2 Corinthians

2 Corinthians 13: True Strength

There has been a whole lot of talk about strength in the Corinthian correspondence this past month.  Strong leaders, strong reasoning and speaking skills, a strong tolerance for sin (though too strong for Paul’s liking), a strong sense of grace (again, too strong), strong pocketbooks, strong charisma and gifting, strong leaders, strong egos, and strong boasts.  Corinth was a culture of strength, and so was this church.

We have already seen Paul say there are other strengths to have that are far more important.  They need a strong sense of unity that bridges the many divides they have allowed to form in their church.  They need a strong love towards each other shown through character, not spiritual gifts.  They need a strong spirit of generosity so as to help those who have real need in the world.  Today, Paul ends these two volumes with one more kind of true strength the Corinthians should be sure to have in a culture that seems hyper-focused on strength.  They would do well to be strong in doing the right thing.

Test yourselves to see if you really are in the faith!  Put yourselves through the examination.  Or don’t you realize that Jesus the Messiah is in you? — unless, that is, you’ve failed the test.  I hope you will discover that we didn’t fail the test.  But we pray to God that you will never, ever do anything wrong; not so that we can be shown up as having passed the test, but so that you will do what is right. (13:7)

What big idea really stood out to you during this year’s reading of the Corinthian correspondence?

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2 Corinthians 12: Strength Shown through Weakness

Today’s passage is as good a verse as any to declare a theme statement for 2 Corinthians.  It is also foundational to my own worldview and one I remind myself of a lot, especially when I feel unequal to the task or particularly oppressed.

A thorn was given to me in my flesh, a messenger from the satan, to keep stabbing away at me.  I prayed to the Lord three times about this, asking that it would be taken away from me, and this is what he said to me: “My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness.”  So I will be all the more pleased to boast of my weaknesses, so that the Messiah’s power may rest on me.  So I’m delighted when I’m weak, insulted, in difficulties, persecuted, and facing disasters, for the Messiah’s sake.  When I’m weak, you see, then I am strong. (12:7b-10)

The point is not for us to appear strong.  The point is for people to see in us a power beyond us, the power of God.  That means we have to face, admit, and acknowledge to others our weakness.  That point when we feel like we can’t go on anymore, but then there is always a little more strength for the next day — that point may be the most blessed one of all, if we are willing to face it with faith.  I pray that we will.

What verse did you see in a new way today?

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2 Corinthians 11: Not So Very “Super-Apostles”

Paul snidely labels those who are opposing him in the Corinthian church as the “super-apostles” (11:5).  Images of Clark Kent with a Bible come to mind.  He tells us a good deal about these people in today’s reading.

  • They have been able to sway some of the church away from true doctrine (11:3)
  • They may have been teaching significantly different things about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the gospel (11:4)
  • They clearly were well-educated, much more than Paul, especially in the area of rhetoric (11:6)
  • Given that much of this book is about the collection Paul is taking up for the Christians in Judea and that Paul repeatedly has to defend his financial decisions, the super-apostles were likely accusing Paul of using the Corinthians for money (11:7-9)
  • They are so flawed as to actually be “false” prophets (11:13a)
  • They transform themselves, chameleon-like, to look pious and orthodox (11:13b)
  • Paul calls them servants of Satan, implying they are a threat to spiritual purity, not simply other Christians with views different from Paul’s (11:15)
  • They are destined for Hell (11:15)
  • They regularly boasted about themselves (11:18)
  • They are enslaving, insulting, and exploiting the Corinthians (11:20)
  • They may be Jewish (11:22)
  • They have not sacrificed as much as Paul for the sake of the gospel (11:23-29)

So who are these people? When you put it all together it makes a lot of sense that these super-apostles were the same Judaizers who followed Paul throughout the eastern Mediterranean undoing his grace-oriented Christianity with a re-binding of law on Christians.  Their air of superiority had much to do with their ethnicity and training in the law.

For Paul these differences are more than surface differences of preference and style.  The super-apostles had eviscerated the very gospel and in so doing they were not to be tolerated at all.

