Paul continues to uphold his authority by describing those events which support it, specifically his meetings with the Jerusalem church leaders. His purpose is to counteract the smear campaign conducted against him by the false teachers. He proclaims that although he was not dependent on anyone but God for his commission and the message he preached, he preached the same gospel the other apostles did, with their knowledge and approval. This is also demonstrated by Peter’s reaction to the incident in which Paul chastised him for his duplicitous behavior when fellowshipping with Gentile believers at Antioch.
Paul’s main concern, however, was not self-justification and pride. He was concerned for the truth, the unity of the church, for the edification of believers and the salvation of the lost. He wanted to uphold the truth of the gospel which frees the Gentile believers (and all believers) from the requirements of the law. He also desired to see that all believers held equal status in the Church and before the Lord. This he does by proclaiming the central truths of the Christian faith: all believers are incapable of keeping the Law but all believers are in Christ so all receive the benefits of His atoning sacrifice. Essentially then, no amount of keeping of any laws by humans can bring them closer to God. Christ keeps the law for us and through us.
A legalist thinks and teaches otherwise. You may be such a person if you think Christianity is at heart a set of rules and moral laws that must be followed by everyone and if you try enforce those rules on others. You may be a legalist if you condemn those who do not agree with your lists of rules or who disagree with your pet theological doctrines. The gospel is about love and mercy not anger and hatred. We should feel sad for those who reject our message for they face eternal chaos and emptiness.
Paul begins this letter with well chosen words of greeting designed that stress that his apostolic commission came to him from the Lord, not from any man. Yet he reminds his audience them that the Lord’s original apostles had also acknowledged his apostolic authority as did the church at Antioch. He does this because, as we have seen in the church at Corinth, he once again faced false teachers who disparaged his authority and that of the gospel. These false teachers had appeared in the churches of Galatia, the southern part of modern day Turkey. He terms them Judaizers for they maintained that true believers must keep the Law of Moses in order to be saved.
Yet all forms of legalism including this Judaizing influence are contrary to the gospel. Believers have peace with God not because they keep the Law, but because we cannot. Instead God extended grace to us in Christ. Jesus is our sin offering who fulfills the Law on our behalf. Paul chastised his readers for turning away from this truth, the very gospel that he had preached to them. He was so concerned for their welfare that he pronounced strong condemnation upon the false teachers, apparently outside agitators from Palestine. He is not out to win friends and please people as perhaps they claimed. His desire is to please the Lord. And so he must preach the truth.
We must follow Paul’s example and preach the truth, the gospel of grace through Christ alone. yet as we know people do not like the truth of Christ. It insults them by labeling them hopeless sinners who can never by any amount of good deeds or works of charity earn God’s love and favor. It also deprives them of the control they desire to have over their own destiny. But we are not called to make friends with the world, to coddle people, but to save them from the eternal consequences of their egotism.
2 Corinthians 13
At the end of the letter, Paul reminds the saints that he has written all these things to prepare them for his upcoming 3rd visit. He is looking forward to this but with mixed feelings. He is joyful because he knows that the situation has changed, that the majority of those who had rebelled had come to repentance. At the same time he is sad and uneasy because there were still many saints in rebellion. On top of that, their rejection of his authority had apparently given them license to engage in immorality. Paul reminds his audience that rejection of his authority is rejection of God Himself for the power of his message was the word of God. Thus these final words are his last attempt to warn the rebellious of the judgment which he must administer when he comes.
He again emphasizes that he does not want them to provide him financial support. As we have seen his opponents had extorted such support as their right and criticized Paul for rejecting it. He exposed them as frauds who preached with selfishness, pride, greed and a lust for power. Everything he had done was done out of love and concern for the spiritual well-being of the saints not for personal gain. He is their spiritual parent, not a hired teacher. It was his responsibility to make sure that they were raised with proper values and correct doctrine. These he taught with words but by example. He showed unselfish love in his relations with them. Unselfish, sacrificial giving to others is basic to the Christian life as it follows the example of Christ who gave Himself for our sins. When the saints understand and apply this principle this they will grow up and be able to support and teach others.
2 Corinthians 11
Paul here depicts himself as a matchmaker who has introduced the Corinthians to Christ as her betrothed. He has the authority to watch over her to ensure her purity until the bridegroom comes to claim her. It is his responsibility to speak the words of God and exercise the authority He has given him to lead people into the Kingdom and ensure that they live according to the Lord’s standards not those of the world. He must take every necessary step to guide, rebuke and correct in order to fulfill his duty to keep them holy and pure, acceptable to Jesus. So he will be bold and honest in his speech even if it appears to be disrespectful and hurtful. He speaks boldly because he is alarmed that the church is flirting with a false Jesus. She is dangerously close to becoming unfaithful to Him.
Paul’s words of warning to those saints at Corinth apply to us. The church today is being seduced into error and compromise as the church was then. Paul wrote to counteract the seduction Satan was carrying out through those masquerading as angels of light. He seems bold and insensitive in his attacks because this compromise with the world is hampering the work of God’s kingdom.
