April 12, 2015.
Daily Reading: II Corinthians 1-3.
Background: The book of II Corinthians is a subsequent letter from Paul (with Timothy) written to the Corinthian church, which was established by Paul on his second missionary journey, as a follow up to his previous letters. There is evidence that Paul wrote at least four letters to the church at Corinth, the first which is often referred to as the “warning letter” (see I Corinthians 5:9), then I Corinthians, an intermediate letter often called the “severe” letter (see II Corinthians 2:3-4, 7:8) and finally II Corinthians. There is evidence to suggest, however, that the book of II Corinthians is actually a combination of Paul’s fourth letter (II Corinthians 1-9) and the “severe” letter (II Corinthians 10-13), as there is an abrupt change in tone and subject matter after chapter nine of this letter, making the last four chapters of the letter not fit all that well with the first nine. Regardless, there is still much we can learn from Paul’s interaction and deep love for the church at Corinth.
Concepts and Connections.
Salutation and updates: As customary in Paul’s letters, he opens with who the letter is from and addressed to, followed by some opening remarks that usually speak to the love he has for the people he is writing to and some updates with what is going on as he travels around spreading the gospel. The Corinthian church was well aquatinted with Paul’s journeys, as they were established during his second missionary journey, and thus had a very deep and personal connection with the apostle Paul, though at times there were some in Corinth that would have liked to distance themselves from him (see I Corinthians 1, 9). In this opening, Paul tells of what he and those with him had experienced in Asia, under heavy persecution and even threat of death, which he attributes for the building of their character, ensuring that they rely on God rather than their own strength. Paul was convicted that he served a living Savior, one who had defeated death and held the power of the resurrection. Trusting in this Savior meant knowing that there was no power on earth that could overcome the power of Christ. Indeed, the Lord delivered Paul and his companions out of peril and opened doors for him to spread the gospel (see 2:12-13). However, Paul says that if they were comforted, it was for the comfort of those in Corinth, likely relieving their worries about the well-being of Paul and his companions. Paul is adamant that their prayers were indeed very helpful, charging them that they must help him through prayer (v. 11). Just as he had written to them in I Corinthians, the wisdom that Paul and his companions carried with them was the wisdom from above, not earthly wisdom, and it was with this wisdom that they were writing to the church at Corinth. Paul had had plans to go visit them, especially when he heard of the problems that they were having, but he had decided it best not to visit them again (he has already made one painful visit to them, see 2:1), because he knew that if he came, it would be very unpleasant for all parties involved. Instead, he chose to write a letter first in order that they might straighten up their act before he came to visit them in person (this is probably a reference to the “warning letter” that Paul wrote between the epistle of I Corinthians and his fourth letter, see background).
1. Forgiving the sinner: The opening of this chapter is a continuation of the previous idea, where Paul was explaining why he had not visited them again yet, as he wished to spare them another painful visit by giving them some more time to straighten things out on their own. It seems that this worked (see chapter 7), and the one whom he had written about in I Corinthians (see I Corinthians 5) had repented. Now Paul tells them that they should forgive him and accept him back into the fold. Often it is difficult for us to actually forgive people, especially if their transgression has caused us much pain or grief. It is quite common for us to hold grudges, even if we forgive them in word. Paul makes it clear, however, that we are to accept those back who repent of their sins and ask for forgiveness, just as our Father forgives us (see Matthew 6:14-15). We are to strive for the unity of the Spirit, so as to not be outwitted by Satan’s devices that he uses to pit us against one another, for a house divided will fall. Let us learn to truly forgive one another as the Lord forgives us.
2. Not peddlers of God’s word: Paul truly understood his mission and calling in life to proclaim the gospel everywhere he went. The Lord opened doors along the way so that his ministry could truly prove efficient. Paul and his company were men of sincerity, with true hearts that were dedicated to the Lord. They were not peddlers of God’s word, spreading the gospel simply as a means of gain or doing it halfheartedly, perhaps even compromising on truth to gain followers. Paul did not spread cheap grace, but rather proclaimed the message of a risen Savior whom he served and loved with his whole heart. If we are to spread the same message, we must be convicted of the message and living the message in our daily lives. If this is not the case, our ministry will likely prove unfruitful when all is said and done.
Ministers of a New Covenant: Paul reminds the Corinthians here who he is to them, and how he shouldn’t need “letters of recommendation” in order for them to listen to him, for they are his letter of recommendation. He was the one who established the church there through many signs and wonders, and the wisdom from above. But it seems that there were some there who still wanted to hold to the old covenant, or the law of Moses. It is important to note here that the Corinthian church was largely composed of Gentiles who were never under the old law. It would seem that there were Jewish Christians here that wanted to hold the church to the Old Law even though Christ had brought a new, better covenant (see Hebrews 7:22, 8:6). Paul explains the difference in the covenants here, the old being based physically, on tablets of stone, rooted in the letter of the law (Paul was a Pharisee before he converted to Christ). He refers to the old covenant as the ministry of death, for it was one that was temporary and served as a guardian until the Christ would come in the fullness of time to fulfill the law and establish a new covenant, based on better promises and the power of the resurrection (see Galatians 3:23-29). The new covenant was not based in the letter, but in the Spirit, who is promised to those who believe (see Acts 2:38 and I Corinthians 3:16). The law of Moses was not based on the power of the resurrection or on the sacrifice of the perfect Lamb, and thus it’s glory was vanishing ever since its onset. However, it did indeed come with glory, and if the “ministry of death” came with glory, how much more glory must have had the permanent ministry that was brought through Christ. For those in Christ, the veil of the old law (a reference to the veil that Moses would wear after coming down from the presence of the Lord on Mt. Sinai, see Exodus 34:29-35) was removed and through the Spirit of the Lord we have freedom from the law. Through this Spirit, we are being transformed into the image of the Lord. Let us rejoice in our freedom and ever walk by the guidance of the Spirit.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Exodus 5-8.
Lord, lead us.