Lord willing, we are going to work our way through Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the letter we commonly call 2 Corinthians. We call it this because we only have two letters that Paul wrote to this church, although there was likely another one.
“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: Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 1:1–2).
Achaia, mentioned here is our text, is what we would call southern Greece. Northern Greece was known then as Macedonia. Corinth was built on the Isthmus of Corinth, where the Peloponnese was connected to the mainland. Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1; Acts 18:18) was the harbor that serviced Corinth on the eastern side of the isthmus, and another harbor (Lechaeumon) serviced it from the west.
The Corinth of classical Greece had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 B.C. and was left desolate for about a century. The Romans rebuilt it in 44 B.C. and wound up making it their capital of Greece. The city was quite influential and also sexually corrupt and decadent. But it was a new city with an old name.
When Paul first came to Corinth (around A.D. 49-50), the city was around 80 years old, and had a population of about 80,000 people. The city was a nouveau-riche boom town, populated by merchants and other hustlers. The Corinthians were wealthy, and their wealth was manifested in trade, in sports, and in entertainment. For example, the theater in that city held 18,000 people. Aphrodite was the goddess of the city, and at one time there were five temples in the area dedicated to her. According to Strabo, the earlier Greek temple to Aphrodite was staffed with a thousand sacred prostitutes, and something similar may also have been the case with the new temple in the Roman era.
Summary of the Text
And so to plant a church in Corinth was to plant a church in a key strategic location. This was an important city, and that meant that a church there was going to be an important church. This letter is going to be a robust defense of Paul’s authentic ministry, which had been challenged there in Corinth by various spurious apostles. This is why Paul begins by saying that his letter is from Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ “by the will of God” (v. 1). The letter was also from Timothy, Paul’s co-laborer. It was addressed to the church of God in Corinth, not to mention all the saints throughout all of Achaia (v. 1). The next verse is the standard salutation—grace and peace from the Father and the Son. You have heard me indicate before that I believe the Spirit is not mentioned by name simply because He is the grace and peace, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Drama in Corinth
When Paul had first come to Corinth, he ministered there for about a year-and-a-half. Working together with Timothy and Silas, not to mention Aquila and Priscilla, the initial planting of this church was quite successful. You can read about this period in Acts 18:1-17. After Paul left, he went to Ephesus, then to Jerusalem, after which he returned to Ephesus. After a period of about three years, he wrote 1 Corinthians. There is no confusion because 1 Corinthians was his first letter to them. Paul then sent Timothy to Corinth for a visit (1 Cor. 16:1-11).
Timothy discovered that Paul’s enemies had been at work in Corinth, and had orchestrated a revolt against the apostle. Paul then determined to visit Corinth just briefly in order to address everything. That visit was a disaster, what Paul called his “painful visit” (2 Cor. 2:1). All kinds of stories were circulating about Paul, and many Corinthian Christians had rejected him as a result, and had gone after a “different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4). In addition, certain discernment blogs had identified many questionable Pauline activities. Paul returned to Ephesus, wiped out, and sent Titus to Corinth with what he called his “severe” letter (2 Cor. 2:4-5). This missing letter is the original 2 Corinthians, while our 2 Corinthians is actually 3 Corinthians. Still with me?
That missing letter called for the Corinthians to repent, and glory to God, most of them actually did. The bulk of the church came back to Paul’s side, although there was still significant clean up that had to take place. That is what is being addressed in this epistle, as Paul is making preparations to come to them for his third visit (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1). 2 Corinthians is cleaning up after the major battle.
In this letter we find Paul’s most extensive defense of his apostolic ministry. He hated talking about himself, but he loved the gospel so much that if a defense of gospel ministry required it, he was willing even to do that. To say it again, Paul was willing to defend his personal integrity if a defense of the gospel was bound up in it. But how is authenticity to be measured?
Paul tells the Corinthians in this letter that he had been flogged by the Jews five times (2 Cor. 11:24). The Mishnah tells us that the whip had three leather strands, and 13 strokes would be applied to the chest, 13 to one shoulder, and 13 to the other. This happened to Paul five times. That is 585 welts for the kingdom.
Why is Paul emphasizing this kind of thing? Had he given up on trying to impress the Corinthians? Wasn’t their problem with him the fact that Paul was so weak in his bodily presence with them (2 Cor. 10:10)? Yes, it was, but as Paul undertook to teach them the true meaning of authentic ministry, the authentic meaning of real ministry, part of that lesson included learning how God loves to showcase His power in the midst of weakness. This is God’s M.O.
“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” ().
2 Cor. 12:9 (KJV)
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 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. 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. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” ().
2 Cor. 4:7–12 (KJV)
So take heart, Christian. In Christ, faithful weakness is our superpower.