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

February 16, 2015

Tom Lowe


The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                       D.    The Charge of the Apostle. (12:19-13:10).                                                     

Lesson IV.D.1:The Charge to Repent.     (12:19-13:4)                           




2nd Corinthians 12:19-13:4; NKJV


19 Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.

20 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;

21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.


1 This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”

2 I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write[b] to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare—

3 since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.

4 For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.





Verses 12:19-21: Paul has finished his defense.  He gives his real reason for defending himself against his enemies’ accusations, in verses 19-21.  A series of warnings are included, which understandably arise out of Paul’s anxiety concerning his coming visit.  Will his third visit be as painful as his second (1:23; 2:1)?  It is in their hands.


Verses 13:1-4: the apostle now gives his final warning to the Corinthians that when he comes the third time he will be as severe in his discipline as their moral and spiritual condition warrants.  If that is what they want, they will have the proof that Christ is speaking in him!  But he hopes they will correct the situation before he comes, so that he will not be required to employ his authority with such sternness. 







Chapter 12


19a Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves before you? We are speaking in Christ before God. NRSV


Paul was worried that the Corinthians might get the impression from all this enumerating of his qualifications and all this self-apology that he was trying to defend his own reputation.  Here Paul corrected this impression, if it existed at all.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  So long as Paul knew himself to be right with God, he did not greatly care what men thought, and what he has said must not be misconstrued as an attempt to win their approval.  Paul’s supreme aim was to stand right with God no matter what men thought or said.


It wasn’t before the Corinthians that Paul was speaking, it was before God Himself, and they were not the real judges of his prior defense, God was.  He speaks only in Christ (2:17; 12:2; 5:17) “a bond that keeps him from pride, bragging and craftiness.” God is his only real judge; and what he is in Christ is his only motivation (5:14). By clearly stating that he was speaking before God at various points in this letter (see 1:12-14, 23; 2:10; 3:4; 4:2; 5:10-11; 10:18; 11:11, 31), Paul was trying to impress on the Corinthians the gravity of their actions.  This wasn’t merely a debate between two teachers, so the Corinthians could judge who the best preacher was.  This was a dispute that was being held in the throne room of God.  The Lord Himself would judge who His trustworthy representative was. Earlier in this letter, Paul spoke of being Christ’s ambassadors: “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” NLT (5:20; also see 6:3-10).  Ambassadors are official representatives of one country to another.  In the first century, an ambassador was likely to be an elderly man of high rank who would travel to another country with messages from the monarch of his country.  These messages might be simply congratulations at appropriate occasions, or it could be an official censure.  Paul described himself and his coworkers as Christ’s ambassadors, representatives of Christ to the world.



19b  Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up. NRSV


Paul was confident that he would pass God’s judgment because God knew that all that he had done was for the Corinthian’s benefit.  Paul’s chief concern was for the Corinthians, that they become firmly grounded in the faith.  All of his efforts were dedicated to building up the Corinthians in the faith and were directed to this purpose, whether it was delaying a visit (1:23-24) or writing a stern letter of warning (7:8-9), whether it was his willingness to endure suffering (1:6) or his refusal to take money (11:7; 12:14-15).  Paul knew that God Himself could see his motives, that everything he did was out of love for the Corinthians (11:11) and concern for their spiritual welfare (11:2-3).  So the Corinthians, far from being his accusing judges, are his beloved, an expression which he employs for them in the letter only here and in 7:1.  All things that he speaks, “is for the sake of building you up.” It is his love and concern for their spiritual welfare (11:2) that has driven him to a procedure which they may misunderstand.



20a For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. NLT


On his last visit to Corinth, Paul had warned those who were persisting in sin to repent of their ways (13:2).  He had even postponed his plans to visit Corinth in order to give them time to put their church in order (1:23-2:4).  According to Titus’s report, the Corinthians had made some progress in this.  They had taken appropriate action against the anonymous offender (2:5-11; 7:11).  Their discipline was so severe that Paul had become concerned that the offender might leave the Christian faith altogether (2:7-11).


