“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).
The letter that we know today as the Biblical book of 2 Corinthians is thought to have been authored by the Apostle Paul around A.D. 55. But unlike the question and answer approach that largely comprised the book of 1 Corinthians, this letter (along with 2 Timothy) contains some of the most personal and emotional passages among Paul’s New Testament writings.
For an introduction to the book of 2 Corinthians, it would be hard to improve upon the information provided for us by the following commentary….
“Second Corinthians is one part of a chain of correspondence dealing with events surrounding the Christian community at the Greek city of Corinth. It is best understood within this historical context. Between A.D. 49 and A.D. 51, the Apostle Paul was in Corinth establishing the church there, assisted for a time by Silvanus and Timothy (2 Co 1:19).
Then, from A.D. 52 until A.D. 55, Paul was in Ephesus, about a three days’ journey by sea from Corinth. Soon after Paul left Corinth, a number of visitors came to the city: Apollos, Cephas (Peter), the Lord’s brothers, and possibly Barnabas. During this period, Paul wrote a now-lost letter (1 Co 5:9). Sometime around A.D. 54, a Corinthian delegation arrived in Ephesus reporting major problems in the church. During this time, a letter was brought from some Corinthian members raising a number of questions. First Corinthians is Paul’s initial response to these reports and questions.
Soon afterward Paul dispatched Timothy to bring back news about the letter’s reception. Timothy’s report was negative—so alarming, in fact, that Paul made an unscheduled journey to Corinth. Paul found the church in disarray, with many members openly rebellious against him. Paul said this second visit to Corinth was a ‘painful visit’ (2:1; cp. 12:21–13:2).
Upon returning to Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter (delivered by Titus), sometimes termed ‘the severe letter’ (referred to in 2:3–4; 7:8–12), calling upon the Corinthians to recognize Paul’s apostolic authority. Sometime afterward (c. A.D. 55), Paul left Ephesus, traveling north to Troas (a port city). There he had arranged to meet Titus and hear how the Corinthians had responded to the severe letter (2:12). Not finding Titus there, Paul crossed over to Macedonia to await him in that location. Eventually Titus arrived, reporting the Corinthians’ response to the recent letter and bringing news of other developments in Corinth (7:5–7).
The book of 2 Corinthians (actually his fourth letter to that church) was Paul’s response to the news brought by Titus.” (1)
(1) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1735). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ESV).
One source provides us with a convenient overview of the book of 2 Corinthians…
“(The book of 2 Corinthians) presents a natural progression. In chapters 1–2 Paul updated the Corinthians with his past movements after leaving them and explained why he did not directly return. Chapters 6–9 challenge them about current issues, particularly their continuing participation at pagan temples and their failure to complete the collection for Judean believers. In chapters 10–13 he anticipated his future (and final) visit to Corinth and exhorted his readers to set their house in order before he came. Thus 2 Corinthians presents a chronological logic, moving from past to present to future.” (1)
So in much the same manner as many of the Apostle Paul’s other Biblical books, Paul opened this letter with a declaration of his role as an apostle- and even though the spiritual conditions appear to have improved at Corinth since the time of his earlier message, it seems that Paul still felt it necessary to establish his authority as a commissioned representative of Christ at the outset of this letter.
To do so, Paul emphasized the fact that his calling as a apostle was “by the will of God.” This brief statement served to remind the Corinthian church that Paul did not inherit the office of an apostle. He did not purchase his position, nor was it conferred upon him by any human agency. Instead, Paul’s calling came through the sovereign will of God and served as the foundational basis for everything that will follow here in the book of 2 Corinthians.
In one regard, every Christian is an “apostle” in the sense that he or she serves as an emissary, ambassador, or representative of Christ. However, the New Testament apostles (like Paul) held a number of important qualifications that differentiated them from anyone who might be known as an “apostle” today.
For example, the Biblical apostles were personally selected by Jesus Himself (Luke 6:13-16, Acts 9:10-19). They were also witnesses to the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:15-26, Acts 9:1-6, 1 Corinthians 9:1) and were given the ability to act and teach with Jesus’ direct authority (Matthew 10:1-15, 2 Peter 3:15-16),
Since there were still likely to be some among the Corinthians who continued to dispute Paul’s apostolic authority, these five words therefore served as both an advisory as well as a reminder to his readers.
