul wrote I Corinthians (see notes). It is believed by many that I Corinthians was written by Paul in the spring of 55, and II Corinthians was then written in the fall of 56. We'll see as we read this second letter to the Corinthians that many of the same problems appear to still exist. He doesn't mention their abuse of communion or lawsuits in this letter; maybe they corrected those. Paul does a lot of reflecting on his own life and ministry in this epistle. By the way, Paul credits Timothy as a co-sender of this letter - perhaps in an effort to build Timothy up in their eyes.

The God of all comfort (II Corinthians 1:1-11)

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, ¶ To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:
2 ¶ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 ¶ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
8 ¶ For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.
9 Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
10 who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,
11 you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.

Why do good people have trouble? According to Romans 5:1-5 (see notes), adversity from Satan builds our faith and gives us patience. That's the nature of trial. James 1:2-5 (see notes) tells us that wisdom from God through trial is what God wants us to have. Trial is more palatable when we understand the "why" of the trial. Paul gives another angle here in this passage to trial - its helpfulness to others. Notice what he says in these verses: When we have adverse experiences, they become sources of helpful encouragement to people later on who go through the same trials (verses 3-4). He then briefly mentions the severe trials he has recently encountered. Notice verse 5, "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." Paul says that the more adversity he endures, the more consolation he is able to offer others. But remember I Corinthians 10:13 (see notes) "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." No trial we encounter will be greater than we are able to bear.

In these opening verses, Paul uses the Greek noun "thlipsis" ("tribulation" and "trouble") and its verb counterpart "thlibo" ("afflicted") to describe his adversity. In other of Paul's writings, he uses these words interchangeably with some other key words used to describe adversity for Believers. These words and their exact meanings are to be found detailed in the article, "Trial, Testing and Temptation (Why does God allow Satan to test Believers?)." However, sometimes adversity in a Believer's life is the product of God's chastening hand because of a Believer's disobedience. That scriptural concept may be studied in detail by studying the article entitled, "Trial versus Chastisement (Why do good people have trouble?)."

It is not known with any certainty the exact nature of Paul's adversity to which he alludes in verses 8-11. Whatever the difficulties, they must have occurred during Paul's third missionary journey. See the notes on Acts 19 for more details.

How Paul wanted to be remembered (II Corinthians 1:12-14)

12 ¶ For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.
13 For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end
14 (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Paul discusses his motivation for doing what he does. He wants to be remembered for his ministry to others and to them - nothing else. He lived a life of sacrifice for the sake of those to whom he ministered - a life without pretense (verse 12). He has ministered in "simplicity" and "godly sincerity." However, it is obvious from these two letters to the Corinthians that his sacrifice was not always appreciated. He's in good company though; there are a host of Old Testament prophets who gave their lives to warning Israel to repent, but to no avail. They too went unappreciated - even suffering adversity at the hands of the very people they were trying to deliver.

To what avail did Paul minister? There's his answer in verse 14 - that they would be his boast/rejoicing "in the day of the Lord Jesus." What does he mean by that. Perhaps I Thessalonians 2:19-20 (see notes) will give us a little bit of insight when Paul says to those Believers, " For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." Both passages refer to the reward awaiting Paul when Jesus Christ raptures Believers to Heaven. Paul had devoted several verses to this process of future reward in I Corinthians 3:10-15 (see notes).

Nothing wishy-washy about Paul's ministry (II Corinthians 1:15-20)

15 ¶ And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit—
16 to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea.
17 Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No?
18 But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No.
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes.
20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

These verses, in which Paul talks about his visitation plans, make a point of integrity about Paul; he was not wishy-washy about his instructions to them. Paul points out the consistency of being always on the mark ("Yes") and not inconsistent with his instructions ("Yes and No"). These comments seem necessary in light of Paul's change of travel plans. He apparently cancelled a planned visit to Corinth, causing his adversaries there to be critical of his resolve.

Incidentally, we see in verse 19 a reference to the preaching of Silas and Timothy also. These accompanied Paul beginning with his second missionary journey which began in Acts 15:36 (see notes).

The work of salvation (II Corinthians 1:21-24)

21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God,
22 who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
23 ¶ Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.
24 Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.

The work of salvation is seen in verses 21-22, " Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee."

Let's develop four important aspects of our salvation as seen in these two verses (21-22)

Verse 21 shows us that salvation is only of God. Verse 22 shows us that the Holy Spirit seals our salvation and serves as the "Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." In other words, the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in every Believer is God's earnest payment on each of us - the literal assurance that we are children of God redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and on our way to Heaven, a concept he mentions again in II Corinthians 5:5 (see notes) where he writes, "Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." Paul wants us to know: We are sealed.