What he has to say is spoken with the affectionate restraint of a father: “I am afraid…  I am afraid…  I fear.” He does not renounce their behavior, but voices his apprehension.  His fear of encountering ethically deficient behavior is put two ways.  First that he might find them not as he wishes. Second that he will be found by them not as they wish; that is, as one who will have to exercise stern discipline. The reference is no doubt to only a minority in the church (2:5-6).


There is a certain threat in Paul’s words.  He does not want to take stern measures, but, if necessary, he will not shrink from them.



20b I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. NLT


Even with all this progress, Paul was still apprehensive that the church might not be ready for his visit.  He was concerned that the Corinthians might not have taken the appropriate steps to rid their church of sin.  The fact that Paul was writing this letter so soon after Titus’ report on the Corinthian’s may indicate that Titus, although genuinely encouraged by the Corinthians (7:13-16), may have noticed some ongoing problems in the congregation.


Paul was worried that the Corinthians might still be quarreling (in Greek, the word can mean “strife” or “contention”; the word is also used in the list of sins in Romans 1:29; 13:13).  In his earlier letter, Paul had already warned the Corinthians of dividing into factions and competing for power in the church (see 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3.3).


One of the key problems in the church was the Corinthian’s jealousy of each other—“For you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? NLT (1 Corinthians 3:3).  But Paul would not allow jealousy and quarreling to destroy the church in Corinth; thus, he did not shrink from rebuking it.  Instead of concentrating on what they could each do for God, they were enviously eyeing one another, coveting the abilities and resources God had given their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Paul in his epistle to the Romans, wrote of jealousy being one of their problems—“Let us behave decently . . . not in dissension and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).


It was the Corinthian’s selfishness (literally, in the Greek, their “selfish ambition”; see also Galatians 5:20) that was also causing problems in the church.  In 1 Corinthians 4:6-7, Paul had described how they were boasting in themselves, and he had already warned them to focus their energies on preserving Christ’s honor—not their own reputation.


These evil attitudes were resulting in outbursts of anger in the church.  Evidently, tempers were short because of the division and jealousy in the Corinthian church.  Instead of growing into a supportive community of faith (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), the Corinthians were dividing into factions and fighting each other. In the process, they were tearing down the church, the very temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).


These disputes were not one-time affairs.  They were ongoing quarrels, where church members on each side began backstabbing each other.  The Greek word used by Paul here literally means “evil speech” or “slander” (see Romans 1:30 and James 4:11 for more on slander).  In this way, the Corinthians were impugning the reputation of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10).


Not only were they slandering each other, but they did so in secret.  They continued to maliciously gossip about each other—and also, presumably, Paul (see 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10).  The Greek word for “gossip” is literally “whisperer” Notice Paul’s use of the word in Romans 1:29—“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” Gossipers pour poison against their neighbor into a listening ear.


Instead of building each other up in the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 12:7), the Corinthians were simply growing conceited (see 1 Corinthians 4:6; 8:1).  The Greek word Paul used for “conceit” means “inflated.” The Corinthians had become inflated with pride (see Paul’s similar description in 1 Corinthians 8:1).  Evidently, members in the Corinthian church were especially gifted; therefore, many of them aspired to rise to prominence in the growing church (1 Corinthians 12:27-3:1; 14:12).  But their arrogance had become a formidable obstacle to God and His work.  If they would only seek after God’s honor instead of their own Glory, then God could establish His kingdom among them.


Finally, Paul warned the Corinthians of disorderly behavior, just as he had in 1 Corinthians (6:1-8; 11:20-22, 33-34; 14:32-33, 40).  Paul was speaking about any behavior that disrupted worship services or contributed to the disunity of the church.


Quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior. We should not be surprised that these problems existed in the Corinthian church, since every church in Paul’s day (and ever since) could be described with these words.  After all, the church is made up of imperfect, forgiven and yet sin-prone people.  Even Paul never achieved his lifelong ambition to pastor a congregation where all were well-behaved, Christ-like saints.  Congregations like this one in Corinth were spiritually gifted and full of potential but fraught with problems that kept Paul in prayer.  It’s helpful to remember that Paul’s eloquent treatise on love (1 Corinthians 13) was written for this group of people in an attempt to address their selfishness. The absence of God’s enabling love in any person or church will result in conflict, greed, and self-absorption.  Read through 1 Corinthians 13 and you will see that there was a lack of love in the congregation.



21a I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you. NRSV


Paul had already told the Corinthians that he was concerned that he might be humiliated when he came to Corinth.  Some Macedonian Christians were accompanying him.  If Paul found the church in disorder and the Corinthians refusing to participate in the Jerusalem collection, then Paul would be humiliated in the presence of the devout Christians from Macedonia (see 9:3-5).



21b And that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced. NRSV


Paul hinted here that finding the Corinthian congregation in disorder would mean more than his own humiliation.  He would also have to mourn over those who stubbornly refused to repent of their sins.  He will have failed to bring about their repentance, which will be for him a defeat.  So, he will accept his humiliation as if it came from God.  This mourning over their deterioration is indicative of his apostolic heart.  The only remedy for such unrepentance will no doubt be exclusion from the church (13:2; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Their immoral conduct cannot be tolerated forever. 


Corinth was a vile city.  It was known as a sin center throughout the Roman Empire.  It was the Las Vegas and Reno and any other sinful city that you want to put with it all rolled into one.  It was the place people went to sin.  It is true that where sin abounded there grace did much more abound.  Yet it caused the people of Corinth to look lightly upon these sinful things.  This does not present an attractive picture of the church, does it?  I’m sure that as we have gone through this epistle you have thought, the local church in Corinth certainly was not a very good church.  That is true.  Not only was it true of that church, but it is also true of many of our churches today.


The sins Paul listed here (21b) are sexual sins (as compared to sins relating to pride in 12:20).  The Greek for “impurity” means “unclean.” The word suggests that those who participate in sexual perversions are “unclean” before God.  The Greek for “sexual immorality” is porneia (the word is the root for the English word “pornographic”).  Porneia refers to illicit sexual intercourse and is commonly translated “fornication.” Finally, the Greek for “licentiousness” means “excess” or “absence of restraint.” The word connotes shameful conduct, the type of sexual deviance that occurred at religious orgies in Corinth.


Paul had already warned them to resist the sexual temptations that were commonplace in Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).  The church was to discipline those church members who persisted in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:9-12).  Those who claimed to worship Christ simply couldn’t imitate the impure sexual practice of the society around them.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul had given the church specific instructions on how to treat one member who was committing sin: the church was to remove him from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:2).


Paul was afraid that his directions had not been heeded, and that they were permitting their old life to take over again (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), instead of yielding to the new life.  The fact that he would have to mourn over those who hadn’t repented of their sexual sins implied that Paul was going to carry out the discipline he had told the Corinthians to impose.  On his visit, he would have to remove those people from fellowship.  He didn’t want to discipline them, for it would cause him great sorrow.  However, his love for them was too great for him to ignore these problems and permit them to continue to weaken the church.  That is why Paul wrote in a stern manner, hoping that the church leaders would straighten out the situation before he arrived.  As Christians, they had to live a different way than unbelievers, not letting pagan society dictate their behavior.  The same is true for believers today.  They can’t let the moral laxity of our times dictate their own behavior and habits.  They should live up to their calling as God’s people.




Chapter 13


1a This is the third time I am coming to visit you. NLT


Paul had first visited Corinth on his second missionary journey.  In that city known for its vigorous commerce and, also, for its gross immorality, Paul had gathered together a small group of believers.  He spent a year and a half with them, instructing them in the Christian faith (see Acts 18:1-17).  During his second visit, a painful incident had occurred (2:1, 5).  Therefore, Paul’s next visit was the third time he would have been in Corinth.


