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The Bible is the only source of Divine Truth in the world today. Although it is both helpful and informative in many ways, the Bible often doesn't tell us everything we want to know but the Bible does tell us everything we need to know.

My role is to guide you through the Scriptures; to explain what this book says and in some cases what it does not say because this is just as important.

Ultimately, you have a decision to make concerning your salvation - no one can make it for you. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator God, has given everyone the ability to make choices - this is is called "Free Will." I pray you consider your choice wisely.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

2 Corinthians - Introduction (v1-4) Lesson (01)



Home Bible Study©
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                     Published weekly on Friday

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)

2 Corinthians – Introduction                                    Lesson 01        

Introduction to 2 Corinthians

It’s generally understood that this second letter from our Apostle Paul to the saints in Corinth was written without any formal plan.  Although He writes about a variety of important topics, it’s as though he does so randomly, as each thought crosses his mind.

In 2 Corinthians several factions appear to be dominating the different house churches.  These aren’t necessarily the same divisive groups as in 1 Corinthians, but they could be.
We also note the arrival of Jewish troublemakers from Judea which caused additional controversy within this church (2 Corinthians 10-13).  They are not the same Judaizers of Galatians or the Jewish/Greek legalists of Colossians.  They were probably the rhetorically trained, charismatic teachers, similar to Apollos, before Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26).

Certain leaders of the Corinthian church leveled these false charges against Paul:

He was fickle (He kept changing his travel plans) - 2 Cor 1:15
He was a powerful writer, but a weak speaker - 2 Cor 10:10, 11:6
Paul did not accept money for his services - 2 Cor 11:7, 12:13
Paul was not one of Christ’s apostles - 2 Cor 11:5, 13, 12:4
Paul was not an orthodox Jew - 2 Cor 11:2

These subjects needed to be addressed by Paul, but he doesn’t address them systematically as he did in 1 Corinthians.  As we continue our study, please keep these two things in mind as well, Paul only writes to Believers and since this is a letter it is merely one-half of a conversation.

Let’s Refresh Our Memory

As Paul traveled down from Athens into the two-port city of Corinth, Greece he found many pagan temples.  The city had gained a reputation as the center of lascivious worship – specifically the worship of the goddess of love and money – selling sex was a prosperous venture then as it is now.  There were 10,000 prostitutes attached to the temple of Aphrodite and the inhabitants of the city as well as the visitors “lived it up” 24/7/365.  Corinth was a sex-saturated society!  It was known as a place of sensual pleasure.  You can see an indication of this is Paul’s first letter.  During Paul’s second missionary journey (50-52 AD) he stayed in Corinth, Greece for 18 months (Acts 18:1-18).  Jewish opposition eventually rose up against him in the synagogue where he preached the gospel, so he moved his operation next door to the home of Titius Justus.

Now, for purposes I will make clear later in this lesson, I bring your attention to something Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.  …giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.”

After reading through that report from Paul, put yourself into his sandals for just a moment or two.  Upon his arrival in Corinth he was regarded as the scum of the earth by the social elite, the lovers of philosophy, and those who put their trust in the wisdom of men and their articulate verbiage.  They looked down upon this vagabond, this peasant from Judea, who seemed to be passing through their worldly city.  Who did this guy think he was? He arrived in their city with neither reputation nor evidences of wealth or power or influence and he wasn’t a gifted speaker.  Yet, before he left, he shook the very foundation of their sordid city and established a church amongst them that survived the normal, sin-filled life of Corinth.  The gospel Paul preached is today a living power on earth while the city of Corinth has long since crumbled into ruins.

To get a handle on this second letter of Paul to the church at Corinth you have to understand some of its background.  After Paul established the Corinthian church there and had labored in the city for almost two years, he left and went to the city of Ephesus on the Asian mainland.  If you’ll recall we looked at this in Lesson 48.  Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus.  After spending eighteen months in Corinth, Paul left there and traveled to Ephesus.  Apparently the vacuum this created was filled by the Jewish sect who had caused him so much trouble during his second missionary journey because they continued to grow stronger, i.e. gain prominence.

