SAINT PAUL'S SECOND LETTER TO THE CORINTHIANS
Lesson 5
Part III: Defense of Paul's Ministry and Conclusion
Chapters 11-13

Generous and Loving Lord,

We know that true success in life does not depend on how big or strong we are, or how brilliant a mind we might or might not have. What matters is how much we are willing to submit ourselves to Your will for our lives. We know that our ultimate success in life is only measured by whether or not we die in a state of divine grace and enter the gates of Heaven. If we have those other human attributes, we must avoid believing that we can achieve all victories in life through our efforts. In that case, we are failing to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to fulfill Your divine plan for our lives and the impact our lives can have on others. Give us, Lord, the faith and trust that St. Paul had in Your divine guidance. We believe that, like St. Paul, our weaknesses can be transformed into strengths to move forward Your divine plan for us if only we will trust and obey. Send You Holy Spirit, Lord, to guide us in our last lesson on St. Paul's letter of love and correction to the Christians of Corinth. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

God told Paul that it was enough that he could raise the dead, cure the blind, cleanse lepers and do other miracles. He did not need exemption from danger and fear as well, or complete freedom to preach without any form of hindrance. Indeed, when these troubles come, God's power of deliverance is shown, and the Gospel triumphs in spite of persecution. The more the trials increased, the more grace increased as well.
St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 26.3

 

In the last lesson, Paul announced his plan to send Titus back to Corinth with other members of Paul's missionary team to collect the Corinthian church's contributions for the Mother Church in Jerusalem. Titus was a Gentile Christian who was converted by Paul and became a member of Paul's home church in Antioch, Syria. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas from Antioch to Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-5). Paul's Letter to Titus suggests that he went to Crete with Paul (Titus 1:4) to organize the community there and then to Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).(1) Later, he was in Dalmatia serving at the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:10). Bishop Eusebius's history of the Church records that Titus returned to Crete where Paul had ordained him as bishop (Titus 1:5; Eusebius, Church History, 3.4.6).(2)

In Chapter 10, Paul defended himself against those who accused him of being a braggart. Paul writes that he did not seek human praise. The only praise he values is God's praise, and the only boast he makes is to "boast in the Lord." In Chapter 11, Paul continues to defend himself against the Jewish-Christian "self-recommending" ministers who present themselves as "superapostles" (Paul uses the term sarcastically) and who have tried to diminish Paul's influence with the Corinthian church.

2 Corinthians 11:1-6 ~ Jealous with the Jealousy of God
1 If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Please put up with me. 2 For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and preaches another Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received or a different Gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough. 5 For I think that I am not in any way inferior to these "superapostles." 6 Even if I am untrained in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.

Paul begins by asking the Corinthian Christians to have patience with him while he makes an argument in defense of his ministry writing, 2 For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

Question: In verse 2, what symbolic imagery does Paul use from the works of the prophets, and in what way and for what reason would God be "jealous"? See the chart "The Symbolic Images of the Prophets" and Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Josh 24:19.
Answer: Paul uses the symbolic imagery of marriage to express the Corinthian Christians' covenant unity with Christ. God is jealous for the affection of His covenant people in the same way a husband is "jealous" of the affection and intimacy of his relationship with his wife that he will not share with anyone else.

Paul is "jealous" in the same way God is "jealous" in protecting the unique covenant relationship He has with His covenant people. It is the same unique relationship Jesus has in His "Bridegroom" relationship with His chaste Bride, the Church. It was Paul who led the Corinthians to Christ, their eternal Bridegroom/Husband, and he feels a responsibility for maintaining their unblemished character as the Bride of Christ.

Question: What fear does Paul express in verses 3-4, and what group represents the "deceiving serpent"? In what way does Paul refer sarcastically to this group in verse 5?
Answer: Paul is fearful that the self-recommending ministers have corrupted the Corinthian Christians' understanding of the doctrine of the Gospel. Paul writes these men are so conceited as to consider themselves as "superapostles" whose authority is greater than Paul's authority.

