Lesson 35: “Be Ye Reconciled to God”
The purpose statement for the current lesson is a general “encourage class members to be true disciples of Jesus Christ through applying Paul’s counsel in 2 Corinthians. The lesson texts selects isolated verses on enduring, forgiving, and repentance for discussion. The lesson below from 1947’s The New Testament: The Acts and the Epistles, by Russell B. Swensen (Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1946) provides a broader overview of 2 Corinthians in which those isolated verses may be placed.
Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians
Paul had written a most versatile and enlightening letter to the Corinthians about a great variety of problems. But in dealing with so many different items, the letter acquired an omnibus aspect which failed to cure each difficulty. One major issue which was not resolved was the matter of factions. Paul had been quite considerate and moderate in dealing with them. But he had not succeeded in quieting the activities and opposition of one particular group. He had paid the Corinthians a visit regarding this. But it turned out to be a painful and unsatisfactory occasion with no conclusive settlement. This visit was called his second visit by Paul. The third trip to them was being contemplated when he resolved to try some more drastic measures to settle the difficulty. (2:1; 12:14; 13:1.)
He wrote them a harsh and stern letter which he sent to them by his helper, Titus. later he proceeded to Greece by way of Macedonia where he met Titus on his return with news about his own reception and that of Paul’s severe letter. Paul was overjoyed to learn that he had scored a complete victory. So he wrote them another letter of great thanksgiving, tenderness, and affection. But where do we find these two letters? It is the opinion of scholars that they constitute parts of the letter now known as II Corinthians.
II Corinthians 10-13 is an abrupt and extremely passionate denunciation of Paul’s opponents. Herein he deals with the charges hurled against him by the Corinthian opponents and makes his answers to them with great vigor. Then in II Corinthians 1-9 the tone is one of tenderness and joy after a period of great storm and stress. He remarks about having written a most harsh and stern letter which caused him incredible anxiety and many tears. 92:3, 4.) It had been brought to them by Titus whom Paul had sent from Troas in northwest Asia Minor. (2:12, 13.) Then Paul had pushed on to Macedonia where he met Titus and had received a report on his mission. 9:5-13.) He was so overjoyed at the report that he wrote there his “tender” letter to smooth over the previous difficulties and to heal any wounds that were still smarting. He also wanted to finish his collection of the fund for the Jerusalem saints and included a plea for their generosity at the end of the letter. (Chapters 8, 9.)
The above is only a theoretical attempt to explain the sudden, abrupt transition from chapter nine to chapter ten. Both of these parts of II Corinthians are harmonious and consistent within themselves. But it is difficult to understand how Paul could be so conciliatory, gracious, and happy in the forepart of this epistle, and then launch into a most bitter and heated controversy. Such a mood and display of angry charges and countercharges and heated defense as are found in chapters 10-13 would not be conducive to maintain the harmonious reciprocal feelings of 1-9 and to facilitate the collection of the important fund. For these reasons, these two parts will be treated as separated letters.
The party which was opposing Paul was probably the Jewish-Christian group who had caused him so much pain in Galatia. His remarks about them during one of his most bitter passages seem to indicate this. “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they seed of Abraham? so am I.” (II Cor. 11:22.) Chapter three of Philippians indicates that this party was also a great problem in Philippi. The issues at stake were probably much the same as those in the Galatian churches. We have seen how an additional problem among the Corinthians was the matter of eating meat which had been killed in a pagan temple, and that the scrupulous group were probably Israelite Christians. But Paul did not go into a discussion of circumcision and its relation to salvation by faith as he did in the Galatian epistle because had had probably dealt with this phase of the controversy upon his second visit. furthermore, he is distinctly on the defensive in this letter. He is answering and refuting charges against his person, his authority, and his integrity and sees no occasion to set forth any basic doctrines. In making his defense he generally makes an ironical allusion to the various charges against him to give a setting for his replies.
They charge him as being humble to the point of shyness when he is with them personally, but very bold and dominant when he is out of their sight. 910:1.) He has a most insignificant personality, (10:10) and had no ability at all as a speaker. (10:10; 11:6.) They assert he is inclined to boast unduly about his divine authority. (10:8.) And yet he is not equal to their own apostles in this regard. (11:5.) This is probably an attempt to set Paul.’s authority against that of Peter and James. Also in Galatians it has been seen how those emissaries who came down from Jerusalem from James were so fervent and convincing that they even influenced Peter. They derided him because he did not accept fees or support while preaching the gospel. (12:14, 15.) They thought he did this with some guile in mind. (12:16.) Probably they thought that he purposely supported himself in order to get them to contribute more generously to the fund which he was collecting. This is an implication that he would probably embezzle the collection he was gathering. And he was so inconsistent that he would allow the Macedonian churches to contribute to his support. (11:8, 9.) They could not understand that Paul accepted the money from Macedonia because in a unique way the saints there, particularly those in Philippi, were regarded as intimate friends. He could not hurt them by refusing their friendly donations. Among the more numerous Corinthian saints, though he loved them, too, he felt a need to set an example which could excite no suspicion that he was acting from any base motives. He knew his group, because even this example of altruism caused them to criticize him.
