New Testament Week 36: “Be Ye Reconciled to God.” – 2 Corinthians 1-7

As I have been studying 2 Corinthians, it has struck me just how difficult it was for the early Christian church to grow and flourish with the conditions of the day. Not only was it difficult to communicate quickly and through significant language barriers, but it was also such a new church that there was little policy or doctrinal development to speak of. Many of the doctrines and policies of the church were reactions to questions and problems the people were facing. Then add on top of that the church members were so different from area to area, and within their own group of believers that the policies and questions probably couldn’t cover everything effectively.

Paul understands the plight of the people, though his frustrations with Corinth show in the letter, and so he spends some time explaining the trials he has been through and that we will all go through. This is an effort to help them understand that the removal of trials is not in the cards, but strength, peace, and happiness can exist because of our trials. The only way that is possible, however, is through unity in our suffering. We must look at suffering and trials of others and join with them, and others join with our struggles. This will bring joy in our relationships and the happiness and strength we build will exceed the pain and difficulty of the trials. The gospel is meant to help us unite.

One final thing before the body of the post. I know most people understand the letters are not chronological in the New Testament, but I can’t overstate how much the letters jump back and forth in time and can be severe, even within individual letters. So just remember that things are not flowing in an order that makes sense. Paul was traveling, writing, sending emissaries, during this ten year period and so just keep in mind we are jumping back and forth during that time and so the doctrinal development will not make a lot of chronological sense either.

CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 36 – 2 Corinthians 1-7

– Suffering is part of life, but we can be strengthened and happy even as life is hard.

– Reconciling ourselves with God is key to being an individual and a member of the community of God.

– Godly sorrow is a good feeling for our souls if it does not lead to shame, but to reconciliation.

Context and Timeline:
– Timothy was a native Greek and was an influential member of the church before even meeting Paul. He became one of Paul’s primary missionary companions and later was known as the Bishop of Ephesus until his death in 97 AD.

– Silvanus is the same as Silas and he was a missionary companion of Paul during his first and second missionary journeys.

– Anointing and Sealing is mentioned in the letter and it may have been referring to baptism and anointing of the Holy Ghost, but there is substantial evidence that there were other Christian ordinances where members of the church would be anointed and sealed with oil after their baptisms, echoing Jewish washing and anointing ordinances that happened regarding temple worship.

– Scholars and historians all agree that one of the central themes of both 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians is a conflict between Paul and a single member of the church who was causing serious problems. He was, at the encouragement of Paul, excommunicated at some point and mentioned many times in Paul’s letters. In 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages the members of the church to forgive him and rebuild their relationship with them if they can, but it is clear this person had wounded many, including Paul.

– Paul preferred the title of deacon over apostle because it was a ministering-with-the-people type of calling, not a delivering-a-message-and-leaving type calling. He often wished he could stay in places and continue to minister to the members of the church.

– In 2 Cor 4:4, Paul calls out the “god of this world” and that is the devil which has temple worship illusions.

– Paul mentions that he and his companions knew Christ in the flesh. Some take this to mean Paul’s experience with the resurrected Lord, but it actually seems to mean that some of Paul’s companions could have known him when he was alive.

– Reconcile might better be translated as changing.

– Many scholars believe that the section of the letter, 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, is from a different letter due to the writing style and disjointed nature.

– Belial or Beliar is a word that means worthless or good for nothing.

– Titus was a convert of Paul and later missionary companion. It is believed that Titus was also made Bishop of the church on the island of Crete later in his life.

History around Epistle:
2 Corinthians is a tough epistle to analyze for its history and structure. Many scholars think the letter is actually a few different letters combined into one later by scribes. However, there are just as many who believe it to be one letter, just written off the cuff and in a less organized fashion than typical for Paul. This could be because of the circumstances around the situation in Corinth.

To recap, Paul lived in Corinth for at least 18 months and had tremendous success in building the church. After he left, he wrote a letter (we have no lasting record of the letter) that was not well received by the church. Chloe sent an alarming letter in return, to which Paul replied with what we know as 1 Corinthians. Paul then visited Corinth again during his third missionary journey to help reconcile the situation there. Paul refers to this visit as his “painful visit.” After leaving them, he wrote a third letter (also has not survived) which was delivered by Titus. Some time after the delivery Paul met up with Titus and after receiving a report, Paul sends the letter we know as 2 Corinthians to the church.

The complexity and context of all of the visits and letters makes 2 Corinthians tough to understand. He is likely responding to many different situations where he was there physically, a report from Titus, and communications through letters we do not have.

