This is the second letter that Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. The first epistle was written from Ephesus while Paul labored there on his third missionary journey. He had heard from the congregation of Corinth by means of a letter brought to him personally by members of the church. They had need of counsel, and his first letter contained the message which the Spirit would speak unto the church. It naturally concerned many problems in the church. It was written in warm pastoral counsel accompanied by urgent warnings to correct evil.
What happened in the interim between the writing of the first letter and this second one? The answer to this question divides commentators into two groups. On the one hand, some believe that Paul wrote a special letter, full of harsh warnings, as a result of a personal visit he had made to Corinth and in which he had learned of the magnitude of evil in the church. They suggest that this second epistle is a response to the fruit of that lost letter and personal visit. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia gives expression to this view. “After the dispatch of I Cor., news reached the apostle of a disquieting character; probably both Titus and Timothy, on returning from Corinth, reported the growing menace of the opposition fostered by the Judaizing party. Paul felt impelled to pay an immediate visit and found only too sadly that matters had not been overstated. The opposition was strong and full of effrontery, and the whole trend of things was against him. In face of the congregation he was baffled and flouted. He returned to Ephesus and poured out his indignation in a severe epistle which he sent, on by the hands of Titus. Before Titus could return, events took a disastrous form in Ephesus and Paul was forced to leave that city in peril of his life. He went to Troas, but, unable to wait patiently there for tidings of the issue in Corinth, he crossed to Macedonia and met Titus, possibly in Philippi. The report was happily reassuring; the majority of the congregation returned to their old attachment, and the heavy cloud of doubt and anxiety was dispelled from the apostle’s mind. He then wrote again—the present epistle, and forwarded it by Titus and other brethren, he himself following a little later, and finally wintering in Corinth as he had originally planned.” Vol III Page 718.
The other side of the argument insists that there is insufficient evidence of a “harsh letter” which has been lost. Rather, they suggest that the joyful response in the second epistle as we have it in the Bible, is a result of the first letter which we also have in the Bible. Meyer and Hodge and others take this position, summarized by Hodge as follows: “After then apostle had written his former letter to the Corinthians, and had sent Titus, either as the bearer of the letter or immediately after its having been sent by other hands, to ascertain the effect which is produced, he seems to have been in a state of unusual depression and anxiety. The persecution to which he had, been exposed in Asia placed him in continued danger of death, II Cor. 1:8, and his solicitude about the church in Corinth allowed him no inward peace II Cor. 7:5. After leaving Ephesus, he went to Troas but although the most promising prospects of usefulness there presented themselves, he could not rest but passed over into Macedonia in hopes of meeting Titus and obtaining from him intelligence from Corinth, II Cor. 2:12, 23. This letter is the outpouring of his heart occasioned by the information which he received. More than any other of Paul’s epistles, it bears the impress of the strong feelings under the influence of which it was written. That the Corinthians had received his former letter with a proper spirit, that it brought them to repentance, led them to excommunicate the incestuous person, and called forth, on the part of the larger portion of the congregation the manifestation of the warmest affection for the apostle, relieved his mind from the load of anxiety, and filled his heart with gratitude to God. On the other hand the increased boldness and influence of the false teachers and perverting errors which they inculcated and the frivolous and calumnious charges which they brought against himself, tilled him with indignation. This accounts for the abrupt transitions from one subject to another, the sudden changes of tone and manner which characterize this epistle. When writing to the Corinthians as a church, obedient, affectionate, and penitent, there is no limit to his tenderness and love. His great desire seems to be to heal the temporary breach which had occurred between them and to assure his readers that all was forgiven and forgotten and that his heart was entirely theirs. But when he turns to the wicked, designing corrupters of the truth among them, there is a tone of severity to be found in no other of his writings, not even in his epistle’ to the Galatians.” Commentary page 207.
In light of the fact that we have no accounting of the supposed “harsh letter,” it seems safest to confine ourselves to the epistles recorded in the Bible. Besides that, we can also rejoice in that God brought results through His Word which was inspired and sent to the Corinthians by the Holy Spirit and not by some personal letter of Paul.