What caught your eye today?

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2 Corinthians 10: Boasting Without the Ego

Some days it seems like we are swimming in a sea of ego.

Here in America, the presidential campaigns are heating up and there is enough ego to choke on coming from both parties.  I guess that is part of the game.  Football seasons are cranking up and a great number of athletes are more than willing to tell us how good they are.  In the world of Howard Stern, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, and Lady Gaga self-promotion is a must.  Then our kids learn this and life imitates art in the hallways of schools across America and on Facebook and Instagram pages.

How do we walk like Christ through the world of ego?  

We are headed now into the last big part of 2 Corinthians where the idea of “boasting” is key.  In this chapter alone the word “boast” is used seven times in eighteen verses.  As we will see more clearly in the next chapter but as has been seen several times already in the Corinthians correspondence, pride was certainly encouraged in the self-important culture of Achaia.  A person needed to make a name for themselves, develop the skills and personality traits that were admired, and then they didn’t need to feel bad about making these known.  Furthermore, pride always brings about competition, and it seems it was also okay to point out your opponents failures in comparison to your strengths.  We can tell that in the Corinthian church there were people present not lacking in ego and quite willing to point out Paul’s inferiority.

Paul states in this chapter that he felt justified in joining in the boasting, but he would boast in what God had done through him, not his own accomplishments.

But when we boast, we don’t go off into flights of fancy; we boast according to the measure of the rule God has given us to measure ourselves by, and that rule includes our work with you! (10:13)

For Paul, the most important things he has ever done, the greatest bragging point is simply the success he has had evangelizing.  Yet, Paul also knows that success does not come from his great rhetoric, because he is sometimes lost for words.  It is not his charisma and personality; he is too meek and weak for that.  It is not some ministry proudly named after himself, because the power of his ministry came from God and the ability to change hearts always comes from God.  The Corinthians need not look for Paul’s credentials to be impressed.  They only need to look at their own history to realize, they would not be in Christ had Paul not come to town.

In a world of ego, we would do well to boast like Paul did:

Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord! (10:17b)

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

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2 Corinthians 9: A Vision of Abundance

“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?

“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?

“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?

The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those.  Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true.  And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true.  But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?

Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.”  Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament.  That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice.  The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.

He will judge between many peoples
    and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
    and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)

Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own.  Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough.  Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.

It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.

Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well.  Someone who sows generously will reap generously.  Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God.  The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)

As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity.  So too for us.  Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective.  We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts.  God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words).  We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money.  A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.  

Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism.  Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!)  We work to provide for ourselves and for others.  Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?

When have you been surprised by how abundant God’s material blessings truly are?

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2 Corinthians 8: Keys to A Generous Spirit

We are now solidly in the section where Paul beseeches the Corinthians to imitate the generous giving of the Macedonians.  This is likely referring to the collection Paul was accumulating for the famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem.  Paul’s pitch rivals anything I have ever heard in any church capital campaign!

It is this line that catches my attention today:

The abundance of grace that was given to them (the Macedonians), and the depths of poverty they have endured, have overflowed in a wealth of sincere generosity on their part. (8:2)

I am wondering if these are the two most important elements to being a generous giver.

When we become truly aware of how much grace and how many gifts have been given to us by God, a grateful heart is produced. Maybe gratefulness far outweighs expendable income as a key motivator for lavish giving.  

It appears the Macedonians knew what poverty was like.  They must have had some lean years themselves.  They could relate to the plight of the Christians in Jerusalem.  Maybe empathy and compassion goes much further towards producing a generous heart than pity or an intellectual sense of responsibility.  

What do you think creates a generous spirit?

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2 Corinthians 7: Godly Sadness

If I did make you sad by my letter, I don’t regret it; and, if I did regret it, it was because I saw that I made you sad for a while by what I had written.  Anyway, I’m celebrating now, not because you were saddened, but because your sadness brought you to repentance.  It was sadness from God, you see, and it did you no harm at all on our account; because God’s way of sadness is designed to produce a repentance which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret there!  But the world’s way of sadness produces death. (7:8-10)

We don’t like sadness in our culture.  Life is supposed to be happy all of the time.  Nothing but butterflies and rainbows.

