Introduction to 2 Corinthians

2nd Corinthians reveals the pastoral heart of Paul

2 Corinthians
Old pillars of the Temple of Poseidon, Athens, Greece. Medioimages / Photodisc / Getty Images

The book of 2nd Corinthians is a deeply personal letter — a response to the complex history of the Apostle Paul and the church he established in Corinth. The circumstances behind this letter reveal the difficult, often painful realities of ministry life. More than any of his other letters, 2 Corinthians shows us the heart of Paul as a pastor.

This epistle is actually Paul's fourth letter to the church in Corinth. Paul mentions his first letter in 1 Corinthians 5:9. His second letter is the book of 1 Corinthians. Three times in 2 Corinthians Paul references a third and painful letter: "For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears ..." (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV). And finally, we have Paul's fourth letter, the book of 2 Corinthians.

As we learned in 1 Corinthians, the church in Corinth was weak, struggling with division and spiritual immaturity. Paul's authority had been undermined by an opposing teacher who was misleading and dividing the church with false teachings.

In an attempt to solve the turmoil, Paul traveled to Corinth, but the distressing visit only fueled the church's resistance. When Paul returned to Ephesus he wrote again to the church, pleading with them to repent and avoid God's judgment. Later Paul received good news from Titus that many in Corinthian had repented, but a small and fractious group continued to cause problems there.

In 2nd Corinthians, Paul laid out his defense, refuting and condemning the false teachers. He also encouraged the faithful to stay committed to the truth and reaffirmed his deep love for them.

Who Wrote 2 Corinthians?

The Apostle Paul is the author of 2 Corinthians.

Date Written

Around 55-56 A.D., approximately a year after 1 Corinthians.

Written To

Paul wrote to the church he had founded in Corinth and to the house churches in Achaia.

Landscape

Paul was in Macedonia when he wrote 2 Corinthians, in response to good news from Titus that the church had repented and was longing to see Paul again.

Themes in 2 Corinthians

The book of 2 Corinthians is quite relevant today, especially for those who feel called to Christian ministry. The first half of the book details the duties and privileges of a leader. The epistle is also a tremendous source of hope and encouragement for anyone suffering through trials.

Suffering Is Part of Christian Service: Paul was no stranger to suffering. He had endured opposition, persecution, and even a physical "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Through painful experiences, Paul had learned how to comfort others. And so it is for anyone who wishes to follow in Christ's footsteps.

Church Discipline: Immorality in the church needs to be dealt with wisely and appropriately. The church's role is too important to allow sin and false teachings to go unchecked. The goal of church discipline is not to punish, but to correct and restore. Love must be the guiding force.

Future Hope: By keeping our eyes on the glories of heaven, we can endure our present sufferings. In the end, we overcome this world.

Generous Giving: Paul encouraged continued generosity among the members of the Corinthian church as a means of spreading God's kingdom.

Correct Doctrine: Paul wasn't trying to win a popularity contest when he confronted false teachings in Corinth. He knew that integrity of doctrine was vital to the health of the church. His sincere love for the believers drove him to defend his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Key Characters

Paul, Timothy, and Titus.

Key Verses

I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. (2 Corinthians 7:8-9, NLT)

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully." (2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT)

...or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NIV)

Outline of 2nd Corinthians

  • Introduction - 2 Corinthians 1:1-11.
  • Travel plans and tearful letter - 2 Corinthians 1:12 - 2:13.
  • Paul's ministry as an apostle - 2 Corinthians 2:14 - 7:16.
  • The collection for Jerusalem - 2 Corinthians 8:1 - 9:15.
  • Paul's defense - 2 Corinthians 10:1 - 12:21.
  • Conclusion - 2 Corinthians 13:1-14.