In verse 3, Paul makes a reference to Eve's experience with Satan and compares it to the way the visiting ministers have deceived the Corinthian Christians.
Question: How did Satan deceive Eve? See Gen 2:15-17 and 3:1-6?
Answer: First, he perverted God's word with a lie. God told Eve and Adam if they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree that they would die (Gen 2:17). But Satan told Eve they would not die (Gen 3:4). Then, he turned them from their good relationship with God by making God seem mean and uncaring by telling them He was preventing them from knowing evil as well as good to keep them from becoming godlike. It was all lies. God's commands were for their good. Not only did breaking God's command in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree result in physical death but the result was also spiritual death in their separation from fellowship with God.

Paul's point is that, like Satan, the false ministers have perverted the Gospel that Paul preached to them to the point that their very relationship with Christ was at risk. There is only one Gospel and only one Christ who is the only way to salvation (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12).

Question: Satan used forbidden food to draw man away from God, promising the food would give them a supernatural gift. However, it was a lie, and the forbidden food only inflicted the loss of immortality and the punishment of eternal death. What did God do to restore man's immortal life physically and spiritually? See Jn 6:54-58; 2 Pt 1:4-11
Answer: God used food, transformed supernaturally into the gift of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the Resurrected Jesus Christ, to restore life that is eternal and to share in the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity.

In verses 5-6, Paul defends himself and his ministry against the accusations of the visiting ministers. He begins by making the first of several points in his defense:

  1. He is not inferior to the so-called "superapostles." Paul does not state but infers that, after all, he was personally commissioned by the resurrected Christ to carry His Gospel to the Gentiles. It is a claim the others cannot make.
  2. Even if he is untrained in rhetoric, he has received knowledge directly from Christ and the authority to preach the Gospel of salvation.

2 Corinthians 11:7-11 ~ Preaching Without Charge
7 Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the Gospel of God to you without charge? 8 I plundered other churches by accepting from them in order to minister to you. 9 And when I was with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 By the truth of Christ in me, this boast of mine shall not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!

Paul did not ask for contributions from the Corinthians to support his ministry among them.
Question: How were Paul's material needs met during his stay in Corinth?
Answer: The members of his missionary team who came from Macedonia brought contributions from their home churches to support Paul's missionary efforts in Greece.

In verse 11, Paul defends himself by declaring that everything he has done has been out of love for the Corinthians. He did not "sell" the Gospel of salvation to them. Other Christians made the sacrifice for Paul to bring them the Gospel at no charge. In verse 11, Paul defends his genuine love for the Corinthian Christians, demonstrated by his actions.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15 ~ False Apostles
12 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to end this pretext of those who seek a pretext for being regarded as we are in the mission of which they boast. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, who masquerade as apostles of Christ. 12 And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

Question: What three accusations does Paul make against the men who he writes have tried to mislead the Corinthians in verse 13?
Answer:

  1. They are false apostles.
  2. They are deceitful workers.
  3. They are those who falsely present themselves as true apostles of Christ.

12 And no wonder, for even Satan masquerades as an angel of light. 15 So it is not strange that his ministers also masquerade as ministers of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Paul's accusation that the men who came claiming to be apostles are "false apostles" who falsely represent Christ suggests that they serve another master other than Christ. Deception and cunning are the tactics of Satan, the ancient adversary of mankind. Christ is the "Light," but Satan works to deceive by presenting himself as a false "light" (an "angel of light") that leads men and women away from the "Light" of Jesus Christ to a path that only leads to eternal darkness. Lucifer is the Latin Vulgate name in Isaiah 14:12 that the Fathers of the Church identified as Satan. The NAB translates the name as "morning star son of the dawn" and in other Bible translations as "daystar." Their end will correspond to their deeds refers to the inescapable divine judgment they will face for their unrighteous acts in perverting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:16-29 ~ Paul's Trials and Labors
16 I repeat, no one should consider me foolish; but if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. 17 What I am saying I am not saying according to the Lord but as in foolishness, in this boastful state. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly put up with fools, since you are wise yourselves. 20 For you put up with it. If someone enslaves you, or devours you, or gets the better of you, or puts on airs, or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I say that we were too weak! But what anyone dares to boast of (I am speaking in foolishness) I also dare. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person.) I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. 24 Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; 26 on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. 28 And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?