Of course, you can’t have rainbows without rain clouds and butterflies emerge from a strenuous battle with a cocoon.

I am afraid that this “happy-all-the-time” mentality has seeped into American Christianity too.  We expect God to smooth every road before us.  Life with Jesus is supposed to be a charmed life.  Surely, hard times are punishment.  And those who bring hard words of correction are not welcomed people at all.

At some point prior to 2 Corinthians, Paul has written a “sad letter” to this church.  This description doesn’t really fit the tone of 1 Corinthians, so many scholars think Paul is referring to another, lost letter to the Corinthians.  Clearly, Paul had hard things to say.  Things the church did not want to hear.  Things that made them ashamed of themselves.  Those are uncomfortable letters to write and conversations to have, and Paul confesses he regretted having to write such a letter.  Yet, the sadness the letter produced was exactly what the Corinthians needed.  It woke them up and they acknowledged in repentance that Paul was right.  A momentary spate of sadness created a wholesale change of direction.  Truly, “there is nothing to regret there!”

This sort of godly sadness is absolutely necessary, and it reminds us that not all we greet as bad is necessarily so.  Godly sadness created changes and results in salvation and redemption of that which is lost, broken and dying in our lives.  Godly sadness is what makes rainbows and butterflies possible.  There is always hope underlying the sadness.

There is a worldly sadness that is rightly undesirable.  Worldly sadness is nothing but rain and there are no silver linings.  Worldly sadness sweeps the cocoon away in a torrent and butterflies never emerge.  Worldly sadness offers nothing but death.  Hope is nowhere to be found.

When was a rebuke the most appropriate word you have ever received?  

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2 Corinthians 6: Ministering with a Wide-Open Heart

We have been wide open in our speaking to you, my dear Corinthians!  Our heart has been opened wide!  There are no restrictions at our end; the only restrictions are in our affections!  I am speaking as to children: you should open your hearts wide as well in return.  That’s fair enough, isn’t it? (6:11-13)

No one should accuse Paul of holding back from the people he ministered to.  Paul opened his heart wide to the people he reached out to.  This was risky.  He opened himself to hurt, betrayal, and disappointment — the kind of things he mentioned in verses 4-10.   But in so doing, he also opened himself to great love from the Corinthians and meaningful change in their lives.  Paul knew we can’t expect from others what we aren’t willing to give to others ourselves.  We will only receive as much love, transparency, and vulnerability as we are willing to give to others.

We hear a lot of talk these days of boundaries and leaving the job at the office.  Ministers are warned not to get too close lest they get burned.  We are taught to create professional distance.  There is certainly a lot of wisdom in this advice.  Appropriateness, emotional maturity, and protection from lawsuit are all valuable considerations.  However, I have to wonder if the Paul who is talking in this passage, the Paul who gave all he was to his children in the faith, the Paul who knew that effective ministry required deep emotional investment would have agreed completely with conventional wisdom.  I wonder if he would have said as Parker Palmer did: “to know” those we minister to we must allow ourselves “to be known” just as deeply as we are expecting.  Maybe the better question is how to best be professional and yet truly available.

Fortunately I feel I only have to look at the “wide-open hearts” of those I teach with to see what Paul is talking about.  They are experts in their subjects but they also allow their lives to be a text in the class.  They share their own stories, their own successes and failures with students trying to navigate similar decisions.  They are not afraid to compliment, high-five, and hug.  They know how to laugh with a kid and chide him for poor thinking.  They are tired at the end of week from pouring out their very selves to their students, but they also they celebrate with their whole hearts at games, concerts, art shows, and homecoming activities.  They express their love and pride freely at the end of the year and they feel an honest loss when students graduate and leave.  They cry when discipline is necessary and love enough to bring it.

This is ministry, and it takes a wide-open heart to do it well.

What did you notice in this chapter?

