Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

March 1, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

I.A. Salutation. (1:1–2)

2nd Corinthians 1:1-2 (NKJV)

1 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: 

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 


When serious problems arose in the Corinthian church, after his departure, he sent Timothy to deal with them (1 Cor. 4:17), and then Paul wrote the letter we call 1st Corinthians. Unfortunately, matters grew worse and he had to make a “painful visit” to Corinth to confront the trouble makers (2 Cor. 2:1). Still there was no solution.  He then wrote a severe letter which was delivered by his associate Titus (2 Cor. 2:4-9; 7:8-12). After a great deal of distress, Paul finally met Titus and got the good report that the problem had been solved. It was then that he wrote the letter we call 2nd Corinthians. He had suffered great persecution in Asia Minor—perhaps in the city of Ephesus—and he was on the way to visit the Corinthians. He was traveling through all of Greece—through both Macedonia in the north and Achaia in the south—to collect a donation for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Paul sent this letter on ahead of him to tell the Corinthians how they should handle some of the problems that were plaguing them; he especially focused on the problem of false teachers who had infiltrated the church. A significant number of believers had been influenced by these false teachers. Paul wrote Second Corinthians for several reasons:

  1. He wanted to encourage the church to forgive and restore the member who had caused all the trouble (2 Cor. 2:6-11).

  2. He wanted to reassert his apostolic authority among the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:1-2; 10-12).

  3. He wanted to explain his change of plans (2 Cor. 1:15-22).

  4. He wanted to encourage them to share in the special “relief offering” he was taking up for the needy saints in Judea (2 cor. 8-9).

Much of this letter, written about twelve months after 1st Corinthians is intensely personal, ‘a pouring out of the man himself.’ Though containing several doctrinal matters (for example, 5:1-10 on the resurrection; Ch. 8-9 on Christian giving), the letter vividly reveals Paul’s feelings—and his faith—as he faces peril and disappointment, and counters slander and disloyalty, while he carries out his commission as an apostle. Often we will be puzzled by unexplained references and allusions to people and events, doubtless familiar to the Corinthians, yet totally unfamiliar to us. But in general the letter is Paul’s spirited refutation of certain sham ‘apostles’ who had infiltrated the Corinthian church for their own ends, and in the process were busily discrediting the apostle and the true gospel he preached.

This letter was probably one of the more difficult letters for Paul to write. Although Paul wanted to rejoice with the Corinthians in their spiritual growth, he didn’t shrink from asserting his authority and disciplining those who needed it.



1 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:

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.

Right from the start, Paul introduced himself as an apostle. It was appropriate for Paul to mention his apostleship here, for his authority is a major theme of this letter. A group of false apostles had infiltrated the Corinthian church—“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). This greatly distressed Paul because he had founded the church on his second missionary journey. To gain a foot-hold in Corinth, these false apostles had systematically discredited Paul’s missionary work. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians to defend his apostolic authority and to refute the false teachers and their accusations.

What does it mean to be an “apostle”? The Greek word from which we get “apostle” means “one sent forth.” An apostle was “sent forth” by Jesus Christ with the mission to make disciples in His name—And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matt. 28:18-20). The disciples—the twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, learning from Him and witnessing His miracles—became the apostles. Yet Paul was also included among the apostles because Jesus Himself had called Paul to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. Although Paul had been a zealous Pharisee who persecuted Christians, Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road, calling him to a radically different life. Paul was a disciple by the will of God because God Himself chose him for that work—But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). This vision of Christ changed Paul forever, making him not only a devoted follower of Christ, but also an apostle sent by Christ to make disciples among the Gentiles. Jesus’ calling gave Paul the authority to establish churches throughout the known Mediterranean world and to teach the believers who gathered in these churches. Paul’s apostleship was confirmed by the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), and his message was confirmed at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21). However, it was this divine call that sustained the apostle during many bitter hours. Oftentimes when, in the service of Christ, he was pressed beyond measure, he might well have given up and gone home if he had not had the assurance of a divine call.

The word “apostle” also has a broader meaning of “one sent forth on a mission” as in 2 Corinthians 8:23 where Titus is called a “messenger”—“If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.”  It is also used for traveling missionaries, such as Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6), or Barnabas and Paul (Acts 4:14). This wide meaning enabled the “false apostles,” as Paul calls them (v. 11:13), to claim the title for themselves. The word, however, was used more explicitly for the pioneer witnesses whom the risen Christ had called to testify to His resurrection (1 Cor. 9:1; Acts 1:22), and finally in later times was limited to the twelve (Matt. 10:2) or to the twelve and Paul. Paul did not choose this honor; it was due to the will and call of God, that he was the chosen messenger, the captive (v. 2:14), the ambassador (v. 5:20), the minister of Christ (v. 11:23).

