Author: Paul, with Timothy
Audience: Believers in Corinth
Subjects: Avoid sin, Avoid sinners who refuse to repent, Rely on God's strength, God is our hope when we suffer, Avoid False Teachers, etc.
When Paul writes this second letter to the believers in Corinth, he speaks of three main points that he regularly switches between throughout his writing: avoid sin, avoid sinners who refuse to repent (even if they claim to be believers), and Paul is also defending himself and his companions against those who claim that Paul is wrong.
The first two topics (avoid sin and sinners) are essentially what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians, except with a more gentle tone.
This third topic of Paul defending himself is emphasized more heavily, likely in response to some of the reactions to his first letter to the believers in Corinth.
Paul also speaks heavily of the sufferings he has experienced, which he clarifies is not to boast but to emphasize both the purity of his teachings as well as the fact that Jesus Christ provides strength when our hope is weakened by hardship.
In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians believers, he begins by introducing himself and Timothy.
Paul immediately beings by talking about suffering, and being consoled by God. He mentions that the Corinthian believers have been experiencing suffering by unbelievers, and he tells them that he too has suffered, saying, "for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself." (2 Corinthians 1:8)
Paul then makes an interesting statement in 2 Corinthians 1:9, saying, "Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."
Paul then discusses how he wanted to visit the the believers in Corinth, but had been unable to. He explains that he was not being indecisive, but instead following the will of God.
He also makes an important statement regarding the Holy Spirit of God being God's seal on the saved, saying, "by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment." (2 Corinthians 1:22)
Paul then explains that it was for their benefit that he did not visit, as he continues to explain in 2 Corinthians 2.
Continuing to discuss why he did not visit the Corinthian believers, he says it was to avoid a "painful visit." (2 Corinthians 2:1)
Paul then elaborates on what he is referring to, saying that it was because of a believer who had been disobedient, who was now needing to be forgiven and consoled.
It appears that Paul is talking about his first letter to the Corinthians, and the situation may be the man living in sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul says, "I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything." (2 Corinthians 2:9)
Whoever was doing wrong has repented of their actions, and Paul instructs them to forgive and console them. Paul also says, "Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive." (2 Corinthians 2:10)
Paul then compares himself and those with him as "the aroma of Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:15) essentially explaining that wherever they went, their presence had an influence on others.
Having just said that Paul and his companions had an influence wherever they went, Paul then explains that he is not bragging and does not need to brag because the believers themselves are proof of their work.
Paul compares the believers in Corinth as "a letter of Christ, prepared by us," explaining that God's Spirit is the ink and their hearts are the paper (2 Corinthians 3:3).
His purpose in making this comparison is to explain that the believers and their faith are the result of all their hard work.
Paul then defends himself by saying that God is who has made him and his companions "competent to be ministers of a new covenant." (2 Corinthians 3:6)
He also briefly makes a statement about the spirit and law, which he explains more in-depth in Romans.
Paul speaks of the glory of the New Covenant, comparing it to the glory of the Old Covenant through Moses. He explains that those who do not understand who God is have a veil over their minds, whereas those who understand God's New Covenant see his work plainly.
According to Paul, this understanding of God's New Covenant is what transforms us through the Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus Christ.
Paul then explains that because of the reasons he listed in the previous chapters, and because of God's mercy, he and his companions have refused to deviate from the true teaching of God's message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Paul also clarifies that he and his companions don't sin, saying, "We have renounced the shameful things that one hides..." (2 Corinthians 4:2)
He explains that it is the unbelievers who cannot understand, because they have been blinded from seeing the truth.
Paul says he does not teach what will uplift himself, rather he only teaches what will uplift Jesus Christ. He then clarifies that the miracles that he and the other apostles perform are from God, explaining that there is nothing special about themselves.
Paul elaborates on their weaknesses, comparing themselves to "clay jars" (2 Corinthians 4:7) saying that while they may be weak, they are not defeated because of God's strength.
He continues to explain that God resurrects the dead which is why they still have hope even as their current bodies age and weaken. "Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure." (2 Corinthians 4:16-17)
Paul continues to speak of their hope of resurrection, saying that even when they die, they will live because of God's Spirit living inside of them.
Paul then explains that obedience to God is important because everyone "must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive [compensation] for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Paul further explains his point by saying, "And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them." (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Paul is saying what Jesus essentially says in Matthew 16:24 "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Paul then explains that everyone is a new creation, still speaking of the fact that believers will be resurrected with an imperishable body (as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 15).
