Paul’s Relationship to the Corinthians
This week, I referenced the complicated relationship Paul had with the Corinthians in my sermon. Here is a brief summary of that relationship. It’s from my sermon on 2 Corinthians in the Bible overview series, According to Plan. Unfortunately, that message wasn’t recorded due to technical difficulties. So, I’ve posted this excerpt from my sermon notes.
I hope you find it helpful in better understanding 1 and 2 Corinthians.
Grace and peace,
Paul’s relationship to the Corinthians Christians is a complicated one. His first encounter with the Corinthians came as he first brought the gospel to them. He spent about a year and half in Corinth, establishing the church there. When he felt like this work of establishing the church was done, Paul left the city and continued his missionary journey. It was about a year and half later that Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians. We don’t have this letter, but we know about it because Paul mentions it in chapter 5 of the letter we call 1 Corinthians. He wrote in response to news that the church was struggling spiritually.
The Corinthians responded with a letter of their own, asking for clarification on certain matters of life and theology. Those questions revealed some deep confusion that resulted in some serious problems with how they lived their lives. This prompted Paul to write another letter, the first we have, called 1 Corinthians. In that letter, Paul not only offered counsel and direction for the church, but also said that he hoped to actually go back to Corinth and encourage them face-to-face. However, his plans changed and he wasn’t able to go. His partner, Timothy, did go, however, and found the situation in Corinth bad. They hadn’t done anything Paul told them to do his letter (1 Corinthians), and the church was fragmenting under the weight of its sin.
Paul immediately put aside everything else and made an urgent visit to Corinth to try to put things right. But this direct confrontation with the Corinthians turned out to be a bitter and humiliating experience for Paul. This was a “painful visit” that caused him much sorrow (2 Cor 2:1). The church had not only rejected Paul’s instructions but had chosen to follow other men who opposed Paul, and treated him with disrespect and ridiculed his apostleship. Not surprisingly, Paul didn’t stay long in Corinth. And even this was used by his opponents as evidence of Paul’s indecisiveness and lack of love for the Corinthians. But the truth was that Paul did care for the Corinthians, and he couldn’t leave things as they were, fearing his enemies would destroy the work of the gospel among the church.
Therefore, Paul wrote a third letter to the Corinthians. Again, we don’t have this letter, but we know from his fourth letter that this third one was a severe and tearful letter (2 Cor 2:4, 9). While Titus took this letter to Corinth, Paul remained in Ephesus, where he faced some of the worst opposition to the gospel he had yet encountered. Eventually, Paul and Titus reunited, and the apostle received news of Corinth. The good news was that many had repented of their treatment of the Paul and the gospel message. But all was not good. Some still remained in a lifestyle of immorality, while others continued to look down on Paul because of his suffering. All of this was made worse by a group of false apostles who undermined Paul’s authentic apostleship and made it difficult for Paul to minister to the Corinthians. It’s into this context that Paul writes his fourth letter to the Corinthians, the second one what we have in the Bible. . . .