2nd Corinthians: A Look at The Human Side of Paul
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2nd Corinthians 5:18
Before we get too far in, I should explain that there were at least three letters written by Paul, with some help from Timothy, to the Corinthians. Perhaps even four. You could point out that there are only two in the New Testament, and that is correct. But it appears that the missing two are in both 1st Corinthians and 2nd Corinthians. So while this might seem a bit odd, it happened in other books of the New Testament as well, notably Philippians.
While many will speculate why did this happen, I think that is the wrong way to look at these books, especially 2nd Corinthians. What the combining of these letters did was to create for us a very human Paul, who appears both saddened and joyful, in 2nd Corinthians. To me, this is the bigger story of 2nd Corinthians.
But for those who are curious, here are the four letters in order of authorship.
- Warning Letter; written to the Corinthians to caution them about sexual Immorality; referenced in chapter 5:9 of 1st
- Actual 1st Corinthians
- Letter of Tears; written pre 2nd Corinthians, but referenced in Chapters 2:3-4 and it appears to be included in Chapters 10-13 of 2nd
- 2nd Corinthians
The reason this is important, is we get the full range of Paul’s emotions. After the writing of 1st Corinthians, which was intended to get the church back on track, more drama arose. Paul visited the church in Corinth, prior to the writing of 2nd Corinthians, to resolve these new issues. In this book, he referred to this as his painful visit. Spurred on by outsiders, his Apostleship and teachings were challenged, leaving him hurt and dismayed. Prompting him to write the letter of tears; which in part is included in chapters 10-13 of 2nd Corinthians.
However, the Corinthians moved forward after Paul’s visit in a far more positive manner, prompting the writing of 2nd Corinthians. Joy springs from many of the pages in this book. For example, Paul declares in Chapter 7:4, I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
Amazing words of support, written from Paul’s heart because the crisis of the Corinthian church has passed.
Another side of Paul we see in this letter is the hurt feelings he had when his Apostleship was questioned. He goes to great pains to justify his position as an Apostle. For example in Chapter 12; he gives great detail about a time he was in heaven. He was with God and Jesus; hearing many things that he could not utter. Not really knowing if he was there in body or out of body. But certainly, he had gone to heaven, whether in spirit or body. A most remarkable disclosure on Paul’s part. A very personal time that he shares with the Corinthians.
During this visit, he asked Jesus to remove a thorn that Satan had put in his side. Jesus refused by saying, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul accepts this answer, by saying, when I am weak I am strong. In other words, humility comes in our weakness, making us stronger Christians. As a note, this is part of the section, (Chapter 10-13) which was included from the letter of tears.
Knowing this background will help the reader navigate 2nd Corinthians, by understanding the historical and literary content of the letter.
There is also a deeper message, that shines through in this letter. A message that when we are born again, we are new creations. Paul says, Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
As new creations, we are asked to turn our eyes away from the world and towards our new life in Christ. Paul explains this throughout the Book, but a great example is at the beginning of chapter 5, where Paul says; For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God. This theme is of not worrying about our calamities on earth, instead of knowing that serving Jesus is our source of joy and our eternal home is in heaven. This is repeated a number of times throughout the book. And typical of Paul he repeats in various ways to make sure we don’t miss it.
Billy Graham once said I am only traveling through this world, heaven is my home. While I certainly never got to discuss this Billy Graham, I am certain he is right and he derived this quote from 2nd Corinthians!
Paul also mentions in chapter 5 that we are reconciled with God through Christ. That Christ’s ministry to humankind included this reconciliation. Through the death on the cross, our sins are forgiven, and Christ becomes our mediator with God. This is an important subplot of the book, as well as in most of Paul’s writings, particularly in Romans.
Paul’s point is that our sins were washed away on the cross and our faith in Jesus justifies us with God. For instance, when we pray, at the end, we say In Jesus’s name we pray. This concept is what Paul is getting at.
Paul stresses as well, that we will at times endure, affliction, pain, calamities, and hardships. He encourages us to still; be pure, patient, kind, courageous, be truthful in speech; and to walk by faith and not by sight, during these times.
2nd Corinthians is a letter that was written from a sense of pride and joy in the Corinthian church. Having endured many missteps on their journey, they had, at last, began to move forward in a positive direction.
Typical of Paul and his writing, he once again in helping and writing to a church from two thousand years earlier, created a masterpiece for followers of the 21st century to follow.
A message to stand firm in our beliefs as new creations. A message that lets us know that our earthly home here is temporary, a permanent place exists in heaven for those who walk by faith and not sight.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman