Paul’s Preparatory Letter for His Third Visit
We’ve been studying 2 Corinthians for all of 2018 (we started in December 2017) and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I have learned a lot from this letter in terms of the state of the Corinthian church, the sequence and makeup of some of Paul’s travels, and many life lessons that we can apply today both corporately as the body of Christ and individually in our quest for holiness.
What was mentioned in the Introduction I’ll restate here. Paul was prompted to write this letter to the church in Corinth for a couple of reasons.
- The arrival of his pastoral assistant Titus who brought welcome news after the favorable response of the majority of Corinthians to the “severe letter”
- The arrival of fresh, disturbing news concerning Corinth
His purposes for writing this letter were mainly these:
- To express his great relief and delight at the Corinthians’ positive response to his “severe letter” that had been delivered and reinforced by Titus
- To exhort the Corinthians to complete their promised collection for the saints at Jerusalem before his arrival on the next visit
- To prepare them for his upcoming visit by having them engage in self-examination and self-judgment so that they could discover the proper criteria for distinguishing between rival apostles and to spare himself the pain of having to exercise yet more discipline
As I think we’ve seen over the last 12 months, this letter falls into three clearly discernable sections:
- Chapters 1-7, which contain Paul’s explanation of his conduct and apostolic ministry, are primarily apologetic.
- Chapters 8-9, which deal with the collection for the saints at Jerusalem, are largely exhortative.
- Chapters 10-13, which form Paul’s defense of his apostolic authority, are mainly polemical.
All of the content of this letter may be related to a single unifying purpose in writing, namely, to prepare the way for Paul’s imminent third visit to Corinth by removing any obstacle that might prevent that visit from being pleasing and beneficial to all.
- Paul informs the Corinthians of his recent brush with death and seeks their prayer for his future deliverance that would enable him to make his planned visit.
- He explains his recent conduct in the light of certain accusations of his opponents, in particular recommending the reinstatement of the penitent wrongdoer and expressing his pleasure at the Corinthians’ to the sever letter and its bearer, Titus.
- He describes the true nature and high privilege of the apostolic ministry from which the Corinthians have benefitted and insists on their avoiding all compromise with paganism.
- He encourages then to complete their collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church before he arrives on his forthcoming visit.
- He defends his authority as Christ’s apostle against the rival claims of his Judaizing adversaries at Corinth.
- He demands the Corinthians’ self-examination, their repentance, and the mending of their own ways as their preparation for his visit.
Though I’ve identified chapters 1-7 as primarily apologetic, it can be said that the entire letter is an apology in the sense of being a defense against various claims and charges against Paul by some of the Corinthians and by the Palestinian intruders. Note in particular 12:19, where Paul asks, “Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you?” The expression “all along” need not refer to more than 10:1-12:18 but may well allude to everything that’s been said since 1:1.
Throughout the letter we find stylistic features that seem typical of an apologetic document of a religious nature:
- Rhetorical questions that appeal to logic, experience, common sense, and spiritual awareness
- Exclamatory statements
- Appeals to God or Christ as a witness of his honesty or integrity or to the truth of an affirmation.
What Paul wrote in 1Co 9:3 about his defense of his apostolic rights could be equally applied to 2 Corinthians as a whole: “This is my defense to those who would examine me.”
I think the primary takeaways in this letter are ecclesiastical rather than personal, though there are, of course, personal applications throughout especially as they pertain to service, treatment of church leadership, and what constitutes Christ-like behavior.
In broad strokes for the Corinthians, they were to heed Paul’s call for
- A break with idolatry
- Warm hospitality to be shown to the three delegates
- A generous and prompt contribution to the Jerusalem relief fund
- A changed attitude toward him as an apostle and as their father in the faith
Paul’s next letter, Romans, was written during his 3rd visit to Corinth. Romans was written to a very different church for a very different purpose in a very different tone. We’ll start that next.