Paul planted the church in Corinth in AD 50–52 (Acts 18:1–18a). Paul then went on to Ephesus and wrote a letter to Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11) and then another letter in AD 54, what we know as 1 Corinthians. Upon hearing of trouble in the church, Paul returned to Corinth for a “painful visit” (2 Corinthians 2:1) and then wrote another letter so that he would not have to return to deal harshly with the matter in person again (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:4). During his travels, Paul found Titus who reported that the Corinthians had responded to Paul’s “severe letter” with a godly, repentant grief (2 Corinthians 7:5–9). Comforted and rejoicing, Paul then wrote what we know to be 2 Corinthians in AD 55. In this letter, a new problem needed to be addressed—the presence of false teachers, men who were criticizing Paul in a variety of ways and creating division in the church. Their presence is felt throughout the letter, which could be divided into three primary sections.
First, in 2 Corinthians 1–7, the false teachers had apparently charged Paul with not loving the Corinthians since Paul had told the Corinthians he would visit them but then made a change of plans. Paul explained that his ministry was just the same as ever, as a minister of the Word whose concern was to reconcile men to God through Christ (see especially 2 Corinthians 5:16–21).
Second, in 2 Corinthians 8–9, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to complete their giving towards famine relief for the saints in Jerusalem, something they had been doing (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1–4) and would indeed complete in time to come (cf. Romans 15:25–26).
Third, in 2 Corinthians 10–13, Paul announced that he would be visiting the Corinthians again but hoped that his letter would bring about a biblical handling of these false and so-called “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11) in their midst. If not, Paul would deal with them himself (2 Corinthians 13:1–4).
This letter is helpful in many ways—it teaches about financial giving and gives some very interesting details about the life of Paul, such as a time when was despaired of life and another time when he saw heaven itself. It is also helpful for reminding us why we do what we do as Christians—we live as God’s ambassadors, giving the gospel so that men could be reconciled to God through Christ. The letter throughout is incredibly rich for pastors and Christian leaders who, like Paul, experience opposition from within their flocks. And for that reason, it is probably a letter best understood and preached by those who have “been there and done that,” though it is obviously for the spiritual benefit of any Christian at any time.
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