Now of course we must be sensitive and respectful toward people of other cultures but not when they demand we lie or cover up the truth by failing to challenge sin and sinners. To save people, to get them into the kingdom of God we have to say things which they will perceive as insults. We should not deliberately go out of our way to insult people. We are not to preach with arrogance or anger but with love and a desire to see the lost come to salvation. The teaching of the gospel, the reality of sin, faith not in self but in a crucified God, salvation in Christ alone and the demands that He makes on one’s life will offend without any help from us.
2 Corinthians 6
Paul here is commanding believers not to be yoked together, not to be hitched up with someone whose yoke is mismatched, that is, not to be allied with unbelievers. We would define unbelievers as pagans, people of all other religions, all non-Christians in general. So first we can apply this command to the context of mixed marriages and mixed business partnerships. The principle Paul lays down is that a believer should never, under any circumstances, marry a nonbeliever nor should Christian enter into or run a business in partnership with someone who is not. We are not to enter into an important, and intimate relationship such as marriage with an unbeliever. We are not to work with or for people or businesses whose stated goals and operating principles are contrary to or hostile toward the kingdom of God. There is no question about this even though most Christians fail to heed this teaching to their harm.
However, we must also realize that when Paul warns the saints not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, he refers not just to pagans, but to professing Christians as well, specifically his opponents at Corinth who taught that he was not a true apostle. He used rather strong and harsh words to label them as ravenous wolves who preached in the name of Jesus a gospel that belied the saving power of His sacrifice on the cross. The unclean and impure are the unbelievers who wrongfully identify themselves as believers and their supporters. These threatened the integrity of church from within. Allowing them to remain unchallenged and even honored in the fellowship of the saints defiled the church, its ministry and worship for it insulted the glory of the Lord. We would be wise to heed this and carefully avoid relationship or fellowship with believers who though they preach from God’s word demonstrate by their lifestyles, deeds and attitudes that they are out for themselves
2 Corinthians 5
Paul’s claim throughout the epistle is that suffering is not a sign of God’s curse or disfavor. On the contrary, suffering is a sure sign of the Lord’s presence with the believer. The Lord uses suffering for His glory and to spread the gospel. Paul was blessed to suffer adversity for the benefit of God’s kingdom. So are we. He knew that even if he were to die, that would not mean that his work and been in vain for death was the entry into the Lord’s presence. He desired to do good works not to earn the Lord’s favor but because he wanted to be clothed properly when he appeared before the judgment seat of the Lord. Everyone must appear before that judgment seat to receive recompense for both good deeds and bad. He did not have to fear that he will be found unclothed at that point. No believer should fear that because everyone who has faith in Christ is clothed in Him.
But herein lies the motivation for ministry. Paul knew as do we that those who have not trusted Jesus for salvation should be afraid. They are not clothed in Christ. When they appear before the judgment seat, they will be naked and bound for condemnation. Paul preached the truth out of concern and compassion and love for others in order to prevent them from suffering judgment and hell. That should be our motive as well. Many in the world, for whatever reason, are under the mistaken impression that salvation depends on them. They work to reconcile themselves to God (or whatever god they profess) through their religious, spiritual, altruistic or charitable deeds and actions. Many others think that everyone will get to heaven, whatever form that may take, regardless of how they lived their lives. And still others do not believe in heaven or God: this life is all there is. If we love people it is our duty and calling to tell them about almighty God’s act of reconciliation that changed everything. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself on the cross. He did all the work so we do not have to. We must do so with passion and love despite the opposition we may face, for those not in Christ are bound for judgment.
2 Corinthians 4
Paul continues to proclaim the glory of weakness. All that he suffers he endures to promote the cause of the gospel. He suffers because of his great compassion for the lost, a compassion the Corinthians knew first hand. Paul was the one who first preached to them. He was their spiritual father. His way of life among them revealed the authority of his ministry. The glory of God was ministered through his preaching. He did not preach his own words or his own ideas nor did he use trickery and deception to win them over. He spoke the truth. Those who rejected what he preached did so because they had their minds blinded by the devil.
The same is true today of all those who reject God’s Word They have hardened their hearts to God’s grace and sought inner spirituality by means of human methods. Thus the devil now is their god. They accept a glory that comes from human achievement, human physical strength, and human intellect. Such glory though popular today and praised throughout out culture cannot compare with the glory of God.
The great light of God’s glory is contained in jars of clay which refers to we who are believers who are unattractive, weak and humanity. This is great news for it tells us how we are to live. As jars of clay we have no reason to boast in our abilities, our attractiveness or any other reason. Any glory that we receive in carrying out the work of God belongs to the Lord. We are his servants. Like these clay jars, we are useful to contain precious items and dispense them. The contents are important, the vessel is not. Thus the most appropriate attitude for we who are believers is humble gratitude for the privilege of serving a function in God’s kingdom.