The "you," plural, in this passage refers to the misled Corinthian Christians who have believed the false apostles and have turned against Paul. Paul writes to those who have listened to the boasts of the false apostles to bear with him as he boasts a little "according to the flesh," meaning in human weakness. He is not contradicting his earlier statement that one should "only boast in the Lord." In that statement, he was referring to spiritual deeds; however, now he is referring to earthly accomplishments or credentials.

Paul asks a series of three rhetorical questions followed by his answers in comparing himself with the false teachers in verses 22-23:

  1. Are they Hebrews? So am I.
  2. Are they Israelites? So am I.
  3. Are they ministers of Christ? (I am talking like an insane person.) I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death.

For the first time in verse 22, we learn that these "false apostles" are Jewish-Christians. The answer to the first two rhetorical questions is "Yes." They speak the Hebrew or Aramaic language like Paul, and they are "Israelites," members of the race of the "chosen people," like Paul. The answer to the third rhetorical question is "No"! His point is the self-proclaimed "superapostles" do not surpass Paul in their "Jewishness" as the first people of a corporate covenant with Yahweh.

Question: What problems did some Jewish-Christians cause in Paul's home church in Antioch, Syria and for other Gentile-Christians in Acts 15:1-5?
Answer: They came to Paul's home church and told the Gentile converts they weren't saved by the Sacrament of Christian Baptism without becoming Jews first through the Old Covenant sacrament of circumcision and the observation of Mosaic Law. Some Jewish-Christians in the Mother Church in Jerusalem who were Pharisees held the same view.

In the Council of Jerusalem, St. Peter, the other ten Apostles, and St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem settled this issue by rejection the necessity of circumcision and obedience to Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation. However, there were Jewish-Christians who rejected the Council's decision. Many of these Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but continued to hold on to the Old Covenant laws and religious practices separated from the Church and formed their own community, calling themselves Ebionites.(4)

Then in verses 24-28, Paul gives a litany of his sufferings in the service of Christ; it is his third list of sufferings in his letter (see 4:8-9 and 6:4-10). His unspoken question is can the "false apostles" match his experiences in suffering for the sake of the Gospel of the Christ?

Paul's labors, which include preaching day and night and arduous travel, cannot be separated from his sufferings. His point is that the genuine mark of an apostle/minister of Jesus Christ is in sharing in Christ's sufferings to advance the Kingdom of the Church (see 1:5).

29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?
Paul is their loving spiritual father who is constantly concerned for them. He worries about the weak Corinthian Christians who have trouble avoiding sin. He has so much compassion for them that he tries to understand their failure so as to better console and counsel them (1 Cor 9:22). He reminds them, as a human being, that he is also subject to temptations; but he resists. If he can resist sin, so can they. However, when others in the community cause their weak members to stumble into sin, Paul becomes indignant.

2 Corinthians 11:30-33 ~ Paul's Boast
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus knows, he who is blessed forever, that I do not lie. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus, in order to seize me, 33 but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.

Paul now writes that he will no longer boast of his sufferings but his weakness. He swears an oath concerning his truthfulness in verse 31: The God and Father of the Lord Jesus knows, he who is blessed forever, that I do not lie. Then he gives an example of how in his weakness he experienced the strength of God by writing about his escape from Damascus after his conversion.