(1) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1736). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NIV).
In addition to emphasizing the source of the Apostle Paul’s authority, there are some other important elements tucked away within this passage that might be easily missed. You see, Paul addressed this message to “…God’s church at Corinth, with all the saints who are throughout Achaia” (HCSB). This brief introduction offers some practical information for anyone who is willing to uncover it.
We can begin by taking a closer look at the word that is translated “church” within this passage. That word is ekklesia. In this context, ekklesia refers to an assembly of Christians who are gathered together for worship. (1) While “the church” may be identified with any number of functions today, it is primarily defined within the Scriptures as an assembly of those who have been called out unto God to worship and learn from Him.
One important thing to remember in this respect is that the concept of “church” is something that was established by Jesus Himself. For example, Jesus used the term “my church” in Matthew 16:18 and Colossians 1:18 refers to Jesus as the head of the church. The book of 1 Timothy also refers to the church as “the church of God” in 1 Timothy 3:5 and even as “the house of God” in 1 Timothy 3:15. These insights are helpful to remember as we interact with others within the church. As one commentator observes…
“Paul noted in passing that the church (Greek ekklesia, lit. ‘called out ones,’ the company of Christians) belongs to God. Even though it was ‘at Corinth’ it was God’s church. It did not belong to the Corinthians or their teachers. Therefore its primary allegiance had to be to Him.” (2)
While the word “church” can sometimes be used to describe the entire Christian community throughout the world, it is most often used in the New Testament to describe a local congregation that meets within a particular area. In this instance, the letter of 2 Corinthians served as a message to the church at Corinth but was also intended to be read by the churches in the surrounding region of Achaia as well.
Thus we can say that the subjects raised within this letter are addressed to a wider audience, one that encompasses modern-day readers of this epistle as well.
(1) G1577 – ekklesia https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=g1577
(2) The Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Dr. Constable’s Bible Study Notes). Copyright 2012 by Dr. Thomas L. Constable. All Rights Reserved. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/2%20Corinthians/2Corinthians.htm
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
“…a Father who has lost an only Son can best console those who have lost loved ones.” (1)
Its not unusual to sometimes wonder why the events of our lives transpire in the way they do. As we search for meaning behind the tragedies, difficulties, challenges, issues, problems, and concerns we encounter in life, we can turn to the passage quoted above for a potential answer.
You see, our perspective often changes when we become a participant rather than an observer in a given situation. For instance, consider the example of a professional athlete. If an athlete fails in his or her chosen sport, how do spectators often respond? In many instances, a talented athlete who fails to succeed is often derided and ridiculed for his or her failure. Even though a professional athlete possesses a wealth of talent that far surpasses the vast majority of spectators, many observers often feel justified in offering such criticisms because they fail to appreciate just how difficult it is for a competitive athlete to succeed.
Since many spectators are not professional athletes, they often overlook the commitment, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work that is demanded of those who seek to compete at a professional level. In fact, it might even be said that the only people who can really understand what it takes to be a major league athlete is another major league athlete.
This example serves to illustrate the concept behind these verses. For instance, who is better qualified to minister to someone in need than another person who has gone through a similar experience? This may help to provide an explanation for some of the challenges and difficulties that we encounter in life- we do so to enable us to comfort and identify with others who will undergo similar experiences.
One purpose of God in comforting us is that we can be used of Him to comfort others, or as verse four tells us, “(God) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (NIV). As the following verse will also go on to say, “…just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5 NIV).
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers [2 Corinthians 1:6]
“Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).
While the image of “comfort” is sometimes associated with the idea of a luxurious bed or a cozy piece of furniture, the comfort that the Apostle Paul speaks of here in 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 likely had little to do with ease and contentment. Instead, the comfort that he refers to within this passage was designed to produce “patient endurance” (NET) among those who rendered comfort to others and those who received it.
One commentator offers the following observation with regard to this passage…
“Everything in the human perspective says affliction is disadvantageous and in opposition to man’s highest good. Only God knows affliction assists man to his highest good. Man has to believe God in opposition to his feelings and his experiences. The Greek word thlipsei is translated affliction and means, ‘trouble, suffering due to pressure of circumstances.’ …Thlipsei refers not only to physical suffering but also to mental, emotional and psychological pressures. Every servant of God will suffer both afflictions.
