Every letter written by the Apostle Paul, and, indeed, all of the books of the Bible, have their own particular appeal. That is no less true of this great second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians that we are beginning to study now. What is the appeal of this book? Since Paul deals with different subjects in this letter, there are different reasons why it will appeal to different people. It often appeals to readers because of what it reveals in an autobiographical sense about the Apostle Paul.
It is true to say that there is no other letter in the New Testament that tells us so much about the writer. This is not because it was Paul’s intent to write a personal letter. The reason Paul speaks so autobiographically here is that his apostleship was being challenged. And yet, it is interesting that in spite of this letter telling us so much about Paul, on another front it leaves us asking, “What in the world is Paul talking about there?”
For example, he speaks about the peril or trouble that he had while in Asia–so much so that he despaired even of his life. Paul does not explain what that is. Another problem of that nature occurs at the end of 2 Corinthians in chapter 12. Here, he speaks about a man who was caught up into the third heaven. Most people who read that think Paul was talking about himself. We just are not quite sure. A little later in that same chapter, he used a phrase that has been a great puzzle to commentators. He speaks about a “thorn in the flesh” that was given to him. What kind of affliction was it? We are not told. However, we are told a great deal about what Paul was going through at this particular period of his life.
Paul wrote 2 Corinthians out of his anxiety for the church. He was greatly concerned about all the churches and, in some ways, particularly about the church of Corinth. He spent a lot of time there. It was a place where, as he acknowledged in the first letter, God did marvelous things. God worked mightily in their midst. Many people came to faith. Here was a place where people responded in large numbers, grew, came together, worshiped, and witnessed. Paul spent a large amount of time among the Corinthian believers, perhaps about a year-and-a-half before he moved on elsewhere during his second missionary journey.
But then problems developed in that church. There were divisions and immorality in the church. There were lawsuits and the great dispute about the Resurrection. There also was a danger of falling for wrong doctrines. Paul wrote his first letter in order to straighten out all those matters. He was very strict in how he talked about the immorality problems. He counseled expelling a member who was guilty of that particular offense that must not be practiced in the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul sent his first letter and waited for a response. He was greatly concerned as to how his letter would be received. Eventually he sent Titus with this second letter because he wanted to know how the Corinthians were doing.
Paul had planned to meet Titus along the way. Apparently, Titus was to go ahead and see how things were, whether the Corinthians had responded well to Paul’s admonition. Then they were to meet again at Troas. Paul, who was at Ephesus at the time, was to go north through Asia towards the Hellespont to connect with Titus. Titus was to go north up through Achaia, the main part of Greece, to the Hellespont, then cross over and meet Paul at Troas. So Paul came to Troas but Titus was not there. He waited a while in a state of distress. Finally, he went by himself on over to the other side of Europe. Then somewhere there in Macedonia, perhaps at Philippi or the port city, Paul met up with Titus. Titus gave his report. Titus told Paul that the Christians at Corinth had responded to the admonition about the immorality in the church. They had dealt with it. Paul’s letter had been well received. However, there were still problems in the church, which we will see tomorrow.