“We Will Live with Him Because of the Power of God toward You” – Introduction to 2 Corinthians

Written on: June 1, 2024

Article by: Paul Birston

God’s Power in Jesus Christ and His Gospel

The list of problems within the church in Corinth is among the longest of any New Testament congregation: division, favouritism, fascination with fame and flattering and deceptive speech (sophistry), worldly mindedness, immaturity, incest, lawsuits between brethren, fraud, sexual immorality, marriage and divorce, lingering dangers of idolatry, socio-economic class disparity, misunderstanding and misuse of the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts and worship, the resurrection, stewardship of the service (collection) for the church in Jerusalem, missing God’s purposes for them all to engage in the ministry of reconciliation, and on top of it all, opposing God’s inspired Apostle whose love for them is pure and supremely sacrificial.

To answer this litany of egregious issues, God gives the Corinthians among the most powerful, memorable and encouraging eternal truths to live by. Through the letters and personal exchanges between Paul and the Corinthians, God gives answers to these timeless human problems, all of which are still present with us today, by one of Paul’s clearest expositions of the power of the gospel of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

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Paul frames these two letters beginning and ending them by emphasising the source of God’s power to overcome:

A) from the beginning of 1 Corinthians 1:18 and, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God….we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,” and

B) from the ending of 2 Corinthians 13:4, For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.

In the centre of the 29 chapters of his Corinthians letters Paul so clearly articulates the gospel, the good message, which redeems the Corinthians from sin and is the foundation of the solutions to all their problems: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3–5).

Paul further amplifies the significance of God’s work in Christ for the Corinthians when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!”

The vice list of moral problems Paul identifies in Corinth includes: fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminate behaviour, homosexuality, theft, coveting, drunkenness, revelry, swindling. The power of God in Jesus to deliver is evident in transforming many who engaged in these vices: “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Old and New Corinth

The Roman consul Lucius Mummius Achaicus destroyed the ancient Greek city of Corinth in 146 BC. He killed most of the men and sold the women and children as slaves. The Romans kept the city desolate for ca. 100 years. Shortly before his assassination in 44 BC, Julius Caesar re-established Corinth as a Roman colony. He even began to cut a canal through the stone of the narrow isthmus between Corinth and the mainland that separates the major shipping routes in the Saronic Gulf to the east and the Gulf of Corinth to the west to eliminate the need for portages. (The canal was finally completed and opened ca. 1,938 years later in AD 1893). In 29 BC Corinth became the seat of the proconsul and capital of Achaia.

Rome repopulated Corinth with people from across the empire, including retired soldiers, freedmen from Rome, and slaves from Egypt, Syria, Judea and others. Jews and native Greeks were present. Asian and Egyptian mystery cults attracted members in Corinth.

Roman law, political structure, institutions and culture dominated. As a prosperous Roman capital, a building boom in the reigns of Augustus (27 BC – AD 14) and Nero (54–68) changed the physical face of Corinth. Some ancient Greek Temples remained on Corinth’s Acropolis and at the lower level of the city proper. As a major centre of transportation and trade, including the slave trade, the new Corinth was an “aristocracy of wealth” vs. the preeminence of Athens’ Greek gods, culture and philosophy.

Corinth overtook control of the Isthmian Games which attracted great crowds. Events included a festival honouring the sea god Poseidon. The city attracted sophists arguing with one another, writers, poets, jugglers, fortune-tellers, and peddlers.

Many Corinthians had a sophisticated and enthusiastic appetite for sophistry, eloquent impressive but deceptive speech. Sophists were paid three ways: by their patrons, by their students or listener donations. This is one reason Paul didn’t accept financial support from the Corinthians. Wealth and patronage of sophistry were influences under girding social disparity in the church and the boldness of some to engage in opposing Paul.

In 2 Corinthians we see Paul’s passion for the Corinthians and their salvation regardless of the opposition or personal cost to himself. Though he has no need to justify himself before God, Paul defends his Apostleship to them for their sake because he knows they must ultimately obey God and live by the truths He gives them by Paul’s authority and ministry in order to be saved.

Structure and Significant Themes

In 1 Corinthians Paul sequentially works through major issues the Corinthians raise through verbal reports and their own writing. The gospel answers them all. In 2 Corinthians Paul focuses on the additional major issues of 1) his relationships with all the Corinthians, obedient, repentant and opposing, and 2) the eternal importance of the work of ministry, both his and theirs.

He commands them to “be reconciled to God” (5:20) and to engage in the ministry of reconciliation God has given His people. This command for Christians in Corinth to be reconciled to God is an amazing statement considering they should already be reconciled to God upon their immersion into Christ. But they have further need of repentance to restore their relationship to God, Paul and one another. Then, to move forward living and teaching the gospel to those outside Christ so they too may be reconciled to God and become new creations in Him on the basis of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and blood of the New Covenant.

Four major sections of Paul’s commands and appeals include:

1–7 Thanksgiving for the God of Comfort and His Deliverance by Their Prayers and God’s Eternal Work in Christ and Paul’s Defence of His Ministry

8–9 The Gracious Service for God’s Holy Ones in Jerusalem (“Collection”)

10–13 Paul’s Defence of His Apostleship in Preparation for His Next Visit

Several of Paul’s challenging and encouraging themes include:

1:1–7 The Father of Mercies and God of All Comfort

1:8–11 Helping Us through Your Prayers

3:1–4:6 The Ministry of Righteousness in Glory

3:17–18 Liberty and Transformation in God’s Image by the Lord Who Is the Spirit

4:7–18 The Gospel Treasure in Earthen Vessels

5:1–21 The Ministry of Reconciliation and New Creations in Christ

6:1–10 Now Is the Day of Salvation

8–9 The Gracious Ministry to the Holy Ones in Jerusalem. (Paul focuses primarily on the purpose of this collection to help other Christians in Jerusalem vs. its process)

10:1–5 Taking Every Thought Captive to the Obedience of Christ

11–12 The Signs of a True Apostle

13:1–6 We Will Live with Him Because of the Power of God toward You

We are grateful to Kevin, Brian, Roy, Jean and Dave for their important contributions toward our understanding of these important themes and more from 2 Corinthians.

We Will Live with Him Because of the Power of God toward You” (13:4).

Golden, BC