Notice two other references Paul makes to the Ephesians regarding the sealing of the Holy Spirit:

Paul is clear on this doctrinal issue of the Holy Spirit. God gives each Believer the Holy Spirit as a seal to validate and eternally protect the salvation of that Believer. This ministry of the Holy Spirit begins at salvation according to I Corinthians 12:13 (see notes), "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...." Paul tells the Romans that each Believer is in possession of the Holy Spirit when he says in Romans 8:9 (see notes), "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." So, here's the bottom line: No one gets saved without the empowerment and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and it is that same Holy Spirit which safeguards our salvation afterward.

What letter? (II Corinthians 2:1-4)

1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.
2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
3 ¶ And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.

Some think the letter to which Paul refers here is I Corinthians. Others feel that Paul wrote another letter after I Corinthians that was quite specific in its treatment of some issues and individuals. No one knows for certain to which letter he is referring. Based upon verses 5-11 (see below), I lean toward this referring to a letter written after I Corinthians.

Let's forgive this guy (II Corinthians 2:5-11)

5 ¶ But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,
7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.
10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,
11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

These verses would seem to indicate that a letter after I Corinthians had been written. If this is a reference to I Corinthians, then the man being spoken of here surely must be the one they were to boot from the church in I Corinthians 5 (see notes) for the appearance of incest. However, verse 10 seems to indicate that, whatever the transgression of the man being spoken of was, it seems to be something personally directed at Paul. That leads many scholars to conclude that it was not the man in I Corinthians 5. Paul now calls for his forgiveness by all - an action which seems appropriate if the man in question had been guilty of something like questioning or resisting Paul's authority - not a lifestyle of perceived, continuing incest.

All victory all the time (II Corinthians 2:12-17)

12 ¶ Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord,
13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.
14 ¶ Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?
17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

These remarks begin with Paul's disappointment that he was not able to link up with Titus in Troas. With no means of long-distance communication, one could only rely on finding people in the churches who had seen Titus pass through.

Paul then discusses the power of Christ in us to overcome adversity when he says in verse 14, "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place." Despite his concern for Titus, he expresses his "triumph in Christ" and the privilege of sharing the "fragrance" of the knowledge of Christ. We are always triumphant in Christ.

Carrying the "fragrance" example a little further, verses 15-16 are curious, " For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" Paul preached the Word with sincerity; he is probably speaking to the reality that the words of the Gospel result in the saving of some (good fragrance) and the condemnation of others (bad fragrance). While not explicitly stated, many see this as Paul's analogy of a Roman victory procession. We are told that after battle, the Roman soldiers march through the streets of Rome upon their return. In this parade, they displayed their spoil through the streets, forcing the captives to march with them. This march was accompanied with the celebratory burning of incense smelled by all. Perhaps Paul was drawing from this mental image familiar to Roman citizens in his day.

What an awesome responsibility when you're talking about the eternal destination of someone's soul! The Greek word translated in the KJV "corrupt" ("kapeleuo") in verse 17 literally means "to peddle," the translation given in the NKJV. In other words, Paul points out that some preach God's Word for profit rather than with sincerity and proper motivation.

Ministers of a new covenant (II Corinthians 3:1-5)

1 Do we begin again to commend ourselves? Or do we need, as some others, epistles of commendation to you or letters of commendation from you?
2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.
4 ¶ And we have such trust through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

Here Paul addresses any questions regarding his authority. He makes the point in verses 2-3 that the work of the Spirit in the changed lives of the Corinthians was sufficient recommendation of Paul’s ministry. This work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Corinthians validates Paul's ministry and authority.

The old covenant has been done away (II Corinthians 3:6-18)

6 who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 ¶ But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away,
8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious?
9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.
10 For even what was made glorious had no glory in this respect, because of the glory that excels.
11 For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious.
12 ¶ Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech—
13 unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away.
14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ.
15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart.
16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Let's establish some vocabulary that is needed to bring things into clearer perspective. The words "testament" and "covenant" are exactly the same in meaning and translated from the very same Greek noun, "diatheke." This word is translated "testament" 13 times and "covenant" 20 times in the New Testament - used a total of 33 times altogether. So, literally, "Old Testament" means "Old Covenant" and "New Testament" means "New Covenant." The old covenant was based upon the Law of Moses. The new covenant is based upon grace through the finished sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Jeremiah prophesied concerning the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see notes) where he said,

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Paul quotes these verses in Hebrews 8:8-12 (see notes) and identifies them as the new covenant. It is by the new covenant that we are saved and made righteous before God today. It will be by the new covenant that all of Israel will be saved in the future.

Paul starts in these opening verses of chapter 3 by speaking of the validity of his ministry to the Corinthians. Their very salvation commends him to them - serves as his resume. Then in verse 6 he differentiates between the old and new covenants. The old is of stone (the stone tablets brought down by Moses containing the 10 commandments), the new is by the Holy Spirit written in our hearts. He makes a further differentiation between the covenants in verse 6 as he refers to the old as "the letter" that "kills" and the new as "the spirit" that "gives life."