Paul was an apostle “by the will of God.” You can’t go any higher than that. That is authority. If your life is in the will of God, it makes no difference where you are or how you are or what your circumstances may be, you are in a wonderful, glorious place. You may even be lying in a hospital bed. If that is the will of God, that is the proper place for you. Paul believed he was in his proper place as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was to preach that Paul felt he was called—For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). It was a task he dare not refuse—“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). Behind the call to preach, he saw “the will of God,” His age-long purpose reaching down to himself to take him up into its mighty movement. This gave him confidence. It freed him from all doubt about whether or not he was the right person for the task. It freed him from all concern about his resources for the work. Our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 3:5). It delivered him from all anxiety about results. The preacher is not responsible for the effect of his message; he is responsible only for faithfully declaring it.

The word Christ was originally an adjective, meaning, as did “Messiah” in Hebrew, “anointed.” It was used as a title of Jesus; He was “the anointed one” promised by God to His people as their redeemer and leader. But the word soon became, as here, a proper name equivalent to Jesus.

Paul’s extensive training in the Law under the well-known teacher Gamaliel made him a skilled apologist for Christianity. In all of Paul’s letters however, including this one, Paul never relied on his credentials or his education for his authority as an apostle. Instead, he relied on the testimony of changed lives and the power of the Spirit in his teaching. It was the Spirit of God who had established a network of Christian churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece within a few decades. It was the Spirit’s message—not Paul’s own—that Paul preached.

And Timothy our brother.

Timothy was Paul’s assistant. He had grown up in Lystra, a city in the province of Galatia. Paul had visited Galatia on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:8-21). During that trip, he most likely met Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). On his second visit to Lystra, Paul asked young Timothy to travel with him (Acts 16:1-5). Evidently, Paul saw in Timothy a willingness to cooperate with Christ’s plan and an enthusiasm for the Gospel. These were necessary characteristics for an early Christian missionary. Timothy agreed to join Paul and, subsequently, traveled all over the Mediterranean world with him, helping to establish churches where ever they went. Timothy courageously shared Paul’s suffering and ridicule. Although Paul had other helpers, such as Titus, he developed a special relationship with Timothy, calling him a “son in Christ” (Phil. 2:22).

At times, Paul would commission Timothy as an emissary to a specific church. Timothy had visited the church at Philippi (Phil. 2:19), the church in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:2), and other Macedonian churches (Acts 19:22) in that role. He had always functioned as Paul’s emissary to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians, Paul not only informed the Corinthians that Timothy would come to them, he also endorsed Timothy’s message: “For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). Apparently Paul was slightly apprehensive of sending Timothy to the Corinthians, so he reiterated in that letter that they should treat Timothy with due respect (1 Cor. 16:10). It becomes clear in 2 Corinthians that the Corinthian church—or some group in the church—had rejected Paul’s authority, so some scholars have suggested that Timothy was the one who was rejected. Because Timothy represented Paul and his message, Paul interpreted their rejection of Timothy as a rejection of his own message. Whatever the case, it was clear that the Corinthian church and Paul had a rocky relationship. Inevitably, Timothy as Paul’s assistant and emissary, would have received the brunt of the Corinthian’s criticism. In 2 Corinthians, Paul took special care to identify Timothy’s message as the same as his own message (1 Cor. 1:19). It is significant, therefore, that Paul mentions Timothy at the outset of his letter. Although at other times Paul identifies Timothy as a “son” (Phil. 2:22), here Paul identifies him as a brother in Christ—a person on an equal level, instead of a subordinate. He is named as coauthor, but he had nothing to do with the actual dictation of the letter. Paul may have done this to bolster Timothy’s authority among the Corinthians and to smooth over any hard feelings left from his recent visit—“Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do” (1 Cor. 16:10).

 To the church of God which is at Corinth.

The expression “church of God” means that it was an assembly of believers belonging to God. It was not a heathen assembly, or some nonreligious gathering of people, but a company of born again Christians called out from the world to belong to the Lord. “The church of God” has yet another meaning here—this is God’s church we are talking about. I hear people say, “My church,” and sometimes they act as if it were their church. They forget it is God’s church, that it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ which he purchased with His blood. In view of the fact that He paid such a price for the church, you and I better not be cheap Christians, expressing our little will in the church.

Paul founded the Corinthian church around A.D. 50 on his second missionary journey. The core of this church was a group of Gentiles who would gather at Titus Justus’s house to hear Paul preach. Since Justus’s house was right next to the synagogue in Corinth, it can be reasonably assumed that many of the Gentiles were God-fearers—in other words, Gentiles who had attended the services in the local synagogue before Paul started preaching. The fact that the Corinthian Jews actively opposed Paul’s preaching supports the assumption—(see Acts 18:6). These Jews were probably reacting to a loss in membership at their synagogue. They were so enraged over Paul’s preaching that they took action, filing a formal complaint with Gallio, the governor of the province of Achaia (see Acts 18:12-17). But Gallio refused to hear their complaint. He thought these Jews were merely presenting a feud between two different sects of Judaism before him. With Jewish opposition thwarted in Corinth, Paul was free to stay in the city for a year and a half. He spent that time preaching and teaching so that the Corinthians would be firmly established in the truths of Christ.

