Background Information; Paul and Timothy Wrote This Letter To Messiah’s Community In Corinth And God’s Holy People In Achaia; Praising God For Overcoming Troubles
Today we are starting a new book of the Bible, actually a letter, known as 2 Corinthians. To better understand Rabbi Paul’s second letter to Messiah’s Community in Corinth, it’s helpful to know some background, and the background I’m about to give is taken from David Woodall’s Introduction to 2 Corinthians in The Moody Bible Commentary.
First and Second Corinthians must be understood in light of a historical background that includes three visits to Corinth, four letters to the community and three travel plans.
Paul’s initial visit to Corinth during his second missionary journey lasted 18 months (Acts 18:1-18, the fall of AD 50 to the spring of AD 52). On his third missionary journey, Paul ministered in Ephesus for two years (Acts 19:8-10). During this time, Paul received both written and oral reports concerning problems in the Corinthian community.
He responded to the problems by writing two letters, the first letter which we no longer have, is mentioned in First Corinthians 5:9-11; and a second letter – what we know as First Corinthians.
In First Corinthians, Paul announced his future travel plans: he would travel through Macedonia and then spend some time with them (see 1 Corinthians 16:5-9). This plan never materialized because, after Timothy visited Corinth, he informed Paul that the divisions in the community had gotten worse. The faction who opposed Paul was growing in influence. This motivated Paul to change his plans and visit them immediately, with the hope of going on to Macedonia and returning to Corinth so that they might have the benefit of two visits (1:15-16).
But this visit was a disaster. It was a painful visit (2:1) where Paul experienced personal attacks (2:5-10, 7:12) from opponents in the community while the rest of the community provided little support. Changing his plan again, Paul returned to Ephesus.
Let me say a word about leaders being opposed. In a fallen world that is lead by rebellious fallen angels, rebellion against authority is a reality. Leaders are frequently opposed, even good leaders, even great leaders.
It happens among animals. Younger males challenge the dominate male of the group for leadership of the group.
It happens among humans. Children oppose their parents – hence the need for the commandment: honor your father and mother.
It happens in corporations. Someone doesn’t like their boss or wants his position and goes about undermining him.
It happens in the military. Someone dislikes a superior officer and stirs others up against him. Mutinies happen.
It happens with government. Someone doesn’t like his governmental leader or his government and rebels. A couple of examples: Korah organized a rebellion against Aaron and Moses, Moses being one of the greatest leaders who ever lived. Absalom rebelled against his father, king David, a man after God’s own heart, and one of the greatest leaders who ever lived. Tamar, a daughter of David, was raped by her half-brother, prince Amnon. Two years later, prince Absalom, the full-brother of Tamar, killed Amnon and fled into exile. After three years he was allowed to return, but was not allowed to see his father for another two years. Because of these events, Absalom resented his father and decided to lead a rebellion against him.
Here’s how he did it: Absalom was a wealthy prince and used his money to make himself look important. He provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him. Then he intercepted the people who were going to the king to get help with their problem, and undermined the king by telling them that the king didn’t care about them, and he did. “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.” “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.”
Along with his seductive words, Absalom took hold of them and kissed them, showing how much he loved them. But these kind gestures were part of a scheme to steal the hearts of the people – to take for himself the loyalty and devotion that rightfully should have gone to the king. Then, after he stole their hearts, Absalom started a devastating rebellion against King David which divided and destabilized the nation. Absalom was defeated in battle, and was killed along with 20,000 others.
Because of this inclination to rebel against government, Rabbi Paul writes: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
And regrettably, opposition to leaders, even good leaders, even great leaders, happens in Messiah’s Community. For various reasons, someone doesn’t like a spiritual leader and stirs up others in order to remove him from his position and replace him with himself or someone of his choosing. That happened to Paul – one of the greatest spiritual leaders who ever lived. Paul was an apostle, a representative of the Son of God who had the highest spiritual authority. And, Paul was the founding father of the community in Corinth.
In spite of these very strong reasons to be loyal to Paul, there was a man in the Corinthian Community who stirred up opposition in order to remove Paul from leadership in the community. Opposition to leadership – good leadership, even great leadership, happens even in Messiah’s Community.
Paul had been experiencing much opposition and great danger from non-believers in Ephesus and other parts of that region. To travel to Corinth and experience even more opposition from the community he founded left him feeling great distress and sorrow.