He then returns to emphasizing his and his companions role as "ambassadors for Christ," and he urges his audience to "be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)
It is important to mention that Paul is making a case to the "believers" in Corinth that he is a messenger of God's true message of salvation and that he is urging these "believers" to be reconciled to God.
Still with a more gentle tone, Paul urges his audience to not sin, saying, "not to accept the grace of God in vain." (2 Corinthians 6:1)
He then speaks of the example of how he lives (along with his companions) on how they have experienced, "beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger" (2 Corinthians 6:5) all for the sake of the message of salvation.
Paul then further clarifies that he is speaking of the subjects of sin and repentance (as well as to avoid those who refuse to stop sinning) when he says, "Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Paul tells them to separate themselves from those who refuse to stop sinning.
As if Paul hasn't already been clear, he says, "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God." (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Paul is bluntly stating to stop sinning and be righteous/perfect.
Paul is still speaking of these three main topics, urging the believers in Corinth to avoid sin, urging them to avoid sinners who refuse to repent (whether they claim to be believers or not), and Paul is defending himself and his companions against those who claim that he is wrong, saying, "Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one." (2 Corinthians 7:2)
Paul then clarifies that he is not trying to condemn them, and that he often boasts of them.
In speaking of his time in Macedonia, Paul mentions the fear they experienced from the persecutions ("disputes without and fears within." - 2 Corinthians 7:5) and that God "who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you..." (2 Corinthians 7:6-7)
Essentially, Paul is telling the believers in Corinth that he thinks highly of them and that their faith has been a source of comfort when he has experienced hardship.
Speaking again of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul states plainly why his tone is more gentle in this second letter, saying, "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly)." (2 Corinthians 7:8)
He then clarifies that he is glad that he spoke of the sinful behavior, because it led to repentance, which Paul plainly states that their repentance is necessary for salvation. "Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death." (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
Paul then clarifies that not all of the believers had been sinful and hypocritical, but only a few who claimed to be believers but were living in sin.
Paul then moves to a new subject, which he discussed briefly in 1 Corinthians 16, about a collection of donations for the saints in Jerusalem.
He speaks of the churches in Macedonia and how they were extremely generous despite their financial hardship. Paul then urges the believers in Corinth to be just as generous. He tells them he is not commanding them to be generous, but that he is "testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others." (2 Corinthians 8:8)
Paul gives the example of Jesus Christ being poor, as he also explains in Philippians 2:6-8, "who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross."
Paul tells his audience that it is appropriate for them to want to help the believers in Jerusalem. He then clarifies that he does not want them to be financially pressured while others receive financial relief, but rather he says it's a "question of a fair balance," saying they currently have a financial abundance (2 Corinthians 8:13-14).
He then mentions that Titus and another believer (who was apparently well-known) were being sent to them. Likely, these two people were the ones who delivered this second letter.
Paul continues to speak of this gift of an offering to the saints in Jerusalem, saying that he writes so that they are prepared with the gift when he arrives with believers from Macedonia.
He encourages the believers in Corinth to be ready with their voluntary donation, comparing their donation to planting seeds. "The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2 Corinthians 9:6)
He tells them to give cheerfully and generously. Paul says that they will be rewarded with righteousness and thanksgiving to God. He also mentions God's "indescribable gift" of salvation through Jesus Christ as a reason to give generously (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Paul then speaks of himself, saying he is bold in his writing, but humble when he is with them in person. He warns them that when he arrives, he does not want to have to be bold to any opposition; however, he says he will if necessary.
Paul says that they wage war to destroy false arguments and arrogance. Paul also speaks of his authority, saying it was given by Jesus Christ for the purpose of instructing them in the truth. He then mentions what his opponents say, "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.'" (2 Corinthians 10:10)
Paul clarifies that what he says in his letters, he will also boldly proclaim in person.
He then speaks again of his authority over the church in Corinth, saying that he is not trying to take credit for the work that others did in the church. Rather, he hopes that his influence will reach beyond the church, through them, as they mature.
Paul then speaks sarcastically of "super-apostles" who are the ones who are spreading false teachings about the gospel and Jesus Christ. These people uplift and commend themselves, and insist that they have authority over others in the church.
Paul tells the believers in Corinth that if anyone presents to them a different gospel, or portrays Jesus in a manner contrary to the gospels, then that person is a false teacher.
Paul begins to explain that although he is not as good of a speaker as these "super-apostles," he is superior to them in his knowledge and understanding of God and his salvation through Jesus Christ.