The relationship between Paul and the Corinthian believers had been a long one.  In addition to spending a year and a half with them, Paul had sent several emissaries there, including Timothy (1 Corinthians 4:17), Titus’, and an unknown brother (12:18).  Obviously, Paul had invested a large amount of time in the Corinthian’s because he saw their congregation as a base for his future missionary efforts to the West (see 10:16).  Subsequently, it had to be disappointing for Paul to have to write letters of warning to a church for which he had such high hopes.



1b (and as the Scriptures say, “The facts of every case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”. NLT

2 I have already warned those who had been sinning when I was there on my second visit. Now I again warn them and all others, just as I did before, that next time I will not spare them. NLT


Paul quoted Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV—“One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”as a stern legal summons to the Corinthians.  The presence of witnesses would help to guarantee the truth about a matter, especially when the church members were at such a variance with one another.  The charges against him will be examined and judged according to the Mosaic principle laid down in Deuteronomy 19:15.  To put it in our modern jargon, Paul insists that there must be a showdown.  The distressing situation must not drag on any longer.  He knew that there comes a time when trouble must be faced.


Throughout 2 Corinthians, he had explained and defended his actions (see 2:1-4; 11:22-31).  Finally here, at the end of his letter, Paul stopped defending himself and directly confronted the Corinthians.  He wasn’t coming to them in a “timid” manner, as he had done before (10:1).  He wouldn’t merely issue warnings.  Instead, he would exercise his apostolic authority in full measure, by disciplining those who would not repent of their sinful acts.  Paul didn’t specify in 2 Corinthians exactly what kind of discipline he would use.  One type of early church discipline was to confront publicly those who persisted in their sins.  Another common form of punishment was to prohibit such people from participating in the fellowship of the church, specifically the eating and drinking of communion (1 Corinthians 5:11).  If Paul had to take such drastic measures on this visit, he would be fully prepared because Titus and an entourage of Macedonian Christians would be there to be his witnesses (8:16-19; 9:4).


Paul may have been quoting Deuteronomy 19:15 to indicate that he had already given them three warnings and that they could bring disputes before him with three witnesses.  Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17 supports Paul’s method of dealing with those who persisted in sin.  Sin in the church is like cancer in the human body; it must be cut out. Jesus had instructed his disciples to confront a fellow Christian with three warnings—one in private, one with two other witnesses, and one in front of the church—“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV).  There were to be not only three different witnesses before anyone could pass judgment on a believer but also three separate occasions when the believer was to be warned of his or her sin.


The mention again of those who have sinned and the fact of their tolerance by the church remind us how difficult it was for Gentile Christians to break with the sexual laxity characteristic of their environment (1 Corinthians five: 1-2; 6:12-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).  The Christian standard of sexual purity came not from the Greeks, but from the Old Testament and the Jews.



3 since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. NLT


Some of the Corinthians had been asking for proof that Paul was truly speaking on behalf of Christ, that he was truly an apostle.  Influenced by Greek ideas, these Corinthians understood speaking ability, persuasiveness, and reports of visions as evidence of Christ working through a teacher or speaker (see 11:5; 12:12).