Sometimes physical suffering is induced by the psychological afflictions, or vice versa. Jesus experienced both (see Heb_2:10-18; Heb_5:7-9; Heb_12:1-2). Paul suffered both (2Co_11:21-33; 2Co_12:7-10; Php_4:10-13; Gal_6:17). The early Christians suffered both (Heb_10:33; 1Th_2:14; 1Pe_4:12 ff; Rev_2:13; 2Th_1:4, etc.). Christians are not to be surprised that affliction comes their way as if it were something strange (1Pe_4:12).
All who would live godly in this world will suffer persecution (2Ti_3:12). In fact, anyone not being disciplined or strengthened by affliction should question their relationship with Christ (see Heb_12:5-11).” (1)
Finally, we should observe that the ultimate source of all such comfort is the Holy Spirit. The original language of the New Testament identifies the Holy Spirit as the “parakletos,” a word that captures the idea of one who is a counselor, ally, helper, advocate, strengthener, advisor, and supporter- and as Jesus said within the Gospel of John…
“If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17).
(1) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 16] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Other than Jesus Himself, it might be argued that no one has had a greater impact upon human history than Paul the Apostle. Paul is the man through whom God has worked to shape untold numbers of lives through his New Testament epistles and that work continues today through the Biblical books that bear his name.
Yet 2 Corinthians 1:8 reveals something important regarding this towering figure of Christianity. You see, Paul told the Corinthians that there was a time in his life when “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (NIV).
If we were to rephrase that statement, we might do so by saying, “The pressures of life caused us to feel like we wanted to die.” We might then interpret“…we felt we had received the sentence of death” (NIV) to mean, “We thought our lives were over.”
These admissions are important because they provide a direct link between Paul (the human author of at least thirteen Biblical books and the person who was personally selected by Jesus to represent Him) with the men and women of God who encounter similar feelings today.
In addition to Paul’s admission here in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, we might also consider the sentiments expressed within the following Psalms…
“How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you look the other way when I am in need? How long must I be hiding daily anguish in my heart? How long shall my enemy have the upper hand? Answer me, O Lord my God; give me light in my darkness lest I die” (Psalm 13:1-3 TLB).
“Listen to my prayer, O God. Do not ignore my cry for help! Please listen and answer me, for I am overwhelmed by my troubles” (Psalm 55:1-2 NLT).
“Don’t turn away from me when I have troubles. Listen to me, and answer me quickly when I cry for help. My life is passing away like smoke. My life is like a fire slowly burning out. My strength is gone— I am like dry, dying grass. I even forget to eat. Because of my sadness, I am losing so much weight that my skin hangs from my bones” (Psalm 102:2-5 ERV).
We’ll see what we can learn from these experiences over the next few studies.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NET).
It may be easy to think of the God-honoring men and women of the Bible as people who were spiritually invincible, but a look at the Scriptures tells us that this was hardly the case. In addition to Paul the Apostle’s admission here in 1 Corinthians 1:8-9, we can also look the experience of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19 or read the book of Lamentations for some other examples of Biblical personalities who were similarly challenged by the circumstances and events of life.
In another instance, John the Baptist expressed his doubts regarding Jesus when he sent his disciples to ask, “Are you really the Messiah? Or shall we keep on looking for him?” (Luke 7:19). Then there is the example of Moses. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Exodus 4:13 tells us that his response was, “Lord, please send someone else to do it” (CEV).
With respect to Paul, we can look again to the Biblical account of a riotous mob that was incited against him to help explain why he may have felt as if he was under a death sentence…
“About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: ‘Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia.
He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.’ When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!'” (Acts 19:23-28)
We’ll consider the dynamics behind this incident and their potential effect upon Paul next.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ESV).
The ancient city of Ephesus was home to the shrine of Artemis (or Diana as she was also known), a structure that was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple of Artemis was constructed from marble and stood 425 feet (130 m) long and 220 feet (67 m) wide. It was also supported by 127 columns that were 60 feet (18 m) in height.
Much like the souvenirs that one might purchase after visiting a historical attraction today, visitors to the shrine of Artemis also had a opportunity to purchase similar mementos that were locally crafted from wood, gold, or silver. In fact, Acts 19:23-28 tells us that a group of resident craftsmen maintained a profitable business producing these memorial souvenirs. However, that passage of Scripture also tells us that Paul the Apostle’s efforts to spread the Gospel in that area had begun to pose a serious threat to their livelihood.
