SLITHERING through the centuries, the serpent whispers his smooth-tongued promises, beguiling, deceiving, and tempting – urging men and women to reject God and to follow Satan. Satan’s emissaries have been many – false prophets contradicting God’s ancient spokesmen, “pious” leaders hurling blasphemous accusations, and heretical teachers infiltrating churches. And the deception continues. Our world is filled with cults, “isms”, and ideologies, all claiming to provide the way to God.
Paul constantly struggled with those who would mislead God’s people, and he poured his life into spreading the good news to the uttermost parts of the world. During three missionary trips and other travels, he proclaimed Christ, made converts, and established churches. But often young believers were easy prey for false teachers. False teachers were a constant threat to the gospel and the early church. So Paul had to spend much time warning and correcting these new Christians.
The church at Corinth was weak. Surrounded by idolatry and immorality, they struggled with their Christian faith and lifestyle. Through personal visits and letters, Paul tried to instruct them in the faith, resolve their conflicts, and solve some of their problems. First Corinthians was sent to deal with specific moral issues in the church and to answer questions about sex, marriage, and tender consciences. That letter confronted the issues directly and was well received by most. But there were false teachers who denied Paul’s authority and slandered him. Paul then wrote 2 Corinthians to defend his position and to denounce those who were twisting the truth.
This must have been a difficult letter for Paul to write because he had to list his credentials as an apostle. Paul was reluctant to do so as a humble servant of Christ, but he knew it was necessary. Paul also knew that most of the believers in Corinth had taken his previous words to heart and were beginning to mature in their faith. He affirmed their commitment to Christ.
The letter begins with Paul reminding his readers of (1) his relationship to them – Paul had always been honest and straightforward with them (1:12-14), (2) his itinerary – he was planning to visit them again (1:15-2:3), and (3) his previous letter (2:4-11). Paul then moves directly to the subject of false teachers (2:17), and he reviews his ministry among the Corinthians to demonstrate the validity of his message and to urge them not to turn away from the truth (3:1-7:16).
Paul next turns to the issue of collecting money for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He tells them how others have given, and he urges them to show their love in a tangible way as well (8:1-9:15). Paul then gives a strong defence of his authority as a genuine apostle while pointing out the deceptive influence of the false prophecies (10:1-13:13).
As you read this intensely personal letter, listen to Paul’s words of love and exhortation, and be committed to the truth of God’s word and prepared to reject all false teaching.
PURPOSE: To affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle, and refute the false teachers in Corinth
TO WHOM WRITTEN: The church in Corinth and Christians everywhere
DATE WRITTEN: About A.D. 55-57, from Macedonia
SETTING: Paul had already written three letters to the Corinthians (two are now lost). In 1 Corinthians (the second of these letters), he used strong words to correct and teach. Most of the church had responded in the right spirit; there were, however, those who were denying Paul’s authority and questioning his motives.
KEY VERSE: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (5:20).
KEY PEOPLE: Paul, Timothy, Titus, false teachers
KEY PLACES: Corinth, Jerusalem
SPECIAL FEATURES: This is an intensely personal and autobiographical letter.
In responding to the attacks on his character and authority, Paul explains the nature of Christian ministry and, as an example, openly shares about his ministry. This is an important letter for all who wish to be involved in any kind of Christian ministry, because it has much to teach us about how we should handle our ministries today. Like Paul, those involved in ministry should be blameless, sincere, confident, caring, open, and willing to suffer for the sake of Christ.
- Paul explains his actions (1:1-2:11)
- Paul defends his ministry (2:12-7:16)
- Paul defends the collection (8:1-9:15)
- Paul defends his authority (10:1-13:13)
EXPLANATION: Paul experienced great suffering, persecution, and opposition in his ministry. He even struggled with a personal weakness – a “thorn in the flesh”. Through it all, Paul affirmed God’s faithfulness.
IMPORTANCE: God is faithful. His strength is sufficient for any trial. When trials come, they keep us from pride and teach us dependence on God. He comforts us so we can comfort others.
EXPLANATION: Paul defends his role in church discipline. Neither immorality nor false teaching could be ignored. The church was to be neither too lax nor too severe in administering discipline. The church was to restore the corrected person when he or she repented.
IMPORTANCE: The goal of all discipline in the church should be correction, not vengeance. For churches to be effective, they must confront and solve problems, not ignore them. In everything, we must act in love.
EXPLANATION: To encourage the Corinthians as they faced trials, Paul reminded them that they would receive new bodies in heaven. This would be a great victory in contrast to their present suffering.
IMPORTANCE: To know we all receive new bodies offers us hope. No matter what adversity we face, we can keep going. Our faithful service will result in triumph.
EXPLANATION: Paul organised a collection of funds for the poor in the Jerusalem church. Many of the Asian churches gave money. Paul explains and defends his beliefs about giving, and he urges the Corinthians to follow through on their previous commitment.
IMPORTANCE: Like the Corinthians, we should follow through on our financial commitments. Our giving must be generous, sacrificial, well planned, and based on need.
Our generosity not only helps those in need but enables them to thank God.
EXPLANATION: False teachers were challenging Paul’s ministry and authority as an apostle. Paul asserts his authority in order to preserve correct Christian doctrine. His sincerity, his love for Christ, and his concern for the people were his defence.
IMPORTANCE: We should share Paul’s concern for correct teaching in our churches. But in so doing, we must share his motivation – love for Christ and people – and his sincerity.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.