Paul returned to Ephesus and wrote a severe letter to the Corinthians and sent it to them by Titus. This letter has also has been lost to us. The purpose of this severe letter was to communicate his love for the Corinthians, urge the people to repent, and demand the punishment of the leader of the opposition who opposed Paul (2:5-8; 7:8-12).
Desiring to know the Corinthian’s response to the letter, Paul traveled to Troas and eventually to Macedonia (2:12-13) in search of Titus. When he finally found him, there was rejoicing (2:14). The ringleader had repented and most of the Corinthians were now favorable toward Paul (7:5-7, 11). Paul then wrote another letter to the Corinthians, what is known as Second Corinthians. Second Corinthians was written around 55 AD.
This letter begins by introducing those who wrote it. Paul, an apostle of Messiah Yeshua by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. An apostle is an emissary; a representative; someone who is sent to represent the one who is sending him. Paul was a representative of Messiah Yeshua who was sent by Messiah Yeshua to represent Messiah Yeshua.
Paul was not a self-appointed apostle. His leadership did not originate from his will. God was the One who willed Paul to be an apostle. Paul became an apostle by the will of God – and the will of God must not be opposed.
As someone who became a representative of Messiah Yeshua by the will of God, the apostle Paul had the highest spiritual authority. He and his writings were and are to be respected, believed and obeyed.
Paul was not the sole author of this letter. It was co-authored by Timothy, another great Messianic Jewish leader. When Paul met him, Timothy was a young follower of Messiah, but respected by those who knew him. Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Paul wanted Timothy to join his evangelistic team, and wanted his Jewish identity affirmed, so he had Timothy circumcised. Timothy faithfully worked for Paul and with Paul. Two of Paul’s letters were written to Timothy. Timothy co-authored several of Paul’s letters, including this one.
This letter continues by identifying those to whom it was written. To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: This letter was written to the church of God. A church is a community of people called out of a dying world, and called to live with God in an eternal world. The church of God in Corinth was the church of God. It was a community created by God. It was a community redeemed by God. It was a community that belonged to God. It was a community that was exceedingly precious to God. It was a community that will live forever with God. Why would anyone not want to be part of the church of God?
This letter was written to God’s community in Corinth. Corinth was a port city in Achaia (Greece). It was a prosperous commercial center. And it was known for being a center of sexual immorality. Paul and his team started God’s community in Corinth on his second missionary journey. After arriving in Corinth, Paul met Aquila and his wife, Priscilla. Aquila was a Messianic Jew, and Priscilla probably was too. Paul lived and worked with them and taught at the synagogue until opposition forced him to move next door, to the house of Titius Justus. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half. During that time, Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and all his household, believed in the Lord; and many Corinthians came to faith.
When Paul wrote this letter, the community was about five years old. It was made up of Jewish people and peoples from the nations. The community had been blessed with great teachers and many spiritual gifts. It was also a community which had serious problems. However, when this letter was written, the people had responded to the corrections given to them by Paul in his letters – and that was a great thing.
This letter was primarily addressed to God’s community in Corinth, but it was also addressed to all of God’s holy people in Achaia (think Greece). It was intended to benefit all of God’s holy people in that important area. They are called “holy people” – not because Christians and Messianic Jews live perfectly holy lives all the time – we don’t, but because God has set us apart for special and very good purposes; and because the Holy Spirit of the Holy God lives in us and helps us live in a way that is characterized by holiness. Those who are called God’s holy people are expected to live like holy people. Are you?
Next comes a prayer – one of my favorite kinds of prayer – a short and sweet one. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Grace is something good that happens that is unmerited, undeserved, unearned. The truth is that we are sinners who deserve punishment and death. But God is gracious and wants to give us many good things don’t deserve. Paul and Timothy prayed for grace. Along with grace, Paul and Timothy prayed that they would receive peace. Peace is wholeness, completeness, integrity. Since human beings are very damaged, very broken and very fractured, we need peace.
Grace and peace are fantastic things, great things, beneficial things, things that we desperately need. Let’s learn from Paul and Timothy, and pray frequently for ourselves and for our fellow Messianic Jews and Christians everywhere, that God would bless us and them with grace and peace.
Notice that Paul and Timothy ask two separate, distinct persons – God the Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah – to bless the Corinthians and all of Messiah’s followers in Achaia with grace and peace.
