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Corinth 10

Beautiful scenery in the region of Corinth

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 1:1-7

2 Corinthians 1:1-7 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a powerful letter of self justification, in which Paul sets out an explanation of his ministry before his many critics.  In the course of writing, Paul is led to some great heights of spiritual writing, giving some of his most powerful illustrations of Christian faith; for example, as treasure found in ‘clay pots’ (4:7-16).  Few can forget his account of being caught up into a ‘third heaven’ (12:1-10), or his confession of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ found in the same passage.  Yet throughout the letter, Paul persists in explaining himself and his ministry.  Why does he do this?

Years earlier, Paul had written the first letter to the Corinthians, which is a blunt criticism of the church there.  Some took offence when the letter was received, and the New Testament contains hints of the tension that grew between Paul and the Corinthians.  For example, in the comment, ‘if I have caused you pain ...’ (2:2).  We do not know exactly what happened, but Paul later thought it wise to write a second letter addressing his critics and defending his ministry.

The formality of the beginning of the letter is crisp (1:1,2).  As in his other letters, Paul wrote as an apostle alongside Timothy his co-worker, and it was essential that his readers accept his apostolic status.  He wrote specifically to the church at Corinth, but it seems that he wanted the letter read further afield, mentioning ‘all the saints throughout Achaia’ (1:1).  Achaia was the Roman province covering the large prominence forming the southern half of modern day Greece (and also Athens), a region Paul visited on his second missionary journey (Acts 16-18).  Lastly, he offered his typical greeting of ‘grace ... and peace’ (1:2), but without adding details that might indicate any warmth!

Paul continues with a prayer of blessing, again typical of his many letters.  But it does not give thanks for the faith of the Corinthians, or praise their witness (for comparison, read Philippians 1:3-10).  After praising God as the ‘Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all help’ (1:3), Paul goes on to describe the sufferings of Christ and His church, and the help given by Christ and by fellow Christians to alleviate suffering.

Paul must have had a reason for writing in this way, which was that he wanted to get to the heart of what he believed was the problem between him and the Corinthians.  But at this point, he does not offer blame or defend his theology, he refers more obliquely to ‘troubles’ and ‘suffering’.  The whole passage is dominated by Paul’s talk of the suffering of Christ, of the church as a whole, and of his own suffering (using ‘we’ to speak of himself and Timothy).

Before we look at what Paul meant by this suffering, we must look at the word ‘help’, which occurs eight times, and clearly dominates the passage.  This translates the Greek word ‘parakaleo’, which conveys the idea of ‘calling someone to oneself’.  Most translations use words such as ‘comfort’, ‘consolation’, or ‘encouragement’.  The large number of translations is possible because of the wide range of meaning found within this one Greek word, but all of them are brought together in the idea of summoning and obtaining help.  I have therefore translated this word ‘help’, and it seems to me to make the passage come alive.  Too often, other Bible versions read like an extremely complicated theological formula, and this may contribute to the fact that 2 Corinthians is far from the best read letter of the New Testament.  Its reputation is that it is too difficult to understand!

So what is Paul saying here about suffering and help?  It is tempting to assume that the troubles and suffering Paul refers to here are the sufferings of Christ for our salvation.  However, when Paul says that the sufferings ‘flow over into our lives’ and thence flow out to others (1:5), we need to ask ourselves whether we have the right picture.  Now in Paul’s day, it was commonly taught that when the Messiah came there would be a time of trouble and distress in the world, commonly called ‘the sufferings of the Messiah’.  In the early church, this was understood to mean two things, firstly the suffering of Jesus on the Cross for the redemption of the world, but secondly, the sufferings of the early Christians as they experienced the age of God’s new work in Christ.  Remember, Jesus Himself had warned His disciples about the suffering of persecution and other troubles (Matt 5:11,12), so our passage is best understood in this way.

All in all, this passage can now be understood as Paul’s call to the Corinthians to share their troubles, because this was a true sharing in Christ.  In a way, Paul was seeking to reach out to the Corinthians with whom he had become a little estranged.  He knew that their troubles could only be overcome through true sharing from the heart.  Of course, within a letter, Paul could only share his own thoughts, but this appeal at the very beginning seems like a strong hint to the reader that the letter must be read in the spirit of heart to heart sharing.  Out of the great love of Christ, sufficient for all things (1:5), it was surely possible for God’s people to overcome all their troubles!  We must surely always face difficulty within the church with this open and sympathetic attitude.