The date of the letter can only be ascertained in that it followed closely, more than likely within a year; the first epistle. It was written sometime in the year A.D. 55 or 56.
There is difficulty in trying to summarize in a few words what the message of the apostle is in. writing this letter. Since it is a response to the fruits of a previous message, it quite naturally concerns the authority of God’s Word. Paul was aware of the fact that his writing the letter was not only in the capacity of a friend, but a servant of Jesus Christ: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God,” II Cor. 1:1. He said the same thing in his first letter, I Cor. 1:1. Hence, the joyful fruit of that Word written must be ascribed to God alone. “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, .who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us,” II Cor. 1:19, 20.
The same thing is emphasized in his dealing with the special need of the Jerusalem Church. In the midst of his instruction, he appeals to the Word of God, the Old Testament Scripture: “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work; (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor; his righteousness remaineth forever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness). Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness which causeth through us thanksgiving to God,” II Cor. 9:8-11.
Finally, his appeal to the authority of the Word comes to its own in the last part of the epistle. Here he deals with the attack upon his preaching. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh; (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” II Cor. 10:3-5.
Following this line of thought, we can take the general theme, the authority of the Word, and apply it now to the three main divisions in the letter. Chapters 1-7 deal with Paul’s response to the fruit of repentance and reconciliation of differences as a result of his first letter. Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the special need for collections for the poor in Jerusalem. Chapters 10-13 consist of Paul’s answer to those who were continuing to stir up trouble over his duty as an apostle of Christ to minister the Word in the churches. We will follow these general guidelines.
AN EFFECTIVE WORD FOR ALL OF LIFE
After the usual salutation, Paul expresses a beautiful doxology which has the theme of comfort. This indicates his frame of mind, he has just come through a double trial, his concern for the church of Corinth’s battle against evil within and his own escape from the enemies that, tried to kill him. How beautiful then is the exalted note, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us fin all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble. . . .” (vs. 2-7)
1. God spared Paul’s life so that he could preach the Word of God (II Cor. 1:8-11). While at Ephesus his life was endangered by the uprising of the multitude, (Acts 19:23-41). Here he refers to his travel in Asia. He must have been surrounded by the wicked Jews who sought to kill him, probably even to torture him (vs. 10, so great a death). It was so bad that Paul had no hope of escape. He was delivered, however, by none other than Christ Who answered the prayers of the saints. God willed that he should continue to preach the gospel.
2. Paul did not go back on his word (II Cor. 1:12-24). Paul told the Corinthians that he would come to them directly from Ephesus. However, already in his first letter, he notified them that he changed these plans and he would come to them by way of Macedonia (I Cor. 16:5). Some in the church interpreted this change by Paul as proof that they could not trust his word. If he could not be consistent in little details, how could he be true to the Word in his preaching? Paul’s answer to this nonsense is two-fold. First, he had made the original plan for their welfare. He had thought that if he would go directly to Corinth from Ephesus they could visit together first, and then he would enter into Macedonia from Corinth, thus allowing a return visit later (called in vs. 15 a second benefit). However, secondly, he changed these plans also for their welfare. He did not want to come. to them with a rod of correction and in anger, hence he decided that they should first have opportunity to respond to his letter and correct their evils and thus he would spare them his wrath, (see vs. 23). This change was not in lightness (vs. 17) nor for personal gain, but for their spiritual welfare. Hence his word .was true to them and not contradictory. The promises of God, spoken through him, are yea and in him Amen, (vs. 20). So firm is Paul in this, that he seals it with an oath: “I call God for a record upon my soul,” vs. 23. Here we see the sanction of this oath by the Holy Spirit. It was crucial for Paul’s future ministry in Corinth and every other place, that they believe him as a worthy ambassador of Christ. He calls God to witness his heart, word, and deed. This indicates how seriously Paul took this matter and how only God Who knows the heart could really settle it. With such force, all the people of God should let that matter rest.
(to be continued)