Second Corinthians teaches us that genuine Christian ministry is characterized by “simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Cor. 1:12), that church officers aren’t self-sufficient (2 Cor. 3:5), and that ministry is more dying to self than it is self-promotion (2 Cor. 4:11–12). Paul elected not to accept compensation from the Corinthians, not wanting to introduce a stumbling block (2 Cor. 11:7–9). He didn’t carry letters of recommendation with him (2 Cor. 3:1–3). He refused to practice cunning (2 Cor. 4:2) or to tickle ears (2 Cor. 2:17) because it wasn’t his ministry or his message—it is God’s. The same is true of all Christian servants in the new covenant.
Like 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians covers a myriad of issues in addressing a church that is beset by immorality, false teachers, sectarianism, and theological confusion. In this letter, the Apostle Paul’s care and concern for the Corinthian church are palpable. Let’s consider three important characteristics of the letter that help us understand and apply its overall message.
1. Second Corinthians represents the culmination of Paul’s intense dealings with the church at Corinth.
The founding of the church in Corinth (around AD 52) took place during Paul’s second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1–11). Luke tells us that Paul stayed in Corinth for more than eighteen months. It seems that soon after Paul left Corinth for Antioch, significant problems arose in the new congregation. Paul found out about these problems while in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (see Acts 19). In all likelihood, 2 Corinthians is the fourth letter that Paul had written to the church within a span of roughly two years:
- Letter 1: The “previous” (nonextant) letter (see 1 Cor. 5:9)
- Letter 2: 1 Corinthians
- Letter 3: The “severe” (nonextant) letter after the “painful” visit (see 2 Cor. 2:3–4; 7:8–12)
- Letter 4: 2 Corinthians
Paul sent the “severe” letter through Titus, who returned to Paul with a joyful report of the church’s repentance and loyalty to the Apostle and the Apostolic teaching. Thus, 2 Corinthians is a “happy” (though not perfect) culmination of a complex relationship between the Apostle and the Corinthian believers. Paul’s joy at the report from Titus regarding the Corinthians’ welfare (see 2 Cor. 7:6–7) demonstrates what the Apostle valued in the life of the church. These include the peace, purity, and unity of the church (including church discipline), as well as the Christian’s ethical conduct, humility, and generous stewardship. If the Apostle was so anxious that this church possess and manifest these attributes, we ought to work toward these in our churches and our Christian lives as well.
2. Second Corinthians provides a strong defense of Paul’s Apostolic ministry.
Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate, contra the false “super-apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5), that his Apostleship is genuine because he has been commissioned and entrusted by the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ to speak in His name (see 2 Cor. 5:18; 13:3).