Chapter 1.
The Beginning of a Passionate Letter

2 Corinthians 1:1-2

We now open the curtain on Paul's most intensely personal and deeply emotional letter, the book of 2 Corinthians. Nowhere is Paul's heart so torn and exposed as in this letter. Second Corinthians bears a fierce tone of injured love, of wounded, relentless affection. The first letter to the Corinthian church removed the roof of the church where we could look into what was going on in this church with all of its many problems. This second letter to the Corinthians reveals Paul's great love for the people and his concern for the Lord's work. The first letter reveals Paul as the instructor who answers questions and sets matters right. In this letter, he is the loving pastor pouring out his life so his spiritual children might spiritually mature and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This letter gives a clear, focused view of Christian ministry and says a great deal about Christian suffering, service, giving, and spiritual victory.

What was Corinth like? What was the atmosphere like that this church was facing? Corinth was one of the most celebrated cities of Greece. Corinth exceeded all the cities of the world, for the splendor and magnificence of its public buildings, such as temples, palaces, theaters, porticos, baths, and other edifices. These buildings were all enriched with beautiful columns, capitals, and bases, from which the Corinthian order in architecture took its rise.

Corinth is also celebrated for its statues, especially of Venus, Neptune, Diana, and Apollo. The temple of Venus was not only very splendid, but also very rich, and maintained not less than 1000 courtesans, who were the means of bringing an immense concourse of strangers to the place. The population of Corinth was largely immigrants and opportunists who were seeking a better life. Corinth became the popular answer to Rome's overpopulation. A large portion of the population consisted of freed slaves. Ex-Roman soldiers seeking a better life for their families were drawn to Corinth.

The wealth and financial prosperity of the people led to corruption and perversion. In fact, Nero felt very comfortable here. He never visited Sparta or Athens, but he spent a lot of time in Corinth. The Corinthians were as lewd as they were learned. Public prostitution formed a considerable part of their religion. They were accustomed in their public prayers to request their pagan gods to multiply their prostitutes! They did not think there was anything wrong with having sexual encounters with these temple prostitutes because they considered it as an act of worship to their gods. In fact, the Greek word "to Corinthianize" came to mean "to practice sexual immorality." This was the philosophy and mentality that Paul encountered when he preached here.

Sports was also important to the Corinthians. Every five years the Isthmian games were held. These games were only second to the Olympic games. Athletes competed in running, throwing, leaping, and wrestling. Paul alludes to these games in different parts of his epistles.

The city embraced the commerce of the whole Mediterranean Sea, from the straits of Gibraltar on the west to the port of Alexandria on the east, with the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. Corinth was destroyed in 146 B.C. by the Romans and had remained uninhabited for a hundred years, until 44 B.C. when Julius Caesar rebuilt it. So when Paul visited the rebuilt Corinth in 49-50 A.D., it was just over eighty years old with a population of some 80,000 people. Yet, during its short history, this city had become the third most important city of the Roman Empire, behind Alexandria and Rome itself. Situated on the isthmus of Greece, it was variously called "The Master of Harbors" or "The Crossroads of Greece." This background information will bring clarity to some of the passages we will encounter as we read through the Corinthian letters.

The questions we want to address now are these, "Why did Paul write this second letter? What was he trying to accomplish?" Paul had several purposes in mind when he wrote 2nd Corinthians.

1. To Commend their Actions:

He commended the church for disciplining an immoral member of the church and encouraged them to forgive and restore him when he repented. (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6-11)

2. A Change in Plans is Explained:

He intended to visit them but there was a change in plans. (1 Corinthians 16:3-7; 2 Corinthians 1:15-22).

3. A Challenge is Answered:

Paul's authority as an apostle was being questioned. (2 Corinthians 10-12).

4. To Compose a Plan for his visit:

He wrote them to prepare them for his planned visit. (2 Corinthians 13)

5. To Coax or Cheer the Church to Give:

He encouraged them to give to the Jerusalem saints. (2 Corinthians 8-9)

6. To Contradict Accusations that were False:

Paul was being accused of wrong motives (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). There were a majority of folks that had repented of their sins in the church and dealt with their sin problems thoroughly. There was a minority in the church, however, who challenged Paul's authority, suspected his motives, and questioned the validity of his ministry. Paul's response to these believers is an amazing mixture of tender love and stern rebuke.

The book of 2nd Corinthians is a great book and filled with wonderful, treasured truths. Here are some of the treasures we will dig up for inspection and admiration.

1. The Treasure of our Stability & Showing Forth Christ

2 Corinthians 4:8-11—... We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; [9] Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; [10] Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. [11] For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

After conducting Beethoven's magnificent Ninth Symphony, Arturo Toscanini brought down his baton to a burst of applause. The audience went crazy and roared its approval. Toscanini and his orchestra took repeated bows. When the cheering finally subsided, Toscanini turned back to his musicians and leaned over the podium. Voicing his words in whispers, he said to them: "Gentlemen, I am nothing.... Gentlemen, you are nothing..... but Beethoven.... Beethoven is everything, everything, everything!"

Beloved, the principle here is the same for us. No matter who you are or what you have accomplished, you are nothing, but the Lord Jesus Christ is everything! When that gets cemented in our minds, we won't even try to be first or to be a big shot. We'll just be satisfied to be the least of saints used in the hands of God Almighty. Jesus put it this way, "Without me, you can do nothing."