That caused a chain-reaction of events that eventually led to a riot as as these craftsmen sought to protect their business interests…
“Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.
The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:29-32).
Even though most of the people involved in this mob scene were unaware of what caused it, this city-wide disturbance was ultimately traceable back to the actions of one man- Paul himself. Is it any wonder therefore that this may have been the event that caused Paul to feel as if he might never live through it? Indeed, if Paul had been allowed to stand before this riotous mob, he might not have.
“For, brothers, we would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength; so much so that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 MKJV).
So what can we learn from the trials that Paul the Apostle (as well as many other Biblical personalities) experienced?
Well, consider Paul’s counsel from earlier within this letter: “Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:6 NLT). This serves to remind us that even when the sufferings we endure seem overwhelming, God can still bring something of value from them.
For instance, God may sometimes allow difficulties into our lives to strengthen us or help us ascertain a weakness that requires attention. He may allow such difficulties into our lives to aid us in identifying with others. Perhaps God may use the difficulties we encounter to assist us in developing character and perseverance, or even as an example to others in demonstrating the proper way to handle trials and adversities.
Sometimes God may allow difficulties into our lives for the sole purpose of assisting others who will face similar diificulties. For example, a person who is experienced in handling a particular trial or adversity is someone who is often best equipped to help others when they encounter similar hardships. Or as we read in 1 Corinthians 2:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
However, we should remember that a trial that may seem inconsequential to us is something that might represent a significant challenge for someone else. You see, every classroom in the “school of Christ” features a curriculum that is tailored to the individual student’s needs as determined by the Master Teacher.
Therefore, a person who is strong in one area should not devalue the struggles that others may experience in the same arena. As Paul the Apostle once said to another New Testament-era church, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1 ESV).
“you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many” (2 Corinthians 1:11).
“The Arabs have a proverb, ‘All sunshine makes a desert.'” (1)
While its not always possible to detect the reason behind the trials and adversities we experience in life, we can say that God has an ultimate purpose in mind for them based on what we read in the New Testament book of Romans: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). As one commentator points out, “We should all rest secure in the fact that God is in control of the universe… The trials and testings that come to God’s people are only those which He allows.” (2)
For his part, Paul the Apostle made certain to express his appreciation for the Corinthians’ prayers on his behalf in the passage quoted above. Of course, given the attitude of some towards Paul within the church at Corinth, its difficult to determine how many of them might have actually been praying for him. Nevertheless, this verse tells us that Paul sought to demonstrate the type of mindset that was reflected in his counsel to another first-century church: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8 CSB).
Those who were praying for Paul also induced another positive result as well: “many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety” (NLT). This serves to remind modern-day readers of this epistle that we have the same ability to inspire others to express their thankfulness to God as a result of our prayers. Those who participated in praying for Paul offered genuine assistance to him in asking God to act on his behalf- and that not only served to benefit Paul but those who received the blessings of his ministry as well.
As another commentator reminds us, “Prayer has real results. God has ordained His relationship to the world in such a way that He will respond to our prayers. Even Paul needed and sought the prayers of others, and he anticipated that God would act on his behalf in answer to the saints’ prayers (Rom. 15:30–32; Eph. 6:19, 20; Phil. 1:19, 20).” (3)
(1) Quoted in Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition Dr. Thomas L. Constable. Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/2%20Corinthians/2Corinthians.htm (1:11)
(2) Ron Rhodes, What Did Jesus Mean? Making Sense of the Difficult Sayings of Jesus [p. 194]
(3) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2051). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
The definition of sincerity as found within the passage quoted above is one that goes beyond the standard definitions of honesty, earnestness, and candor. You see, the word used for “sincerity” within this verse is derived from a word that means “to judge by sunlight.” While it may be difficult to see the connection between these two ideas, some background information may be helpful in associating these seemingly unrelated concepts.
In the days of the first century, an unethical pottery vendor might attempt to sell an imperfect earthenware container to an otherwise unsuspecting buyer. To do so, the dishonest merchant would cover the cracked portion of a container with a thin layer of wax. Once painted, the resulting piece appeared to be fully intact- that is, until the buyer later attempted to fill it with water and subsequently discovered the truth.
