About the Author
J. I. Packer (1926–2020) served as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He authored numerous books, including the classic best seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.
Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Naperville, Illinois.
Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is CEO of Crossway, formerly called Good News Publishers. Before joining Good News Publishers in 1974, he served as a pastor in campus ministry at the University of Michigan (Sault Ste. Marie) and as the managing director of Verlag Grosse Freude in Switzerland. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dennis has served as the chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the executive editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
"When I am weak, then I am strong," says Paul the apostle (2 Cor. 12:10). This is the high point of 2 Corinthians, Paul's final letter to the church at Corinth. It is also the pervasive theme of the letter. God turns upside down our intuitive expectations of how the world works.
Throughout this letter Paul upends the natural Corinthian outlook on life, which is simply the natural universal outlook on life — that the way to joy and comfort and satisfaction is to put oneself forward, be impressive, throw one's weight around, exercise power and authority, have one's needs met. Paul confronts this deeply embedded natural outlook with a theology of the cross, in which serving the needs of others, even at great pain to ourselves, is the path to joy. Just as Jesus taught that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die before it bears fruit (John 12:24–25), so this paradoxical truth is the pervasive and unifying theme of 2 Corinthians — a theme rooted in Jesus' own experience of life through death and strength through weakness (2 Cor. 13:4).
This letter confronts each of us with the logic of the gospel, a logic that defies our natural inbred intuitions about the way to be happy. In our weakness, we discover the surprising power of God. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 2219–2222; available online at www.esvbible.org.)
Placing It in the Larger Story
Jesus Christ has come in the flesh at the climax of human history. Paul the apostle has been chosen by the Lord to be a key player in proclaiming Christ and his gospel to the world. After planting churches around the Mediterranean world, Paul writes letters back to these churches to strengthen them in their discipleship. The church at Corinth was particularly troubled, being tempted by false apostles to believe that Paul's weakness and sufferings proved he was a fake. Paul reminds the Corinthians of what has been true throughout redemptive history: it is regularly the weak, the outsider, the crucified, through whom God powerfully works in the world.
"He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9)
Date and Historical Background
As he wrote 2 Corinthians in AD 55/56, Paul had visited Corinth in recent months in what he describes in this letter as a "painful visit" (2 Cor. 2:1). Apparently, the Corinthian church had been largely hostile and demeaning toward Paul due to his general unimpressiveness in appearance and speech. Paul decided to give the church some space, so instead of an immediate visit he wrote them an anguished and tearful letter (2:3–4), which was then brought to them by Titus. This letter, written after 1 Corinthians but before 2 Corinthians, is now lost.
Titus reported back to Paul that much of the Corinthian church did indeed repent and again embrace Paul's authority (2 Cor. 7:5–16), though the sharp words throughout 2 Corinthians indicate there was a vocal minority still rejecting Paul. Perhaps Paul also feared that this minority would influence others in the church to join them against Paul.
All this explains the contorted nature of Paul's tone throughout 2 Corinthians — at times comforting his readers like a tender father, while at other times stringently attacking his accusers and defending his apostolic authenticity. Paul loves the Corinthians and wants them to see the power and glory of a gospel that humbles the powerful while strengthening the weak.