King Aretas IV was an Arabian/Nabataea king who reigned from 9 BC to 40 AD, and whose territory extended from modern day Syria to Jordan. Paul's mention of him in this passage helps to date Paul's conversion experience as having taken place in the early to mid-30's AD (Gal 1:15-18; Acts 9:3-22). King Aretas was the ex-father-in-law of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas divorced Aretas' daughter to marry Herodias, his niece and divorced wife of his brother Philip (Mk 6:17-19; Lk 3:19). It was probably in his desire to please the Jews of Damascus that Aretas ordered his governor in Damascus to capture and imprison St. Paul. In Acts 9:23-25, the Jews of Damascus are mentioned as lying in wait for Paul. From this it follows that the Jews must have been influential in the Nabataean kingdom; otherwise, the Nabataeans would have been careful to avoid any interference with Paul, who was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29).

Question: What is Paul point in relating the event in Damascus?
Answer: Paul was not capable of defending himself against the governor of the city of Damascus who had guards watching the city gates, but God defended him in his weakness and used the Christians of Damascus to help Paul escape.

Chapter 12

2 Corinthians 12:1-7a ~ Paul's Testimony
1 I must boast; not that it is profitable, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. 5 About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. 6 Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me 7a because of the abundance of the revelations.

Despite the fact that Paul narrates these events in the third person, it is obvious that the person who experienced the divine revelations was Paul. Paul uses the third person in the narrative out of modesty. He writes that his revelation of Heaven occurred fourteen years ago which would make the experience in about 44 AD. That would have been about the time Paul was without a mission and living in Troas until Barnabas came to enlist him to work with the Christian community in Antioch, Syria. See Handout #4 from Lesson 1.

Paul's experience of being "caught up" to Heaven is similar to that of St. John in the Book of Revelation where John uses the same expression, "caught up," in Revelation 1:10. Paul is hesitant about sharing the story, and it is apparently the first time he related his supernatural experience when God revealed secrets to him. "Ineffable things" refers to privileged knowledge divinely imparted to him, and the experience appears to be only one of many.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 ~ Suffering for Christ
7b Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I begged the Lord about this, that is might leave me, 9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. 10 Therefore, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

In humility, St. Paul refers to his suffering in some affliction that God allowed him to experience to ensure that his supernatural gifts did not make him proud and boastful. Paul does not reveal the exact nature of his "throne in the flesh," but some Church Fathers and modern commentators suggest that it was some painful and humiliating physical ailment. It is probably the same condition he refers to in Galatians 4:13-15, and may have been a condition brought on by his initial loss of sight after his blinding vision of the resurrected Christ in his conversion experience since he says if the Galatians could they would have given him their eyes.

St. Paul attributes his affliction to "an angel from Satan." This affliction suggests that the disability could have been seen as an obstacle to his mission to evangelize. Paul says that three times he asked the Lord to heal him of his affliction, and three times the Lord told him to endure because God's grace was enough to enable him to live with his affliction.

Question: What does Paul write is the result of his physical condition and his submission to God's answer for him to bear his affliction if faith and obedience?
Answer: Paul says that his weakness in his physical condition and his submission to the will of God for his life has made him stronger in his faith in the Lord Jesus. He thanks God that his weakness has made the grace of God greater in his life and his mission since he knows that his missionary work is not his success but can only boast that it is Christ working through him.

Using this passage as an example, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that God sometimes permits certain kinds of hardships and sufferings to draw out a greater good (Commentary on 2 Corinthians). For example, in Paul's case, to protect His apostle from the sin of pride (the root of all vices), God allowed His chosen apostle and others who serve Him to be humiliated by weakness in an affliction. In this way, the humbling experience will allow God's servant to recognize that he/she cannot stand strong and firm by his/her efforts alone. It is in these conditions that we must trust in God's providence and take assurance from St. Paul who wrote, We know that all things work for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

2 Corinthians 12:11-18 ~ Paul's Selfless Concern for the Church
11 I have been foolish. You compelled me, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I am in no way inferior to these "superapostles," even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs and wonders, and mighty deeds. 13 In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong! 14 Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?