They were led by an anti-Pauline teacher who probably came down from Jerusalem and had organized opposition to Paul’s teachings.  In addition, Paul was beset with a group of Judaizers who followed him around wherever he established churches, teaching a gospel contrary to his (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and saying people had to observe the Law of Moses.  These folks would come in after Paul had left saying the teachings of the grace of God were not the accurate and authentic Christian gospel, and that people had to be circumcised and obey the teachings of the Law.  Church history shows us there were two major parties at this time.  Those that followed Peter were known as the Christ Party.  Those that followed Paul were known as the Pauline Party.  Apollos was a member of the Pauline Party and Paul makes reference to this in his first letter.  The opponents at Galatia were the radical elements of the Petrine division (Galatians 2).

After Paul had written the first letter, certain members of the Christ party apparently entered in and assumed authority over one or more of the house churches in Corinth.   Paul revisited Corinth for a very short time and apparently was rejected by these same church leaders.  The very church that he had planted had now become so permeated with false Christianity that, when the apostle himself came to them, they snubbed him and refused to allow him to teach God’s Truths within the church.  You can see that plainly as you read between the lines in this second letter.

Paul returned to Ephesus.  From there he wrote a very short, sharp, caustic letter rebuking and reproving them for their attitudes - but that letter has been lost to us.  It is clear that Paul wrote it and yet it has not been preserved.  Perhaps this is because Paul, writing in the peak of passion, said things that went beyond what the Holy Spirit intended, so that letter not being fully Spirit inspired, as were the others Paul wrote, has been lost – or it was destroyed by its recipients.  The outcome is the same either way you come at it.  I’ve destroyed one or more letters after reading them because I didn’t particularly care for the tone of the message; maybe a few of you have done the same, in the heat of the moment as it were.

That letter was sent by the hand of Titus.  While Titus took the letter to the church at Corinth, Paul remained in Ephesus anxiously waiting to hear how the Believers in Corinth would respond.  This is how the second letter opens.  Paul tells them that he has been troubled about them.  He also explains how he had undergone intense suffering while he was waiting in Ephesus for word from them.  In chapter 1, verse 8, Paul wrote:  For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;

Then he tells them how anxious and concerned he was about them in chapter 2, verse 4,
For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.

So Paul waited in Asia for word to come as to what had happened, but while he was waiting, the trouble arose in Ephesus which is recorded for us in chapter nineteen of the book of Acts.  If you’re familiar with the account, then you know the silversmiths caused a great commotion in the city, and Paul was threatened with being dragged before the Roman judges there for disrupting their livelihood.  He escaped this threat and decided to go on to Macedonia to meet Titus, who would be coming up through Macedonia on his return from Corinth.  Paul could wait no longer for news; his anxiety over the Corinthians was so great.  He also intended to raise some money there for the relief of the poor Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing great difficulty.

With these two great concerns weighing heavy on his heart, he went to Philippi in Macedonia.  He met Titus there and received word that the scathing, sarcastic letter he had written had accomplished its work.  Many of the Corinthian Believers had expressed regret of their rejection of him and his teachings and had renewed their commitment to follow Jesus Christ through his ministry (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1).

A minority remained unyielding and at odds with Paul however, and still rebelled against him and his authority as an apostle.  So, from the city of Philippi Paul writes this second letter to the Corinthians which expresses so much of the anxiety of his heart.

********

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 1 and let’s read the first eleven verses together.

2 Corinthians

1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: (pronounced:  a-ka’-ya – a Roman province; a region that includes Athens and Corinth in the southern part of Greece).

2: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

4: who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

5: For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

6: But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer;

7: and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

8: For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life;

9: indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;

10: who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope.  And He will yet deliver us,

11: you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Starting at verse 1, Paul presents his credentials to the Corinthian Church. 
 