 

2 Corinthians 1:1-7 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

  1. What can we learn from this passage about helping one another within the church?
  2. What can we understand from this passage about the relationship between Paul and the people at Corinth?
  3. When you have difficulties in life, how do you like to deal with them?  Do you feel that you can share your difficulties or do you like to keep them secret?

 

Personal comments by author

Every New Testament letter is written for a purpose, and when we begin to grasp this, we can find our way into it more quickly, and without risk of misinterpretation.  When I went to University, I read about something called ‘reader response criticism’ of Biblical text. This included the idea that people were entitled to pick up the Bible and read it, finding within it whatever they wanted.  Since then, I have found that although few people go to theological school, there are indeed many who pick up the Bible and take what they want from it!  God can of course work through any way He chooses, but we will surely be blessed if we seek to learn something of the background of Scripture, so that we can read it with the understanding of people who have applied their God-given intelligence to it

Ideas for exploring discipleship

  • As you share in discussion with fellow Christians, try to find out what their troubles are, so that you can truly ‘share them in Christ’.  Have a go at this when you attend a worship service or meet with others for fellowship.
  • Pray for any you know who seem consumed by their suffering, or whose lives are blighted by the results of suffering.  Pray for them and bless them in word and deed.

Final Prayer

We bless You Lord God and we give You thanks, for in Jesus Christ, You have endured pain and suffering so that we can be saved!  May we therefore know for sure that no suffering in this world is ultimately without reason, and even if we cannot understand why dreadful things have happened, we will one day find our peace in You.  You are the Saviour of the World, Lord Jesus Christ!  AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 1:8-14

2 Corinthians 1:8-14 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

As soon as we read this part of Paul’s letter, it is obvious that he was treading carefully and uncertain about how his letter would be received!  For this reason, it is a little difficult to read and understand.  At first, he writes about the difficulties of his evangelistic mission (1:8-10), and his hope that the Corinthians might join in prayer for this missionary effort (1:11).  He also claims to be totally honest and godly in his dealings with everyone, not least the Corinthians (1:12).  Again, he hoped that by being as plain as possible (1:13) the Corinthians would receive what he had to say, and be as happy with him as he was with them (1:14)

It is relatively easy to pick out some interesting bits.  At first glance, the most powerful part of the passage seems to be Paul’s conviction that all will be well despite horrendous difficulties, for God is a God who ‘raises the dead’ (1:9).  God has saved him in the past, and he is confident that God will go on doing this in the future and may be trusted completely.  This is a powerful testimony, and it fits with everything we know about Paul’s understanding of the nature of God.  Throughout his letters, Paul writes about God as a God of love, who through the resurrection of Jesus, has broken down the barriers between heaven and earth so that sinners may be saved.

In the second half of the passage, Paul speaks of ‘boasting’, firstly in having pure motives (1:12) and secondly in describing his relationship with the Corinthians at the end of the passage (1:14).  This use of the word ‘boast’ may seem odd to us, perhaps a little insincere.  However, the word ‘boast’ was used in a particular way in Paul’s day, and not just by him, by other evangelists as well.  It was reckoned that the first person to preach the Gospel and found a church in any place could ‘boast’ of this work before the Throne of Grace, as the first fruits of the Gospel.  So Paul was entitled to ‘boast’ of the Corinthian church, because he was the person who first preached there and founded its church (Acts 18:1f.). 

For a number of reasons, Paul did not want to use the word ‘boast’ in this way.  If we read through the letter of 2 Corinthians, we will find that he frequently speaks about ‘boasting’, and nearly always tried to change what his readers think about the word.  Here in this passage, he says that his real boast is that he has always tried to be correct, honest and godly in his dealings with the Corinthians (1:12).  So his defence against those who accused him of attacking the Corinthian church was that he did not want to ‘boast’ or tell them what to do.  Rather, he wanted to be honest and set out what he believed ‘on the table’.  It was a point that the Corinthians could not have missed.

Paul writes about ‘boasting’ elsewhere in 2 Corinthians, but he always stands back from making claims of authority over the church.  For example, Paul urged those who accused him of ‘boasting’ about their church to forget about this and ‘boast only in the Lord’ (10:17).  He was desperately concerned that his letter was read more as an invitation to get things right between brothers and sisters in the Lord than an authoritative injunction telling them what they should do.  It is wise if we remember this when reading the letter today!