I. Paul's Defense of His Legitimacy as an Apostle (1:1–7:16)
A. Salutation (1:1–2)
B. Introduction (1:3–11)
C. Paul's boast (1:12–2:17)
1. Content of Paul's boast (1:12–14)
2. Reason for Paul's first change of plans (1:15–22)
3. Reason for Paul's second change of plans (1:23–2:4)
4. Application of Paul's example to the Corinthians (2:5–11)
5. Paul's visit to Troas and Macedonia (2:12–17)
D. Paul's ministry of the new covenant as a ministry of the Spirit (3:1–18)
1. Reality of the Spirit in Paul's ministry (3:1–6)
2. Paul's interpretation of Exodus 32–34 (3:7–11)
3. Paul's application of Exodus 32–34 to his own situation (3:12–18)
E. Paul's encouragement in his ministry (4:1–6:13)
1. New covenant dawning of the new creation (4:1–6)
2. New covenant power of the resurrection (4:7–18)
3. New covenant motivation for the life of faith (5:1–10)
4. New covenant ministry of reconciliation (5:11–6:2)
5. New covenant support for the legitimacy of Paul's ministry (6:3–13)
F. Paul's call for church discipline as an expression of repentance (6:14–7:1)
G. Paul's joy over the repentant Corinthians (7:2–16)
II. Paul's Appeal to the Repentant Church in Corinth Regarding the Collection (8:1–9:15)
A. Collection as the grace of God (8:1–15)
B. Commendation of Titus and the brothers (8:16–9:5)
C. Generosity, joy, and the glory of God (9:6–15)
III. Paul's Appeal to the Rebellious Minority in Corinth (10:1–13:10)
A. Paul's defense of his humility as an apostle (10:1–11)
B. Paul's defense of his authority as an apostle (10:12–18)
C. Paul's defense of his boasting like a fool (11:1–21a)
D. Paul's boast in his service and suffering (11:21b–33)
E. Paul's boast in his heavenly vision and subsequent weakness (12:1–13)
F. Paul's final defense and appeal to the rebellious (12:14–13:10)
IV. Closing Greetings (13:11–14)
As You Get Started
Do you have a sense at the outset of this study of any specific emphases of 2 Corinthians? Without using your Bible, do any particular passages from 2 Corinthians come to mind? Has this letter already been meaningful to your own walk with the Lord in any specific ways?
What is your current understanding of what 2 Corinthians contributes to Christian theology? That is, how does this letter clarify your understanding of God, Jesus Christ, sin, salvation, the end times, or other doctrines?
What aspects of the epistle of 2 Corinthians have confused you? Are there any specific questions you hope to have answered through this study?
As You Finish This Unit ...
Take a few minutes to ask God to bless you with increased understanding and a transformed heart and life as you begin this study of 2 Corinthians.
1 Apostle – Means "one who is sent" and refers to one who is an official representative of another. In the NT, refers specifically to those whom Jesus chose to represent him.
2 Redemptive history – A view of human history that observes the way God has graciously steered events and entered into our space and time repeatedly down through the centuries, culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ.
3 Epistle – Basically the same as "letter." A literary form common in NT times. Epistles typically included: (1) statement of author and recipient; (2) brief greetings and expressions of thanks; (3) the body of the letter; (4) personal greetings and signature; and (5) a closing doxology or blessing. Twenty-one books of the NT are epistles.CHAPTER 2
The Strange Path Of Comfort
2 Corinthians 1:1–11
The Place of the Passage
Paul opens his letter by introducing himself as an apostle and then immediately teaching the Corinthians about the nature of true comfort. Unlike every other Pauline letter, Paul begins not by addressing the readers directly (usually with thanksgiving) but by speaking about God. Right from the start of this letter, Paul draws the Corinthians' eyes to the source of true comfort: God himself. And this comfort is experienced most profoundly in the midst of our own perplexities and trials.
The Big Picture
Second Corinthians 1:1–11 drives home the paradoxical nature of true comfort — those in Christ experience comfort not by avoiding but by going through affliction.
Reflection and Discussion
Read through the complete passage for this study, 2 Corinthians 1:1–11. Then review the questions below concerning this introductory section to 2 Corinthians and write your notes on them. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 2223–2224; available online at www.esvbible.org.)
1. Greeting (1:1–2)
Paul opens his letter by immediately designating himself as an apostle, literally "one who is sent." Skim through 2 Corinthians and note places where Paul returns to the theme of his legitimacy as a true apostle. What appears to have been the problem Paul is addressing regarding his own apostleship?
What does it mean for Paul to call the Christians of Achaia (the region in which Corinth was located) "saints" (1:1)? Are you a saint? Why or why not?
"Grace to you and peace" (v. 2). With the exception of Galatians, Paul begins all his letters this way. Notice the wordplay used here, as explained in the ESV Study Bible notes. Why is grace the note on which Paul begins his letters? What does this remind us about concerning the Christian faith?
2. Comfort through Affliction (1:3–11)
Reflect on Paul's description of God the Father in verse 3. Consider your own life from this past week or so. Has God (as described in this verse) been real to you? Consider the calm that would descend into our generally frenetic lives if we were to walk with such a God and know him as such. Jot down a few thoughts for future reflection.
The Bible is not naive but utterly realistic. Notice this passage's honesty about the difficulties of life. According to verses 4 and 6, why do we experience affliction?