Against his better judgment, Paul has engaged in boasting. He writes that he feels foolish for having boasted, even though he has made it clear that his boasting is different from that of the "superapostles." Paul chastises those members of the Corinthian Christians who embraced the false apostles' lies for having failed to defend him despite Paul's many acts and signs that revealed his authority as a true apostle. Paul defends himself again as being in no way inferior to the trouble-making ministers. However, so he will not be misunderstood as being boastful like them, he includes that he is "nothing" (verse 11). Paul's point is that his qualification for being a minister of the "New Covenant" in Christ Jesus "comes from God" (2 Cor 3:5). He is an apostle only by the call of Christ in his conversion experience (Acts 9) and God's grace (1 Cor 15:9-10).

12 The signs of an apostle were performed among you with all endurance, signs and wonders, and mighty deeds.
Question: Paul reminds them of what evidence of his apostleship from God in his ministry among them?
Answer: He has performed signs, wonders, and mighty deeds; all miracles of the power of God working through Paul as he proclaimed the Gospel.

Question: What "signs and wonders and mighty deeds are recorded in Acts of Apostles associated with St. Paul up to this point in his ministry? See Acts 13:11; 14:8-10; 16:16-18; 19:11-12; 20:9-12.
Answer: Miracles associated with Paul:

13 In what way were you less privileged than the rest of the churches, except that on my part I did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!
Paul statement is dripping with sarcasm. He wants them to acknowledge that they were not deprived of anything essential through his ministry to them. The only sense in which he has "deprived" them is that he has refused to be a burden to them by accepting payment for his service. It may be that some Corinthians considered his refusal to take money from them for his support as a rejection of their friendship (2 Cor 11:7).

14 Now I am ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, for I want not what is yours, but you. Children ought not to save for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
Paul has been suggesting the possibility of another visit (10:1-2, 10-11). Now he declares he is ready to come again to Corinth for the third time. Thus far, his visits include:

  1. His founding visit (1 Cor 2:1-5; Acts 18:1-18).
  2. His visit that he described as "painful" (2 Cor 2:1).

But why does he intend to visit again?

  1. He wants to follow through on his promise to spend an extended period of time with them (1 Cor 16:6-7).
  2. He wants to collect their contribution for the Mother Church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-9:15).
  3. He wants to see if the Corinthians have rejected the trouble-making false apostles (2 Cor 10:1-12:13).
  4. He wants to see for himself if the Corinthian Christians have repented and rejected their sinful ways (2 Cor 12:-13:2).
  5. He wants to deepen his reconciliation with the community that his "tearful letter" and Titus' mediation have set in motion (2 Cor 7:5-6).

If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
Paul has only loved and served them honorably; however, they have wronged him, and if they love him, they should ask him for forgiveness. In verse 15, Paul expresses the depth of his love for them when he writes, I will most gladly spend and be utterly spent for your sakes, and he leaves the door opened for them to return his love.

16 But granted that I myself did not burden you, yet I was crafty and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? And in the same steps?
Paul has already explained the reasons why he has not accepted payment for his services from the community. He did not want to burden them, and he cannot accept payment for what God compels him to do in preaching the Gospel of salvation (2 Cor 11:7-9; 12:14). Now he offers another reason. Apparently, some have accused him of fraud in that he has acted "crafty" and gotten "the better of" them "by deceit" by making the appeal for the collection for Jerusalem. He answers this accusation by a series of four rhetorical questions:

  1. Did I take advantage of you through any of those I sent to you?
  2. Did Titus take advantage of you?
  3. Did we not walk in the same spirit?
  4. And in the same steps?

