Today, we move on to the second letter to the Corinthian church. This letter, by the way, is actually not the second letter Paul ever wrote to Corinth; it is probably the fourth. There appears to have been a letter already written.
- Letter 1 — 1 Corinthians 5:9 “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people;”
- Letter 2 — What we call 1 Corinthians
- Letter 3 — Possibly another letter of rebuke (2 Corinthians 7:8) “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it–for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while–”
- Letter 4 — What we call 2 Corinthians
Paul writes this letter just prior to coming to them to take the actual contribution for the Christians in Judea. He is nervous about the outcome, since he had bragged to other congregations about what the Corinthians church had promised. However, since Paul had had to severely rebuke the Corinthians church as many as three times now, it was possible that the Corinthian Christians might not be as motivated to make good on their pledge, and Paul would be embarrassed. So, part of his letter is spent in explaining why he had not come to them sooner, part of it defending his apostleship (again), part of it trying to reconcile himself with the church there, and part of it encouraging a generous gift for the Judean brethren. In many ways, this is one of Paul’s more personal and passionate letters; and there’s a lot we can learn, so, let’s dive in…
The God of all comfort — 2 Cor. 1:3ff
The life of any Christian is challenging. For Paul (as we’ll read later in the letter) it could be extremely challenging. And the Corinthian church had experienced a really rough patch with internal divisions, Paul’s rebukes, and the church discipline they had been forced to implement. But in the midst of all these troubles Paul remind them and us that God is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” What was this comfort? It was the knowledge that all things work together for good, that God will not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear, and that we have a hope and a home in Heaven. Paul discusses this again in 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18 — “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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.” We would probably do much better in our lives as we go through various trials and temptations to remember that we aren’t alone, that our God offers great comfort — we just need to open our spiritual eyes to see it.
We write what you read and understand — 2 Cor. 1:13
Despite the claims by some theologians, the Bible is quite understandable — Paul says so. Yes, there are sections of it that are more difficult than others (e.g., Revelation), but the crucially important things that relate to salvation, morality, and the church are easily accessible and don’t take an advanced degree in interpretation to “get”. Interestingly enough, the Greek New Testament was written in the koine Greek language — koine meaning “common”. In other words, this was the everyday Greek that was spoken and understood around the Mediterranean world — not the scholar’s Greek, or technical Greek, or the philosophers’ Greek. And if was written in everyman’s Greek, do we really suppose that it would be that difficult to understand?
The God who desires all men to come to a saving knowledge of the Gospel, who made men’s minds and tongues, and who inspired Paul and the other NT writers — don’t you suppose He could find a way to communicate with us clearly? If your local newspaper can write a news story that everyone is town can understand the same, why can’t God? Yes, understanding the original language can add interesting depths to our understanding, knowing the history and the culture of the people to whom he wrote is helpful in clarifying some nuances of meaning; but to say that the Bible is for the ministers, priests, scholars, or elite interpreters is just plain false.
know that I’m preaching to the choir here, we’re reading through the Bible together; but you might find that a number of your friends may have been told that reading the Bible is really not for them, because it’s too hard to understand. Although sometimes the reason that people don’t read the Bible is because they understand it all too well — and don’t want to be bothered with a bad conscience.
Through Him is our Amen — 2 Cor. 1:20
There are lots of promises that have been made in the Scripture. What are your favorites? Some of them pretty improbable, if you’re thinking like a worldly person. But in Jesus they all go from improbable or even impossible to YES! Isn’t that good news?!
The purpose of discipline fulfilled — 2 Cor. 2:8
Church discipline is a very unpopular and unpleasant task, but it must be done from time to time. As we noted in 1 Cor. 5, it’s purpose is two-fold: to protect the church from further corruption and also to bring the sinful brother or sister around spiritually in a last ditch effort to restore them. It is spiritual tough love. Paul had virtually forced the church in Corinth to do it at first, but now it had produced the appropriate result — real repentance. Now that this brother had repented, Paul urgently encourages them to reaffirm their love for him and forgive him. This is the only genuine reason for church discipline. It is not a vendetta, it’s not a personal put-down; it is spiritual wake-up call. Sadly, it is often met with resentment and contempt for the very people who are trying to bring them back to the Lord — often at the price great personal sorrow and heartache. God forbid it should happen to any of my readers, but if it should, please give those who love you enough to discipline you the benefit of the doubt and listen — for your soul’s sake.
The aroma of Christ — 2 Cor. 2:14-17
What a great metaphor Paul uses here about the Christian life — an aroma. For some it is more of a stink, because they love their sin; but for others a sweet smell of life and purpose and hope and promise! But you know, there are all kinds of aromas in the world.
Some are pretty foul. Have you ever been to a paper mill town? Foul. Once my parents visited some friends who lived in a paper mill town. The smell was so strong and so foul that my eyes were watering. I asked the other kid how he could stand it. “What smell?” he said. He clearly had gotten used to a smell I could barely stand. I wonder if skunks can smell themselves? I suspect not. I think that’s probably pretty much lie the smell of the world we live in; it’s foul, but before long we just get used to it. But it’s death.
Some smell good at first, but they start to choke you after a while, because they’re fake. Bathroom spray or even cheap perfume. They’re false religion. They may promise something better, but they aren’t roses.
And then there are the roses — fresh, real, even refreshing. The Christian aroma is life, sincerity, and transformational in its teaching and it’s example. Interestingly enough, the Christian aroma is so different that it can actually smell bad to those who are used to the stench of the world.
What sort of “aroma” follows you around?
Made adequate — 2 Cor. 3:5,6
Later in 2 Corinthians Paul will talk about his weaknesses. Indeed, Paul seemed to be well aware of his short-comings, but also boasts (rightly) that it has been God who has worked in Him — made him adequate for this mind-blowing task of sharing the Gospel. So, you think that God hasn’t given you much talent; do you use your inexperience or other weaknesses to beg-off doing things at church you are asked to do? God will make you adequate — adequate to share the Gospel, adequate to serve, perhaps adequate to lead in time. Of course you can’t do — on your own! Let go and let God, as the saying goes.
The veil of Moses — 2 Cor. 3:7ff
The stumbling block of the Law kept many Jews from believing in Jesus; they just couldn’t get past circumcision, dietary laws, and Sabbath keeping for all. But in today’s society and world the veil is often very different: fun, recreation, TV, and self. Folks often think that these things are really “living” — until they might possibly turn to Christ and see what real, abundant life is.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.