What does it mean to "share ... in Christ's sufferings" (v. 5)? Does it mean Christ's sufferings were not enough to atone for our sin, so we need to help with our own suffering? Along with the ESV Study Bible note on this verse, consider also Philippians 3:8–11.
How would you put the message of 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 in your own words? Is this a familiar way to think about Christian discipleship in your own life and mind?
We can't be certain of the exact circumstances Paul is describing in verse 8, but we don't need to know exactly what he is referring to. The point is the purpose and result of this terrible experience. What, according to verse 9, is that purpose and result? What "death"-like experiences have you experienced in your past, or might you experience in your future, that make this verse a solid rock of hope and comfort?
How does Paul integrate Christian prayer into his delivery from death (v. 11)?
Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider the Personal Implications these sections may have for you.
GRACE AND PEACE. This is the note on which the letter opens. The point of Christianity, according to Paul, is not to tell us to try harder or dig deeper or get more radical or obey better. There is a place for such exhortations. But the point, above all else, is to bring a word of comfort to the destitute, a word of grace to the sinful, a word of peace to the hostile. If the gospel has only one thing to say, this is it: grace to you. Be calmed. Be at rest. In Christ, the friend of sinners, there is grace for you.
COMFORT IN CHRIST. In fortifying the Corinthians through all their afflictions, Paul speaks of the comfort "we ourselves" have received from God (2 Cor. 1:4) and experience through Christ (v. 5). The gospel has a clear, objective, black-and-white side to it, in which sinners are pardoned once and for all. But the gospel has also a subjective, felt side to it: comfort. In Christ, not only are we forgiven; we are comforted. The miseries of this fallen world, horrific or unbearable as they often are, can be borne, for we walk with Christ, the Savior sent from the God of all comfort. Making this happen is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who now dwells within believers (see also John 14:25–27).
AFFLICTION. In Eden, God and his people dwelt in happy fellowship. Sin had not come. Affliction was nonexistent. With the fall into sin, affliction and suffering began their long and sad history in this world. And God's own people are not immune to them. The book of Exodus, for example, shows the unique afflictions God's people often have. While not all affliction is a direct result of specific sins, sin in general is indeed the reason there is affliction in the world. The ultimate affliction is hell — which, for believers, Christ has borne in their place. One day, therefore, we will live in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), where no affliction will ever touch us. In the meantime, it is often through affliction that we are brought into true and close dependence on Christ.
GOD'S FATHERHOOD. Paul speaks of the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 1:3). Christian orthodoxy teaches that Christ is the eternal Son of the Father. The Son was never created (contrary to what Arius and his followers taught in the early centuries of the church). Father and Son have existed in eternal, perfect fellowship. The marvel of history is that this Son took on flesh and entered into this fallen world so that we, too, could call God "Father," being adopted into God's family through the atoning work of Christ on our behalf. This is why Paul can call God "our Father" in verse 2 and the "Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" in verse 3.
UNION WITH CHRIST. Paul speaks of sharing in Christ's sufferings in verse 5. What does this mean? We can make sense of what Paul is saying only if we understand that Christians not only trust in Christ but are vitally united to him by the Holy Spirit. Paul explains this more fully elsewhere, where he speaks of sharing not only in Christ's sufferings but also in his death and resurrection (e.g., Rom. 6:1–6; Phil. 3:10–11). More fundamental to a Christian's identity than any other aspect of salvation is our union with Christ.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knowing the Bible: 2 Corinthians, A 12-Week Study"
Copyright © 2016 Crossway.
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Table of Contents
Series Preface J. I. Packer Lane T. Dennis 6
Week 1 Overview 7
Week 2 The Strange Path of Comfort (1:1-11) 11
Week 3 Paul's Pastoral Strategy (1:12-2:17) 19
Week 4 The New Covenant (3:1-18) 27
Week 5 Life through Death (4:1-18) 35
Week 6 Reconciliation with God (5:1-21) 43
Week 7 True Relationships and True Repentance (6:1-7:16) 51
Week 8 Where Real Generosity Comes Prom (8:1-9:15) 59
Week 9 True versus False Leadership (10:1-11:15) 67
Week 10 Strength through Weakness (11:16-12:10) 75
Week 11 A Final Pastoral Plea (12:11-13:14) 83
Week 12 Summary and Conclusion 91
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