Second Corinthians is a letter written by Paul to the church in Corinth during a tense period in his relationship with the church.

After Paul helped establish the church in Corinth and left to plant other churches, he received a report that the Corinthian church had problems such as division among church members, sexual immorality and disorder in worship services. So, Paul wrote a letter (First Corinthians) addressing these problems with the truth of the Gospel.

We learn in the beginning of Second Corinthians that the Corinthians did not readily receive Paul’s letter well. In fact, many people in the church rejected him and his teaching. So, Paul followed up with the Corinthian church in person, which he describes in 2 Corinthians 2:1 as a “painful visit.” He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 and 7:8-12 that after his visit, he wrote another letter, to which most of the Corinthians responded with an apology and asked for reconciliation.

Paul writes Second Corinthians to reassure the church members of his love for and commitment to them and to remind them of the sacrificial nature of following Christ and the paradoxical power of the cross.

In chapters 1-7, Paul finalizes his reconciliation with the Corinthian church and confirms himself as a messenger from God to the church. He praises “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3) for comforting him and the church during this difficult time, and for being the God who forgives the sinner and empowers the Christian to live a life that shares the light and life of Christ with the world.

He also reminds the church that the Christian life is not about promoting ourselves and being great in our own eyes, but about humbly and sacrificially following Christ and pointing others to Him. This life is not all there is—and that should be cause for great hope and perseverance (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

In chapters 8-9, Paul explains that because of Jesus’ generous grace and mercy on the cross, those who follow Christ are to model a life of generosity.

In chapters 10-13, Paul addresses those in the church who still don’t believe in the validity of Paul’s authority and ministry. He reminds the church that it’s not his personal accomplishments and abilities—the “surface things” (2 Corinthians 10:7)—that make him a minister for Christ, but rather his weakness, in which Christ works most powerfully and effectively to display His glory.

The book ends in chapter 13 with a challenge for church members to examine themselves to see if, in light of the grace and mercy of the cross, they are really following Jesus.

THEMES

A cruciform life: First Corinthians looks at life through the lens of Christ’s resurrection, but Second Corinthians looks at life through the lens of Christ’s crucifixion. Paul explains that by laying down our lives—our agendas, our expectations, our abilities—and following Jesus’ example of humility, sacrifice, radical generosity, dependence on God in our weakness and extravagant love for others, God’s glory is made known throughout the world.

KEY PASSAGES

2 Corinthians 1:20-22

2 Corinthians 4:5-18

2 Corinthians 5:14-21

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?

Second Corinthians is a more personal glimpse into Paul’s role as a leader in the early church. Paul explains that leadership in God’s church is not based on merit or special ability or knowledge, but on humble obedience to Christ and sacrificial love and generosity to others.

Just as Jesus was most glorified in His death, followers of Jesus bring most glory to God when they live a life that imitates the humility, suffering and sacrifice of the cross.

Second Corinthians also shows the reality of brokenness within the church. Although the church is a body of transformed Jesus-followers, the world in which we live is still sinful. No church is perfect, and all people have flaws and weaknesses, but by the grace of God through His son Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is able to bring the Gospel of salvation to the whole world.