The first two questions should elicit the answer "No." The next two questions are phrases so as to elicit the answer "Yes." Paul and his missionary team acted in complete agreement with one another, "in the same spirit," and in complete honesty "in the same steps" with the Corinthians. The accusations against him are without merit. He is the Corinthian Christians' spiritual father, and, in that role, he has always acted with their best interests has his primary goal.

2 Corinthians 12:19-21 ~ The Promise of a Third Visit
19 Have you been thinking all along that we are defending ourselves before you? In the sight of God we are speaking in Christ, and all for building you up, beloved. 20 For I fear that when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.

Verse 19 takes us back to the previous chapters, referring to Paul's apologia, the defense he offers for himself and his ministerial team. He has been writing his defense for their benefit and not his own. His intent is for "building them up" as his beloved children and raising this theme leads into the final section whose duel themes are judgment and building up.

20 For I fear that when I come I may find you not such as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; that there may be rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
In 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 and 19-21, Paul expressed his fear that the Corinthian Christians were being victimized, exploited, and seduced from right doctrine by the visiting ministers who oppose him. Now, however, he fears moral disorders among them brought on by the false teaching of his opponents that includes the sins of rivalry, jealousy, fury, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

21 I fear that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness they practiced.
The "fear" may refer to a repeat of the humiliation he experienced in the tearful last visit he mentioned in 2:1-4. Titus brought Paul the welcomed news that most of the Corinthians had repented but not all, and there are those who are still involved in sexual immorality that Paul admonished in 1 Corinthians chapters 5-7.

2 Corinthians 13:1-4 ~ Paul's Warning
1 This third time I am coming to you. "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a fact shall be established." 2 I warned those who sinned earlier and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient, 3 since you are looking for proof of Christ speaking in me. He is not weak toward you but powerful in you. 4 For indeed he was crucified out of weakness, but he lives by the power of God. So also we are weak in him, but toward you we shall live with him by the power of God.

Paul promises a third visit in which he will come to judge the community's unrepentant sinners on their failures in their obedience to live in righteousness according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. He will hold a formal hearing and judge the members of the community according to the custom of the testimony of two or three witnesses (Dt 19:15). He will not be lenient (verse 2). The proof there are looking for they will find because it is Christ, writes Paul, who will be speaking through him by the power of God (verses 3-4).

Another motive for his lack of leniency will be the charge of weakness his opponents made against him. Paul is not weak because the Christ for whom he speaks is not weak but powerful. Verse 4 recalls Paul's vow for conformity in his life with Christ's life as he writes about weakness and power and life and death.

Paul did visit Corinth again. He wrote his letter to the churches in Rome from Corinth shortly after writing 2 Corinthians (Acts 20:1-3) when he was completing the collection from the Gentile churches for Jewish-Christians of the Mother Church and beginning his last journey to Jerusalem.

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 ~ Paul Urges the Christians of Corinth to do an Examination of Conscience
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless, of course, you fail the test. 6 I hope you will discover that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do evil, not that we may appear to have passed the test but that you may do what is right, even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we rejoice when we are weak but you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement. 10 I am writing this while I am away, so that when I come I may not have to be severe in virtue of the authority that the Lord has given me to build up and not to tear down.

Paul asks the Corinthian Christians to do an examination of conscience to test their motives, their faith, their avoidance of sin, and their obedience. Then in verse 10, he restates what is the purpose of his letter by echoing God's instructions to Jeremiah again. The purpose of his ministry is to "build up and not to tear down" (Jer 1:9-10; 12:16-17; 24:6; 2 Cor 10:8; 12:19; 13:10).

It is Paul's hope that the severity of his words will have the effect of bringing the Corinthians who oppose him to repentance before he arrives (verse 10).

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 ~ Conclusion
11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you. 13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Question: In closing, what advice does Paul give the Corinthian Christians?
Answer: Paul advises them to repent their failings, to encourage each other, to agree on the doctrine he has taught them, and to live in peace in the presence of the God of love and peace.