Paul did not censure their critical attitude.  They certainly were to judge their teachers to ascertain whether they preached that Jesus is Lord (see 1 Corinthians 12: 2-3).  But the Corinthians were judging Paul by the wrong standards.  Instead of judging whether his message pointed to Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Corinthians were criticizing Paul for his lack of eloquence, his weaknesses, and his timidity (see 10:1; 11:5; 12:7-10).  Possibly in view of their richness of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and 14) they have refused to perceive the power of Christ in Paul’s presence with them (10:10).  So now they are going to get the decisive sign that they want, though not in the way they want.  Stern discipline will be a sure sign that through Paul’s ministry Christ is not weak toward them, but rather is mighty in them (Romans 15:18)


The Judaizers in the church had accused Paul of being a weak man (see the 2 Corinthians 10:7-11). Their approach to ministry was heavy-handed and dictatorial, while Paul’s was gentle and humble (see 2 Corinthians 1:24).  Now Paul assured them that he would show them how strong he could be—if that is what it took to solve the problems.  “I will not spare!” was his warning, and he used a word that means “to spare in battle.” In short, Paul was declaring war on anybody who opposed the authority of God’s Word.


By the standards of the world, both Jesus and Paul were weak; but by the standards of the Lord, both were strong.  It is a wise and mature worker who knows when to be “weak” and when to be “strong” as he deals with the discipline problems in the local church.


In this verse, Paul directly challenged the Corinthians.  If they were looking for proof and mighty power, then they would most assuredly experience Christ’s power on his next visit.  Jesus’ power among them, however, would not be the type of power the Corinthians were expecting.  He wouldn’t present spectacular wonders through Paul so that the Corinthians would set back, watch, and judge them.  When Christ came in mighty power, he wouldn’t be coming to prove himself to the Corinthians but instead to judge the false teachers among them.  Instead of demanding all kinds of proof and power, the Corinthians should have spent that time testing themselves to see if they were following Jesus completely.



4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. NLT


Paul’s consistent message to the Corinthians was that Christ died on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:23), a message of Christ’s weakness.  In spite of this emphasis in the gospel, the Corinthians had been impressed with the false teacher’s display of spiritual “strength.” Though they still worshipped Jesus Christ, who came in human weakness (see the Philippians 2:6-11), the Corinthians sought out powerful and persuasive teachers.


Paul reminded the Corinthians that God’s power demonstrated itself through weakness, not through power (12:9).  Christ’s own life was testimony of this fact.  Jesus had refused Satan’s tempting offers to wield power over people’s lives.  He rejected the opportunity to impress people and create a large following by jumping from the top of the temple and miraculously surviving (Matthew 4:5-7).  He even refused Satan’s offer to rule over the entire world (Matthew 4:8-10).  Instead, Jesus obediently took the more difficult road that God had laid out for Him—the road of suffering, humiliation, and a criminal’s death on the cross.  Instead of wielding power over the world (the authority that was His right as the Son of God), Jesus had come to serve and even lay down His life for others (see the Matthew 20:28).  In Jesus’ ministry on behalf of fallen men the extremity of His weakness became the point at which God by the resurrection of Jesus most convincingly revealed his power to lift men out of their sins (Acts 2:22-36; Romans 4:25; 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:16-17).  Through Christ’s weakness, God worked in a powerful way.  Through Christ’s death on the cross, God provided salvation for all those who believe (John 3:16-18).


Just as God had demonstrated His power through Christ’s weakness, He was doing the same in Paul’s life.  Christ acts through His apostle and the life of Christ flows out from him. It was through hardships, persecutions, and even a stoning that God had shown His power (see Paul’s three lists in 4:7-10; 6:3-10; 11:23-33).  The power that God gave Paul was the strength to serve the church.  As an apostle of Jesus, Paul’s mission was the same as Jesus’ mission: to be a servant (compare 4:5; 6:4; 11:23 with John 13:12-17).  In contrast, the false teachers who had infiltrated the Corinthian church were not acting as servants but as masters (see 11:19-21).


Since the resurrection life of Christ is at work in the ministry of Paul (4:10-14), he will be able to come to them with the authority of the living Christ.  Because of the full-orbed nature of this power he will not and cannot spare the unrepentant sinner.  The power of God in the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16) cuts both ways, “to the one and aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2:16). By this power Paul, as an apostle of Christ, is an instrument.  And toward the Corinthians it will be made manifest.  Power, not weakness, will mark his impending visit.

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