To avoid this problem, a savvy consumer would hold a prospective purchase up to the sun and slowly rotate it in order to check for such issues before making an investment. If the sun illuminated the wax-covered portion of the piece in question, the potential buyer would instantly become aware of the imperfection and could then negotiate accordingly or discard it in favor of an undamaged piece.
So when Paul the Apostle told the church at Corinth “…in our dealings with the world, and especially with you, we have conducted ourselves with frankness and godly pureness of motive” (CJB), we can understand him to mean that he was everything he appeared to be. In other words, Paul did not approach the Corinthians with a hidden agenda- and if he could not follow through on his earlier plans for some reason, it was not because he appeared to be something he was not.
As one source explains, “The Corinthian Christians were so used to dealing with ministers who were calculating and manipulative, they figured Paul must be the same way. Therefore, when Paul said he was coming to them (1Co_16:5), but did not, they figured he was just manipulating them. Paul is letting them know this is not the case at all.” (1)
This seems to have represented something of a contention between Paul and the Corinthian church but we’ll see how Paul turned this situation into an opportunity to communicate some important truths about God over the remaining verses of this chapter and on into chapter two.
(1) David Guzik, Enduring Word Bible Commentary B. Paul defends his ministry. 1. ©2013 David Guzik https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-corinthians-1/
“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
“A guilty conscience needs no accuser or tormentor but itself” (1)
2 Corinthians 1:12 references a particular guideline that bears a closer examination- the conscience. When used in this context, the word conscience can be defined as “the soul as distinguishing between what is morally good and bad, prompting to do the former and shun the latter, commending one, condemning the other.” (2)
Much like an umpire, judge, or referee at a sporting event, the conscience serves as an arbiter of right and wrong according to the rules. The question is, what rule book does one’s conscience employ as part of our decision-making process? After all, it is possible for two or more people to act in good conscience while pursuing very different courses of action.
Ultimately, our moral sense of right and wrong should be based upon some key foundational principles…
- First, we should recognize that Jesus validated His teachings through His miracles (Mark 2:1-12) and by His resurrection from the dead (John 20). Thus, He should stand as the final, authoritative source that governs our moral convictions.
- Jesus identified the Scriptures as both the Word of God (John 10:34-35) and the command of God (Matthew 15:3-4). Jesus also taught that the Bible was truth (see John 17:17).
- Therefore, our conscience (or our internal sense of right and wrong) should be led and informed by the Word of God based on the authority of Christ.
While some critics have sought to invalidate the Scriptures as a legitimate foundation for morality based on its alleged promotion of immoral acts (such as genocide or slavery), we should remember that there are valid and appropriate responses to such objections, especially when they are examined in their larger context.
We should also remember that while the conscience can be a good guide when it is informed by the Word of God, it is not infallible. As Paul the Apostle said to the Corinthian church in his previous Biblical letter, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:3 NIV), Nevertheless, our moral sense of right and wrong should yield to the Scriptures in affirming or rejecting a particular course of action.
We’ll consider some potential dangers associated with the violation of one’s conscience next.
(1) Matthew Henry Exposition of the Old and New Testament, Volume 3
(2) G4893 syneidesis
“We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you” (2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT).
There is a definite danger involved whenever someone elects to violate his or her conscience. Consider the following observation from the New Testament book of 1 Timothy regarding those who were disseminating false doctrine…
“Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2 NIV).
The idea behind this passage is that the consciences of such teachers had been cauterized as if they had come into contact with a red-hot piece of metal. As anyone who has ever been burned in such a manner can attest, a piece of skin tissue that has been cauterized can no longer feel anything. The Scripture quoted here from 1 Timothy 4:2 tells us that much the same can take place with our consciences as well.
For instance, a person who knowingly does something wrong should expect to feel a sense of guilt. But a person who continues to engage in a guilt-provoking behaviors may eventually reach the point where his or her conscience no longer functions in that area. In other words, a conscience that has been repeatedly burned in such a manner may eventually become as unresponsive as an area of cauterized skin.
This can often lead to a destructive chain of consequences. You see, when someone’s conscience no longer provides a warning regarding small areas of sinful behavior, there may be very little left to stop that person from engaging in progressively inappropriate acts. Unfortunately, its not unusual to find examples of individuals whose consciences have been so thoroughly cauterized in this manner that they no longer provide any warning with regard to increasingly self-destructive behaviors.