The Father is a distinct and separate person from the Son. The Son is a distinct and separate person from the Father. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Father.
The Father is a person – with mind, emotion and will. The Son is a person – with mind, emotion and will.
The Father is an eternal person. He always was an eternal person. The Son is an eternal person. He was always an eternal person – and always in the position of Son to the Father.
The Son is not a mode or a way that God reveals Himself. The Father is not a mode or a way that God manifests Himself. God the Father, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and the Holy Spirit are not modes or manifestations, but persons. The teaching that there is one God who manifests Himself in three ways or three modes, but is not three distinct and separate and eternal persons, is an old heresy called Modalism. Anyone who does not teach “God in three persons” is in serious error and should be avoided.
Paul and his team had experienced tremendous opposition, even deadly opposition from adversaries in Ephesus and elsewhere. And they had experienced disheartening opposition from people in Messiah’s Community in Corinth. But God had helped them overcome the opposition. It was right to thank God and use their experience of victory to encourage others. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Note that Paul and Timothy direct their praise to God the Father, and that He is superior in authority to God the Son. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Even though the Father and Son share the same divine nature, the Father is superior to the Son in authority. He is the God of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. The title, “The God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” reveals the Father’s superior authority. And just as a human father has greater authority than his son, the title “the Father of the Lord Yeshua of Messiah” also reveals the Father’s superior authority.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. Let’s talk about troubles. In some ways, those who are saved will experience fewer troubles in life. Why? There are many troubles which are avoidable. There are troubles that result from not ending our part in the great rebellion against God. There are troubles that result from disregarding the wise teachings found in the Word of God. Those who end their rebellion against God and are obedient to His Word should not make many of the same foolish mistakes, which create troubles, as those who rebel against God and His Word.
However, the followers of Messiah will experience other kinds of troubles, troubles that the world will not experience. Messiah told us that following Him means taking up our cross. Taking up our cross means trouble. Those who follow Messiah will experience the opposition of a world that is in rebellion against God. The world hated Messiah and the world will hate us. The servant should expect to be treated the same, or worse, than his master.
God does not promise to eliminate troubles from our lives. He promises to help us through our troubles and comfort us in our troubles.
It is normal for us to ask God to help us avoid troubles. He may answer our prayer and enable us to avoid some troubles. But He will not enable us to avoid all troubles.
Then, when we experience trouble, it is normal for us to ask God to immediately remove the trouble from us. God may or may not do that. He may remove the trouble, or He may allow the trouble to continue for a while.
It is normal for those who are experiencing troubles to think that God does not care about them or is not concerned about their suffering. That’s not true. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. God the Father is the “Father of Compassion.” He is the source of compassion. He created compassion. He knows compassion. He has compassion. He is aware of our troubles, our hurts, our suffering. He feels our pain and wants to do something to alleviate it. That is His nature. He is the Father of Compassion.
His compassion is not limited to some troubles. His compassion extends to all of our troubles. He is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles. No matter what trouble we are experiencing, the God of all comfort can alleviate the suffering, diminish the pain, help us deal with the troubles, give us comfort in our afflictions.
Most people think that experiencing trouble is all bad. That’s not true. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. If we remain faithful to God through our troubles, and He enables us to overcome our troubles, we come out better, stronger, holier than we were before. And we become more compassionate, more sympathetic to others who are experiencing troubles and we are better able to help them. Knowing this enables us to endure, persevere, even praise God in our troubles. And that is a great thing.
Father, thank You for these great Messianic Jews, for Paul and for Timothy. Thank You for the wisdom You gave them, the truth You gave them, the many victories You gave them. May we learn from them, as the Corinthians did, as we study this letter that they wrote, a letter that was inspired by Your Spirit.
Thank You for saving us and making us part of Your great and eternal community.
You call us Your holy people. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit so we can resist sin and live like holy people. Help us truly be Your holy people – not in name only, but in deed, in reality.
Help us avoid the sin of division that was going on in Corinth and causing harm to the community there. Help us be unified, of one mind and spirit, working together in love to serve You and proclaim the Good News to a dying world that needs Your salvation.
Lord, when we do have troubles, when we do suffer, help us go through our troubles, endure our suffering with a good attitude, remaining faithful to You – which will strengthen and purify us and help us to be able to comfort others.