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2 Corinthians 5: Ministers of Reconciliation

In every one of his letters we have read thus far, we have seen Paul state the gospel in some form or fashion, usually in a way that fits the context of the people he is addressing.  2 Corinthians 5 is the “gospel chapter” in this book.

If anyone is in the Messiah, there is a new creation!  Old things have gone, and look — everything has become new! . . . God was reconciling the world to himself in the Messiah, not counting their transgressions against them. . . . The Messiah did not know sin, but God made him to be sin on our behalf, so that in him we might embody God’s faithfulness to the covenant. (5:17,  19, 21)

Personally, I love this version of the gospel message.

Now, it is our job, given by God, to be God’s “ambassadors, speaking on behalf of the Messiah, as though God were making his appeal through us” (5:20).  We have been given this “ministry of reconciliation” (5:18).

What motivates us to do this?  Paul mentions two things in this chapter:

So we know the fear of the Lord: and that’s why we are persuading people. (5:11)

For the Messiah’s love makes us press on. (5:14)

If we choose to believe the words of the Bible, the reality is that there are people who do not know Jesus, yet will come before God in judgment (5:10).  We share the gospel out of fear of what will happen to people if we do not.  We are also “beside ourselves” (5:13) with gratitude and honor because of the reality that the Messiah loved with such a depth that he died in our place so that we would be reunited with God.  That is an astounding message that needs to be shared.

What is your favorite verse in this chapter?

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2 Corinthians 4: Fragile Strength

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  I am finding these are the hardest chapters of all to write much about.

Most of my life I have not felt good enough or strong enough.  The comparison game starts early in life and I usually felt and sometimes still feel like a middle-of-the-road kind of guy.  Furthermore, I see the magnitude of the mission of God and I feel especially incapable, weak, and overwhelmed.

That is probably why I am so drawn to this chapter.  Paul understands what I feel, and he found a better perspective.  I read these lines praying for these to be my true words as well.

We have this treasure in earthenware pots, so that the extraordinary quality of the power may belong to God, not to us.  We are under all kinds of pressure, but we are not crushed completely; we are at a loss, but not at our wit’s end; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are cast down, but not destroyed.  We always carry the deadness of Jesus about in the body, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.  Although we are still alive, you see, we are always being given over to death because of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal humanity.  So this is how it is: death is at work in us — but life in you! . . . We know that the God who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us with Jesus and present us with you. . . . For this reason we don’t lose heart.  Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day.  This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing everything, lasting forever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen.  After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. (4:7, 10-12, 14, 16-18)

What line resonated with you today?

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2 Corinthians 3: Qualified for Ministry

So what makes you think you are qualified for ministry?

That seems like a pretty reasonable question.  In fact, it is the kind of question I would expect to receive if I were in an interview for a sales person job or an opening for a management position at a factory or a job as a crane operator at the construction site down the road.  A person needs to have the appropriate credentials if they are to assume they can do a job.

Isn’t it the same in ministry?

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with pursuing academic training in ministry.  I have two earned degrees in theology myself.  But is a person qualified for ministry if they have a degree in the field?  If they are a dynamic speaker?  If they have the charisma to capture a room and motivate people to achieve a goal?  If they go to lots of conferences and enact cutting edge thinking and technology in their churches?  If they can attract a crowd and grow the membership of a church?  If they can lead a capital campaign that nets millions of dollars?  Now flip it.  Is a person disqualified from ministry if they do not have these traits and abilities?

Think like a Corinthian.  We know their culture.  Wisdom, knowledge and education is good.  The cult of the personality will take you far.  Recommendations from the masses will take you far.  Gather a group of people to you and have them follow your teaching.  Sure, others might call it pride and “being puffed up” but really its just confidence.  We even know that this kind of cultural thinking had seeped into the church in Corinth in various ways.  If a group of people think like this, won’t they want credentials and recommendations?

Does that Corinthian thinking sound that different from everyday American thinking?

So, what qualifies a person for ministry?