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God – From this we learn titles have meaning.  They communicate authority and position, and they depend on the proper credentials. 

For instance when a police officer arrives at your doorstep you know you’re dealing with “the law” right from the start because of the uniform, the badge, and the patrol car in your driveway, right?  The gun on their hip silently communicates authority.

On the flipside of this truism there was a piece in the news recently about a man who was going around claiming to be a military hero from Iraq, complete with uniform and medals, but upon further investigation the authorities discovered this gentleman had never been in the service.  He was receiving monetary benefits from the federal government and from state agencies, but he was scamming people and he had been doing this for a long time.  However, the life he had made for himself was a charade.  A person can’t simply call himself an army sergeant, a ship’s captain, a police officer, or a medical doctor just because he or she wants to or because they hope to gain something from it.  Not only is this illegal (See Stolen Valor Act of 2013) it’s a sure path to chaos and confusion and quite likely certain disaster. 

This principle transfers over to the church as well.  The apostles in Scripture were chosen by God; Jesus Christ called them and appointed them as such.  According to Peter, an apostle needed to be someone who was associated with Jesus Christ, who had consistently sat under His teachings, and who had witnessed, first hand, His ministry and life.  It wasn’t enough to know something about Him, in other words.  Few men fit this description.  The Bible speaks of the original Twelve, subtract Judas, who killed himself, and then his replacement whose name was Matthias (Acts 1:23).
 
Although our Apostle Paul didn’t spend every day with Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, which is why he undoubtedly referred to himself as “one untimely (re)born,” he was no less a witness of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8).  Saul of Tarsus met the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and a few days later he was called to be His apostle to the gentiles.

Saul/Paul then spent three years in the desert of Arabia.  Some folks believe he went there to preach the gospel, but I find that unlikely.   Before his conversion Saul was known as the Destroyer of God’s Church and not God’s chief church planter.  Based on what we read in Galatians 1:17, the trip to Arabia was made after Paul received food, but before he spent several days with the disciples at Damascus.  For the better part of three years, Paul went away to the Arabian Desert.  I’m inclined to believe Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to Mt Sinai; the same place God gave the Law to Moses, and that’s where they remained for those 3 years, but that’s my opinion.  If I go any further with this, I’d only be offering you my opinion because the Bible gives us zero details concerning this trip.  However, this doesn’t mean I don’t have a biblical opinion.  

What we do know is this Paul was a Pharisee.  He was an expert in the law.  I read somewhere once that somebody did the calculations on Paul’s education, and said he basically had the equivalent of two PhD’s by the time he was twenty-one years old.  He was absolutely brilliant.  He understood what the Scriptures said, but he did not understand what the Scriptures meant to say.  Permit me to explain. 

Turn with me in your Bible to Luke 24:14-27 and think about this.  Three days after Jesus’ resurrection, two men were walking along the road to Emmaus.  These men were disciples of His and they were very discouraged:  And they were talking with each other about these things which had taken place.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them.  But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him (24:14-16). 

Jesus Christ was dead and buried – that’s what these two understood.  Now, note carefully what Jesus says to them:

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the (what) Scriptures (24:25-27).

Our Lord must have given these two disciples the greatest O.T. explanation in history.  It was then and there that all of the types, shadows, and symbols of the O.T. revelation began to make sense.  Here, finally, was proof that Jesus had fulfilled that which had been prophesied over the centuries; Jesus was the Christ. 

Skip to verse 32:  They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?"

Now, go down to verses 44-47:  Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.

The Lord taught these two disciples all about Himself from the O.T.  It’s quite likely this is what the Lord did for Paul for those three years after his conversion; he studied the Old Testament Scriptures with the risen Lord.  I say this because whenever Paul entered a city, he went to the Jewish synagogue first and preached using the Scriptures:  Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths  reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ" (Acts 17:1-3).

And:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1-4).

And:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Paul, once blinded, has now had Christ revealed to him.  And now, as he reads through the O.T. he sees Christ all through them.  So, when Paul said, “I conferred not with flesh and blood,” he’s saying he knew about Christ from the Scriptures and not from men.  But, as I said, this is only my biblical opinion – take it for what it’s worth. 
 
Paul was a Jew and a Roman citizen, perhaps this is why he possessed both a Greek name and a Hebrew name.  Saul is first called Paul in Acts 13:9.  Paul uses the title of apostle for himself in most of his letters as a way of asserting his God-given call and authority as Jesus Christ’s representative here on earth (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1). 

Timothy our brother (v1) in 1 Corinthians 1:1, Paul mentions Sosthenes; here Timothy is named.  It was customary for Paul to associate some other person or persons with him in writing his letters to the churches.  We find Timothy’s name both here and in the opening of Philippians and Colossians.   According to 1 Corinthians 16:10, Paul had requested that Timothy visit Corinth.  Paul had sent both him and Erastus into Macedonia, intending to follow them (Acts 19:21-22).  From the passage before us now, it appears Timothy had returned from this expedition, and was with Paul. 

To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia.  Achaia, in the largest sense, included all of Greece.  Achaia proper, however, was the district of which Corinth was the capital.  There were probably several small churches scattered here and there throughout this region; we know from 16:1 one of these small churches was located in Cenchrea, the eastern port of Corinth. 

Let’s move down to verses 3-4.

2 Corinthians 1

3: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

4: who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

There are a couple of viewpoints as to the meaning of this verse.  Some people say Paul was talking about himself and the other apostles when he said, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us (or those He called as apostles), in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Then there are some who tend to think Paul meant to say he was referring to Believers in general with this statement.  According to Scripture, they’re both correct.

Here, Paul is referring to himself and to his fellow apostles, as having been comforted by God in all their trials, so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (v4).  

It wasn’t that the apostle’s suffered it was how they responded to each and every affliction that helped them serve God and His Church (See Acts 16:16-40).  The twelve were under a great deal of pressure daily to be sure but none more so than our Apostle Paul.  Many of the afflictions to which refers in 2 Corinthians are not described in the book of Acts.  Those recorded by the Apostle Luke are merely the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, of Paul’s afflictions.  This is why I directed your attention to Paul’s remarks in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 during the introduction.  He suffers from heat, cold, hunger, thirst, from physical attacks, from illnesses, from constant threats on his life, and from betrayal, and false accusations.  His intelligence, i.e. his wisdom, and his apostolic authority are challenged regularly and he’s often mocked.  He is accused of being fickle, and failing to fulfill promises.  He is said to be strong in his written words but a wimp in person.  And if suffering at the hands of men and nature is not enough, we are also informed that Paul suffered at the hand of Satan (12:7-10).  Now, what’s remarkable is the way Paul and the other apostles responded to these afflictions  as sorrowful yet always (what) rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich (in God’s Good Grace), as having nothing yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Peter 1:6-10).

As to the second biblical viewpoint on verses 3-4, every Believer will experience trials or pressure in this life and I don’t believe you need me to inform you of this.  Paul broached this subject to Timothy writing:  all who desire to live godly (lives) in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  The Greek word for affliction is Thlipsis a Noun, Feminine (pronounced:  thlip’-sis), Strongs Greek #2347, meaning – persecution, affliction, distress, tribulation; pressure (what constricts or rubs together), hems one in – causes one to feel confined, i.e. restricted, “without options.”  As we continue reading Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we’re going to discover that suffering is one of his major themes. 

The New Testament teaches us that suffering plays a significant role in the life of every Believer.  Verses 3-11 will reveal four distinct purposes for those daily trials or pressures we all encounter as Believers and why.  But that will have to wait until next week.  Until then, have a great week, love one another as Christ loves His Church, and remain in the Word of Truth.

(To be continued)

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