Finally, he gives them a Trinitarian blessing: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Notice that Paul's order is the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The New Testament contains several different Trinitarian formulas. In 1 Peter 1:2, St. Peter uses a Trinitarian formula to explain how Christians are called to belief:

  1. in the foreknowledge of God the Father
  2. through sanctification by the Holy Spirit
  3. for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ

Peter's Trinitarian order is the same as in Revelation 1:4-5:

  1. He who is and who was and who is to come = God the Father
  2. from the seven spirits before His throne = God the Holy Spirit
  3. Jesus Christ the faithful witness = God the Son

But different than the order Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in

  1. the name of the Father
  2. and of the Son,
  3. and of the Holy Spirit

The Church Fathers identified the Trinitarian order in Revelation and 1 Peter as a liturgical order in naming the Most Holy Trinity as opposed to the theological order in Matthew 28:19. The theological order is also the order of divine revelation to humanity. First, God the Father called people to a covenant relationship with Him. Next, in the Incarnation and mission of the Christ, God the Son revealed Himself to humanity. Finally, after the Son's Ascension, the Third Person of the Most Holy Trinity was fully revealed at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit. Peter's Trinitarian order may be significant in the context of Peter's universal letter that was read in a liturgical assembly. And, it is significant that the visions of St. John in the Book of Revelation take place in the heavenly liturgical Assembly.

In the Liturgy of the Mass, we follow Peter's and the Book of Revelation's liturgical order in addressing the Father, the Holy Spirit, and God the Son:

  1. We begin our worship by addressing our prayers to God the Father, and we continue with prayers to the Father until the Eucharistic prayer.
  2. In the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls upon God the Holy Spirit when he prays: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ."
  3. It isn't until the rite of the "Sign of Peace" that the priest finally addresses a prayer to God the Son: "Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you.' Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever." From the Sign of Peace onward, we continually directed our prayers to God the Son.

In Paul's order, he is probably expressing his concept that the blessing of "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" is the greatest expression of "the love of God" for the Corinthian Christians. It is in divine love that the first two Persons of the Trinity sent the Holy Spirit. Mankind's fellowship with the Holy Trinity is only made possible through the mission of God the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Corinthian Christians and for us.

St. Paul, pray for us that the love of the Most Holy Trinity is manifested in our lives today and every day until we meet You face to face!

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
How does one identify a "false teacher" in the Church today? What is your best defense against such deceivers? Some false teachers are poorly catechized, but others have an agenda that is contrary to the teachings of the Church. See the document "Ancient Heresies Recycled in the Modern Age." One of the most common is the heresy of "universalism" that teaches Jesus is not the only path to eternal salvation and that other religions can also provide a path to eternal life.

Endnotes:
1. There were several cities named Nicopolis, but since Paul describes Nicopolis as a place where he intended to spend the winter, it was probably the Nicopolis in Epirus on the Greek peninsula on the Adriatic side of the isthmus of the Bay of Actium (Titus 3:12).

2. St. Titus' feast day is January the 26th, celebrated with St. Timothy, and it is the day after the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. St. Titus is the patron saint of the United States Army Chaplain Corps.

3. According to Mosaic Law in Dt 25:3, punishment for offenses was set at the limit of 40 lashes. Later, the limit was set at 39 lashes to avoid inadvertently breaking the law not to exceed a maximum of 40 lashes.

4. The Ebionite movement existed during the early centuries of the Christian Era. The Ebionites accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah, but they rejected His divinity and insisted on the necessity of continuing to follow the old Sinai Covenant laws and rites. They revered St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, and the only Gospel they accepted was the Gospel of Matthew. The movement died out in the late 2nd century.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates Scripture quoted in the citation):

2 Cor 11:2 (CCC 505*, 796*)

2 Cor 12:9 (CCC 268, 273*, 1508

2 Cor 13:4 (CCC 648*)

2 Cor 13:13 (CCC 249, 734, 1109, 2627*)