Perhaps we need — as some do — official references to give you? . . . You are our official reference!  It’s written on our hearts! . . . That’s the kind of confidence we have toward God, through the Messiah.  It isn’t as though we are qualified in ourselves to reckon that we have anything to offer on our own account.  Our qualification comes from God: God qualified us to be stewards of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the spirit. (3:1-2, 4-6)

Paul appeals to two things as evidence to his qualifications as a minister:

  1. They only had to look at themselves.  How did they come to know about Christ?  Who brought them this far?  Their very lives were reference letters.
  2. They could see the marks of the Spirit in his life.  His power came from the power of the Spirit, not his own power.  His persuasive spirit was not his own, but God’s.  His charisma was the “charismata” (Greek for “gift”) that comes from the Spirit, not a charming personality.

One is qualified for ministry if there is within that person the Spirit who is changing the worshiper into the image of Jesus from one stage of glory to the next (3:18).

What caught your attention in this chapter?

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2 Corinthians 2: What’s That Smell?

Much of this new letter from Paul to the Corinthians revolves around a need Paul felt to defend his authority and reputation as an apostle.  We saw some of this in 1 Corinthians too.  It would appear there were other self-proclaimed apostles who had come to the Corinthian church after Paul who were discrediting Paul and trumpeting their own reputations.  In Paul’s response, we find some of the clearest teachings on what it means to be a minister of Christ, what our goal is for ministry, and from where our power comes (and we are all ministers if we choose to be, even if we don’t receive a paycheck from a church).  As much as possible, as we make our way through 2 Corinthians I am going to focus my posts on these ideas.

Today’s passage is a familiar one:

But thanks be to God — the God who always leads us in his triumphal procession in the Messiah, and through us reveals everywhere the sweet smell of knowing him.  We are the Messiah’s fragrance before God, you see, to those who are being saved and to those who are being lost.  To the latter, it’s a smell which comes from death and leads to death; but to the former it’s the smell of life which leads to life. (2:14-16)

It is not our job to save.  Our job is to witness, to live, to smell.  In fact we can’t help but smell.  That is just what happens when we live the way of Christ in this world.  People will sense something from our lives about what it means to know and be known by God.  Whether they like the aroma of our life is also out of our control.  Some will, some won’t.  And in the context of this passage, it has nothing to do with our level of sincerity.  Lost people can’t appreciate the smell of life.  But saved people find it as comforting as the smell of home-made brownies.  Our job is to walk, and even this is out of our control.  Prisoners of war were paraded, often in chains, through cities like Corinth in a “triumphal procession.”  God is even in control of where we walk.  Yet, we walk, and as we do a smell is emitted.  That is our job: to smell.

What did you notice about ministry in this chapter?

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2 Corinthians 1: Humbled by Suffering

Paul knew his fair share of suffering during his life.  We will hear about a lot of this in 2 Corinthians.  Paul also knew that the Corinthian Christians had and were going to face sufferings of various kinds.   We all do.  It is part of the human condition.

Naturally any time suffering is present we ask that nagging question why.  The truth of the matter is that there are many reasons why we suffer, and no one reason can explain all cases of suffering.  Sometimes we may have no clue whatsoever for why we suffer.

Paul shares with us what he had determined was the reason for his suffering, at least in the situation he was discussing:

You see, my dear family, we don’t want to keep you in the dark about the suffering we went through in Asia.  The load we had to carry was far too heavy for us; it got to the point where we gave up on life itself.  Yes: deep inside ourselves we received the death sentence. This was to stop us relying on ourselves, and to make us rely on the God who raises the dead. (1:8-9)

It would appear that at least sometimes God brings or at least uses hard times to humble our pride and cause us to face our own inadequacy.  Only then are we ready to really let God take over.

When my sons were quite young — toddlers, I guess — they would sit down determined to fix a toy, unravel some string, or do up a button. I would offer to help but they would have nothing to do with it.  Most of the time all that happened from their attempt at independence was that the toy became more broken, the string more tangled, or the button remained unbuttoned.  Only when they were thoroughly frustrated would they come to me for help.  It could have been much easier, but they had to learn their limits.  Sometimes we are no different from my sons: independent to a fault, only to end with frustration. Sometimes suffering is intended to show us we can’t do everything ourselves.

