The Martyrdom of St Paul. Carracci, 1559-1622

The Martyrdom of St Paul. Carracci, 1559-1622

This week we are reading 2 Corinthians 6-13 together. In this second half of the letter Paul speaks about the activities of other churches, the behaviors appropriate to an Apostle and he offers some explanation to those who seek to oppose him. Though he speaks extensively about other people and other churches, the intention of this is likely a calling to account for the Corinthian Church to prevent them from drifting into disunity and listening to false apostles. Paul has not expected moral or theological perfection from the Corinthians, but he makes an impassioned plea that they keep on listening to the Gospel they first heard through his preaching and the other early Apostles. 

Paul's explanation of the experience of the early ministers of the Gospel is a shocking juxtaposition to the wonderful exposition of the Gospel in the previous chapter. Though the believers have become the "righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21), they are suffering in every way, in the middle of a great conflict against the evil of the age with the weapons of love and patience. 

This leads Paul to ask the Christians in the relative comfort of their lives to make an effort to remain holy by understanding how they are different from the Pagan culture around them. How could the Corinthian Church feel at home in a culture which had waged war on the missionaries and Apostles in other cities? Their unity with the Church throughout the world must mean they disassociate from the hostile culture which opposed the ministry of reconciliation which the early church leaders had exercised.

Giving between the Churches and the mutual support of believers in different locations naturally follows this point as a mark of that holiness and separateness Paul is asking. To give to one's family or neighbor is natural. But to give to the Church and to other believers merely on account of them being believers is a radical act of holiness. The giver is stating with his or her wealth and resources that the person who confesses Christ as Lord is their brother or sister!

The issues of holiness and obedience come together in Paul's defense of his ministry. There appears to have been a sect of teachers who were impressive to the Corinthians and were causing them to doubt Paul and subsequently creating disunity and breaking away from the band of the Apostles of which Paul was a representative. Paul is fully aware that in many cases his ministry looks like weakness, when he does not demand payments or gifts (2 cor 11:8), or laud his great power and wisdom over people with lofty speech (2 cor 10:4-5). His response challenges the assumptions of the Corinthians. Paul does not need to compare himself to other teachers and make himself more publicly appealing since when he is weak, then he is strong (2 Cor. 12:10). 

Paul's striking challenge at the end of the letter offers the fearsome possibility that some people within the church community are not living in faith. Their rejection of the unappealing Apostles, with their hard lives and costly witness along with their associations with the idolatrous culture which has opposed the Church in other places has caused concern for Paul, yet he desires their restoration. 

These difficult words are preserved in the New Testament to this day because the Church all over the world in those early years read it and found it applicable to them. Contemporary readers would do well to ask again whether any of Paul's words speak to their lives today.

3 Questions

  1. In what ways might Paul's warnings and pleadings apply to this church or to our lives together?
  2. How can we be unified with the church around the world, especially those who are suffering for the Gospel?
  3. Who could you reach this week to encourage them in loving the Church, in holiness or in some other way?