2. The Treasure of Suffering's Purpose

2 Corinthians 4:17-18—... For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; [18] While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

3. The Treasure of our Substitute

2 Corinthians 5:21—For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

4. The Treasure of the Seat of Judgment

2 Corinthians 5:10—For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

5. The Treasure of Spiritual Rebirth

2 Corinthians 5:17—Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

6. The Treasure of the Sweetness of Giving

2 Corinthians 9:7—Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

7. The Treasure of our Spiritual Weapons

2 Corinthians 10:3-4—... For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: [4] (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)

8. The Treasure of our Sufficiency and Satisfaction.

2 Corinthians 3:5—Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

9. The Treasure of Servanthood

2 Corinthians 4:5—For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.

Our servanthood to Christ is expressed in our servanthood to others.

10. The Treasure of Separation

2 Corinthians 6:14, 17—... Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? [17] Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

11. The Treasure of Strength when we are Weak

2 Corinthians 12:9-10—... And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [10] Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

The gospel does not ride on health and wealth but on weakness. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not one of splash and flash, but of meekness and weakness in the believer. The Christian life is full of paradox. In giving, we receive and in losing, we find. In dying, we live. Meekness brings strength into our lives and weakness puts power on display.

George Matheson was the author of the song "Oh Love that will not Let me Go." Like the Apostle Paul, Matheson had his own thorn in the flesh and source of affliction. Born in 1842, in Glasgow, Scotland, George had eye trouble throughout his entire childhood. By the time he entered the ministry, he was almost totally blind. Yet, for 40 years he preached the Word of God all throughout Scotland. Because of his ability to memorize his sermons and large portions of Scripture, many folks did not realize he was blind. George recorded the lessons he learned from his difficulties and trials in his journal Thoughts for Life's Journey. Here are some thoughts he wrote:

My soul, reject not the place of thy prostration! It has ever been the robing room for royalty. Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity. They will say, "It was the cold ground on which I once was lying."

George Matheson, along with Paul, recognized that God's power is perfected in weakness, not in degrees or diplomas, not in accomplishments or accolades, not in wealth or in wisdom, but in weakness. It is the leg that limps which leans on something other than itself for support. So God may touch our leg so we might learn to lean on Him. Do you rely or lean upon the Lord in your life? How dependent are you upon Him to live day by day? This is the challenge of Scripture.

Proverbs 3:5-6—... Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. [6] In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Philippians 4:6—Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

1 Peter 5:7—Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

As this letter opens, in the first two verses, Paul addresses his relationship with God, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with the Lord.

2 Corinthians 1:1-2—[1] Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia: [2] Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul addresses his apostleship right up front and his relationship with God. He takes the bull by the horns and gets down to business. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ. What does this mean? The Greek word for "apostle" is apostolos, which is used 80 times in the Bible. An apostolos was a person sent by an authority with a commission, such as an ambassador. Cargo ships were called apostolic ships because they were dispatched with a specific shipment with a specific destination. The idea of the word "missionary" comes from the word "apostle." We are to be like apostles in the sense that we are ambassadors for Christ, missionaries sent to this world for a specific mission.

An apostle of Jesus Christ, such as Paul, met several requirements.

  1. He was chosen by God (Acts 9:15).
  2. He was personally commissioned by Jesus Christ (Acts 9:6).
  3. He had seen the risen Savior (1 Corinthians 9:1, 2).
  4. He was a recipient of divine revelation (Galatians 1:10-12).

There were never many of them and there has not been any for almost two thousand years. The voice of the last apostle was silenced when John died of old age at Ephesus. There are no apostles today because no one meets these requirements. We have God's complete revelation of truth in the Scriptures.

Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. He did not appoint himself as one. He was chosen by God to represent and be an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not apostles, but we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ. We are to be telling others about Him.

Paul addresses our relationship with one another by speaking of Timothy. Timothy is a brother in the Lord. The messenger of God is not above other servants; he is a brother to all other servants. Regardless of his call and ministry, he is one among all brothers who serve under the will of God.

Romans 12:3—"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith."

Philippians 2:3-4—... "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."

This letter was not intended exclusively for the Christians in Corinth, but also for all the believers scattered through the province who were connected with the church in Corinth. Paul is not addressing a single house church; rather, he is speaking to the church of God that is represented in the city of Corinth through many house churches and throughout Achaia.

Caesar Augustus divided Greece into two provinces, Macedonia and Achaia. Macedonia included Illyricum, Epirus, and Thessaly (much of what we call Yugoslavia) while Achaia referred to all the southern part of Greece, including Corinth, Cenchreae, and Athens. There were believers scattered all throughout the region of Achaia.

Paul greets them by wishing them grace and peace, "Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." This was the common greeting that Paul and other New Testament writers extended to the early Christians who received their letters. The word "grace" conveys the idea of "Good day to you," or "I am so glad to see you." The New Testament writers, however, give the term charis, the Greek word for "grace," a spiritual connotation that relates to God's indispensable blessing extended to the recipient.

Grace is God's great kindness toward those who are undeserving of His favor but who have placed their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace flows from God. As oil makes a machine function smoothly, so the grace that comes from God facilitates the relationship between Himself and the believer.

Paul wishes them "peace" also. Grace is the fountain of which peace is the stream. Because we have grace from God we have peace with God and the peace of God.

Philippians 4:7—And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The word "peace" is a translation of the Hebrew greeting "Shalom." Shalom has a deeper meaning than just "peace." In context, the word intimates absence of tension between two parties and the presence of goodwill. Further, the Hebrew expression connotes completeness, prosperity, ease, health. The one who sends greetings, therefore, wishes that the recipient may enjoy both spiritual and material prosperity. Where do these blessings come from? The answer is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to know God's peace, then you must know Him and receive His saving grace. Put your faith in Christ today.