Paul also knows that no matter how much suffering may come our way there is as much or more comfort available in God as well.

Just as we have an overflowing share of the Messiah’s suffering, you see, so we have an overflowing share in comfort through the Messiah. (1:5)

God is willing to let us fall until we realize we can’t do life on our own.  But this same God who wants us to learn a lesson is also right there to bandage our wounds, help us get up, and carry us along.  God is as much a comforter as a teacher and master.

What caught your eye in a new way in this chapter?

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BONUS: An Introduction to the Corinthian Letters

I imagine the church at Corinth was not an easy church to lead.  Yet, the Apostle Paul went far and beyond to help them become what God would have them be as a church.  We likely only have two of the four letters we can tell Paul wrote this church (maybe three if our Second Corinthians is actually two letters combined).  We can tell from the way Paul starts many of the sections in First Corinthians that this letter is actually a response to some sort of correspondence from the Corinthian Christians.  Next maybe only to Ephesus, Paul spent more time in Corinth during his missionary journeys than anywhere else.  As challenging as the Corinthians were to Paul, he dearly loved them and that comes out in these letters.

Paul seems to be combating several issues in these two letters, each letter quite different from the other.

Holy living in an unholy culture:  Corinth was home to many temples, not all of which were likely in use at the time of Paul.  The most famous of these was the Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, in which 1000 temple prostitutes once had served.  On the north side of the city was a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing.  This background of idolatry and sexuality will appear several times in the two letters.  This may be Corinth’s most recognized vice.  There is a now-archaic English verb, “to corinthianize,” which means to engage in lewd and indecent acts of debauchery, especially unbridled and indecent sexuality.  Paul’s instructions will be unequivocal: navigate through a sinful society with purity, abstinence, and consideration for your brothers and sisters in Christ.  This point is also what makes many people say 1 Corinthians is especially relevant for today’s world.

Airs of superiority amongst the members and the division that naturally would bring:  Wisdom was key to the Greek culture.  At least in some people’s minds, one’s value was attached in part to their intellectual development.  Education, philosophy and conventional thinking would have been held in high esteem.  As we will see early in 1 Corinthians, this attitude was clearly present in the Corinthian church as well.  This thinking also seems to have shaped how they thought about the spiritual gifts they had been given by the Spirit.  A pecking order of giftedness seems to have been causing a problem, as was their penchant to group off according to which religious teacher they preferred.  Unity will be the most recurring point in these letters.

Misunderstandings about the resurrection of the dead:  There can be no misunderstandings about this all-important idea fundamental to Christianity, yet it seems the Corinthians had many.  Paul will speak to the who, when, how, and what of the resurrection from the dead.

Encouraging the Corinthian Christians to give generously to famine-striken Christians in Jerusalem:  Situated at a main commercial nexus point between the Adriatic and Aegean Seas, there would have been a good bit of wealth in the city.  Paul will encourage his Greek brothers and sisters to use that wealth to show tangible love for the Jewish brothers and sisters who started this movement they are now a part of.

Having to defend this apostolic authority:  Paul’s response to this issue composes most of Second Corinthians.  This was an especially big deal as questions of authority would have undermined everything Paul had been working for in Corinth.  The emphasis on wisdom in Corinthian culture would have contributed to this as Paul was foreign, educated in non-Greek religion and philosophy, and he did not emphasize the charisma commonplace in Greek cultural leaders.  More troubling for Paul were false teachers posing as apostles who had come to Corinth since his departure who were turning the church against him.  They painted Paul as opportunistic, greedy for their money, unreliable, and unskilled.  Paul responds will great passion and fire.  For what it’s worth, Paul’s explanation of why he is competent to be a “minister of reconciliation” has been one of my favor sections of Scripture since first training for the ministry in undergrad.

So much of the Corinthian letters has to do with church life.  This may be where we see Paul’s pastoral heart best of all.

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