To understand how Paul comes to write this Letter we need to combine things we know from the book of Acts, and hints given on Paul’s visits in the two letters we have to the Corinthian church. Unfortunately this is quite complicated. Things had been tricky with the Corinthian church and it seems that some of Paul’s letters were not well received, especially the first one. Furthermore, Paul’s visits to the church had not always been smooth (2:1).
In 55AD, Paul meets one of his co-workers, Titus, in Macedonia, and learns from him that the Corinthians seemed to be getting on better (7:6-16), and while in Macedonia he writes 2 Corinthians. This is ahead of a further visit to the Corinthians in the winter of 55-56AD (Acts 20:3; 2 Corinthians 12:14). It seems that Paul visits Corinth at least three times and writes four letters. We have the second (known as 1 Corinthians) and the fourth (known as 2 Corinthians).
The letter was written to the relatively new converts (1:2) and a church made up of Jews and Gentiles. Corinth was known as being an international city. In those days it was a port, and so many different nationalities were in the city. But Corinth also had a reputation for allowing people to behave exactly as they wanted.
Paul needs to defend his role as an apostle to the Corinthian church. They are preferring instead other so-called ‘apostles’ who were looking to drag the church away from sound doctrine. And so, as humbly as he can, he explains that God has given him the role for their benefit.
Along the way, Paul is looking to raise money for the church in Jerusalem and so urges the Corinthians to be as generous with their money as the Macedonian church had been. Some have even gone so far as to call it a ‘begging letter’.
Why read it?
The letter is one of Paul’s most personal. Paul is carefully aiming to win the church over to understand him and restore their affection to him and the team. In so doing he shares a lot of truth of the Gospel, and how it relates to him and the church.
In the letter we see how God turns upside down our natural expectations of the way life works. God takes what is low, despised, and weak to accomplish His purposes. Weakness is not good in itself, but God displays His power in weakness, including through the Apostle Paul.
We see how we can reconcile with other believers, including the man who had previously done wrong (2:5-11) and the church’s friendship with Paul himself. Our unity through faith in Jesus means we try and unite, wherever possible.
Christian leadership is servant leadership. Paul shows how to lead the body of Christ. He pours out his life for others. Jesus had taught this and demonstrated it throughout His life. Even if you are not a leader, God still wants your service. Your time and energy can be put to good use within God’s work. Look for places to serve.
Some of the book is about fundraising. You may not need to raise any funds but there are plenty of lessons in the book about using money wisely, in the light of the bounty that God gives us. Even if you have little, you can be generous with what you have. Paul reminded the church of the Macedonians who were very poor and yet generous hearted. You are wise if you do the same.
|1–2||Affirmation that Paul and the Corinthians are reconciled|
|3–6||Paul’s ministry as an apostle|
|7||Paul’s confidence and joy in them|
|8-9||The contribution for Jerusalem|
|10-13||Paul’s legitimacy and authority|