Defending himself, he speaks of how he received financial support from his own job and from other churches, so that no one can accuse him of being a burden to them financially or of taking advantage of the Corinthian believers.
Paul is defending his request for a donation to the saints in Jerusalem, which he has been speaking of since 2 Corinthians 8, and he also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16.
He says that he made an effort to not burden them beforehand, and now it is their turn to support those who are being burdened financially.
Paul then says that these "super-apostles" who boast about themselves and say they are equal to Paul and his companions, are false teachers and liars. Paul compares them to Satan, saying "Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his ministers also disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness." (2 Corinthians 11:15)
To clarify that Paul's authority is superior to these false teachers, Paul tells them that since they are worldly in their thinking, he will compare their boast to his boast. Paul then tells them the many sufferings he has experienced for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Having written about his sufferings for the gospel, Paul continues to compare his boast to the boast of these "super-apostles." Paul speaks of the visions and revelations he has received, saying that even though he gains nothing from boasting of these things, he will boast because of their worldly comparisons.
Paul speaks of a man who was taken up to heaven and "heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat." (2 Corinthians 12:4) Paul is not very clear as to whether he saw this happen, or he had a vision of it.
However, based on the context of this section on Paul's boasting, Paul is referring to himself being taken into heaven and hearing things that no mortal can repeat. This would explain why Paul is not sure if he was physically transported to heaven or if only his spirit was, "whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows." (2 Corinthians 12:2)
Also, having had this experience in heaven may be the encouragement that has driven him despite the numerous sufferings he has experienced (as stated in 2 Corinthians 11).
Paul then says that "On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses." (2 Corinthians 12:5) Paul also says, "But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it... even considering the exceptional character of the revelations." (2 Corinthians 12:6-7)
Paul then mentions his Thorn in the Flesh, which was given to him "to keep me from being too elated." (2 Corinthians 12:7)
In context, this thorn in the flesh was given to Paul 14 years ago after he had received this revelation (2 Corinthians 12:2).
Paul's reason for mentioning this thorn in the flesh is to explain why he boasts about his sufferings and physical weakness.
Paul says he asked God to take away this thorn, but that God said that His strength was sufficient. Paul says that this is why he boasts of his sufferings and hardship (in context, Paul refers to his sufferings as "his weakness" meaning that his current body is weak and vulnerable - this is part of Paul's discussion on being resurrected with an imperishable body in 2 Corinthians 4-6).
He then says that he is okay with his weaknesses and sufferings because then he must rely on God's strength. Paul's logic is essentially what he says in 2 Corinthians 1:9, "Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."
Having written about his boasts, Paul says, "I have been a fool! You forced me to it." (2 Corinthians 12:11) Boasting is foolishness to Paul; however, as he stated earlier, he decided to tell them what he is able to boast about to exert his authority in opposition to these "super-apostles" who are actually false teachers.
Paul explains to them that the evidence that he is a true apostle is the miracles and the power of God supporting him. Paul then speaks sarcastically saying that the only wrong that he did was making a great effort to not burden them financially. Paul states plainly that neither he, nor anyone he sent, has taken advantage of them.
He says that he worries that when he visits there will still be sin and divisions in the church. Paul says, "I fear...that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced." (2 Corinthains 12:21)
Paul speaks again of the issues of sin that he addressed in his first letter to the believers in Corinth. He says that if he finds that anyone is still sinning, then he will address the issue harshly with the power of God.
Paul then challenges them to "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves." (2 Corinthians 13:5) In context, Paul is speaking of being righteous when he says "living in the faith." He then says, "unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!" which in context refers to sinning. He then tells them that he prays they "become perfect." (2 Corinthians 13:9)
Paul summarizes why his letters have been harsh, saying that he does not want to use the "authority that the Lord has given" him for dealing with those who have been sinful (2 Corinthians 13:10). Instead, he desires to use this authority to encourage and strengthen the obedient believers.
Paul then abruptly ends his letter with some final instructions.
Even though Paul speaks with a more gentle tone, he still places an emphasis in 2 Corinthians 13 to stop sinning and to repent.
A huge emphasis is placed on Paul's sufferings in his second letter to the believers in Corinth. He repeatedly talks about the hardships that he experienced, from beginning to end, in order to emphasize relying on God's strength and to assert the purity of his teachings.
Paul also speaks to the Corinthian believers about an offering to the believers in Jerusalem, who were experiencing financial hardship.
The main topics that Paul teaches are: avoid sin, avoid sinners who refuse to repent, rely on God's strength, God is our hope when we suffer, avoid False Teachers, etc.