“For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults” (2 Corinthians 12:20).
As Paul the Apostle prepared to revisit to the church at Corinth, its clear that he held a great deal of concern over what he might discover upon his arrival. That concern involved many of the negative behaviors he has addressed over the course of his first and second Corinthian epistles. Paul expressed that concern with a list that included a number of inappropriate practices…
Contentions, a word that refers to factions within the church (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-12),
Jealousies, or rivalries between various individuals or groups (see 1 Corinthians 3:3).
Outbursts of wrath, One Biblical translation expands on this concept by associating this phrase with other terms such as intrigues and divided loyalties (AMPC).
Selfish ambitions. Once source defines this term in the following manner: “…a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit… This word is found before NT times only in Aristotle where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means.” (1)
Backbitings, a word that is rendered as backstabbing (CEB), selfish fighting (ERV), and slander (HCSB) in other Biblical versions of this passage.
Whisperings. We might associate this word with a person who secretly disparages others without their knowledge or someone who “talks behind your back.”
Conceits. This word communicates the idea of pride, arrogance, or someone who is “puffed up” (see 1 Corinthians 4:6).
Tumults, a word that is characteristic of disturbances, confusion, instability, or a state of disorder (2) (see 1 Corinthians 14:40).
These were issues that plagued the first-century church at Corinth and they represent attitudes that we should prayerfully seek to identify and eliminate within our own lives.
So this message served as a warning that alerted the Corinthians to the risk of future consequences if they failed to act upon Paul’s counsel within this letter: “I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response” (NLT). As one source observes in commentating on this passage, “The apostle’s fear is that upon his return both he and his converts may find that the lies of his detractors have worked so well that neither of them will be happy to learn the truth” (3)
(1) G3701 eritheia Strong’s Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2052
(2) G181 akatastasia Strong’s Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g181
(3) Davis, J. A. (1995). 1-2 Corinthians. In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (Vol. 3, p. 996). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.