2 Corinthians 1

Introduction
Second Corinthians is arguably the most personal of Paul’s nine letters to local churches (not including those to Timothy, Titus, or Philemon). Over thirteen chapters he shared his physical and emotional distress, he encouraged a volatile group of believers as he defended his apostolic authority over them. The first section (chapters 1-5) contains the major key to the letter’s theme (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and reveals the apostle as weak and sickly, battling heartache and depression. In this letter, Paul truly wrote out of his pain. (See the introduction to 1 Corinthians for more information regarding this church.)

Paul’s exact location at the time of this writing is uncertain, but his account of waiting for Titus at Troas then going to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 7:5-7) seems to place him in Macedonia (near Philippi, Thessalonica, or Berea) in Acts 20, so he probably wrote this letter around A.D. 55-56. Since he was in Ephesus headed for Macedonia when he wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:8), it is probable he was still traveling on that itinerary.

 

Chapter one breaks slightly from the traditional letter format of ancient times. Following the writer’s name and intended recipients, we find Paul’s standard blessing of “grace and peace” (2 Corinthians 1:2). Often there would be a short prayer of thanksgiving for the readers as well (see Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; et al.), but Paul chose to focus his attention immediately upon God, the Great Comforter. Paul was quick to declare a major reason that they were comforted “in all our troubles” was “so that we may be able to comfort those experiencing any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The cliché, “Blessed to be a blessing,” is more appropriately stated, “Comforted to extend comfort.” This is not only a major theme of this letter, but it is also a timeless principle that believers would do well to remember and faithfully live out today. Whenever we gain comfort in a time of testing or trial, God wants us to hold onto that so we can share that with others.

The reason for Paul’s introductory remarks is obvious very quickly: he and Timothy were sick and discouraged (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Consider his description of their current state: “affliction . . . burdened excessively, beyond our strength . . . despaired even of living . . . sentence of death . . . so great a risk of death.” Whatever the situations they faced that combined to bring them to that point, Paul’s only hope was that the believers would join with him in prayer and that God would deliver them from death again.

Paul revealed the second purpose of his letter in 2 Corinthians 1:12-22. He had intended to visit Corinth again, so he could provide them with a spiritual blessing and experience mutual comfort and growth (2 Corinthians 1:15; see Romans 1:11-12). While he was with them, he expected that they would help him get to Macedonia and back to Judea. Although he deliberately chose to not ask for ongoing financial support, Paul knew he had that right and was not hesitant to seek monetary help when he thought it necessary (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-12). However, as he would explain shortly, he had to change those plans. Unfortunately, it appears that someone in the church had used Paul’s delay to malign the apostle and make it seem that he was two-faced, promising one thing yet doing something else. Paul questioned his accusers and those who listened to them: “Is this my normal method that you have to come expect? Is this the gospel I preached to you, how I presented Christ? Have my co-workers, Silas or Timothy, ever given you that impression?” His answer was, “Of course not. God speaks only truth, and we glorify him by doing the same.” Paul claimed that the truth of his promises (and plans) was based on God’s strength, our unity in Christ, and the Spirit’s indwelling and sealing (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

What a great reminder for us that speaking the truth is the very work of the Trinity in our lives.

1 Timothy 2

Chapter two begins the actual instructions or clarifications that Timothy needed to finish his task. “First of all,” he needed to make sure that the local assemblies prayed for “all people, even for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-8). These prayers had two goals. First, praying for the authorities would affect how the believers lived, leading to a more “peaceful and quiet life.” Secondly, praying for all people would result in people coming to believe in Jesus and “a knowledge of the truth,” namely, that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Because of this Paul wanted the men of the various assemblies to pray for their nation and their community regularly.

It is important to note at this point that Paul spent much of this letter giving instructions to various distinct groups of people within the local churches, starting with the “men.” The fact that he specified that men were to pray did not mean that women were not allowed to, as 1 Corinthians 11:5 shows (written about a decade earlier). However, it is a duty of men, in their God-given roles as leaders in their families, congregations, communities, and even politics, that they should intentionally pray for these areas when they are gathered together. The comment that this should be done “without anger or dispute” could show that Paul was addressing a specific issue with a timeless principle.

The second group that Paul addressed was the “women” (1 Timothy 2:9-15). This paragraph is often maligned by those who mistakenly think that Paul was misogynistic and chauvinistic. In reality, he offered great latitude toward believing women and had several of them serve alongside him in his ministry. Even so, he strongly believed in the God-designed order for men and women, and his Holy Spirit-inspired letters kept that balance.

Godly women, he wrote, should “dress…with modesty and self-control.” Again, “self-control” may indicate that some of the women in Ephesus were disrupting the meetings, like the men. In response, Paul gave principles for all believing women. They are to be identified and defined by their good deeds rather than outward adornment. Paul’s command that he did “not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” has been widely debated and often dismissed. While some see this to be a cultural issue in Ephesus that has no bearing on our modern culture, this does not fit the entire context, especially since he referred back to creation for his support. Women are not to take teaching or leadership positions over men in the congregation. Constable notes, “The verbs ‘teach’ and ‘exercise authority’ are in the present tense in the Greek text, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.” 1 Because of the inherent roles in creation and because of Eve’s being deceived, Paul supernaturally concluded that this was the natural order in the assembly.

Verse 15 is also often misunderstood, as many believe it limits women to be nothing more than “baby-making machines.” This is considered a difficult verse, unfortunately, because of our English translations. The key is found in the two verbs, “be delivered” and “continue.” Some translations make the both singular – “she will be delivered…if she continues” (NET, HCSB) – while others make both verbs plural – “they will be delivered…if they continue” (NASB, NLT, NIV). Of the major translation, only the KJV and ESV reflect the Greek text – “she will be delivered [singular]…if they continue [plural].”

In the context, “she” goes back to Eve from verse 14, while “they” refers to the Christian women Paul was writing about in verse 9. Even though Eve was deceived, bringing God’s curse of a natural struggle against male leadership upon her and all women, she (and her gender) can be delivered from this curse. Rather than spending her life being deceived, like Eve, and usurping roles that she was never designed to fulfill, the godly woman “will be delivered” from this spiritual struggle by focusing on how God did design her – a nurturer and giver of life. Even for those women who cannot or are past the age of childbearing, the nurture and life they give to others around them – whether men, women, or children – can be done out of “faith and love and holiness with self-control.” This is far from saying that women have no role in the church. On the contrary, this gives them great responsibility and freedom to serve within their God-given design.

Notes:

  1. Thomas Constable, Notes on 1 Timothy, 2016 edition, 33.

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.