Now here's the the doctrinal point that so many of today's Christians have problems understanding: The old covenant, the Law of Moses, has passed away. Look at verses 7 and 11. Verse 7 is a direct reference to Exodus 34:29-35 (see notes) when Moses brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountain. In both verses (7 and 11) Paul says that the glory of that old covenant was "passing away." Christ said in Matthew 5:17 (see notes), "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." When Christ died on the cross, he ended the need for further sacrifices under the old covenant. He was the once-for-all-time sacrifice; he, literally, fulfilled the law. Paul said this to the Colossians also in Colossians 2:14 (see notes), "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." And Paul said in Ephesians 2:15 (see notes), "having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace." Jeremiah prophesied concerning the covenant of grace in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Paul emphasizes that this is the covenant we are under in Hebrews 8:8-12 (see notes).

So, what does it all mean? It means that we are made righteous by trusting Christ as our savior. As Believers, we receive our direction from God by the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2, see notes) and not by the Law of Moses. Our law comes from within - not from without. Too many Christians still believe that they are kept righteous after salvation by keeping the Ten Commandments - a gross misunderstanding even of their original purpose. Interestingly enough, virtually none of these people have ever kept the fourth commandment, sabbath observance, in their entire lives. The sabbath is Saturday - always has been and always will be. NO WORK was to be done on the sabbath. Look at Numbers 15:32-36 (see notes) to realize that even gathering firewood on the sabbath was a violation of the fourth commandment that required death by stoning.

So, are these commandment keepers looking for some sort of credit for reasonably keeping the remaining 9 commandments? You must agree that our righteousness at salvation (or after salvation) has nothing to do with keeping the ten commandments. Paul says in verses 7 and 11 of this chapter that these commandments are "passing away." They have NO SUFFICIENCY in making anyone righteous before God - before or after salvation.

Paul uses the veil placed upon the face of Moses in Exodus 34:29-35 (see notes) to work his point in verses 12-18. This figurative veil prevents people who are still trusting the Law of Moses from experiencing God's true glory. Those of us who have trusted Christ as Savior have the veil removed and fully experience the glory of God - no law, just grace. If you still need convincing regarding the Christian's relationship to the Old Testament Law and the Ten Commandments, click here to read the summary on Leviticus 19, and read the article displayed in the box to the right of this summary on "The Sabbath Day."

God's Word stands on its own (II Corinthians 4:1-7)

1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.
2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 ¶ But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

First of all, Paul is clear in verses 1-2 that his motivation for his ministry of proclaiming the truth of God's Word is pure. What he does, he does out of obedience to God and a desire to positively influence people for Christ.

Paul is clear that God's Word doesn't need a sell job; it stands on its own. Folks who are impacted by God's Word are not so done because we are slick and polished with our presentation; it stands on its own. Hebrews 4:12 (see notes) says, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Great things happen when you just give out the Word of God. So, what about the people who just don't seem to get it - God's Word, I mean? Why don't they get it? Verses 3-4 say that they have been blinded by Satan. Let us not forget the extreme warfare we face; Ephesians 6:12 (see notes) says, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." I Corinthians 2:14 (see notes) says, "But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." When the world misrepresents and bashes God's Word, it's because they are influenced by unseen powers - powers that control the mind of the "natural man." When we read the Word of God, we find it meaningful...because the Holy Spirit in Believers "spiritually discerns" it for us - literally puts it into the context of Godly Christian living. That's why in verse 5 Paul emphasizes just preach "Christ Jesus the Lord" and let the Word of God do its work.

Here's the picture presented in verses 6-7: Just as physical light shined at creation, so spiritual light shines in the hearts of those who become new creations in Christ. When Paul uses the term "earthen vessels" in verse 7, he's referring to our frail human bodies that are used by God to manifest himself. That manifestation of God through us is all the glory of God some people will ever see. It's an awesome privilege and responsibility!

We are pretty feeble instruments of God (II Corinthians 4:8-18)

8 We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—
10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
12 So then death is working in us, but life in you.
13 ¶ And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,
14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you.
15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
16 ¶ Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Paul continues his point that our strengths and abilities have nothing to do with the success of the Gospel. The power is God's. In verses 8-12 Paul lists his great hardships, but God's Word prevails.

Notice the way Paul expresses his dilemma and hope in verses 8-9:

You will notice in verses 11-12 that Paul was completely consumed with serving Jesus Christ. His statement in these two verses expresses, essentially, the same thought as his words in Galatians 2:20 (see notes), "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." His life now reflects Jesus Christ - not his own.

In verses 13-15 Paul emphasizes that God, who is able to resurrect the dead, has the ability to extend grace to others through us, regardless of whether or not we have individual sales abilities or polished social skills. He quotes from Psalm 116:10 (see notes) when he says, "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed and therefore I spoke.'” we also believe and therefore speak" His point there is that he is speaking by the same Spirit as the Psalmist in that passage. And finally, in 16-18, Paul again alludes to the feebleness of man. The affliction we endure here is nowhere near being comparable to the glories of our eternal abode with Christ. I'm reminded of Romans 8:18 (see notes) where Paul said it like this, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." It's all worth it!