The Second in a Series of Sermons on Select Passages in Second Corinthians
The church in Corinth was a mess. Most of the Corinthians were new Christians, recent converts to Christ from Greco-Roman paganism. Like most Greeks of that age, the Corinthians were very impressed with speakers with strong rhetorical skills. This propensity to favor a speaker’s style over his content, made the Corinthians fair game for those eloquent men who appointed themselves “apostles,” and who took advantage of Paul’s absence from Corinth to establish themselves in the church, all the while criticizing Paul’s preaching skills and his less then charismatic personality. Ironically, Paul–the true apostle–was placed on the defensive, and is now forced to define and defend the true nature of apostolic authority, as well as remind the Corinthians of the fact that gospel does not create faith through flowery words, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we continue our series 2 Corinthians, we take up Paul’s comments about forgiveness in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, before we turn to the apostle’s discussion of the triumph of Jesus Christ in verses 12-17. Paul describes how the gospel of Jesus Christ was continuing to spread throughout Asia, including the city of Troas, across the Aegean Sea from Corinth. Despite the troubles facing the church in Corinth, Paul thought it important to take full advantage of the opportunity now open to him in Troas and Macedonia–Paul speaks of this as a door which had opened for him to preach the gospel. It is in this context that Paul introduces an interesting metaphor for the spread of the gospel, as the apostle likens the gospel to a pleasant fragrance, while he speaks of unbelief as the stench of death.
As we pointed out last time, Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is really the third or fourth letter he sent to Corinth, but the others have now been lost to us. After sending the letter we know as First Corinthians, Paul made what he describes as a painful visit to Corinth, also sending Timothy and Titus to Corinth, as well as an additional letter (known as the stern letter and now lost) which was hand-delivered by Titus. As we learn throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul had been badly mistreated upon his return visit to Corinth–the anger toward Paul being generated by men whom Paul identifies as false apostles, who not only riled up the Corinthians against Paul, but some of whom were teaching false doctrine. Apparently, these men were eloquent public speakers, and Paul admittedly was not. It is after Titus met up with Paul with a report about what was going on in Corinth, and brought a substantial offering for the struggling Christians in Jerusalem, that Paul writes this letter (known to us as 2 Corinthians).
As we see in the first part of our text, verses 5-11, Paul discusses the false apostles and the damage they have inflicted upon the church. In the opening verses of chapter 2, Paul reminds the Corinthians of his earlier painful visit. This visit came after Paul had sent the letter we know as First Corinthians, and then heard back from Timothy about the fact that things were not going well even after Paul’s first letter and his painful visit. Writes, Paul, “for I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
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