Paul’s answers to the above charges were swift and vigorous. Nowhere does he appear more in anger, not even in Galatians. he does not take time to answer them with a reasoned detailed argument. With sharp biting retorts, ironical sarcasm, bold assertions, which he admits border on extravagant boasting, and an extremely fervent faith in his authority as an apostle, he takes a decisive and resolute stand. Though he admits he does not have polished rhetoric in speech, he claims he has knowledge. And finally, he is so angered and hurt by the many false charges and attacks against his record and authority that he is led to state specifically what he has suffered for the sake of the gospel. he had been inclined to be too modest and had been ignored and insulted as an insignificant person. therefore, he felt constrained to enumerate his sacrifices for the gospel, not on account of any personal vanity, but in order to validate his authority and preaching as divinely commissioned. What he tells about himself is of priceless value as history because most of it had been neglected by Luke in his writing of acts.
“Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool.) I am more; in labours more abundant, ins tripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” (II Cor. 11:22-28.)
Paul also was impressed, though much against his modest inclinations, to back up his authority by visions, revelations, and miracles. These were so highly sacred and personal that he felt even more hesitant in mentioning them than his physical hardships. (12:1-4, 12.) He had had so many wonderful manifestations that god had sent him a severe physical ailment to keep him humble. This is one of the main sources about his description of his “thorn in the flesh” which was so embarrassing to him on his Galatian mission. (12:7-9.)
The above statements reveal that Paul must have had many experiences and made many trips that are nowhere else recorded. There is also a challenge in it for the opposition to offer similar credentials of service for the cause of Christ. He would vindicate his authority by works, not by strong words alone.
However, Paul let the Corinthians feel that his sharp attacks were aimed at issues more than at individual persons. He affirmed in the midst of this angry letter his deep and abiding affection for them. (12:14, 15.) He also informed them of an impending third visit he was going to make in Corinth. He did not go immediately, but sent Titus instead. This approach undoubtedly made him attain more dignity and prestige than if he had dashed there immediately in person. It revealed to them that he had something in reserve should the angry letter and Titus fail. However, he had a most able assistant in Titus who by his own efforts, though backed up by the powerful letter he bore, was able to liquidate the opposition. Paul refers to their common joy and exaltation over their victory when Titus met him in Macedonia. “Therefore, we were comforte4d in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we are for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all … And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him.” (7:13, 15.)
The magnanimity of Paul is strikingly illustrated after he had won the day against his enemies by his recommendation concerning the treatment of the leader of the opposition. Apparently many who had followed this man had turned against him; for he was obviously severely punished by the congregation whom he had sought to lead astray. “Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” (2:6-8.) thus, Paul could not kick a fallen foe, but sought to restore him once more within the Christian fellowship.
The content of the “tender” letter written from Macedonia when he met Titus consists chiefly in Paul’s thanksgiving and joy over his reconciliation with the Corinthians and his plea for the Jerusalem fund. He refers to his former anger, anxiety, the harsh letter, and the dispatching and reunion of Titus. In his deep gratitude and exaltation he expresses some spiritual truths and teachings of great worth besides some further revelation about his own inner mood and feelings. He reaffirms his sincerity of motive in preaching to them. (1:1-4:1.6.) In contrast to the physical sufferings which he listed in the “angry” letter, he reveals in this section some of his inner worries and anxieties which were ever with him. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus … For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (4:8-11.)
Paul’s physical weariness and increasing age have made him more reflective concerning the life hereafter. In his contemplation of that blessed estate, he has given us some lofty and profound teachings relative to his opinions about this ever perplexing mystery.
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven. If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened. Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore, we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (5:1-10.)
Again the matter of his personal sufferings intrudes into the picture as he makes a further listing of them. (6:4-10.) This is much more of the subjective type of experience than the others hitherto mentioned. Immediately after this, he digresses somewhat by giving a vigorous warning against being led into the sins of immorality and idolatry. (6:14-7:1.) Some scholars think they see in this a fragment of the missing letter against immorality to which Paul referred in his first Corinthian letter. (I Cor. 5:9.)
In a doctrinal sense there are quite frequent references to the necessity of being in union with Christ, of being reborn through the Spirit, the superiority of the gospel to the religion of Moses. There are likewise many expressions of Paul’s great affection for these saints whom he almost lost. And finally there are his appeals and arguments in behalf of the fund which he is collecting.
Paul’s versatility as a Christian leader has one more attestation through the skill which he manifested in persuading the Corinthians to contribute liberally to the Jerusalem fund. (Chapters 8, 9.) he makes their donations competitive with those of the Macedonian saints. he would be quite embarrassed if they did not contribute liberally as he had already boasted about their generosity when he was speaking to the Macedonians. He does not command them nor vigorously press them to give, but seeks to have them give from their hearts as well as from their purse. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity. For God loveth a cheerful giver.” (9:7.) He also seeks to show them that their cheerful giving will be a means of cementing the Church together. It will make the Jerusalem saints pray for them and unite them together in Christ. “Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you.” (9:13, 14.)