Once we have understood all this, we can perhaps appreciate the treasures here in this passage.  The most dramatic of these is Paul’s description of the difficulties of the apostolic missionary task (1:8-10).  Perhaps we do not think of the work of missionaries as dangerous today.  Certainly, Paul wanted the Corinthians, and through them everyone else, to know that he had risked his life on mission for the sake of the Gospel.  Verse 9 says that Paul felt under a ‘sentence of death’, and this would certainly be an extreme pressure.  He was not speaking about having his life threatened or being sentenced in court, although these things undoubtedly happened.  He spoke more by way of reflecting on the fact that his life was not just given to the Gospel, it was truly endangered by the work.  Of course, he trusted God completely for his safety, and Paul felt that he only survived because of God’s protection through the prayers of many people who were supporting him.  He therefore invited the Corinthians, as a church founded through his ministry, to join in with these prayers (1:11).

All in all, this passage sets us up for what lies ahead in this letter.  Paul clearly attempts to speak to the heart of the Corinthians with whom he had a difficult relationship.  Yet in the midst of trying to repair this relationship, he finds himself saying some revealing and sometimes dramatic things about faith, his own missions, and the life of the early Christian church.

 

2 Corinthians 1:8-14 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

  1. What do you think that Paul means when he speaks about ‘boasting’ in this passage?
  2. In your group, what do you know about the difficulties of mission in the first century?  Which other Gospel and New Testament writers describe difficulties in the life of the early church, and what are they?
  3. What perils do Christians face today for their faith, and what perils await those who try to take the Gospel to the whole world?

 

Personal comments by author

Many of the great New Testament letters are written for specific reasons, but as the writer goes about his task, greater truths are revealed.  So it is in our lives.  We travel onwards day by day, and as we do so, the great blessings of God are demonstrated as we continue.  The great danger for any Christian is to stop the spiritual journey.  If this happens, our lives will not show or demonstrate godliness.  I am certainly aware that I could stop writing this website at any time; but by continuing, the Lord is able to use the words I write in ways that are quite beyond my understanding.

Ideas for exploring discipleship

  • Explore how your church began, and the spiritual values upon which your church was founded.  Are these things reflected in the way you worship and preach the Gospel in word and deed today?
  • Reflect on the word ‘boast’.  What things do Christians boast about today, and is this a relevant way of talking about how Christians should behave?

Final Prayer

Thank You, Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour, for the godly heritage that has been passed down to me.  I praise You for all the people who have brought me the Gospel, for there are many of them.  I praise You for all the people who see it as their call to preach the Gospel on the edges of church and society today, so that Your Kingdom is extended.  May I fulfil my role in passing on the great treasure of the Gospel according to Your great will and plan, Jesus Christ my Saviour.  AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 1:15-22

2 Corinthians 1:15-22 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

This remarkable text is an example of Paul’s ability to draw out of a difficult issue an inspiring message about Jesus Christ!  At first, it may be hard to try and understand what Paul is saying, but it is obvious that something had gone badly wrong with his plans to visit Corinth (1:15,16).  Yet after justifying himself (1:17), Paul went on to speak powerfully of the Christians’ confidence in God, whose message to the world through Christ was unequivocal (1:18-20), and bound His people together (1:20-22).

The Corinthians had accused Paul of being indecisive about his travel plans.  To begin with, Paul says that he had intended to visit Corinth as part of a tour of Macedonia (in the north) and Greece (in the south).  His original travel plan was to go to Corinth and then tour through the region before returning there, and then return to Jerusalem.  But it seems that Paul then failed to visit the Corinthians twice, as planned, thus causing offense and drawing on himself the accusation that he dithered.

Fortunately, the Bible enables us to reconstruct what happened, and we must start with the earlier letter of 1 Corinthians.  This was written while Paul was involved in a mission to Ephesus (Acts 19,20), and it tells us at the end that he left instructions at Corinth for the collection of money to help the poor in Jerusalem, and also said that he would collect it at the end of his visit (1 Cor 16:3-5).  Paul planned to spend some time in Corinth, perhaps the winter months, before returning to Jerusalem.

Clearly, this promise was not fulfilled!  Acts 20:1-6 tells us that Paul left Ephesus after riots there, somewhat concerned about the dangers of their mission.  Acts also says that his party travelled quickly through Macedonia and the whole region (including Corinth, we assume) collecting money for Jerusalem, before returning to Jerusalem itself (Acts 20:7).  Putting this together, we can understand that the Corinthians felt that Paul had not been straight with them.  He therefore needed to defended himself by saying that he was not one to prevaricate or dither.  He had made decisions based on the circumstances and had been as clear as it was possible to be at the time (1:17).  But Paul does not defend himself further or suggest that he felt threatened by danger, or others pressures from his travels.  Instead, his talk of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ reminded him of something important, and he set off on a completely different train of thought!