This should serve to remind us of two important principles. First we should prayerfully read the Scriptures on a daily basis to help fulfill the mandate given to us in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). It should also serve to remind us of the counsel found in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” (HCSB).
“For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:13-14).
Anyone who has ever encountered a disingenuous politician, an unethical salesperson, or a person who has been caught in an attempt to escape the negative consequences of his or her behavior is probably familiar with the concept of “doubletalk” (or “doublespeak”). This idea can be defined as “language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth.” (1)
One of the things that separates true doubletalk from a sensitive and/or perceptive attempt to present the facts involves the intent to mislead another person. For instance, let’s take the example of a used item that is marketed as “pre-owned” when presented for sale. In this instance, “pre-owned” offers a more appealing (yet truthful) connotation than “used” in the minds of potential consumers.
On the other hand, consider the advertiser who attempts to promote his or her product with the claim that “No other brand is better.” This could represent a misleading assertion for it might mean that the product in question is awful but each of it’s competitors are equally bad as well. Thus, an attempt to promote an inferior product among equally inferior products in this way would represent an example of doublespeak.
While some within the Corinthian church may have felt that Paul the Apostle was guilty of engaging in this kind of doubletalk, Paul was clear in stating that “Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (NLT). If anyone was hesitant to acknowledge that claim, Paul could readily point to the characteristics of simplicity and Godly sincerity that marked his time with them (verse twelve).
In contrat to the fast-talking, equivocating, self-promotional manner of some, Paul instead was simple, direct, and sincere. His lifestyle supported what he professed to the members of the Corinthian church and stood in stark contrast to what others were teaching. As Paul will go on to say in the following chapter, “We aren’t like so many people who hustle the word of God to make a profit. We are speaking through Christ in the presence of God, as those who are sincere and as those who are sent from God” (2 Corinthians 2:17 CEB).
“And in this confidence I intended to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit— to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea” (2 Corinthians 1:15-16).
While no human being can predict the future with absolute certainty, a wise person will make a prayerful effort to plan ahead in a manner that will positively impact the risks and opportunities of an unknown future. For instance, the Old Testament book of Proverbs contains the following wisdom in regard to the importance of planning ahead…
“You lazy people, you should watch what the ants do and learn from them. Ants have no ruler, no boss, and no leader. But in the summer, ants gather all of their food and save it. So when winter comes, there is plenty to eat” (Proverbs 6:6-8 ERV).
“The wisdom of a sensible person guides his way of life, but the stupidity of fools misleads them” (Proverbs 14:8 GW).
“Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3 NIV).
“Sensible people will see trouble coming and avoid it, but an unthinking person will walk right into it and regret it later” (Proverbs 27:12 GNB)
So a God-honoring commitment to future planning is important- but what happens when our anticipated plans change as a result of an unforeseen or unanticipated event? In that instance, we may face the kind of situation that the Apostle Paul encountered here in 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. One commentator explains the circumstances surrounding these verses…
“In 1 Corinthians 16:2–8 and at the beginning of this section (1:15–16) are found two different itineraries relating to Paul’s plans to revisit the Corinthian church. However, as 2:1 indicates, neither plan was carried through. Thus, it appeared as though Paul was at best not truly concerned with his relationship to the church, and at worst a fickle person who made promises ‘lightly’ (1:17a) and constantly went back on his word.” (1)
Although Paul made these plans in good faith, circumstances later dictated that he revise his schedule. Unfortunately, that left an opening for Paul’s critics to accuse him of acting in an unreliable or untrustworthy manner- and much like Paul the Apostle, the need to alter our schedules may sometimes draw the criticism of others despite our best intentions. This should remind us to preface such plans with some important counsel from the New Testament book of James: “What you should say is this: “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15 GNB).
(1) Davis, J. A. (1995). 1-2 Corinthians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 986). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House
“You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say ‘Yes’ when they really mean ‘No’? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’
For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ He is the One whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate ‘Yes,’ He always does what He says” (2 Corinthians 1:17-19 NLT).
Although Paul the Apostle might have been accused of vacillation in abandoning his plans to visit the church at Corinth, Paul knew something that the members of the Corinthian church didn’t- contrary to what others may have believed, he was was really acting in their best interest.
