It’s nice to receive a hand written letter in the mail isn’t it! The time that someone spends writing the words show they care for you, that they are thinking of you. Of course sometimes letters are written to express disappointment and perhaps even offer criticism. These letters are harder to write, and ly they are very hard to read! Paul’s letter to the Greek city of Corinth is like this. In this letter Paul expresses his love for the church he helped establish through the preaching of the gospel. Read Acts 18 to find out some of the background.
But at the same time, Paul in this letter has some very difficult things to say. More than any of Paul’s letters we have in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians is full of anguish, emotion and even defensiveness. Obviously since his first visit to Corinth, things have become strained with the Corinthian church, and this letter is Paul’s effort to restore the relationship.
As we work our way through the letter, it can be hard to work out what precisely has gone wrong. We only have this letter from Paul in which he seeks to resolve the problems, not a clear presentation of what the problems are for the benefit of readers 2000 years later! But there are clues for us. If we fast-forward towards the end of the letter, we read passages like this:
But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles. I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. 11:5-6
I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles/, even though I am nothing. 12:11
It seems that since Paul’s time in Corinth, others have come into the church flaunting their powers and qualifications as ‘apostles’ and turning the Christians against Paul. It seems that compared to these ‘super-apostles’ Paul looks unimpressive and weak and so Paul has fallen out of favour.
In an effort to defend himself, Paul talks a lot about his own ministry in this letter. But he actually takes an unusual approach. Rather than boasting about how impressive he is and playing the ‘super-apostles’ at their own game, he talks about his weakness and his suffering. For us it may not seem like a very winning strategy! But as we’ll see, Paul wants to show that it is in his weakness that God’s power is revealed. And that it is in what looks unimpressive, that God is at work.