It is likely that Paul’s comment about ‘yes’ and ‘no’ was inspired by Jesus’ own teaching.  Matthew reports Jesus as saying this:

Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this is evil. (Matt 5:37)

These words are a reminder to Jesus’ disciples that they must be honest in all their dealings.  If you read this section of the Sermon on the Mount, you will find that Jesus was teaching His disciples to be both realistic and trustworthy, and this is the foundation of Paul’s defence here.  He knew that he had changed his travel plans but he wanted the Corinthians to know that he had done so with good reason and not to offend them.

If we read another great letter of the New Testament, we will also find these words:

Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘Yes’ be yes and your ‘No’ be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.  (James 5:12)

The fact that this reference to ‘yes’ and ’no’ is found here as well indicates that this teaching of Jesus was well known in the first century!  Paul may well have preached on it, and the rest of our passage sounds rather like something Paul said ‘from the pulpit’!

His preaching point was this.  People naturally longed for reliability, and the best example of this was God’s faithful reliability in delivering on His promises!  Supremely, God reliably sent His Messiah, Jesus, in whom all His promises were fulfilled.  Jesus was God’s eternal ‘Yes’ (1:20)!  We can almost hear Paul preaching this point, and it comes as no surprise when Paul says that this was the message he gave to the Corinthians together with Timothy and Silvanus (1:19).  Paul describes Jesus as the great ‘Amen’, to the glory of God (1:20), because Jesus ‘completes’ the work of God; this is what ‘Amen’ means here.

Paul adds a couple of sentences at the end.  All Christians, he said, were bound together through the truth found in Christ (1:21), and he had no time for doctrinal disputes or personality clashes.  Their unity in Christ was far more important than the Corinthian’s accusations against him.  Rising above his feelings about this accusation, Paul declared that he took comfort in the ‘God who sustains us with you in Christ’ and also the gift of the Spirit (1:22).

A fuller study of this passage will give time for a deeper look at these last verses, in which Paul describes the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He says that it is given through the anointing of baptism as a ‘seal ... and guarantee’ (1:22), and this is an important text that helps us understand how the Spirit works in the life of the believer.  Nevertheless, by the power of the Spirit, Paul dealt with accusations that might have sunk any other man to despair.  Perhaps, when we feel misunderstood and let down by friends, we can let the Holy Spirit within turn everything around to good!

 

2 Corinthians 1:15-22 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

  1. What does this passage say to you about the faithfulness of God, and what does it say about human fickleness?
  2. Discuss what you think Paul meant by saying that he wanted to visit the Corinthians twice.  Check out 1 Corinthians 16:3-5 and Acts 20:1-6.
  3. Are Christians more dependable than non-Christians?  Should they be?

 

Personal comments by author

I know what it is like to be accused of being inconsistent!  Most of us have had other people accuse of making decisions that are not what they would like, and we have to learn to deal with it.  I am deeply grateful therefore that scriptures contain an example of someone rising above such difficulties, and by focussing on God, redirect his energies to the proclamation of the Gospel.  I pray that I will be able to do the same!

Ideas for exploring discipleship

  • What are your plans for the next few days?  Are you in danger of letting anyone down?  Do your best to try and ensure either that you do not, or that you do not promise to others things that you will not or might not be able to do or complete.
  • Can you think of any examples of Christian being set against Christian because of misunderstandings about plans and work to be done?  What can we learn from such things, and how can they be avoided?

Final Prayer

Lord God, You have a great plan for the whole world, and You will complete it.  We have seen how you meet your promises through the life and death of Jesus, so fulfil Your work even through us today.  May we who are Your people today be faithful to You in word and deed, and therefore reflect Your glory in the world. AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

 

 

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

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Personal comments by author

 

Ideas for exploring discipleship

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Final Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

 

 

2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

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Personal comments by author

 

Ideas for exploring discipleship

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Final Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

 

 

2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

  1. W

 

Personal comments by author

 

Ideas for exploring discipleship

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Final Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bible study for XX

XX (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Review

(consult Dictionaries)

 

 

XX (get text)   Study links:  / Review / Discipleship /

Discipleship

Questions (for use in groups)

  1. W

 

Personal comments by author

 

Ideas for exploring discipleship

  • T

Final Prayer