Studies in 2 Corinthians
Following our study of 1 Corinthians entitled “The Foolishness of God,” we now move to 2 Corinthians. A great deal has happened between these two letters to the church in Corinth. Paul’s ‘painful visit’ followed by his ‘sorrowful letter’ (cf., 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4). The following overview of 2 Corinthians from The Bible Project summarizes those events that moved Paul to compose this final letter.
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Beginning in 2 Corinthians 2:14, we now come to the conclusion of Paul’s philosophy of ministry, working with Christ to reconcile people to God. Our mission to the world was initiated by God through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Just before He ascended back to heaven Jesus issued the Great Commission to His apostles. These men, in turn, passed this command to the early church as Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 2:14-6:2. Through his letters to Corinth handed down to us over the centuries, we now receive the challenge that Christ gave to them, giving us: “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 6:1). Indeed, every Christian generation has been entrusted with God’s ministry of reconciliation, including our own. Our message is simple: “We implore you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20).
KNOWING THE LOST
As followers of Christ we have been observing the apostle Paul’s analysis of his philosophy of ministry that he shares with the other apostles, with the congregation in Corinth and for us, today. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that we must know ourselves (verses 1-10), know the Lord (verses 11-15) and, today, we will talk about knowing the lost (verses 16-17).
It is so easy to be caught up in the news about what others are doing to each other for whatever reasons, shaking our heads and talking about what a shame it is. Just like everybody else. But, in Christ, we see people differently. They don’t need a better education, the right political party or the right religion. What all people everywhere need is Jesus. He is the answer!
KNOWING THE LORD
Paul’s theme in 2 Corinthians 5 is ‘Knowing.’ As followers of Christ, there are three things Christians need to know: 1) Ourselves (5:1-10), 2) The Lord (5:11-15) and 3) The Lost (5:16-17). There are two ways that we know the Lord: 1) we fear Him in verse 11 and 2) we love Him in verse 14. These verses build upon verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” And yet, Paul makes it clear that “the love of Christ controls us” in verse 14.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul focused upon what we have in Christ: 1) this ministry, 2) this treasure and 3) the same spirit of faith. In that chapter he contrasted these possessions to the fact that they are from God and not ourselves, we are simply clay pots in which we experience the challenges of life with a belief that empowers us to speak.
The closing verse of this chapter provides the perfect logical springboard into chapter 5 when Paul addresses the ‘transient’ versus the ‘eternal’ perspective (4:18). Knowing that our transient bodies house eternity from God who is with us in the midst of our struggles as we reach out to others who do not yet know Him. It is God’s Spirit, Who dwells within us, that guarantees that this life is not the end; it is only the beginning of what is to come (5:5).
“Having” is the theme of 2 Corinthians 4. Because of what we have, we do not lose hope, Paul says, in verses 1 and 16. So, what is it that we have, Paul? First, we have this ministry by the mercies of God Himself (4:1-6). Second, we have the treasure of the death and life of Jesus Christ in these ‘jars of clay’ to demonstrate the power of God to redeem us in our brokenness (4:7-12). Finally, in this final section of chapter 4, Paul tells us that we have ‘the same spirit of faith’ that moves us to speak about what we believe (4:13-18).
The goal is to increase those who give thanksgiving to God to His glory and praise. This is the purpose statement of every follower of Jesus Christ as He told us in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20.
Today’s Easter Service comes perfectly as we consider the implications of Paul’s assertion that Christians are “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our mortal bodies.” (2 Cor. 4:10).
This is the treasure that we carry with us in our ‘jars of clay.’ The focus is not upon the jars; it is upon The Treasure which they contain!
Last week we concluded the BEING section of Paul’s philosophy of ministry to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:14-3:18). We are the aroma of Christ (2:14-17). We are ministers of the new Covenant (3:1-11). We are being transformed into the image of Christ (3:12-18).
Now we address the HAVING part of our ministry in 2 Corinthians 4. We have this ministry by the mercy of God (4:1-6). We have this treasure in earthen vessels (4:7-12). We have the same Spirit of faith (4:13-18). This entire chapter is sandwiched by the statement, “We do not lose hope” (vss. 1 & 16). The reason we are able to live our lives with hope, no matter what we face, is not because of our ingenuity or intelligence or special talents. Our hope lies in the fact that God has taken up residence in our “earthen vessels” which I often describe as ‘cracked pots.’
God allows us to show His surpassing power to call attention to Him; not to us!
In this week’s lesson we focus upon the third aspect of BEING that to which God is bringing about in our lives. As we go about spreading the aroma of Christ through the ministry of the Spirit, God calls us to be transformed into the image of Christ (3:12-18). In this process, it is the Lord Himself who is transforming us from ‘one degree of glory to another’ as we gaze at Christ.
Who we are, what we do and who we are becoming are all under the care of God, Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-6:2 Paul gives us his philosophy of ministry as he and his co-workers spread the gospel wherever they go. In last Sunday’s lesson, Paul instructs us in how we, too, accept the Lord’s challenge to be the aroma of Christ in all we do and say. For those who are receptive to the gospel message, Paul says we are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.” To those who reject Jesus’ invitation, however, the aroma has the stench of death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). To amplify this message, Paul notes the glory of God’s message through the temporary covenant law of condemnation and how it pointed towards the permanent glory of Christ. It is a ‘ministry of righteousness’ (2 Cor. 3:9).
For Paul, the proof of the superiority of the gospel is found in the ministry of the Spirit in their lives. It is God who has written the gospel message upon the hearts of the Corinthians. As ‘ministers of the new covenant,’ the glory of the gospel from God surpasses the glory of the old covenant and is permanent.
BEING THE AROMA OF CHRIST
Paul spends the opening chapters of his letter to the church in Corinth (1:1-2:13) talking about his personal itinerary and how God’s promises sustained him against life-threatening odds.
At the end of chapter 2, however, Paul moves from the personal to address his philosophy of ministry beginning in 2 Cor. 2:14 and concluding in 2 Cor. 6:2. In this section of Paul’s letter we gain insights into his approach to mission work and, by his example, we learn how to think of our own, personal philosophies of ministry to the world around us. Lord willing, in the section we are studying we focus upon what we are called to be: i.e., the aroma of Christ.
Paul concludes this section by addressing how we are being ‘transformed’ into the image of Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. We carry Christ’s presence with us wherever we go, with whomever we meet as we gaze into the glory of Christ, spreading his aroma as we transform into His image “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Lord willing, as we dig into 2 Corinthians, we will quickly review the lesson from two weeks ago and sharpen our focus upon Paul’s underlying message in chapters 1-2. That key message is that no matter what challenges Paul receives from his critics, the verification of his apostleship is in Christ. For, in Christ, all of God’s promises are “Yes!” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Furthermore, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives as God’s down payment, “guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22) verifies the truth of Paul’s life and message. Paul is not like those charlatans who say “Yes” to please their audience, when in fact their true message is “No!” With Paul, what you see is what you get and a good part of this final letter of Paul to Corinth will be focusing upon this truth as verification of his ministry to the world.
As we study his ministry in this letter, we will be able to draw important lessons in our own individual ministries in our families, among our friends and to the world around us.
(Dean Wolf – Shepherd)
(Introduction to 2 Corinthians)
With the closing of 1 Corinthians 16, Paul lays out his travel plans which includes a return visit to Corinth. However, his plans would change and the situation in Corinth would go through some significant challenges. By the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians the dust has finally settled and Paul brings healing and hope to strengthen the church.