The apostle shows where false teachers (promoting Jewish views) went wrong, explaining the veil over their minds and hearts. Then he advances the liberty of true conversion, and here are its components. Finally the question is answered – how does beholding Christ lead to sanctification and glory?
Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians is easily the most biographical of all Paul’s epistles. The second letter was written not so very long after the first, around AD 55, and Paul has come back into Macedonia.
The Corinthian church was being assailed by intruding Judaisers. These were people who were Jewish but claimed to be Christian, and they followed the apostle (and other apostles) round, trying to persuade the newly-founded churches that they needed to adopt Jewish rituals and ceremonies, and that Christ was not enough. It was a great trial and problem.
Paul had promised to visit Corinth and was unable to do so, and the Judaisers had immediately got into the church and said, ‘This individual is unreliable. He makes promises he does not keep. How can he possibly be a so-called apostle of Christ?’ They slandered him, and some in the church fell for it.
It is a great shame that the trend today is to exaggerate the problems in the Corinthian church and build up this absurd, ludicrous picture of them as a factious, deeply divided, deeply heretical, deeply immoral congregation. If that were so, Paul would never have given them the complimentary remarks that he did.
So this was a wonderful church, but – yes – there were some problems. Some had developed a party spirit – not against each other but for their favourite preachers. There was a case of immorality that they had not disciplined. Then one or two people appear to have been taking legal action against each other, instead of settling things in a spiritual manner. There was also a small group of heretics who denied certain things and represented Judaising infiltration. These were problems in a young church which had to be dealt with, but it was not a major number of people who had succumbed to these things.
One of the glorious things about the church at Corinth – and it’s good that we’ve got two letters and you can see this process going on – is that when the apostle raises the problem, they repent and deal with it, and they are very open to teaching. He tells us in 1 Corinthians that they wrote to him asking questions; they are teachable and open and want to know how to conduct themselves rightly. That is the spirit, surely; yes, it was assailed by some problems but it was overall a wonderful church.
2 Corinthians is a strikingly beautiful letter. Some say it is the most beautiful of Paul’s letters, even though it contains some strictures and warnings. It is certainly very feelingful, full of warmth, joy and deep concern. Perhaps, even more than Galatians, it provides an insight into the heart of the apostle and the bond that he had with the people.