Doubtless as Paul wrote these words, he remembered how he had first gone to Corinth and preached the gospel there. Men and women steeped in idolatry and sensuality had trusted Jesus Christ as Lord, and had been saved by his marvelous grace. In spite of all of the difficulties that had later come into the assembly at Corinth, the heart of the apostle doubtless rejoiced to think of the marvelous change which had come into the heart of these dear people.

With all the saints who are in all Achaia.

In the first century, the southern portion of Greece functioned as a political unit called Achaia. It was a province of the Roman Empire. The northern portion of Greece was governed separately and was called Macedonia.

Paul addressed this letter to all the Christians in Achaia because he viewed Corinth as the center of Christianity for that province. Most likely, Christians throughout Achaia were aware of the situation in the Corinthian church. By addressing this letter to all Achaians, Paul would make it clear to every Christion in that region what his stance was with respect to the controversial issues in the Corinthian church. Furthermore, Paul wrote this letter with general spiritual principles in mind. Paul’s passionate defense of his apostolic authority (2 Cor. 10:1-18) and his eloquent comparisons of the new covenant to the old covenant (2 Cor. 2:12-3, 18) could benefit all Christians.

Paul commonly called Christians saints. The Greek word for saints means “those set apart” or “holy ones.” That is, Christians are set apart from evil and to God’s gracious purposes. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was described in that fashion, a holy nation set apart for God and distinct from other nations and their wicked practices (compare Ex. 19:6 with 1 Pe. 2:9). Thus, when Paul used the word “saints” to describe Christians, he wasn’t suggesting that they were perfect. The context of 1 and 2 Corinthians makes it abundantly clear that the congregation had many serious faults (1 Cor. 5:1-12; 2 Cor.2:5-17). Paul did not consider them saints because of their behavior but because God had chosen them as His own people. The Corinthian Christians were dedicated to God and to the constant struggle of separating themselves from evil to do the will of God. They were God’s holy people.

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was the standard greeting Paul used in his letters. It was a Christian adaptation of the common letter-writing practice of his day. After identifying to whom a letter was addressed, a writer would write “greetings,” in Greek, chairein—a word that functioned much like our word “hello.” Paul Christianized this common greeting by using the Greek word charis, commonly translated “grace.” Grace is God’s undeserved favor. God’s graciousness is preeminently shown by the fact that He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross. At the same time God showers on people undeserved favor every day—by providing everything from rain for crops to sunlight for illuminating our days. That is what Paul means here—the constant divine favor and help that flows daily to believers. Being believers, they had already received the initial act of free, undeserved favor by which God redeems and forgives the sinner and receives him into fellowship with Himself. His graciousness is even more pronounced to Christians, who enjoy His Spirit, who guides them to do what is right. When Paul wanted to describe his greatest desires for the people of God, he does not wish for them material things such as silver and gold. He knows only too well that these can quickly vanish. But rather, he wishes for them spiritual blessings, such as grace and peace, which included every good thing that could come to a sinner on this side of heaven.

The Greek word for “peace” is based on the common Hebrew greeting shalom. For Jews shalom did not mean absence of conflict, as it does for us when we say, “there is peace in the Middle East.” Indeed, shalom connotes well-being, wholesomeness, and tranquility. Peace is “the way things ought to be.” For Paul, Christ’s death on the cross was the only event that restored true peace.

The protocol of salvation is recognized even in this salutation, “grace” always precedes “peace.” The former is the basis and foundation of the latter, therefore, the order cannot be changed. No man can have “peace” who has not previously experienced divine “grace” (2 Cor. 8:9).

By identifying God the Father and the Lord Jesus together, Paul was asserting that both the Father and the Son had granted these wonderful gifts of grace and peace. Paul was pointing to Jesus as a full person in the Godhead. Both God the Father and the Lord Jesus together provide Christians with grace and piece. “God our Father” is the source, and “the Lord Jesus Christ” is the channel. Peace comes because God’s grace has been received by faith. Paul doesn’t hesitate to place “the Lord Jesus Christ” side-by-side with “God” the “Father,” because as a member of the Trinity, “Christ” is equal with the “Father.” Paul used the same reasoning in his introductory remarks to the Romans (Rom. 1:7), to the Galatians (Gal. 1:3), to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:2), and to the Philippians (Phil. 1:2). During His ministry on earth, Jesus had consistently identified God as his Father (John 10:29), and He even declared that He and the Father were one (John 10:30). The early church adopted Jesus terminology, calling God the Father (Acts 2:33). In his letter to the Romans, Paul explained why Christians considered God as their true Father. Jesus had given Christians the spirit of Sonship, which made them truly children of God (see Romans 8:15).

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