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The Second Epistle to the Corinthians
Background of the Epistle:
As mentioned before in our presentation of the First Epistle (letter) of St. Paul to the Corinthians, the Church of Corinth is the third Church that St. Paul founded in Europe after the Churches of Philippi and Thessalonica. Corinth was one of the main cities of Greece and the capital of Achaea. Trade going from Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire in the west to Ephesus (Asia Minor) and Alexandria in the east passed through Corinth. The ministry of St. Paul in Corinth was not easy. Because of its location and size, Corinth was a city of evil, corruption, and the worship of money. St. Paul spent a year and half in it, preaching its Jewish and gentile people, despite of the resistance. Apollo the Alexandrian also ministered in it.
From Corinth, St. Paul wrote his first epistles (his two Epistles to the Thessalonians). In his next missionary trip (the third), while he was in Ephesus, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians that was carried to them by his disciple Titus, the Greek, who stayed there serving for months before bringing back the news of the Church status to St. Paul. St. Paul, by that time, had traveled from Ephesus to Troas and from there to Philippi, the capital of Macedonia, where they met together. Of the Church status, there was some good news such as their contribution to the poor of Jerusalem where the sun of missionary work has risen, and some bad news such as their attack on St. Paul and the demeaning of his ministry considering him less than the rest of the apostles, criticizing him, and attacking his faithfulness to the ministry. At this point, while he was still in Philippi (Macedonia), he wrote his second letter to the Church of Corinth, dictating it to his disciple Timothy. This is the epistle that is presented here.
Summary of the Letter:
This letter was written some time after the foundation of the Church, during which time resistance and rejection factors were going on. In general therefore, it is different from the First letter, which was practical in addressing some problems of the nascent church (such as encouraging its members, the situation of the youth who had a relation with his stepmother, or some negatives concerning communion of the Sacraments), or dealing with issues faced by the believers in their new life (like how to deal with what was sacrificed to the idols), or offering an apostolic opinion in matters such as marriage and celibacy, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection of the dead. The second letter is more personal, where the Apostle focuses on his ministry, confronting his critics with his apostolic status as a faithful servant who gave his life for the Church service, opposing the deviation in the teaching of the false prophets who resist the true teaching, and confirming his constant love to all in spite of his hard position, which is not personal, but to defend the faith, to preserve the true teaching and to witness to the truth. This letter is unique in reporting: 1- That he was caught up to the third heaven (paradise) and heard things that could not be revealed, 2- The thorn in his flesh that he pleaded God to remove, and 3- The famous saying that he heard from the Lord “My grace is sufficient to you, for my strength is made perfect in your weakness” (2Co. 12:1-9). In this letter there is a lot of support to all who suffer, and are tempted, and an encouragement to raise their heart to the Lord who suffered and died for all. Also, in it there is comfort to every servant who gives him/her self and endures hardship and tribulation (Ch. 4 & 5).
This letter (13 chapters) is considered one of the four lengthy letters of St. Paul, although it is shorter than the first letter to the Corinthians or his letter to the Romans (each is 16 chapters) and is of the same length as the letter to the Hebrews.
Explanation of the Letter
1- Introduction of the Letter:
In his meekness, St. Paul associated his disciple Timothy in addressing his letter and calls him “brother” (1:1). He introduces himself in the beginning of his letter as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” and says “peace and grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” to “the Church of God in Corinth” and to all believers in all Achaea, whom he calls ‘saints’.
He points to what he had suffered during his ministry in Ephesus (without details, preferring to keep it for himself to bear) saying “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we even despaired of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us” (1:8-10). But his words that declare his sufferings, testify also of the comfort that he received from God “the Father of compassion and the God of all comforts” (1:3). Therefore, “For just as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” (1:5, the words comfort, consolation and their derivatives are mentioned 9 times in verses 3-7).
He confirms that in his ministry, he did not rely on his human wisdom, but on the grace of God. That was the reason why he did not want to come to them before he goes back to Jerusalem. Not going to them, was not without due consideration, out of carelessness, a change of mind, or lack of vision, as if he was hesitant between yes and no according to the flesh; but he says that God whom we preach among you, and who “establishes us with you in Christ”, He “anointed us”, set His seal of ownership on us, and put “His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (deposit)”, “in Him it was always Yes and Amen” (1:19-22). It is Him who will lead our paths and inspires us to what is right.
He continues “that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth” (1:23). Otherwise, I would have grieved you if I had severely blamed you. And if I had grieved you who will relieve me from my grief, “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? ...” (2:1-4); that was why I intended to write to you instead of coming now and finding you in a state that I would not want for you.
2- Back to the young man who had done wrong (1Cor5: 1-8):
St. Paul comes back to the case of the young man who committed adultery with his step mother. He had decided that his sin was so great and judged that “he should be delivered to Satan for the destruction of his body, so that his spirit will be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus” (1Cor45:4), but the time he was isolated from the Church was then sufficient to lead him to repentance and for others to be careful not to sin, saying “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2:6,7). The Church discipline is neither revenge nor a goal in itself, but for the prodigal son to return to his father’s bosom. Either extreme or harsh punishment is not right “In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2:11).
3- On his meeting with Titus who brought to him the Church news (2:12-17)
St. Paul then mentions that he was waiting for Titus (my brother) in Troas to bring him the Church news. Titus did not join him there, and St. Paul stayed there sometime for the ministry. He was worried for Titus, till they met finally in Macedonia (2:12,13). At this point, he thanks God “who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ” (2:14). He assures that his ministry is straight forward and is not bending with the circumstances “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God” (2:17). For God’s servants are “the aroma of Christ among those who are saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life” (2:15,16).
(To be continued)
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