The First in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Second letter to the Corinthians
In the past year, we spent some thirty-two Sundays (and nearly a year) making our way through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In our series on 1 Corinthians, we saw a number of remarkable parallels between first century Corinth and contemporary Southern California. Based upon reports from members of the Corinthian church (Chloe’s household) who met up with Paul in Ephesus (where he was staying when he wrote his epistle), and based upon certain questions the Corinthians had put to Paul in writing, we witnessed Paul instruct, correct, exhort, and rebuke the Corinthians about a whole range of subjects; including proper decorum in worship, gifts of the Spirit, the sacraments, church discipline, sexual immorality, and a proper view of marriage. But what happened after the Corinthians received Paul’s first letter? Did things improve? Or, did the Corinthians continue to struggle? Well, in 2 Corinthians we get our answer.
We begin a new series on 2 Corinthians, and the first issue to deal with is this: “What happened after Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians?” Apparently, a great deal, and not all of it good. Having written and then sent his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul stayed on in Ephesus and informed the Corinthians that he would visit them when he could–remember the “wait till your apostle gets home” comment? Paul’s reason for delaying his visit was that “a wide door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Corinthians 16:9), meaning that Paul had a current opportunity in Ephesus (or in Asia Minor) which required his full attention. So, he would come to Corinth if and/or when this door had closed.
Meanwhile, Paul did send Timothy to Corinth. But when Timothy got there, he found that the church was a complete mess. Somehow, Timothy got word of this back to Paul, and then the apostle quickly changed his plans and made what he describes as a “painful visit” to Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:1). It is also clear that between the time Paul had written his first letter to the Corinthians, and then made his “painful visit,” two or more individuals calling themselves “apostles” were stirring up all kinds of anger in the congregation toward Paul. In chapter 11, Paul will openly rebuke these men, calling them false apostles because they were, apparently, teaching false doctrine and causing great strife in the church.
In 2 Corinthians, which was written after his “painful visit,” Paul speaks of being horribly mistreated, and mentions that his work in preaching the gospel was being undermined by the false apostles (2 Corinthians 2:5-8; 10, 7:12). Instead of going back to Corinth again, Paul recounts how he decided to write yet another letter (known to us as the “stern letter”) as he explains in 2 Corinthians 2:4. “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.” This so-called “stern letter” was hand-delivered to the Corinthians by Titus (who may have been less timid than Timothy). This letter has now been lost to us. Despite all the problems in Corinth, Paul instructed Titus to take up a collection for the struggling Christians in Jerusalem, which is a very clear indication that Paul did not consider the Corinthian church to be apostate, nor did he believe that the cause was lost.
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