2 Corinthians is split into 3 Sections:
Chapters 1-7 – Reconciliation and Encouragement
Chapters 8-9 – The Famine and Needs in Judea
Chapters 10-13 – Stern Rebuke and Exhortation

Doctrinal Teachings:

  • Suffering and Forgiveness (Chapter 1-2)
    • One reason we suffer is so we can comfort and help others who will suffer.
    • We all will experience suffering and it can bring us together in unity, but for sure it can help us unify with Christ.
    • Paul apologizes for not visiting, and for being too harsh in one of he previous letters. He loves the people of Corinth and was hurt but wants to be forgiven.
      • He also encourages the people to forgive and strengthen the man who they excommunicated.
    • We need to seek to have forgiveness in our hearts for each other.
  • Covenants Bring Us Power (Chapter 3)
    • Our covenant with Christ gives us power and confidence.
      • The power of the Spirit is not our own, but from our covenant with God.
      • The old covenant with Moses was glorious then, but the new covenant of Christ is what brings the Spirit now.
    • When we turn our hearts and minds to the Lord through the new covenant, the veil is lessened and we can see spiritual things better.
  • We Can Be So Much More (Chapter 4)
    • Our faith cannot be hidden, we need to shine its goodness to the world.
      • The “god of this world” blinds people by making it hard for them to see the good in people and the world.
      • It is the job of the disciple to show the goodness of God as a bright light.
    • We are all treasure that is hidden if we do not declare the grace of Jesus Christ is with us.
      • Feeling grace increases our gratitude and therefore happiness.
      • It helps us maintain our faith and peace of mind during trials because even if our physical world is difficult, our spiritual bodies will be renewed.
      • Our eternal goals are worth focusing on.
  • Trust, Love and Reconciling with God (Chapter 5-6)
    • Our physical bodies were not meant to work perfectly and they will decay, fail, and make life difficult.
      • We walk in our lives by faith in Jesus Christ not only by what we see and experience. Our spiritual bodies are eternal and they can sense the truth and we are accountable for what we become; good or evil.
    • The Love of Jesus Christ encourages us to trust Him. Our sins have been paid for and so we can let our frailties go and focus on helping others find the peace of that message.
    • When we finally join with Christ we can take who we are as individuals and merge that with the gospel to become something greater and more full of joy.
      • Reconciliation is the work we must put in after we have believed and made our covenant to be a partner with Christ.
    • We can truly impact others for the good if we can show them the gospel is worth living. When we accept the grace of Jesus Christ then we can truly go through sorrow yet rejoice, be poor and yet make others rich, have nothing yet have everything.
      • We have to be aware of our relationships with those would tear us down. If we can help build them up then it is worth it, but if we are brought down then it might not be.
  • Plea for Unity (Chapter 7)
    • Godly sorrow is necessary at times so we feel the need to change. Paul seeks to reconcile and become unified after his words caused the Corinthians pain, but if it made them change then he feels it was worth it.
      • Making others feel guilt and shame is not the same as encouraging them to see what they are missing and could have if they were willing to reconsider their way. It can be done in love and compassion, but it takes effort.
      • We all can benefit from being called out and humility is one of the key paths to finding happiness.
    • It is key that we unify with each other after conflict, even conflict that leads to good. We must always seek to be one with each other.

Key Moment or Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Like so many other ideas, individuality is a double edged sword. There is a conflict between being true to ourselves, Paul explained it as being different parts of the body, and being willing to reconcile ourselves with God and become new creatures in Christ. So how do we do that?

I have thought about this quite a lot over the past few years, as more and more people I know feel dissonance with their faith because they feel like they cannot be themselves. In my opinion, reconciliation is the key to solving this dilemma and in order to reconcile I think we have to truly understand the forces pulling at us.

The first force is what I like to call the “god of self”, there is a huge pull in our modern society to emphasize the power of our individuality, or own power, our self image, our freedom from expectations, and our own desires. This force is seductive and plays on truth (who we are is unique, important, and worth celebrating and building) to lead us down a path, that if taken to the far, ends with emptiness, depression and distance from Jesus Christ.

The second force is the force of conformity within our families and the church. This force is called “the tradition of our fathers” and is also a path that uses truth (the law is safe, the gospel is the “better way”, and covenants matter) to lead us into becoming mindless creatures who do and be whatever we think everyone within the church thinks we should be. This path also leads to emptiness, shame, and a hollow relationship with Christ built upon a poor foundation.

Reconciliation is the process of exploring who we are as an individual with different strengths, ideas, experiences, and goals with a desire to bring those things into the Body of Christ and use them to help ourselves and others become closer to Jesus Christ. To understand that without our unique nature the Body is missing something, and others like us or not like us are missing opportunities to learn and love.

Reconciliation requires tension and effort because it requires us to feel uneasy. We need to sense that something is amiss and spend the time in prayer, fasting, and meditation thinking about who we are and what we can do to be closer to Jesus Christ. It requires humility and trust because we can’t let our own opinions and desires cloud out the potential that we could be wrong and there could be a better way. It also can put a wedge between us and others who could make us more than we are. Finally, it requires conviction and faith because there will be times when people don’t think we are right and try to guilt us into something that would be contrary to who we are and who we believe God wants us to be. We can continue on our path with faith that God has our back if we have done the work of reconciliation.

When Paul says we become new people in Christ, we are just becoming a partner with Him. Marrying our uniqueness with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are both essential and I believe that our effort to reconcile is what brings us more confidence, strength, love, acceptance, and happiness.

Final Thoughts:
In about a month I will be going on vacation to Italy with my family. I will be gone quite a bit around that time as well so I will be combining a number of discussions into one post on Oct. 6th. I will be combining Philipians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon into one longer discussion. The post will be pretty long and will have a lot of historical context and doctrinal discussion, but I will try to keep the individual parts brief so it can be helpful but not too long.