You see, the casual observer within the Corinthian church may have assumed that Paul was simply being fickle in failing to follow through on his plans. However, the final two verses of this chapter will go on to reveal that those changes were actually made to protect the members of the Corinthian congregation. Unfortunately, this meant that Paul had to live with this potential misunderstanding until he had an opportunity to clarify his intentions.
One lesson we can draw from this situation involves the need to use discretion in passing judgment upon the internal motivations of others. Much like the Corinthians, our assessment of a given situation may prove wrong once others provide us with additional information- or as we’re reminded in Proverbs 18:17, “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him” (CSB).
Another commentator approaches this passage from a different perspective, one that relates to the way in which an infallible God is sometimes represented by fallible human beings…
“Very often, people will defend their lack of faith in Christ with examples of how Christians have let them down, with famous Christians that have fallen into sin, with how divisive and hypocritical Christians are. Don’t defend these things – admit them. Yes, sin is sin. Man falls short. Christianity doesn’t preach that we become perfect. Christianity just gives us forgiveness.
Then direct the subject off of men and onto God. Jesus was perfect. Jesus was sinless. Begin to focus the discussion on Jesus Christ. Paul has to admit, ‘Yes, I did say I wasn’t coming and then I did, and yes I did say I would come and then I didn’t.’ But he also points out that when God says ‘yes’ it is always a yes. And when God says ‘no’ it is always a ‘no.’ ” (1)
(1) Ron Daniel, 2 Corinthians 1:8-24 Copyright © 1998–2017 http://rondaniel.com/library/47-2Corinthians/2Corinthians0108.php
“For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means ‘Yes’) ascends to God for His glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT).
There were undoubtedly some within the Corinthian fellowship who viewed the Apostle Paul as someone who could not be trusted. Anyone who held such an opinion could point to the fact that Paul had failed to follow through on his scheduled visit with the members of the Corinthian church. After all, if Paul couldn’t be trusted to make ordinary travel arrangements then how could he possibly be trusted to handle the word of God?
For his part, Paul anticipated the possibility that some among the Corinthians might raise such objections: “Do you think I couldn’t make up my mind about what to do? Or do I seem like someone who says ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ simply to please others?” (2 Corinthians 1:17 CEV). One commentator makes use of this situation and adapts it to serve as an important reminder for us today…
“…it is significant that Paul did not say, ‘Yes or No.’ It is not wrong to say ‘No’ to some requests and circumstances. What is wrong is to say ‘Yes and No,’ or to equivocate. It is wrong to say ‘No’ and mean ‘Yes’ or to say ‘Yes’ and mean ‘No’!
Christians are to be honest, firm and unequivocal toward their commitments, whether they are ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Jesus taught that his followers were to be so definite and unambiguous when they gave their word that the rest of the world would accept their ‘Yes’ as nothing but ‘Yes,’ and their ‘Nay’ as nothing but ‘No’ (Mat_5:37 and see Jas_5:12).” [cp]
So taken together, these passages emphasize the importance of faithfulness and the need for every Christian to be a person of his or her word. As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:37, “Say only yes if you mean yes, and no if you mean no. If you say more than yes or no, it is from the Evil One” (NCV).
Paul also took this occasion to remind the Corinthians that “…all the promises of God find their Yes in (Christ). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (ESV). Despite what some may believe, the word “amen” does not mean, “my prayer is finished now.” This word actually means “surely, absolutely or ‘so be it.’” Thus, it serves as an expression of agreement and support- and it is through Christ that God’s promises find their ultimate fulfillment.
(1) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 24] Copyright © 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (1 Corinthians 1:21-22).
These two short verses contain a number of elements that are rich in Biblical symbolism. For instance, the concept of “anointing” has a long Scriptural history that dates back to the early Old Testament era. The process of anointing involved the act spreading a liquid substance (typically oil) across a person’s head and/or face. This often served as a welcome relief for parched, dry skin in the arid climate of Biblical Israel and was viewed as a common courtesy that was extended to guests and others.
More importantly however, oil was used to anoint the priests of Old Testament Israel as an act of consecration (see Exodus 28:41 and 29:7). In this context, the act of anointing was associated with God’s presence and symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s work in someone’s life.
