Paul established a relationship with the Corinthian church during his second missionary journey. The church drifted from Jesus’ teaching and engaged in sexual sin. Hearing of this, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to them, which they neglected. This required a “painful visit” from Paul (2 Corinthians 2:1). Though they were personally confronted, the Corinthians ignored Paul’s instruction, so Paul wrote a “severe letter” (2 Corinthians 2:4; 7:8-9), which we do not have today. This letter positively affected the Corinthian church. Many of them turned from their sin back to Jesus. In response to their repentance, Paul wrote another letter, which we call 2 Corinthians, to remind the church of his love and care for them, and of God’s grace towards them.
Paul aims for two things in this letter—first to comfort the Corinthians, and second to encourage them away from the false teachers that caused trouble in the beginning.
Second Corinthians is all about Christian ministry, or how Christians interact with the world and with each other. False teachers had come into the church offering a different vision of Christian ministry—one that was hierarchical, arrogant, and self-seeking. These “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11 ESV) had an impressive resume (2 Corinthians 3:1) and regularly boasted about it. They were proud of their abilities and believed God was on their side because they were so “gifted.” Of course, these teachers desired compensation for their gifts. Because of their skill in speaking, they required payment from the Corinthians for their ministry to them! The Corinthians, content with these teachers, were beginning to see strength, power, and worldly success as the hallmark of the Christian life. Paul was worried for the church, that they would be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” (2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV) and instead become devoted to personalities.
The Christian life, then, is not about our strength and power, but how God displays his strength and power through our weakness.
Paul made an example of himself to show how God works through human frailty and weakness. Paul was not like these “Super Apostles.” He had plenty of troubles. At times he “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8 ESV). He was “afflicted in every way,” “persecuted,” and “struck down” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Paul also confesses he had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) some ailment, or grief that weakened him. Yet through this affliction, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).
The Christian life, then, is not about our strength and power, but how God displays his strength and power through our weakness. Rather than boasting in credentials, Paul says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV). Human weakness glorifies God, because our weakness is an opportunity to put Christ’s strength and glory on display, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV).
Second Corinthians challenges our notions of what it means to be “great.” It challenges our definition of success. The “Super Apostles” thought being great meant being qualified, impressive, and eloquent. Paul helps us to see that being great means being a humble suffering servant like Jesus, which is much harder than being qualified, impressive, or intelligent.
Paul exhorts us in 2 Corinthians to make peace with our weakness. At the same time, Paul litters his letter with hope. We can be content with weakness, knowing that weakness is not the final word of the Christian life. We serve a resurrected Lord and Savior, who is renewing us inwardly and strengthening us by his Spirit.
Have you made peace with your weaknesses? Read this amazing book to discover how God encourages and equips his servants despite their weakness.