There there is the reference to “…God, who also has sealed us.” Much like the modern-day seal that validates an official document, an ancient seal was also utilized for authentication purposes in the Biblical era. It generally consisted of a small amount of softened wax that was placed over the enclosure of a letter or document. The soft wax was then imprinted with a signet ring or other identifying mark to validate its contents.
This type of identification was especially useful for things like letters and other types of correspondence for it served to establish a document’s origin and verify its authenticity. Because of this, the image of an ancient seal became such an important metaphor that Jesus Himself made use of it to establish the certainty of God’s provision for those who belong to Him: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (John 6:27).
Finally we have the word “heart” as found here in 2 Corinthians 1:22. “Heart” is translated from the Greek word kardia and it forms the basis for our modern-day word “cardiac.” When used in this manner, the word “heart” refers to someone’s innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense. Thus, as one commentator points out, “God acting upon the believer’s nature through the divine word of the Spirit, has engraved his image.” (1)
(1) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 25] Copyright © 1988 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth” (2 Corinthians 1:23).
While the Apostle Paul’s decision to cancel his scheduled visit with the members of the Corinthian church may seem inconsequential to us today, it was likely viewed by some in Corinth in a very different manner. As one source explains, “Hospitality was important in antiquity, and it was an honor to host a prominent guest. For Paul not to have come could have seemed like both a breach of his word—and thus of his honor and integrity—and an insult to their hospitality.” (1)
Although Paul was able to make use of this difficult situation to communicate a number of spiritual truths, it also appears that he did not want to allow this charge to go unanswered. So beginning here in 2 Corinthians 1:23 and continuing on into the following chapter, Paul will go on to provide the members of his original audience with a forthright explanation for his decision.
To do so, Paul said in effect, “Despite what others may believe about my intentions, here’s the real story: ‘The reason I did not come back to Corinth was that I did not want to punish or hurt you'” (ERV). You see, if Paul had gone on to visit Corinth as he originally intended, he would have been obligated to address the rebellious conditions within the church in a very assertive manner.
Therefore it seems that Paul preferred to allow the Corinthians to repent of their own accord rather than embark on a visit that was likely to end with a rebuke. This would allow ample time for the members of the church to implement the God-inspired counsel contained within Paul’s earlier letter: “…if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
In fact, Paul was so intent on communicating his real motivation that he was willing to subject the truth of his explanation to the ultimate Authority: “I call God as my witness–and I stake my life on it–that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth” (NIV). This seems to imply that there were some within the Corinthian church who were so hardened against Paul that he felt obligated to appeal to God himself.
So Paul willingly abandoned his travel plans in an effort to spare the Corinthians from a serious rebuke. But there was a second reason for this change that Paul will go on to address within the final verse of this chapter.
(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament © 1988 Craig S. Keener [pg 494]
“Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
God has blessed His church with many God-honoring spiritual leaders. These are the people who selflessly (and often anonymously) assist the less fortunate and work to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to others. They awake early and faithfully spend long hours studying and preparing to effectively communicate God’s Word. They are sometimes underpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued by those whom they serve. Many are imprisoned or executed for their work as Christian leaders.
Despite the authority that comes with a God-ordained position of leadership, the vast majority of these leaders clearly recognize that they are ultimately responsible to Christ for their actions. Thus, they reject the temptation to dominate, control, or subjugate the people whom God has entrusted to their care. Instead, they remain secure in God’s calling upon their lives and do not view others as potential threats to their authority.
So much like the Apostle Paul writing here in 2 Corinthians 1:24, these spiritual leaders have no desire to “…rule [like dictators] over your faith” (AMP) but seek to “…work together with you so you will be full of joy” (NLT). Thus they serve as the antithesis of another type of church leader described in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:9-11 NIV).
As one commentary observes…
“Even though he had great authority as an apostle (2Co_10:2-8; cf. 1Co_5:4-5; 1Ti_1:20) Paul was reluctant to wield it. He did not lord it over their faith, that is, domineeringly take advantage of the fact that they came to faith in Christ through him.
Dictatorial means can produce compliance but not the obedience that comes from faith which he sought. Authoritarian domination is often the manner of false apostles and the kingdom they serve (cf. 2Co_11:13-15), but it was not the way of Christ (Luk_22:25-27) nor of those who stand in His stead (1Pe_5:3).”
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary © 1983 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck [p.557]